Now known as a Disney coonskin-capped country caricature, David Crockett created a lasting persona built on his survival skills, embodiment of manifest destiny, and captivating storytelling, says Wallis. Offering only perfunctory coverage of Crockett's popularly imagined martyrdom at the battle of the Alamo, Wallis (Billy the Kid) sifts through his subject's substantial failures as a wilderness family man (troubled by debt, drink, and often abandoning his family) and business entrepreneur while also detailing overlooked professional successes such as his election to the U.S. and Tennessee legislatures. While Wallis illustrates the formally uneducated frontiersman's remarkable adaptability, Crockett's physical bravery against bears and moral courage in opposing aggressive mistreatment of Native Americans shine through as the defeated legislator finally suggested to his fellow Tennesseans that they "go to hell" while he happily left for Texas. Wallis's well-documented take on the famous pop culture hero reads like fiction, enhanced by flowing prose in portraying a flawed but fascinating frontiersman who faithfully carried a treasured rifle named after his estranged wife, Betsey. 60 illus. (May)
“Wallis’ examination of the man behind the myth is both well written and engrossing.”
“Like Crockett himself [Wallis] is a storyteller. The man who emerges from these pages is vivid, comprehensible, and, in the main, historically reliable. On a subject that has come to be dominated by acrimonious debate and posturing, such serenity has a lot to recommend it.”
“Michael Wallis is the master frontier story teller, having chronicled everything from Billy the Kid to Highway 66. Now he’s told the tale of the real David Crockett as distinguished from the mostly mythical one. Davy (with a show biz “y”) Crockett did, in fact, die at The Alamo but he did not kill a bear when he was only three or wear a coonskin cap except in publicity photographs. That’s just for starters. But the truth has a way of being more interesting than the made-up, most particularly when in the talented writing mind and hands of Michael Wallis.”
Captivated as a child by the mythical Davy Crockett as presented by Walt Disney during the 1950s, Wallis (Pretty Boy: The Life and Times of Charles Arthur Floyd) endeavors here to find the man behind the myth; he notes that Crockett always referred to himself in writing as David, but his mission is not specifically to debunk the mythology that surrounded Crockett so much as to present a readable and folksy account of the actual facts of Crockett's life. This is not an academic study that contextualizes Crockett in relation to many of his contemporaries or explores the milieu in which he thrived. Like Daniel Boone, Crockett was viewed as the quintessential frontiersman, but historians seem to have shied away from Crockett since a Mexican diary revealed in the 1970s that he did not die in the heat of battle at the Alamo but was instead executed as a prisoner. Wallis concludes by arguing that we should celebrate Crockett for how he lived. VERDICT Lay readers will enjoy this biography, and if it leads them to want to learn more about Boone as well, they will enjoy Robert Morgan's Boone: A Biography.—John Burch, Campbellsville Univ. Lib., KY
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.
From the Publisher
"A readable and folksy account of the actual facts of Crockett's life." Library Journal
Kate Tuttle - Boston Globe
Allen Barra - Star Tribune
“Splendid . . . a readable and surprising biography.”
Stanley Crouch - New York Daily News
“Wallis understands the intriguing and mysterious element of American life and history.”