Walter Scott Adkins, geologist, was born on December 24, 1890. He was an only child and was orphaned at the age of twelve and raised by an uncle. He graduated from the University of Tennessee with a B.S. in 1910, having achieved one of the highest scholastic averages ever made at the university at that time, and did subsequent graduate work in entomology. Adkins went on to Columbia, where he specialized in the study of Drosophila under Thomas H. Morgan and belonged to a group called the "Drosophila gang." He was well on the way to a doctorate in genetics when he started teaching. He taught as professor of geology at Texas Christian University from 1913 to 1915, instructor in anatomy at the Illinois Medical School from 1916 to 1918, and assistant professor of anatomy at Baylor Medical School in Dallas during the 1918–19 term. He was with the Texas Bureau of Economic Geology from 1919 to 1921. From 1921 to 1925 he worked for the Mexican petroleum company El Águila. At the Sorbonne in the 1925–26 term he studied under Emil Haug and Leon Perviquiere. In 1926 he returned to the Bureau of Economic Geology, where he spent several fruitful years before joining Shell Development Company in 1934. In 1931 he became the first paleontologist to hold a John Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship. During this period he studied with L. F. Spath at the British Museum. He served Shell Development as chief stratigrapher and head of the special-problems research group until his retirement in 1950, after which he served as a consultant until his death.
Adkins was vice president of the Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists in 1931 and served as the first chairman of the society's research committee in 1929 and 1930. He is perhaps best remembered for his Handbook of Texas Cretaceous Fossils (1928) and his Mesozoic Systems in Texas (1933). With Will McClain Winton he coauthored Paleontological Correlation of the Fredericksburg and Washita Formations in North Texas (1920), the first detailed biostratigraphical study to come out of Texas. His Stratigraphy of the Woodbine and Eagle Ford, Waco Area, Texas (1951), written in collaboration with Frank E. Lozo, is another outstanding work about solving geologic problems through biostratigraphy. Among Adkins's reports to the Shell company, his works on the distribution of shoestring and barrier sands in the subsurface of the Miocene (1935) and the "Time of Origin and Migration of Oil" (abstracted at the International Geological Congress, Mexico, 1956) were particularly important.
Adkins was married early and was divorced in the 1920s. One child, Jack, who died in combat in World War II, resulted from this union. Adkins later married Mary Grace Muse, a former student of his, who taught English for many years at the University of Texas. Colleagues and students at the university called Adkins Si ("scientist") and, though he never earned a doctorate, Doc.
In the early 1920s Adkins collected linguistic works in Mexico, and a close associate, R. Wright Barker, collected ethnological works. When the Adkins library was obtained by the University of Texas, the geological part went to what became the Joseph C. and Elizabeth C. Walters Geology Library, and the linguistic part went to the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection at the University of Texas. When Wright Barker learned of this, he made his ethnological collections available to the university; they too are housed in the Latin American Collection. The university also obtained Adkins's extensive paleontological collections, amounting to about 14,000 catalogued items. These are now housed with the other paleontological collections of the university under the care of the Texas Memorial Museum. Adkins died of a heart ailment on September 22, 1956, shortly after his return from the International Geological Congress meeting in Mexico City, and was buried in Austin Memorial Park.