May 3

This Day in History

Old West

May 3, 1859:

Cowboy author Andy Adams is born

Andy Adams, one of the most accurate chroniclers of the authentic "Old West," is born in Columbia City, Indiana.

While still in his teens, Adams ran away from home. He eventually made his way to Texas, where he found work as a cowboy. From 1882 to 1893, Adams witnessed firsthand the golden era of the Texas cattle industry, a time when the cowboys ran cattle on vast open ranges still relatively unrestricted by barbed wire fences. In 1883, he made the first of many cattle drives along the famous cattle trails running north from Texas to the cow towns of Kansas. As farmers began to challenge the ranchers for control of the land, Adams witnessed the gradual fencing-in of the cattle country that would eventually end the short age of the open range. He made his last cattle drive in 1889.

In 1893, Adams left Texas for Colorado, attracted by rumors of gold at Cripple Creek. Like most would-be miners, he failed to make a fortune in the business. He eventually settled in Colorado Springs, where he remained for most of his life. While doing on a variety of jobs, Adams began to write stories based on his experiences as a Texas cowboy. In 1903, he found a publisher for his novel The Log of a Cowboy, a thinly disguised autobiography of his life on the plains. A fascinated public welcomed tales from the former cowboy, and Adams wrote and published four similar volumes in less than four years.

Adams distinguished himself from the majority of other western authors of the day with his meticulous accuracy and fidelity to the truth. As its name implied, The Log of a Cowboy was a day-by-day account of a cattle drive Adams had made from Texas to Montana. The book had little plot beyond the progress of the cattle herd toward Montana, and had none of the romantic excitement offered by less literal chroniclers of the West. Adams' self-avowed goal was to make his fiction indistinguishable from fact, and as one commentator has noted, "in this he succeeds only too well."

While a reader searching for a good story might find Adams' books somewhat dull today, historians and writers looking for an accurate depiction of the cowboy life have found them invaluable. Beyond his five best-known books, Adams also wrote two popular novels for juveniles later in his career. When he died in Colorado Springs in 1935, he left a number of unpublished manuscripts of novels, stories, and plays that historians of the Old West have also found useful.

Fact Check We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!

What Happened on Your Birthday?

Pick a Date