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.
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.
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.
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."