Adams, Andy (1859–1935)

By: Jean Shelley Henry

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: November 1, 1994

Andy Adams, author, was born on May 3, 1859, in Whitley County, Indiana, to Andrew and Elizabeth (Elliott) Adams, who belonged to a cultured pioneer Scots-Irish family. He became one of the few writers of the West who had a knowledge based on experience that enabled him to record cowboy life authentically. From early youth he helped his two brothers with cattle and horses on their father's farm. After attending a rural elementary school for a few years, he left home and worked for a year at a lumbermill in Arkansas. Adams traveled to Texas in the early 1880s and remained there for ten years, eight of which he spent in traildriving. He had become a foreman before he left the trail in 1890. After that he remained in Texas two more years, during which he was a partner in an unsuccessful mercantile venture in Rockport. In 1892 he drifted to gold-mining camps in Colorado and Nevada and in 1894 moved to Colorado Springs, where he lived until his death, with the exception of one year in Nevada (1908–09) and two years in Kentucky (1920–22). Adams was forty-three when he began writing. After his first book was published in 1903, he ran unsuccessfully for sheriff of El Paso County, Colorado. He ran two more times but was never elected.

Texas was Adams's literary domain. He waited a score of years for the belated recognition that finally came when he was an old man, but he never relinquished a vital interest in the state as a literary source. His available published works comprise seven books and one article. Also, the copyright for a play, "Corporal Segundo, A Pastoral in Three Parts," was issued in 1898, but no copy has been found. While he lived in Colorado, Adams wrote dozens of manuscripts-novels, dramas, short stories, and lectures-that were never published. Because he knew the real West, he was able to write with a remarkable verisimilitude-a quality he maintained without compromise, though it led to many rejected manuscripts, since publishers seemed to demand "Wild West" stories. In spite of his admitted limitations of style, he was an honest interpreter of western culture. In later years he took great interest in sponsoring authentic western fiction among younger writers. The Log of a Cowboy, Adams's best work, was published in 1903. It tells of a five-month drive of over 3,000 cattle from Brownsville to Montana in 1882 and has been called the best chronicle written of the great days in the cattle country. Other books followed: A Texas Matchmaker (1904), The Outlet (1905), Cattle Brands (1906), Reed Anthony, Cowman (1907), Wells Brothers (1911), and The Ranch on the Beaver (1927). Five of the books were sold in England by London publishers. The books and an article, "Western Interpreters," in the Southwest Review (October 1924), make up the available works published over Andy Adams's name.

Adams, a large man of strong physique, enjoyed good health until his last year. He was bachelor by choice who lived quietly and simply and was reticent about himself. He died on September 26, 1935, and was buried in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

J. Frank Dobie, Andy Adams, Cowboy Chronicler (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1926). Jean Shelley Henry, Andy Adams (M.A. thesis, Texas Christian University, 1938). Wilson Mathis Hudson, Andy Adams: His Life and Writings (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1964). Wilson Mathis Hudson, Andy Adams: Storyteller and Novelist of the Great Plains (Austin: Steck-Vaughn, 1967). A. L. Schafer, "Andy Adams, Author," True West, December 1964. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Literature
  • Dramatists and Novelists
  • Fiction
  • Ranching and Cowboys

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

Jean Shelley Henry, “Adams, Andy,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 28, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

November 1, 1994