by Michael Wallis
Published by W. W. Norton & Company, May 2011
His name was David Crockett. He never signed his name any other way, but popular culture transformed his memory into “Davy” Crockett, while Hollywood gave him a coonskin hat that he hardly ever wore. So wildly popular was this colorful outdoorsman-turned-politician that he became a legendary figure even in his own lifetime.
Born into a poor family in 1786 on the eastern Tennessee frontier, Crockett had a Huck Finn-like childhood that could have been something out of the dime-store novels his legend later spawned. As befits his myth, Crockett did indeed display a preternatural talent for hunting, but he never “killed him a bar” when he was only three, as one ditty proclaims. While Crockett’s boyhood exploits are truly remarkable, even by frontier standards, it was his parents’ dire financial circumstances that instilled in him an outsider’s sensibility. Masterfully framing Crockett’s life against the volatile history of the frontier, Michael Wallis recounts the store of the young hunter who would disappear alone into the unexplored canebrakes, returning months later with harrowing tales of death traps and murderous natives.
So extraordinary were Crockett’s exploits, so remarkable is storytelling gifts, that he distinguished himself first as a wildly popular soldier and then as a budding politician. Elected to Congress in 1826, he achieved great prominences in the new capital for his homespun ways and support of the dispossessed, yet Crockett was too much for Washington to handle. Eventually breaking with Andrew Jackson and his punitive Indian policies, Crockett considered running for president, wrote a best-selling memoir, and became the inspiration for an immensely popular play, The Lion of the West. As famous as Crockett became, however, his political career quickly faltered, his folksy charm no match for Andrew Jackson’s venom.
No part of Crockett’s life remains as controversial as his death in Texas in 1836, where he had migrated, hoping to build a new life. Challenging a multitude of wrongful assertions, Wallis, using recently discovered sources, conclusively demonstrates that Crockett neither surrendered to the Mexicans nor was taken hostage in the battle at the Alamo.
With David Crockett, Wallis has written a three-dimensional portrait of the famed pioneer whose dreams reflected the consciousness of a restless nation with a distinctly westward gaze. This absorbing biography distills fast from fiction and stands alone as a vivid evocation of a true American hero and the rough-and-tumble times in which he lived.
Michael Wallis, the author of Route 66 and the highly acclaimed Billy the Kid, has published fifteen books and won numerous honors and awards. He is the voice of the Sheriff in the animated Pixar motion picture feature Cars. He lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
"Michael Wallis is the master frontier story teller, having chronicled everything from Billy the Kid to Highway 66. Now he’s told the tale of the real David Crockett as distinguished from the mostly mythical one. Davy (with a show biz “y”) Crockett did, in fact, die at The Alamo but he did not kill a bear when he was only three or wear a coonskin cap except in publicity photographs. That’s just for starters. But the truth has a way of being more interesting than the made-up, most particularly when in the talented writing mind and hands of Michael Wallis."
-- Jim Lehrer
"As with Pretty Boy Michael Wallis gives us a vital history of one segment of our shared past by clarifying the context of Crockett's time, which - like the Depression - is crowded with misconceptions. The bittersweet history of our nation does not need the froth of exaggeration: All the poetry we need can easily be found in the souls of the people themselves."
-- Stanley Crouch, New York Daily News
"Like Crockett himself [Wallis] is a storyteller. The man who emerges from these pages is vivid, comprehensible, and, in the main, historically reliable. On a subject that has come to be dominated by acrimonious debate and posturing, such serenity has a lot to recommend it."
-- Texas Monthly
"...a compelling look into the life and times of an outdoorsman turned politician who ended up as a martyr for Texas liberty. As Wallis notes in the preface, the book is not a straightforward chronological biography of Crockett or a regurgitation of the many myths surrounding the man. Instead, it's about the historical and fictional Crockett and how the two often became one."
-- Vincent Basquez, San Antonio Express News
“He wasn’t born on a mountaintop in Tennessee, and he didn’t kill a b’ar when he was only three. Even so, David Crockett was a force of nature, as this fine biography details.”
-- Kirkus Review