J. Frank Dobie
|Born||James Frank Dobie|
September 26, 1888
Live Oak County, Texas
|Died||September 18, 1964(aged 75)|
|Resting place||Texas State Cemetery|
|Alma mater||Southwestern University|
|Spouse||Bertha McKee Dobie (married 1916-1964, his death)|
James Frank Dobie (September 26, 1888 - September 18, 1964) was an American folklorist, writer, and newspaper columnist best known for his many books depicting the richness and traditions of life in rural Texas during the days of the open range. As a public figure, he was known in his lifetime for his outspoken liberal views against Texas state politics, and carried out a long, personal war against what he saw as braggart Texans, religious prejudice, restraints on individual liberty, and an assault by the mechanized world on the human spirit. He was instrumental in the saving of the Texas Longhorn breed of cattle from extinction.
James Frank Dobie was born on a ranch in Live Oak County, Texas, and was the eldest of six children. When he was young, his father Richard read to him from the Bible while his mother Ella read to him from books such as Ivanhoe and Pilgrim's Progress. At 16, Dobie moved to Alice, the seat of Jim Wells County, Texas, where he lived with his grandparents and finished high school.
In 1906, he enrolled in Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, where he was introduced to English poetry by a professor who urged him to become a writer. While in college he also met Bertha McKee (1890-1974), whom he married in 1916.
After he graduated in 1910, Dobie worked briefly for newspapers in San Antonio and Galveston, before gaining his first teaching job at a high school in Alpine in southwestern Texas. In 1911, he returned to Georgetown to teach at the Southwestern Preparatory School.
He also became affiliated with the Texas Folklore Society. In 1917, he left the university to serve in the field artillery in World War I. He was briefly sent overseas at the end of the war and was discharged in 1919.
Dobie began to publish his first articles in 1919; by 1920 he was writing articles mostly about Longhorn cattle and life in the southwest. That year, he left the faculty at the University of Texas to work on his uncle's ranch in La Salle County, north of Laredo, where he developed a desire to write about Texas ranch life and southwestern folklore.
After a year on the ranch, Dobie returned to the University of Texas and began to use its library and the resources of the Texas Folklore Society to write articles about the vanishing way of life on rural Texas ranches. In 1922, he became secretary of the Texas Folklore Society and began a program for publication, holding the post of secretary-editor of the society for twenty-one years. In 1923, unable to get a promotion without a PhD, Dobie accepted a job at Oklahoma A&M College as the chair of its English department. While in Oklahoma, he wrote for the Country Gentleman. He returned to Austin in 1925 after receiving a token promotion with the help of his friends.
Upon returning to Austin, Dobie published his first book, A Vaquero of the Brush Country in 1929, which helped establish him as an authentic voice of Texas and southwestern culture. While the title page said that the book was "Partly from the Reminiscences of John Young", the author was given as J. Frank Dobie. The book was the result of a collaboration between Dobie and John D. Young, a former open-range vaquero who had fought against the encroachment of barbed wire on the rangelands of southwest Texas. Young had written Dobie, requesting help in writing his autobiography, and saying that he intended to use the profits earned by the book to build a hotel for cattlemen in San Antonio. Dobie agreed to assist Young in this endeavor; using the narrative of reminiscences related by Young, he rearranged the raw material and rewrote it in the prose of historical writing.
Although Lawrence Clark Powell, an authority on western writing at the University of California, had written in the preface to the 1957 edition, "it was unmistakably Dobie on every page, in every paragraph, sentence, and word ...", Young's heirs filed a petition in 1994 with U.S. District Court For the Western District Of Texas, asserting that John Young was coauthor of the book with Dobie. The matter of the authorship of A Vaquero of the Brush Country was ultimately resolved in this litigation between Young's descendants and the estate of J. Frank Dobie and the University of Texas, holders of interests in the copyright. The court's decision established John Young and J. Frank Dobie as joint authors of A Vaquero of the Brush Country.
In 1931, Dobie published Coronado's Children, a collection of folklore about lost mines and lost treasures. This was followed by a series of books in the 1930s. In 1941 he published The Longhorns, a commercial success that was well received by book critics and got a full-page review in the New York Times. It is considered one of the best descriptions of the traditions of the Texas Longhorn cattle breed during the 19th century. In 1932, Dobie was named the first full professor not to possess a Ph.D. by the University of Texas.
In 1937, Dobie was visiting Thomas Calloway Lea, Jr., a friend and prominent attorney in El Paso. After seeing the art work of Lea's son, Tom Lea, Dobie asked the younger man to illustrate the book he was then working on, Apache Gold and Yaqui Silver. Tom Lea later completed the illustrations for The Longhorns, as well as a biography of Texas pioneer John C. Duval. Dobie and Lea remained good friends for the rest of Dobie's life.
In 1939, Dobie began publishing a Sunday newspaper column in which he routinely poked fun at Texas politics. A liberal Democrat, he often found an easy target for his words in the antics of the state's politicians. Regarding state politics, he once wrote, "When I get ready to explain homemade fascism in America, I can take my example from the state capitol of Texas."
During World War II, Dobie taught American history at Cambridge University, and he took a leave of absence from the University of Texas to return to Europe after the war to teach in England, Germany, and Austria, and later wrote of his experiences at Cambridge in his book A Texan in England. When University of Texas President Homer Rainey was fired by the Board of Regents in 1944 for his liberal views, Dobie was outraged and made his views known publicly, causing Texas Governor Coke Stevenson to say that Dobie should also be dismissed. Dobie's subsequent request for an extension of his leave of absence was rejected, and he was dismissed from UT in 1947. After his dismissal from the University of Texas, Dobie published another series of books and anthologies of stories about the open range.
On September 14, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson, a long-time Texas political rival of Coke Stevenson, awarded Dobie the Medal of Freedom. Dobie died four days later on September 18. His funeral was held in Hogg Auditorium on the University of Texas Campus and he is interred at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.
In 1959, after a severe illness, Dobie sold his ranch in Marble Falls and bought a ranch fourteen miles southwest of Austin, which he named "Paisano". He used the ranch as a writer's retreat until his death in 1964. A movement to preserve the ranch was started shortly after, and longtime friend Ralph A. Johnston purchased the Paisano Ranch to take it off the market. By 1966, he had transferred the deed to the University of Texas.
The University has said:
Paisano will be operated by the University as a permanent memorial to J. Frank Dobie, and the primary use will be to encourage creative artistic effort in all fields, particularly in writing. It will be kept in its present more or less natural state and the ranch house will be kept in simple style, very much as it was when Frank Dobie occupied it.
Two fellowships of six months each are awarded by a committee chosen by the presidents of the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Institute of Letters. The applicants must be native Texans, or Texas residents for at least two years, or persons whose writing is substantially identified with the state.
In 2009, Dobie was posthumously honored by Frontier Times Museum in Bandera as one of its first inductees into the Texas Heroes Hall of Honor. Other inductees were museum founder J. Marvin Hunter, publisher of Frontier Times magazine, and marksman Joe Bowman.
Many of Dobie's works are featured in Ramon Adams' Six-Guns and Saddle Leather and The Rampaging Herd, two well respected bibliographic works on the history of the American West and the cattle industry.