Born on a Mountaintop
When I was ten years old, I was privy to an oft-repeated joke. The joke went, "Hey, I know something Davy Crockett don't know." "What's that?" another would say. The reply was, "I know fear!" We were referring to that cinematic classic of 1955: Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier. The movie touched on the life of a David Crockett, a folksy Tennessean who fought in the Creek War, served as a U.S. Congressman, and died famously at the Alamo. David was played by Fess Parker, a contract actor and wine merchant. His sidekick was played by Buddy Ebsen, better known as Jed Clampett in The Beverly Hillbillies. Was this post World War II film anything more than infectious propaganda? Of course not, but how could I know that at the playful age of ten?
We were living in Munich when the movie came out. With several hundred other Military brats, children of American soldiers, I flocked to the Family Theater to watch this Disney production. Wearing synthetic coonskin caps, we applauded the celluloid triumphs of the buckskin buccaneer. And we sang along to the jaunty ballad that preceded every scene.
Did we doubt for a moment that David Crockett, who was once a hatter's apprentice, was born on a hallowed mountaintop? Did we question that he killed a bear at the unlikely age of three? And did we have even a flicker of sympathy for the critter this toddler dispatched? No, we did not--this was hardly the time for reflection and sympathy. This was the time to clap like seals and sing at the top of our lungs. Full-throatedly and without reservation, we serenaded our Beowulf. And we cheered as he picked off redskin varmints with a flintlock he called Old Betsy.
Was it likely this hunter of bruins, this ninety-day volunteer in the Tennessee Militia, convinced the Creek Indians to give up their war and return to the reservations? Did we speculate that these indigenous people were once a free nation onto themselves? Thank god, I had no social awareness and was happy to sing along. Such suggestions would have netted me hoots of derision and possibly the forfeiture of my coonskin cap. No, my voice blended seamlessly with the rest of the voices as we sang yet another verse.
The crack in the Liberty Bell? Was the enslavement of several million Africans a mere crack in the Liberty Bell? Was the slaughter of countless Indians just a scratch in the Liberty Bell? Was The Battle of Tallushatchee, which David Crockett joined, a small blemish on the Liberty Bell? I doubt that the Liberty Bell was tolling when David Crocket and nine hundred dragoons slaughtered a village of upstart Indians, women and children included. "We shot them like dogs," he remarked in his memoir The Narrative of the Life of David Crocket. Yet we did not doubt that this rustic self-promoter, who served only a "spell" in Congress, eradicated our lingering ills before riding on off into the sunset. With the sensitivity of Hitler Youth, we lustily sang on.
Did we suspect that the Mexican-American War spearheaded the expansion of slavery into virgin territory--that the brawny cry for freedom did not extend to human chattel? Did we wonder for a moment if we were celebrating a freedom fight or a land grab? No, we could only sing on in full and thunderous voices. We could only salute the fade-out image of that buckskin soldier of fortune. How could we blink when our champion, indestructible even in death, kept clubbing Mexican soldiers as they swarmed to bring him down? No matter that more accurate accounts of the Alamo had David Crockett surrendering. There was no surrender in us as we bellowed the final verse.
Today Davy Crockett, the legend, is still ahead of us all. But catch him we may if we continue to focus Old Betsy on hand-picked foes. We might pin these romps on the Disneyfied men who become our commanders-in-chief. We might also fault lock- stepping congressmen on a first name basis with fear. But how much still falls on that sugary flick that fused our young voices in song? How much can be blamed on Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier?
James Hanna wandered Australia for seven years before settling on a career in criminal justice. He spent twenty years as a counselor in the Indiana Department of Corrections and has recently retired from the San Francisco Probation Department where he was assigned to a domestic violence and stalking unit. Jamesí familiarity with the criminal element has provided fodder for much of his writing. His work has appeared in over thirty journals, including Crack the Spine, Sixfold, and The Literary Review. He is also a prior contributor to The Fear of Monkeys. James' books, four of which have won awards, are available on Amazon.