Do we need a new ‘Code of the West?’


Julie Carter is a New Mexico writer and author whose column appears weekly on Rio Grande Digital.

Julie Carter

It has been almost 150 years since Horace Greeley advised, “Go west, young man, go west and grow up with the country.”

And today, they are still coming, not so much as a direction, but more of a destination. Ours is a nation of immigrants — people who have never been content to stay in one place and always seek the new of what might be over the next horizon.

The West has long been a frontier to those with a variety of needs. Some come seeking a romanticized version of it as the “old West” or the “Wild West.”  Others search peaceful solitude away from the noise of an industrial civilization.

Frontier can be defined as 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, new horizons and adventure.

In the 19th century, people who were willing to take a chance on the unknown moved to a vast, unsettled land that 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.

Bad roads, water shortages, high utility costs, the threat of wildfires and miscellaneous wildlife that won’t respect the newcomer’s boundaries are just a few of the challenges for the new breed of pioneers.

Often urban escapees come expecting the same local government services they received in in the city limits. Emergency response time is always an issue when they expect fire trucks or ambulances to be there in three minutes when 25 minutes is the reality.

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. They are frequently titled “Code of the West” in reference to the Code of the West novel by Zane Grey.

The original Code of the West was unwritten and was based on integrity, self-reliance and accountability – the traits that guided the men and women who moved into the region during the westward expansion.

However, most of the today’s “code books” cover water rights, split estates and open range. They 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 considerably longer. They also address accepting “ag-related annoyances” that existed long before they moved in.

Agencies of all kinds continue to address complaints and demands from the 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 who were in the West before this new breed of pioneer arrived, fight to keep the simple basic lives they led before the onslaught of subdivisions and the pandemic growth of golf courses.

However, it is America and therefore 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.

Creating a new Code of the West set of guidelines might be the answer for those willing to accept the changes. But for most, I suggest making the covers something edible. At least they’ll find some use for it.

Julie can be reached for comment at jcarternm@gmail.comVisit her website at



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