Howlin' cowboy Pecos Bill wrassles a tornado
Adapted by Amy Friedman
Adapted by Amy Friedman
"Pecos Bill and the Cyclone" is a tale from the American Southwest.
A long time ago, down in Texas, there was plenty of room and even more sky. Only a few pioneers lived out there. One of those was Pecos Bill, the youngest of 13 children.
Bill was always different. When he was born he refused to drink his mother's milk, so she fed him the milk of a mountain lion. Little Bill played with wild bear cubs.
When Bill was just a baby, his father packed up the family and set off to the Pecos River to live. Well, their wagon was crossing a dry streambed when it hit a big rock. Little Bill flew right out of that wagon. No one in the family saw him fall, they just traveled on.
As little Bill sat there in the dry streambed, a pack of coyotes came by. The coyotes looked at Bill, and he looked at them. These coyotes had never seen a human baby and didn't know quite what to think. The pack moved closer, and one of the females trotted right up to Bill and offered him a piece of deer meat. Bill didn't want to hurt her feelings, so he began to chew. And that made the coyotes feel kindly toward Bill. They welcomed him into their pack.
For many years, Bill lived with the coyotes. He ran with them, and at night he curled up beside them in their dens. When the full moon rose in that big sky, Bill and the coyotes howled through the night.
By the time Pecos Bill was 10 years old, he could outrun and outhowl any coyote. He never saw any other humans. Bill believed he was a coyote.
But one day a cowboy happened by. The cowboy stopped his horse and stared down at the strange-looking boy, clothed in fur. He leaned over and asked, "What's your name, son?"
Bill didn't understand human language, so he didn't say a word. The cowboy tossed Bill a plug of tobacco. Bill chewed it and just stared up at him.
The cowboy decided Bill needed him, so he stayed. He taught Bill to talk like a human, and he tried to prove to Bill that he wasn't a coyote.
At first Bill didn't believe him. "I can howl," he said.
"All Texans can howl," the cowboy said, "but boy, you don't have a bushy tail. You got to have a bushy tail to be a real coyote."
So Bill said goodbye to his coyote family. Then he straddled a mountain lion and rode with the cowboy to join the other cowboys at the ranch.
As they rode across the desert prairie, Bill caught a rattlesnake. Whoosh, in a second he turned that rattlesnake into a rope. He threw that rattlesnake rope right out there and caught a few gila monsters with it. "This here is a lasso," he said to the cowboy. That was just the first of Bill's many inventions.
At the ranch, Pecos Bill taught the cowboys almost everything they know today. He invented spurs for them to wear on their boots, and he taught them how to round up cattle.
One night, feeling a little lonely for his old coyote friends, he strode out to the corral. When the moon came up, Bill started to sing the way the coyotes had taught him, except this time he made up some human words to go along so the cowboys would understand.
After that, the cowboys often sang songs. They sang about the lonesome prairie, about the Texas sky, and about other cowboy things.
Pecos Bill wanted a horse. For a long time he watched a young mustang that could run faster than any horse Bill had ever seen. Fact is, he was the only horse Bill couldn't outrun. Bill wanted that horse bad, so he rigged a huge slingshot and climbed in. Then he shot himself high over the cactus. He landed, splat, in front of the horse.
That mustang was so surprised, he stopped. But he had been running so fast that his hooves stuck in the mud. Bill leaped onto the mustang's back and yanked on his golden mane and pulled him free. And off they flew.
Bill named his horse Widow-Maker. They traveled the prairies, starting new ranches and helping out on long cattle drives. Sometimes they holed up with a band of coyotes and sang late into the night.
Then came a terrible drought. The land shriveled up. The coyotes stopped howling, their throats were so dry.
And then one day Bill saw a tall, whirling tower flying over in Oklahoma. Bill climbed up on Widow-Maker's back and chased that cyclone. A lightning bolt struck the ground and quivered just long enough for Bill to grab hold. Then it whipped him into the sky. When Bill was as high as the top of the cyclone, he jumped onto its spinning shoulders.
Everyone for miles around looked up and saw Bill wrap his legs around the cyclone's belly and squeeze so hard the cyclone started to pant. Then Bill swung his lasso around the cyclone's neck and pulled so hard the cyclone began to choke, spitting out all its rain.
Down below, the coyotes and the jackrabbits and the lizards and the snakes lifted their heads and caught the sweet falling rain. The cowboys whooped with delight and held out their pans to catch the drops.
And so Pecos Bill became famous all over the Southwest.