TEXAS HISTORY has always consisted of an equal blend of true stories and tall tales. Consider the plight of Pecos Bill, the larger-than-life cowboy hero once invoked in campfire bragfests. Alas, Bill’s mighty reputation has, since his heyday a century ago, dwindled into a shabby facsimile of its former self. Today the legendary Westerner is remembered for a few minor exploits—riding a twister, roping a cougar, spiking his whiskey with nitroglycerin—while his greater contributions to modern Texas life pass unremarked. Read on for a refresher course in the life of the patron saint of cowboys, a peek into the secret history of the original tall Texan—Pecos Bill.
He was born during the siege of the Alamo, in 1836. His mother misplaced him amid the smoke of battle, but he escaped unscathed with Susanna Dickinson.
A graduate of Texas A&M, he developed a jackrabbit-antelope hybrid he dubbed the jackalope. It later escaped and began reproducing in the wild.
After stubbing his toe on the Palo Duro Canyon, Bill washed off the blood in a nearby creek, which was thereafter known as the Red River.
His longtime girlfriend, Slewfoot Sue, nicknamed him “Longhorn” for personal reasons. He recorded their affair in a memoir called Done Some Love; Larry McMurtry later adapted the title to fit his own book.
He built the Astrodome as a playhouse for his children, giving it to the city of Houston after they started bumping their heads on the roof.
A noseguard for the Dallas Cowboys, he was kicked off the team after one too many towel-snapping episodes with Roger Staubach. Consoling himself with a trip to Paris, he visited the Eiffel Tower and sparked an international incident by stating the French didn’t know a derrick from duck à l’orange.
Annoyed by the itty-bitty beers served in most bars, Bill began ordering half a dozen at a time, thus creating the six-pack. Similarly, his fondness for stewed donkey meat inspired a Texas favorite, the burrito.
In later life Bill had to have an octuple bypass. At one point during the operation his heart stopped—fortunately for Texas: His invention of hot sauce resulted, he claimed, from his brief glimpse of Hell.
Now semi-retired, he leads occasional snipe hunts at his home on the Woolpull Ranch near Bunkum.