Part 1 out of 5
Edited by Charles Aldarondo (firstname.lastname@example.org)
AMERICAN PIONEERS AND PATRIOTS.
LIFE AND ADVENTURES
JOHN S. C. ABBOTT
David Crockett certainly was not a model man. But he was a
representative man. He was conspicuously one of a very numerous
class, still existing, and which has heretofore exerted a very
powerful influence over this republic. As such, his wild and
wondrous life is worthy of the study of every patriot. Of this
class, their modes of life and habits of thought, the majority of
our citizens know as little as they do of the manners and customs of
the Comanche Indians.
No man can make his name known to the forty millions of this great
and busy republic who has not something very remarkable in his
character or his career. But there is probably not an adult
American, in all these widespread States, who has not heard of David
Crockett. His life is a veritable romance, with the additional charm
of unquestionable truth. It opens to the reader scenes in the lives
of the lowly, and a state of semi-civilization, of which but few of
them can have the faintest idea.
It has not been my object, in this narrative, to defend Colonel
Crockett or to condemn him, but to present his peculiar character
exactly as it was. I have therefore been constrained to insert some
things which I would gladly have omitted.
JOHN S. C. ABBOTT.
FAIR HAVEN, CONN.
Parentage and Childhood.
The Emigrant.--Crossing the Alleghanies.--The Boundless
Wilderness.--The Hut on the Holston.--Life's Necessaries.--The
Massacre.--Birth of David Crockett.--Peril of the
Boys.--Anecdote.--Removal to Greenville; to Cove Creek.--Increased
Emigration.--Loss of the Mill.--The Tavern.--Engagement with the
Drover.--Adventures in the Wilderness.--Virtual Captivity.--The
Escape.--The Return.--The Runaway.--New Adventures. . . . 7
David at Gerardstown.--Trip to Baltimore.--Anecdotes.--He ships for
London.--Disappointment.--Defrauded of his Wages.--Escapes.--New
Adventures.--Crossing the River.--Returns Home.--His Reception.--A
Farm Laborer.--Generosity to his Father.--Love Adventure.--The Wreck
of his Hopes.--His School Education.--Second Love adventure.--Bitter
Disappointment.--Life in the Backwoods.--Third Love Adventure. . . . 35
Marriage and Settlement.
Rustic Courtship.--The Rival Lover.--Romantic Incident. The Purchase
of a Horse.--The Wedding.--Singular Ceremonies.--The
Termagant.--Bridal Days.--They commence Housekeeping.--The Bridal
mansion and Outfit.--Family Possessions.--The Removal to Central
Tennessee.--Mode of Transportation.--The New Income and its
Surroundings.--Busy Idleness.--The Third Move.--The Massacre at Fort
Mimms. . . . 54
The Soldier Life.
War with the Creeks.--Patriotism of Crockett.--Remonstrances of his
Wife.--Enlistment.--The Rendezvous.--Adventure of the
Scouts.--Friendly Indians,--A March through the Forest.--Picturesque
Scene.--The Midnight Alarm.--March by Moonlight.--Chagrin of
Crockett.--Advance into Alabama.--War's Desolations.--Indian
Stoicism.--Anecdotes of Andrew Jackson.--Battles, Carnage, and Woe.
. . . 93
The Army at Fort Strother.--Crockett's Regiment.--Crockett at
Home.--His Reenlistment.--Jackson Surprised.--Military Ability of
the Indians.--Humiliation of the Creeks.--March to Florida.--Affairs
at Pensacola.--Capture of the City.--Characteristics of
Crockett.--The Weary March,--Inglorious Expedition.--Murder of Two
Indians.--Adventures at the Island.--The Continued March.--Severe
Sufferings.--Charge upon the Uninhabited Village. . . . 124
The Camp and the Cabin.
Deplorable Condition of the Army.--Its wanderings.--Crockett's
Benevolence.--Cruel Treatment of the Indians.--A Gleam of Good
Luck.--The Joyful Feast.--Crockett's Trade with the Indian.--Visit
to the Old Battlefield.--Bold Adventure of Crockett.--His Arrival
Home.--Death of his Wife.--Second Marriage.--Restlessness.--
Exploring Tour.--Wild Adventures.--Dangerous Sickness.--Removal
to the West.--His New Home. . . . 155
The Justice of Peace and the Legislator.
Vagabondage.--Measures of Protection.--Measures of
Government.--Crockett's Confession.--A Candidate for Military
Honors.--Curious Display of Moral Courage.--The Squirrel Hunt.--A
Candidate for the Legislature.--Characteristic
Electioneering.--Specimens of his Eloquence.--Great Pecuniary
Calamity.--Expedition to the Far West.--Wild Adventures.--The
Midnight Carouse.--A Cabin Reared. . . . 183
Life on the Obion.
Hunting Adventures.--The Voyage up the River.--Scenes in the
Cabin.--Return Home.--Removal of the Family.--Crockett's Riches.--A
Perilous Enterprise.--Reasons for his Celebrity.--Crockett's
Narrative.--A Bear-Hunt.--Visit to Jackson.--Again a Candidate for
the Legislature.--Electioneering and Election. . . . 212
Adventures in the Forest, on the River, and in the City
The Bear Hunter's Story.--Service in the Legislature.--Candidate for
Congress.--Electioneering.--The New Speculation.--Disastrous
Voyage.--Narrow Escape.--New Electioneering Exploits.--Odd
Speeches.--The Visit to Crockett's Cabin.--His Political Views.--His
Honesty.--Opposition to Jackson.--Scene at Raleigh.--Dines with the
President.--Gross Caricature.--His Annoyance. . . . 240
Crockett's Tour to the North and the East.
His Reelection to Congress.--The Northern Tour.--First Sight of a
Railroad.--Reception in Philadelphia.--His First Speech.--Arrival in
New York.--The Ovation there.--Visit to Boston.--Cambridge and
Lowell.--Specimens of his Speeches.--Expansion of his Ideas.--Rapid
Improvement. . . . 267
The Disappointed Politician.--Off for Texas.
Triumphal Return.--Home Charms Vanish.--Loses His Election.--Bitter
Disappointment.--Crockett's Poetry.--Sets out for Texas.--Incidents
of the Journey.--Reception at Little Rock.--The Shooting
Match.--Meeting a Clergyman.--The Juggler.--Crockett a
Reformer.--The Bee Hunter.--The Rough Strangers.--Scene on the
Prairie. . . . 290
Adventures on the Prairie.
Disappearance of the Bee Hunter.--The Herd of Buffalo Crockett
lost.--The Fight with the Cougar.--Approach of Savages.--Their
Friendliness.--Picnic on the Prairie.--Picturesque Scene.--The Lost
Mustang recovered.--Unexpected Reunion.--Departure of the
Savages.--Skirmish with the Mexicans.--Arrival at the Alamo. . . .312
The Fortress of Alamo.--Colonel Bowie.--Bombardment of the
Fort.--Crockett's Journal.--Sharpshooting.--Fight outside of the
Fort.--Death of the Bee Hunter.--Kate of Nacogdoches.--Assault on
the Citadel.--Crockett a Prisoner.--His Death. . . . 340
Parentage and Childhood.
The Emigrant.--Crossing the Alleghanies.--The boundless
Wilderness.--The Hut on the Holston.--Life's Necessaries.--The
Massacre.--Birth of David Crockett.--Peril of the
Boys.--Anecdote.--Removal to Greenville; to Cove Creek.--Increased
Emigration.--Loss of the Mill.--The Tavern.--Engagement with the
Drover.--Adventures in the Wilderness.--Virtual Captivity.--The
Escape.--The Return.--The Runaway.--New Adventures.
A little more than a hundred years ago, a poor man, by the name of
Crockett, embarked on board an emigrant-ship, in Ireland, for the
New World. He was in the humblest station in life. But very little
is known respecting his uneventful career excepting its tragical
close. His family consisted of a wife and three or four children.
Just before he sailed, or on the Atlantic passage, a son was born,
to whom he gave the name of John. The family probably landed in
Philadelphia, and dwelt somewhere in Pennsylvania, for a year or
two, in one of those slab shanties, with which all are familiar as
the abodes of the poorest class of Irish emigrants.
After a year or two, Crockett, with his little family, crossed the
almost pathless Alleghanies. Father, mother, and children trudged
along through the rugged defiles and over the rocky cliffs, on foot.
Probably a single pack-horse conveyed their few household goods. The
hatchet and the rifle were the only means of obtaining food,
shelter, and even clothing. With the hatchet, in an hour or two, a
comfortable camp could be constructed, which would protect them from
wind and rain. The camp-fire, cheering the darkness of the night,
drying their often wet garments, and warming their chilled limbs
with its genial glow, enabled them to enjoy that almost greatest of
earthly luxuries, peaceful sleep.
The rifle supplied them with food. The fattest of turkeys and the
most tender steaks of venison, roasted upon forked sticks, which
they held in their hands over the coals, feasted their voracious
appetites. This, to them, was almost sumptuous food. The skin of the
deer, by a rapid and simple process of tanning, supplied them with
moccasons, and afforded material for the repair of their tattered
We can scarcely comprehend the motive which led this solitary family
to push on, league after league, farther and farther from
civilization, through the trackless forests. At length they reached
the Holston River. This stream takes its rise among the western
ravines of the Alleghanies, in Southwestern Virginia. Flowing
hundreds of miles through one of the most solitary and romantic
regions upon the globe, it finally unites with the Clinch River,
thus forming the majestic Tennessee.
One hundred years ago, this whole region, west of the Alleghanies,
was an unexplored and an unknown wilderness. Its silent rivers, its
forests, and its prairies were crowded with game. Countless Indian
tribes, whose names even had never been heard east of the
Alleghanies, ranged this vast expanse, pursuing, in the chase, wild
beasts scarcely more savage than themselves.
The origin of these Indian tribes and their past history are lost in
oblivion. Centuries have come and gone, during which joys and
griefs, of which we now can know nothing, visited their humble
lodges. Providence seems to have raised up a peculiar class of men,
among the descendants of the emigrants from the Old World, who,
weary of the restraints of civilization, were ever ready to plunge
into the wildest depths of the wilderness, and to rear their lonely
huts in the midst of all its perils, privations, and hardships.
This solitary family of the Crocketts followed down the northwestern
banks of the Hawkins River for many a weary mile, until they came to
a spot which struck their fancy as a suitable place to build their
Cabin. In subsequent years a small village called Rogersville was
gradually reared upon this spot, and the territory immediately
around was organized into what is now known as Hawkins County. But
then, for leagues in every direction, the solemn forest stood in all
its grandeur. Here Mr. Crockett, alone and unaided save by his wife
and children, constructed a little shanty, which could have been but
little more than a hunter's camp. He could not lift solid logs to
build a substantial house. The hard-trodden ground was the only
floor of the single room which he enclosed. It was roofed with bark
of trees piled heavily on, which afforded quite effectual protection
from the rain. A hole cut through the slender logs was the only
window. A fire was built in one corner, and the smoke eddied through
a hole left in the roof. The skins of bears, buffaloes, and wolves
provided couches, all sufficient for weary ones, who needed no
artificial opiate to promote sleep. Such, in general, were the
primitive homes of many of those bold emigrants who abandoned the
comforts of civilized life for the solitudes of the wilderness.
