Andy Adams Essay - Critical Essays

Adams, Andy


Andy Adams 1859-1935

American novelist, short story writer, and playwright.


Adams is best known for his novel The Log of a Cowboy: A Narrative of the Old Trail Days, which is widely acknowledged as one of the most realistic and well-written accounts of cowboy life.

Biographical Information

Born in Whitley County, Indiana, Adams was raised on a cattle farm. He had little formal education and left home at the age of fifteen. After briefly working in a lumber camp near Newport, Arkansas, Adams worked as a cowboy in San Antonio, Texas, and in 1890 he moved to Rockport, Texas, where he started a feed and seed business. Four years later he followed the mining boom to Cripple Creek, Colorado, and later to Goldfield, Nevada, before settling in Colorado Springs. Adams began writing in 1898 after viewing what he considered to be an inaccurate portrayal of cattlemen in Harry 0. Hoyt's play Texas Steer. Although his own first play was unsuccessful, he soon sold his first story, "The Passing of Peg-Leg," to Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly. Following the publication of his first novel, The Log of a Cowboy, in 1903, he published several more novels and short story collections. Adams died in 1935.

Major Works

The Log of a Cowboy is a first-person account of a cattle drive north from Texas to the Blackfoot Reservation in Northern Montana. In this work Adams provided an accurate picture of the hardships and rewards of cowboy life. Adams's later novels similarly deal with aspects of the cattle business. The Outlet, for example, depicts the world of railway companies, contractors, and congressional lobbyists and their interests in the cattle business, while Reed Anthony, Cowman: An Autobiography is the story of a Confederate Army veteran who becomes a cattle rancher in Texas.

Critical Reception

None of Adams's later novels are considered as successful as The Log of a Cowboy. Critics note that Adams's ability to portray realistic scenes and his leisurely narrative style were best utilized in the episodic form of his first novel. Nevertheless, all of Adams works have been widely praised for their accuracy and realism, and Levette J. Davidson has written: "In spite of his many failures, Andy Adams remains the champion in one significant field; he put into seven books of fiction more of the life of the open range, the ranch, and the cattle trail than any other writer has been able to capture."

Principal Works

The Log of a Cowboy: A Narrative of the Old Trail Days (novel) 1903

A Texas Matchmaker (novel) 1904

The Outlet (novel) 1905

Cattle-Brands: A Collection of Western Camp-Fire Stories (short stories) 1906

Reed Anthony, Cowman: An Autobiography (novel) 1907

Wells Brothers: The Young Cattle Kings (novel) 1911

The Ranch on the Beaver (novel) 1927

Why the Chisholm Trail Forks, and Other Tales of the Cattle Country (short stories) 1956


The Athenaeum (essay date 1903)

SOURCE: A review of The Log of a Cowboy in The Athenaeum, No. 3972, December 12, 1903, p. 790.

[In the following review, the critic praises The Log of a Cowboy for its realism.]

[The Log of a Cowboy] bears about it all the marks of being what is called a document—a record of actual experience, rather than a work of imagination. A good deal of work of this sort has recently been published in the form associated with fiction, and is welcomed, one fancies, as a relief from the broad stream of ineffective, mediocre stuff which appears under that name. The Log of a Cowboy tells the story day by day of a trip with cattle, several thousand strong, from Texas, through Arkansas and Wyoming, to the Blackfoot Agency in Montana in the year 1882. The long journey was full of adventure, which is set forth in crisp, straightforward style, and forms very interesting reading. But the book is more than interesting and amusing; it is a compact and truthful picture of an important phase of American life, which can no longer be watched, for the reason that all the essential conditions have changed during the last twenty years. The reviewer has known many cowboys of the period dealt with in this book, and can vouch for the fidelity of their presentation here. The book is not burdened—as is nearly all the fiction of the Far West—with exaggerated accounts of cowboys' dissipation. We get incidental glimpses of this incidental feature of their lives, but are mainly concerned with the strenuous workaday life of the saddle and the camp, of sudden difficulties ably surmounted, of swift dangers bravely and coolly overcome. There are some amusing camp-fire stories. The chapter called 'The Republican' is the best account of a prairie racing swindle that has been published for some time, and there is hardly a chapter in the book which does not contain at least one good story.

