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University of Texas at Austin

J. Frank Dobie:

An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Dobie, J. Frank (James Frank), 1888-1964
Title: J. Frank Dobie Papers
Dates: circa 1700-1988 (bulk 1910-1964)
Extent: 284 document boxes, 4 index card boxes (120.12 linear feet), 8 galley folders (gf), 2 oversize folders (osf)
Abstract: The papers of Texas writer, folklorist, and educator J. Frank Dobie contain numerous manuscripts for his writings, voluminous correspondence files, and extensive research materials, plus personal papers, manuscripts by others, and Dobie family letters and papers.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-1176
Language: The papers are primarily written in English with some Spanish language material also present.
Note: The Ransom Center gratefully acknowledges assistance from the TexTreasures grant program–funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services through the Texas State Library and Archives Commission under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act–which supported processing and cataloging of this collection.
Access: Open for research

Administrative Information

Acquisition: Gifts and purchases, 1960-2001 (R5890, R5374, R7421, R7613, R8278, R8369, G1411, R9993, G2049, G2858, G11645, G11720)
Processed by: Daniela Lozano and Joan Sibley, 2015

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

James Frank Dobie was born on a ranch in Live Oak County, Texas on September 26, 1888. His father, Richard Jonathan Dobie, was a rancher and taught his son about the land and raising cattle; his mother, Ella Byler Dobie, was a teacher and gave him an appreciation for literature and nature. Dobie was the eldest of six children. At age sixteen, he was sent to live with his grandmother in Alice, Texas to attend high school. He then attended Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 1910.
After college, Dobie wrote for several Texas newspapers and worked as a high school teacher and principal in Alpine, Texas. In 1913, he enrolled at Columbia University and received a Master of Arts degree in 1914. He returned to Texas and that same year became a professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin (UT).
While attending Southwestern, Dobie met Bertha McKee whom he married in 1916. They had had a long-distance courtship after they both left Southwestern, but after their marriage Bertha left her teaching job in Galveston to join her husband in Austin. Soon they were apart once again when, in 1917, Dobie enlisted in the U.S. Army. He became a first lieutenant in the field artillery and served abroad briefly during World War I before being discharged in 1919.
After his discharge, Dobie returned to teaching English at UT but left after one year to manage the ranch of his uncle, J. M. Dobie. The ranch was about 200,000 acres and located on the Nueces River in Texas. It was there that Dobie began to take notice of Mexican folk tales, the character and talk of cowmen, and the character of the brush country. Dobie spent a year managing the ranch until his uncle could no longer afford to pay him. He returned to teaching at UT where he would remain until 1947 except for two years as the Head of the English Department at Oklahoma A&M College, now Oklahoma State University (1923-1925), and two years as a visiting professor at Cambridge University (1943-1944).
Dobie became secretary and editor of the Texas Folklore Society in 1922. The society was formed in 1909, but had been mostly inactive during the war years. Dobie began a publication program and in 1924 his Legends of Texas was published. He served as secretary and editor of the society until 1943 and built it into a professional organization.
Dobie also began publishing his own books about Texas and the Southwest culture. The first, A Vaquero of the Brush Country was published in 1929, followed by Coronado's Children in 1931, which won the Literary Guild Award that same year. Other works include On the Open Range (1931), Tongues of the Monte (1935), The Flavor of Texas (1936), Tales of the Mustang (1936), Apache Gold and Yaqui Silver (1939), and The Longhorns (1941).
During World War II, Dobie taught American history as a visiting professor at Cambridge University, and wrote about his experience abroad in his book, A Texan in England (1945). After the war, he lectured at Shrivenham America University in the United Kingdom and to troops in Germany and Austria. Meanwhile, back in Austin, the UT Board of Regents, critical of the university's liberal professors, fired UT President Homer P. Rainey in November 1944. A liberal himself, Dobie was outraged and spoke out in support of Rainey. In 1947, Dobie's request for a continuation of his leave of absence after his European tour was denied and his position at UT was terminated.
Free from his teaching duties, Dobie devoted his time to writing and traveling around the country giving talks to community and university groups. Works from this period include The Voice of the Coyote (1949), The Ben Lilly Legend (1950), The Mustangs (1952), Up the Trail from Texas (1955), I'll Tell You a Tale (1960) and Cow People, which was published just before his death in 1964. Bertha Dobie edited and published his almost completed Rattlesnakes in 1965, and the autobiographical Some Part of Myself in 1967.
In addition to his books, Dobie wrote a Sunday column that appeared in several Texas newspapers from 1939 until his death. He was also a regular contributor to Country Gentleman and Southwest Review, and published articles in several other publications.
On September 14, 1964, Dobie was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civil honor, by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Dobie died just days later, on September 18, 1964, in his home in Austin.


