Bancroft, Hubert Howe (1832–1918)

By: John Walton Caughey

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: November 1, 1994

Hubert Howe Bancroft, historian, the son of Ashley and Lucy (Howe) Bancroft, was born at Granville, Ohio, on May 5, 1832. In 1852 he went to California, where in 1856 he opened a book and stationery shop in San Francisco. With publishing, subscription, and music departments added, the shop became the largest west of Chicago. In 1859 Bancroft began collecting Californiana. His interest soon spread to include all the Pacific states from Panama to Alaska and eastward through Texas. Eventually he amassed books, pamphlets, newspapers, and manuscripts to the amount of 60,000 volumes. After it was moved to the University of California in 1905, his library became the chief center of research in western history and, incidentally, the training ground for a number of specialists in Texas history.

Bancroft determined not only to collect historical materials on the West but to try to chronicle that history comprehensively. With hired assistants, who eventually numbered 600, he began to index his holdings, to take notes, and to write. Between 1874 and 1890 he published thirty-nine massive volumes detailing the history of the western half of the continent. Unfortunately, he published the set as his Works and did not precisely credit the writings of his assistants. These books, however, are said to be the greatest compendium of information on their vast subject and the best reference on many of its parts. Although the set is California-centered, the six volumes on Mexico are immediate background for Texas history, and the two on the north Mexican states and Texas were acclaimed by Eugene C. Barker in 1925 as "the most satisfactory comprehensive history of Texas available."

Selling his histories by subscription, Bancroft made them gross more than a million dollars. The Works were followed by eight volumes of subsidized biographies, The Chronicles of the Builders (1891), and by several volumes of essays. In his later years Bancroft was berated for his methods of collecting, publishing, and selling; but since his death on March 2, 1918, his repute has greatly improved because of the vast amount of research that has been dependent upon his Works. He was married to Emily Ketchum in 1859 and to Matilda B. Griffin in 1875.

John Walton Caughey, Hubert Howe Bancroft: Historian of the West (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1946). Dictionary of American Biography. Who Was Who in America, Vol. 2. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

John Walton Caughey, “Bancroft, Hubert Howe,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 28, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994