Frontier Towns, Chapter 2: Pecos, Texas
Few names portray a better image of the Old West than “Pecos.” The Pecos River is the natural dividing line between central and western Texas, as to the west of this iconic river the geography and landscape dramatically changes from plains to arid desert and mountains. “West of the Pecos” has long symbolized a geographic region and a way of life since frontier settlement began and remains a recognizable catchphrase yet today.
Abutting the Pecos River is its namesake; the town of Pecos, Texas. It may be hard to believe, but the town was originally established as a camp east of the river. Fortunately for its future identity and claims of being part of West Texas, Pecos was relocated west of the river and platted there originally named as Pecos Junction. That name was shortened and morphed into Pecos City and eventually to just Pecos. Ever since, Pecos has been a strategic location along the Butterfield Stagecoach route, the Loving-Goodnight Trail, the Texas-Pacific Railway, and later state and federal highways. It also grew into an important trade center for ranches in the surrounding region.
As a Trans-Pecos trade center of the late 19th century, Pecos saw its fair share of saloons, brawls, gunfights, and other Wild West rowdiness. On July 4, 1883, Pecos (pronounced “pay-cuss” in these parts) cemented its relationship forever in frontier history, when the town became the home of the world’s first rodeo – held annually around Independence Day.
An iconic name, ranches, railroads, saloons, gunfights, stagecoaches, chuckwagons, rodeos, and dusty trails are not the only aspects that makes Pecos stand out from other frontier towns. Most iconic places have some sort of legend associated with them and Pecos, Texas is no different. For in this region, the legend of Pecos Bill grew out of campfire stories handed down by cowboys and ranch hands. This folk hero is alive and well today, as not only the subject of many tales and stories, but as a recognizable, unofficial civic ambassador.
Today, Pecos is a growing and prosperous community of approximately 15,000 residents that straddles Interstate 20. In fact, it was named the most dynamic micropolitan area in the entire country for 2019. Pecos continues to serve a significant wholesale and retail trade area as the largest town between the Permian Basin twin cities of Midland-Odessa to the east and El Paso to the distant west, with primary industries being ranching, oil and gas, and agriculture (especially it’s famous cantaloupes).
Pecos continues to honor and celebrate its noteworthy West Texas heritage through the West of the Pecos Museum in the historic Orient Hotel/Number 11 Saloon, its annual West of the Pecos Rodeo, the legend of Pecos Bill, the Texas Rodeo Hall of Fame, and other events and activities. Sounds like a great place to visit or live!