Letter from American History – April 2011

Frontier Phantom

Davy Crockett was renowned for spinning yarns about himself, including a straight-faced account in his autobiography of how he killed 105 bears in one year. But the most enduring tale of his prowess is one he didn’t live to tell. Legend has it that when some 1,800 Mexican troops stormed the Alamo on March 6, 1836, Crockett died valiantly swinging his empty musket over his head. Stephen Harrigan, author of our cover story, “The Last Days of David Crockett,” spent eight years parsing the evidence of what happened that day for his novel The Gates of the Alamo. “I went down an endless rabbit hole and was struck by the limits of what we can know about the past,” says Harrigan. “In the case of the Alamo, bits and pieces of reliable information are mixed into a matrix of myth and opinion.” Harrigan was also pleasantly surprised to discover that by most accounts, the real Crockett was a genuinely decent and courageous fellow. “I didn’t expect that to be the case,” he says. “But the more I learned about him, the more I liked him.”
 

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