Davy Crockett.

Sketches and eccentricities of Col. David Crockett, : of West Tennessee online

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111. Hist. aur«






Ridentem dicere vcrum, quid vetat ?" HuK.








So fashionable has it become to write a preface,
that, like an epitaph, it now records of its subject,
not what it is, but what it ought to be. The mania
for book-making has recently assumed an epidemic
character, and, like the late pestilence, unaffected
by all changes of weather, save that a murky
evening generally aggravates its symptoms, it
makes its attacks from quarters the least expected,
and emanating from beneath the dim light of some
f^ old rusty lamp, sheds abroad its sleepy, yawning
influence. A book and preface are now consi-
^ dered indissoluble ; so much so, that to see a book
^ without a preface would be as rare as to see a
^ preface without a book. Yet some men have
been so lost to all fashion, as to send forth the
treasures of genius without this expected formal-
ity ; but as I do not aspire to that elevated niche
in the temple of Fame, which such men have been
allowed to occupy by universal consent, I must




permit my better feelings to predominate, and
clothe my first-born babe in all suitable garments,
before I turn her loose upon a heartless world.
Were I to set her adrift without this necessary
' appendage, my heart would smite me ; and I
should never meet a poor beggar, thinly clad,
breasting the storms of winter, but that with sor-
row I should think of the destitute condition of my
pretty bantling.

Having thus resolved upon a preface, I will
write as long as my humour prompts, or until the
lit under which I am now labouring wears off.

It is j^erfectly ridiculous, in my opinion, for a
man to write a book, which he believes calculated
to interest, instruct, amuse, or, in the phrase of the
trade, to take, and then sit down and write an
elaborate apology for doing so : nor is it less ab-
surd to ask favour from the hands of would-be-
critics — self-constituted judges of modern days —
whose mere dictum creates a literary vassalage
— beneath whose blighting influence, the finest
specimens of genius, when linked with poverty,
wither and die — and whose sole duty it is to blazon
forth the fame of some one, whom public opinion
has placed above them ; or, to puff into notice
another, who has money — not mind — enough to

carry liini along. But, as regardless of this class
trf gentry as 1 am careful of my own comfort and
convenience, I have really laboured under the
impression, that, in writing for my own amuse-
ment, I had a right to select my topics and con-
sequently I have been grave or meny, as my
humour prompted.

At this time, when, in every ephemeral tale, a
red hunter must be treacherous, biaital, savage,
and accompanied with the tomahawk and scalping
knife, I should perhaps offer some apologj' for
speaking of them in a diflferent light, in ray intro-
duction ; but my apology is — it was my pleasure
to do so.

Gentle reader, I can promise you, in no part
of this volume, the wild rhodomontades of '• Bush-
field ;" nor can I regale you with the still more deli-
cate repast of a constant repetition of the terms
" hodi/aciously,'' " tetotaciozisly," " obflisticated," &c.
Though I have had much intercourse with the
West, I have never met with a man who used
such terms unless they were alluded to, as merely
occupying a space in some printed work. They
have, however, thus been made to enter, as a com-
ponent part, into the character of ever\' back-
woodsman ; and, perhaps, I hazard sometliing in



leaving the common path ; but my duty commands
it — and though the following memoir may wear
an air of levity, it is, nevertheless, strictly true.
• In describing backwoodsmen, it has become
customary to clothe their most common ideas in
high-sounding, unintelligible coinage — while my
observation induces me to believe that their most
striking feature is the fact, that they clothe the
most extravagant ideas in the simplest language,
and amuse us by their quaintness of expression, and
originality of comparison. With these remarks I
submit to you the Sketches and Eccentricities
OF Colonel David Crockett.

