The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 92, July 1988 - April, 1989 Page: 18
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Southwestern Hzstorical Quarterly
signs of going out of print. Not that the book at first went unnoticed. It
was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and Webb himself was nominated
for the Nobel Prize in literature.
And so it is historical justice that in this centennial year of Webb's
birth, an observance such as we are celebrating here this weekend illus-
trates the persistent burgeoning of Webb's reputation. His importance
in the world of ideas-in intellectual circles-stands higher in 1988
than it did when he died a quarter of a century ago or at any time while
he was alive.
Now my purpose here is not to pursue a dogged doctoral dissertation
on Webb's status as a thinker or historian. The fact is, he wasn't much of
a historian in the traditional sense of that often unimaginative profes-
sion. As J. Frank Dobie said of him, "One thing you can say about
Webb, he sure doesn't let the facts get in the way of the truth." Or the
notorious rejoinder that Webb made to Fred A. Shannon, the Univer-
sity of Illinois curmudgeon who blasted Webb's Great Plains at the Sky-
top session on the book back in the latter 193os as being maybe-just
maybe-good thinking but poor history. Webb, who seldom answered
criticism, retorted. "I have never asserted that The Great Plains is his-
tory . . . To me The Great Plains is a work of art .. "'
What I want to share with you is a visit with Walter Webb as I knew
him, as some of you knew him. He was an extraordinary human being,
a person who came along, as he was wont to say, at the only time he
could have succeeded.
Picture the country between Ranger and Breckenridge just after the
turn of the century. It wasn't a great deal different from what it is now.
Today it is eighty years drier, with more mesquite and cedar, a few
more fences, a few more weatherworn houses, a few more roads, a few
more rusted-out signs with cigarettes substituting for snuff and makin's.
Bank ads feature the presence of their membership in an occult frater-
nity called FDIC, a wild-haired socialistic idea that only a few populist
foreign agitators in the Texas legislature had thought of eighty years
A taciturn teenager is following a Georgia stock and mule, planting
cotton, or, later in the season, is stooped over, picking the king of
southern crops. As he would say later, "I never appreciated the nobility
' The Great Plains was the focus of a conference held at Skytop, Pennsylvamnia, on September 9,
1939. Shannon's critique, Webb's response, and a transcript of the conference proceedings may
be found in Fred A. Shannon, An Appraisal of Walter Prescott Webb's "The Great Plazns A Study in
Institutions and Environments" (New York: Social Science Research Council, 1940). The quota-
tion from Webb is on page 114.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 92, July 1988 - April, 1989, periodical, 1989; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101212/m1/45/: accessed July 25, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.