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Thirty-three Years, Thirty-three Works

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Francis Edward Abernethy served as the Secretary-Editor of the Texas Folklore Society for 33 years. He played an integral part in the process of moving the headquarters from the University of Texas to Stephen F. Austin State University in 1971; for more than three decades, he managed the organizationÍs daily operations and helped it continue to grow„sometimes through lean years, both financially and in terms of academic interest. In addition to fostering many new members and guiding their contributions to folklore scholarship, his editorial accomplishments were substantial. In all, he edited two dozen volumes of the PTFS series, including the three volumes he wrote himself that serve as the SocietyÍs history, from its beginning in 1909 up until the year 2000. While some publications during his tenure as Secretary-Editor may list the name of another writer (for an Extra Book) or a guest editor (for a special-topic PTFS), he most assuredly provided critical and creative input regarding the style, layout, content, and other aspects of the manuscript to make sure it was worthy of being identified as a TFS book. This Publication of the Texas Folklore Society celebrates Ab AbernethyÍs many years of leadership and dedication to collecting, preserving, and presenting the folklore of Texas and the Southwest. AbÍs contributions to the SocietyÍs publications cover a variety of topics. Here, theyÍve been organized into some basic categories that serve as chapters. The prefaces to some of the more memorable volumes he edited are included, along with articles he wrote on music, teaching folklore, interesting anecdotes about historical figures and events, and a generalized category of articles on ñculturalî examinations of the things we hold dear. In all, these pieces tell us what was important to Ab. In part, it also seems fair to say that these topics are what was„and still is„reflective of whatÍs important to the Texas Folklore Society.

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Between the Cracks of History, Preface to Between the Cracks of History: Essays on Teaching and Illustrating Folklore. PTFS LV, 1997

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Between the Cracks of History

[the Preface to Between the Cracks of History: Essays on

Teaching and Illustrating Folklore, PTFS LV, 1997]

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I wonder if folklorists follow historians like gleaners—or cotton strippers in west Texas—and collect the leavings from academic historians, all the tales and songs and traditions that the historians allow to fall between the cracks? Or that historians sweep under the rug? Or drop? Or choose to ignore?

Historians research, document, and file the facts of a happening. They are supposed to get the details right, but sometimes in following the letter of the investigation, they lose the spirit—which falls between the cracks of history where it is pounced on by the ever-lurking folklorist, who scarfs it up like a hog on a mushmelon.

Maybe its not just historians who let pouncable things fall between the cracks. Maybe folklorists follow doctors around for their droppin’s and leavin’s, and find out that urine relieves bull nettle burn and that tobacco eases the pain of a yellow-jacket sting and that chicken soup is as good for the flu as anything doctors prescribe. And maybe folklorists follow wildlife biologists and conclude that if they hear an owl hoot in the daytime, that owl is watching a buck walking. I hold firmly to that latter belief, by the way, and when the owl hoots I can see vividly in my mind’s eye a big, old mossy-horned buck easing his way through a pine thicket.

 

“The Ethological Approach to Folklore.” Paisanos: A Folklore Miscellany, PTFS XLI, 1978

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The Ethological Approach to Folklore

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Evolution, comparative anatomy, fetal development, and parallel physical reactions all indicate man’s physical relationship with the rest of the animal kingdom. Ethology is the study of our behavioral relationship. That is, not only are all animals constructed on the same general pattern, but they also act alike and from the same motives.

Everything for animals begins and ends with the food chain and with the problems of getting enough to eat. Animal behavior patterns are genetically selected to insure the group of fish, lizards, crows, monkeys, or men of having no more members than it can provide for over a long period of time and of maintaining these numbers in stable harmony. Folklore is one result of these genetically transmitted behavior patterns which man inherits from and holds in common with his animal ancestors. These behavior patterns—particularly sociality, territoriality, dominance, and sexuality—are modified by thought processes to fit the survival margin of his environment and are transmitted to the social group by symbolic language and example. The results are traditions and folklore which the society establishes in order to promote a stable social union.

 

“When You Call Me That, Smile! or Folklore, Ethology, and Communication.” T for Texas: A State Full of Folklore, PTFS XLIV, 1982

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When You Call Me That, Smile!