In addition to the material found within the J. Frank Dobie Papers, the following biographical sources were used:
Francis E. Abernethy, "DOBIE, JAMES FRANK," Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed August 12, 2015. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Scope and Contents

The papers of writer, folklorist, and educator J. Frank Dobie contain numerous manuscript drafts for Dobie's books, articles, and newspaper columns; voluminous correspondence to and from family, friends, writers, folklorists, educators, politicians, publishers, editors, book dealers, artists, students, and the general public; extensive subject files of research material; personal, financial, and legal papers; as well as works received from friends and students and third party correspondence. Spanning circa 1700 to 1988, the papers are arranged in two series: I. Dobie Papers, 1848-1966 and II. Later Dobie Papers Acquisitions, circa 1700-1988. The papers are primarily written in English with some Spanish language material also present. The papers in Series I. were previously described on an estimated 17,000 catalog cards (12 drawers) accessible only onsite at the Ransom Center. This finding aid replicates and replaces information previously available only through the card catalog.
The Dobie works represented (1,113 titles) are primarily shorter works dating back to the 1920s, the bulk of which appeared in his newspaper columns. Longer works from the 1940s forward are also present including The Mustangs (1952), Tales of Old-time Texas (1955), I'll Tell You a Tale (1960), Cow People (1964), and the posthumously published autobiographical Some Part of Myself (1967). Also present are materials for unpublished works, such as an unrealized reader called "Heritage of West and Southwest" and a collection of off-color tales with the working title "Piss and Vinegar."
Chief correspondents include his wife, Bertha McKee Dobie; his mother, Ella Byler Dobie; and his publisher, Little, Brown and Company. Other notable correspondents include Roy Bedichek, Maynard Dixon, Fred Gipson, John Howard Griffin, John Graves, Carl Hertzog, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, Tom Lea, John A. Lomax, Alexander Phimister Proctor, Carl Sandburg, Ross Santee, Henry Nash Smith, Frank Wardlaw, Walter Prescott Webb, Herbert Faulkner West, and Senator Ralph Yarborough. Dobie also received many letters from his readers and the general public, especially fellow Texans. The correspondence spans major historical events such as the two World Wars, the Great Depression, the fight for academic freedom at The University of Texas, and the fight for civil rights in the 1940s.
Series I. Dobie Papers, 1848-1966
Series I. is arranged in four subseries: A. Works, 1916-1967; B. Letters, 1903-1964; C. Recipient, 1899-1967; D. Miscellaneous, 1848-1966.
Subseries A. Works
The Works subseries consists of manuscript drafts, notes, and research material for Dobie's published books and newspaper columns from 1916-1967 (19 boxes). The bulk of the works are represented by typescripts and carbon typescripts, many with handwritten revisions, but handwritten manuscripts and notes are also included. The Guide to Life and Literature of the Southwest is represented by a printed book with handwritten and typed pages inserted. The drafts of the autobiographical work Some Part of Myself, which was published posthumously, contain revisions and insertions by Bertha McKee Dobie.
The works are arranged alphabetically by title. A complete index of titles is included in the Index of Works in this finding aid.
Subseries B. Letters
The Letters subseries spans 1903-1964 (24.25 boxes) and contains Dobie's outgoing correspondence to 863 colleagues, students, organizations, family members, and friends. The bulk of the Letters are written to Bertha McKee Dobie, his wife, and Ella Byler Dobie, his mother. The letters to Bertha begin from the time of their courtship in 1914 until 1963. The letters document the Dobies' life together, especially the times when they were apart including their courtship before they were married, and during Dobie's time teaching at Cambridge during World War II. Dobie also wrote to his mother often. The Letters to his mother begin in 1903 and end just before her death in 1948.
The letters are arranged alphabetically by recipient name. They consist of other Dobie family members including his father, Richard Jonathan Dobie, and sisters Martha Dobie and Fannie Dobie Stanford, as well as Tom Lea, Herbert Faulkner West, John Young, the publisher Little, Brown and Company, and various University of Texas at Austin departments. All correspondent names are listed in the Index of Letters included in this finding aid.
Subseries C. Recipient
The Recipient subseries consists of Dobie's incoming letters from approximately 12,732 correspondents, 1899-1967 (148 boxes). A great deal of the Recipient correspondence includes carbon copies of Dobie's letters to that person or organization. As with the Letters series, the bulk of the correspondence in this series comes from Bertha McKee Dobie and Ella Byler Dobie. Also well represented are other members of the Dobie family, especially his sisters Martha Dobie and Fannie Dobie Stanford; as well as Ruth Dodson; Isabel Gaddis; Little, Brown and Company; and Southwest Review.
The recipient correspondence is arranged alphabetically by author name and then chronologically. All correspondent names are listed in the Index of Recipient Correspondence segment of this finding aid.
Subseries D. Miscellaneous
Items in the Miscellaneous subseries range from 1848 to 1966 (34.75 boxes) and consist of Dobie's personal papers and notes on various subjects, works by others, and third party correspondence, especially to Dobie's mother Ella Byler Dobie from various friends and family members, and to Bertha McKee Dobie.
