- J. Frank Dobie: A Liberated Mind
You may have to go back half-a-century or more to remember Texas folklorist and journalist J. Frank Dobie, author of numerous books about the Southwest, its people and critters: A Vaquero of the Brush Country (1929), Coronado's Children (1930), Apache Gold and Yaqui Silver (1939), The Longhorns (1941), The Ben Lilly Legend (1950), The Mustangs (1952), Tales of Old Time Texas (1955), Rattlesnakes (1965), Out of Old Rock (1972), and others.
Dobie died in 1964, but his legend lives on in the hearts and minds of many Texans and in the literary world. His legacy has spawned hundreds of magazine articles and graduate school studies. If you have been to Barton Springs in Austin, you may have seen Glenna Goodacre's bronze statue, Philosopher's Rock, featuring Dobie and his two friends Roy Bedicheck and Walter Prescott Webb.
While modern scholars have not been kind to Dobie, a crusty curmudgeon who grew out of old rock in South Texas at the turn of the last century, he gave Texas writing its literary start. A conservative who denigrated Hispanics and African Americans in his early days, even though he championed a few individuals, he evolved into a Texas rarity: a liberal-minded [End Page 210] man who supported the Civil Rights Movement and the integration of the University of Texas, where he taught English for many years.
Steven L. Davis's warts-and-all biography of Dobie traces his evolution from a Vaquero of the Brush Country, the title of Dobie's 1929 debut, to Texas's leading man of letters in the mid-twentieth century. He wrote for several mainstream magazines of the era—Saturday Evening Post, American Mercury, and Holiday—and his column, "My Texas," appeared in the Dallas Morning News, the Houston Post, as well as Austin and San Antonio newspapers. His opinions also appeared in a series of radio programs throughout the state. He was as well-known as any Texan, not only in the Lone Star State but nationwide.
An English professor at the University of Texas, where his wife, Bertha, often covered his classes when he collected folk tales, he also taught at Cambridge University in England during the latter days of World War II, an experience that led to his book A Texan in England (1945). In addition, he spent time in Germany at the end of the war and wrote a piece for National Geographic, "What I Saw across the Rhine" (1947).
Davis, Assistant Curator for the Southwestern Writers Collection/The Wittliff Collections at Texas State University—San Marcos, also serves as editor of the Southwest Writers Collection book series published by the University of Texas Press. He lives in the Dobie archives, which were rejected by the University of Texas upon Dobie's death, the result of his political problems with the administration.
Davis's biography pulls no punches. He presents Dobie whole, showing his foibles and failures, his political battles and literary accomplishments, but most of all he shows Dobie's growth, his evolution into a man possessing a liberated mind.