Pecos Bill

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Pecos Bill is an American cowboy, apocryphally immortalized in numerous tall tales of the Old West during American westward expansion into the Southwest of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Their stories were probably invented by Edward 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.



The first stories were published in 1916 by Edward O'Reilly for The Century Magazine, and collected and reprinted in 1923 in the book Saga of Pecos Bill (1923). O'Reilly said they were part of an oral tradition told by cowboys during the westward expansion and settlement of the southwest including Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. However American folklorist Richard M. Dorson found that O'Reilly invented the stories as "fakelore"[1], and later writers either borrowed tales from O'Reilly or added further adventures of their own invention to the cycle.[2] One of the most well 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.

Edward "Tex" O'Reilly co-authored a cartoon strip with cartoonist Jack A Warren, also known as Alonzo Vincent Warren, between 1929 and 1938. When O' Reilly died in 1938, Warren began a strip titled Pecos Pete'. This was a story about "Pecos Bill" who had received a "lump on the naggan" which caused him amnesia. The cartoons originally were published in The Sun and were later syndicated. also has a wife.

Pecos Bill made the leap to film in the 1948 Disney animated feature Melody Time. He was portrayed by Patrick Swayze in Disney's 1995 film Tall Tale.

"Pecos Bill" was also the nickname of Civil War general William Shafter[3], although this was before O'Reilly created the legend. Shafter was considered a hero in Texas and even had some legendary poetry written about how tough he was.[4]


Like many tall tales, Pecos Bill stories involve combinations of super feats of courage and prowess (such as riding a tornado whirlwind like a bronco and using a rattlesnake for a lasso) and explaining natural phenomena (such as why coyotes howl at the moon, digging the Rio Grande, and how the Painted Desert became so colorful).

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