Remembering Walter Prescott Webb
JOE B. FRANTZ*
O NCE A LOCAL PREACHER, NOTORIOUS FOR HIS LAZINESS IN PREPARING
sermons and for avoiding preparations by drawing on the Univer-
sity of Texas and Austin community to serve as guest pulpiteers, asked
Walter Prescott Webb to speak to his congregation. Webb, who wasn't
too fond of preachers as a social class anyway, agreed, showed up on
the appointed Sunday, received a glowing introduction, looked out
across the congregation, and said in his toneless flat voice: "I have been
asked to talk with you about the cowboy and his religion. He had none."
And he sat down. End of sermon. He was never invited back.
I relate that anecdote for one reason: if Webb were here today, he
would have about as little patience with this observance as he had with
the preacher. But deep down he would have been terribly pleased. As
he grew older, he took tremendous quiet pride in being honored for
forcing people to think.
When the publication of The Great Frontzer was impending, he con-
fided to me that if the book sold 40,000 copies, he was going to quit
driving the cheaper Plymouths and two-seater Dodges that he had
owned since he arose from the Model-T era and buy a car that was a bit
more noticeable, like a Chrysler or an Oldsmobile. When the first round
of sales was modest, he said, "Looks like I'll drive Plymouths until I
die," which he did.
"But," he added, "I'm not discouraged. All my books have required
twenty-five years to be appreciated, and I'll bet that by 19g80 The Great
Frontier will have that Oldsmobile sitting in my driveway." As we know,
he missed 1980 by seventeen years, but The Great Frontier is read as
widely now as it was in the 195os and after a third of a century shows no
*Joe B. Frantz, former director of the Texas State Historical Association and professor emer-
itus at the University of Texas at Austin, is professor of history at Corpus Christi State Univer-
sity. Dr. Frantz delivered these remarks at the luncheon on Saturday, March 5, 1988, at the
Association's annual meeting in Austin. The essay is based on Dr. Frantz's recollections of his
many years' friendship with Walter Prescott Webb.
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 August 29, 2015.