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Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Ramon F. Adams – Author, Cowboy historian, Candyman

Ramon F. Adams c. 1965 in the Tucson Daily Citizen
Ramon F. Adams c. 1965 in the Tucson Daily Citizen

Yes, you read that right. Candyman was one of the professions of Ramon F. Adams, a prominent author on the west and cowboys. He was born in Moscow, Texas in 1889, trained as a violinist before a wrist injury ended his musical career as teacher and player. After being injured, he bought a candy store in Dallas (his wife had always been interested in the business), and turned it into a successful retail and wholesale business, selling Texas style candies branded Burnt Offerings, Texas Pecandy and Pastelillos in the store and through large department stores like Neiman Marcus. On the occasion of his birthday, a short article about him.


An excellent article about his life can be found here:

More photos of him, and a couple of photos of his candies here:

He wrote about two dozen books on frontier life in the American West, ranging from a dictionary of cowboy slang (‘Cowboy Lingo’, later revised as ‘Cowboy Dictionary’), a monograph on the chow-wagon (‘Come an’ get it’), the first biography of the cowboy artist Charles M. Russell (he was a personal friend of the artist), a bibliography of western outlaws and gunmen (Six-Guns and Saddle Leather), essays on the cowboy (The Old-Time Cowhand) to surveys of errors in literature and non-fiction about the west (‘Burs under the saddle’ and ‘More burs under the saddle’). He even wrote a foreword for Walt Coburn’s autobiography (the publisher didn’t include it). Many of his books were illustrated by the best western artists like Nick Eggenhofer and Joe Beeler.

He got his writing start in the pulps, publishing an article on cowboy slang in Western Story Magazine, December 15, 1923.

Lingo of the cowboy  - Ramon F. Adams in Western Story Magazine December 15, 1923
Lingo of the cowboy  - Ramon F. Adams in Western Story Magazine December 15, 1923


THE cowboy has a weakness for slang, caused, perhaps, by the fact that one of his chief characteristics is taciturnity. When he does talk, he speaks “to the point” with a vivid and direct picturesqueness that is both unexpected and refreshing. His freedom from restraint, either of society or convention, his absolute self-poise and self-sufficiency, evidence themselves most strikingly in his terseness of speech.

With his keen sense of humor and his avoidance of unnecessary words, he seems to be able to express himself more freely with slang phrases. It may be truthfully said that his speech is characterized by simplicity, strength, and directness.
Living in isolated groups, visiting but little except among themselves, rarely going to town, shy and timid as a result of long days of solitude, the cowboy develops his own form of speech. His words, phrases, and customs, therefore, became community property, his language a dialect of his own.

Sententiousness being a characteristic of the range, it becomes a social obligation to speak in terse terms, and, when speaking a sentence, in the words of the cowboy, to “bobtail ’er an’ fill ’er with meat”. “Mouthy” people are held in disfavor by the cowboy, and they are probably advised to “save part o' yo’ breath fo’ breathing” or, if talking too much while attempting to work, to “quit yo’ pantin’ an’ sweat a little.” How could language be more pointed?

He followed this up with articles on cattle brand marks with their illegal modifications and cowboy etiquette, all in Western Story. The first version of his cowboy dictionary was published in seven issues of West from Sep 28, 1932 to October 1934, and in parallel in Western Story from late 1933 to early 1934, no doubt affording him the opportunity to reach readers and get source material from them in return. In 1934, this would become his first book, Cowboy Lingo, a dictionary of cowboy slang published by Street and Smith.

He also wrote a series of five short stories for Western Story in late 1934. Appropriately enough, the series was titled ‘Told at the Chuck Wagon’ and recounted tall tales told to him. Another couple of humorous short stories appeared in 1939 in Western Story.

Boston burns some brands  - Ramon F. Adams in Western Story Magazine January 21, 1939
Boston burns some brands  - Ramon F. Adams in Western Story Magazine January 21, 1939

Boston burns some brands concerns the misadventures of a journalist arriving from the east, sent by his newspaper “to secure some firsthand information upon the cruel Western custom of brandin’ cattle. The Eastern Humane Societies are strongly agitatin’ the abolition of this savage custom, and are contemplatin’ makin’ a national law at Washington to that effect. Through their urging, my paper has sent me West so I can reveal the readin’ public the actual process and cruel method you cow persons employ.

Caesar goes west  - Ramon F. Adams in Western Story Magazine February 4, 1939
Caesar goes west  - Ramon F. Adams in Western Story Magazine February 4, 1939

Caesar goes west is the story of an Shakespearian actor invited to a western town to display its cultural advantages over its neighboring town.

“Well, finely this acter feller arrives and me and Shotgun hauls ’im from the train to Cactus. He looks jes’ like one o’ them magazine pictures advertisin’ stiff collars, and he don’t look like he can teach a settin’ hen to cluck.

“ ‘It does one’s heart good,’ he says, ‘to discover that our brothers of the far West are hungerin’ to learn and ’predate the thespian art.’ “ 

'These hombres don’t crave no art ’cept art-tillery,’ Shotgun snickers. ‘All they’re hungerin’ for is to slip one over on Beardance.’ ”

All his short stories have a flavor of tales around a campfire in the night and are fun to read. Maybe some enterprising publisher will collect them in a new edition. Ramon F. Adams died in 1965, having given us a realistic  look at the American West and its history with his books.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for this, sir. I have the slang books and the bibliography, but knew nuthin' about him.

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    Replies
    1. You're welcome. He's a good writer and deserves to be better known.

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