Pioneer. Congressman. Martyr of the Alamo. King of the Wild Frontier. As with all great legends, Davy Crockett's has been retold many times. Read more...
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Pioneer. Congressman. Martyr of the Alamo. King of the Wild Frontier. As with all great legends, Davy Crockett's has been retold many times. Over the years, he has been repeatedly reinvented by historians and popular storytellers. In fact, one could argue that there are three distinct Crocketts: the real David as he was before he became famous; the celebrity politician whose backwoods image Crockett himself created, then lost control of; and the mythic Davy we know today.
In the road-trip tradition of Sarah Vowell and Tony Horwitz, Bob Thompson follows Crockett's footsteps from the Tennessee river valley where he was born, to Washington, where he served three terms in Congress, and on to Texas and the gates of the Alamo, seeking out those who know, love and are still willing to fight over Davy's life and legacy.
"Born on a Mountaintop" will be more than just a bold new biography of one of the great American heroes. Thompson's rich mix of scholarship, reportage, humor, and exploration of modern Crockett landscapes will bring Davy Crockett's impact on the American imagination vividly to life.
- ISBN-13: 9780307720894
- ISBN-10: 0307720896
- Publisher: Crown Publishing Group (NY)
- Publish Date: March 2013
- Page Count: 375
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-03-11
- Reviewer: Staff
Following the trail of legendary frontiersman, Tennessee legislator, and Alamo hero Davy Crockett is no easy task. To do so, Washington Post features writer Bob Thompson takes off on an actual flight of fancy, pursuing historical and contemporary accounts of a man made famous in both fact and fiction. Combining research, anecdotes, and a lot of balderdash, Thompson lovingly hashes over endless Crockett minutiae. Although introduced as a lighthearted romp, the book often lapses into intrusive narration and painstaking detail. Much of the telling involves disclaimers, such as Crockett's jibe after losing an election: "‘Since you have chosen to elect a man with a timber toe to succeed me,' he is said to have told his constituents, ‘you may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.'" That story is watered down, as are many of the more interesting tales. One of America's most treasured and fabled icons, Crockett has captured generations of fans and Thompson appears to have engaged most of them for lengthy conversations. Though long-winded, readers will learn a lot about Crockett over the course of this journey. 8 page b/w photo insert. (Mar.)
The man behind the coonskin cap
When I say “Davy Crockett,” what do you see? A man in a coonskin cap? The vaguely Taco Bell-ish profile of the Alamo? Or—be honest—did you sing “Davy, DAY-vy Crockett, king of the wild frontier”? You’re forgiven; the song is very catchy, and the guy was a legend, about whom surprisingly little is actually known. In Born on a Mountaintop, author Bob Thompson tries to find the real man behind the myths, but soon discovers that almost every “fact” about Crockett is either the subject of contentious debate or flat-out wrong.
Thompson’s research was inspired by his daughter, who heard “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” in the car and began parsing the lyrics for details. Many biographies combined fact (he was a three-term congressman who advocated for the poor) with folklore (readers may be shocked to discover he could not, in fact, grin a bear into submission)—a tradition Crockett himself encouraged, seamlessly blending celebrity into his political career. So Thompson takes to the road to seek what truths may be found. In Tennessee he sees many places Crockett might have lived, only a few of which are provable as the real deal. At the Alamo, he finds that the debate is not resolved over whether Crockett was executed as a prisoner of war or went down, guns blazing, with bodies at his feet.
A darkly fascinating aspect of Crockett’s legacy is the “Crockett almanacs,” books similar to a farmer’s almanac that combined practical information with tall tales. They were written by East Coast pulp writers, who portrayed Crockett as a racist, chauvinist monster, which got big laughs circa 1839. Later these books were mistaken for real folklore from the oral tradition, which further clouds our view of a man who actually preferred to be called “David.”
This is not to say the book is grim—far from it. The roadside attractions on Thompson’s journey often make a tossed salad of Crockett, Daniel Boone and Paul Bunyan. And watching Thompson and his wife struggle to separate fact from fiction in the “Ballad,” then explain the difference between them to a four-year-old, is a hoot; they end up having to read aloud, “at her insistence,” an entire biography of Andrew Jackson to establish historical context. There’s a fun look at the Disney miniseries that launched a million coonskin caps onto the heads of kids worldwide and made Fess Parker a household name. But Born on a Mountaintop also gives us a look at fame and image in pre-Facebook America and finds that, while the cogs moved more slowly, the machine itself was much the same as the one we know today.