View From Lodi, CA: Cowboy Ethics Meet Wall Street in Elko, NV
January 20, 2006, 04:00 AM
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Elko, Nevada is about 450 miles from Lodi as the crow flies.

Under normal driving conditions, the trip should take about seven hours. But in late January, when the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering takes place, snow covered passes, freezing rain, or zero visibility can make the trip nearly twice as long.

Nevertheless, intrepid souls from all corners of California and places as far away as Australia, South America and Mongolia head for Elko where from January 28th to February 4th they'll trade stories, songs , poetry and pictures about the great but gradually vanishing west.

The Western Folklife Center, which presents the Poetry Gathering, is dedicated to making the annual event "a place of personal meaning."

One way it does this is by connecting people to the authentic cultures of the West.

That is exactly what the Cowboy Poetry Gathering has done for me. Over the years, I have met and worked with people who have dedicated their lives to keeping the spirit of the west alive. That's no small task in this modern era of bumper-to-bumper traffic and endless urban sprawl.

Among the friends I've made are Scott O'Malley, founder of Western Jubilee Records, and David Stoecklein, widely acknowledged as the "photographer of the American West."

In the ten years since O'Malley started Western Jubilee, the company has put together an impressive catalogue of artists including the legendary Don Edwards, renown cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell and Wrangler Award winners, Sons of the San Joaquin.

Jack, Joe and Lon Hannah—they are the Sons of the San Joaquin—are neighbors to Lodians. They hail, not surprisingly, from the Great Central California Valley.

Music is actually a third career for the Hannahs. Their original love was baseball. Jack pitched for the Milwaukee Braves farm system; Joe was a minor league catcher for the Chicago Cubs.

Then, after baseball but before their singing success, the Hannahs were teachers. Jack was a Fresno high school counselor and a baseball coach who was subsequently inducted into the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame. Joe became a high school teacher, coach and music director. And Lon taught at the elementary school level.

Their latest album, Way Out Yonder, proves why Roy Rogers called the Sons "the closest thing to the Sons of the Pioneers," the group Rogers originally founded.

Like O'Malley, David Stoecklein has devoted his life to spreading Western philosophy across the nation.

Reflecting on how the spirit of the West lassoed him, Stoecklein said,

"The Spirit of the West has moved me, a guy from Pittsburgh, PA ever since that day 32 years ago when I drove into Colorado and saw my first cowboy riding with his herd under the Rocky Mountains."

While you may not recognize Stoecklein's name, you have almost certainly seen his photographs that have appeared in advertisements for Ford, Chevrolet, Jeep, Marlboro and Wrangler among others.

After his successful corporate assignments, Stoecklein developed a line of popular calendars and coffee table books.

Last year Stoecklein Publishing released what may be one of the most important books of 2005.

Titled  Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West,  the book was written by 35-year veteran financier James P. Owen and intended to be a guide for the morally challenged corporate world.

In his introduction, Owens wrote:

"I believe 'Cowboy Ethics' can be a profound source of inspiration for meaningful change that starts with individuals, percolates through firms and organizations and could ultimately help transform the industry at large. Wall Street desperately needs a way out of its morass."

Owens points out that investors need only two things from Wall Street—someone they can trust and someone they can count on. And those two traits are the common denominators in all good working cowboys.

As someone who worked on Wall Street for more than twenty years, I am in total accord with Owens.

But I believe the book has a much wider audience. In fact, I suggest it as mandatory reading for parents struggling to instill character in their growing children.

Accompanied by Stoecklein's stunning photography, "Cowboy Ethics" has at its core Owens' personal ten-point 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

Owens expands on each of those ten themes by drawing from Western lore.

As an example for "Be Tough But Fair," Owens quotes the wonderful line from John Wayne in his 1976 film, "The Shootist".

"I won't be wronged, I won't be insulted and I won't be laid a hand on. I don't do these things to other people and I require the same from them."

Unfortunately, few of us have the chance to work in surroundings like O'Malley and Stoecklein.

But we can live the West vicariously by listening to "Way Out Yonder" on our car compact disc players or reading from "Cowboy Ethics" for a few minutes every day.

(Note to VDARE.COM readers: Listen to a live broadcast here)

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.