David Crockett - The Justice of Peace and the Legislator
The wealthy and the prosperous are not disposed to leave the comforts
of a high civilization for the hardships of the wilderness. Most of the
pioneers who crowded to the New Purchase were either energetic young men
who had their fortunes to make, or families who by misfortune had
encountered impoverishment. But there was still another class. There were
the vile, the unprincipled, the desperate; vagabonds seeking whom they
might devour; criminals escaping the penalty of the laws which they had
These were the men who shot down an Indian at sight, as they would shoot a
wolf; merely for the fun of it; who robbed the Indian of his gun and game,
burned his wigwam, and atrociously insulted his wife and daughters. These
were the men whom no law could restrain; who brought disgrace upon the
name of a white man, and who often provoked the ignorant savage to the
most dreadful and indiscriminate retaliation.
So many of these infamous men flocked to this New Purchase that life there
became quite undesirable. There were no legally appointed officers of
justice, no organized laws. Every man did what was pleasing in his own
sight. There was no collecting of debts, no redress for violence, no
punishment for cheating or theft.
Under these circumstances, there was a general gathering of the
well-disposed inhabitants of the cabins scattered around, to adopt some
measures for their mutual protection. Several men were appointed justices
of peace, with a set of resolute young men, as constables, to execute
their commissions. These justices were invested with almost dictatorial
power. They did not pretend to know anything about written law or common
law. They were merely men of good sound sense, who could judge as to what
was right in all ordinary intercourse between man and man.
A complaint would be entered to Crockett that one man owed another money
and refused to pay him. Crockett would send his constables to arrest the
man, and bring him to his cabin. After hearing both parties, if Crockett
judged the debt to be justly due, and that it could be paid, he would
order the man's horse, cow, rifle, or any other property he owned, to be
seized and sold, and the debt to be paid. If the man made any resistance
he would be very sure to have his cabin burned down over his head; and he
would be very lucky if he escaped a bullet through his own body.
One of the most common and annoying crimes committed by these desperadoes
was shooting an emigrant's swine. These animals, regarded as so invaluable
in a new country, each had its owner's mark, and ranged the woods,
fattening upon acorns and other nuts. Nothing was easier than for a lazy
man to wander into the woods, shoot one of these animals, take it to his
cabin, devour it there, and obliterate all possible traces of the deed.
Thus a large and valuable herd would gradually disappear. This crime was
consequently deemed to merit the most severe punishment. It was regarded
as so disgraceful that no respectable man was liable to suspicion.
The punishment for the crime was very severe, and very summary. If one of
these swine-thieves was brought before Justice Crockett, and in his
judgment the charge was proved against him, the sentence was--
"Take the thief, strip off his shirt, tie him to a tree, and give him a
severe flogging. Then burn down his cabin, and drive him out of the
There was no appeal from this verdict, and no evading its execution. Such
was the justice which prevailed, in this remote region, until the
Legislature of Alabama annexed the territory to Giles County, and brought
the region under the dominion of organized law. Crockett, who had
performed his functions to the entire satisfaction of the community, then
was legally appointed a justice of peace, and became fully entitled to the
appellation of esquire. He certainly could not then pretend to any
profound legal erudition, for at this time he could neither read nor
Esquire Crockett, commenting upon this transaction, says, "I was made a
Squire, according to law; though now the honor rested more heavily upon me
than before. For, at first, whenever I told my constable, says I, 'Catch
that fellow, and bring him up for trial,' away he went, and the fellow
must come, dead or alive. For we considered this a good warrant, though it
was only in verbal writing.
"But after I was appointed by the Assembly, they told me that my warrants
must be in real writing and signed; and that I must keep a book and write
my proceedings in it. This was a hard business on me, for I could just
barely write my own name. But to do this, and write the warrants too, was
at least a huckleberry over my persimmon. I had a pretty well informed
constable, however, and he aided me very much in this business. Indeed, I
told him, when he should happen to be out anywhere, and see that a warrant
was necessary, and would have a good effect, he needn't take the trouble
to come all the way to me to get one, but he could just fill out one; and
then, on the trial, I could correct the whole business if he had committed
"In this way I got on pretty well, till, by care and attention, I improved
my handwriting in such a manner as to be able to prepare my warrants and
keep my record-books without much difficulty. My judgments were never
appealed from; and if they had been, they would have stuck like wax, as I
gave my decisions on the principles of common justice and honesty between
man and man, and relied on natural-born sense, and not on law-learning, to
guide me; for I had never read a page in a law-book in all my life."
