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On the Road with Davy Crockett and the Ghosts of the Wild Frontier

by Bob Thompson

Pub Date: March 5th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0307720894
Publisher: Crown

For a year, former Washington Post feature writer Thompson chased the King of the Wild Frontier.

In this evenhanded account, the author reports that it was his young daughter’s excited response to a Burl Ives’ recording of the Disney theme song that ignited his family’s interest in the historical David Crockett. And off he went—to sites in Tennessee, Alabama, Texas and Washington, D.C.—pursuing the frontiersman whose story, told in the three-part Disneyland series in the 1950s, caused the coonskin-cap phenomenon that spread rapidly across the country. The author sees no need for esoteric theories about its death: “It was a fad,” he writes. As Thompson tracked Crockett, he encountered local experts just about everywhere—people who were extraordinarily generous about driving him to remote locations and sharing their hard-won knowledge. He also interviewed some scholars, visited archives, browsed (and bought) in assorted gift shops, examined relics (the real, the risible) and attended festivities at the Alamo on the 175th anniversary of the battle. He found it wrenchingly difficult at times to chip away the thick carapace of fiction from Crockett’s life. Far less is known than many people would believe. Many stories, especially about the Alamo, elicit fiery emotions, especially in Texas. Thompson also read myriads of Crockett and Alamo books, examined the career of Fess Parker (Disney’s Crockett), and watched and analyzed the major (and some minor) movies, including those starring John Wayne and Billy Bob Thornton as Crockett. Neither Wayne nor Thornton, writes Thompson, showed us even a vaguely authentic Crockett.

Offers no surprising conclusions, but Thompson provides a well-researched, delightfully obsessive story, suitable for Crockett aficionados and neophytes.