They did not want for most of what are called the necessaries of
life. The river and the forest furnished a great variety of fish and
game. Their hut, humble as it was, effectually protected them from
the deluging tempest and the inclement cold. The climate was genial
in a very high degree, and the soil, in its wonderful fertility,
abundantly supplied them with corn and other simple vegetables. But
the silence and solitude which reigned are represented, by those who
experienced them, as at times something dreadful.
One principal motive which led these people to cross the mountains,
was the prospect of an ultimate fortune in the rise of land. Every
man who built a cabin and raised a crop of grain, however small, was
entitled to four hundred acres of land, and a preemption right to
one thousand more adjoining, to be secured by a land-office warrant.
In this lonely home, Mr. Crockett, with his wife and children, dwelt
for some months, perhaps years--we know not how long. One night, the
awful yell of the savage was heard, and a band of human demons came
rushing upon the defenceless family. Imagination cannot paint the
tragedy which ensued. Though this lost world, ever since the fall of
Adam, has been filled to repletion with these scenes of woe, it
causes one's blood to curdle in his veins as he contemplates this
one deed of cruelty and blood.
The howling fiends were expeditious in their work. The father and
mother were pierced by arrows, mangled with the tomahawk, and
scalped. One son, severely wounded, escaped into the forest. Another
little boy, who was deaf and dumb, was taken captive and carried by
the Indians to their distant tribe, where he remained, adopted into
the tribe, for about eighteen years. He was then discovered by some
of his relatives, and was purchased back at a considerable ransom.
The torch was applied to the cabin, and the bodies of the dead were
consumed in the crackling flames.
What became of the remainder of the children, if there were any
others present in this midnight scene of conflagration and blood, we
know not. There was no reporter to give us the details. We simply
know that in some way John Crockett, who subsequently became the
father of that David whose history we now write, was not involved in
the general massacre. It is probable that he was not then with the
family, but that he was a hired boy of all work in some farmer's
family in Pennsylvania.
As a day-laborer he grew up to manhood, and married a woman in his
own sphere of life, by the name of Mary Hawkins. He enlisted as a
common soldier in the Revolutionary War, and took part in the battle
of King's Mountain. At the close of the war he reared a humble cabin
in the frontier wilds of North Carolina. There he lived for a few
years, at but one remove, in point of civilization, from the savages
around him. It is not probable that either he or his wife could read
or write. It is not probable that they had any religious thoughts;
that their minds ever wandered into the regions of that mysterious
immortality which reaches out beyond the grave. Theirs was
apparently purely an animal existence, like that of the Indian,
almost like that of the wild animals they pursued in the chase.
At length, John Crockett, with his wife and three or four children,
unintimidated by the awful fate of his father's family, wandered
from North Carolina, through the long and dreary defiles of the
mountains, to the sunny valleys and the transparent skies of East
Tennessee. It was about the year 1783. Here he came to a rivulet of
crystal water, winding through majestic forests and plains of
luxuriant verdure. Upon a green mound, with this stream flowing near
his door, John Crockett built his rude and floorless hut. Punching
holes in the soil with a stick, he dropped in kernels of corn, and
obtained a far richer harvest than it would be supposed such culture
could produce. As we have mentioned, the building of this hut and
the planting of this crop made poor John Crockett the proprietor of
four hundred acres of land of almost inexhaustible fertility.
In this lonely cabin, far away in the wilderness, David Crockett was
born, on the 17th of August, 1786. He had then four brothers.
Subsequently four other children were added to the family.
His childhood's home was more humble than the majority of the
readers of this volume can imagine. It was destitute of everything
which, in a higher state of civilization, is deemed essential to
comfort. The wigwam of the Indian afforded as much protection from
the weather, and was as well furnished, as the cabin of logs and
bark which sheltered his father's family. It would seem, from David
Crockett's autobiography, that in his childhood he went mainly
without any clothing, like the pappooses of an Indian squaw. These
facts of his early life must be known, that we may understand the
circumstances by which his peculiar character was formed.
He had no instruction whatever in religion, morals, manners, or
mental culture. It cannot be supposed that his illiterate parents
were very gentle in their domestic discipline, or that their example
could have been of any essential advantage in preparing him for the
arduous struggle of life. It would be difficult to find any human
being, in a civilized land, who can have enjoyed less opportunities
for moral culture than David Crockett enjoyed in his early years.
There was quite a fall on the Nolachucky River, a little below the
cabin of John Crockett. Here the water rushed foaming over the
rocks, with fury which would at once swamp any canoe. When David was
four or five years old, and several other emigrants had come and
reared their cabins in that vicinity, he was one morning out playing
with his brothers on the bank of the river. There was a canoe tied
to the shore. The boys got into it, and, to amuse themselves, pushed
out into the stream, leaving little David, greatly to his
indignation, on the shore.
But the boys did not know how to manage the canoe, and though they
plied the paddies with all vigor, they soon found themselves caught
in the current, and floating rapidly down toward the falls, where,
should they be swept over, the death of all was inevitable.
A man chanced to be working in a field not far distant. He heard the
cries of the boys and saw their danger. There was not a moment to be
lost. He started upon the full run, throwing off coat and waistcoat
and shoes, in his almost frantic speed, till he reached the water.
He then plunged in, and, by swimming and wading, seized the canoe
when it was within but about twenty feet of the roaring falls. With
almost superhuman exertions he succeeded in dragging it to the
This event David Crockett has mentioned as the first which left any
lasting imprint upon his memory. Not long after this, another
occurrence took place characteristic of frontier life. Joseph
Hawkins, a brother of David's mother, crossed the mountains and
joined the Crockett family in their forest home. One morning he went
out to shoot a deer, repairing to a portion of the forest much
frequented by this animal. As he passed a very dense thicket, he saw
the boughs swaying to and fro, where a deer was apparently browsing.
Very cautiously he crept within rifle-shot, occasionally catching a
glimpse, through the thick foliage, of the ear of the animal,--as he
Taking deliberate aim he fired, and immediately heard a loud outcry.
Rushing to the spot, he found that he had shot a neighbor, who was
there gathering grapes. The ball passed through his side, inflicting
a very serious though not a fatal wound, as it chanced not to strike
any vital part. The wounded man was carried home; and the rude
surgery which was practised upon him was to insert a silk
handkerchief with a ramrod in at the bullet-hole, and draw it
through his body. He recovered from the wound.
Such a man as John Crockett forms no local attachments, and never
remains long in one place. Probably some one came to his region and
offered him a few dollars for his improvements. He abandoned his
cabin, with its growing neighborhood, and packing his few household
goods upon one or two horses, pushed back fifty miles farther
southwest, into the trackless wilderness. Here he found, about ten
miles above the present site of Greenville, a fertile and beautiful
region. Upon the banks of a little brook, which furnished him with
an abundant supply of pure water, he reared another shanty, and took
possession of another four hundred acres of forest land. Some of his
boys were now old enough to furnish efficient help in the field and
in the chase.
How long John Crockett remained here we know not. Neither do we know
what induced him to make another move. But we soon find him pushing
still farther back into the wilderness, with his hapless family of
sons and daughters, dooming them, in all their ignorance, to the
society only of bears and wolves. He now established himself upon a
considerable stream, unknown to geography, called Cue Creek.
David Crockett was now about eight years old. During these years
emigration had been rapidly flowing from the Atlantic States into
this vast and beautiful valley south of the Ohio. With the
increasing emigration came an increasing demand for the comforts of
civilization. Framed houses began to rise here and there, and
lumber, in its various forms, was needed.
John Crockett, with another man by the name of Thomas Galbraith,
undertook to build a mill upon Cove Creek. They had nearly completed
it, having expended all their slender means in its construction,
when there came a terrible freshet, and all their works were swept
away. The flood even inundated Crockett's cabin, and the family was
compelled to fly to a neighboring eminence for safety.
Disheartened by this calamity, John Crockett made another move.
Knoxville, on the Holston River, had by this time become quite a
thriving little settlement of log huts. The main route of emigration
was across the mountains to Abingdon, in Southwestern Virginia, and
then by an extremely rough forest-road across the country to the
valley of the Holston, and down that valley to Knoxville. This route
was mainly traversed by pack-horses and emigrants on foot. But stout
wagons, with great labor, could be driven through.
John Crockett moved still westward to this Holston valley, where he
reared a pretty large log house on this forest road; and opened what
he called a tavern for the entertainment of teamsters and other
emigrants. It was indeed a rude resting-place. But in a fierce storm
the exhausted animals could find a partial shelter beneath a shed of
logs, with corn to eat; and the hardy pioneers could sleep on
bear-skins, with their feet perhaps soaked with rain, feeling the
warmth of the cabin fire. The rifle of John Crockett supplied his
guests with the choicest venison steaks, and his wife baked in the
ashes the "journey cake," since called johnny cake, made of meal
from corn pounded in a mortar or ground in a hand-mill. The
brilliant flame of the pitch-pine knot illumined the cabin; and
around the fire these hardy men often kept wakeful until midnight,
smoking their pipes, telling their stories, and singing their songs.
This house stood alone in the forest. Often the silence of the night
was disturbed by the cry of the grizzly bear and the howling of
wolves. Here David remained four years, aiding his father in all the
laborious work of clearing the land and tending the cattle. There
was of course no school here, and the boy grew up in entire
ignorance of all book learning. But in these early years he often
went into the woods with his gun in pursuit of game, and, young as
he was, acquired considerable reputation as a marksman.
One day, a Dutchman by the name of Jacob Siler came to the cabin,
driving a large herd of cattle. He had gathered them farther west,
from the luxuriant pastures in the vicinity of Knoxville, where
cattle multiplied with marvellous rapidity, and was taking them back
to market in Virginia. The drover found some difficulty in managing
so many half wild cattle, as he pressed them forward through the
wilderness, and he bargained with John Crockett to let his son
David, who, as we have said, was then twelve years of age, go with
him as his hired help. Whatever wages he gave was paid to the
The boy was to go on foot with this Dutchman four hundred miles,
driving the cattle. This transaction shows very clearly the hard and
unfeeling character of David's parents. When he reached the end of
his journey, so many weary leagues from home, the only way by which
he could return was to attach himself to some emigrant party or some
company of teamsters, and walk back, paying for such food as he
might consume, by the assistance he could render on the way. There
are few parents who could thus have treated a child of twelve years.