I know there are those. Who dWell in the splen-
did mansions of the east, and whose good fortune
enables them to tread a Turkey carpet, or loll
upon a sofa, to whom a faithful representation of
the manners and customs of the "far off West,"
will afford a rich repast ; and there is another class
for whom this volume will possess many charms,
when I remark that it entertains for the " Wwe devils"
the most deep and deadly enmity. And, still far-
ther, the learned, though they may see little to
admire in the composition of this work, may yet
find amusement in the peculiar eccentricities of an
original mind : and the grave philosopher, also, is


here presented with a subject of deep and lasting

Finally, most gentle reader, I hereby guaranty,
that there shall not be found, in the volume before
you, a single sentence, or a single word, calcn-
. ated to crimson the cheek of innocence, or ^^^
a license to vice.


ly giving to the public the biography of a cele-
brated backwoodsman, a brief sketch of the coun-
try in which he resides will not be deemed irrele-
vant. I am aware that much has been written
upon this subject ; but it is a tlieme so fruitful in
variety, that I hope, if I shall not be able to hi-
struct, I shall at least entertain. The term " far
off West" seems, from general usage, to apply only
to that section of our country which lies between
the Alleghany and Rocky mountains. In com.pa-
rison with this vast region, other portions of the
globe, wliich have delighted the world with the
finest specimens of histoiy, of poetry, of sculpture,
and of painting, dwindle into insignificance with
regard to magnitude. Here Fancy, in her playful
flights, may call into being empires which have no
existence ; and though perhaps sober reason would
now chide her fairy creations, yet the time will
come, when they will only be looked upon with
the conviction of truth.

Oft, while seated upon the margin of the Missis-
sippi river — the greatest curiosity on our globe —


have I indulged in thought, until my brain reeled
with the multitude of images which crowded upon
it. When I reflected on the vast region comprised
in the phrase " far off West" — when I recollected
that all the water which fell and accumulated be-
tween the Alleghany on the east, and the Rocky
mountains on the west, (a section of country thou-
sands of miles in extent,) sought, by the same
outlet, its passage to the ocean — and when I be-
held at my feet, that passage, in a narrow muddy
stream, winding smoothly along, I was struck with
astonishment. I thought it ought to boil, and dash,
and foam, and fret its way, in hurried search of
the ocean. Although the Mississippi receives
tributaries which are navigable for several thou-
sand miles, yet its size is not at all apparently
increased. Irregular, though smooth, it forces its
circuitous way along — yet restless, and ever chang-
ing its bed, as if to relieve itself from the accumu-
lating weight of waters. Frequently does it nar-
row itself to within less than a quarter of a mile.
Then how incalculable must be its depth ! There
are some portions of it very shallow ; but there
are others, where no bottom has ever yet been
found ; and could its waters be drained off, there
would be left chasms into which the boldest would
never dare look ; and in whose depths myriads of
animals would crawl and flutter, which have never
yet known the light of day !

The " far off" West" spreads before us every


vari<ety of climate — every species of soil. One
would be more disposed to look upon it as a crea-
tion of fancy, than as possessing an actual exist-
ence. Here, roam and play their sportive tric&is,
over verdant fields, innumerable animals, whose
leet are crimsoned with fruit, which the gods
themselves would eat. Here, roving over onr
prairies, the weary hunter may repose on beds of
tiowers wliich give the blush to all the enchznt-
ment of city gardens. Here, while I am n€'w
writing, apart from the busy hum ol' men, how the
events of a few years rise U}) before me ! The
Past and Present both present themselves, and
seek to gain my preference. The Past teiJs; me
that here, but a few years since, nature slept kt
primeval loveliness : her forests had never echoed
to the sound of an axe ; her rivers had never he^n
disturbed by the noise of a steamboat ; there was
nothing to break in upon the stillness of evenii:^,
save the loud whoop of her children, the long
howl of some hungry wolf, the wild scream of {«
famished panther, or the plaintive notes of some
gentle turtle, weeping for one that's far away,
" Yes," cried she, " here roamed my red men of
the forest, free as the breezes which fanned their
raven locks. Here, no bickerings disturbed their
social intercourse — no right of property shed its
baleful influence over their wild society — no white
man was here to practise them in all the wiles cjf
deception : — No— there was none. Here my youag


daughters of the forest have led on the mazy dance
— here, have luxuriated in all the delightful emo-
tions of mnocent love. Here, some Indian war-
rior may have wooed his dusky bride. My heart
grows sick when I think of all that was lovely
which has left me."