Dobie's papers in this series include letters sent to him after his speech at Terrell High School in Fort Worth, Texas on integrating higher education in Texas; genealogical notes and materials on Dobie antecedents; and materials on legends, lost treasure, Oklahoma legends, and Southwest and ghost legends. There are also extensive notes for his book The Mustangs, and notes on various other subjects including James Cox, George Washington Trahern, brands, camp cooks, Charles Goodnight, cowboy characteristics and speech, horses, the code of the west, and early trail drivers. Twenty-eight notebooks and address books contain notes he took on trips, notes on research material, and various lists and contact information.
Material related to the Dobie Estate goes as far back as 1848 and consists of contracts and paperwork regarding land ownership, marriage contracts, and military paperwork. The works by others include essays and assignments by Dobie's students, often with his notes and grades, as well as dissertations, and works by other writers.
Author or creator names, titles of works, and correspondent names present in this subseries appear in the Index of Miscellaneous in this finding aid with approximately 869 entries.
Series II. Later Dobie Papers Acquisitions, circa 1700-1988
Series II. is arranged in six subseries: A. Works, 1927-1971; B. Subject Files, 1880-1971; C. Correspondence, 1923-1974; D. Items Withdrawn from Dobie Books, various dates; E. Personal Papers, 1889-1974; F. Works and Correspondence by Others, circa 1700-1988. The materials in this series were all later acquisitions that were never described in the card catalog with the other Dobie Papers.
For materials in this series, Dobie's own folder titles have been retained whenever available and identifiable file groups were maintained. Materials in the folders were left in original order as much as possible to reveal the way that Dobie kept his files and to document his working methods. When materials in a folder were too voluminous, they were split into multiple folders during processing, sometimes by separately grouping formats such as correspondence, manuscripts, clippings, etc. Because Dobie's wife Bertha outlived him by ten years and edited several unpublished Dobie works for posthumous publication, it is obvious that she gathered some of the materials together and sometimes added later materials and notes to Dobie's existing files.
Subseries A. Works
The Works subseries includes manuscripts and supporting materials for articles, books, book reviews, introductions, and speeches by Dobie spanning 1927-1971 (6 boxes). Among the major works represented are The Flavor of Texas (1936), an unused chapter for A Texan in England (1945), a proposed reader to have been titled "Heritage of West and Southwest" and substantial work toward collecting off-color tales to have been published as "Piss and Vinegar."
The manuscripts are arranged alphabetically by folder title and are often accompanied by notes, research, correspondence, or clippings used as source material. In addition to unpublished works, some of the manuscripts likely represent differing versions from published items. Some of the works bear notes by Bertha Dobie during her work to edit posthumous Dobie publications, such as Carl Sandburg & Saint Peter at the Gate (1966) and 'Buried treasure stories' (unrealized). Several folders of articles were left in their original groupings as they may represent further selections toward other collected works.
A complete index of titles is included in the Index of Works in this finding aid and the names of those writing letters to Dobie filed in this subseries appear in the Index of Recipient Correspondence.
Subseries B. Subject Files
The Subject Files subseries contains materials reflecting Dobie's lifelong interests in folklore, the history of Texas and the Southwest, and related topics associated with range life spanning 1880-1971 (21 boxes and 3 index card boxes).
The files are essentially Dobie's working files and they generally include a mix of materials: clippings from newspapers and other printed materials; Dobie's notes, including field notes of conversations and information copied from printed sources; original historical documents collected or transcripts of originals; incoming correspondence, often bearing Dobie's handwritten subject designations, notes, comments, or other markings, sometimes accompanied by Dobie's outgoing carbon copy letters; manuscript drafts of works by Dobie; and pictorial material usually in the form of either photographs or illustrations from printed sources, although occasionally there is also original art work.
The files are arranged alphabetically by Dobie's original folder title and his file groupings have also been maintained. The largest single group of files represent materials gathered for a biographical study of the cowboy artist Charles M. Russell. Other figures well represented are Andy Adams, James Bowie, William Henry Hudson, and Big Foot Wallace. There is also a large group of files on animals that is especially rich in material collected on deer, horses, roadrunners, turkeys, and wolves.
Several files contain lengthy runs of correspondence with individuals, most particularly those with the pioneering musicologist and folklorist John A. Lomax and with sculptor Alexander Phimister Proctor concerning the Seven Mustangs sculpture commissioned for the UT Austin campus.