The little fellow, whose affections had never been more cultivated
than those of the whelp of the wolf or the cub of the bear, still
left home, as he tells us, with a heavy heart. The Dutchman was an
entire stranger to him, and he knew not what treatment he was to
expect at his hands. He had already experienced enough of forest
travel to know its hardships. A journey of four hundred miles seemed
to him like going to the uttermost parts of the earth. As the
pioneers had smoked their pipes at his father's cabin fire, he had
heard many appalling accounts of bloody conflicts with the Indians,
of massacres, scalpings, tortures, and captivity.
David's father had taught him, very sternly, one lesson, and that
was implicit and prompt obedience to his demands. The boy knew full
well that it would be of no avail for him to make any remonstrance.
Silently, and trying to conceal his tears, he set out on the
perilous enterprise. The cattle could be driven but about fifteen or
twenty miles a day. Between twenty and thirty days were occupied in
the toilsome and perilous journey. The route led them often through
marshy ground, where the mire was trampled knee-deep. All the
streams had to be forded. At times, swollen by the rains, they were
very deep. There were frequent days of storm, when, through the long
hours, the poor boy trudged onward, drenched with rain and shivering
with cold. Their fare was most meagre, consisting almost entirely of
such game as they chanced to shoot, which they roasted on forked
sticks before the fire.
When night came, often dark and stormy, the cattle were generally
too much fatigued by their long tramp to stray away. Some instinct
also induced them to cluster together. A rude shanty was thrown up.
Often everything was so soaked with rain that it was impossible to
build a fire. The poor boy, weary and supperless, spattered with mud
and drenched with rain, threw himself upon the wet ground for that
blessed sleep in which the weary forget their woes. Happy was he if
he could induce one of the shaggy dogs to lie down by his side, that
he might hug the faithful animal in his arms, and thus obtain a
Great was the luxury when, at the close of a toilsome day, a few
pieces of bark could be so piled as to protect from wind and rain,
and a roaring fire could blaze and crackle before the little camp.
Then the appetite which hunger gives would enable him to feast upon
the tender cuts of venison broiled upon the coals, with more
satisfaction than the gourmand takes in the choicest viands of the
restaurant. Having feasted to satiety, he would stretch himself upon
the ground, with his feet to the fire, and soon be lost to all
earth's cares, in sweet oblivion.
The journey was safely accomplished. The Dutchman had a
father-in-law, by the name of Hartley, who lived in Virginia, having
reared his cabin within about three miles of the Natural Bridge.
Here the boy's contract came to an end. It would seem that the
Dutchman was a good sort of man, as the world goes, and that he
treated the boy kindly. He was so well pleased with David's energy
and fidelity, that he was inclined to retain him in his service.
Seeing the boy's anxiety to return home, he was disposed to throw
around him invisible chains, and to hold him a captive. He thus
threw every possible hindrance in the way of his return, offered to
hire him as his boy of all work, and made him a present of five or
six dollars, which perhaps he considered payment in advance, which
bound the boy to remain with him until he had worked it out.
David soon perceived that his movements were watched, and that he
was not his own master to go or stay as he pleased. This increased
his restlessness. Four or five weeks thus passed away, when, one
morning, three wagons laden with merchandise came along, bound to
Knoxville. They were driven by an old man by the name of Dugan, and
his two stalwart sons. They had traversed the road before, and David
had seen the old man at his father's tavern. Secretly the shrewd boy
revealed to him his situation, and his desire to get back to his
home. The father and sons conferred together upon the subject. They
were moved with sympathy for the boy, and, after due deliberation,
told him that they should stop for the night about seven miles from
that place, and should set out again on their journey with the
earliest light of the morning; and that if he could get to them
before daylight, he might follow their wagons.
It was Sunday morning, and it so happened that the Dutchman and the
family had gone away on a visit. David collected his clothes and the
little money he had, and hid them in a bundle under his bed. A very
small bundle held them all. The family returned. and, suspecting
nothing, all retired to sleep.
David had naturally a very affectionate heart. He never had been
from home before. His lonely situation roused all the slumbering
emotions of his childhood. In describing this event, he writes:
"I went to bed early that night, but sleep seemed to be a stranger
to me. For though I was a wild boy, yet I dearly loved my father and
mother; and their images appeared to be so deeply fixed in my mind
that I could not sleep for thinking of them. And then the fear that
when I should attempt to go out I should be discovered and called to
a halt, filled me with anxiety."
A little after midnight, when the family were in profoundest sleep,
David cautiously rose, and taking his little bundle, crept out
doors. To his disappointment he found that it was snowing fast,
eight inches having already fallen; and the wintry gale moaned
dismally through the treetops. It was a dark, moonless night. The
cabin was in the fields, half a mile from the road along which the
wagons had passed. This boy of twelve years, alone in the darkness,
was to breast the gale and wade through the snow, amid forest
glooms, a distance of seven miles, before he could reach the
For a moment his heart sank within him. Then recovering his
resolution, he pushed out boldly into the storm. For three hours he
toiled along, the snow rapidly increasing in depth until it reached
up to his knees. Just before the dawn of the morning he reached the
wagons. The men were up, harnessing their teams. The Dunns were
astounded at the appearance of the little boy amid the darkness and
the tempest. They took him into the house, warmed him by the fire,
and gave him a good breakfast, speaking to him words of sympathy and
encouragement. The affectionate heart of David was deeply moved by
this tenderness, to which he was quite unaccustomed.
And then, though exhausted by the toil of a three hours' wading
through the drifts, he commenced, in the midst of a mountain storm,
a long day's journey upon foot. It was as much as the horses could
do to drag the heavily laden wagons over the encumbered road.
However weary, he could not ride. However exhausted, the wagons
could not wait for him; neither was there any place in the
smothering snow for rest.
Day after day they toiled along, in the endurance of hardships now
with difficulty comprehended. Sometimes they were gladdened with
sunny skies and smooth paths. Again the clouds would gather, and the
rain, the sleet, and the snow would envelop them in glooms truly
dismal. Under these circumstances the progress of the wagons was
very slow. David was impatient. As he watched the sluggish turns of
the wheels, he thought that he could travel very much faster if he
should push forward alone, leaving the wagons behind him.
At length he became so impatient, thoughts of home having obtained
entire possession of his mind, that he informed Mr. Dunn of his
intention to press forward as fast as he could. His elder companions
deemed it very imprudent for such a mere child. thus alone, to
attempt to traverse the wilderness, and they said all they could to
dissuade him, but in vain. He therefore, early the next morning,
bade them farewell, and with light footsteps and a light heart
tripped forward, leaving them behind, and accomplishing nearly as
much in one day as the wagons could in two. We are not furnished
with any of the details of this wonderful journey of a solitary
child through a wilderness of one or two hundred miles. We know not
how he slept at night, or how he obtained food by day. He informs us
that he was at length overtaken by a drover, who had been to
Virginia with a herd of cattle, and was returning to Knoxville
riding one horse and leading another.
The man was amazed in meeting a mere child in such lonely wilds, and
upon hearing his story, his kind heart was touched. David was a
frail little fellow, whose weight would be no burden for a horse,
and the good man directed him to mount the animal which he led. The
boy had begun to be very tired. He was just approaching a turbid
stream, whose icy waters, reaching almost to his neck, he would have
had to wade but for this Providential assistance.
Travellers in the wilderness seldom trot their horses. On such a
journey, an animal who naturally walks fast is of much more value
than one which has attained high speed upon the race-course. Thus
pleasantly mounted, David and his kind protector rode along together
until they came within about fifteen miles of John Crockett's
tavern, where their roads diverged. Here David dismounted, and
bidding adieu to his benefactor, almost ran the remaining distance,
reaching home that evening.
"The name of this kind gentleman," he writes, "I have forgotten; for
it deserves a high place in my little book. A remembrance of his
kindness to a little straggling boy has, however, a resting-place in
my heart, and there it will remain as long as I live."
It was the spring of the year when David reached his father's cabin.
He spent a part of the summer there. The picture which David gives
of his home is revolting in the extreme. John Crockett, the
tavern-keeper, had become intemperate, and he was profane and
brutal. But his son, never having seen any home much better, does
not seem to have been aware that there were any different abodes
upon earth. Of David's mother we know nothing. She was probably a
mere household drudge, crushed by an unfeeling husband, without
sufficient sensibilities to have been aware of her degraded
Several other cabins had risen in the vicinity of John Crockett's. A
man came along, by the name of Kitchen, who undertook to open a
school to teach the boys to read. David went to school four days,
but found it very difficult to master his letters. He was a wiry
little fellow, very athletic, and his nerves seemed made of steel.
When roused by anger, he was as fierce and reckless as a catamount.
A boy, much larger than himself, had offended him. David decided not
to attack him near the school-house, lest the master might separate
He therefore slipped out of school, just before it was dismissed,
and running along the road, hid in a thicket, near which his victim
would have to pass on his way home. As the boy came unsuspectingly
along, young Crockett, with the leap of a panther, sprang upon his
back. With tooth and nail he assailed him, biting, scratching,
pounding, until the boy cried for mercy.
The next morning, David was afraid to go to school, apprehending the
severe punishment he might get from the master. He therefore left
home as usual, but played truant, hiding himself in the woods all
day. He did the same the next morning, and so continued for several
days. At last the master sent word to John Crockett, inquiring why
his son David no longer came to school. The boy was called to an
account, and the whole affair came out.
John Crockett had been drinking. His eyes flashed fire. He cut a
stout hickory stick, and with oaths declared that he would give his
boy an "eternal sight" worse whipping than the master would give
him, unless he went directly back to school. As the drunken father
approached brandishing his stick, the boy ran, and in a direction
opposite from that of the school-house. The enraged father pursued,
and the unnatural race continued for nearly a mile. A slight turn in
the road concealed the boy for a moment from the view of his
pursuer, and he plunged into the forest and hid. The father, with
staggering gait, rushed along, but having lost sight of the boy,
soon gave up the chase, and returned home.
This revolting spectacle, of such a father and such a son, over
which one would think that angels might weep, only excited the
derision of this strange boy. It was what he had been accustomed to
all his life. He describes it in ludicrous terms, with the slang
phrases which were ever dropping from his lips. David knew that a
terrible whipping awaited him should he go back to the cabin.
He therefore pushed on several miles, to the hut of a settler whom
he knew. He was, by this time, too much accustomed to the rough and
tumble of life to feel any anxiety about the future. Arriving at the
cabin, it so chanced that he found a man, by the name of Jesse
Cheek, who was just starting with a drove of cattle for Virginia.
