Texas, Home of The King Cowboy Pecos Bill, according to Peter Poulakis, was the patron saint of all things cowboy. As a baby, Bill was weaned on moonshine, and teethed on a bowie knife. His legend began when he was about year old, when Bill’s father decided to move the family out west. Bill’s father felt that his farmland had become too crowed for comfort when a family moved within fifty miles of his farm. During the move Bill’s family crossed the Pecos River in their wagon. While crossing the river baby Bill fell out of the family’s wagon into the Pecos River.
Fast flowing waters washed Bill far down stream away from his family. A mother coyote found Bill and raised him as her own. Bill then lived like a coyote for the next ten years (Poulakis 138). Until one day a cowboy traveling through the woods came upon Bill wrestling two full-grown grizzly bears. The cowboy watched Bill bear hug both grizzlies into submission. The cowboy was intrigued by Bill, the cowboy then enquired with Bill as to why he was running around the woods naked acting like a varmint.
Bill simply stated that he is a varmint, and that’s what varmints do. Bill then howled like a coyote, walked on all fours, and pointed out his flees to the cowboy demonstrating his varmint nature. The cowboy then pointed out Bill’s lack of fur and tail means he’s a man not a varmint. The cowboy went onto explain that all Texans have fleas and doesn’t mean they’re all varmints (Poulakis 138). After thinking over the cowboy’s argument Bill came to conclusion that he was not a varmint after all.
Then decided to partner up with the cowboy and learned how to be a man. Bill with the cowboys help learned how to be a cowboy, and then improved upon cowboy life to what we all know it to be today. Bill invented many things people know to be cowboy using his animal like intelligence such as the six-shooter, train robbing, poker, rodeo, lasso, barbed wire, he even taught bulls to buck. Pecos Bills many adventures even carved the landscapes such as Death Valley, the Great Plains and the Rio Grande (Poulakis 138).
The Folklore adventures and deeds of Pecos Bill originate from a popular style of American folklore from around the late 1800’s at the beginnings of the industrial revolution. Many folklore heroes around this time focused on tradesmen and common workers whose grandiose achievements carved landscapes, and gave origin to common trade practices to better exaggerate life in America. The expansionism ideals of America during this time are highly reflected in folklore of Pecos Bill.
Since the early 1920’s Pecos Bill’s many adventures have made multiple appearances in media from, comics, books, radio, movies, television, and even cold war propaganda (Wagnleitner140 & Weiser 2010). Bill’s legend could even have roots further back than the mid 1800’s according to some. Author, Reinhold Wagnleitner, suggest Bills origin story follows the very same line as Romulus and Remus the two brothers who built Rome. Wagnleitner compares how both stories have similar roots in men being raised by feral dogs, and even building cities and states.
However the individualism values that Americans hold dear made Pecos Bill a rugged loner. Although how could it be any other way when making superman cowboy (Wagnleitner 140). Folklore whether borrowed or adapted has been a favorite way to poke fun, teach lesson and entertain for countless generations. It’s not surprising at all if some folklore gets recycled and little embellished along the way. Folklore is said to always have hint of truth to it (Poulakis 137). The truth of Pecos Bills folklore is represented more in his persona rather than his deeds.
Even in the story of Pecos Bill’s father suggest a hint of truth. Poulakis mentions Bill’s father feeling crowed by a family moving within fifty miles of his farm decided it was time to move west (Poulakis 137). Leading to the infamous incident of Pecos Bill falling into the river. This part of Pecos Bill’s tale makes light fun of the mass migration of settlers heading out west to settle harsh terrain. The story makes use of simple humor to better explain the west ward expansion phenomenon of the mid 1800’s.
Bryan Wooley interviewed an old ranch hand from the Pecos river valley that recounted what incredible difficulties settlers had in Pecos river valley. The 89-year-old ranch hand recalled how the Pecos River often over flow’s its bank and at times stretches a mile wide. When floodwaters receded the river would leave stagnant ponds of water, lethal to cattle. Unsuspecting drivers of cattle trains often lost hundreds of heads of cattle during drives threw the Pecos. When the Pecos River wasn’t flooded, the water was still questionable. Few locals could tolerate to drink it without becoming ill.
It wasn’t before too long that the hardships in Pecos became legendary (Wooley). Pecos Bill like the river, were famous for being rouged and tuff. Those who lived on the Pecos became legendary for the rugged lifestyle that made most western settlers keep traveling. However Pecos Bill’s exploits even his name wasn’t directly associated Pecos river valley till late 1920’s. Edward O’Reilly a writer for Century Magazine gave a name to the popular cowboy superman. O’Reilly claimed he was inspired by cattle driver tales around late night campfires, and stories of hardship along the Pecos.
From then on Pecos Bill’s name and legend grew. Many other writers added to his tales in other publications and even two movies: Melody Time in 1948 and Tall Tale: The Unbelievable Adventures of Pecos Bill in 1995 (Weiser 2010). Pecos Bills legendary exploits were even broadcast over the radio to entertain, and spread American Ideals in to cold war Russia during American Hour, Rot-Weise-Rot would regale listeners with stories about the king of cowboys and a giant lumber jack to intimidate communist during the cold war. Wagnleitner 141). Coming from campfire or maybe even Rome, Pecos Bills legend has made an impressive journey into American folklore. Pecos Bill’s legend is not so much a teaching tool giving wisdom and life lessons, or even being a mascot to every cowboy. Pecos Bill is more an observational tale of an expanding American, and a testament to the kind of people that turned prairie into pasture.
The same people that are reflected in Pecos Bill’s persona made great advancements in technology, and living both in factory and field. Their spirit, bravery, and ability are common themes for both western settlers and Pecos Bill. Even their animal like intelligence and ability to solve complex issues with simple solutions are as infamous as Pecos Bill’s. Though Pecos Bill stories may change with detail from publication to publication, there is always one that never does; Pecos Bill is always first and foremost a Texan.