Paisano Pete – World’s Former Largest Roadrunner

Located in the center of Fort Stockton, Texas on the corner of Main and Dickenson, is Paisano Pete, one of the most recognizable roadside attractions in the southwest. Before we get to that though, let’s talk about the Old Spanish Trail.

The history of the Old Spanish Trail is as varied as the areas it crosses on its journey from Jacksonville, FL to San Diego, CA. In Texas, the OST has had many routes, but by 1921 a predominantly southern route from Orange to San Antonio to El Paso had been formalized. In the 1930s, Fort Stockton had three US highways converging just east of its busy downtown; US 290, US 67, and US 285. In the middle of this convergent where the 3 historic highways met was a small, wasted triangle of dusty land.  Travelers on the OST passed right by this very spot. In 1980, not wanting to let this small patch of land go unused, Fort Stockton built Paisano Pete, the world’s largest roadrunner statue, and placed him there where travelers could easily see him. Although Pete never brought smiles to the Old Spanish Trail travelers back in the day, he is located on the historic route of the OST through Fort Stockton. Today, visitors are encouraged to take a picture with Paisano Pete and thousands of them have done just that.
The scrap metal roadrunner
For 13 years, Pete was the World's Largest Roadrunner. At 22 feet long and 11 feet tall, he's still pretty big, but in 1993, a replica of a roadrunner 20 feet tall and 40 feet long was constructed out of junk at the Las Cruces, New Mexico landfill. That replica began rusting and falling apart over the years until 2011 when the artist who built it stripped it down, brought it back to his home and began replacing the rusting junk with thrift store rejects and scrap metal salvaged from the Las Cruces recycling center (it has eyes made from Volkswagen headlights.) Between 2011 and 2014 when the New Mexico roadrunner was placed back in public view at a roadside rest stop, Pete once again held the title of World’s Largest Roadrunner.
Paisano Pete
Even though Paisano Pete is now the world’s former largest roadrunner, he is still the most famous. If you find yourself in Fort Stockton, be sure to stop and get your picture taken with Pete. It's tradition!
Of course my daughter had her picture
taken with Paisano Pete!

Native Texan & DeKalb's Favorite Son - Dan Blocker

Dan Blocker played Hoss Cartwright on the TV show Bonanza which ran from 1959 - 1973; second only to Gunsmoke as the longest running western. Standing 6'4" tall and weighing 320 pounds as an adult, Dan was a big child as well. When he was born in DeKalb, Texas on December 10, 1928, he weighed 14 pounds. His father and his poor, poor mother moved to O'Donnell, Texas when Bobby Dan ("Dan" was his stage name) was six years old and opened the Blocker Grocery Store. The grocery store provided a modest, but steady middle-class income for the family. It was a good thing they owned a grocery store as Bobby Dan grew to be 6' tall and weigh 200 pounds by the age of 12.

Dan played football at Sul Ross State Teacher's College in Alpine, Texas and then worked as a rodeo performer and a bouncer in a bar while earning a Master's degree. After graduating, Bobby Dan became a high school English teacher in Sonora, Texas before moving to California where he again took a high school teaching position. In 1951, he was drafted into the Army and went on to become an infantry sergeant in Korea. He saw a lot of action from December 1951 to August 1952 and received a Purple Heart for wounds he received in combat along with eight other medals.

With a Master's degree in theatre arts, it still took four years after his return from the war before he began to land appearances on various TV shows and small parts in a few movies. His big break came in 1959 when he won the part of Erick "Hoss" Cartwright when Bonanza began its run.

Playing a big, friendly, gentle giant, (a good reflection of him in real life), Dan was actually pretty tough. While shooting one of the episodes, Blocker's horse fell and threw him off, breaking his collarbone when he hit the ground hard. The bone was protruding from his skin when Dan got up, but he refused medical attention, stuck the bone back in place himself and resumed filming. After filming was finished for the day, he was convinced to go to the hospital where the broken bone was set. The doctor gave him strict instructions to not ride for six weeks. When he was allowed to ride again, evidently Blocker's horse forgot what it was like to carry the big man  because the first time Blocker swung up into the saddle, much to his embarrassment, the horse collapsed under his weight and the cast and crew collapsed in laughter.

Because of his unassuming, caring and down-to-earth ways, he was the television crew's favorite actor on the Bonanza set. According to all who knew him, he never forgot his small town upbringing and manners. Unfortunately, on May 13, 1972, Bobby Dan died in Los Angeles at the early age of 43 from a pulmonary embolism following gall bladder surgery. Bonanza lasted only one more season without Hoss. The 14th and final season ended on January 16, 1973. Dan, befitting his personality, is buried in a simple common grave next to three family members in the Woodsman's Cemetery in little DeKalb, Texas.

Smokey The Bear

On May 4, 1950, a carelessly discarded cigarette started the Los Tablos fire in the Lincoln National Forest near Capitan, New Mexico. Two days later, the nearby Capitan Gap fire started with a camper’s fire pit which was not fully extinguished.  Together, these wildfires destroyed over 17,000 acres of forest and grasslands.
On May 8th, a team of 19 firefighters trying to contain the blaze were trapped in a small rockslide when 70-mile-per-hour winds fanned the out-of-control fire around them. Amazingly, although totally surrounded by fire, the rocks shielded them and everyone made it out alive. They later said they knew “just how a slice of toast” feels.”
On May 9, a fire crew found a badly singed bear cub clinging to the side of a burnt pine tree. They brought the frightened and injured cub back to the firefighter base to see if he could be saved from the terrible burns he had suffered on his feet, legs and buttocks. They named him “Hotfoot.”
The medics did what they could for him until he was transported by Game Warden Ray Bell to the veterinary hospital in Santa Fe. As he was being treated there, the staff began calling him “Smokey Bear.” Later, after it became evident the cub would survive, Game Warden Bell took him back to his home where he continued his remarkable recovery. As Smokey Bear grew, he became something of a ham, begging for snack food from Bell and falling over onto his back and “crying” if a snack was not forthcoming. Bell also reported he was a bit domineering with his other pets, a cat and two dogs, who for some reason didn’t want to argue with a bear.
Display in the Smokey The Bear Historical Park
Visitor Center in Capitan, New Mexico
Six years previously in 1944, the Forest Service, in conjunction with the Advertising Council, began a fire prevention campaign. One of the posters which had been used contained an artist’s rendition of a bear named Smokey The Bear.  The campaign became so popular after Smokey was introduced that the post office had to give him his own zip code due to the amount of mail “he” was receiving.
Once the real-life bear had completed his recovery at Ranger Bell’s home, the Forest Service had him flown to Washington, D.C. There was a little bit of adventure on the flight when Smokey became a bit upset as the plane took off, but he soon calmed down. Along the way, one airport refused to allow the plane to land for refueling when it was learned that a live bear was aboard, but it was actually a pretty uneventful plane trip.
After arriving in D.C., Smokey Bear was moved into his permanent home at the National Zoo and Senator Chaves of New Mexico presented Smokey to the school children of America. Soon, there were large crowds at the zoo who marveled at his story and waited in long lines to see the bear who survived a forest fire.
Smokey's grave
As a result of Smokey’s life, the little town of Capitan, New Mexico and the rest of the world was changed to some degree. A study was conducted of school children in America and numerous foreign countries using familiar slogans to be finished when only the first few words were given. With the words “Only You,” more children were able to complete “Can prevent forest fires” than any other motto.
When Smokey Bear died of natural causes in 1976, his body was returned near to his birth place. He was buried in a beautiful little park in the heart of Capitan, in the shadows of the mountains where it all began.
Plaque on Smokey's grave