books read

11 Oct 2007

American Legend. The Real-Life Adventures of David Crockett
Buddy Levy
G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York. 2005

David CrockettBorn August 17, 1786
Greene County, Tennessee

Died    March 6, 1836
Alamo Mission, San Antonio, Texas

theme song

Davy Crockett was a colorful, tragic hero of the early Republic. His early life was as hard and impoverished as most of the pioneers, but he survived floods, famine, malaria, Indian warfare and shipwreck to become an extraordinarily successful hunter (more than 100 bears in some years) and tall-tale teller (but failure as a farmer and entrepreneur.) He moved farther west in Tennessee several times to new farms, usually in debt, while becoming first a local politician and elected militia colonel, and then a 3-term Congressman. An "unauthorized" biography and a play loosely based on his life were successful while he was in Congress, which apparently inspired him to write an autobiography (gently edited by friends) that was a best-seller, and led to the country's first book tour.
    He was a failure as a Congressman, obsessing over a Tennessee land bill (which he never got passed), collecting enemies, by turns ranting, bored stiff and absent. He broke with his Tenn. colleagues early on, refusing to support Andrew Jackson. He had served under Jackson in the Indian Wars and War of 1812, admiring his leadership, but hating his obstinacy. Crockett claimed to have successfully mutinied with his militia unit, but actually Jackson had faced them down. Crockett was one of the few (the only?) frontier Congressmen to support Indian rights, and oppose their removal to Oklahoma by Jackson. Meanwhile, his absences and business failures estranged his family.
    When he lost his reelection bid, he kept his campaign promise to his constituents - "they can go to hell, and I'll go to Texas." He had previously met Sam Houston (a very interesting character, it seems), and it was common knowledge that Americans were trying to set up their own country in the Mexican territory. It is not clear why the Alamo was being defended, but Crockett and a few of his companions joined the sick and under-equipped troops there. Jim Bowie and Sam Houston, among others, were notorious--it's amazing that band of violent drunks could organize a barbecue, never mind  a revolution.
    Overall: I learned a bit of history, but too much context was left out, especially the politics. Why was he such a hero in his own times, and remembered even now? That isn't discussed, and I wonder whether there were any number of equally colorful characters that we've just forgotten, overlooked by Disney. There is a clear end paper map, but it is insufficient. Labeled topo maps would be better.