Cowboy Etiquette: Mind Yer Manners!

Cowboy etiquetteWelcome to the Campfire Chronicle’s first etiquette class. We won’t be discussing which fork to use, or whether or not it’s acceptable to wear white after Labor Day. Nope. This is still the Campfire Chronicle, after all. We’re not going to talk about any old etiquette; we’re going to talk about Cowboy Etiquette!

Etiquette is defined as, “the customary code of polite behavior in society or among members of a particular profession or group.” Some people might be surprised to think about cowboys as having their own brand of etiquette. Cowboys are often thought of as being a little rough around the edges, bit in reality, most cowboys and cowgirls are downright mannerly!

Here are a few of the basic rules of cowboy decorum…

Hats Off

Hats offHats are such a big part of cowboy attire that it’s no wonder there are certain rules regarding when to wear them, when to remove them and when to tip them. Hats should be removed during prayers or the singing of the national anthem. Men should remove their hats when they are introduced to a lady. Hat hair is never an excuse for bad manners.

Cowboy hats should be removed in places of worship, courtrooms and, generally, in private homes. If you’re at a private home and everyone else is wearing a cowboy hat, it’s acceptable to go along with the crowd, though. If you’re in a restaurant, that serves anything that isn’t coated in barbecue sauce, it’s probably best to lose the hat. And, for the love of all that is good and holy, please don’t wear your cowboy hat if you’re sitting in front of me in a theater!

There are also some rules when it comes to hat tipping. Cowboy gentlemen tip their hats to ladies, when they are outdoors. But, they NEVER tip their hats to other men. That’s the cowboy equivalent to calling a man, “Nancy!”

Hat tipping techniques include the Brim Tip and the Forward Tip methods. To properly conduct the Brim Tip method, grasp the brim of the hat between your thumb and two fingers and raise the brim, ever so slightly. The Forward Tip method means that you grasp the front of the hat crown, lift slightly and tilt the brim forward. Of course, both methods should include the obligatory head nod. Otherwise, you might look like you’ve just got an itchy scalp! Oh, yes, the head nod is very important!

I cannot stress this final point of cowboy hat etiquette enough. Never touch another fellow’s cowboy hat without permission. And you might want to think about getting that permission notarized! Wars have started over lesser offenses! Seriously, don’t touch a cowboy’s hat. I’m pretty sure that’s written somewhere in the book of Leviticus.

Cowboy Diplomats

There are reasons cowboys are so often portrayed as the strong, silent types. A mannerly cowboy knows when to keep his thoughts to himself. He has plenty of opinions, but he doesn’t give unsolicited advice. As John Wayne once said, “Talk low, talk slow, and don’t say too much.” A cowboy isn’t likely to tell you that your dog is dumb, your children are dumber and your wife can’t cook. That doesn’t mean he isn’t thinking those things, but he doesn’t have to say everything that pops into his head.

On the other hand, don’t ask for a cowboy’s opinion unless you actually want it. You might want to consider the possibility that you can’t handle the truth before you ask a cowboy if he thinks you got a good deal on a thirty-year-old horse. He might play the diplomat and say, “If that’s the kind of horse you wanted, you sure got one, alright!” Or he might tell you more truth than you wished to hear. It could go either way.

Stable Manners

Blog5There are also some basic rules of etiquette when it comes to working on a ranch. First and foremost, cowboys know how important it is to give a day’s work for a day’s wages. They show up on time (and by “on time,” I mean about fifteen minutes early). You won’t find an honest cowboy lollygagging around when there’s work to be done. This is one bit of cowboy etiquette that I wish would go mainstream.

Don’t touch another cowboy’s equipment without permission. Remember the point about not touching someone else’s cowboy hat? Most cowboys and cowgirls are generous to a fault, but that doesn’t mean you can just take their things without asking.
When riding horses, don’t cut off other riders. You’re not on the autobahn! Never ever ride between another rider and the herd. Stay behind the herd. The air may not always be sweet there, but at least you won’t make any enemies.