Or Folklore, Ethology, and Communication

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It was now the Virginian’s turn to bet or throw in his cards, and he did not speak at once.

Therefore Trampas spoke. “Your bet, you son of a _______!”

The Virginian’s pistol came out, and his hand lay on the table, holding it unaimed. And with a voice as gentle as ever, the voice that sounded almost like a caress, but drawling a very little more than usual, so that there was almost a space between each word, he issued his orders to the man Trampas: “When you call me that, smile!”

The Virginian by Owen Wister

The basic premise for this paper is that much of folklore is a cultural response to genetically implanted behavior patterns which man holds in common with all his animal kinsmen, and that communication is one form of this folklore.

The Ethological Approach

Our physiological kinship with the rest of the animal kingdom is amply supported by a study of evolution and comparative anatomy. Our behavioral relationship, the study of which is ethology, is equally supported by an observation of the basic drives or instincts that most animals hold in common—those of sociality, dominance, territoriality, and sexuality. Man’s folklore is his cultural response to these drives. For example, the customs and traditions and religious beliefs which a group holds in common enforce the sociality drive, or herding instinct, and bind them together in a strong, survivable unit. The dominance drive for the establishment of a pecking order is illustrated in all folk contests and in folk tales of Hercules and

29

 

“Folk Art in General, Yard Art in Particular.” Folk Art in Texas, PTFS XLV, 1985

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Folk Art in General, Yard Art in Particular

[Originally, text and photographs by Francis Edward

Abernethy]

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This folk art project began on a flight from DFW to Austin. I was with a jazzman friend, and we got into a two-hundred-mile discussion of art. He had ordered a cord of wood, and the black man who delivered and stacked the wood arranged it in obviously contrived designs. My friend catalytically remarked that he hated to break down the cord of firewood because he was destroying a work of art.

We contemplated the impulse that would give rise to such an ephemeral art form and began to consider other common but either unnoticed or taken-for-granted manifestations. I had recently purchased a new Stetson and had had it steamed and shaped according to my inclination and one of the latest styles. We agreed that shaping hats was an art in addition to being a craft. The knowledge of the craft was necessary to know how to do it. The feeling for the added dimension of art—for the flow of the curve of the brim, and the balance and symmetry of the crown—was necessary to know what to do. The art of the hat had gone beyond the utility of it.

 

“Snakelore.” Paper Presented at the Eighty-Second Annual Meeting of the Texas Folklore Society, Sherman, Texas, April 10, 1998

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Snakelore

[Paper presented at the Eighty-Second Annual

Meeting of the Texas Folklore Society, Sherman, Texas,

April 10, 1998]

pP

And the serpent said unto the woman, “Ye shall surely not die [from eating of the tree of knowledge]; for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.”

Soon thereafter, however, God discovers their transgression and asks the man, “Who told thee that thou was naked?”

And shamelessly the man said, “The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.”

And the woman blamed it on the serpent: “The serpent beguiled me and I did eat.”

And God put a mighty curse on the serpent: “Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life. And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed, and they shall bruise thy head and thou shalt bruise their heel.”

 

“The East Texas Communal Hunt.” Hunters & Healers: Folklore Types & Topics, PTFS XXXV, 1971

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The East Texas Communal Hunt

pP

Twenty-five million years ago—or thereabouts—a marked climatic change took place in the earth’s history. The great forests began to diminish in size, and broad grasslands took their place.

In the shrinking forests a struggle for dominance was taking place between two groups of tree-dwelling primates, the ancestral great apes and ancestral man. The apes turned out to be the fitter of the two species in this battle, and they forced their weaker kin first to the fringes of the forests and then out on the broad savannahs.

Those early men who could not adapt to the new environment perished. The smartest and the strongest survived, occupied a new biological niche, and began their evolutionary journey to what we call the modern man.

What nature selected to survive was an upright biped with high forward eyes, arms freed from the work of locomotion, an opposable thumb, and a highly developed brain. Because he did not have the speed of a deer, the armor of a turtle, the spines of a porcupine, or the fecundity of a rabbit, he could not afford to be as stupid as any of them. What he did have and that which kept him alive was a combination of qualities that put together made him a match for the other animals. He had brought from his life in the forests a sense of color and depth perception. He could run, swim, and climb as well as most animals, and he could think and throw things better than them all. And somewhere along the evolutionary way he had picked up a gene that had given him a hunter instinct that was as strong as a cat’s. He was a hunter of meat, strong red meat that gave him enough nourishment at one feeding to allow him to sit around and enjoy the fruits of thought and nourish the arts of his culture.

