Pecos Bill: The Greatest Cowboy of All Time



Book: Pecos Bill: The Greatest Cowboy of All Time

Author: James Cloyd Bowman

Illustrator: Laura Bannon

Publisher: NYR Children’s Collection, republished 2007

ISBN-13: 978-1590172247 Hardcover

ISBN-10: 1590172248 Hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-0807563762 Paperback

ISBN-10: 0807563765 Paperback

Language level: 2

(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)

Recommended reading level: Ages 9 – 12

Rating: **** 4 stars

(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)

Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker

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Bowman, James Cloyd.  Pecos Bill: The Greatest Cowboy of All Time (published in 1937 by Junior Press Books, an imprint of Albert Whitman and Co., Chicago, IL).  Mr. and Mrs. Hunt are driving their covered with their eighteen children across Texas to the Rio Grande valley.  The youngest boy, four year old Bill, falls out of the wagon near the Pecos River.  By the time the rest of the family misses him and returns to find him, Bill is gone.  He is adopted and raised as Cropear by a coyote named Grandy.  Several years later, he is found by his brother Chuck who works for the I.X.L. ranch.  When he returns to civilization, he uses the superhuman powers he’d developed during his peculiar upbringing to become Pecos Bill, the best cowboy in the West.  In the process, the reader is introduced to such colorful characters as Gun Smith, Old Satan of the Devil’s Cavalry in Hell’s Gate Gulch, Slue Foot Sue, and Widow Maker the horse. Because life among the coyotes taught him the languages of the animals and gave him great strength, the hero has various supernatural powers, including the ability to talk to animals,and performs a number of fantastic feats, such as taming Pegasus, the most ornery and wild horse ever seen.  A number of common-sense practices are attributed to him as well, like cattle branding).

This very fun collection of Pecos Bill stories was a Newbery Honor Book in 1938.  Author James Cloyd Bowman takes the many yarns about the greatest of all cowboys and weaves them chronologically into something like a “biographical novel.”  References are found to chewing tobacco, smoking cigarettes, and drinking various alcoholic beverages like moonshine, whiskey, and Indian firewater, even to the point of getting drunk.  In addition to various colloquial euphemisms (dingbusted, tarnation, consarned), the name of God is used once as what sounds like an exclamation.  Plenty of shooting and some killing occur, but what would you expect in a book about the Wild West?  There is also a reference to eating humans, but it turns out to be all in jest.  In fact, the stories all have a lot of dry humor.  Those who like to read tall tales, especially about the folk heroes of America, will enjoy the book.  Many of Laura Bannon’s delightful illustrations are in color.

Bowman begins his account, saying, “This is a volume of genuine American folklore.”  But is it really?  Some, citing more recent research by American folklorist Richard M. Dorson, claim that Pecos Bill was largely invented as “fakelore” by Edward O’Reilly, who published the first known stories about him in 1917 for The Century Magazine and then reprinted them in the 1923 book Saga of Pecos Bill, and that later writers either borrowed tales from O’Reilly or added further adventures of their own invention to expand the cycle.  However, O’Reilly himself claimed that they were part of an oral tradition of tales told by cowboys during the westward expansion and settlement of the southwest including Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. And it is still possible that O’Reilly collected or at least drew from tales that had actually been handed down by early settlers of the area.  In any event, this is a beautifully written book which, with its chapters of moderate length that are quick and easy to read, young cowboy (and cowgirl) wannabees should appreciate.

This entry was posted in folklore, Newbery Honor Books, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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