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Monday, August 18, 2008

TOM P AND THE UNWRITTEN CODE OF THE WEST

In Tom P's Fiddle, I wrote that "Tom lived by his own code of honor, forged in the fire of his father's death, which did not necessarily adhere to existing laws. He believed in hard work and self-reliance for survival since trusting others except for family was risky. Tom learned at a young age that justice and protection from the law didn't always happen." [p. 12]

Some of the 'rules' of the Code of the West are listed below. I'll comment on how each relates to Tom's story.
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Don't inquire into a person's past. Take the measure of a man for what he is today.
This helped Tom when he worked on the Newman Ranch in the Panhandle. His past was of no concern to the other cowboys; his skills were more important.

Never steal another man's horse. A horse thief pays with his life.
Throughout his troubles Tom did not resort to theft unless he was desperate like when he escaped from the Hillsboro jail. Even then, he went out of his way to make restitution.

Defend yourself whenever necessary.
When Tom killed Mr. Land and Frenchy Rauls, it was in self-defense.

Look out for your own.
Tom P helped his friend George Walker during his legal woes following the shooting of Mr. Land.

Never order anything weaker than whiskey.
Drinking whiskey got Tom P into trouble with the law. It added to his confrontations with the law in Hillsboro while out on bail.

A cowboy doesn't talk much; he saves his breath for breathing.
Tom wasn't given to much talk which makes his conversations with William Poage on the way back from New Mexico and reported in the newspaper all the more interesting.

A cowboy always helps someone in need, even a stranger or an enemy.
Although he could have done much better on his own when he escaped from jail, Tom P helped the other escapees as well as himself.

Give your enemy a fighting chance.
Tom warned Frenchy Rauls to leave him alone in Hobart, Oklahoma. When the drunk Mexican came at him anyway with a stiletto, Tom no longer hesitated as his own life was in danger.

Be there for a friend when he needs you.
The Fort Worth Star Telegram wrote this about Tom after his death: "Varnell ...was rather good looking and a man of good bearing. When he liked one personally he was ready day or night to follow him to the last ditch and lay down his life for him if need be..."

Obviously, there is more to this Code than what is listed above, but these were the rules that stood out to me that related directly to Tom and his story.

Read more about this unwritten Code at: Legends of America


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