Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

DOBIE, J. FRANK (1888-1964)

James Frank Dobie, the beloved best-known popularizer of Texas and ranchland folklore, was born on September 26, 1888, on a small ranch in Live Oak County, Texas. He grew up working as a cowboy on his father's ranch and became a voracious reader. Educated both at home and in a one-room schoolhouse, he lived among Hispanic workers and so became bilingual. As Dobie matured he absorbed the lore, language, and legends of the land and people he loved, developing a strong, liberal philosophy.

Dobie earned a bachelor of arts degree at Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, and a master of arts degree at Columbia University in New York City. In 1914, as an English teacher at the University of Texas, Austin, he became involved with the Texas Folklore Society, before enlisting in the army in 1917. He returned to the University of Texas in 1921, and later (1923–25) served as head of the English Department at Oklahoma A&M in Stillwater.

When Dobie and his wife, Bertha, returned to Austin after his time in the service, he resumed teaching English and his well-known class "Life and Literature of the Southwest." He served as editor and secretary of the Texas Folklore Society from 1922 to 1942. Without a doctorate, he was still promoted to full professor in 1933, but his honest, outspoken traits kept him in conflict with his colleagues and administration. He left the university in 1947.

Academic folklorists criticized Dobie for rewriting and editing his sources, and he seldom gave credit to his informants. Nevertheless, Dobie's books (he wrote more than twenty in all, including Coronado's Children, which won a Literary Guild award in 1931), were the efforts of a natural-born storyteller, a man who shared with love and reverence the traditions of his heritage, including those of Hispanics and African Americans. A true ranchland Texan, he shared the values of the southwestern Plains. Dobie was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civil honor, on September 14, 1964. Four days later he died in Austin, Texas.

Guy Logsdon Tulsa, Oklahoma

Abernethy, Francis Edward, ed. Texas Folklore Society. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1992–2000.

Bode, William. A Portrait of Pancho: The Life of a Great Texan. Austin: Pemberton, 1965.

Tinkle, Lon. An American Original: The Life of J. Frank Dobie. Boston: Little, Brown and Co. 1978.

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