Very readily, David, who had experience in that business, engaged to
accompany him. An elder brother also, either weary of his wretched
home or anxious to see more of the world, entered into the same
The incidents of this journey were essentially the same with those
of the preceding one, though the route led two hundred miles farther
into the heart of Virginia. The road they took passed through
Abingdon, Witheville, Lynchburg, Charlottesville, Orange Court
House, to Front Royal in Warren County. Though these frontier
regions then, seventy-five years ago, were in a very primitive
condition, still young Crockett caught glimpses of a somewhat higher
civilization than he had ever encountered before in his almost
Here the drove was sold, and David found himself with a few dollars
in his pocket. His brother decided to look for work in that region.
David, then thirteen years of age, hoping tremblingly that time
enough had elapsed to save him from a whipping, turned his thoughts
homeward. A brother of the drover was about to return on horseback.
David decided to accompany him, thinking that the man would permit
him to ride a part of the way.
Much to his disgust, the man preferred to ride himself. The horse
was his own. David had no claim to it whatever. He was therefore
left to trudge along on foot. Thus he journeyed for three days. He
then made an excuse for stopping a little while, leaving his
companion to go on alone. He was very careful not again to overtake
him. The boy had then, with four dollars in his pocket, a foot
journey before him of between three and four hundred miles. And this
was to be taken through desolate regions of morass and forest,
where, not unfrequently, the lurking Indian had tomahawked, or gangs
of half-famished wolves had devoured the passing traveller. He was
also liable, at any time, to be caught by night and storm, without
As he was sauntering along slowly, that he might be sure and not
overtake his undesirable companion, he met a wagoner coming from
Greenville, in Tennessee, and bound for Gerardstown, Berkeley
County, in the extreme northerly part of Virginia. His route lay
directly over the road which David had traversed. The man's name was
Adam Myers. He was a jovial fellow, and at once won the heart of the
vagrant boy. David soon entered into a bargain with Myers, and
turned back with him. The state of mind in which the boy was may be
inferred from the following extract taken from his autobiography. I
omit the profanity, which was ever sprinkled through all his
"I often thought of home, and, indeed, wished bad enough to be
there. But when I thought of the school-house, and of Kitchen, my
master, and of the race with my father, and of the big hickory stick
he carried, and of the fierceness of the storm of wrath I had left
him in, I was afraid to venture back. I knew my father's nature so
well, that I was certain his anger would hang on to him like a
turtle does to a fisherman's toe. The promised whipping came slap
down upon every thought of home."
Travelling back with the wagon, after two days' journey, he met his
brother again, who had then decided to return himself to the
parental cabin in Tennessee. He pleaded hard with David to accompany
him reminding him of the love of his mother and his sisters. The
boy, though all unused to weeping, was moved to tears. But the
thought of the hickory stick, and of his father's brawny arm,
decided the question. With his friend Myers he pressed on, farther
and farther from home, to Gerardstown.
David at Gerardstown.--Trip to Baltimore.--Anecdotes.--He ships for
London.--Disappointment.--Defrauded of his Wages.--Escapes.--New
Adventures.--Crossing the River.--Returns Home.--His Reception.--A
Farm Laborer.--Generosity to his Father.--Love Adventure.--The Wreck
of his Hopes.--His School Education.--Second Love Adventure.--Bitter
Disappointment.--Life in the Backwoods.--Third Love Adventure.
The wagoner whom David had accompanied to Gerardstown was
disappointed in his endeavors to find a load to take back to
Tennessee. He therefore took a load to Alexandria, on the Potomac.
David decided to remain at Gerardstown until Myers should return. He
therefore engaged to work for a man by the name of John Gray, for
twenty-five cents a day. It was light farm-work in which he was
employed, and he was so faithful in the performance of his duties
that he pleased the farmer, who was an old man, very much.
Myers continued for the winter in teaming backward and forward
between Gerardstown and Baltimore, while David found a comfortable
home of easy industry with the farmer. He was very careful in the
expenditure of his money, and in the spring found that he had saved
enough from his small wages to purchase him a suit of coarse but
substantial clothes. He then, wishing to see a little more of the
world, decided to make a trip with the wagoner to Baltimore.
David had then seven dollars in his pocket, the careful savings of
the labors of half a year. He deposited the treasure with the
wagoner for safe keeping. They started on their journey, with a
wagon heavily laden with barrels of flour. As they were approaching
a small settlement called Ellicott's Mills, David, a little ashamed
to approach the houses in the ragged and mud-bespattered clothes
which he wore on the way, crept into the wagon to put on his better
While there in the midst of the flour barrels piled up all around
him, the horses took fright at some strange sight which they
encountered, and in a terrible scare rushed down a steep hill,
turned a sharp corner, broke the tongue of the wagon and both of the
axle-trees, and whirled the heavy barrels about in every direction.
The escape of David from very serious injuries seemed almost
miraculous. But our little barbarian leaped from the ruins
unscathed. It does not appear that he had ever cherished any
conception whatever of an overruling Providence. Probably, a
religious thought had never entered his mind. A colt running by the
side of the horses could not have been more insensible to every idea
of death, and responsibility at God's bar, than was David Crockett.
And he can be hardly blamed for this. The savages had some idea of
the Great Spirit and of a future world. David was as uninstructed in
those thoughts as are the wolves and the bears. Many years
afterward, in writing of this occurrence, he says, with
characteristic flippancy, interlarded with coarse phrases:
"This proved to me, if a fellow is born to be hung he will never be
drowned; and further, that if he is born for a seat in Congress,
even flour barrels can't make a mash of him. I didn't know how soon
I should be knocked into a cocked hat, and get my walking-papers for
The wagon was quite demolished by the disaster. Another was
obtained, the flour reloaded, and they proceeded to Baltimore,
dragging the wreck behind them, to be repaired there. Here young
Crockett was amazed at the aspect of civilization which was opened
before him. He wandered along the wharves gazing bewildered upon the
majestic ships, with their towering masts, cordage, and sails, which
he saw floating there He had never conceived of such fabrics before.
The mansions, the churches, the long lines of brick stores excited
his amazement. It seemed to him that he had been suddenly introduced
into a sort of fairy-land. All thoughts of home now vanished from
his mind. The great world was expanding before him, and the
curiosity of his intensely active mind was roused to explore more of
One morning he ventured on board one of the ships at a wharf, and
was curiously and cautiously peering about, when the captain caught
sight of him. It so happened that he was in need of a sailor-boy,
and being pleased with the appearance of the lad, asked David if he
would not like to enter into his service to take a voyage to London.
The boy had no more idea of where London was, or what it was, than
of a place in the moon. But eagerly he responded, "Yes," for he
cared little where he went or what became of him, he was so glad of
an opportunity to see more of the wonders of this unknown world.
The captain made a few inquiries respecting his friends, his home,
and his past modes of life, and then engaged him for the cruise.
David, in a state of high, joyous excitement, hurried back to the
wagoner, to get his seven dollars of money and some clothes he had
left with him. But Myers put a very prompt veto upon the lad's
procedure, assuming that he was the boy's master, he declared that
he should not go to sea. He refused to let him have either his
clothes or his money, asserting that it was his duty to take him
back to his parents in Tennessee. David would gladly have fled from
him, and embarked without money and without clothes; but the wagoner
watched him so closely that escape was impossible.
David was greatly down-hearted at this disappointment, and watched
eagerly for an opportunity to obtain deliverance from his bondage.
But Myers was a burly teamster who swung a very heavy wagon-whip,
threatening the boy with a heavy punishment if he should make any
attempt to run away.
After a few days, Myers loaded his team for Tennessee, and with his
reluctant boy set out on his long journey. David was exceedingly
restless. He now hated the man who was so tyranically domineering
over him. He had no desire to return to his home, and he dreaded the
hickory stick with which he feared his brutal father would assail
him. One dark night, an hour or two before the morning, David
carefully took his little bundle of clothes, and creeping
noiselessly from the cabin, rushed forward as rapidly as his nimble
feet could carry him. He soon felt quite easy in reference to his
escape. He knew that the wagoner slept soundly, and that two hours
at least must elapse before he would open his eyes. He then would
not know with certainty in what direction the boy had fled. He could
not safely leave his horses and wagon alone in the wilderness, to
pursue him; and even should he unharness one of the horses and
gallop forward in search of the fugitive, David, by keeping a
vigilant watch, would see him in the distance and could easily
plunge into the thickets of the forest, and thus elude pursuit.
He had run along five or six miles, when just as the sun was rising
he overtook another wagon. He had already begun to feel very lonely
and disconsolate. He had naturally an affectionate heart and a
strong mind; traits of character which gleamed through all the dark
clouds that obscured his life. He was alone in the wilderness,
without a penny; and he knew not what to do, or which way to turn.
The moment he caught sight of the teamster his heart yearned for
sympathy. Tears moistened his eyes, and hastening to the stranger,
the friendless boy of but thirteen years frankly told his whole
story. The wagoner was a rough, profane, burly man, of generous
feelings. There was an air of sincerity in the boy, which convinced
him of the entire truth of his statements. His indignation was
aroused, and he gave expression to that indignation in unmeasured
terms. Cracking his whip in his anger, he declared that Myers was a
scoundrel, thus to rob a friendless boy, and that he would lash the
money out of him.
This man, whose name also chanced to be Myers, was of the tiger
breed, fearing nothing, ever ready for a fight, and almost
invariably coming off conqueror. In his generous rage he halted his
team, grasped his wagon-whip, and, accompanied by the trembling boy,
turned back, breathing vengeance. David was much alarmed, and told
his protector that he was afraid to meet the wagoner, who had so
often threatened him with his whip. But his new friend said," Have
no fear. The man shall give you back your money, or I will thrash it
out of him."
They had proceeded but about two miles when they met the approaching
team of Adam Myers. Henry Myers, David's new friend, leading him by
the hand, advanced menacingly upon the other teamster, and greeted
him with the words:
"You accursed scoundrel, what do you mean by robbing this friendless
boy of his money?" Adam Myers confessed that he had received seven
dollars of the boy's money. He said, however, that he had no money
with him; that he had invested all he had in articles in his wagon,
and that he intended to repay the boy as soon as they got back to
Tennessee. This settled the question, and David returned with Henry
Myers to his wagon, and accompanied him for several days on his slow
and toilsome journey westward.
The impatient boy, as once before, soon got weary of the loitering
pace of the heavily laden team, and concluded to leave his friend
and press forward more rapidly alone. It chanced, one evening, that
several wagons met, and the teamsters encamped for the night
together. Henry Myers told them the story of the friendless boy, and
that he was now about to set out alone for the long journey, most of
it through an entire wilderness, and through a land of strangers
wherever there might chance to be a few scattered cabins. They took
up a collection for David, and presented him with three dollars.
The little fellow pressed along, about one hundred and twenty-five
miles, down the valley between the Alleghany and the Blue ridges,
until he reached Montgomery Court House. The region then, nearly
three quarters of a century ago, presented only here and there a
spot where the light of civilization had entered. Occasionally the
log cabin of some poor emigrant was found in the vast expanse.
