Monday, November 29, 2021

"Pecos Bill," American Folk Hero

Click to see Vol. I, Issue 5 of the newsletter in which this article first appeared.

Listen to the audio of this article!

This article is designed for younger readers, with activities more suitable for children.

Each night when their work was done, the cowboys would sit around their camp fires and tell stories of the type called "tall tales." One of their favorite subjects was a character named "Pecos Bill." Many of his adventures "explained" things the cowboys saw.

For example, once bad men stole some of Bill's cows. When he caught the men, he hit them very hard, and knocked the gold fillings from their teeth. People can still find that gold in the desert.

Another time, he and his horse were lost in the desert, and were dying of thirst. He got a stick and dug a ditch that became the Rio Grande, the biggest river in Texas.

Once Texas had no rain for a long, long time. So Bill rode out to California and threw a rope around a cloud full of rain. He dragged it back to Texas, where it rained so much that it filled the Gulf of Mexico.

He also rode a tornado like it was a bucking horse. When he was finished, it had calmed down to just a breeze.

In another adventure, he chased some Indians so much that their face paint came off. You can still see it in the "Painted Desert" of Arizona.

(Do you believe any of these stories are true?)


Some words to talk about:

  • breeze: a gentle, pleasant wind
  • bucking: jumping around, like a horse trying to get someone off his back
  • desert: a place with very little rain and few plants
  • ditch: a long, narrow hole in the ground, often carrying water
  • fillings: something the dentist puts in your teeth to fill cavities (holes)
  • tornado: a very strong wind, the kind that can knock down houses


Choose the best answer. Correct answers are in the first comment below.

  1. Why did Bill hit some bad men very hard?
    A. Because he wanted to get the gold from their fillings.
    B. Because they took his cows.
    C. Because he wanted to put gold in the desert.

  2. Why did Bill make the Rio Grande?
    A. Because he and his horse were thirsty.
    B. Because he had a stick.
    C. Because it was a big river.

  3. How did Bill make the Gulf of Mexico?
    A. He dug it with a stick.
    B. He hit some men very hard.
    C. He brought rain from California. 

  4. How did Bill make the tornado calm down?
    A. He rode it like cowboys ride bucking horses.
    B. He hit it very hard.
    C. He dug a ditch with a stick.

  5. Where did the "paint" in the "Painted Desert" come from?
    A. Bill painted it there in his spare time.
    B. It came off of some Indians' faces when Bill chased them.
    C. It fell from the tornado.


These questions do not have "right" or "wrong" answers. They only ask your opinion.

  1. Stories about Pecos Bill are called "tall tales." Do they really "explain" anything? Why do you think people tell them?
  2. Do you think Pecos Bill always behaved in a good way? What would happen to you if you hit people, chased them, and so on?
  3. Why do you think so many of the stories about Pecos Bill talk about water and weather?

1 comment:

  1. Answers:
    Questions to Answer: 1. B; 2. A; 3. C; 4. A; 5. B

    Questions to Think About do not have any single correct answer. However, any answers you give should be supported by what you read or by things you know ("I think... because...").