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Pecos Bill riding a tornado Tall tales are exaggerated, funny stories about larger-than-life heroes. (Bill Cigliano)

Pecos Bill Rides a Tornado

A tall tale from the Wild West

Surely you’ve heard tell of Pecos Bill. He was a cowboy down in Texas. He was about the bravest cowboy that ever lived. I seen with my own eyes the time Bill used two rattlesnakes as a lasso. And then there was the time Bill shot all the stars out of the sky—all of ’em except the Lone Star, that is.

But my favorite Pecos Bill story is the one about the time he rode a tornado. You see, there wasn’t a horse in the world that was too wild for him. So it’s not surprising that one day, Bill decided he wanted to ride a tornado—and not just any tornado. No, sir. Bill waited for the biggest, the mightiest, the most terrifying tornado ever born from the clouds. It was so big that folks on the moon could see it swirling. It picked up elephants from Africa and whales from the Pacific Ocean. But that didn’t scare Bill. He just reached up and grabbed that tornado out of the sky. He threw it down to the ground and hopped right on.

That tornado whirled and swirled and wiggled and wagged like an alligator with its tail on fire. Bill hung right on. It sucked up Lake Michigan and dumped the water into the Grand Canyon. Bill hung right on. At last, that tornado got tired. It stopped its whirling, and Bill fell off. He fell so hard that the ground sank. Folks call that spot Death Valley. Now, most people would be pretty banged up by such a fall. Not Bill, though. He was as happy as a bear in honey.

Lots of folks heard about Bill’s tornado ride, no doubt. That’s where they got the idea for rodeos. Of course, nobody but Bill ever rode a tornado. Most cowboys just ride broncos.


For the pioneers and cowboys who settled the american west, life was rough. They froze in blizzards, got slammed by tornadoes, and were attacked by wild animals. One way they coped was by telling each other wild and funny stories about people who were outstanding and brave. The people were real. But storytellers exaggerated to make them into inspiring, larger-than-life heroes. Many tall tales were so popular that we still tell them today, like those of Johnny appleseed and Paul Bunyan.

Dozens of famous tall tales have been passed down, and they all have certain ingredients in common. Read through the list below, then go back and find each element in “Pecos Bill Rides a Tornado.”

HYPERBOLE: This is a fancy word for a statement that is exaggerated. Circle two examples of hyperbole in the story of Pecos Bill.

A FUNNY TONE: Tall tales are supposed to make you laugh. Find two examples of humor, which creates a funny tone.

WORDS LIKE “AIN’T”: Tall tales are written the way cowboys would tell them around a campfire, with words they really used in conversation. The everyday language of people who live in a particular place or time is known as a dialect.
Find two examples of cowboy dialect in the story.

SIMILES: Tall tales include great descriptions. One way to describe something is to use a simile, in which one thing is compared with another using like or as. Find two similes.

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2012 edition of Storyworks. For more from Storyworks, click here.

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