 

“Running the Fox.” The Sunny Slopes of Long Ago, PTFS XXXIII, 1966

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Running the Fox

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An East Texas fox hunt is more than a hunt. It is a convocation that binds its following together with closer than Masonic ties. The wine is drunk and the bread is broken, but no blood is spilled. The race is the thing, and it is the running of it that is the measure of its significance, not the reward in the end. And the pursued is as important as the pursuers.

Two pickups with pens in the beds pull over to the side of a two-rut, red-dirt road and cut their lights. Men get out and talk and argue for a while, then open the gates to the pens and the hounds spill out—red bones, blue ticks, black and tans, lemon spotted. They scatter in the darkness, each yelping his own personal cry. Then the men wait until pretty soon an old bitch hits a hot trail and in singles and in groups the pack hearkens to her until all are pounding through the woods, pursuing the same quarry. The men get back to their trucks and drive the country roads, stopping silently to listen every few minutes, hunting the best seat in the house to hear the music of the pack. When they find that particular hilltop, they stop, build a fire to cut the chill, and listen and speculate and talk. This continues till the fox trees or goes in the ground.

 

“Dobie’s Only Child: The TFS in 1926.” Paper Presented at the Seventy-Fifth Annual Meeting of the Texas Folklore Society, San Marcos, Texas, March 30, 1991

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Dobie’s Only Child: The TFS in 1926

[Paper presented at the Seventy-Fifth Annual Meeting of the Texas Folklore Society, San Marcos, Texas,

March 30, 1991]

pP

Calculating Calvin Coolidge was the president in 1926. Dan Moody had defeated Ma Ferguson in the Texas governor’s race that year, and both candidates had taken strong steps to curb the political power of the Ku Klux Klan. Patriotism, prosperity, and prohibition were the three planks that Texas politicians stood most firmly on.

And everybody felt prosperous except the farmer, who was raising more and getting less.

By 1926 the Twenties were in full roar, and the culture shock suffered by that decade’s elders must have been massive. Few times standing so close together have such a sharp line of distinction as that which existed between pre- and post-WWI. The world before

WWI had been Jeffersonianly rural with all the conservative moral values of that way of life. The post-war Twenties were urban and in direct reaction against all reliques of Victorian morality.

 

“The Golden Log: An East Texas Paradise Lost.” The Golden Log, PTFS XXXI, 1962

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The Golden Log: An East Texas

Paradise Lost

pP

I first heard the following East Texas story, with its Paradise Lost theme (A1331), ten years ago from a student of mine at Woodville,

Texas, High School. She told it with only the scantiest of detail, and I do not remember whether she accepted it as fact or as fantasy.

More recently Walter Lavine of Ruliff, Texas, told me a variant of the story; this time the setting was across the river in Louisiana. I have been passing this tale on for several years, every time I discussed the sources of Paradise Lost. In comparison with the first version I heard, current versions have grown; but this has been a growth in detail, not a change in essence.

There used to be a place where the sawmill and the commissary were on one side of a big, deep creek and the settlement on the other. But the people never had any trouble getting across because there was a big golden log spanning the creek and it was easy to walk across.

 

“Legends of the Trail.” Folklore in Motion: Texas Travel Lore, PTFS LXIV, 2007

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Legends of the Trail

pP

[A legend is a traditional prose narrative that has a historical setting and real people as characters. It deals with extraordinary happenings, even supernatural events, in a realistic way.

Legends are folk history which document heroic or dramatic events of a culture’s life.—Abernethy]

The following happened in August of 1886 on the Camino Real de los Tejas, where the Trail crosses Onion Creek southwest of Austin.

1886 was the drouthiest year in over a generation, and the wells had dried up, and the black land on Tobe Pickett’s farm had cracks in it wide enough to swallow a jackrabbit. María, who with her husband Pablo were Tobe’s hired help, walked alongside a great wide crack on her way to cut prickly pear for the hogs. As she looked into the depths of the crack, thinking to see a trapped jackrabbit, her eyes caught the gleam of old metal. A closer look revealed a crack’swidth view of a large chest with an iron chain around it.

