Sunday, April 26, 2015

A TALL TALE FROM TEXAS: Western Superman, Pecos Bill 

I am of that generation who grew up gnawing on crib rails covered in lead-based paint, riding with bare feet dangling off the tailgates of bouncing pickups, and eating warm-for-hours potato salad. I somehow survived without benefit of helmets, seat belts, and childproof caps. 

Perhaps best of all, I watched a constant stream of cartoons featuring anthropomorphic animals who smoked, drank, blew themselves up with dynamite and flattened their foes’ heads with anvils on a regular basis. That’s as close as I get to issuing a disclaimer for this blog.

With that out of the way, allow me to share a slightly unwholesome video clip of one of my favorite childhood heros–that towering Texan, the tallest tale of all tall tales–Pecos Bill. Watch him mulitmask like a master as he ropes and rides a cyclone, rolls a cigarette with his tongue (yes, folks, this is from Disney), fires off a few hundred hip shots with twin revolvers and YODELS. Even Widow Maker the horse joins in. Roy Rogers narrates and the Sons of the Pioneers provide background music for this 1948 classic.

I just loved Pecos Bill stories as a kid. That could explain my difficulties in elementary school. (You mean the Rio Grande wasn’t a trench dug by Pecos Bill?)
Pecos Bill, riding cyclones and swinging
his rattlesnake lariat
( image)
According to Legends of America...
The mythical folk hero, first written about in 1917 by Edward O’Reilly, is said to have been based on tales told by range hands at the end of a long day of tending cattle, and is in the same spirit of other "Big" characters like Paul Bunyan or John Henry. O'Reilly would publish these writings in the 1923 book ‘Saga of Pecos Bill.’”

Slue-foot Sue
(Walt Disney Company image)
For a while, Pecos Bill had a lady friend named Slue-foot Sue who traveled via a giant catfish. Pecos shot out all the stars in the sky to impress her. Of course, he left one which became known as the Lone Star. The relationship was fated to end when Sue insisted on riding Bill’s unrideable horse, Widow Maker. Apparently, Slue-foot Sue is still bouncing off the moon to this day.

Patrick Swayze starred in the 1995 Disney remake “TALL TALE,” wherein Pecos gets to hang out with his super-buddies Paul Bunyan and John Henry. They save the day by appearing in a troubled boy’s dream. (Boy, does this clip make me miss Patrick Swayze.)
Patrick Swayze as Pecos Bill
(Walt Disney Company image)
Click here to view TALL TALE preview.
So maybe Pecos Bill could save the day once again. Could he be the rootin’ tootin’ superhero who gives modern youngsters a taste of the Wild West? If we tell our kids and grandkids the bigger-than-Texas tales of his adventures (complete with sound effects!), might it whet their appetites for more Western fiction?

Only one way to find out. Tonight at bedtime, Pecos Bill will shoot out some stars and Slue-foot Sue will bounce off the moon during story hour. And, just because I love them, the younguns in this family are all getting rattlesnake lariats for Christmas.

All the best,

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(2015 SPUR Award Finalist,
Best Short Fiction
(2015 PEACEMAKER Award Finalist,
Best Short Fiction)


  1. Wonderful. Now if only Pecos Bill would show up in my dreams tonight too.

    1. You and me too, Frank. Especially if he looks anything like Patrick Swayze.

  2. Excellent. I enjoyed that video. We never had that series over here, as far as I know. Pity!

    1. American truth-stretching at its best! Thanks, Keith.

  3. Fun to read. Ahhh, the warm potato salad and salad dressing now explains it all...

    1. Thank you, Charlie. And drinking straight out of a garden hose and riding homemade go carts with no roll bars and throwing Black Cat firecrackers with our bare hands and...

  4. Tall tales--my first reading experience. I love tall tales and read all about Pecos Bill. We were allowed to check out one book a week from the library in the first grade, and I always checked out a Pecos Bill book. I wanted to be Pecos Bill in the worst way, although I'd have treated Slue-Foot Sue a lot better (she should've bopped him one in the noggin).

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  5. Weren't those great stories? I agree that Bill definitely missed out on a good woman.

  6. Vonn,

    ...and, and, and...
    -playing Cowboys and Indians with pistols that shot roll caps
    -going barefoot from May until September
    -fishing with a pole, string, and fishhook right off the bank of a mossy pond
    -gathering up Hognosed snakes and carrying them around for a while in the canvas newspaper delivery bags that were wrapped around your bicycle handles
    -shooting off pop bottle rockets in your bare hands
    -sledding on the iced-over creek and having to lay flat on your back to slip under the bottom wire of the four-wire barbed-wire fence with scarcely enough room to make it
    ... and the fun went on. *wink*

    1. If you're like me, you have a few scars as reminders. I didn't quite make it through the barbed wire fence once...

      Those were the days!

  7. What fun memories. Glad that you shared.

    1. Thanks, Jerry. The cell phone generation is really missing out, huh?