Ramon Adams: Violinist, Candy Manufacturer, Old West Expert
by Paula Bosse
Ramon F. Adams, 1946
by Paula Bosse
I’ve spent a fair amount of my adult life cataloging Texana books and ending descriptions with the bibliographic citations “Adams, HERD” or “Adams, SIX-GUNS.”* “Adams” was Ramon F. Adams, a respected and prolific writer and bibliographer specializing in the Old West and cowboy life. If you collect books on Texas and The West — or on cowboys and the cattle industry — you have Ramon Adams’ books on your shelves. And he lived in Dallas.
Ramon Adams was born in Moscow, Texas in 1889, near Houston, but left there as a young man to study and teach music. He was a professional violinist who played not only an occasional symphony gig, but after his years of teaching, he made a steady living playing in movie theater orchestras, accompanying silent films. While playing in the orchestra at the Rialto in Fort Worth, he even wore white tie and tails. When the Rialto musicians went on strike in 1923, he and his wife, Allie, moved to Dallas, and he played in the orchestras up and down theater row until the fateful day when he was cranking a stalled Model T Ford in an attempt to start it and broke his wrist. It never healed properly, and his days as a professional violinist came to an abrupt end.
I never knew about his first career as a musician, and I never knew about his second career as a candy merchant! The Candy Years began when he and his wife bought a little candy store on Elm Street between the Melba and the Majestic, and it did such good business that, a few years later, he went into manufacturing and wholesaling candy. The Adams Candy Co. began its successful life in the 1930s, known for its widely available candies such as “Texas Pecandy” and for its “Burnt Offering” (“burnt almonds in chewy caramel and rich chocolate”), which was made specially for Neiman-Marcus.
The runaway success of his candy business meant that when the Adamses sold the business in the mid-’50s (making, one assumes, a hefty profit) Ramon was able to devote his full attention to researching and writing about cowboy life and culture. He had been writing all along, in his spare time, but only in short bursts, usually at night, at the kitchen table. He had written several very long pieces for The Dallas Morning News in 1927 and 1928 (read his 1928 article on cowboy chuck wagons and cow-camp cooks, here), but his first book, Cowboy Lingo, wasn’t published until 1936 — when he was 46 years old. And then the floodgates opened. When he died in 1976, his obituary noted that he had written 24 books — in addition to numerous articles for magazines and journals. He was the expert other experts consulted. And he lived in Dallas. And he made “Pecandy.”
A caricature of Adams by William Elliott which accompanied a notice in The Dallas Morning News about the publication of his first book. (He looks an awful lot like Dr. Smith of Lost In Space here….)
A pleasant little article on Adams, no doubt written by one of his many journalist friends, from 1946 (click for larger image):
And another affectionate article, this one by friend Wayne Gard, from 1949:
The Handbook of Texas entry on Ramon F. Adams is here.
A more comprehensive Biographical Note is on the page devoted to the Ramon Adams Collection, Texas/Dallas History & Archives, Dallas Public Library, here.
More on Adams from the introduction to the book From the Pecos to the Powder, here (begins at last paragraph on linked page).
* “Adams, HERD” and “Adams, SIX-GUNS” is short-hand used by catalogers of books on Western Americana when noting that the book being cataloged is referenced in Ramon F. Adams’ book The Rampaging Herd: A Bibliography of Books and Pamphlets on Men and Events in the Cattle Industry (Norman: Univ. Oklahoma, 1959) or his book Six-Guns and Saddle Leather, A Bibliography of Books and Pamphlets on Western Outlaws and Gunmen (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma, 1954).
Copyright © 2016 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.