Alva Adams

  • Statehood Governor of Colorado from 1887-1889, 1897-1899 and 1905. 
  • Party: Democrat

View a description of holdings


Early Years 

Political Life

Adams' Administration

Spanish-American War



Scope and Content Note

Series Descriptions

Early Years

Alva Adams, three time democratic Governor of Colorado, was born in Dane County, Wisconsin on May 14, 1850. While Adams had little in the way of a formal education while he was growing up, he had a voracious appetite for literature which made up for his lack of schooling. By the time Adams died, he had acquired a collection of over six thousand books, which was one of the largest private libraries in the region.

Like many people who settled in Colorado, the Adams' moved west when a member of the family contracted tuberculosis. The arid climate was reputedly beneficial for sufferers of this debilitating disease. At twenty-one years of age, Alva Adams began his rags to riches story by hauling ties for the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. Like the railroads, themselves, Adams cleared his own path toward entrepreneurial fame. He first became part owner of a hardware and lumber firm in Colorado Springs which did business with the booming railroads. He soon sold this company in order to open another one in Pueblo. Adams opened a franchise to parallel almost every extension of the growing Denver & Rio Grande, and in a period of five years became independently wealthy due to his business acumen.

Political Life

After living in Colorado for a mere five years, the wealthy Adams successfully entered the world of politics; he became a Representative in the Colorado General Assembly in 1876. After one term in office Adams made an unsuccessful gubernatorial bid. Two years later, however, he became the state's youngest governor in 1887.

His first term was moderately uneventful except for the Ute Uprising in 1887. This revolt began with a small skirmish between a Ute hunting party and a band of settlers on the Western Slope. Due to a sensationalistic press and the building tension between the Utes and the settlers, this relatively isolated incident flared into an all out war. Under public pressure Adams sent in the Colorado National Guard to deal with the situation. Once he was able to accurately assess the reality of this relatively minor conflict, Adams pulled out the troops in order to avoid needless bloodshed, and eventually returned captured property to the Utes.

Adams’ Administration

During his first administration Adams also took a controversial pro-labor stand. He was influential in passing bills establishing the Bureau of Labor Statistics and making it illegal to use children under the age of fourteen for labor. Another volatile subject was capital punishment which Adams was opposed to, preferring reform to what he saw as revenge. Adams personally sponsored a bill ending public executions, and played an integral part in ending corporal punishment practices at State institutions.

After a ten-year hiatus from politics Adams ran for the governorship again in 1897, and won. Unlike his first term, Adams' second term was very contentious. The first problem that the Adams administration inherited was the Leadville strike of 1896. As a result of the 1893 depression and the abandonment of the silver standard, there was an agreement between the Western Federation of Miners and the mine managers that wages be reduced in order to keep the mines open. This delicate labor pact began to disintegrate in 1896 when a few mine owners began to raise wages while others continued to rely on the 1893 pact to increase their profit margin. The miners' union, fresh from a victory against Cripple Creek mine owners in Teller County, demanded that they be offered a uniform wage of three dollars. The owners chose not to honor this request which resulted in the workers going on strike, the mines closing, and a total of 2,300 men put out of work. The out-going Governor McIntire sent in the National Guard to stop the violence that had erupted and to set up non-union miners to open up the mines again. As soon as Adams took over his new gubernatorial post he met immediately with the union leaders, local residents, miners, and mine owners in an attempt to hammer out some type of compromise. While discussions, special commissions, investigations, and conferences were utilized, nobody seemed to be able to find anything the two sides wouldn't reject. Although Adams ordered the withdrawal of the troops, the miners lost their battle for increased wages. Adams continued to support the idea of arbitration which was, in his view, more effective than military intervention. He sponsored the creation of the State Board of Arbitration in 1897 which successfully ended numerous labor conflicts.

Spanish-American War

Adams' challenges did not end with the withdrawal of National Guard troops from Leadville. When President McKinley announced that America was at war with Spain on April 28, 1898, Governor Adams became the first Colorado Governor called upon to mobilize and lead the state during a national war. The President requested that Adams provide one regiment of infantry and two troops of cavalry. Housing for the troops became a problem, however, since the federal army would not provide barracks. As a result, the troops were stationed at Camp Adams in City Park; a site that worked well despite incredibly poor weather conditions and tensions created by the choosing of officers. Three weeks after the declaration of war, the mobilized, equipped, and trained Colorado troops went to the Philippines to defend the honor of the country. Since the federal government did not finance the troops, and the legislature was out of session, Adams raised $26,000 in private money to finance "the splendid little war." Governor Adams went so far as to personally purchase each soldier's identification tags.