" But," cries the Present, "the scene that I could
sketch is still more beautiful. Though no long
howl of the wolf now announces evening; though
no famished panther wakes you at midnight — yet
the repose of nature is now broken by music far
more delightful. The noise of children just burst-
ing out from school — the cheerful song of the milk-
maid, as she performs her evening duties — or the
loud crack of some driver, as he forces his weary
oxen to their stalls, now tells us of the close of day.
Once, only a canoe danced lightly over your w^a-
ters : now, floating palaces adorn them, which
realize all the gorgeous tales of eastern fancy, and
with all their beauty blend the power of the magic
carpet —

« Walk your waters like things of life,
And seem to dare the elements to strife.'"

The West presents much variety. Some of
our cities, in beauty and in all the fascinations of a
polished society, vie with those of the East; while
there are many portions where the wildness of
nature and the first rudiments of society are strug-
gling for the ascendency ; and there are still many
more, where nature yet reposes in her loveliest


form. The whole country spreads before us a
field for speculation, only bounded by the limits of
the human mind.

Every spot shows that it was once the abode
of human beings, who are now lounging idly about
in the vale of eternity — not so small as the de-
generate race of modern days, but majestic in
size, and capable, according to scripture command,
of managing the various species of the mammoth
tribe — evezi those that were ligniverous,* whose
ravenous appetite has clearly accounted for the
want of timber on om* great western prairies, and
whose saliva, according to the MS. of a celebrated
travelling antiquarian and great linguist, (which
subsequent annotators seem to have overlooked)
was of so subtle yet deadly a nature, that when
applied to a tree, it immediately diffused itself
throughout its roots, and killed, for all future ages,
the power to germinate.

We must ever regret that the same ingenious
traveller did not inform us of their mode of eating
this timber ; as henceforward it must be a matter
of doubt. Was it corded up like steamboat wood,
and in that manner devoured ? Or did this ani-
mal, after the manner of the anaconda, render its
food slippery by means of saliva, and swallow it
whole ? If this latter be the case, I am struck

* An Essay of much ingenuity and femcy, published in the
West, accounts for the present existence of the prairies, by
supposing the timber to have been all devoured by an animal
of the mammotii tribe I



with the analogy which this animal bears to the
subject of my biography — for as my hero is the
only person who could ever shp down a honey-
locust without a scratch, so I presume that this is
the only animal which has ever swallowed a tree
of the same species, and received no inconve-
nience from its thorns. But believing, as I do
implicitly, that man was placed at the head of
affairs in this lower world, I have no doubt that
the time has been, when men were so much larger
than they now are, that a mammoth was swung
up and butchered with the same ease that we
would now butcher a sheep; and it requires no
great stretch of imagination to conceive a gentle-
man of that day, after the manner of the French
epicure in America, (who, having despatched a
pig, asked the waiter if there were no more leeth
hogs,) crying out " wataire I have you no more
leetle mammoths ?"

The multitude of tumuli, or Indian mounds,
which every where present themselves, alone
form a subject for deep meditation. The idea that
they were used solely for burying places seems
to me absurd, and were it now proper, I could
adduce many arguments to the contrary. These
tumuli, however, are found in all situations, of
various heights, and different sizes ; sometimes
insulated, at others linked together for an indefi-
nite distance. In Arkansas and Missouri, you
frequently meet with chains of these mounds :


east of the Mississippi, they are generally insulated,
and now remain but as a memento of what once
was. Sometimes they are surrounded by a ditcii,
now almost effaced from the decay of vegetable
matter, which gives them the appearance of works
thrown up for defence. But, for what they were
intended — when they were built — what was their
height — are all questions which cannot be an-
swered. Tradition has never dared affix a date
to any of them ; nor can any Indian tribe now in
existence give any clew which will enable us to
solve the mystery. Large trees growing on their
tops have been felled, and their ages counted ; and
though some of them would reckon years enough
to be looked upon as the patriarchs of the forest,
yet that gives no direct clew — for, how long the
mounds were in existence before the trees grew
up, we cannot tell.