Many of the files contain recorded anecdotes, stories, and tall tales. Dobie's interest in language also led to his large collection of words and phrases of the range and Southwest, as well as proverbial sayings, recorded chiefly on index cards. Other files reflect Dobie's varied interests in art and artists, censorship, collecting, England and the English people, literature, politicians, ranching, Texas history, and writers and writing.
Titles of manuscript drafts of works by Dobie in this subseries appear in the Index of Works in this finding aid. The names of those writing letters to Dobie that are filed in this subseries are included in the Index of Recipient Correspondence.
Subseries C. Correspondence
The Correspondence files are dominated by correspondence with booksellers, publishers and agents, and a large group of Christmas greeting cards gathered by Dobie, 1923-1974 (11 boxes). The files are arranged alphabetically by original file title with original file groupings retained.
Files with several booksellers chiefly concern new acquisitions for the Dobie library, circa 1959-1964, and include both correspondence and invoices for books purchased. Correspondence with publishers and agents is dominated by Dobie's longtime connection with Little, Brown and Company, with correspondence, contracts, and royalty statements spanning 1938 to 1974. A large file of correspondence with the University of Texas concerns the acquisition of the Dobie library and archives, 1957-1963.
Dobie's large collection of selected Christmas greeting cards dates from 1936 through 1963. The earlier cards more frequently depict Texas or Southwestern themes, while the later cards were those he found interesting at the time. Many of the cards were collected because of their Western illustrations, by artists including Edward Borein, Tom Lea, Charles M. Russell, and many others.
Particularly interesting is a file named "Correspondents," which contains a few letters Dobie thought notable, mainly from the general public. There are also some files of grouped letters concerning specific Dobie books, a selection of letters from schoolchildren, and telegrams received after an automobile accident in 1962.
The names of those writing letters to Dobie that are filed in this subseries are included in the Index of Recipient Correspondence in this finding aid.
Subseries D. Items Withdrawn from Dobie Books
This subseries contains chiefly correspondence, some Dobie manuscripts, clippings, and other items that were withdrawn from books in Dobie's library when they went through the cataloging process after acquisition by the Ransom Center (4 boxes). The items remain grouped together by the book that they came from in an overall arrangement by the Library of Congress call number assigned. The catalog records for these books in the UT Library Catalog mention these withdrawals and keeping the items arranged in call number order enables retrieval of the separated items from individual books. And because Library of Congress call numbers are based on a classification system, the withdrawals naturally group around particular subjects or authors.
It was apparently a long-standing habit of Dobie's to keep related letters, manuscripts, and clippings filed in books in his library. Often the materials withdrawn relate to the subject of the book, other times they concern the author of the book or Dobie's book reviewing activities, and sometimes they relate to the acquisition of a particular book.
Correspondents in this subseries are included in the Index of Recipient Correspondence in this finding aid and titles of works by Dobie are also included in the Index of Works.
Subseries E. Personal Papers
The Personal Papers subseries contains various personal documents, financial and legal records, and teaching files that document Dobie's life, 1889-1974 (4 boxes). Among the notable items are a 1913 logbook; notes from a Shakespeare class taken at Columbia University in 1913; papers concerning the Dobie family ranch and Dobie's own Paisano property; a nearly complete run of income tax returns from 1937 through 1963 as well as wills for both Dobie and his wife Bertha; as well as some of Dobie's teaching files from UT Austin, particularly his "Life and Literature of the Southwest" course, 1930-1943.
The files are arranged alphabetically by folder title, sometimes grouped by the type of material.
Subseries F. Works and Correspondence by Others
The final subseries contains chiefly manuscript works by persons other than Dobie or correspondence between third-parties (i.e., not by or to Dobie himself), circa 1700-1988 (12 boxes, 1 index card box). The materials are arranged alphabetically by author and title (when multiple works are present by a single author), with two groupings that collect together brand books or works on Charles M. Russell.
The works present in this subseries represent works in galleys or proofs presented to Dobie for review; some UT Austin theses collected by Dobie; works by colleagues or friends on subects of interest to Dobie; works by others about Dobie; and works or correspondence by Dobie family or associates, such as his wife Bertha and his secretary Willie Belle Coker. Sometimes the works are accompanied by correspondence.
The earliest materials present in this subseries include a circa 1700 manuscript with Spanish and Italian horse marks, and two brand books and two scout books documenting border cattle brands and cattle thefts obtained by Dobie- relation E. M. Dubose, who was a U.S customs inspector in Texas, 1905-1914.
Also of interest is a manuscript by Bertha Dobie entitled "People and the Stories They Tell," circa 1929-1935, queries she received from readers of her gardening column, and her alphabetical plant and gardening notes kept on index cards.
Author or creator names, titles of works, and correspondent names present in this subseries appear in the Index of Miscellaneous in this finding aid

