Bill Sniffin: Code Of The West Author Shows How To Age Gracefully, On PBS

in Column/Bill Sniffin

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher

Jim Owen is one of the best-known, least-known people in Wyoming. 

The author of both Cowboy Ethics and The Code of the West, Owen had a huge influence on the state in the last decade by helping Wyoming adopt these codes, which seem to make more sense here in the Cowboy State than anywhere else in America. 

I talked with Jim Saturday about his latest project, which has a lot of interest to me. 

His three-stage career as a successful investor, then a proponent of Cowboy Ethics, has now turned to “aging well.”  He has produced a documentary with Jim Havey called The Art of Aging Well which follows his journey as he tried to re-invent his physical self at the age of 70.

Now, ten years later, he says he is in the best shape of his life and he wants to share his journey. The program will be on Wyoming PBS Friday, Sept. 4 at 7:30 p.m. and at noon on Sept. 6. 

Owen traveled the world giving talks about Cowboy Ethics to places like West Point, the FBI Academy, Navy Seals, and onward.  He was flying around giving 35 speeches a year and found himself in the worst physical condition of his life.  He weighed 205, his knees creaked, and his lower back was killing him. Through a number of changes in his life, which he is anxious to share, he now weighs 150 and feels no pain. Earlier he wrote a book called Just Move! published by National Geographic.

I am looking forward to seeing his documentary but his history with Wyoming really piqued my interest. 

It all started with the ubiquitous late Mick McMurry of Casper. McMurry wanted to start his Jonah Banks and had seen a copy of Owen’s book Cowboy Ethics.  McMurry thought his bank needed an ethic guide and with his bank president Mark Zaback, they met with Owen about incorporating it into the bank’s system of operation. 

The late McMurry, who died in 2015, was probably Wyoming’s biggest booster, with his wife Susie, during this last decade and pretty soon, the idea of Cowboy Ethics was speeding all across the state.  Ultimately, it was even adopted by the Wyoming Legislature as a code of conduct. Wyoming is the only state in America that has such a code. 

During his visits to Wyoming, he recalled one dinner with former U. S. Sen. Al Simpson in Cody. “I never met a man more interesting,” he said.

Owen, who now lives in San Diego, has a special affinity with Wyoming that goes back a long way.  In the early 1980s, Jim and his wife of 52 years adopted two children.  Their son was born in Sheridan and his wife had to be a Wyoming resident in order to complete the adoption, so she lived in a ranch outside of Sheridan for six months. 

From that date years ago, they came full circle ten years ago when Mick McMurry made that fateful phone call. 

“Wyoming is a great place,” he says. “Cowboy Ethics really matter here. They just do not anymore in Texas, Colorado, or Montana.”  He paused. “But, Wyoming, is the real home of the cowboy. And it is the home of the mythology of the West.”

He recalled being on a panel at the University of Wyoming and being nervous that he might be stumped by the professors on the panel with him. But when he started talking about the mythology of the West and how all great systems in mythology have to have heroes – well, in Wyoming, the cowboy is the hero. “When I was growing up, cowboys were always my heroes,” he says. “We need heroes in our lives today more than ever.”

“Heroes always live by a code of honor, loyalty, honesty, bravery . . . think of the Knights of the Round Table or the Samurai, for example. In every culture, there are noble heroes.   They all have ethics they follow,” he says,” and it is the same for Cowboys.”  

But now he has moved on from cowboys. 

“I am trying to inspire.  I guess I am in the inspiration business. I want people to reach for the best in themselves,” he said. “to do that it means taking care of yourself and taking on a healthy lifestyle.”

He doesn’t like the word exercise but believes the first step is to just move.  “My wife and I call our workouts training, which seems to fit us better. We like to do our exercises together.”

So like Jim, it appears the best thing we can do is just move!  

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