J. Frank Dobze and Walter Prescott Webb
The "HBT": Brainchild of
Walter Prescott Webb
J. S. SPRATT*
In the fertile mind of Walter Prescott Webb was born the idea of The
Handbook of Texas. This fact is widely known. It is equally well known
that Webb was no Zeus. There would be no splitting headache eased by
the Handbook popping from his brow, thousands of copies, fully bound,
jacketed and ready for distribution. Between the origin of the idea and
the published Handbook lay a long road. Frustrations were common-
place, the project was imperiled more than once, even close friendships
were shaken, if not destroyed, ere the two volumes appeared.
The world is filled with self-starters. It has a dearth of self-finishers.
Walter Webb was among the rarest of all-a combination of both. As
Webb mulled over and visualized the project, he realized it would be
costly in money and effort. Funds came foremost. Without them all
efforts would be in vain. It was his idea that the book be the property of
the Texas State Historical Association. Sales by the Association should
provide a revolving fund for other scholarly works on Texas history.
But the treasury of the Association was not up to financing the project.
Even if there had been sufficient funds, the board might not have
gambled so much on a handbook.
I never knew whether Webb had approached one or two of the larger
foundations before I learned of this plan or not. From the tenor of our
conversations, I always suspected he had. My son had been named a
page in the Texas Senate for the regular session of the Forty-seventh
Legislature. I took the boy, his mother, and his younger brother to Aus-
tin in January, 1941, to locate the three of them in an apartment for the
duration of the session. We were then living in San Angelo. On a visit to
Austin it was always routine for me to drop by Webb's office for a visit.
This trip would be no exception. It must have been nearly 11 : oo A.M.
when I rapped on his office door in Garrison Hall. We talked for a few
minutes, then drifted down to the Night Hawk near the corner of
Twenty-first and Guadalupe.
As we sat at the lunch counter munching a couple of hamburgers,
Webb told me of his plans for The Handbook of Texas. In his quiet way he
went into considerable detail about the work. I never knew him to let
*John S. Spratt, author of The Road to Spmndletop and professor of economics at Southern
Methodist University, died in 1976. This reminiscence was submitted by John S. Spratt, Jr.,
M.D., Louisville, Kentucky.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 92, July 1988 - April, 1989. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101212/. Accessed April 19, 2014.