J. Frank Dobie

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J. Frank Dobie
Born (1888-09-26)September 26, 1888
Live Oak County, Texas
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Resting place Texas State Cemetery
Occupation Writer
Alma mater Southwestern University
Period 1919–1964
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 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 for his long personal war against what he saw as bragging Texans, religious prejudice, restraints on individual liberty, and the assault of the mechanized world on the human spirit. He was instrumental in the saving of the Texas Longhorn breed of cattle from extinction.

Early years

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 stories 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 "the ever loyal" 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, and in 1913, he went to Columbia University in New York City to work on a master's degree. In 1914, he returned to Texas to join the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin. 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.

Early writing career

Dobie began to publish his first articles in 1919. In 1920 he wrote articles mostly about Longhorn cattle and life in the southwest. Dobie left the faculty at the University of Texas to work his uncle's ranch in La Salle County, north of Laredo, where he discovered a desire to put the rich experience of Texas ranch life and southwestern folklore into words.

After a year on the ranch, he 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. He held 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 University as the chair of the 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.

After returning to Austin, he published his first book, A Vaquero of the Brush Country in 1929, which helped establish him as a voice about Texas and southwestern culture. In the title, Dobie claimed that the book was based "partly on the reminiscences of John Young." However, the entire book, except one chapter, "The Bloody Border," was actually written by John Young. The matter of the authorship of "A Vaquero of the Brush Country" was ultimately resolved in litigation between Young's descendants and the Estate of J. Frank Dobie and the University of Texas, holders of interests in the copyright. The outcome of the litigation established John Young and J. Frank Dobie as joint authors of "A Vaquero of the Brush Country." John Young was an open-range vaquero who had fought against the encroachment of barbed wire.

In 1930, 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, leading up to the publication in 1941 of The Longhorns, which is considered one of the best descriptions of the traditions of the Texas Longhorn cattle breed during the 19th century. In 1937, Dobie was visiting a friend in El Paso, prominent attorney, Thomas Calloway Lea, Jr., and after seeing the art work of Lea's son, Tom Lea, asked him to illustrate the book that he was working on then, Apache Gold and Yaqui Silver. Tom Lea would also do the illustrations for The Longhorns and a book on John C. Duval (Texas pioneer). Dobie and Lea would be 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 state 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."

Later writing career

During World War II, he taught American history at Cambridge University and returned to Europe after the war to teach in England, Germany, and Austria. He later wrote of his experiences at Cambridge in his book A Texan in England.

In 1944, after a fellow professor was fired from the University of Texas for his liberal views, Dobie became outraged, leading to a statement by Texas Governor Coke Stevenson 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.

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 him 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.


Dobie Paisano Fellowship

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, by 1966, the deed was handed over to the University of Texas. Its mission was stated as "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.

Buildings named in his honor

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.

List of works

  • Weather Wisdom of the Texas-Mexican Border. 1923 Ebook
  • A Vaquero of the Brush Country. Dallas: The Southwest Press. 1929.
  • Coronado's Children. Dallas: The Southwest Press. 1930.
  • On the Open Range. Dallas: The Southwest Press. 1931.
  • Tongues of the Monte. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. 1935.
  • The Flavor of Texas. Dallas: Dealey and Lowe. 1936.
  • Tales of the Mustang. Dallas: Rein Co. for The Book Club of Texas. 1936.
  • Apache Gold & Yaqui Silver. Boston: Little, Brown. 1939.
  • John C. Duval. First Texas Man of Letters. Dallas: Southwest Review. 1939.
  • The Roadrunner in Fact and Folk-lore. 1939
  • The Longhorns. Boston: Little, Brown and Co. 1941.
  • Guide to Life and Literature of the Southwest. Austin: U.T. Press. 1943.
  • A Texan in England. Boston: Little, Brown. 1945.
  • The Seven Mustangs. Address delivered at the unveiling of the monument, May 31, 1948, University of Texas, Austin. The Adams Publications, Austin, Texas,1948.
  • The Voice of the Coyote. Boston: Little, Brown. 1949.
  • The Ben Lilly Legend. Boston: Little, Brown. 1950.
  • The Mustangs. Boston: Little, Brown. 1952.
  • Tales of Old Time Texas. Boston: Little, Brown & Co. 1955.
  • Up the Trail From Texas. N.Y.: Random House. 1955.
  • I'll Tell You a Tale. Boston: Little, Brown & Co. 1960.
  • Cow People. Boston: Little, Brown. 1964.
  • Some Part of Myself. Boston: Little, Brown. 1967.
  • Rattlesnakes. Boston: Little, Brown & Co. 1965.
  • Out of the Old Rock. Boston: Little, Brown & Co. 1972.
  • Prefaces. Boston: Little, Brown. 1975.
  • Wild and Wily Range Animals. Flagstaff: Northland Press. 1980.

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.


  • A one-act play by Steve Moore, Nightswim, about Roy Bedichek, J. Frank Dobie and Walter Prescott Webb was first produced in Austin in Fall, 2004.[1] Their friendship is narrated in the book Three Friends: Roy Bedichek, J. Frank Dobie, Walter Prescott Webb by William A. Owens, published in 1969.


Further Reading

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External links