January 21, 2021

#08-039: Pecos Bill, the Cowboys' Hero

cartoon of a cowboy with hat raised and "bucking bronc" pose, straddling a tornado
Pecos Bill lassos a tornado

Note: Americans used to love "big man tales," stories of larger-than-life figures: some entirely fictional, others based on legendary exploits of real men, and most associated with a particular profession. The lumberjacks had Paul Bunyan, the frontiersmen had Davy Crockett, and the cowboys had Pecos Bill.

Get Ready: Do "tall tales" of larger-than-life heroes serve an important function in society, or are they "just for fun"?

After the cows were bedded down, cowboys used to say around the campfire that as an infant, Pecos Bill had fallen out of his family's wagon near the Pecos River in Texas (hence his name), and was raised by coyotes. Maybe that's why, as one song about him puts it, "He was the roughest, toughest critter, never known to be a quitter, 'cause he never had no fear of man nor beast."

Many of Bill's exploits were "etiological"; that is, they explain how something came to be.

For example, a group of rustlers once stole a herd of cattle belonging to Bill. When he caught up with them, he hit them so hard that he knocked the gold fillings out of their teeth; "That's the reason why there's gold in them thar hills" (a common expression in the prospecting days).

Another time, he and his horse Widow-Maker (so-called because anyone--except Bill--who tried to ride him would be killed) got lost in the desert, and nearly died of thirst. So he got a stick and dug a watercourse that became the Rio Grande, the largest river in Texas (and the state's border with Mexico).

Water--or the lack of it--figures largely in stories of the Old West, and Bill's tales are no exception. Once a drought struck Texas, so Bill rode out to California and roped a raincloud, dragging it back to his home state. There was so much water in the cloud that the excess formed the Gulf of Mexico.

Likewise, he tamed a "raging cyclone," riding it like a bucking bronco while hand-rolling and smoking a homemade cigarette. In the end, the "ornery wind" was nothing more than a breeze.

In yet another adventure, he chased some Indians so ferociously that their war paint came off, coloring Arizona's "Painted Desert." And in the end, he shot out all the stars except one, leaving in the sky the "emblem of the Lone Star Texas State"--which has a single star on its flag.


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pecos_Bill

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. bucking bronco
  2. critter
  3. cyclone
  4. drought
  5. emblem
  6. frontiersmen
  7. lumberjacks
  8. ornery
  9. prospecting
  10. rustlers

  1. swirling wind, like a tornado
  2. searching for precious metals in the desert
  3. loggers
  4. horse that tries to throw a man off
  5. men who steal cows
  6. symbol
  7. disagreeable; stubborn
  8. time of little or no rain
  9. creature
  10. men who live on the edge of civilized regions

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for January 21, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. d; 2. i; 3. a; 4. h; 5. f; 6. j; 7. c; 8. g; 9. b; 10. e