Don’t Mess With Cookie

I got to thinking the other day about the people in my personal and professional life who are an absolute necessity for me to get my job done. Is it my since-retired assistant Barbara, affectionately nicknamed “Berber,” with her pleasant demeanor and can-do attitude? Perhaps it’s the talented staff and managers who are on the front line every day serving our clients? Or is it simply my wife, Ronda, who serves as an encouraging career counselor, patient sounding board, and enthusiastic butt-kicker all in one?

Each of us, if we focus on it for a minute, we can easily come up with at least a short list of people who have been essential to our success, be it in business or in any other pursuit.  I wonder, though, if they know their importance to our achievements? I wonder if they recognize gratitude and thankfulness for what they selflessly do for us? If they do, I think that’s one of the greatest things about humankind: mutual respect and grateful recognition. If they don’t, however, what role do we play in helping them recognize their value to us? How can we nurture relationships with those that are essential to our success?

ash black bucket burn
Photo: Pexels

I believe we need to make a conscious effort to tell the important people in our lives how much we appreciate their guidance and assistance, and that we recognize how important they are to us. People who are there to offer a helping hand are as vital to our accomplishments as any other factor I can think of, and that includes any God-given talents we may possess.

The more we understand this reality and thank these folks, the more likely these allies are to continue to provide us invaluable support in our pursuits. Plus, they’ll appreciate us more for treating them with so much respect. By creating this circle of mutual appreciation, we’ll see an immeasurable increase in both our level of success and in the strength of our relationships with each other. In essence, when we fully embrace the benefits that come from strong, mutually-beneficial relationships, we begin to live a life rich in gratitude. Truly, a blissful existence!

Cookies on the open range

Photo: True West Magazine

Cowboys on the open range driving cattle sure understood gratitude and what is was like to have someone of high-value in their lives. They needed look no further than the camp cook, or “Cookie” as he was usually known, who other than the cowboy’s own dogged determination, was arguably the most important human to a cowboy’s capability at his job. Not only was a cook resourceful in providing three square meals a day, rain or shine, cold or hot, but he also helped get the drive started in the right direction each morning.

Back in the days before GPS, you see, all the directions a drive took were guided by the single, northernmost star Polaris. It was the cookie’s duty each night to look up, note the location in the sky of this “North Star” and turn the tongue of the chuck wagon toward it. That way, the next morning, the drive would know which way to head out.

In addition to this primitive form of late-night geospatial positioning, each morning before dawn, the cook also started a fire with the fuels he had available—sometimes wood, sometimes cow or buffalo chips—while the camp wrangler saddled a horse and rode out to round up the remuda (the herd of horses used by the drive’s crew of cowhands).

Breakfast was the most important meal

By dawn the cook had breakfast ready. As the wrangler returned with the remuda, the cowboys rose from their bedrolls, put on their hats and boots—always in that order—and straggled over to the chuck wagon for their morning coffee. The coffee was the always the same, with the cook pitching fistfuls of roasted Arbuckle beans into a pot of boiling water. According to trail lore, occasionally the cook threw a horseshoe into the pot. If the horseshoe sank, it was said, the coffee wasn’t quite ready! Remember, these were hearty times on the open range.

Most cooks were older white men, retired from cowboying. Others, though, also fit the bill if they could whip up a tasty serving of son-of-a-gun stew or beefy beans. With that ability came standing and authority, for Cookie’s chuck wagon (on the trail) or cook shack (back at the ranch) was a private dominion ruled over by the cranky cook with complete sovereignty.

Back at the Ranch

When at the ranch, Cookie slept in the cook shack rather than in the bunkhouse, and he made certain the cowhands showed proper deference, which he enforced with the broad end of a cast-iron skillet if need be. You see, Cookie’s authority lay in the fact that he provided one of the single most important essentials, along with sleep, that a cowboy both prized and needed: top notch food. In fact, it is said that if a cook didn’t possess the skill necessary to prepare tasty, hearty meals, top hands wouldn’t even consider working for such an outfit.

“I’ve cooked in every condition known to mankind except an earthquake. Cooking for cowboys is something I’ll never give up, even if it does involve being deep in the pastures of one ranch for about 5½ weeks at a time.”

– Cowboy Cook Kent Rollins

Experienced cowboys understood that the camp cook was likely the single most important person as it relates to their success, and were sure they showed Cookie respect and gratitude for what he did for the cattle drive. Even today, modern cowboy cooks, who draw from a long, proud tradition, are revered by ranch hands everywhere, even if their methods have improved and recipes modernized with time.

Beans and bread. A stable of Cowboy cuisine. Photo:

From Grady Spears to Kent Rollins, so long as there are cowboys tending to cows in a pasture and looking after the land from the saddle, there will be a need for, and respect from working cowboys for the efforts of these purveyors of cowboy cuisine. So, like the cowhands of old or the working cowboys of today, each of us has a great opportunity every day to show respect and demonstrate gratitude – true gratitude – to the people who help us be successful, be it Cookie, Berber or Ronda.

With that, I think I’ll write a few thank you notes to my team, and buy my wife some flowers on my way home from the office.

Until next time, happy trails! ★

Chuckwagon Etiquette

  • No one eats ‘til Cookie calls
  • When Cookie calls, everyone comes a runnin’
  • Hungry cowboys wait for no man. They fill their plates, fill their bellies, and then move on so stragglers can fill their plates
  • Cowboys eat first, talk later.
  • It’s okay to eat with your fingers. The food is clean
  • If you’re refilling the coffee cup and someone yells “Man at the pot” you’re obliged to serve refills.
  • Don’t take the last serving unless you’re sure you’re the last man.
  • Food left on the plate is an insult to the cook.
  • No running or saddling a horse near the wagon. And when you ride off, always ride downwind from the wagon.
  • If you come across any decent firewood, bring it back to the wagon
  • Strangers are always welcome at the wagon.

(courtesy of


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