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The Cowboy Co-op Electric co-op founders bucked tradition


to bring lights to the frontier O


ctober is National Co-op Month, so it seems fitting to look back to our beginnings and reflect on the reasons for the creation of electric cooperatives. It’s is a remarkable story that demonstrates the exceptional nature of the citizens who populated rural America, then and now.


Nineteen hundred and thirty five. It’s hard to imagine what rural life was like in those days, especially through the lens of our 21st century existence. It was, for all intents and purposes, a frontier life. Rugged people made a living by strength, persistence and hard, often crushing, work, and neigherbor helped neighbor when times got tough. Precious few individuals remain that recall life before electric lights. Back then, 95 percent of urban dwellers had electricity, while only one in 10 rural Americans was so blessed.


It was in this same year on May 11 when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed executive order 7037 creating the Rural Electrification Administration (REA). Immediately, “cowboy” cooperatives took the bit in their teeth and started putting together electric co-ops all across America. Choctaw Electric Cooperative (CEC) got its start on June 8, 1940.


Some might think these “cowboy co-ops” would be restricted to the West, but the case can be made that every electric cooperative was formed by the cowboys of their area. Tough, self-reliant and hardworking men and women who were willing to take bold action to serve their interests and create a better life for their families.


But working in your self-interest should not be confused as being selfish. Those co-op founders were working together for their families, neighbors and for their rural communities.


The term “cowboy” conjures up Hollywood images of hard fighting, rugged individuals fighting injustice against great odds. While the actual co-op founders may


8 | october 2014


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