J. Frank Dobie and Walter Prescott Webb
In Between Boards
JOHN H. JENKINS*
I met two famous Texans the same day. It was the spring of 1955,
and I had just turned fifteen. With the preliminary draft of Recollections
of Early Texas under my arm and stars in my eyes, I had come to Austin
from Beaumont to see if I could get the manuscript published. My first
stop was to see Walter Prescott Webb, but he was not in town, so I went
to the office of another prominent historian, in the basement of the old
Ushered into the office of this gentleman, I placed the draft on his
desk and explained that I felt it was worthy of publication. I will never
forget that laugh or the derisive look on his face as he picked up the
box without opening it and put it back in my hands. "Son," he said,
"come back ten years from now when you've finished your education,
and then we'll see if you have anything worth considering. It's good to
see you're interested in Texas history; keep it up." With that, he es-
corted me out the door. The meeting lasted less than two minutes.
So it was with the greatest of trepidation that I walked up to the door
of 702 Park Place and rang the door bell of J. Frank Dobie. Bertha
Dobie came to the door and without a question invited me inside. When
I told her I had a manuscript for Mr. Dobie to see, she called out,
"Frank, there is a young man here that you will want to meet." Her
smile was genuine, not derisive.
But even Bertha's generous smile was nothing compared to that of
Frank Dobie as he welcomed me into his living room. Far from feeling
pestered, he clearly enjoyed meeting me and listening to my explanation
of why I felt my project was worth publication. We talked for over an
hour, and when he said he would read the manuscript, I knew he was
telling the truth.
After a few days of research I returned home and found the first of
what would become my most treasured correspondence-a letter from
Frank Dobie telling me that by all means I should tackle the project.
Over the next two years I pelted him with letters, ranging from what
major sources I needed to read to the best format for footnotes. He
pelted me with letters back; I could hardly believe it, but it was clear
that he was getting as much pleasure from the correspondence as I was.
When I bellyached to my girlfriend about how she swooned over Elvis
Presley records, she told me it was nothing compared to how I reacted
to a letter from J. Frank Dobie.
*John H. Jenkins is an author, publisher, and rare-book dealer in Austin.
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 July 14, 2014.