The paisano got into the ranks of the Texas Folklore Society at the April 22, 1932, meeting presided over by Jovita González and held in the YMCA Auditorium across from The University of Texas campus. H. B. Parks, a state biologist and then secretary of the Texas Academy of Science, was the bird's sponsor, and he gave a paper on the paisano at that meeting. The Folklore Society was then affiliated with the Academy of Science, and I would like somebody to explain that association to me someday. Anyhow, Parks, one of Texas' leading scientists, loved roadrunners and communicated his enthusiasm to the Society, which accepted the bird as its official emblem at the Saturday afternoon business meeting. Ben Carlton Mead drew the stylized roadrunner for the title page of Tone the Bell East (PTFS X), and we've been with the bird ever since. Mead's bird, according to the minutes of the meeting, was to be "the official form in which the paisano is to carry the message of his fellow paisanos...." J. Frank Dobie, who infused the Society with his great vitality for the better part of five decades, shared the roadrunner with the Society (although I'm convinced the bird of his soul was the sandhill crane).
The Society has had at least six roadrunner artists. The first one was Ben Mead, who in 1932 was a staff artist at the Witte Museum in San Antonio. He first met Dobie around 1929 when Dobie was in San Antonio to introduce Carl Sandburg, and Ben was more impressed with Dobie than with Sandburg. He later visited Dobie in Austin and started a friendship that lasted till the end. He illustrated Coronado's Children, On the Open Range, I'll Tell You a Tale, and had one sketch in Cow People.Ben did a lot of drawing for Dobie, but the first one was the TFS paisano of 1932. "Why did I choose that style?" he mused. "Plain fumbling to find a way to render it that would be different and would stand printing very, very small as well as large; I was never very successful at deliberately stylizing and finally quit experimenting and just let myself go." The ribbon-like frame under Ben's bird holds the words "Correr del Paisano," which Parks translated idiomatically as a "messenger of his countrymen."
The best known of the Society's paisanos was drawn by Betty Boatright and is the one used on our letterhead and on the title page of our present publications. It is a neat bird and the one that I associate most closely with the Society since I've known it. Mrs. Boatright tells that around 1937, when Mody began helping Dobie with the annual publications, Mody came in one night and asked her to draw a paisano for the Society before she went to bed, which she did. Mrs. Boatright was surprised when on a later visit to the Dobies' she found her paisano framed and hanging in the hall. Dobie had begun to use it on some of his personal stationery as well as on Society materials. After Dobie died, Bertha McKee Dobie gave the picture to the Dobie Room of the University of Texas library. Although the Society has printed paisanos that look like Betty Boatright's, her particular paisano is the one with the broken lines along its tail.
Mody Boatright's wooden paisanos are about as well know as his wife's, and at the present are very rare collectors' items. Mody liked to work in his shop and was always making things, especially for his grandchildren. Mrs. Boatright thinks that it was in 1964 when he made the first two roadrunners to give to his grandchildren. He put them on a shelf and Mrs. Boatright tells about their first encounter with the public. She had sold a painting and when the man, Mrs. Richard H. King of Grapevine, came by to pick it up he saw Mody's paisanos sitting on the bookshelf; "...he picked it up and was delighted and said he had to have it. How much? I was across the room from Mody but in plain view of his face. Mody was indignant, embarrassed, his face was turning red. I cannot often save the day for people I love, but I did this time. I said, 'Mr. King, you do not have money enough to buy that roadrunner, but if you make a $5.00 donation to the Texas Folklore Society, you can have it.'"
Mody contributed a lot of himself, body and spirit, to the Society and the paisano--mine's made of mesquite--was a part of it. He made around two hundred of them of all sizes and out of all sorts of woods. At first he got his hardwood from the scrap box of the Calcasieu Lumber Company. Later he milled mesquite and even bois d'arc and made paisanos from that. He made all his cuts by eye and no two birds are alike.
Wilson Hudson, the Society's Secretary-Editor from 1963 to 1971, was responsible for two of our paisanos. The realistic roadrunner and his buddy carrying cholla stems to build a corral around a rattlesnake was done by José Cisneros' fine drawing was created to go with Dobie's "The Paisano's Cactus Corral" in Texas Folk and Folklore (PTFS XXVI, 1954) and repeated as the opening drawing and article for this volume. It has been used on book catalogs since then, and it now hangs in a place of honor in the Society's office.
In 1965 Dick Underwood, at that time Sales Manager at the University of Texas Press, did a detailed paisano for Wilson to use with the Mody Boatright commemoration pamphlet that the Society published that year. The original drawing, the one above, had Mr. Underwood's initials at the lower left. Wilson considered that the letters were in an unfortunate position in the relation to the bird and had them blocked out. Fortunately for posterity, which is interested in such minutiae, the original was used by Jim Bratcher at the end of his Analytical Index. Wilson used Underwood's paisano in his five Paisano Series publications, the Wayland Hand pamphlet, and on the Society's stationery.
Our latest artist, the one for this annual [Paisanos: A Folklore Miscellany], is Linda Miller Roach of Nacogdoches. Originally Linda was a photographer and worked in watercolors. She directed her interest toward wildlife as a subject when her husband Michael, a professor at SFA, was working on a film on the near-extinct red wolf. Linda drew some beautiful wolf sketches that were so alive they almost howled. I leaned on her, gently of course, and we decided that a roadrunner series would expand her horizons in wildlife depiction and would be a fitting embellishment for this year's annual.
[Excerpt from Dr. Abernethy's Preface to Paisanos: A Folklore Miscellany (PTFS XLI 1978)]