Sunday, August 28, 2016

Cowgirl Sass & Savvy

Code of the West gone south

by Julie Carter

The West has long been a frontier to those seeking a romanticized version of it or simply the quiet solitude away from the noise of an industrial civilization. Ours is a nation of immigrants -- people who have never been content to stay in one place but always wanting to see what is “over there.”

The frontier has been the line separating civilization from wilderness. For hundreds of years in America it has been a fluid line, moving westward as men sought open spaces and new horizons. In the 19th century, people who were willing to take a chance on the unknown moved to a vast, unsettled land beckoned to the daring and called to hardy, courageous folks of pioneer stock.

The call of the wild is the same in the 21st century but comes with issues that catch these new pioneers by surprise. The new 20-acre piece of paradise requires owners to realize they aren’t in the suburbs any more.

Poor roads, wildlife damage, water shortages, high utility costs and the threat of wildfires are just a few major items on the list for these new pioneers.

Many city dwellers move into the country and expect to get the same local government services they received in town. They want the solitude of living in the country but they also want 911 to respond in three minutes to a residence 25 minutes from the nearest emergency station.

It is such a common issue in rural communities across the West that many have compiled information into publications to be distributed to prospective property owners. Some of these booklets are titled “Code of the West” in reference to the Code of the West novel by Zane Grey. The original unwritten code - based on integrity, self-reliance and accountability – guided the men and women who moved into the region during the westward expansion.

Most of the today’s “code books” cover water rights, split estates and open range. Many explain why dogs can’t run wild and why rural residents often have to haul their own garbage. They warn that roads might not get plowed, cell phone service could be iffy, and emergency response time longer. They also address accepting “ag-related annoyances” that existed long before they moved in.

One example is the 52-page booklet from Sweet Grass County, Montana offering information on everything from fire prevention to noxious weeds to billboards. It gives suggestions for preserving viewsheds and designing homes compatible with the rural landscape.

County commissions and a long list of agencies continue to address complaints and demands from these new pioneers who, one issue at a time, try to turn the West into the East under the guise of their rights as taxpayers.

Those that were in the West before the new pioneers arrived fight to keep the simple basics lives they led before the onslaught of subdivisions and the pandemic growth of golf courses.

It is America and subject to ongoing change, even in the West. And those ag-related annoyances?  They are someone’s livelihood that undoubtedly have become disturbed by the un-ag-related annoyances that just moved a double wide home into the pasture next door.

A Code of the West booklet might be the answer for those willing to accept the changes. But for most, I suggest making the covers something tasty and edible. At least they’ll find some use for it.
Julie can be reached for comment at

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