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David Crockett: The Lion of the West

by Michael Wallis,W.W. Norton & Co., New York, 2011, $27.95.

 David Crockett spent only a small portion of his 49 years west of the Mississippi, but the man had “frontier” written all over him (even when not wearing a coonskin cap), and his death at the Alamo is one of the signature events in Texas and Wild West history. “Contrary to what has often been implied, mostly by Texans themselves, David Crockett was not a Texan,” writes Michael Wallis at the start of his third chapter. For baby boomers nationwide that is a wholly unnecessary statement. Anyone who has ever heard “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” (and if you heard it in the 1950s, you likely can’t forget it) knows that Davy (even if he signed his name “David”) was born on a mountaintop in Tennessee. Actually, says Wallis, the frontiersman was “born on a riverbank in Franklin.” In any case, the author adds, “Crockett remained a Tennessean until his dying day.”

Wallis rightly spends much of the book on the Tennessee years, pointing out, “Crockett’s two months spent in Texas at the end of his life garner more attention than the decades he spent living in Tennessee.” It’s a treat to hear about Crockett’s early days as a hunter (even if he didn’t “kilt him a b’ar when he was only 3,” he was indeed the bear-hunting equivalent to bison-hunting Buffalo Bill Cody), as a soldier (he fought against Britain and its Indian allies but was grateful for his discharge from military service in 1815) and as a politician (the backwoods congressman had raw magnetism, populist appeal and stood up to the rich folks in Washington, though he lacked the knack of compromise).

Not until Chapter 35, the penultimate, has Crockett finally “gone to Texas.” We all remember the Alamo after 175 years, but Wallis’ coverage of Crockett and the siege might leave you wishing for more. “His contributions to the Lone Star State resulted not so much from how he lived but how he died,” writes Wallis, who insists that Crockett’s death was noteworthy and dramatic no matter the specifics (whether it occurred in the heat of battle or after surrendering).


Originally published in the October 2011 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here