David, too proud to beg, when he had any money with which to pay,
found his purse empty when he had accomplished this small portion of
In this emergence, he hired out to work for a man a month for five
dollars, which was at the rate of about one shilling a day.
Faithfully he fulfilled his contract, and then, rather dreading to
return home, entered into an engagement with a hatter, Elijah
Griffith, to work in his shop for four years. Here he worked
diligently eighteen months without receiving any pay. His employer
then failed, broke up, and left the country. Again this poor boy,
thus the sport of fortune, found himself without a penny, with but
few clothes, and those much worn.
But it was not his nature to lay anything very deeply to heart. He
laughed at misfortune, and pressed on singing and whistling through
all storms. He had a stout pair of hands, good nature, and
adaptation to any kind of work. There was no danger of his starving;
and exposures, which many would deem hardships, were no hardships
for him. Undismayed he ran here and there, catching at such
employment as he could find, until he had supplied himself with some
comfortable clothing, and had a few dollars of ready money in his
purse. Again he set out alone and on foot for his far-distant home.
He had been absent over two years, and was new fifteen years of age.
He trudged along, day after day, through rain and sunshine, until he
reached a broad stream called New River. It was wintry weather. The
stream was swollen by recent rains, and a gale then blowing was
ploughing the surface into angry waves. Teams forded the stream many
miles above. There was a log hut here, and the owner had a frail
canoe in which he could paddle an occasional traveller across the
river. But nothing would induce him to risk his life in an attempt
to cross in such a storm.
The impetuous boy, in his ignorance of the effect of wind upon
waves, resolved to attempt to cross, at every hazard, and
notwithstanding all remonstrances. He obtained a leaky canoe, which
was half stranded upon the shore, and pushed out on his perilous
voyage. He tied his little bundle of clothes to the bows of the
boat, that they might not be washed or blown away, and soon found
himself exposed to the full force of the wind, and tossed by billows
such as he had never dreamed of before. He was greatly frightened,
and would have given all he had in the world, to have been safely
back again upon the shore. But he was sure to be swamped if he
should attempt to turn the boat broadside to the waves in such a
gale. The only possible salvation for him was to cut the approaching
billows with the bows of the boat. Thus he might possibly ride over
them, though at the imminent peril, every moment, of shipping a sea
which would engulf him and his frail boat in a watery grave.
In this way he reached the shore, two miles above the proper
landing-place. The canoe was then half full of water. He was
drenched with spray, which was frozen into almost a coat of mail
upon his garments. Shivering with cold, he had to walk three miles
through the forest before he found a cabin at whose fire he could
warm and dry himself. Without any unnecessary delay he pushed on
until he crossed the extreme western frontier line of Virginia, and
entered Sullivan County, Tennessee.
An able-bodied young man like David Crockett, strong, athletic,
willing to work, and knowing how to turn his hand to anything,
could, in the humblest cabin, find employment which would provide
him with board and lodging. He was in no danger of starving. There
was, at that time, but one main path of travel from the East into
the regions of the boundless West.
As David was pressing along this path he came to a little hamlet of
log huts, where he found the brother whom he had left when he
started from home eighteen months before with the drove of cattle.
He remained with him for two or three weeks, probably paying his
expenses by farm labor and hunting. Again he set out for home. The
evening twilight was darkening into night when he caught sight of
his father's humble cabin. Several wagons were standing around,
showing that there must be considerable company in the house.
With not a little embarrassment, he ventured in. It was rather dark.
His mother and sisters were preparing supper at the immense
fireside. Quite a group of teamsters were scattered around the room,
smoking their pipes, and telling their marvellous stories. David,
during his absence of two years, had grown, and changed considerably
in personal appearance. None of the family recognized him. They
generally supposed, as he had been absent so long, that he was dead.
David inquired if he could remain all night. Being answered in the
affirmative, he took a seat in a corner and remained perfectly
silent, gazing upon the familiar scene, and watching the movements
of his father, mother, and sisters. At length supper was ready, and
all took seats at the table. As David came more into the light, one
of his sisters, observing him, was struck with his resemblance to
her lost brother. Fixing her eyes upon him, she, in a moment, rushed
forward and threw her arms around his neck, exclaiming, "Here is my
Quite a scene ensued. The returning prodigal was received with as
much affection as could be expected in a family with such
uncultivated hearts and such unrefined habits as were found in the
cabin of John Crockett. Even the stern old man forgot his hickory
switch, and David, much to his relief, found that he should escape
the long-dreaded whipping. Many years after this, when David
Crockett, to his own surprise, and that of the whole nation, found
himself elevated to the position of one of our national legislators,
"But it will be a source of astonishment to many, who reflect that I
am now a member of the American Congress, the most enlightened body
of men in the world, that, at so advanced an age, the age of
fifteen, I did not know the first letter in the book."
By the laws and customs of our land, David was bound to obey his
father and work for him until he was twenty-one years of age. Until
that time, whatever wages he might earn belonged to his father. It
is often an act of great generosity for a hard-working farmer to
release a stout lad of eighteen or nineteen from this obligation,
and "to give him," as it is phrased, "his time."
John Crockett owed a neighbor, Abraham Wilson, thirty-six dollars.
He told David that if he would work for Mr. Wilson until his wages
paid that sum, he would then release him from all his obligations to
his father, and his son might go free. It was a shrewd bargain for
the old man, for he had already learned that David was abundantly
capable of taking care of himself, and that he would come and go
when and where he pleased.
The boy, weary of his wanderings, consented to the arrangement, and
engaged to work for Mr. Wilson for six months, in payment for which,
the note was to be delivered up to his father. It was characteristic
of David that whatever he undertook he engaged in with all his
might. He was a rude, coarse boy. It was scarcely possible, with his
past training, that he should be otherwise. But he was very faithful
in fulfilling his obligations. Though his sense of right and wrong
was very obtuse, he was still disposed to do the right so far as his
uncultivated conscience revealed it to him.
For six months, David worked for Mr. Wilson with the utmost fidelity
and zeal. He then received the note, presented it to his father,
and, before he was sixteen years of age, stood up proudly his own
man. His father had no longer the right to whip him. His father had
no longer the right to call upon him for any service without paying
him for it. And on the other hand, he could no longer look to his
father for food or clothing. This thought gave him no trouble. He
had already taken care of himself for two years, and he felt no more
solicitude in regard to the future than did the buffalo's calf or
the wolf's whelp.
Wilson was a bad man, dissipated and unprincipled. But he had found
David to be so valuable a laborer that he offered him high wages if
he would remain and work for him. It shows a latent, underlying
principle of goodness in David, that he should have refused the
offer. He writes:
"The reason was, it was a place where a heap of bad company met to
drink and gamble; and I wanted to get away from them, for I know'd
very well, if I staid there, I should get a bad name, as nobody
could be respectable that would live there."
About this time a Quaker, somewhat advanced in years, a good, honest
man, by the name of John Kennedy, emigrated from North Carolina, and
selecting his four hundred acres of land about fifteen miles from
John Crockett's, reared a log hut and commenced a clearing. In some
transaction with Crockett he took his neighbor's note for forty
dollars. He chanced to see David, a stout lad of prepossessing
appearance, and proposed that he should work for him for two
shillings a day taking him one week upon trial. At the close of the
week the Quaker expressed himself as highly satisfied with his work,
and offered to pay him with his father's note of forty dollars for
six months' labor on his farm.
David knew full well how ready his father was to give his note, and
how slow he was to pay it. He was fully aware that the note was not
worth, to him, the paper upon which it was written. But he reflected
that the note was an obligation upon his father, that he was very
poor, and his lot in life was hard. It certainly indicated much
innate nobility of nature that this boy, under these circumstances,
should have accepted the offer of the Quaker. But David did this.
For six months he labored assiduously, without the slightest hope of
reward, excepting that he would thus relieve his father, whom he had
no great cause either to respect or love, from the embarrassment of
For a whole half-year David toiled upon the farm of the Quaker,
never once during that time visiting his home. At the end of the
term he received his pay for those long months of labor, in a little
piece of rumpled paper, upon which his father had probably made his
mark. It was Saturday evening. The next morning he borrowed a horse
of his employer and set out for a visit home. He was kindly
welcomed. His father knew nothing of the agreement which his son had
made with Mr. Kennedy. As the family were talking together around
the cabin fire, David drew the note from his pocket and presented it
to his father. The old man seemed much troubled. He supposed Mr.
Kennedy had sent it for collection. As usual, he began to make
excuses. He said that he was very sorry that he could not pay it,
that he had met with many misfortunes, that he had no money, and
that he did not know what to do.
David then told his father that he did not hand him the bill for
collection, but that it was a present from him--that he had paid it
in full. It is easy for old and broken-down men to weep. John
Crockett seemed much affected by this generosity of his son, and
David says "he shed a heap of tears." He, however, avowed his
inability to pay anything whatever, upon the note.
David had now worked a year without getting any money for himself.
His clothes were worn out, and altogether he was in a very
dilapidated condition. He went back to the Quaker's, and again
engaged in his service, desiring to earn some money to purchase
clothes. Two months thus passed away. Every ardent, impetuous boy
must have a love adventure. David had his. A very pretty young
Quakeress, of about David's age, came from North Carolina to visit
Mr. Kennedy, who was her uncle. David fell desperately in love with
her. We cannot better describe this adventure than in the unpolished
diction of this illiterate boy. If one would understand this
extraordinary character, it is necessary thus to catch such glimpses
as we can of his inner life. Let this necessity atone for the
unpleasant rudeness of speech. Be it remembered that this
reminiscence was written after David Crockett was a member of
"I soon found myself head over heels in love with this girl. I
thought that if all the hills about there were pure chink, and all
belonged to me, I would give them if I could just talk to her as I
wanted to. But I was afraid to begin; for when I would think of
saying anything to her, my heart would begin to flutter like a duck
in a puddle. And if I tried to outdo it and speak, it would get
right smack up in my throat, and choke me like a cold potato. It
bore on my mind in this way, till at last I concluded I must die if
I didn't broach the subject. So I determined to begin and hang on
a-trying to speak, till my heart would get out of my throat one way
"And so one day at it I went, and after several trials I could say a
little. I told her how I loved her; that she was the darling object
of my soul and body, and I must have her, or else I should pine down
to nothing, and just die away with consumption.
"I found my talk was not disagreeable to her. But she was an honest
girl, and didn't want to deceive nobody. She told me she was engaged
to her cousin, a son of the old Quaker. This news was worse to me
than war, pestilence, or famine. But still I know'd I could not help
myself. I saw quick enough my cake was dough; and I tried to cool
off as fast as possible. But I had hardly safety pipes enough, as my
love was so hot as mighty nigh to burst my boilers. But I didn't
press my claims any more, seeing there was no chance to do
David's grief was very sincere, and continued as long as is usually
the case with disappointed lovers.