 

“María de Agreda: The Lady in Blue.” Legendary Ladies of Texas, PTFS XLIII, 1981

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María De Agreda: The Lady in Blue

pP

There were women of legend in the Americas long before the Europeans arrived, even though we don’t know who they were. But we do know that all cultures, the American Indian included, recognized the great ones among themselves by elevating their status into the realm of legend or myth. The legendary ones always have some touch with reality and real time and space and history. The creatures of myth are from the early dawn of time or from other worlds.

The first woman of Texas legend after the coming of Church and chains and armored horse and rider was a fair and loving figure somewhere between the world of legend and myth. She was The

Lady in Blue and her story in the earliest history of Texas is as that of the bringer of a soft and generous Christianity to the tribes of the

Southwest and East Texas.

The story of The Lady in Blue probably started with the Franciscan Friar Juan de Salas who ministered to the Indians of south and west Texas in the 1620s. Father de Salas was a strong and loving man who had traveled widely and earned the affection of those

 

“Charrería: From Spain to Texas.” Charreada: Mexican Rodeo in Texas, PTFS LIX, 2002

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Charrería: From Spain to Texas

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The self sufficient Spanish conquistador-rancher-hacendado who brought the wild new land of America under his control, who branded the cattle and horses and made them his, who (far separated from Madrid and Ciudad Mexico) made his own laws and enforced them—this man became the Mexican who loved the land and its soil and he loved the spirit that he had made. This close

Mexican identity with the land and love of the land was the spirit that made charrería and its celebration in the charreada.

Charrería is the traditions and the skills of the charro, the ideal

Mexican on horseback and his spectacular use of the lariat in roping and handling stock. The charreada is the gathering of teams of charros and charras to perform a series of formalized exhibitions of roping and riding.

The charro, who is the center of charrería tradition, goes back in history to Spain, where the term at first had a negative connotation and implied rusticity and crudeness. But language grows, and the term charro soon became respectfully applied to skilled horsemen, in the same way as did caballero. A recognized pride and machismo was part of being a charro, and his pride in himself was announced by his beautiful charro regalia and the splendid trappings for his horse.

 

“Waggoner’s Cowboys.” Some Still Do: Essays on Texas Customs, PTFS XXXIX, 1975

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Waggoner’s Cowboys

[Originally, photographs and text by Francis Edward

Abernethy]

pP

The cowboy is America’s most representative and most marketable symbol. Stories about him and his songs and his styles are popular from the Ginza to the Champs Elysees, and in the modern mind he has taken the place of the mounted knight on horseback. The cowboy image, even though it is frequently projected as a professional gunfighter, has as sound a basis in history as his chivalric counterpart. He grew out of the working cowboy who came into being in

Texas during the trail-driving days after the Civil War. He has come a long way since then and has made a greater impression on modern history and culture than has any other trade, craft, or profession.

The model for the modern cowboy symbol is not a complete figment of man’s imagination. The best of his kind is alive with all the hoped-for virtues on the big ranches of West Texas. And some of the best of this geographically select group are on the six-county

 

“African-American Folklore in Texas and in the Texas Folklore Society.” Juneteenth Texas, PTFS LIV, 1996

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African-American Folklore in Texas and in the Texas Folklore Society

pP

Black people were a long time into Texas before the Anglos came to claim that territory as their own. Blacks of all hues and mixtures landed on the Caribbean islands with Columbus’s expeditions, and they landed on the American mainland with Cortez, Pineda, and

Narvaéz in the early 1500s. Black culture had been part of Spanish culture for over five hundred years of Moorish occupation, and black culture remained a part of Spanish culture in the New World.

And black people became a part of Texas folklore and legendry in these earliest of historical times.

Esteban (or Estevanico) the Moor was the first black man to set foot on Texas soil, as far as we know. He certainly became the most memorable of early black explorers. He was with Cabeza de Vaca when four survivors of the Narvaéz expedition walked for eight years (1528–1536) through Texas and Mexico, from Galveston to

Culiacán. Esteban was not only a survivor; he was an adapter. He was a natural linguist, quickly learning Indian dialects as the small band of Europeans passed through one tribal territory after another.