Esquire Crockett was now a rising man. He was by no means diffident. With
strong native sense, imperturbable self-confidence, a memory almost
miraculously stored with rude anecdotes, and an astonishing command of
colloquial and slang language, he was never embarrassed, and never at a
loss as to what to say or to do.
They were about getting up a new regiment of militia there, and a Captain
Mathews, an ambitious, well-to-do settler, with cribs full of corn, was a
candidate for the colonelship. He came to Crockett to insure his support,
and endeavored to animate him to more cordial cooperation by promising to
do what he could to have him elected major of the regiment. Esquire
Crockett at first declined, saying that he was thoroughly disgusted with
all military operations, and that he had no desire for any such honors.
But as Captain Mathews urged the question, and Crockett reflected that the
office would give him some additional respect and influence with his
neighbors, and that Major Crockett was a very pleasantly sounding title,
he finally consented, and, of course, very soon became deeply interested
in the enterprise.
Captain Mathews, as an electioneering measure, invited all his neighbors,
far and near, to a very magnificent corn-husking frolic. There was to be a
great treat on the occasion, and "all the world," as the French say, were
eager to be there. Crockett and his family were of course among the
invited guests. When Crockett got there he found an immense gathering, all
in high glee, and was informed, much to his surprise and chagrin, that
Captain Mathews's son had offered himself for the office of major, in
opposition to Crockett.
The once had, in reality, but few charms for Crockett, and he did not care
much for it. But this unworthy treatment roused his indignation. He was by
nature one of the most frank and open-hearted of men, and never attempted
to do anything by guile. Immediately he called Captain Mathews aside, and
inquired what this all meant. The Captain was much embarrassed, and made
many lame excuses, saying that he would rather his son would run against
any man in the county than against Squire Crockett.
"You need give yourself no uneasiness about that," Crockett replied. "I
care nothing for the office of major; I shall not allow my name to be used
against your son for that office. But I shall do everything in my power to
prevent his father from being colonel."
In accordance with the custom of the region and the times, after the
feasting and the frolicking, Captain Mathews mounted a stump, and
addressed the assembly in what was appropriately called a stump speech,
advocating his election.
The moment he closed, Squire Crockett mounted the stump, and on the
Captain's own grounds, addressing the Captain's guests, and himself one of
those guests, totally unabashed, made his first stump speech. He was at no
loss for words or ideas. He was full to the brim of fun. He could, without
any effort, keep the whole assembly in roars of laughter. And there, in
the presence of Captain Mathews and his family, he argued his total
unfitness to be the commander of a regiment.
It is to be regretted that there was no reporter present to transmit to us
that speech. It must have been a peculiar performance. It certainly added
much to Crockett's reputation as an able man and an orator. When the
election came, both father and son were badly beaten. Soon after, a
committee waited upon Crockett, soliciting him to stand as candidate for
the State Legislature, to represent the two counties of Lawrence and
Crockett was beginning to be ambitious. He consented. But he had already
engaged to take a drove of horses from Central Tennessee to the lower part
of North Carolina. This was a long journey, and going and coming would
take three months. He set out early in March, 1821. Upon his return in
June, he commenced with all zeal his electioneering campaign.
Characteristically he says:
"It was a bran-fire new business to me. It now became necessary that I
should tell the people something about the Government, and an eternal
sight of other things that I know'd nothing more about than I did about
Latin, and law, and such things as that. I have said before, that in those
days none of us called General Jackson the Government. But I know'd so
little about it that if any one had told me that he was the Government, I
should have believed it; for I had never read even a newspaper in my life,
or anything else on the subject."
Lawrence County bounded Giles County on the west. Just north of Lawrence
came Hickman County. Crockett first directed his steps to Hickman County,
to engage in his "bran-fire" new work of electioneering for himself as a
candidate for the Legislature. What ensued cannot be more graphically told
than in Crockett's own language:
"Here they told me that they wanted to move their town nearer to the
centre of the county, and I must come out in favor of it. There's no devil
if I know'd what this meant, or how the town was to be moved. And so I
kept dark, going on the identical same plan that I now find is called
"About this time there was a great squirrel-hunt, on Duck River, which was
among my people. They were to hunt two days; then to meet and count the
scalps, and have a big barbecue, and what might be called a tip-top
country frolic. The dinners and a general treat was all to be paid for by
the party having taken the fewest scalps. I joined one side, and got a gun
ready for the hunt. I killed a great many squirrels, and when we counted
scalps my party was victorious.
"The company had everything to eat and drink that could be furnished in a
new country; and much fun and good humor prevailed. But before the regular
frolic commenced, I was called on to make a speech as a candidate, which
was a business I was as ignorant of as an outlandish negro.