In many places bones of the Aborigines yet
whiten the soil : sometimes you meet with them
so deposited as to leave httle doubt that the last
honours of war were once performed over them.
How often, while travelling alone through our
western forest, have I turned my horse loose to
graze, and lolling upon one of those mounds in-
dulged in meditation. Fancying it a depository
for the dead, I have called before me all its inmates ;
and they rose up of every grade from hoary age
to infancy. There stood the chief of his tribe,
with wisdom painted in his furrowed cheeks ; near

>"^-»v' •


him a warrior, in all the bloom of youth. There
stood one, who, with all the burning fervour of
eloquence, had incited his tribe to warlike deeds ;
near him a blushing daughter of the forest, cut off
while her beauties were just opening into day.
And, to extend the picture, and view the wide
expanse of the mighty West, methinks there rose
up before me warriors of the forest, whose fame
was once as fair as is now that of Hannibal or
Caesar, Napoleon or Wellington. Yes, methinks,
they each had a Cannse or a Pharsalia, an Auster-
litz or a Waterloo.* Yes, how often here, have I
wandered over fields which, perhaps, were once
hallowed by the sacred blood of freedom, or which
have been consecrated by deeds of high and lofty
daring. Could the " far off West" give up its his-
tory, the chivalry of darker ages would have no
votaries. But even the last remnant of this once
great people is fast disappearing from the country.
A few years more and not one will remain to tell
what they once were. Thousands of them are at
this time marching far "over the border." To
see such a multitude of all ages, forced from a
country which they have been taught to love as
their " own native land" — to hear their wild lamen-
tations at leaving the bones of all who were dear
to them, to wander over a region which has for

* Those who take an interest in the history of the Indian
warriors and other great men, will find Thatcher's " Indian
Biography" and " Indian Traits," worthy of perusal.



them uo tender recollections, touches all the finest
chords of the human heart. Feelmgs of sympathy-
will ever kindle at the recollection of the fate of
the Indians, whose history*, at some future day,
may be read in the following brief epitaph :

" Alas I poor Yorick I"

Throughout the west innumerable prairies
abound, (covered with every flower which can
delight the senses,) either rolling like the gentle
heavings of the ocean, or level as the surface of
an unruffled lake. These form another subject
of fruitful meditation ; at least with those (if any
should be found) who doubt the existence of the
Tree-eater. What has caused thein ? Why do
you meet with them of all sizes, (the richest land
we have,) without a shrub, surrounded by dense
forests? Why, as soon as the whites begin to
graze them, do they spring up in a thick under-
growth, when if they do not graze them, tliey
retain their former appearance ? Have they not
been cultivated ? Were they not plantations ?
And were not the inhabitants who once resided
here, entirely destroyed by the Indian tribes who
took possession ? Is not their present appearance
owing to the fact that the Indians have burned
them regularly since they^ were cultivated, in
order to preserve them as pastures for their game ?
I am aware that some of the prairies, from their
great size, would seem at once to put an end to

B 2


these speculations. But, on the other hand, there
are many proofs of the great antiquity of our coun-
try, and many convincing arguments that its former
proprietors were much farther advanced in civili-
zation than the present natives. In support of
this position I will simply refer to a circumstance
generally known, that in digging a well near Cin-
cinnati, two stumps were found some sixty or
seventy feet below the surface, which had been
cut off by an axe, and upon one of which the re-
mains of an axe were found. Further, to prove
that its former proprietors were somewhat en-
lightened, I would remark that in digging a salt
well at one of the licks near Shawneetown, Illi-
nois, an octangular post was discovered some
twenty feet below the surface, bored through pre-
cisely similar to that now used for a pump. Also,
in the same state, a large rectangular smooth
stone was found, covered with regular hierogly-
phical characters. Coins, brick, and forts, the
results of a certain degree of civilization, have
been every where found.

That there were many prairies once in cultiva-
tion, many ingenious arguments may be brought
to prove. These views are given, merely with a
hope that they may induce an examination into
this subject. I have already entered farther into
speculation than the nature of this work demands,
and shall be gratified if my suggestions call into
action talents more suited to the task.


