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Author, Journalist Writes Cowboy Code for Highlands

Slim Randles

Las Vegas, N.M. — Award-winning author and journalist Slim Randles wrote a Cowboy Code this summer for New Mexico Highlands University’s students.

“I was delighted and honored to be asked to write the Cowboy Code for Highlands,” Randles said. “Real cowboys live by the code that enables them to be kind, loyal, honest, hard-working and most of all, independent. The Cowboy Code is a way of looking at life and dealing with others honorably.”

Randles has written a number of acclaimed books, including novels, nonfiction and biographies. In 2001, he earned two New Mexico Book Awards, one for A Cowboy’s Guide to Growing Up Right and one for his memoir, Sweetgrass Mornings.

Randles said the Cowboy Code he wrote for Highlands is based on the Cowboy’s Guide to Growing Up Right.

“You might call the code a dose of bunkhouse wisdom,” Randles said. “In my opinion, there are two codes that stand out as the most important. The first is, ‘Saddle your own broncs.’ It’s about taking responsibility for your life and education. While there are people here to help you, the buck stops with you. The second is, ‘Ride a way with others.’ This one is about passing your knowledge along and helping someone who’s less experienced. 

“The Cowboy Code is something that can live inside you and can help guide you when times are really tough,” Randles said.

“A part of the code I especially like is ‘Find a passion,’ which means setting goals and working to achieve them,” said Highlands University President Jim Fries. “There is a tremendous depth of homespun wisdom and guidance for life in what Slim has given us in the Highlands Cowboy Code.”

During his 49-year career as a journalist, Randles wrote popular columns for the Albuquerque Journal and Anchorage Daily News. His current column, “Home Country,” is syndicated nationwide in 257 newspapers with a readership of of 2.1 million. In his early days as a newspaper reporter and editor, two of Randles’ investigative pieces were named as Pulitzer Prize finalists.

Legendary Western writer Louis L’Amour once wrote that Randles is, “A man to ride the river with.”  This cowboy saying refers to a reliable fellow cowpoke you’d like to have as a partner on a cattle drive.

Throughout his life, Randles’ outdoor adventures in memorable landscapes gave him rich material for his writing. He was a hunting guide in New Mexico and Alaska, packed mules in the eastern High Sierra mountains of northern California, and roped calves in rodeos.

In Alaska, Randles made the first solo dogsled trip across the Arctic Slope, going on to drive a dogsled team in the first Iditarod in 1973. The grueling 975-mile race across the frozen expanse between Anchorage and Nome is considered the premier dogsled event in the world.

Randles, who calls himself a semicountry boy, grew up in El Monte, Calif. in Los Angeles County on an acre of land one block from the Rio Hondo. His father commuted to Los Angeles for his job as an attorney while at home, the family raised horses, chickens and rabbits.

When he was growing up in the late 1950s, El Monte was semirural and called the cowboy capital of the world. Randles said El Monte has long since been swallowed up by Los Angeles.  

“I started bulldogging 700-pound steers when I was a scrawny 14-year-old kid who weighed 115 pounds,” Randles said. “I wasn’t very good at it, but I loved it.”

He competed at junior rodeos before going on the professional rodeo circuit. Randles landed his first paid newspaper job at 15, when he wrote a weekly column featuring rodeo stars called “Chutin’ the Bull” for the El Monte Herald.

“I was paid 50 cents a column inch for my column, enough to feed my horse,” Randles said.

Today, Randles lives on the western edge of Albuquerque, where he and his wife can hear the coyotes yip at night.

“I’m still young enough to start my own colts and old enough to know better,” Randles, 70, said. “My life has been a good ride and I’m no where near done yet. It’s whip ‘n’ spurs and full speed ahead.”