David soon began to cherish some slight idea of the deficiency in
his education. He had never been to school but four days; and in
that time he had learned absolutely nothing. A young man, a Quaker,
had opened a school about a mile and a half from Mr. Kennedy's.
David made an arrangement with his employer by which he was to go to
school four days in the week, and work the other two days for his
board. He continued in this way for six months. But it was very
evident that David was not born for a scholar. At the end of that
time he could read a little in the first primer. With difficulty he
could make certain hieroglyphics which looked like his name. He
could also perform simple sums in addition, subtraction, and
multiplication. The mysteries of division he never surmounted.
This was the extent of his education. He left school, and in the
laborious life upon which he entered, never after improved any
opportunity for mental culture. The disappointment which David had
encountered in his love affair, only made him more eager to seek a
new object upon which he might fix his affections. Not far from Mr.
Kennedy's there was the cabin of a settler, where there were two or
three girls. David had occasionally met them. Boy as he was, for he
was not yet eighteen, he suddenly and impetuously set out to see if
he could not pick, from them, one for a wife.
Without delay he made his choice, and made his offer, and was as
promptly accepted as a lover. Though they were both very young, and
neither of them had a dollar, still as those considerations would
not have influenced David in the slightest degree, we know not why
they where not immediately married. Several months of very desperate
and satisfactory courtship passed away, when the time came for the
nuptials of the little Quaker girl, which ceremony was to take place
at the cabin of her uncle David and his "girl" were invited to the
wedding. The scene only inflamed the desires of David to hasten his
marriage-day. He was very importunate in pressing his claims. She
seemed quite reluctant to fix the day, but at last consented; and
says David, "I thought if that day come, I should be the happiest
man in the created world, or in the moon, or anywhere else."
In the mean time David had become very fond of his rifle, and had
raised enough money to buy him one. He was still living with the
Quaker. Game was abundant, and the young hunter often brought in
valuable supplies of animal food. There were frequent
shooting-matches in that region. David, proud of his skill, was fond
of attending them. But his Quaker employer considered them a species
of gambling, which drew together all the idlers and vagrants of the
region, and he could not approve of them.
There was another boy living at that time with the Quaker. They
practised all sorts of deceptions to steal away to the
shooting-matches under pretence that they were engaged in other
things. This boy was quite in love with a sister of David's intended
wife. The staid member of the Society of Friends did not approve of
the rude courting frolics of those times, which frequently occupied
nearly the whole night.
The two boys slept in a garret, in what was called the gable end of
the house. There was a small window in their rough apartment. One
Sunday, when the Quaker and his wife were absent attending a
meeting, the boys cut a long pole, and leaned it up against the side
of the house, as high as the window, but so that it would not
attract any attention. They were as nimble as catamounts, and could
run up and down the pole without the slightest difficulty. They
would go to bed at the usual early hour. As soon as all were quiet,
they would creep from the house, dressed in their best apparel, and
taking the two farm-horses, would mount their backs and ride, as
fast as possible, ten miles through the forest road to where the
girls lived. They were generally expected. After spending all the
hours of the middle of the night in the varied frolics of country
courtship, they would again mount their horses and gallop home,
being especially careful to creep in at their window before the dawn
of day The course of true love seemed for once to be running
smoothly. Saturday came, and the next week, on Thursday, David was
to be married.
It so happened that there was to be a shooting match on Saturday, at
one of the cabins not far from the home of his intended bride. David
made some excuse as to the necessity of going home to prepare for
his wedding, and in the morning set out early, and directed his
steps straight to the shooting-match. Here he was very successful in
his shots, and won about five dollars. In great elation of spirits,
and fully convinced that he was one of the greatest and happiest men
in the world, he pressed on toward the home of his intended bride.
He had walked but a couple of miles, when he reached the cabin of
the girl's uncle. Considering the members of the family already as
his relatives, he stepped in, very patronizingly, to greet them. He
doubted not that they were very proud of the approaching alliance of
their niece with so distinguished a man as himself--a man who had
actually five dollars, in silver, in his pocket. Entering the cabin,
he found a sister of his betrothed there. Instead of greeting him
with the cordiality he expected, she seemed greatly embarrassed.
David had penetration enough to see that something was wrong. The
reception she gave him was not such as he thought a brother-in-law
ought to receive. He made more particular inquiries. The result we
will give in David's language.
"She then burst into tears, and told me that her sister was going to
deceive me; and that she was to be married to another man the next
day. This was as sudden to me as a clap of thunder of a bright
sunshiny day. It was the capstone of all the afflictions I had ever
met with; and it seemed to me that it was more than any human
creature could endure. It struck me perfectly speechless for some
time, and made me feel so weak that I thought I should sink down. I
however recovered from the shock after a little, and rose and
started without any ceremony, or even bidding anybody good-bye. The
young woman followed me out to the gate, and entreated me to go on
to her father's, and said she would go with me.
"She said the young man who was going to marry her sister had got
his license and asked for her. But she assured me that her father
and mother both preferred me to him; and that she had no doubt that
if I would go on I could break off the match. But I found that I
could go no farther. My heart was bruised, and my spirits were
broken down. So I bid her farewell, and turned my lonesome and
miserable steps back again homeward, concluding that I was only born
for hardship, misery, and disappointment. I now began to think that
in making me it was entirely forgotten to make my mate; that I was
born odd, and should always remain so, and that nobody would have
"But all these reflections did not satisfy my mind, for I had no
peace, day nor night, for several weeks. My appetite failed me, and
I grew daily worse and worse. They all thought I was sick; and so I
was. And it was the worst kind of sickness, a sickness of the heart,
and all the tender parts, produced by disappointed love."
For some time David continued in a state of great dejection, a
lovelorn swain of seventeen years. Thus disconsolate, he loved to
roam the forest alone, with his rifle as his only companion,
brooding over his sorrows. The gloom of the forest was congenial to
him, and the excitement of pursuing the game afforded some slight
relief to his agitated spirit. One day, when he had wandered far
from home, he came upon the cabin of a Dutchman with whom he had
formed some previous acquaintance. He had a daughter, who was
exceedingly plain in her personal appearance, but who had a very
active mind, and was a bright, talkative girl.
She had heard of David's misadventure, and rather unfeelingly
rallied him upon his loss. She however endeavored to comfort him by
the assurance that there were as good fish in the sea as had ever
been caught out of it. David did not believe in this doctrine at
all, as applied to his own case, He thought his loss utterly
irretrievable. And in his still high appreciation of himself,
notwithstanding his deep mortification, he thought that the lively
Dutch girl was endeavoring to catch him for her lover. In this,
however, he soon found himself mistaken.
She told him that there was to be a reaping frolic in their
neighborhood in a few days, and that if he would attend it, she
would show him one of the prettiest girls upon whom he ever fixed
his eyes. Difficult as he found it to shut out from his mind his
lost love, upon whom his thoughts were dwelling by day and by night,
he very wisely decided that his best remedy would be found in what
Dr. Chalmers calls "the expulsive power of a new affection;" that
is, that he would try and fall in love with some other girl as soon
as possible. His own language, in describing his feelings at that
time, is certainly very different from that which the philosopher or
the modern novelist would have used, but it is quite characteristic
of the man. The Dutch maiden assured him that the girl who had
deceived him was not to be compared in beauty with the one she would
show to him. He writes:
"I didn't believe a word of all this, for I had thought that such a
piece of flesh and blood as she had never been manufactured, and
never would again. I agreed with her that the little varmint had
treated me so bad that I ought to forget her, and yet I couldn't do
it. I concluded that the best way to accomplish it was to cut out
again, and see if I could find any other that would answer me; and
so I told the Dutch girl that I would be at the reaping, and would
bring as many as I could with me."
David seems at this time to have abandoned all constant industry,
and to be loafing about with his rifle, thus supporting himself with
the game he took. He traversed the still but slightly broken forest
in all directions, carrying to many scattered farm-houses
intelligence of the approaching reaping frolic. He informed the good
Quaker with whom he had worked of his intention to be there. Mr.
Kennedy endeavored to dissuade him. He said that there would be much
bad company there; that there would be drinking and carousing, and
that David had been so good a boy that he should be very sorry to
have him get a bad name.
The curiosity of the impetuous young man was, however, by this time,
too much aroused for any persuasions to hold him back. Shouldering
his rifle, he hastened to the reaping at the appointed day. Upon his
arrival at the place he found a large company already assembled. He
looked around for the pretty girl, but she was nowhere to be seen.
She chanced to be in a shed frolicking with some others of the young
But as David, with his rifle on his shoulder, sauntered around, an
aged Irish woman, full of nerve and volubility, caught sight of him.
She was the mother of the girl, and had been told of the object of
David's visit. He must have appeared very boyish, for he had not yet
entered his eighteenth year, and though very wiry and athletic, he
was of slender frame, and rather small in stature.
The Irish woman hastened to David; lavished upon him compliments
respecting his rosy cheeks, and assured him that she had exactly
such a sweet heart for him as he needed. She did not allow, David to
have any doubt that she would gladly welcome him as the husband of
Pretty soon the young, fresh, blooming, mirthful girl came along;
and David fell in love with her at first sight. Not much formality
of introduction was necessary: each was looking for the other. Both
of the previous loves of the young man were forgotten in an instant.
He devoted himself with the utmost assiduity, to the little Irish
girl. He was soon dancing with her. After a very vigorous "double
shuffle," as they were seated side by side on a bench intensely
talking, for David Crockett was never at a loss for words, the
mother came up, and, in her wonderfully frank mode of match-making,
jocosely addressed him as her son-in-law.
Even David's imperturbable self-possession was disturbed by this
assailment. Still he was much pleased to find both mother and
daughter so favorably disposed toward him. The rustic frolicking
continued nearly all night. In the morning, David, in a very happy
frame of mind, returned to the Quaker's, and in anticipation of soon
setting up farming for himself, engaged to work for him for six
months for a low-priced horse.
Marriage and Settlement.
Rustic Courtship.--The Rival Lover.--Romantic Incident.--The
Purchase of a Horse.--The Wedding.--Singular Ceremonies.--The
Termagant.--Bridal Days.--They commence Housekeeping.--The Bridal
Mansion and Outfit.--Family Possessions.--The Removal to Central
Tennessee.--Mode of Transportation.--The New Home and its
Surroundings.--Busy Idleness.--The Third Move.--The Massacre at Fort
David took possession of his horse, and began to work very
diligently to pay for it. He felt that now he was a man of property.
After the lapse of a few weeks he mounted his horse and rode over to
the Irishman's cabin to see his girl, and to find out how she lived,
and what sort of people composed the family. Arriving at the log
hut, he found the father to be a silent, staid old man, and the
mother as voluble and nervous a little woman as ever lived. Much to
his disappointment, the girl was away. After an hour or two she
returned, having been absent at some meeting or merry-making, and,
much to his chagrin, she brought back with her a stout young fellow
who was evidently her lover.
