Saturday, August 27, 2022

the last book I ever read (Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth, excerpt six)

from Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth by Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson, and Jason Stanford:

Born into a frontier family in what’s now eastern Tennessee in 1786, Crockett spent his early years driving cattle and serving as a scout during the Creek War and Jackson’s Florida invasion. Afterward, settling as a farmer near the Alabama border, he gained election to the state legislature in 1821. When a flood wiped out the farm, Crockett and his family—now deeply in debt—were forced to move into a cabin in northwest Tennessee. This was serious frontier living, and it was there that Crockett displayed a keen talent for, of all things, killing bears. By one count he shot 105 during a single season.

History would have forgotten Crockett had he not developed his second talent: telling people about killing all those bears. It began, we are told, when a dandyish legislator teased Crockett as “the gentleman from the “cane”—“cane” apparently being an obscure Tennesseeism for a heavy forest. Crockett capitalized on the incident by turning his teasing image as a backwood backwoodsman into a strength, pouring it on thick with tales of killing “bahrs” and “Injuns” and river pirates, at the same time making fun of the rich and pompous. Once this act caught on, he adopted a syrupy drawl and syntax; the word “known,” for instance, became “know’d.”

Crockett’s was a gentle kind of frontier populism, and it worked. He leveraged his popularity into a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington. But what would transform Crockett from a curiosity into a celebrity was Americans’ newfound appetite for tales of life along the growing country’s frontiers. The 1820s brought a flowering of such literature, notably James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, featuring the woodsman Natty Bumppo and including The Last of the Mohicans, one of the century’s most popular books. These books renewed interest in Daniel Boone, who became America’s first popular hero.

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