What is the heroic cowboy? A man working against nature to achieve his best for the life of a drover, wrangler, cow puncher was for the most part a singular occupation. Yet, what set him apart from others?
In 1969, a western historian by the name of Ramon Adams penned a book called, The Cowman and His Code of Ethics. In this work, he made mention that when the west was young, law was non-existent,therefore, the cowboy had to invent "a rule of behavior" which allowed him to deal with society or the lack there of. The "Code of the West" was never truly written down. The axioms were merely taught to younger men, or by fathers to sons and can be considered mostly a "gentleman's agreement".
It is this code we use to discover our hero's in our novels. And all though we might make our heroes the "bad boys" in town, these anti heroes in real life would have been the social outcast not the norm. His fate would have been sealed by the very code that he lived by. In The Shootist (@1976) John Wayne's character states, "I won't be wronged. I won't be insulted. I won't be laid a hand upon. I don't do these things to others and I require the same of them." That pretty much sums it up.