Hero or opportunist? Rebel or terrorist? Did he even own a coonskin cap? Davy Crockett was an enigma in his own age—and certainly the right man in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Retired New York City firefighter Groneman, a veteran of the 9/11 attacks, recognizes that a vast mythmaking enterprise underlay Davy Crockett’s ascent to the status of cultural hero; one series, Davy Crockett’s Almanacs, ran to 45 volumes “of increasingly violent tall tales” and was wildly successful, though, Groneman notes, Crockett made nothing from it. His elevation seems unlikely, for Crockett started off life under a father no more violent or drunk than most fathers on the Appalachian frontier, showed no more aptitude for hard work than any of his peers and commanded no more book-learning than a farmer or freighter or trapper. Still, he distinguished himself by a certain stoical unflappability under fire and good humor, which, witnesses recall, he put to good use during the defense of the Alamo, which sealed his reputation once and for all. The mythmaking, too, was a product of its time, for Crockett happened to come along just when the Founding Fathers were dying off and “the American identity was shifting from the Virginia aristocracy to the common man of the Western frontier.” In this lean an lucid biography, Groneman portrays more of the complicated, haunted David Crockett that Billy Bob Thornton did in the 2004 film The Alamo than did Fess Parker in the 1950s. And as for the coonskin cap—yes, he wore one.
A small survey of many virtues; it holds to the middle ground between hagiography and debunking, making allowances for Crockett’s lapses into bad behavior while highlighting his better qualities.