He wasn’t born on a mountaintop in Tennessee, and he didn’t kill a b’ar when he was only three. Even so, David Crockett was a force of nature, as this fine biography details.
The Scots-Irish son of the American frontier, writes Wallis (Billy the Kid, 2007, etc.), became a legend within his lifetime and “died as a work still very much in progress.” Yet much of what we know about Crockett is erroneous, thanks to fictions perpetuated over the course of nearly two centuries. David Crockett—David, not Davy—was indeed an accomplished hunter of bears, having killed more than 100 of them in seven months during 1825–26, as Wallis carefully records. But more than that, he was a frontier entrepreneur who “approached nature as a science and hunting as an art,” earning a considerable income supplying furs for a hungry East Coast and European trade. As a politician, an endeavor in which hunting stories were guaranteed to liven up stump speeches, he fell afoul of fellow Tennessean Andrew Jackson early on, opining against several of Jackson’s policies and views, particularly on the matter of what to do about the Indians. (Crockett opposed the relocations that would culminate in the Trail of Tears.) It was on the hustings, Wallis writes, that Crockett perfected a kind of bumpkin persona, wearing a buckskin shirt with two big pockets: “In one pocket he kept a big twist of tobacco and in the other a bottle of liquor,” either of which worked to sway a voter. When Crockett’s card in Washington played out, he left for Texas—whose Anglo secessionists, writes the author, desired freedom from Mexico at least in part because Mexico had outlawed slavery. There Crockett met his end—but not, as Wallis notes, in quite the way Walt Disney would have it.
An excellent study likely to tick off the hagiographers.