Code of the West

— Written By and last updated by

Image of a cowboy and dogAs most all of us have witnessed from TV or first-hand the effects of Hurricane Florence “Down East” in our state, the situation reminds me of how disasters bring people together in times of need. Neighbors reaching out to each other and rescuing flood victims from their flooded homes or stranded cars, moving furniture from the first floor to the second floor, distributing hay bales to hungry livestock, providing food to each other and providing a helping hand to remove a fallen tree or a damaged home. These acts of lending a “helping hand” are very similar to the “Code of the West” philosophy of “Taking caring of others and yourself” and living by a strong ethic of good “citizenship.” Along with natural disasters also comes bad behavior such as anger, theft and even murder and the “Code of the West” has ethics that speaks to these ills of society caused by stress, depression, and meanness.

The Code of the West was first chronicled by the famous western writer, Zane Grey. The men and women who went westward during the expansion of the United States were bound by an unwritten code of conduct. The values of integrity, honesty, stewardship and self – reliance guided their decisions, actions, and interactions. Even though North Carolina and for us of WNC are not located where the “Code of the West ethics lifestyle originated, it is just as useful for those of us in the “East” to practice. These principles include the following in regards to our rural lifestyle in our counties:

  • Being neighborly is a two-way street. The road you help repair this summer from sudden torrential rain, helps everyone in your neighborhood get to work come Monday. “Reciprocity is the Rule.”
  • Rural residents who come together often have more success as a community than those who go it alone. Working collectively together makes light work for everyone, while giving you individual freedom for yourself and your neighbor. Adjacent landowners can work collectively to combat noxious weeds in pastures, which will help save money, labor and improve the stewardship of our resources. “Work Together.”
  • Understand that some practices, such as burning brush piles or fields and running farm machinery during the dark are common practices and necessary for agriculture operations to exist in our community, which help maintain our rural characteristics. “Respect Agriculture.”
  • Control not only your livestock, but also your dogs from roaming onto others properties, which can cause tension among neighbors. Mending fences builds future friendships. “Reduce Tensions.”
  • Private property and privacy. People are often unaware of private property lines, therefore it is always the responsibility of the individual to know whose land they are on regardless if it is fenced or not. Remember to always get permission before entering private lands even if you are walking across the woods. Research maps closely. “Honor Privacy and Individual Responsibility.”
  • Consider that the nearest emergency services may be 30 minutes away or that the road you’re driving on today might be impassable when the next snowstorm strikes, therefore consider “Being Neighborly” by plowing your neighborhood roads and “Being Prepared and Self-Reliant” when the only help you have is yourself. Make sure you have enough food and water for 5 days after the storm.
  • Try to Stay Cheerful because “Storm Weary” is a real illness that takes away both your physical and mental capacities. Seek professional help if needed.

Image of bootsThe underlying philosophy of the national cooperative system was “to help people help themselves” by taking the university to the people since 1914, especially in rural America. In keeping with that “American Pioneer Spirit” of independence and being neighborly, the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Jackson and Swain Counties offer information to help the citizens who wish to follow in the footsteps of those rugged individualists. To that end, we can help provide you with the information you need to improve your rural living by becoming more self-reliant in your rural lifestyle through agriculture, home economics, and youth development. When the storm strikes, N.C. Cooperative Extension of Jackson and Swain Counties will be there to help.

In general, respect your neighbor’s endeavors; maintain self-reliance and being neighborly are the roads to individual freedom for yourself and your neighbor. The friendly wave between you and your neighbors as you pass each other on the road each morning is more than just a wave, it is rural living Code of Conduct, “Take Care of Others and Yourself.” So, please remember to practice “Code of the West” here in the East!

Please contact the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Jackson and Swain Counties for more information at 586-4009 or 488-3848.

Submitted by Robert J. Hawk, County Extension Director, N.C. Cooperative Extension of Jackson and Swain Counties. Article content from the North Carolina Cooperative Extension and Colorado State University Extension.