In March 2010, I posted “Wyoming’s cowboy ethics good for lawyers, too” opining that lawyers might learn a thing or two from the Wyoming State Legislature’s adoption of an “Official State Code” modeled on a romanticized cowboy ethos and the set of rules they supposedly live by.
But a few days ago, I finally caught up with another Wyoming story. Unfortunately, this one misidentified the parties. And consequently, it didn’t put Wyoming cowboys in as good a light as did that 10 point State list of aspirational life rules.
“The Further Adventures of Germ Girl” noted that the Wyoming Department of Health had issued a report of Campylobacter illnesses after two sheep ranch workers had fallen ill from castrating lambs by biting their testicles off with their teeth.
The Wall Street Journal‘s Health Blog also carried the story at “CDC: Castrating Lambs With Your Teeth May Make You Sick.”
Now I’m not going to delve into the missing merits of such stupid machismo or into the poetic justice of contracting diarrhea, nausea, and fever-inducing campylobacteriosis after mistreating a helpless animal this way.
In my previous rural No. Nevada life, there were several Basque restaurants in the area. A serving of so-called mountain oysters was easy to find – – – had I ever acquired a taste for a plateful of deep-fried bull calf testicles. But thankfully, I never did see lamb fries on any menu nor did I ever hear of any cowboys biting them off the lambs with their teeth.
But here’s the thing. Well before those two cowboy hat wearing sheepherding amigos in “Brokeback Mountain,” some folks have held the mistaken idea that sheepherders are cowboys.  But to be precise, sheep tending does not a cowboy make, anymore than standing in a pasture makes one a Hereford – – – even if the two drifters in Ang Lee’s award-winning film also coincidentally happened to be in Wyoming like the two campylobacteriosic sheepherding ball-biters.
The dictionary defines Cowboy as “a man who herds and tends cattle on a ranch, especially in the western U.S., and who traditionally goes about most of his work on horseback.”
Some may think this a small thing, a nuance. But it’s well-settled out West and consistent with the views, for instance, of renowned Montana artist, former cowboy Benjamin C. Steele who of his late cattleman father said, “My father wouldn’t raise sheep, he was a cowboy, he raised cows.”
So when “High Country News” carried the story at “Do not sink teeth into animal testicles,” they got it wrong when they referred to the two men working on a Wyoming sheep ranch as “cowboys.” And besides, under the State Code, had they really been Wyoming cowboys, they’d have known they were in violation of Rule #10,“Know where to draw the line.”
 See, for example, Brokeback Mountain – Movies – New York Times noting the “heartbreaking story two cowboys who fall in love almost by accident” and The Guardian’s John Patterson discussing the film “featuring Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal as cowboys” in “Way out west.”