Related Material

Additional Dobie items or allied materials are present in several other manuscript collections at the Ransom Center: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., Leah Brenner, Fred Gipson, John Graves, John Howard Griffin, Tom Lea, L. W. Payne, George Sessions Perry, Edward L. Tinker, and Edward Weeks.
Additional Dobie materials are located at several other repositories, including The Wittliff Collection at Texas State University, The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at UT Austin (see the Texas Authors Manuscript Collection for additional manuscript works by Dobie), Cody Memorial Library at Southwestern University, and The Texas Collection at Baylor University.

Separated Material

Dobie material in other units at the Ransom Center includes: Art (569 items), Books (9,517 titles), Photographs (3,900 items), Personal effects (23 items and 13 unprocessed boxes), Sound recordings (26 items), and Vertical files (60 boxes of non-book printed material).

Index Terms


Bedichek, Roy, 1878-1959.
Dixon, Maynard, 1875-1946.
Dobie, Bertha McKee, 1890- .
Dodson, Ruth, 1876-1963.
Gaddis, Isabel.
Hertzog, Carl.
Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973.
Lea, Tom, 1907-2001.
Lomax, John A. (John Avery), 1867-1948.
Russell, Charles M. (Charles Marion), 1864-1926.
Sandburg, Carl, 1878-1967.
Webb, Walter Prescott, 1888-1963.
West, Herbert Faulkner, 1898-1974.
Yarborough, Ralph Webster, 1903-1996.


American Folklore Society.
Austin American-Statesman (Firm).
British Broadcasting Corporation.
Little, Brown and Company.
Southwest Press (Dallas, Tex.).
Texas Folklore Society.
University of Cambridge.
University of Texas at Austin.


Authors, American--Texas.
Dobbie family.
Folklore--West (U.S.)
Frontier and pioneer life--Texas.
Ranch life.


Texas--Social life and customs.

Document Types

Research notes.

Container List