"A public document I had never seen. How to begin I couldn't tell. I made
many apologies, and tried to get off, for I know'd I had a man to run
against who could speak prime. And I know'd, too that I wasn't able to cut
and thrust with him. He was there, and knowing my ignorance as well as I
did myself, he urged me to make a speech. The truth is, he thought my
being a candidate was a mere matter of sport, and didn't think for a
moment that he was in any danger from an ignorant back woods bear-hunter.
"But I found I couldn't get off. So I determined to go ahead, and leave it
to chance what I should say. I got up and told the people I reckoned they
know'd what I had come for; but if not, I could tell them. I had come for
their votes, and if they didn't watch mighty close I'd get them too. But
the worst of all was, that I could not tell them anything about
Government. I tried to speak about something, and I cared very little
what, until I choked up as bad as if my mouth had been jamm'd and cramm'd
chock-full of dry mush. There the people stood, listening all the while,
with their eyes, mouths, and ears all open to catch every word I could
||"At last I told them I was like a
fellow I had heard of not long before. He was beating on the head of
an empty barrel on the roadside, when a traveller, who was passing
along, asked him what he was doing that for? The fellow replied that
there was some cider in that barrel a few days before, and he was
trying to see if there was any then; but if there was, he couldn't
get at it. I told them that there had been a little bit of a speech
in me a while ago, but I believed I couldn't get it out.
"They all roared out in a mighty laugh, and I told some other
anecdotes, equally amusing to them, and believing I had them in a
first-rate way, I quit and got down, thanking the people for their
attention. But I took care to remark that I was as dry as a
powder-horn, and that I thought that it was time for us all to wet
our whistles a little. And so I put off to a liquor-stand, and was
followed by the greater part of the crowd.
"I felt certain this was necessary, for I know'd my competitor could
talk Government matters to them as easy as he pleased. He had, however,
mighty few left to hear him, as I continued with the crowd, now and then
taking a horn, and telling good-humored stories till he was done speaking.
I found I was good for the votes at the hunt; and when we broke up I went
on to the town of Vernon, which was the same they wanted me to move. Here
they pressed me again on the subject. I found I could get either party by
agreeing with them. But I told them I didn't know whether it would be
right or not, and so couldn't promise either way."
This famous barbecue was on Saturday. The next Monday the county court
held its session at Vernon. There was a great gathering of the pioneers
from all parts of the county. The candidates for the Governor of the
State, for a representative in Congress, and for the State Legislature,
were all present. Some of these men were of considerable ability, and
certainly of very fluent speech. The backwoodsmen, from their huts, where
there were no books, no newspapers, no intelligent companionship, found
this a rich intellectual treat. Their minds were greatly excited as they
listened to the impassioned and glowing utterances of speaker after
speaker; for many of these stump orators had command of a rude but very
Crockett listened also, with increasing anxiety. He knew that his turn was
to come; that he must mount the stump and address the listening throng. He
perceived that he could not speak as these men were speaking; and perhaps
for the first time in his life began to experience some sense of
inferiority. He writes:
"The thought of having to make a speech made my knees feel mighty weak,
and set my heart to fluttering almost as bad as my first love-scrape with
the Quaker's niece. But as good luck would have it, these big candidates
spoke nearly all day, and when they quit the people were worn out with
fatigue, which afforded me a good apology for not discussing the
Government. But I listened mighty close to them, and was learning pretty
fast about political matters. When they were all done, I got up and told
some laughable story, and quit. I found I was safe in those parts; and so
I went home, and did not go back again till after the election was over.
But to cut this matter short, I was elected, doubling my competitor, and
nine votes over.
"A short time after this, I was at Pulaski, where I met with Colonel Polk,
now a member of Congress from Tennessee. He was at that time a member
elected to the Legislature, as well as myself. In a large company he said
to me, 'Well, Colonel, I suppose we shall have a radical change of the
judiciary at the next session of the Legislature.' 'Very likely, sir,'
says I. And I put out quicker, for I was afraid some one would ask me what
the judiciary was; and if I know'd I wish I may be shot. I don't indeed
believe I had ever before heard that there was any such thing in all
nature. But still I was not willing that the people there should know how
ignorant I was about it."