The Dial (essay date 1904)

SOURCE: A review of A Texas Matchmaker, in The Dial, Vol. XXXVII, No. 434, July 16, 1904, pp. 40-3.

[In the following review of A Texas Matchmaker, the critic praises Adams's realistic treatment of life on a Texas cattle range.]

[A Texas Matchmaker] is a 'human document' rather than a work exhibiting literary art, and possesses a certain historical interest in its portrayals of life on a Texas cattlerange thirty years ago, before the days of fences and railways. The ranch-owner, an early settler and veteran of the struggle for Texan independence, is the central figure of the story and gives the book its name through his persistent endeavors to make matches between every maid and bachelor whom he views with favor. Accounts of these love affairs, none of which run smooth, combined with interpolated tales of frontier life, make up the long volume, certain to bring conviction of the author's knowledge and sincerity.

The Nation (essay date 1905)

SOURCE: A review of The Outlet, in The Nation, Vol. LXXX, No. 2082, May 25, 1905, p. 422.

[Below, the reviewer commends Adams's treatment of Western life in the 1800s in The Outlet.]

To take a big herd of cattle from the southwestern corner of Texas up through the Indian Territory, and so on to Fort Buford, at the mouth of the Yellowstone, in Dakota, and have them there in prime order after six months' travel, is no ordinary feat. [The Outlet] is an account of such a trip made from March to September, 1884, told with animation, and embellished here and there with bits of cowboy literature in the shape of stories that go the rounds of an evening after the...

(The entire section is 755 words.)

The Nation (essay date 1907)

SOURCE: A review of Reed Anthony, Cowman: An Autobiography, in The Nation, Vol. LXXXV, No. 2192, July 4, 1907, p. 16.

[In the following excerpt, the reviewer faults Reed Anthony, Cowman for its lack of compelling action but praises Adams's ingenuousness.]

Taking "Reed Anthony" to be Andy Adams himself, we suppose [Reed Anthony, Cowman: An Autobiography] to be simply a further chapter in autobiography. His earlier books about the life of the cowboy and the cattleman have been widely read, not, we suppose, because they are particularly good books, but because they have to do with a picturesque and passing type of American experience. The cowboy and...

(The entire section is 462 words.)

The Nation (essay date 1911)

SOURCE: A review of Wells Brothers: The Young Cattle Kings in The Nation, Vol. XCII, No. 2392, May 4, 1911, p. 448.

[The following anonymous review characterizes Wells Brothers: The Young Cattle Kings as stilted and unconvincing in tone compared to Adams's earlier novels.]

The writer of [Wells Brothers, the Young Cattle Kings] began his writing a few years ago with The Log of a Cowboy, a book which, since he himself had been a cowboy for a long time, had a certain stamp of freshness and force. His later books, as his consciousness of "literary" activity has steadily increased, have declined in naturalness. The case is something like that of...

(The entire section is 314 words.)

J. Frank Dobie (essay date 1926)

SOURCE: "Andy Adams, Cowboy Chronicler," in Southwest Review, Vol. XI, No. 2, January, 1926, pp. 92-101.

[J. Frank Dobie was an American educator and author who often wrote about the American southwest and southwestern literature. In the following essay, Dobie discusses critical neglect of Adams's works during the 1920s and provides an overview of the author's career.]

Five or six years ago I hunted all over San Antonio for some books by Andy Adams, and I found just one. That was one more than the Austin bookstores then had. A year ago the proprietor of the largest book-shop in Houston assured me that Andy Adams was out of print. Bookstores of Oklahoma, Kansas, and...

(The entire section is 2894 words.)

Levette J. Davidson (essay date 1951)

SOURCE: "The Unpublished Manuscripts of Andy Adams," Colorado Magazine, Vol. XXVIII, No. 2, April, 1951, pp. 97-107.

[In the essay below, Davidson evaluates Adams's unpublished novels, plays, and short stories.]

At his death in 1935, at the age of seventy-six, Andy Adams left a considerable number of manuscripts which, a few years later, were given to the State Historical Society of Colorado by his nephew Andrew T. Adams, of Denver. An examination of these unpublished writings of the author of the acknowledged masterpiece of the literature of the cattle industry, The Log of a Cowboy, reveals much concerning his range of interests, his literary ambitions, and his...

