Then, once I started thinking about it, I found I couldn't stop. I was trying to decide if all my memories of the cartoon could possibly be real, or if I'd embellished them in my nightmares. Did it truly feature interspecies suckling, à la Romulus and Remus? Was there actually a scene where the hero rides a cyclone, rolls a cigarette on his tongue, and lights it with a lightning bolt? Did he really take potshots at Indians donning warpaint until he'd created the Painted Desert? And were Roy Rogers and Trigger somehow involved?
So I watched it again to find out.
The cartoon starts with Bill as a toddler heading west with his family, until the wagon hits a bump and baby Bill goes flying out and lands in the mud. Since he's one of 16 children, nobody notices or cares. (As a member of a large family myself--my name was often confused with a brother's, or another brother's, or a sister's, or, more often, the dog's--this was a particular childhood fear of mine realized.)
He's then raised by coyotes (a childhood dream of mine realized, though yanking a coyote pup off its mother's teat to feed was perhaps a bit too visceral for me).
One day, young Bill sees a young colt near death and being attacked by buzzards. Bill jumps into the fray and pummels the birds so hard their feathers fly off. In the aftermath, when Bill and the colt gaze at each other through matching blackened eyes, it is, as the narrator says, "the beginning of a bee-yoo-tiful friendship." They seal the deal with an Eskimo kiss.
In fact, "Pecos Bill" is a love story in the same vein as Passion In The Desert. Sure, later on Bill enters a more conventional romantic relationship with Slue-Foot Sue, but his partner for life is surely Widowmaker, his horse. They laugh alike, they walk alike, at times they even talk alike-- well, yodel, anyway. When Bill begins to woo Sue, we see Widowmaker looking on and weeping. Then when Bill and Sue decide to get married, Sue wants two things: a bustle and a chance to ride Widowmaker. In a jealous rage, Widowmaker bucks so hard that Sue's bustle bounces off his hide and sends her sailing off "like a Roman candle." (The fact that a rootin'-tootin' catfish-ridin' cowgirl like Sue is undone by such a frivolous a symbol of womanly vanity seems uncharacteristic, but oh well.)
Bill tries to lasso Sue to bring her back down, but Widowmaker sabotages the attempt, and Sue winds up landing on the moon. Bill goes back to living with the coyotes, and he and Widowmaker live out their days together.
You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him like your girlfriend.
"Pecos Bill." Melody Time. Perf. Roy Rogers, Bob Nolan. Disney, 1948.
Buy Melody Time (Disney Gold Classic Collection) DVD