At length the day arrived for the meeting of the Legislature. Crockett
repaired to the seat of government. With all his self-complacency he began
to appreciate that he had much to learn. The two first items of
intelligence which he deemed it important that he, as a member of the
Legislature, should acquire, were the meaning of the words government and
judiciary. By adroit questioning and fixed thought, he ere long stored up
those intellectual treasures. Though with but little capacity to obtain
knowledge from books, he became an earnest student of the ideas of his
fellow-legislators as elicited in conversation or debate. Quite a heavy
disaster, just at this time, came upon Crockett. We must again quote his
own words, for it is our wish, in this volume, to give the reader a
correct idea of the man. Whatever Crockett says, ever comes fresh from his
heart. He writes:
"About this time I met with a very severe misfortune, which I may be
pardoned for naming, as it made a great change in my circumstances, and
kept me back very much in the world. I had built an extensive grist-mill
and powder-mill, all connected together, and also a large distillery. They
had cost me upward of three thousand dollars; more than I was worth in the
world. The first news that I heard, after I got to the Legislature, was
that my mills were all swept to smash by a large freshet that came soon
after I left home.
"I had, of course, to stop my distillery, as my grinding was broken up.
And indeed I may say that the misfortune just made a complete mash of me.
I had some likely negroes, and a good stock of almost everything about me,
and, best of all, I had an honest wife. She didn't advise me, as is too
fashionable, to smuggle up this, and that, and t'other, to go on at home.
But she told me, says she, 'Just pay up as long as you have a bit's worth
in the world; and then everybody will be satisfied, and we will scuffle
"This was just such talk as I wanted to hear, for a man's wife can hold
him devilish uneasy if she begins to scold and fret, and perplex him, at a
time when he has a full load for a railroad car on his mind already. And
so, you see, I determined not to break full-handed, but thought it better
to keep a good conscience with an empty purse, than to get a bad opinion
of myself with a full one. I therefore gave up all I had, and took a
bran-fire new start."
Crockett's legislative career was by no means brilliant, but
characteristic. He was the fun-maker of the house, and, like Falstaff,
could boast that he was not only witty himself, but the cause of wit in
others. His stories were irresistibly comic; but they almost always
contained expressions of profanity or coarseness which renders it
impossible for us to transmit them to these pages. He was an inimitable
mimic, and had perfect command of a Dutchman's brogue. One of the least
objectionable of his humorous stories we will venture to record.
There were, he said, in Virginia, two Dutchmen, brothers, George and Jake
Fulwiler. They were both well to do in the world, and each owned a grist
mill. There was another Dutchman near by, by the name of Henry Snyder. He
was a mono-maniac, but a harmless man, occasionally thinking himself to be
God. He built a throne, and would often sit upon it, pronouncing judgment
upon others, and also upon himself. He would send the culprits to heaven
or to hell, as his humor prompted.
One day he had a little difficulty with the two Fulwilers. He took his
seat upon his throne, and in imagination summoning the culprits before
him, thus addressed them:
"Shorge Fulwiler, stand up. What hash you been dain in dis lower world?"
"Ah! Lort, ich does not know."
"Well, Shorge Fulwiler, hasn't you got a mill?"
"Yes, Lort, ich hash."
"Well, Shorge Fulwiler, didn't you never take too much toll?"
"Yes, Lort, ich hash; when der water wash low, and mein stones wash dull,
ich take leetle too much toll."
"Well, den, Shorge Fulwiler, you must go to der left mid der goats."
"Well, Shake Fulwiler, now you stand up. What hash you been doin in dis
"Ah! Lort, ich does not know."
"Well, Shake Fulwiler, hasn't you got a mill?"
"Yes, Lort, ich hash."
"Well, Shake Fulwiler hasn't you never taken too much toll?"
"Yes Lort, ich hash; when der water wash low, and mein stones wash dull,
ich take leetle too much toll."
"Well, den, Shake Fuhviler, you must go to der left mid der goats."
"Now ich try menself. Henry Snyder, Henry Snyder, stand up. What hash you
bin dain in die lower world?"
"Ah, Lort, ich does not know."
"Well, Henry Snyder, hasn't you got a mill?"
"Yes, Lort, ich hash."
"Well, Henry Snyder, didn't you never take too much toll?"
"Yes, Lort, ich hash; when der water wash low, and mein stones wash dull,
ich hash taken leetle too much toll."
"But, Henry Snyder, vat did you do mid der toll?"
"Ah, Lort, ich gives it to der poor."
The judge paused for a moment, and then said, "Well, Henry Snyder, you
must go to der right mid der sheep. But it is a tight squeeze."
