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 also instrumental in the saving of the Texas Longhorn breed of cattle from extinction.
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, 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, 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 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, and joined 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 left the faculty at the University of Texas to work his uncle's ranch in La Salle County, 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 21 years. Unable to get a promotion without a Ph.D., in 1923 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. The book was based on autobiographical notes by John Young, an open-range vaquero who had fought against the encroachment of barbed wire. This was followed by a series of books in the 1920s and 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 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 be dismissed. Dobie's subsequent request for an extension of his leave-of-absence was rejected and he was dismissed.
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 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 was buried in the Texas State Cemetery.
Dobie Paisano Fellowship
In 1959, after a severe illness, Dobie sold his ranch in Marble Falls and bought a 254 acre 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
- J. Frank Dobie High School in Houston, Texas
- J. Frank Dobie Junior High School in Cibolo, Texas
- J. Frank Dobie Middle School in Austin, Texas
- J. Frank Dobie Elementary School in Dallas, Texas
- Dobie Center in Austin, Texas
List of works
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 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 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.
- From the introductory comments to Dobie's Guide to Life and Literature of the Southwest: "Not copyright in 1942. Again not copyright in 1952. Anybody is welcome to help himself to any of it in any way."
"I have come to value liberated minds as the supreme good of life on earth."
"The average Ph.D. thesis is nothing but a transfer of bones from one graveyard to another...."
"Conform and be dull."
"I rate censors, particularly those of church and state, as low as I rate character assassins; they often run together."
"If during a decade a man does not change his mind on some things and develop new points of view, it is a pretty good sign that his mind is petrified and need no longer be accounted among the living."
"I'd rather starve and be independent than thrive on conformity. I=m not starving."
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