Col. Davy Crockett

Samuel Albert Link, my great grandfather, was an educator and an authority on 19th century Southern literature. This sketch comes from the second volume of his book, Pioneers of Southern Literature. Originally published in 1900, the sketch of Col. Davy Crockett was included in the chapter titled Southern Humorists.

Davy Crocket

Davy Crocket by Chester Harding

“Truth is stranger than fiction,” says the adage, and it is verified in the case of Col. Davy Crockett, who fell among the last of the immortal band struck down at the Alamo.  No character in all American fiction stands out in such life-like proportions as Col. Crockett, and yet his adventures were real.  If courage and patriotism had not made him famous, his unswerving integrity, shrewd common sense, and quaint humor would have perpetuated his name.  Davy Crockett was born in Greene County, Tenn., August 17, 1786.  Being brought up as he was in a log cabin, he received little education, but early became noted as an expert marksman, trained in the lore of the forest.  He commanded a battalion of rifles in the Creek campaign.  He lived for a time in Middle Tennessee, but finally settled near the Obion River, in West Tennessee.

Col. Crockett, after having served in the Legislature, was elected to Congress in 1827, and served two terms.  He was defeated for the third term, but reelected later on.  He was a Jackson man at first, but, like John Bell and many others, disagreed with the national policy of Old Hickory.  So firm a stand did he take that in a tour through Northern cities great crowds turned out to hear him arraign the administration of Jackson.  Crockett picked up information rapidly, so that if caught unawares upon any point he sought information, and was soon in position to speak advisedly upon the subject.  His motto was “Go ahead,” and he never fell below his motto.  In 1835 the entire power of the administration was put forth against him, and Crockett was defeated for Congress by a small majority.  As he had previously announced in case of such event, he immediately set out for Texas.  His dauntless courage at the Alamo is known to all the world.  Crockett gave out his “Reminiscences” for publication because others had invented adventures for him.  Even now it is next to impossible to determine the veracious from the fictitious, as almost anything of a comical nature which has happened to any one is credited to Crockett.  Eccentric and unique he may have been, nevertheless his racy humor lifted him out of the ordinary, and his courage and straightforward honesty made him an honor to the State which seemed to drive him into the wilderness.

When his “Reminiscences” were published he gave the following account of the affair:

I don’t know of anything in my book to be criticized on by honorable men.  Is it on my spelling?  That’s not my trade.  Is it on my grammar?  I hadn’t time to learn it, and make no pretensions to it.  Is it on the order and arrangement of my book?  I never wrote one before, and never read very many, and of course know mighty little about that.  Will it be on the authorship of the book?  This I claim, and I’ll hang on to it like a wax plaster.  The whole book is my own, and every sentiment and sentence in it.  I would not be such a fool, or knave either, as to deny that I have had it hastily run over by a friend or so, and that some little alterations have been made in the spelling and grammar; and I am not so sure that it is not the worse of even that, for I despise the way of spelling contrary to nature.  And as for grammar, it’s pretty much a thing of nothing at last, after all the fuss that’s made about it.  In some places I wouldn’t suffer either the spelling, or grammar, or anything else to be touched, and therefore it will be found in my own way.

A glimpse of Col. Crockett in Philadelphia throws into bold relief the man as he was:

Early after breakfast I was taken to the waterworks, where I saw several of the gentlemen managers.  This is a grand sight, and no wonder the Philadelphians ask everyone that comes: ‘Have you seen the waterworks?’ Just think of a few wheels throwing up more water than five hundred thousand people can use — yes, and waste, too for such scrubbing of steps, and even the very pavements under your feet, I never saw.  Indeed, I looked close to see if the housemaids had not web feet, they walked so well in water; and as for a fire, it has no chance at all.  They just screw on a long hollow leather with a brass nose on it, dash upstairs, and seem to draw on Noah’s flood.  The next place I visited was the mint.  Here I saw them coining gold and silver in abundance, and they were the rare e pluribus unum;  not this electioneering trash, that they send out to cheat the poor people, telling them they would all be paid in gold and silver, when the poor deceived creatures had nothing coming to them.  A chip with a spit on the back of it is as good currency as an eagle, provided you can get the image of the bird.  It’s all nonsense.  The President, both Cabinets, and Congress to boot, can’t enact poor men into rich.  Hard knocks, and plenty of them, can only build up a fellow’s self.

The backwoods philosopher was equally at home in New York:

From thence I went to the City Hall, and was introduced to the mayor of the city and several of the aldermen.  The mayor is a plain, common-sense looking man.  I was told that he had been a tanner.  That pleased me, for I thought both him and me had clumb up a long way from where we started, and it is truly as ‘Honor and fame from no condition rise,’ that ‘It’s the grit of a fellow that makes the man.’

No one can read the life and autobiography of Crockett without having a higher appreciation of one of nature’s noblemen.

Source: Link, Samuel A. Pioneers of Southern Literature Vol. II. Nashville, Tenn: Pub. House M.E. Church, 1900. Print.

Portrait: By Chester Harding (1792 – 1866) (cliff1066) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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