Cowboy Etiquette: The Chuckwagon
“The spot between the fire and the chuck box is sacred ground, and no one passes through it except the cook.”
The popular perception of the cowboy is that he was a sweaty little man sitting tall in the saddle with few manners and morals. The voguish image is of a group of grubby men who rode hell for leather into cowtowns, whooping and shooting, whoring and drinking. That was certainly true of some who slapped leather and popped rawhide. It wasn’t true of all cowboys, however, who tended to be young men reared on the Bible and their mother’s morals. But generally independent-minded and far from home, if a cowboy needed reminding to ride a straight trail ranches like the XIT posted rules of conduct for those who rode for the brand.
Beyond ranch rules, however, cowboys followed their own set of unspoken and unwritten regulations. They had a certain etiquette that ensure every cowboy acted professionally and gentlemanly. There was an etiquette governing the proper handling of their hats and how they were to treat the camp cook. In truth, chuckwagon etiquette could be fraught with unseen dangers for the uninitiated greenhorn. Trail and ranch cooks didn’t suffer fools with patience and grace, and making a mistake in and around his sovereign domain was usually met with a tongue lashing of boiling profanity that could raise a blister on a cast iron skillet. If a cowboy wanted to avoid the cook’s wrath, and assure his share of the grub, it behooved him to learn the chuckwagon rules religiously. They included the following.
No one is allowed in the cook’s kitchen, especially in the early morning, unless invited.
No one eats until Cookie calls, “Come and get it,” “Wake up snakes, and bite a biscuit,” “Chuck-away,” or “Chuck.”
Hungry cowboys wait for no man, so when Cookie calls, everyone comes a-running or runs the risk of missing out.
Fill your plate, move on, and fill your belly.
Cowboys eat first, talk later. A lot of talk at mealtime may bring on an ulcer in a cow camp.
Eat with your fingers if you like. The food is clean and delicious.
If you refill your coffee cup and someone yells, “Man at the pot,” you’re obliged to refill every hand’s cup.
Don’t take the last serving unless you’re sure you’re the last man in line.
Eat what you take. Food left on the plate is an insult to the cook.
No running, fuddling, or riding near the chuckwagon. When you ride off, ride downwind of the chuckwagon.
No spitting or smoking under the wagon tarp unless you’ve been given permission.
If you come across decent firewood, bring it back to the chuckwagon.
Strangers are always welcome at the chuckwagon and eat first.
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