Pecos Bill is an American cowboy, apocryphally immortalized in numerous tall tales of the Old West during American westward expansion into the Southwest ofTexas, New Mexico, Southern California, and Arizona. Their stories were probably invented as short stories and a book by Edward S. O’Reilly in the early 20th Century and are considered to be an example of fakelore. Pecos Bill was a late addition to the “big man” idea of characters, such as Paul Bunyan or John Henry.
One of the best known versions of the Pecos Bill stories is by James Cloyd Bowman in Pecos Bill: The Greatest Cowboy of All Time (1937), which won the Newbery Honor in 1938 and was republished in 2007. This book comes from a private collection, as you can see pictured below: Col. John E. Barrington Kennett.
According to the legend, Pecos Bill was born in Texas in the 1830s. Pecos Bill was traveling in a covered wagon as an infant when he 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. Pecos 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 no other man could ride him and live. Dynamite was said to be his favorite food. It is also said Pecos sometimes rode a mountain lion instead of a horse. On one of his adventures, Pecos Bill managed to lasso a tornado.
Pecos Bill had a love interest named Slue-Foot Sue, who rode a giant catfish down the Rio Grande. 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, Pecos 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. Pecos attempts, but fails, to lasso her, because Widow-Maker didn’t want her on his back again, and she eventually hits her head on the moon. After she has been bouncing for days, Pecos Bill realizes that she would eventually starve to death, so he lassos her with Shake the rattlesnake and brings her back down. Widow-Maker, realizing that what he did to her was wrong, apologizes. Then no one knows what happened to Pecos Bill or where he was. In Bowman’s version of the story, Sue eventually recovers from the bouncing, but is so traumatized by the experience she never talks to Pecos Bill again. Though it is said that Bill was married many times, he never liked the others as much as Sue, and the other relationships didn’t work out. In some versions, Sue couldn’t stop bouncing, and Bill couldn’t stop her bouncing either, so Bill had to shoot her to put her out of her misery. Although he married many times after that, he never loved a girl as much as Sue.
It was also said that he once wrestled the Bear Lake Monster for several days until Bill finally defeated it.