The new-comer was not at all disposed to relinquish his claims in
favor of David Crockett. He stuck close to the maiden, and kept up
such an incessant chatter that David could scarcely edge in a word.
In characteristic figure of speech he says, "I began to think I was
barking up the wrong tree again. But I determined to stand up to my
rack, fodder or no fodder." He thought he was sure of the favor of
her parents, and he was not certain that the girl herself had not
given him sundry glances indicative of her preference. Dark night
was now coming on, and David had a rough road of fifteen miles to
traverse through the forest before he could reach home. He thought
that if the Irishman's daughter cherished any tender feelings toward
him, she would be reluctant to have him set out at that late hour on
such a journey. He therefore rose to take leave.
His stratagem proved successful. The girl immediately came, leaving
her other companion, and in earnest tones entreated him not to go
that evening. The lover was easily persuaded. His heart grew lighter
and his spirit bolder. She soon made it so manifest in what
direction her choice lay, that David was left entire master of the
field. His discomfited rival soon took his hat and withdrew, David
thus was freed from all his embarrassments.
It was Saturday night. He remained at the cabin until Monday
morning, making very diligent improvement of his time in the
practice of all those arts of rural courtship which instinct
teaches. He then returned home, not absolutely engaged, but with
very sanguine hopes.
At that time, in that region, wolves were abundant and very
destructive. The neighbors, for quite a distance, combined for a
great wolf-hunt, which should explore the forest for many miles. By
the hunters thus scattering on the same day, the wolves would have
no place of retreat. If they fled before one hunter they would
encounter another. Young Crockett, naturally confident, plunged
recklessly into the forest, and wandered to and fro until, to his
alarm, he found himself bewildered and utterly lost. There were no
signs of human habitations near, and night was fast darkening around
Just as he was beginning to feel that he must look out for a night's
encampment, he saw in the distance, through the gigantic trees, a
young girl running at her utmost speed, or, as he expressed it in
the Crockett vernacular, "streaking it along through the woods like
all wrath." David gave chase, and soon overtook the terrified girl,
whom he found, to his surprise and delight, to be his own
sweetheart, who had also by some strange accident got lost.
Here was indeed a romantic and somewhat an embarrassing adventure.
The situation was, however, by no means so embarrassing as it would
have been to persons in a higher state of civilization. The cabin of
the emigrant often consisted of but one room, where parents and
children and the chance guest passed the night together. They could
easily throw up a camp. David with his gun could kindle a fire and
get some game. The girl could cook it. All their physical wants
would thus be supplied. They had no material inconveniences to dread
in camping out for a night. The delicacy of the situation would not
be very keenly felt by persons who were at but one remove above the
The girl had gone out in the morning into the woods, to hunt up one
of her father's horses. She missed her way, became lost, and had
been wandering all day long farther and farther from home. Soon
after the two met they came across a path which they knew must lead
to some house. Following this, just after dark they came within
sight of the dim light of a cabin fire. They were kindly received by
the inmates, and, tired as they were, they both sat up all night.
Upon inquiry they found that David had wandered ten miles from his
home, and the young girl seven from hers. Their paths lay in
different directions, but the road was plain, and in the morning
they separated, and without difficulty reached their destination.
David was now anxious to get married immediately. It will be
remembered that he had bought a horse; but he had not paid for it.
The only property he had, except the coarse clothes upon his back,
was a rifle. All the land in that neighborhood was taken up. He did
not even own an axe with which to build him a log cabin. It would be
necessary for him to hire some deserted shanty, and borrow such
articles as were indispensable. Nothing could be done to any
advantage without a horse. To diminish the months which he had
promised to work in payment for the animal, he threw in his rifle.
After a few weeks of toil the horse was his. He mounted his steed,
deeming himself one of the richest men in the far West, and rode to
see his girl and fix upon his wedding-day. He confesses that as he
rode along, considering that he had been twice disappointed, he
experienced no inconsiderable trepidation as to the result of this
third matrimonial enterprise. He reached the cabin, and his worst
fears were realized.
The nervous, voluble, irritable little woman, who with all of a
termagant's energy governed both husband and family, had either
become dissatisfied with young Crockett's poverty, or had formed the
plan of some other more ambitious alliance for her daughter. She
fell upon David in a perfect tornado of vituperation, and ordered
him out of the house. She was "mighty wrathy," writes David, "and
looked at me as savage as a meat-axe."
David was naturally amiable, and in the depressing circumstances had
no heart to return railing for railing. He meekly reminded the
infuriate woman that she had called him "son-in-law" before he had
attempted to call her "mother-in-law," and that he certainly had
been guilty of no conduct which should expose him to such treatment.
He soon saw, to his great satisfaction, that the daughter remained
faithful to him, and that the meek father was as decidedly on his
side as his timid nature would permit him to be. Though David felt
much insulted, he restrained his temper, and, turning from the angry
mother, told her daughter that he would come the next Thursday on
horseback, leading another horse for her; and that then he would
take her to a justice of the peace who lived at the distance of but
a few miles from them, where they would be married. David writes of
"Her Irish was too high to do anything with her; so I quit trying.
All I cared for was to have her daughter on my side, which I know'd
was the case then. But how soon some other fellow might knock my
nose out of joint again, I couldn't tell. Her mother declared I
shouldn't have her. But I knowed I should, if somebody else didn't
get her before Thursday."
The all-important wedding-day soon came David was resolved to crush
out all opposition and consummate the momentous affair with very
considerable splendor. He therefore rode to the cabin with a very
imposing retinue. Mounted proudly upon his own horse, and leading a
borrowed steed, with a blanket saddle, for his bride, and
accompanied by his elder brother and wife and a younger brother and
sister, each on horseback, he "cut out to her father's house to get
When this cavalcade of six horses had arrived within about two miles
of the Irishman's cabin, quite a large party was found assembled
from the log huts scattered several miles around. David,
kind-hearted, generous, obliging, was very popular with his
neighbors. They had heard of the approaching nuptials of the brave
boy of but eighteen years, and of the wrath of the brawling,
ill-tempered mother. They anticipated a scene, and wished to render
David the support of their presence and sympathy. This large party,
some on foot and some on horseback, proceeded together to the
Irishman's cabin. The old man met them with smiles, whiskey bottle
in hand, ready to offer them all a drink. The wife, however, was
obdurate as ever. She stood at the cabin door, her eyes flashing
fire, and quite bewildered to decide in what way to attempt to repel
and drive off her foe.
She expected that the boy would come alone, and that, with her
all-potent tongue, she would so fiercely assail him and so frighten
her young girl as still to prevent the marriage. But here was quite
an army of the neighbors, from miles around, assembled. They were
all evidently the friends of David. Every eye was fixed upon her.
Every ear was listening to hear what she would say. Every tongue was
itching to cry out shame to her opposition, and to overwhelm her
with reproaches. For once the termagant found herself baffled, and
at her wits' end.
The etiquette of courts and cabins are quite different. David paid
no attention to the mother, but riding up to the door of the log
house, leading the horse for his bride, he shouted to her to come
out. The girl had enjoyed no opportunity to pay any attention to her
bridal trousseau. But undoubtedly she had contrived to put on her
best attire. We do not know her age, but she was ever spoken of as a
remarkably pretty little girl, and was probably about seventeen
David did not deem it necessary to dismount, but called upon his
"girl" to jump upon the horse he was leading. She did so. The mother
was powerless. It was a waterloo defeat. In another moment they
would disappear, riding away along the road, which wound through the
gigantic trees of the forest. In another hour they would be married.
And then they would forever be beyond the reach of the clamor of her
voluble tongue. She began to relent. The old man, accustomed to her
wayward humors, instinctively perceived it. Stepping up to David,
and placing his hand upon the neck of his horse, he said:
"I wish you would stay and be married here. My woman has too much
tongue. You oughtn't mind her."
Having thus, for a moment, arrested their departure, he stepped back
to the door, where his discomfited wife stood, and entreated her to
consent to their being married there. After much persuasion, common
sense triumphed over uncommon stubbornness. She consented. David and
his expectant bride were both on horseback, all ready to go. The
woman rather sullenly came forward and said:
"I am sorry for the words I have spoken. This girl is the only child
I have ever had to marry. I cannot bear to see her go off in this
way. If you'll come into the house and be married here, I will do
the best I can for you."
The good-natured David consented. They alighted from their horses,
and the bridal party entered the log hut. The room was not large,
and the uninvited guests thronged it and crowded around the door.
The justice of peace was sent for, and the nuptial knot was tied.
The wedding ceremonies on such occasions were sufficiently curious
to be worthy of record. They certainly were in very wide contrast
with the pomp and splendor of nuptials in the palatial mansions of
the present day. A large party usually met at some appointed place,
some mounted and others on foot, to escort the bridegroom to the
house of the bride. The horses were decorated with all sorts of
caparisons, with ropes for bridles, with blankets or furs for
saddles. The men were dressed in deerskin moccasins, leather
breeches, leggins, coarse hunting-shirts of all conceivable styles
of material, and all homemade.
The women wore gowns of very coarse homespun and home-woven cloth,
composed of linen and wool, and called linsey-woolsey, very coarse
shoes, and sometimes with buckskin gloves of their own manufacture.
If any one chanced to have a ring or pretty buckle, it was a relic
of former times.
There were no carriages, for there were no roads. The narrow trail
they traversed in single file was generally a mere horse-path, often
so contracted in width that two horses could not pass along abreast.
As they marched along in straggling line, with shouts and jokes, and
with the interchange of many gallant acts of rustic love-making
between the coquettish maidens and the awkward swains, they
encountered frequent obstacles on the way. It was a part of the
frolic for the young men to throw obstructions in their path, and
thus to create surprises. There were brooks to be forded. Sometimes
large trees were mischievously felled across the trail. Grape-vines
were tied across from tree to tree, to trip up the passers-by or to
sweep off their caps. It was a great joke for half a dozen young men
to play Indian. They would lie in ambuscade, and suddenly, as the
procession was passing, would raise the war-whoop, discharge their
guns, and raise shouts of laughter in view of the real or feigned
consternation thus excited.
The maidens would of course shriek. The frightened horses would
spring aside. The swains would gallantly rush to the rescue of their
sweethearts. When the party had arrived within about a mile of the
house where the marriage ceremony was to take place, two of the most
daring riders among the young men who had been previously selected
for the purpose, set out on horseback on a race for "the bottle."
The master of the house was expected to be standing at his door,
with a jug of whiskey in his hand. This was the prize which the
victor in the race was to seize and take back in triumph to his
The start was announced by a general Indian yell. The more rough the
road--the more full of logs, stumps, rocks, precipitous hills, and
steep glens, the better. This afforded a better opportunity for the
display of intrepidity and horsemanship. It was a veritable
steeple-chase. The victor announced his success by one of those
shrill, savage yells, which would almost split the ears of the
listener. Grasping the bottle, he returned in triumph. On
approaching the party, he again gave forth the Indian war-whoop.
