Pecos Bill is a character of legend, born out of the tales told by ranch hands at the end of a long day of rustling cattle. While Edward O’Reilly first wrote about the character in 1917, Pecos Bill had existed many years before that, his exploits told and re-told around the campfire, growing greater with each re-telling. Pecos Bill in his superhuman feats, personifies the frontier spirit moving where he pleases and using his great strength and work ethic to bend nature to his will.
Pecos Bill’s early years: born to humans, raised by the wild
The legend says that Pecos Bill was born sometime in the 1830’s and was one of eighteen children to parents who were Texas pioneers. Even in his first years, Pecos Bill was said to be unusual, using a Bowie knife as a teething ring and keeping wild animals as his play pals. When he was only a toddler, Pecos Bill fell out of his parents’ wagon while they were crossing the Pecos River (hence the nickname “Pecos Bill”). Bill was found shortly afterwards by coyotes and brought to the wild, where he was raised by the wild animals.
Years later, Bill was said to have been found by his brother. As Bill had spent so long among the wild animals, it took his brother some time to convince Bill that he wasn’t a coyote. Bill and his brother eventually returned to civilization, where Bill began his life as a cowhand. It was at this time that the legend grows, with Bill displaying his prolific strength and keen wit.
The stories tell of Bill inventing many of the tools that were used by ranch hands, including:
- The branding iron, a hot metal shape pressed against cattle in order to identify them
- The Lasso, used to capture cattle or other livestock when necessary
- Cattle songs used to soothe anxious cattle
Some of Pecos Bill’s many feats include:
- Riding a cyclone
- Roping or lassoing an entire herd of cattle at one time
- Using a rattlesnake as a whip
- Harnessing the Rio Grande River in order to water his ranch
Pecos Bill meets Slue Foot Sue
One day, while he was working near the Rio Grande River, Pecos Bill spotted a beautiful woman riding on a catfish that was the size of a whale. Bill fell in love with this woman, who was named Slue Foot Sue, the moment he saw her, and he vowed to win her love. To impress her, Bill used his six shooter guns to shoot every star out of the night sky except for one – the Lone Star (Texas is known as “The Lone Star State”). Eventually Bill won over Slue Foot Sue. However, Slue insisted on riding Bill’s horse, Widow Maker. Widow Maker would not tolerate being ridden by any human except for Bill, and when Sue tried to get on him, Widow Maker is said to have bounced Sue to the moon.
The “death” of Pecos Bill
When he got up there in years (got older), Pecos Bill moved out to New Mexico. As he was sitting in a bar one day, a so-called “cowboy” walked in. This cowboy had come from Boston, and had fancied himself a cowhand to match the likes of Pecos Bill. This Yankee from Boston had gotten himself some Lizard skin boots, a ten gallon hat, some new blue jeans and a shiny brass belt buckle. When he walked into the bar, Pecos Bill turned to look at him, and fell over with laughter. He laughed so hard, he died, according to the legend.