The opportunities which Colorado offers to young men of resolute purpose nowhere find a more illustrious exemplification than in the life of the present governor of the state, a man honored alike in the counsels of the commonwealth and in the circle of his personal acquaintances and friends. It was not due to mere luck that, seventeen years from the time when he hauled ties for the railroad, he was the incumbent of the office of chief executive, the highest position within the gift of the state. Not by chance did he rise from poverty to affluence; it was the direct result of his determination of character, his purpose of will. Determination may be said to he the keynote of his character. What he sets out to do he achieves though innumerable obstacles must first he surmounted and interposing barriers removed. While the most of his life has been spent in Colorado, Governor Adams grew to manhood in Iowa County, Wis., where he was born May 14, 1850. His father had come from Kentucky and his mother from New York, the former being a country merchant and farmer. The boy, though never in college, had the opportunity to secure an education usual to country boys in Wisconsin. The illness of a brother caused the family to seek a change of climate, and, hoping his health might he benefited by the dry, pure air of Colorado, they decided to come to this state. Accordingly, in the then well-known “prairie schooner,” they made the long trip from Wisconsin westward, landing in Greeley, Colo., where they stopped for a time. At once the son, who was a young man of twenty-one, looked about him for employment. The only work he could secure was that of hauling ties from the mountains south of Denver for the building of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, then in process of construction. He spent a few weeks in that way, after which, in July, 1871, he went to Colorado Springs as an employe of C. W. Sanborn, dealer in lumber and hardware.
While working for Mr. Sanborn, Mr. Adams set about building a structure that would answer for a lumber office, hardware store and dwelling place. By August he had completed a small building on South Cascade avenue, which was the first building on the present site of Colorado Springs, and there the business was carried on. In October he bought the stock of goods from his employer, paying $4,100 therefor, and, as he did not have the cash in hand, he paid in notes bearing two per cent interest a month. Since then he has constantly, and with success, engaged in the hardware business. In 1872 he took J. C. Wilson into partnership, and while the latter remained at Colorado Springs, he went to Pueblo, establishing a branch store at that place. Later the partnership was dissolved, Mr. Wilson retaining the store at Colorado Springs, and Mr. Adams that at Pueblo, to which he afterwards added branch stores in the San Juan district.
The first position held by Mr. Adams was in 1873, when he was chosen a trustee of South Pueblo. Three years later he was elected from Rio Grande County to the state legislature, where he became noted for his strict watch of expenses and his opposition to bills requiring special appropriations. In 1884 he was nominated for governor, but was defeated. However, in the election two years later he was successful, receiving a majority of twenty-four hundred, and entering on the duties of his office in January, 1887. His administration was perhaps as satisfactory as that of any governor the state has ever had. As in the legislature, so in the chief executive’s chair, he was distinguished for the economical spirit that governed his administration. Every bill demanding an appropriation was scrutinized closely and unless he was thoroughly convinced of its benefits, it was promptly vetoed.
In August, 1887, occurred an outbreak of the Utes. At that time they had for their chief Colorow, a stubborn, insolent but cowardly Indian. Some of his tribe were gambling with cowboys at Meeker one day, but were unfortunate at the cards, and staked and lost everything they had. Their passion for gambling had been aroused to such an extent that they went out and stole two horses belonging to white men, and these they also staked and lost. Warrants were issued for their arrest for horse-stealing, but they resisted arrest. Shots were exchanged. At once the wildest excitement prevailed. The white settlers, remembering the bloody slaughters by the Indians in other days at once demanded that the governor send the militia, and he in turn requested the government at Washington to have the Indians sent to their reservation. But as in so many other cases, the government acted too slowly. The governor then ordered the troops to White River, but after a time, no further trouble occurring, he had them withdrawn.
From the close of his first administration Governor Adams carried on business in Pueblo until 1896, when he was again the successful candidate for governor, being one of the very few men (in fact, none beside himself and F. W. Pitkin) who have been twice chosen to serve as chief executive. His second term has had no weighty legislation, no hostilities, to make it memorable in history. It is the record of a peaceful administration, which, though it may be unnoticed in history, has nevertheless left its impress in the increasing prosperity of the state, the extension of its industries and the advancement of its mining, agricultural and commercial interests.
It may be said of Governor Adams that he is a safe man. As a leader he has none of that recklessness sometimes found in men in public places. He is as careful of the state’s finances as he has been of his own. In that respect he resembles Governor Pitkin, who as a financier has never been surpassed by any governor. Perhaps this quality of cautiousness has been objectionable to men who were interested in securing bridges over rivers or other improvements for the benefit of the state; but the man who stands at the head of affairs owes a duty to the tax-payers and must conscientiously guard the finances of the state.
Himself a wealthy man, Governor Adams has often assisted others who have less fortune in fighting the battle of life than has he. By travel, both on this continent and abroad, he has gained a cosmopolitan knowledge that has atoned largely for his lack of early education. In the school of experience and observation he has been an apt pupil, and who shall say that the graduates of this school have been less successful, as a class, than those who boast of college diplomas? In summing up the character of Governor Adams, Fitz-Mac describes him in these words: “The keynote of Alva Adams’ character throughout has been–purpose. He is not a great man, but he is a good man, a clever man, an ambitious and cultivated man. He has made the most of the excellent talents with which nature endowed him and that is why he seems to me the most admirable man in the state. What he is he has made himself, and my heart goes out in unreserved sympathy toward the high and honorable and forcible character he has established.”
Source: Portrait and biographical record of Denver and vicinity, Colorado : containing portraits and biographies of many well known citizens of the past and present : together with biographies and portraits of all the presidents of the United States.. Chicago: Chapman Pub. Co., 1898.