The country which I have but sHghtly sketched,
in its wildest state was the home of Boone, the
great pioneer of the west, who now Hves in sculp-
ture in the rotunda of your capitol. In a frontier,
and consequently less attractive state, it is now
the home of David Crockett, whose humours
have been spoken of in every portion of our coun-
try, and about whom there is less known than of
any other individual who ever obtained so much
notoriety. I intend no regular comparison between
these two personages, for each will live while the
" far off West" has a votary ; but I must run a
parallel only for an instant. Each lived under
the same circumstances : the one waged an eter-
nal war with the Indians, and hunted game for
recreation : the other waged an eternal war with
the beasts of the fOrest, and served his country
when his aid was wanted. Each could send the
whizzing ball almost where he wished it. Mr.
Knapp, in a beautiful sketch which he has given the
world of Boone, mentions that frequently, to try
his skill, " he shot with a single ball the humming
bird, as he sucked the opening flower, and spread
his tiny wings and presented his exquisite colours
to the sun ; and brought down the soaring eagle
as he poised in majesty over his head, disdaining
the power of this nether world." I cannot say
that Col. Crockett has ever performed either of the
above feats, but often have I seen him seated on
the margin of a river, shooting with a single ball


its scaly inmates, when only for an instant in wan-
ton sport they glittered in the sun: the rifle
cracked, and ever was there some httle monster
struggling on the top. The task of Wilham Tell
would give no pain; for in idle sport does he
sometimes shoot a dollar from between the finger
and thumb of a brother, or plant his balls between
his fingers as pleasure suits. In point of mind,
Col. Crockett is decidedly Boone's superior. I do
not found this remark on the authority of the com-
mon sketches of the day, which are httle better
than mere vagaries of the imagination, but gather
my information from a gentleman who now knows
Col. Crockett, and who, with Boone for a compan-
ion, has often hunted the buffalo on the plains of

The country w^hich it falls to my lot most par-
ticularly to describe, is the western district of
Tennessee ; and of that, to me, the most interest-
ing spot, was Col. Crockett's residence. There,
far retired from the bustle of the world, he lives,
and chews, for amusement, the cud of his political
life. He has settled himself over the grave of an
earthquake, which often reminds him of the cir-
cumstance by moving itself as if tired of confine-
ment. The wild face of the country — the wide
chasms — the new formed lakes, together with its
great loneliness, render it interesting in the ex-
treme to the traveller. But above all, the simpli-
city and great hospitality of its thinly scattered


inhabitants, make one turn to it with pleasure who
nas ever visited it. The many stories in circula-
tion of deadly struggles with wild animals, and
the great distance sometimes found between set-
tlements, create in this country much interest for
the traveller; but for a more particular history
of these things I refer you, gentle reader, to the
'olio wing pages.




David Crockett, the subject of the following
sketch, was born m Greene county, East Ten-
nessee, of poor and respectable parentage. He
was the ninth child. The extreme indigence of his
father rendered liim unable to educate his children,
and at a very early age David was put to work.
No one, at this early age, could have foretold that
he was ever to ride upon a streak of lightning,
receive a commission to quiet the fears of the
world, by wringing off the tail of a comet, or per-
form several other wonderful acts, for which he
has received due credit, and which will serve to
give him a reputation as lasting as that of the hero
of Orleans. But he was always a quirky boy, and
many and sage were the prophecies made of his
future greatness. Every species of fortune-telling
was exhausted to find out in what particular de-
partment he was to figure ; but this was for ever
shrouded in mystery. No seer could say more
than that David was to be great. In the slang of


the backwoods, one swore that he would never be
" one-eye(r'' — that is dishonest ; another, that he
"would never be "a case''' — that is fiat, without a
dollar. But let us pursue an even narrative of
his life, and see how far these various prophecies
proved to be correct.

While David was yet young, his father moved
from Greene to Sullivan county, and settled upon
a public road for the purpose of keeping a tavern.

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Online LibraryDavy CrockettSketches and eccentricities of Col. David Crockett, : of West Tennessee → online text (page 1 of 12)