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Ask any coyote in west Texas who was the best cowboy ever, and he’ll howl “Ah-hooo!” That’s coyote language for “Pecos Bill.”

Tough baby Bill’s pappy ran in from the fields in east Texas one day hollering, “Pack up! Neighbors movin’ in fifty miles away! Gettin’ too crowded!” So Bill’s folks and his fifteen brothers set off west in their covered wagon. One afternoon, the wagon hit a bumpy patch and Bill landed kerplop in the desert, suddenly all alone.

Bill was just sitting there in the dust when an old coyote came up and sniffed him. “Goo-goo!” Bill said, which happens to mean “Glad to meet you” in coyote language. The old coyote gave Bill a big lick and carried him home to his den. Bill became one of the pack and soon forgot what it was like to be a human.

Seventeen years later, Bill was sniffing around the brush when a cowboy showed up and spotted Bill. “Hey you! What in the world are you?” the cowpoke hollered. “Varmint,” croaked Bill, for he hadn’t used his human voice in seventeen years. “No, you ain’t! You ain’t got no tail!”

“Oh, yes I do,” said Bill as he turned around to see that he indeed had no tail. “Dang,” he said. “So what am I?” “You’re a cowboy! So start actin’ like one!” Bill suddenly realized how different he was from his coyote friends, and with a heavy heart he said goodbye to the pack and set off for the nearest ranch.

Being a human was hard. Bill started wearing clothes, but to clean himself he’d just throw some water on his face and go around looking like a wet dog the rest of the day. Some cowpokes thought Bill wasn’t that smart. Truth is, he would become one of the greatest cowboys who ever lived. One day Bill overheard some ranch hands talking about the meanest bunch of varmints called “The Hell’s Gate Gang.” Bill thought they sounded like his kind of folks, so he jumped on his horse and took off down Hell’s Gate Canyon.

Not long after, Bill’s horse stepped in a hole and broke its ankle, so he draped the critter over his shoulders and kept on. After about a hundred miles, Bill heard some mean rattling from an angry rattlesnake. “Knock it off, you scaly-hided fool. I’m in a hurry.” Bill said. The snake kept on rattling, so Bill had no choice but to knock him cross-eyed. He wrapped the rattler around his arm and continued along with his horse around his neck.

After another hundred miles, Bill heard a terrible growl from a mountain lion getting ready to leap on top of him. “Don’t jump, you mangy bobtailed fleabag!” Bill shouted. The varmint didn’t heed Bill’s warning, so Bill wrestled him into a headlock until the big cat cried uncle. The embarrassed critter started to slink off, but Bill felt sorry for him. “C’mon you big silly, you’re more like me than most humans I meet.”

Bill came upon the Hell’s Gate Gang’s camp with all his critters and asked “Who’s the boss around here?” One cowpoke said in a shaky voice, “Stranger, I was. But from now on, it’ll be you.” “Well, thanky, pardner,” said Bill.

Things were going fine for Bill and his gang until Texas began to suffer one of the worst droughts in history. They lassoed water from the Rio Grande, then the Gulf of Mexico. No matter what he did, though, Bill couldn’t get enough water to stay ahead of the drought. Everything was drying up and blowing away.

When the end seemed near, the sky turned purple and a terrible roar came from the mountains. A huge cyclone appeared, heading straight for Bill’s ranch. “Yahoo!” Bill hollered, and he swung his lariat and lassoed that cyclone around its neck.

Bill held on tight as he was sucked up into the middle of the cyclone. It bucked like a wild bronco, but Pecos Bill just held on and used his strong grip to wring the rain right out of it. He rode that twister across Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Finally, Bill fell off of the shriveled-up funnel, dusted himself off, and said, “There. That little waterin’ should hold things for a while.”

After his wild ride, Bill and his horse were bouncing around the Pecos River when a red-haired woman riding the back of a gigantic catfish came splashing out. “What’s your name?” Bill shouted. “Slue-foot Sue! What’s it to you?” she hollered. Then she war-whooped away across the Pecos River.

After that, all Pecos Bill could think of was Slue-foot Sue. When he found her little cabin, he was so love-struck he reverted to his old coyote ways and began a-howling and ah-hooing. Sue had a bit of coyote in her too, so she completely understood Bill. She leaned out of her window and ah-hooed that she loved him, too. Right then, they decided to get married.

After a lovely ceremony, a terrible catastrophe occurred. Sue got it in her head that she had to have a ride on Bill’s wild bronco. Bill tried to talk Sue out of it, but she wouldn’t listen. Wearing her wedding dress with its huge steel bustle, she jumped on Bill’s horse and dug in with her spurs.

Well, that bronco started a-bucking so much that Sue was suddenly flying high into the Texas sky, looping over the new moon and back to earth. But when Sue landed on her steel-spring bustle, she bounced right back up into the heavens! Bill threw his lasso around her, but got yanked up into the sky too!

Pecos Bill and Slue-foot Sue bounced off the earth and went flying to the moon and never came back to earth. Not ever. Folks figure Bill and Sue dug their heels in that moon cheese and raised a pack of wild ones just like themselves. So when you hear a strange ah-hooing in the night, don’t be fooled—that’s Bill howling on the moon instead of at it.

Pecos Bill: An Illustrated American Tall Tale  
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