Have you heard about the Code of the West? It’s been on my mind ever since I proposed to my husband in booth two at the original Red Barn in 1986. Maybe you moved here for love (like me) or perhaps you came because of family ties, work opportunities, or to escape city life. There is a very special “something” about this community.
Whatever brought you here, I hope you love Montrose County as much as I do. Like many of you, I moved here from somewhere else and I did not know a darn thing about agriculture, irrigation water, ditch riders (what?), semi-dry arid desert, water shortages, snowpack, Gunnison Tunnel, or even how to pronounce Uncompahgre or Ouray.
Which brings me to the reason I wanted to write this article . . . the Code of the West. Some of you may remember the book written in 1925 by Zane Grey where he memorialized the notion of the Code of the West. Simply put the Code of the West is an unwritten set of laws that cowboys lived by. The Code of the West does not refer to government laws, but rather “laws” surrounding decency, respect, and the art of being a good neighbor.
Ramon Adams was the Western historian who memorialized the tenets of the code in his book, “The Cowman and his Code of Ethics.”
Lack of written law in the days of the new frontier made it necessary for some rules or guiding principles, which became known as the Code of the West. These homespun laws were a gentleman’s agreement to certain rules of conduct for survival.
I’ve spoken to many about how we should reintroduce the principles of the Code of the West today right here in Montrose County. I believe that if all community members lived by the Code of the West, this would be an even friendlier community.
As a commissioner, I hear from several constituents regarding neighbor disputes. Often times, I think these situations would be resolved if we (as community members) would consider the Code of the West and work to be better neighbors.
County staff members and I are working to revise the codes as they apply to Montrose County. As a transplant to the area, I feel that the Code of the West explains what it is like to move into a rural community largely reliant on agriculture.
Some of the topics covered in the Montrose County Code of the West include general descriptions of how critical water is to our semi-arid climate. If you are new to the area, remember you moved into an agricultural area that comprises the large majority of the local economy. At some point, you will encounter farm equipment moving from field to field, and sheep and cattle being moved from the high county grazing areas to local farms. There will be dust because not all of our roads are paved and farm ground needs to be worked . . . did I mention there will be dust?
The Code of the West also covers general guidelines about land use, broadband coverage, utilities, access, emergency services, and much more. As we complete the revisions, the Code of the West will be available on the county website.
The goal is to provide a theory for neighborly relations and expectations for incoming community members.
This isn’t the Old West anymore. Montrose County is growing, traffic is increasing, and new challenges are ahead. The county is looking to the future to solve issues before they arise. This is an uncommon community . . . we’re special, we’re welcoming, and we’re generous.
Stop by the county administration offices at 317 S. Second St. anytime. I look forward to your visit.
Friendship. There was no more sacred obligation than to be there when your neighbor and friend need you.
Integrity. Honesty. Your word was your bond.
Fair Play. Westerners despised duplicity or under-handedness of any kind.
Hospitality. There were no hotels in the Old West. Anyone who wandered in was welcome at the table.
Kindness. Consideration of others was central to the Code.
Generosity. Most cowboys were generous to a fault.
The Environment: The cowboy spent most of his time in the open. He would rarely smoke during rides across fire hazard country.
Religion: Follow the Golden Rule- do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.
Sue Hansen is the commissioner for District 2 and BOCC chair for Montrose County.