May 3, 2010

Birth of Andy Adams

On May 3, 1859, Andy Adams was born on a farm in Indiana. As a young teenager, he ran away from home and moved to Texas to become a cattle rancher, often driving animals to other parts of the state or neighboring states. It was a time some historians refer to as the "golden age" of the Texas cattle industry. He made his last cattle drive in 1889 and soon moved to Colorado to seek his fortunes as a gold miner. Instead, he turned to writing.

A real-life cowboy, Adams wrote western fiction. His first book was published just after the turn of the century in 1903. The Log of a Cowboy: A Narrative of the Old Trail Days detailed the drive of 3,000 cattle from Texas to Montana over a five-month period in 1882. The book, dedicated "to the cowmen and boys of the Old Western Trail," was a literal chronicle. Its author did not add a plot other than the drive itself and there was no romance side-story (resulting in what many would call a dull book today). Journalists, critics, and readers assumed the book was Adams's autobiography; though based on some of his own experiences, it remains a work of fiction.

Several similarly-themed books were to follow and, at least for a time, Adams was regarded as the best chronicler of the western and cowboy life. Here's how the narrator in The Log of a Cowboy describes the beginning of his journey with 3,000 cattle:

Our Circle Dot herd started on its long tramp to the Blackfoot Agency in Montana. With six men on each side, and the herd strung out for three quarters of a mile, it could only be compared to some mythical serpent of Chinese dragon, as it moved forward on its sinuous, snail-like course. Two riders, known as point men, rode out and well back from the lead cattle, and by riding forward and closing in as occasion required, directed the course of the herd. The main body of the herd trailed along behind the leaders like an army in loose marching order, guarded by outriders, known as swing men, who rode well out from the advancing column, warding off range cattle, and seeing that none of the herd wandered away or dropped out. There was no driving to do; the cattle moved of their own free will as in ordinary travel.

The leader of this drive had this advice: "The secret of trailing cattle is never to let your herd know that they are under restraint."


*The illustration above depicts "Meeting with Indians" by E. Boyd Smith, published in The Log of a Cowboy's first edition.

4 comments:

  1. Well, that "mythical serpent of Chinese dragon" is an interesting analogy, especially coming from a cowboy scribe: he writes with a bit of a flair. Good descriptive powers as well: the scene as he sets it out is easily visualized. And I like the "under restraint" comment; sounds as if this driver had at least some consideration for his herd.

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  2. I was not interested until I read the excerpt, which is not what I expected from a "cowboy"; this is actually quite well written! I wonder if people still read Adams today? Thanks for exposing this obscure figure to your readership!

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  3. Yes, people still read Andy Adams today, in the USA, as well many readers in England. You can find his books for sale, some original, many reprints on ebay and Amazon.com.

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  4. "Some people" may still read Andy Adams but I doubt it's accurate to say that people read him in general. Ask a regular Joe on the street - even in Texas or other places associated with him - and see how long it takes to find someone who has read Andy Adams. Thanks for replying to a very old post, nonetheless! I hope you read some of the new ones too!

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