Pecos Bill was at first accepted as folklore based on the tales told by cowboys, hunters, and drifters during the western expansion after the Civil War. In fact the character first appeared in fiction published in The Century Magazine. Its author created the character and the supporting folklore on which the character was supposedly based. Later other writers added additional tales featuring the character, all of which were fictional.
According to the legend, Pecos Bill was raised by coyotes after falling from his family’s wagon. He believed himself to be a coyote until he fortuitously met his brother many years later. Pecos Bill used a lariat made from a rattlesnake, rode a horse which no other man could ride (sometimes opting to ride a cougar instead), and ate dynamite as his favorite food.
Pecos Bill first appeared in film in a Walt Disney live action segment of the feature Melody Time. The segment was narrated by Roy Rogers and originally featured Pecos Bill rolling a cigarette during a tornado and lighting it with a bolt of lightning. When first released for television the cigarette segment was excised from the film.
In the manner of John Henry (and Paul Bunyan) part of the Pecos Bill story was his great size. Pecos Bill was the biggest, and by inference strongest, cowboy of all time. He was strong enough to wrestle grizzly bears and wholly fictional monsters (including the Bear Lake Monster of folklore). Some of these combats would take several days before Pecos Bill prevailed.
Pecos Bill was born of an author’s imagination and cleverly intertwined with folklore to the point where in some imaginations he became folklore himself. He was not based on a real character living or dead, and many of the stories told of him were told in an earlier day by frontiersmen like David Crockett and others.