Pecos Bill is a fictional cowboy and folk hero in stories set during American westward expansion into the Southwest of Texas, New Mexico, Southern California, and Arizona. These narratives were invented as short stories in a book by Edward S. O’Reilly in the early 20th century and can be considered an early example of folklore. Pecos Bill was a late addition to the “big man” idea of characters like Paul Bunyan or John Henry.
According to legend, Pecos Bill was born in Texas in the 1830s or, in some versions, 1845, the year of Texas’s statehood. Pecos Bill’s family moved out because his town was becoming “too crowded.” Pecos Bill traveling in a covered wagon as an infant, fell out unnoticed by the rest of his family near the Pecos River (thus his nickname). He was taken in and raised by a pack of coyotes. Years later, he was found by his real brother, who managed to convince him he was not a coyote.
He grew up to become a cowboy. Bill used a rattlesnake named Shake as a lasso and another snake as a little whip. His horse, Widow-Maker (also called Lightning), was so named because he was Texas’s first and most notorious serial killer, leaving a trail of dead bodies clear across Texas. Dynamite was said to be his favorite food. It is also said Bill sometimes rode a cougar instead of a horse. On one of his adventures, Pecos Bill managed to lasso a twister. It was also noted that he once wrestled the Bear Lake monster for several days until Bill finally defeated it.
Pecos Bill had a lover named Slue-Foot Sue, who rode a giant catfish down the Rio Grande. He was fishing with the pack when he saw her. Shake, Widow-Maker, and Slue-Foot Sue are as idealized as Pecos Bill.
After a courtship in which, among other things, Pecos Bill shoots all the stars from the sky except for one, which becomes the Lone Star, Bill proposes to Sue. She insists on riding Widow-Maker before, during, or after the wedding (depending on variations in the story). Widow-Maker, jealous of no longer having Bill’s undivided attention, bounces Sue off; she lands on her bustle and begins bouncing higher and higher. Bill catches her but then gets pulled with her. The town folks assumed Bill and Sue were bounced away to another place, or both ended up on the Moon, where they stayed and were never seen again.
In Bowman’s version of the story, Sue eventually recovers from the bouncing but is so traumatized by the experience that she never speaks to Pecos Bill again.
In a few other versions, Bill attempts, but fails, to lasso her because of interference by Widow-Maker, who did not want her on his back again (or, for that matter, didn’t want her coming between his and Bill’s friendship), and she eventually hits her head on the Moon. After she bounces for days, Pecos Bill realizes that she will ultimately starve to death, so he lassos her with Shake the rattlesnake and brings her back to Earth. Widow-Maker, learning what he did to her was wrong, apologizes and is forgiven.
In other versions, Sue could not stop bouncing, and Bill could not stop her from bouncing either, so Bill had to shoot her to put her out of her misery. Though it is said that Bill was married many times, he never loved the others as much as Sue, and the other relationships did not work out.
In the Melody Time version, Bill was apparently responsible for the California Gold Rush and the subsequent “There’s gold in them thar hills” expression. He knocked out the gold fillings of a gang of rustlers when they tried to steal his cow. Bill also creates the Lone Star long before he meets Sue. Additionally, after Sue gets stranded on the Moon due to Widow-Maker’s interference in preventing Bill from lassoing her, a disheartened Bill leaves civilization to rejoin the coyotes, who now howl at the Moon in honor of Bill’s sorrow for Sue.
In the more popular versions, including many children’s books, Bill and Sue reunite, marry and live happily ever after.
In a school story book (leveled reader), Bill finds a tornado and lassos it, reuniting them.
Sue does not figure in the 1995 Pecos Bill film Tall Tale; however, her fatal “bouncing to the moon” story is briefly narrated by Patrick Swayze‘s Bill, with Sue substituted by a man named Lanky Hank.
Pecos River. The river played a large role in the exploration of Texas by the Spanish. In the latter half of the 19th century, “West of the Pecos” was a reference to the rugged frontiers of the Wild West. The earliest-known settlers along the river were the Pecos Pueblo Indians, who arrived about A.D. 800.
Properly pronounced “pay-cuss,” the headwaters of the Pecos River are located north of Pecos, New Mexico, at an elevation of over 12,000 feet on the western slope of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range in Mora County. The river then flows through the eastern portion of New Mexico and through neighboring Texas before it empties into the Rio Grande near Del Rio. The river was named “Pecos” by the Spanish from the Keresan name of the Pecos Pueblo.
WE&P by: EZorrillaM