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Pecos Bill

By April 1999Comments

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.
  • April Fools!

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