The bottle or jug was first presented to the bridegroom. He applied
the mouth of the bottle to his lips, and took a dram of raw whiskey.
He then handed it to his next of kin, and so the bottle passed
through the whole company. It is to be supposed that the young women
did not burn their throats with very copious drafts of the poisonous
When they arrived at the house, the brief ceremony of marriage
immediately took place, and then came the marriage feast. It was a
very substantial repast of pork, poultry, wild turkeys, venison, and
bear's meat. There was usually the accompaniment of corn-bread,
potatoes, and other vegetables. Great hilarity prevailed on these
occasions, with wonderful freedom of manners, coarse jokes, and
shouts of laughter.
The table was often a large slab of timber, hewn out with a
broad-axe, and supported by four stakes driven into auger-holes. The
table furniture consisted of a few pewter dishes, with wooden plates
and bowls. There were generally a few pewter spoons, much battered
about the edges, but most of the spoons were of horn, homemade.
Crockery, so easily broken, was almost unknown. Table knives were
seldom seen. The deficiency was made up by the hunting-knives which
all the men carried in sheaths attached to their hunting-shirts.
After dinner the dancing began. There was invariably some musical
genius present who could play the fiddle. The dances were what were
called three or four handed reels, or square sets and jigs. With all
sorts of grotesque attitudes, pantomime and athletic displays, the
revelry continued until late into the night, and often until the
dawn of the morning. As there could be no sleeping accommodations
for so large a company in the cabin of but one room, the guests made
up for sleep in merriment.
The bridal party stole away in the midst of the uproar, one after
another, up a ladder into the loft or garret above, which was
floored with loose boards made often of split timber. This furnished
a very rude sleeping apartment. As the revelry below continued,
seats being scarce, every young man offered his lap as a seat for
the girls; and the offer was always promptly accepted; Always,
toward morning, some one was sent up into the loft with a bottle of
whiskey, to offer the bridegroom and his bride a drink. The familiar
name of the bottle was "Black Betty." One of the witticisms ever
prominent on the occasion was, "Where is Black Betty? I want to kiss
her sweet lips." At some splendid weddings, where the larder was
abundantly stored with game, this feasting and dancing was continued
for several days.
Such, in the main, was the wedding of David Crockett with the
Irishman's daughter. In the morning the company dispersed. David
also and his young bride left, during the day, for his father's
cabin. As the families of the nuptial party both belonged to the
aristocracy of the region, quite a splendid marriage reception was
held at John Crockett's. There were feasting and dancing; and "Black
Betty received many a cordial kiss. The bridegroom's heart was full
of exultant joy. David writes:
"Having gotten my wife, I thought I was completely made up, and
needed nothing more in the whole world."
He soon found his mistake, and awoke to the consciousness that he
needed everything, and had nothing. He had no furniture, no cabin,
no land, no money. And he had a wife to support. His only property
consisted of a cheap horse. He did not even own a rifle, an article
at that time so indispensable to the backwoodsman.
After spending a few days at David's father's, the bridegroom and
bride returned to the cabin of her father, the Irishman. Here they
found that a wonderful change had taken place in the mother's
feelings and conduct. She had concluded to submit good-naturedly to
the inevitable. Her "conversational powers" were wonderful. With the
most marvellous volubility of honeyed words she greeted them. She
even consented to have two cows given them, each with a calf. This
was the dowry of the bride--her only dowry. David, who had not
expected anything, felt exceedingly rich with this herd.
Near by there was a vacated log cabin with a few acres of land
attached to it. Our boy bridegroom and bride hired the cabin at a
very small rent. But then they had nothing whatever to put into it.
They had not a bed, or a table or a chair; no cooking utensils; not
even a knife or a fork. He had no farming tools; not a spade or a
hoe. The whole capital with which they commenced life consisted of
the clothes they had on, a farm-horse, two cows, and two calves.
In this emergence the good old Quaker, for whom David had worked,
came forward, and loaned him fifteen dollars. In that wilderness,
food, that is game and corn, was cheap. But as nearly everything
else had to be brought from beyond the mountains, all tools and
furniture commanded high prices. With the fifteen dollars, David and
his little wife repaired to a country store a few miles distant, to
furnish their house and farm. Under these circumstances, the
china-closet of the bride must have been a curiosity. David says,
"With this fifteen dollars we fixed up pretty grand, as we thought."
After a while, in some unexplained way, they succeeded in getting a
spinning-wheel. The little wife, says David, "knowed exactly how to
use it. She was also a good weaver. Being very industrious, she had,
in little or no time, a fine web of cloth ready to make up. She was
good at that too, and at almost anything else a woman could do."
Here this humble family remained for two years. They were both as
contented with their lot as other people are. They were about as
well off as most of their neighbors. Neither of them ever cherished
a doubt that they belonged to the aristocracy of the region. They
did not want for food or clothing, or shelter, or a warm fireside.
They had their merry-makings, their dances, and their shooting-matches.
Let it be remembered that this was three quarters of a century
ago, far away in the wilds of an almost untamed wilderness.
Two children were born in this log cabin. David began to feel the
responsibilities of a father who had children to provide for. Both
of the children were sons. Though David's family was increasing,
there was scarcely any increase of his fortune. He therefore decided
that the interests of his little household demanded that he should
move still farther back into the almost pathless wilderness, where
the land was not yet taken up, and where he could get a settler's
title to four hundred acres, simply by rearing a cabin and planting
He had one old horse, and a couple of colts, each two years old. The
colts were broken, as it was called, to the halter; that is, they
could be led, with light burdens upon their backs, but could not be
ridden. Mrs. Crockett mounted the old horse, with her babe in her
arms, and the little boy, two years old, sitting in front of her,
astride the horse's neck, and occasionally carried on his father's
shoulders. Their few articles of household goods were fastened upon
the backs of the two colts. David led one, and his kind-hearted
father-in-law, who had very generously offered to help him move, led
the other. Thus this party set out for a journey of two hundred and
fifty miles, over unbridged rivers, across rugged mountains, and
through dense forests, whose Indian trails had seldom if ever been
trodden by the feet of white men.
This was about the year 1806. The whole population of the State then
amounted to but about one hundred thousand. They were generally
widely dispersed through the extensive regions of East Tennessee.
But very few emigrants had ventured across the broad and rugged
cliffs of the Cumberland Mountains into the rich and sunny plains of
Western Tennessee. But a few years before, terrible Indian wars
desolated the State. The powerful tribes of the Creeks and Cherokees
had combined all their energies for the utter extermination of the
white men, seeking to destroy all their hamlets and scattered
At a slow foot-pace the pioneers followed down the wild valley of
the Holston River, often with towering mountains rising upon each
side of them. If they chanced, at nightfall, to approach the lonely
hut of a settler, it was especial good fortune, as they thus found
shelter provided, and a fire built, and hospitable entertainment
ready for them. If, however, they were overtaken in the wilderness
by darkness, and even a menacing storm, it was a matter of but
little moment, and caused no anxiety. A shelter, of logs and bark,
was soon thrown up, with a crackling fire, illuminating the
wilderness, blazing before it. A couch, as soft as they had ever
been accustomed to, could speedily be spread from the pliant boughs
of trees. Upon the pack-colts there were warm blankets. And during
the journey of the day they had enjoyed ample opportunity to take
such game as they might need for their supper and their morning
At length they reached the majestic flood of the Tennessee River,
and crossed it, we know not how. Then, directing their steps toward
the setting sun. they pressed on, league after league, and day after
day, in toilsome journey, over prairies and through forests and
across mountain-ridges, for a distance of nearly four hundred miles
from their starting-place, until they reached a small stream, called
Mulberry Creek which flows into the Elk River, in what is now
At the mouth of Mulberry Creek the adventurous emigrant found his
promised land. It was indeed a beautiful region. The sun shines upon
none more so. The scenery, which, however, probably had but few
attractions for David Crockett's uncultivated eye, was charming. The
soil was fertile. The streams abounded with fish and waterfowl; and
prairie and forest were stocked with game. No family need suffer
from hunger here, if the husband had a rifle and knew how to use it.
A few hours' labor would rear a cabin which would shut out wind and
rain as effectually as the gorgeous walls of Windsor or Versailles.
No jets of gas or gleam of wax candles ever illumined an apartment
more brilliantly than the flashing blaze of the wood fire. And
though the refectories of the Palais Royal may furnish more
scientific cookery than the emigrant's hut, they cannot furnish
fatter turkeys, or more tender venison, or more delicious cuts from
the buffalo and the bear than are often found browning before the
coals of the log cabin. And when we take into consideration the
voracious appetites engendered in those wilds, we shall see that the
emigrant needed not to look with envy upon the luxuriantly spread
tables of Paris or New York.
Upon the crystal banks of the Mulberry River, David, aided by his
father-in-law, reared his log cabin. It is a remote and uncultivated
region even now. Then it was an almost unbroken wilderness, the axe
of the settler having rarely disturbed its solitude.
A suitable spot for the cabin was selected, and a space of about
fifteen feet by twenty feet was marked out and smoothed down for the
floor. There was no cellar. Trees near by, of straight trunks, were
felled and trimmed, and cut into logs of suitable length. These were
piled one above another, in such a way as to enclose the space, and
were held in their place by being notched at the corners. Rough
boards were made for the roof by splitting straight-grained logs
about four feet long.
The door was made by cutting or sawing the logs on one side of the
hut, about three feet in width. This opening was secured by upright
pieces of timber pinned to the end of the logs. A similar opening
was left in the end for the chimney, which was built of logs outside
of the hut. The back and jambs of the fireplace was of stone. A hole
about two feet square constituted the window. Frequently the floor
was the smooth, solid earth. A split slab supported by sticks driven
into auger-holes, formed a table. A few three-legged stools supplied
the place of chairs. Some wooden pins, driven into holes bored in
the logs, supported shelves. A bedstead was framed by a network of
poles in one corner.
Such was the home which David and his kind father reared in a few
days. It will be perceived that it was but little in advance of the
wigwam of the Indian. Still it afforded a comfortable shelter for
men, women, and children who had no aspirations above a mere animal
life; who thought only of warmth, food, and clothing; who had no
conception of intellectual, moral, or religious cravings.
The kind-hearted father-in-law, who had accompanied his children on
foot upon this long journey, that he might see them settled in their
own home, now bade them adieu, and retraced the forest trails back
to his own far-distant cabin. A man who could develop,
unostentatiously, such generosity and such self-sacrifice, must have
possessed some rare virtues. We regret our inability to record the
name of one who thus commands our esteem and affection.
In this humble home, David Crockett and his family resided two
years. He appears to have taken very little interest in the
improvement of his homestead. It must be admitted that Crockett