• Melody Webb and Robert Utley
    Melody Webb and Robert Utley

Robert Utley and his wife, Melody Webb, moved to Georgetown in 1996. He was the former chief historian for the National Park Service and has written 16 books on the American West. She was a regional historian for the National Park Service in Alaska and Santa Fe, and also served as superintendent of the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park and assistant superintendent of Grand Teton National Park.

After 13 years in Georgetown, the couple has decided to move to a retirement community in Arizona. In order to put their house on the market, they needed to free up space in their library, which contained some 5,000 books. About 1,000 books were sold to a collector and Southwestern is getting more than 2,000 books on Alaska, American history and the American West, the Civil War and Reconstruction, Texas, and environmental and historic preservation, among others.

“Southwestern has been wonderful to us,” Webb said. “They welcomed us as a part of the family from the day we got here. This is our way to show our appreciation to them.”

Utley used the library extensively for his first book on the Texas Rangers, Lone Star Justice: The First Century of the Texas Rangers, which was published in 2002. (Utley will be giving a presentation about his Texas Ranger books on Sept. 3 at 7 p.m. at the Grace Heritage Center, 811 S. Main St.)

Among the most valuable books in the collection are a 30-volume set of oral histories from Alaskan Natives that Webb helped develop for the National Park Service in the 1970s. The series was produced when the Park Service was working on proposed new national parks in Alaska. “They have become quite collectible,” Webb said.

Utley’s collection of books about the fur trade in the American West is also quite valuable. In all, the collection is estimated to be worth more than $55,000.  

“We are extremely grateful for this gift collection,” said Lynne Brody, dean of library services. “These books will significantly enrich our holdings of western American history. We are especially excited about several unique Texana titles they have donated that will enrich our already strong collection of Texana.”

Among these titles is a two-volume limited edition set that has become an important reference work for the study of Texas maps. The set is titled Shooting the Sun: Cartographic Results of Military Activities in Texas, 1689-1829 and examines the mapping of the interior of Texas by direct observation as opposed to maritime exploration. It provides a survey of Texas maps and mapmakers from the time the Europeans first came to Texas until the period of the Texas Revolution.

Elizabeth Green-Musselman, chair of the History Department, noted that in the past few years, her department and the Environmental Studies Program have added faculty members in the areas of U.S. western and environmental history, so the donation of a large book collection in these areas could not come at a better time for these faculty and their students.”  

“This is just the latest in a series of gifts that Robert Utley and Melody Webb have given to the American historical community over the last half-century,” Green-Mussleman said.