After another hiatus from politics, Adams ran in what would become the most corrupt election to ever haunt the Colorado ballot box. During the election of 1904 the Democratic Party allegedly committed voting fraud in Denver and the surrounding urban areas. The Republican Party was said to have committed voting fraud in the populous mining and corporately dominated towns. In one Denver precinct 717 Democratic ballots were cast, while the district only had 100 legal voters. Likewise, many mine owners forced thousands of immigrant workers to vote for Governor James H. Peabody or lose their jobs. One Republican officer of the Denver Union Water Company publicly boasted, "We rule...the people have nothing to do with nominations and elections. We rule and we're going to continue to rule." Despite these presumptions, Democrat Adams was elected governor, while Republican Jesse McDonald became Lieutenant Governor.

Once the Legislature came into session in 1905, however, party fighting became so blatant that it risked making the Colorado General Assembly a laughing stock. After much argument and accusations of election fraud, the predominately Republican legislature agreed that neither Adams or Peabody should be governor. Instead, Jesse McDonald took the oath, stepping up from his position as Lieutenant Governor. While Alva Adams ran again in 1906, he lost. After this fall from grace in 1904, Adams pursued his banking, mercantile, and Masonic interests.

He died of diabetes on November 1, 1922 in Battle Creek, Michigan, and is buried at Roselawn Cemetery in Pueblo.


  • Adams, Alva. A Banking System That Will Prevent Panics. Pueblo, Colo.: Monday Evening Club, 1894.
  • Adams, Alva. The Louisana Purchase and Its First Explorer, Zebulon Montgomery Pike. Colorado Springs, Co.: Address to Colorado College, 1894.
  • Alva Adams. Meditations in Minature. Denver, Co., c1927.
  • Alva Adams Collection, 1850 - 1922. Denver, Co.: Colorado Historical Society Collection.
  • Alva Adams Collection, 1850 - 1922. Denver, Co.: Denver Public Library Western History Collection.
  • Colorado. General Assembly. Joint Convention Contest Committee. In Re. Contest for Office of Governor of the State of Colorado. Denver, Co.: Colorado State Printers, 1905.
  • Conine, Martha A. Bushnell. Scrapbook. 1896 - 1910.
  • DeLorme, Roland. "Turn-of-the-Century Denver: An Invitation to Reform." Colorado Magazine, 45/1, 1968, pgs. 1 - 15.
  • Hornbein, Marjorie. Colorado's Amazing Gubernatorial Election Contests of 1904. Denver, Co.:University of Denver, Unpublished Master's Thesis, 1967.
  • Hornbein, Marjorie. "Three Governors in a Day." Colorado Magazine, 45/3, Summer 1968, pgs. 243 - 260.
  • Kneeshaw, Stephen J. and John M. Linngren. "Republican Comeback, 1902." Colorado Magazine, 48/1, 1971, pgs. 15 - 29.
  • Lamm, Richard D. Pioneers & Politicians: 10 Colorado Governors in Profile. Boulder, Colorado: Pruett Publishing, Co., 1984.
  • Lullin de Chateauvieux, Frederick. Napoleon, An Explanation of his Theories of Government, with introduction by Alva Adams. Pueblo, Co.: Franklin Press Company, 1907. Denver Public Library's copy is signed by Alva Adams.
  • Nankivell, Major John N. "Colorado's Last Indian War." Colorado Magazine, 10/6, November 1933, pgs 225 - 234.
  • Rathgeber, Harold E. The Public Life of Alva Adams. Denver, Co.: University of Denver, Unpublished Master's Thesis, 1954.
  • Rittenhouse, E.E. Deportations by Alva Adams' Brother Frank: Why Deportations are Sometimes Necessary. Denver, Co.: Smith - Brooks Printing Co., ca.1904.
  • Snyder, J. Richard. "The Election of 1904: An Attempt at Reform." Colorado Magazine, 45/1, winter 1968, pgs. 16 - 26.
  • Brown, Brig. Gen. W.C. "Raising the Stars and Stripes Over Manila." The Colorado Magazine, 9, pgs. 57 - 58.
  • Faust and Johnson. Campaigning in the Philippines. San Francisco, Ca.: Hicks-Judd Publishing Co., 1899.
  • Fleet, James. The Military Career of General Irving Hale. Denver, Co.: University of Denver, Unpublished Master's Thesis, 1962.
  • Harper, Frank. "Fighting Far From Home: The First Colorado Regiment in the Spanish American War." Colorado Heritage, Spring 1988, pgs. 2 - 11.
  • Harper, Frank. Just Outside Manila: Letters from Members of the First Colorado Regiment in the Spanish-American & Philippine-American Wars. Denver, Co.: Colorado Historical Society, Essays and Monographs Series, #7, 1991.
  • Historical Sketch Book: Denver City Troop. Denver, Co.: App Engraving Company, 1902.
  • Johnson, Arthur. Official History of the Operations of the First Colorado Infantry U.S.V. in the Campaign in the Philippine Islands. San Francisco, Ca.: Hicks-Judd Publishing Co., 1899.
  • Nankivell, Major John H. History of the Military Organizations of the State of Colorado. Denver, Co.: W.H. Kistler Stationary Company, 1935.
  • Sims, Guy R. Company K, 1st Colorado: Typescript of Letters Written by Arthur Sims. 1941.
  • Speer, Irving. Company I: A Diary Kept Between June of 1898 and January 1899. 1898-w-448. The Western Federation of Miners and Leadville
  • Brown, Ronald. Hard-Rock Miners: The Intermountain West, 1860-1920. College Station, Tx.: Texas A&M University Press, 1979.
  • Dubofsky, Melvyn. "The Leadville Strike of 1876 - 1897: An Appraisal." Mid-America, 48/2, 1966, pgs. 99 - 118.
  • Fleming, Helen Marjorie. Mining in Leadville, Colorado since 1860. Greeley, Co.: University of Northern Colorado, Unpublished Masters Thesis, 1924.
  • Hough, Merrill. "Leadville and the Western Federation of Miners." Colorado Magazine, 49/1, 1972, pgs. 19 - 34.
  • Jensen, Vernon. Heritage of Conflict: Labor relations in the Nonferrous Metals Industry up to 1930. New York: Greenwood Press, 1950/1968.
  • Parkhill, Clayton. The Leadville Campaign. Columbus, Oh.: Berlin Printing Company, 1897.
  • Philpott, William. The Lessons of Leadville: Or, Why the Western Federation of Miners Turned Left. Denver, Co.: Colorado Historical Society, 1995.
  • Sugs, George G. Colorado's War on Militant Unionism; James H. Peabody and the Western Federation of Miners. Detroit, Mi.: Wayne State University Press, 1972.
  • Voynick, Stephen M. Leadville: a Miners Epic. Missoula: Mountain Press Publishing Company,1984.
  • Watkins, T.H. "Requiem for the Federation." American West, 3/1, Winter 1966, pgs. 4 - 12 & 91 -95.
  • Williamson, Ruby G. Gold, God, the Devil, and Silver; Leadville, Colorado, 1878 - 1978. Gunnison, Co.: B&B Printers, 1977.
  • Wyman, Mark. Hard Rock Epic: Western Miners and the Industrial Revolution, 1860 - 1910. Berkeley, Ca.: University of California, 1979.

