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David Althouse’s “How Pecos Bill Saved Christmas”
Introduction and Text of Poem, "How Pecos Bill Saved Christmas"
Gargling with nitroglycerin and chewing on habanero peppers, Pecos Bill saved Christmas one year. Accompanied by his horse, Widow Maker, Pecos Bill performs his extreme acts throughout cowboy folklore.
Cowboy poet David Althouse, in his hilarious drama titled “How Pecos Bill Saved Christmas” features a character from cowboy folklore, Pecos Bill, who performs extraordinary acts and boasts a bizarre history.
For example, Pecos Bill was supposedly bounced off a wagon heading west as a newborn infant, was left behind by his unwitting parents and then raised by coyotes. That auspicious (or perhaps inauspicious) beginning sets the stage for the many fantastic events in the adventures of Pecos Bill.
Narrated in 16 rimed couplets, “How Pecos Bill Saved Christmas” represents one of those bizarre, outrageous events that readers have come to expect from this unlikely hero.
(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")
How Pecos Bill Saved Christmas
You’ve heard the tales of Pecos Bill, a western hero bold and true—
Like his paintin’ deserts, ridin’ twisters, and marryin’ up with Slue-Foot Sue.
Atop Widow Maker, his cantankerous steed, live rattlesnake whip in tow,
Pecos swung a mighty wide loop, ‘twas a one-man Wild West show.
So it would’ve come to no surprise to those who knew him best,
Pecos once saved Christmas when it was almost cancelled way out west.
Pecos was winterin’ in Colorado at his cabin two miles high,
When he stood up to look southwesterly to the Arizona sky.
His eagle eyes could take in country most normal eyes couldn’t see,
And he spotted somethin’ white where the Grand Canyon was supposed to be.
The worst winter storm in history had filled the great chasm up with snow,
And soon he spotted reindeer antlers stickin’ up from down below.
Well, Pecos knew no such reindeer lived out in Arizona land,
So he knew St. Nick was trapped with his sleigh and reindeer band.
Great times call for great men, and such was true upon this night;
Christmas hung in the balance, and Pecos aimed to set it right.
Pecos whistled for Widow Maker, and the ornery hoss was there post haste,
And they took off like a lightening bolt with little time to waste.
In just a couple of minutes they were at the canyon rim;
Pecos looks at Widow Maker and then he says to him,
“I’m gonna gargle some nitroglycerin mixed with habaneros don’t you know,
And I’m gonna blow it through the canyon and melt down all that snow!”
Now, Pecos was a known spitter, and could prove it with his deeds,
Having practiced with tobacco juice and watermelon seeds.
He chews on the habaneros and swishes the nitroglycerin all around,
Plants his feet, pulls in some air, and then—he unwound!
This fireball of a concoction blast through the canyon—end-to-end—
Allowin’ the Christmas sleigh to elevate and fly off in the wind.
Now if you doubt this story, and think it doesn’t make much sense,
Next time you’re at the canyon just look at the evidence.
Great fire-burnt canyon rocks were left behind from Bill’s fiery spray,
Which is why they’re reddish orange even to this day.
© 2009, David Althouse
"How Pecos Bill Saved Christmas" is reprinted here with kind permission from cowboy poet, David Althouse.
First Movement: “You’ve heard the tales of Pecos Bill, a western hero bold and true”
The first movement treats readers to some of the traditional accoutrements of Pecos Bill: he painted desserts, rode tornadoes (was said to have lassoed one), rode a horse named Widow Maker, used a live rattlesnake as whip, and married an equally outlandish character named “Slue-Foot Sue.”
This movement also introduces the first element that will result in Pecos Bill’s saving Christmas. He was spending his winter in Colorado in his “two mile high” cabin, and he happened to look toward the southwest observing the “Arizona sky.”
Second Movement: “His eagle eyes could take in country most normal eyes couldn’t see”
Pecos Bill was able to see Arizona from Colorado because of his “eagle eyes,” and he saw that the Grand Canyon was filled with snow from “the worst winter storm in history.” But he also saw “antlers stickin’ up” through that snow, and he knew there were no deer like that in Arizona. He figured immediately that “St. Nick was trapped with his sleigh and reindeer band.”
Third Movement: “Pecos whistled for Widow Maker, and the ornery hoss was there post haste”
So Bill whistles for Widow Maker, and they are off “like a lightning bolt.” In only two minutes, they arrive on the rim of the Grand Canyon. Bill announces to Widow Maker, “I’m gonna gargle some nitroglycerin mixed with habaneros don’t you know, / And I’m gonna blow it through the canyon and melt down all that snow!”
Pecos Bill had practiced spitting using “tobacco juice and watermelon seeds,” and he had become quite expert in that practice. Thus, he planned to spew the nitro and habanero juice through the canyon to melt the snow to release Santa Claus and his hapless reindeer.
Fourth Movement: “He chews on the habaneros and swishes the nitroglycerin all around”
So Bill does as he said he would, “chews on the habaneros and swishes the nitroglycerin.” He then stands and spits it through the canyon. The combination of nitro and hot peppers raises a “fireball of a concoction” which flashes through the canyon melting the snow and “[a]llow[ed] the Christmas sleigh to elevate and fly off in the wind.”
The narrator then remarks that even though his readers/listeners might think the story “doesn’t make much sense,” he points out the evidence of its veracity: “Great fire-burnt canyon rocks were left behind from Bill’s fiery spray, / Which is why they’re reddish orange even to this day.”
Most important of all, however, is that Pecos Bill saved Christmas that year, and everyone can be grateful for that.
Roy Rogers Sings "The Ballad of Peco Bill"
© 2015 Linda Sue Grimes