Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 398

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 398


This is the grave of J. Frank Dobie.

Perhaps the greatest of all Texan mythmakers–and that’s a high bar!–James Frank Dobie was born on a ranch in Live Oak County, Texas in 1888. He went to Southwestern University in Georgetown–the first school crazy enough to hire me!–in 1906 and graduated in 1910. He worked as a journalist for awhile before getting a job teaching high school in Alpine, Texas and then returning to Georgetown. He left Texas for awhile to get a master’s degree at Columbia, returned for a job at the University of Texas, then fought in World War I. After the war, he came back to Texas again and started to write. He decided he would rather write and be a rancher than write and teach so he moved to his uncle’s ranch and started writing about longhorn cattle. Texas folklore was the bailiwick of Dobie. For forty years, he was the king of Texas stories. Turned out he wasn’t a big fan of ranching either, so after a year, he went back to teaching, first at Oklahoma A&M (today, Oklahoma State) and then back to the University of Texas. He wrote A Vaquero of the Brush Country in 1929, a sort of collaboration with a vaquero who had fought against the fencing of the open range that later led to some serious copyright litigation since Dobie took most of the money.

Dobie’s 1941 book The Longhorns received real national attention, including a full-page New York Times review, and helped lead to the revival of the Longhorn as a breed when it was on the verge of disappearing. He also started a weekly newspaper column in 1939 that went after the state’s conservative and corrupt political culture. He hated the braggart Texas conservatives that defined his state and made a lot of powerful people angry over the years, but like Molly Ivins or Jim Hightower a couple generations later, he was such a Texas institution that he was untouchable, or mostly so. When the president of UT was fired in 1944 by regents appointed by the awful Coke Stevenson, Dobie said that was outrageous, infuriating Stevenson, who wanted him fired. By this time, Dobie was taking lots of time off to teach in post-war Europe and so a reason was found to dump him in 1947. That certainly didn’t stop anyone from reading him though, nor dented his Texas legend status. Moreover, Lyndon Johnson loved him and gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964. He died four days after the ceremony. I’m not sure that anyone reads Dobie anymore. Maybe they do in Texas, but that’s all he really cared about anyway. I can’t say that I’ve ever read him. Maybe some of you can add to this sketch. He wrote a couple dozen books and tons of short pieces over his life.

J. Frank Dobie is buried in Texas State Cemetery, Austin, Texas.

This grave visit was supported by LGM reader contributions. As always, I am incredibly grateful for that. If you would like this series to visit other larger-than-life Texans, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Buddy Holly is in Lubbock and Charles Goodnight is, well, in Goodnight. I am however, very sad to say that Larry Hagman evidently was cremated and his ashes scattered. That would have been a great grave visit. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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