(The entire section is 4311 words.)

Kenneth Porter (essay date 1957)

SOURCE: A review of Why the Chisholm Trail Forks, and Other Toles of the Cattle Country in Midwest Folklore, Vol. VII, No. 4, Winter, 1957, pp. 245-46.

[In the following excerpt Porter characterizes the stories in Adams's collection Why the Chisholm Trail Forks as simple but convincing narratives.]

Andy Adams (1859-1935) was, like Sam Bass, a Hoosier who became a Texas cowboy. When over forty, he began writing out of his first-hand knowledge of the range and the trail and ultimately produced seven books. His first, The Log of a Cowboy (1903), is generally recognized as one of the best portrayals of trail-driving days ever published, despite the...

(The entire section is 642 words.)

Mody C. Boatright (essay date 1957)

SOURCE: "Cow Camp Trails," in Southwest Review, Vol. XLII, No. 3, Summer, 1957, pp. 254-55.

[Boatright was an American educator who edited many histories and studies of the American Southwest during his thirty-year career. In the following excerpt, Boatright offers a favorable review of Why the Chisholm Trail Forks, and Other Tales of the Cattle Country.]

Andy Adams published The Log of a Cowboy one year after Owen Wister had published The Virginian. Adams remained poor the rest of his life. The Virginian made Wister a wealthy man, and unfortunately the most influential of the "Western" writers; for although he had had predecessors in some of the...

(The entire section is 509 words.)

Benjamin Capps (essay date 1964)

SOURCE: "A Critical Look at a Classic Western Novel," in The Roundup, Vol. XII, No. 6, June, 1964, pp. 2, 4.

[Capps is an American novelist whose works are often set in New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Colorado. In the following explication of Log of a Cowboy, he affirms the book's primary value as a work of social history.]

In his history The Great Plains, published in 1936, Walter Prescott Webb makes a definite and all-inclusive statement about cowboy novels published before that time: "Hitherto there has been written but one novel of the cattle country that is destined to become a classic—The Log of a Cowboy, by Andy Adams." Many critics might...

(The entire section is 896 words.)

Wilson M. Hudson (essay date 1964)

SOURCE: Andy Adams: His Life and Writings, Southern Methodist University Press, 1964, 274 p.

[In the following excerpt from his Andy Adams: His Life and Writings, Hudson describes the publication history of Log of a Cowboy and evaluates the noveL]

In July, 1901, J. O'H. Cosgrove rejected some stories that Andy had sent to Doubleday, Page and Company and took occasion to give some literary advice. Instead of a number of stories about prospectors, he said, it would be better to write a novel about one successful prospector and turn the stories into incidents in his career. The sketch of Mexican outlaws he found confused, with too many details and no tense...

(The entire section is 9331 words.)

Barbara Quissel (essay date 1972)

SOURCE: "Andy Adams and the Real West," in Western American Literature, Vol. VII, No. 3, Fall 1972, pp. 211-19.

[In the following essay, Quissel comments on Adams's treatment of the American West in Log of a Cowboy.]

Andy Adams' The Log of a Cowboy ranks as an established classic of Western American literature because it is a chronicle of the cattle drive days. Indeed Adams' fictional realism is more often praised for its authenticity than its plausibility. The adjectives of praise for the Log emphasize its historical recording of events: the book is "genuine," "truthful," "accurate," "authentic." This is the usual assessment of Adams' writing from 1903...

(The entire section is 3404 words.)

Further Reading


Hudson, Wilson M. "Andy Adams: A Bibliography." In his Andy Adams: His Life and Writings, pp. 259-65. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1964.

Detailed primary bibliography of Adams's fiction, stories, and dramas.


Branch, Douglas. "Andy Adams." In his The Cowboy and His Interpreters, pp. 254-70. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1926.

Applauds the realism of Adams's works.

Graham, Don. "Old and New Cowboy Classics." Southwest Review 65, No. 3 (Summer 1980): 293-303.

Asserts that Benjamin Capp's novel The Trail to Oglalla is...

(The entire section is 113 words.)