Scope and Content Note

The Alva Adams Collection comprises approximately 21 cubic feet of material spanning his terms from 1887-1889 and 1897-1899. There is also material from his several months as governor in 1905. Record series in the collection include extraditions and requisitions; correspondence; the Executive Record; reports; speeches and messages to the General Assembly; and a special series entitled "Oral Testimony in Recontest for Office of Governor."

Adams' first term is not as well documented as his second although the Executive Record can be used to research major issues from 1887-1889. Strengths of the collection include documentation concerning Indian affairs; labor issues; and capital punishment. Additional information concerning the National Guard's role in the Ute Uprising and several labor disputes during Adams' terms may also be found at the Archives. The controversial 1904 gubernatorial election is well documented through Governor James Peabody's records as well as Adams'.

Series Descriptions

  • Executive Record

The Executive Record contains executive orders; appointments; legislative messages; pardons; extraditions and requisitions; honorary citations; and proclamations which were issued by Governor Adams. James Peabody's letter of resignation i s also on record March 17, 1905.

  • Extraditions and Requisitions

This series includes documentation concerning the surrendering of alleged criminals to a different jurisdiction for trial. Documentation may include the application for extradition, the warrant for arrest, and correspondence from the Attorney General's office concerning the extradition.

  • Correspondence

Included in this series is correspondence between Governor Adams and his constituents, state agencies, and other public officials. There is also a letterpress book with much important correspondence concerning the Maxwell Land Grant; the Cripple Creek and Leadville strikes and other labor issues; relations with the Indians including the killing of some Utes by a game warden; petitions and protests against certain Congressional bills; and various other subjects.

  • Reports

The reports consist primarily of reports from state agencies although there are other reports that are of special interest. These include a report regarding the escape of J.K. Stratton from the Penitentiary; an investigation of the Industrial School of Girls; an 1897 Commission report to investigate an Indian killing; a report on the Sunshine Coal Mine Explosion; and a report by the Land Commissioner concerning the Leadville Strike.

  • Speeches and Addresses

Addresses and messages to the General Assembly comprise this series, including Adams' inaugural address in 1905. James Peabody's Biennial Message to the 15th General Assembly also exists. Adams' political vision and beliefs are reflected through these speeches.

  • Oral Testimony in Re-contest for Office of Governor

Besides oral testimony regarding the re-contest for Office of Governor in 1905, there are exhibits and depositions included in this series as well as some correspondence

Request a Governor Record

View our Associated Fees