PECOS BILL AND SLUE-FOOT SUE

Published: Sunday, July 7 1996 12:00 a.m. MDT

Most people know about Pecos Bill, the most famous cowboy who ever lived, the cowboy who pretty much invented cowboys. Most people know that Bill had the strongest, fastest, most beautiful golden mustang in the world. Widow Maker was his name, and even Bill, who could outrun almost every creature in the world, couldn't outrun Widow Maker. No one but Bill could ride that horse, and that's the way things should have stayed.

There was just one thing Bill always regretted about Widow Maker's ways. It happened like this.Bill and Widow Maker had traveled all over the Western range. They started new ranches and helped out in long cattle drives, and life was going along just fine when one day, while Bill and Widow Maker were walking along the banks of the Rio Grande River, they saw a catfish as big as a whale jumping around on top of the water. Riding that catfish was the prettiest girl Bill had ever seen. "That's the girl I'm going to marry," Bill said to himself. And he just about did.

The girl's name was Slue-Foot Sue. She lived with her mother and father up on Pinnacle Mountain. Sue was one determined young lady, and one thing she decided was that she could do everything a cowman could do. Bill liked that about Sue. He told her he would never make her wear the frilly clothes and the huge spring-steel bustle her mother made her wear. "Really?" she said. "I wish I were your wife." And because they liked each other so much, they decided to marry.

"There's just one thing you can't do, Sue," Bill told her. "You can't ride Widow Maker. No one but I can do that." Sue didn't say a word about that until their wedding day.

It was high summer, and everyone was gathered up at Pinnacle Mountain for the big event. The cowboys who rode up to the mountain were busting with fun. They whistled with appreciation when Sue walked in dressed in a dazzling white satin gown. Bill was breathless and excited. He stood there proudly wearing his special high-heeled boots that he'd polished till they shone like mirrors, with solid silver spurs, new breeches, a bright silk shirt and a vest covered with tiny Mexican beads.

Mushmouth had his lip piano all ready to play the wedding march. Bullfrog Doyle and Chuck were ready to dance. But just before the ceremony, Sue disappeared. A minute later she was back wearing a sombrero and chaps and jingling spurs and flaming red breeches. Seems she'd had her cowboy gear on underneath that dress.

Everyone gasped, but Slue-Foot Sue just let out a cowboy yell. "Eeeyoowww - the greatest cowboy bride for the greatest cowboy in the world," she sang, and swung her hat around her head. Sue's nervous mother fainted from the shock, and Bill flew to her side. That was just the chance Sue wanted!

Quick as a rabbit, she ran outside to where Widow Maker was waiting. The horse whinnied, and when Bill heard that familiar sound, he ran outside to stop her. Too late! He and the others reached the door just in time to see Slue-Foot Sue sailing up into the air in a cloud of dust.

In fact, Widow Maker bucked Sue so high she had to duck to let the early rising moon go by. Bill wrung his hands and waited for her to come down. After half an hour of sweating and pacing, he let out a wild yippee. Sue was flying back to Earth, fast as a shooting star. Trouble was, Sue was still wearing her steel-spring bustle with that cowboy gear, so when she hit the earth, she just rebounded like a rocket, right back into the summery sky.

Moon Hennessey and Gun Smith and Chuck and Mushmouth and the others couldn't think of a thing to do except to watch for Sue's return. Even Bill couldn't think of a solution for the first time in his whole life. Sue came back to Earth, and whoosh, up she went again. After three hours of this, Gun Smith said, "Hey Bill, why don't you lasso her the next time she comes down," because Bill was the greatest lasso artist in the world.

"I thought of that," Bill said, "but she's moving so fast, the rope would cut her in half."

"Catch her in your arms," Mushmouth suggested.

"I might, but with that steel-spring bustle on, she'll kill us both."

Sue kept bouncing up and down. On the second day of this, Pecos Bill collected himself and began to throw strings of dried beef around her neck to keep her from starving.

There didn't seem to be an end in sight to Sue's journey. After three days, the boys headed back to the I.X.L. Ranch. Up on Pinnacle Mountain, Pecos Bill built a big fire so Sue would see he hadn't deserted his bride-to-be. Finally, at the end of the sixth day, she slowed down just enough so Pecos Bill could safely lasso her. When he caught her, he held her in his arms and let out a great big cowboy sigh.

But Sue was too tired to cry or speak. She lay there for a long time. After a few weeks she began to kind of whisper. She wasn't so full of energy as she had been. "Bill," she said, "I think it's time for me to give up all these cowboy ways."

Sad as could be, Pecos Bill kissed her hand. Then, in silence, he picked up his Stetson and walked out to Widow Maker. He leapt on that horse and rode off across the countryside. He crossed all of Canada and started back through the states. He skirted the Missouri River and the Rio Grande. He rode in silence along every mountain and river and mesa. Sometimes he stopped to tell his troubles to the coyotes, for it was the coyotes who had raised young Bill and who understood him best.

The first month Bill amused himself by putting horns on all the toads he met. The second month he put thorns on all the cactus, and by the third month, all his tears started the Butte Falls in Montana. But finally by the fifth month, after he had turned all the cornflowers and bluebottles into bachelor's buttons, he rode on back to the I.X.L. He was sad because he knew that something was gone from his life that would never return, but he went on to have a whole lot more adventures, and he never forgot Slue-Foot Sue. No one did.

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