Pecos, Texas, originally located on the banks of the Pecos River gained its name from this famous meandering water course. Pecos is a Native-American word meaning “crooked”.
The regions prehistoric history is evident in pictographs and in the Jumano people who irrigated crops from San Solomon Spring near Balmorhea. Three Jumano’s met the expedition of Antonio de Espejo near Toyah Lake in 1583 and Espejo’s diary notes these people lived along the Pecos River. Settlers of Mexican descent farmed from early times this same area irrigating from surface water. Anglo farmers arrived in 1871 and the availability of several river fords within 30 miles made this a strategic location for commerce and a crossroads for cattle and wagon trains.
The Texas and Pacific Railroad arrived in 1881 linking Pecos with El Paso to the West and Fort Worth to the East and allowed settlement and further development of the ranching industry and agriculture in the fertile Pecos River valley. The sweet Pecos cantaloupe was introduced and gained worldwide fame and is still grown in the region.
Pecos has been sustained through the years because of the railroad, its strategic location on Interstate Highway 20, agriculture and oil and gas exploration. And as home of the World’s First Rodeo, Pecos draws the top rodeo performers and fans each summer for the West of the Pecos Rodeo.
THE LEGEND OF PECOS BILL
According to the legend, Pecos Bill was born in Texas in the 1830s. Pecos Bill was traveling in a covered wagon as an infant when he fell out unnoticed by the rest of his family near the Pecos River (thus his nickname). He was taken in and raised by a pack of coyotes. Years later he was found by his real brother, who managed to convince him he was not a coyote. Pecos Bill taught gophers to dig holes for fence posts, rode mountain lions and cyclones and roped huge herds with his lariat - which was a snake. He married Slewfoot Sue and lived happily ever after.
The history of Pecos is closely linked to the Pecos River. Early inhabitants found both a steady water supply and several easy crossing points in this area. The river spans 700 miles from the Sangre de Cristo mountains northeast of Santa Fe, New Mexico to its ending at the Rio Grande Rivers near Langtry, Texas.
Early travelers to the area described the river as having a fast current and being from 60 to 100 feet wide and seven to ten feet deep. This made crossing the river difficult except in a few places. Today, while flooding still occurs (most recently in 2014) dams and other diversions have diminished its regular flow considerably.