 

Prefaces to the histories: The Texas Folklore Society: 1909–1943, Volume I, PTFS LI, 1992

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Preface: In which the author attempts to justify his verbosity and the length of this history

[from The Texas Folklore Society: 1909–1943, Volume I,

PTFS LI, 1992]

pP

This book had a beginning that was simple enough, almost accidental. At the end of the 1984 Huntsville business meeting, Jack

Duncan and John O. West asked that all the Society’s programs be published in some upcoming miscellany. This was a simple enough request. They wanted to know what folklore topics members had been interested in and had been talking about since that first TFS gathering in 1911. When I returned to the Society’s office I immediately set Marlene Adams, then the TFS secretary, to typing up all past TFS meeting programs for inclusion in the next PTFS.

The stack of programs made an impressive list and one that activated the typing of another list, the tables of contents of PTFSs that followed the programs. I was prompted to making this second list because I wanted to know the relation of the publications’ contents to the meetings’ contents.

 

The Texas Folklore Society: 1943–1971, Vol. II, PTFS LIII, 1994

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154 The Way Things Were

Preface: to Volume II, in which the author attempts to rectify errors in Volume I

[from The Texas Folklore Society: 1943–1971, Volume II,

PTFS LIII, 1994]

pP

I open this volume two of the history of the Texas Folklore Society with the errata sheet for volume one because one must confess his sins and rectify them before he can cleanly enter the portals of the next world—and sin again.

Charles Hagelman—back in Houston, Texas, for over ten years but still writing on Northern Illinois University letterhead—pointed out that on page 144 I referred to April 21 as Texas Independence

Day (really March 2) instead of San Jacinto Day. Hagelman also thought that the picture of the western star labeled “Wm. S. Hart” looked like Buster Keaton. It does, in fact, but that is illustrator

Charles Shaw’s area, and I will not take issue. Jack Burnett Kellam, artist-poet-musician of Zellwood, Florida, who has written a book on his longtime friend John Henry Faulk, noted that Frank Dobie

 

The Texas Folklore Society: 1971–2000, Vol. III, PTFS LVII, 2000

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January 14, 2000 159

January 14, 2000

[from The Texas Folklore Society: 1971–2000, Volume III,

PTFS LVII, 2000]

pP

Paisanos:

The best work that a future TFS Secretary-Editor can do for the future and the welfare of the Society is to take this three-volume history of the Texas Folklore Society and boil it down to one readable volume.

Honestly and truly I did not begin this project with the idea of writing the TFS history in three volumes. I envisioned a moderate sized book that future interested persons could turn to in order to learn more about the continuity of this Society. But my plans came apart at the beginning. I got so involved with Lomax and Payne and that first fall that they got together to begin planning that the most minute details of the TFS beginning took on significance that

I felt that I could not neglect. I saw the UT campus and the game and the people and what they wore and what they were singing and reading about so vividly that I could not leave it out. And once I had set a precedent, I enjoyed the research into those times and people so much that the whole thing grew like a yeast. Researching and writing volume I was sheer pleasure. Volume II was enjoyable, but I began to lose aesthetic and historical distance between the happenings in the Society and myself.

 

Preface to Built in Texas, PTFS XLII, 1979

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Preface (In which the editor reflects upon his perambulations and peregrinations)

[from Built in Texas, PTFS XLII, 1979]

pP

He was right, you know. You must be born again—and again and again, ad infinitum, or at least ad cemeterium. Those who aren’t periodically reborn are like the snake who fails to shed his skin and is eventually squeezed to death by the narrowness of his old confines.

Archer Fullingim, the ex-editor of The Kountze News, is a professed born-again Big Thicketite. Periodically he flings himself off into the wilderness of the Big Thicket and splashes around in Village

Creek and wades through bay galls and pin-oak flats, and the Holy

Ghost of the Big Thicket (and elsewhere, of course) takes a Pentecostal possession of him. He is born again and he talks in tongues that are almost as strange as some of his brass-collar-Democrat ravings. He rolls holily in the Thicket grasses and leaves, and he shakes and quakes through spasms of love and communion until he sheds his old, city skin and is born again to a new identification with the

 

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