How many times did your mother tell you, “Shut the door! Were you raised in a barn?” The irony is that cowboys know when to open and close a gate. An open gate that should be closed can be a recipe for disaster. If two cowboys are riding in a pickup truck and they need to pass through a gated area, the person in the passenger seat does not need to be asked to open the gate. It’s as second nature as knowing which vehicle should go first at a 4-way stop. At a closed gate, the person on the right always gets out to open the gate. He waits until the vehicle has passed the gate and then closes it. Unless there is a reason for it, gates are always left as they were found.

A cowboy always takes care of his horse first. After a morning of work, a cowboy is probably hungry, tired and thirsty. He has sense enough to know that his horse is, too. The horse’s needs take priority.


Blog8Most of the rules of cowboy etiquette are based on good, old-fashioned respect. These things are passed down from one generation of cowboys to the next without a lot of hoopla. But, my list is far from all-inclusive. In fact, I would love to hear any additions you want to contribute to the list! Until then, I’ll just be cleaning up around the ol’ campfire. Because, as I’m sure you know, a good cowboy always leaves a campsite a little better than he found it!
Happy Trails, y’all!
Anita Lequoia

16 Replies to “Cowboy Etiquette: Mind Yer Manners!”

  1. Very interesting. You will find though, that this sort of etiquette is not only confined to the world of the cowboy. I was raised in the country, WAY back in the sticks here in rural Mo. My parents taught me to always hold the door for a lady, always treat others with respect. A lot of these are just common courtesy for a country boy.

    1. Howdy Burl! Your folks raised you right, and I totally agree, there is a lot of overlap in the Cowboy Way and The Country Way. Thanks for stopping by, and I’m so happy that you found the story interesting!

  2. I wish this was all mainstream. My brothers and I were all raised this way. Around our house, it’s common knowledge that the person closest to the front passenger door gets the gate – and NOBODY touches my hat.

    Thanks for another great article.

  3. Hi Anita; Excellent article! I recently attended a Western Heritage Auction, so there was a roomful of cowboy hats. I was very impressed when the man sitting in front of us was considerate in removing his hat so as to not obstruct our view. A real cowboy gentleman and so nice to experience!

  4. Hi Miss Anita,
    I thoroughly enjoyed this article regarding Cowboy Etiquette. I live in Wyoming and have spent most of my adult life on or near ranches and cowboys. Just wished to add a couple things…
    A cowboy/cowgirl’s dog and horse are considered part of their personal property. It’s not polite to walk up to a mounted horse and begin petting it, ask the rider first. Same with the dog, ask before petting. The horse and dog both need to be tuned into the cowboy to perform their work properly.
    Also, never ride ahead of the boss. 😉
    There is a great deal out there called The Code of the West. 10 Principles to live by. The State of Wyoming adopted the Code as an Official Proclamation several years ago. The 10 Principles are:

    Code of the West

    1) Live each day with courage.
    2) Take pride in your work.
    3) Always finish what you start.
    4) Do what has to be done.
    5) Be tough, but fair.
    6) When you make a promise, keep it.
    7) Ride for the brand.
    8) Talk less and say more.
    9) Remember that some things
    aren’t for sale.
    10) Know where to draw the line.
    Maybe you have already seen these, maybe even posted them somewhere. Today is the first time I discovered your site. It’s a great site and I shall pull up a log more often. Thank you for being here!

    1. Hi Rita, The Code is pretty impressive because it has withstood the test of time. . .these principles apply today, just as well as they did when they were written. Glad you enjoyed the story and the site, and I’m looking forward to hearing from you again soon!

  5. Thanks for the reminders, Anita.
    I was raised in the South and proper manners here is (or at least was) the same as Cowboy Manners. One thing we were taught was to hold doors open for others, especially ladies. One lady I held a door for several years ago barked “are you holding that door for me because I’m a woman?” I paused, then replied “No ma’am, because I’m a gentleman.” She quietly finished walking through the door as I held it open.

  6. Great blog and thanks for the etiquette tips. Living in Oxfordshire UK, not many people wear a Stetson apart from me, so confirming etiquette rules is appreciated.
    I wear mine (well one of my nine) daily and would never go out without it. I don’t feel dressed without it.
    Thank you
    Oxfordshire, UK

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