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B A R B A R A Q U I S S E L L University of Utah Andy Adams and the Real West Andy Adams’ The Log of a Cowboy ranks as an established classic of Western American literature because it is a chronicle of the cattle drive days. Indeed Adams’ fictional realism is more often praised for its authenticity than its plausibility. The recording of jectives of praise for the Log emphasize its historical recording of events: the book is “genuine,” “truthful,” “accurate,” “authentic.” This is the usual assessment of Adams’ writing from 1903 when the Log was published. Emerson Hough, who read the novel in manu­ script, stated that “Andy Adams is the real thing, and the first time the real thing has appeared in print.”1 Forty years later in Guide to Life and Literature of the Old Southwest, J. Frank Dobie asserted, If all other books on trail-driving were destroyed, a reader could still get a just and authentic conception of trail men, trail work, range cattle, cow horses, and the cow country in general from the Log of a Cowboy,2 On the back cover of the recent paperback edition of the Log, Dobie’s statement is printed with others which advertise the novel as “the work of a realist.” In the few statements of literary tenets that Adams made, he emphasized the same idea of accuracy and authenticity. Adams was particularly concerned with describing the real Western life of cowboys rather than the romanticized view of popular fiction. In his 1905 essay “The American Cowboy” Adams tries to correct the view of the cowboy’s life which pictured him roping cattle when­ ever he was not romancing the dark-eyed heroines. Adams asserts that the cowboy did not spend his entire life herding cattle but instead worked at a variety of tasks: treating cattle for blowflies, building corrals, repairing pumps, fighting forest fires, and only occasionally rounding up and separating different herds of catle. Adams concludes: 1Emerson Hough, as quoted by Wilson M. Hudson in Andy Adams, His Life and Writings (Dallas, 1964), p. 6. aJ. Frank Dobie, Guide to the Life and Literature of the Old Southwest (Austin, 1943), p. 60. 212 Western American Literature I dare say my boy readers have been disappointed in this all too brief article concerning the life and work of the American cowboy. Whence came the old, old stories of the cowboy’s romance, I know not . . . no harder life is lived by any working man. And that I know whereof I speak, rest assured, for I have been myself a cowboy.3 To Adams a first-hand, accurate knowledge of Western life was the most important qualification for the writer. In another essay “Western Interpreters” Adams emphasizes that it is an authoritative knowledge of the West which separates the pulp fiction from the true works of art. As an example of a great artist of the West, Adams describes the paintings of Charles Russell, praising him for his ac­ curate knowledge of Montana scenes. Here Adams also specifies the proper techniques for the western artist: recording an infinity of details as vividly and honestly as possible. For Adams the novelist is primarily a chronicler or historian who closely details the facts, what he terms “transcripts of life.”4 However, a literary theory that claims to transcribe life by puting down as many accurate details as possible neglects the ordering or structuring of those details. Unlike the historians, the novelist creates the events; and therefore, all details must justify themselves within the fictional context, proving their validity in relation to the characters and conflicts of the work. The real thing in Jamesian terms is the plausible. When Adams defines his brand of realism in terms of authenticity and first-hand knowledge, he restricts his fiction to an unimaginative, “tell it like it is” formula. With such an approach to a novelist’s materials, the successive tellings become tedious. Adams’ writing career dramatically illustrates the failure of his kind of restricted realism. The only successful work, The Log of a Cowboy (1903), was the first novel Adams wrote. He retold the trail drive experiences in the...


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