The Log of a Cowboy: A Narrative of the Old Trail Days by Andy Adams. The trail drive that is described in this memoir took place in 1882 when the author would have been about twenty-three years old. According to this biography, the book is not exactly a true memoir, but is a fictional reconstruction based on the many adventures of the author while working with cattle and horses on the western trail. The book was published in 1903.
The trail drive begins in Brownsville, where a herd of 3100 some-odd head of cattle, purchased from Mexico, were headed toward Montana to be delivered to the U.S. government for the use of the Blackfoot Indians on reservation there. Andy joins the trail drive as a cowboy, one of the youngest in the group, and he tells us how he earns his pay: crossing rivers, breaking up stampedes, spending long, sometimes boring, nights and days in the saddle, and pulling steers out of the mud and quicksand, among other tasks. It’s an exciting story, told in an old-fashioned style, but definitely readable for the average junior high/high school student and suitable for reading aloud to younger students.
Only a couple of negative issues are worth mentioning and either discussing or censoring (for younger students): the cowboys’ casually racist attitudes are portrayed accurately and without comment or qualification. Within the first few pages of the book, Andy names his beloved black horse, N—- Boy. The Indians and Negroes in the books are the butt of jokes, pathetic creatures without much self-respect and not gaining any respect from the cowboys either. Although the scenes that involve either black people or Native Americans are not many, they are sprinkled throughout the book, so it’s a discussion that should take place as you read the book. The cowboys are also inveterate gamblers, and although the downside of this vice is shown, they also have a winning streak in one town that might deceive less careful readers into thinking that gambling pays off.
With those caveats, the book is a good read especially for those interested in cowboys and life in the late 1800’s on the cattle range. I wondered if the author of this book took a look at this memoir; it seems as if The Log of a Cowboy would be required reading for anyone who wanted to write a novel set on a cattle drive or among cowboys. In fact, as I think of it, Ms. Hemphill’s Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones might be a good antidote to the occasional racist prejudice expressed in The Log of a Cowboy.