Another specimen of his more sober forensic eloquence is to be found in
the following speech. There was a bill before the house for the creation
of a new county, and there was a dispute about the boundary-line. The
author of the bill wished to run the line in a direction which would
manifestly promote his own interest. Crockett arose and said:
"Mr. Speaker: Do you know what that man's bill reminds me of? Well, I
s'pose you don't, so I'll tell you. Well, Mr. Speaker, when I first came
to this country a blacksmith was a rare thing. But there happened to be
one in my neighborhood. He had no striker; and whenever one of the
neighbors wanted any work done, he had to go over and strike until his
work was finished. These were hard times, Mr. Speaker, but we had to do
the best we could,
"It happened that one of my neighbors wanted an axe. So he took along with
him a piece of iron, and went over to the blacksmith's to strike till his
axe was done. The iron was heated, and my neighbor fell to work, and was
striking there nearly all day; when the blacksmith concluded that the iron
wouldn't make an axe, but 'twould make a fine mattock.
"So my neighbor, wanting a mattock, concluded that he would go over and
strike till the mattock was done. Accordingly he went over the next day,
and worked faithfully. But toward night the blacksmith concluded his iron
wouldn't make a mattock but 'twould make a fine ploughshare.
"So my neighbor, wanting a ploughshare, agreed that he would go over the
next day and strike till that was done. Accordingly he went over, and fell
hard at work. But toward night the blacksmith concluded his iron wouldn't
make a ploughshare, but 'twould make a fine skow. So my neighbor, tired of
working, cried, 'A skow let it be;' and the blacksmith, taking up the
red-hot iron, threw it into a trough of hot water near him, and as it fell
in, it sung out skow. And this, Mr. Speaker, will be the way of that man's
bill for a county. He'll keep you all here, doing nothing, and finally his
bill will turn up a skow; now mind if it don't."
At this time, Crockett, by way of courtesy, was usually called colonel, as
with us almost every respectable man takes the title of esquire. One of
the members offended Colonel Crockett by speaking disrespectfully of him
as from the back woods, or, as he expressed it, the gentleman from the
cane. Crockett made a very bungling answer, which did not satisfy himself.
After the house adjourned, he very pleasantly invited the gentleman to
take a walk with him. They chatted very sociably by the way, till, at the
distance of about a mile, they reached a very secluded spot, when the
Colonel, turning to his opponent, said:
"Do you know what I brought you here for?"
"No," was the reply.
"Well," added the Colonel, "I brought you here for the express purpose of
whipping you; and now I mean to do it."
"But," says the Colonel, in recording the event, "the fellow said he
didn't mean anything, and kept 'pologizing till I got into good humor."
They walked back as good friends as ever, and no one but themselves knew
of the affair.
Crockett and the young man shouldered their rifles. Day after day the
three trudged along, fording streams, clambering hills, wading morasses,
and threading ravines, each night constructing a frail shelter, and
cooking by their camp-fire such game as they had taken by the way.
|After the adjournment of the Legislature,
Crockett returned to his impoverished home. The pecuniary losses
he had encountered, induced him to make another move, and one for
which it is difficult to conceive of any adequate motive. He took
his eldest son, a boy about eight years of age, and a young man by
the name of Abram Henry, and with one pack-horse to carry their
blankets and provisions, plunged into the vast wilderness west of
them, on an exploring tour, in search of a new home.
After traversing these almost pathless wilds a hundred
and fifty miles, and having advanced nearly fifty miles beyond any white
settlement, they reached the banks of a lonely stream, called Obion
River, on the extreme western frontier of Tennessee. This river emptied
into the Mississippi but a few miles from the spot where Crockett
decided to rear his cabin. His nearest neighbor was seven miles distant,
his next fifteen, his next twenty.
About ten years before, that whole region had been convulsed by one of
the most terrible earthquakes recorded in history. One or two awful
hurricanes had followed the earthquake, prostrating the gigantic forest,
and scattering the trees in all directions. Appalling indications
remained of the power expended by these tremendous forces of nature. The
largest forest-trees were found split from their roots to their tops,
and lying half on each side of a deep fissure. The opening abysses, the
entanglement of the prostrate forest, and the dense underbrush which had
sprung up, rendered the whole region almost impenetrable. The country
was almost entirely uninhabited. It had, however, become quite
celebrated as being the best hunting-ground in the West. The fear of
earthquakes and the general desolation had prevented even the Indians
from rearing their wigwams there. Consequently wild animals had greatly
increased. The country was filled with bears, wolves, panthers, deer,
elks, and other smaller game.
The Indians had recently made this discovery, and were, in
ever-increasing numbers, exploring the regions in hunting-bands.
Crockett does not seem to have had much appreciation of the beautiful.
In selecting a spot for his hut, he wished to be near some crystal
stream where he could get water, and to build his hut upon land
sufficiently high to be above the reach of freshets. It was also
desirable to find a small plain or meadow free from trees, where he
could plant his corn; and to be in the edge of the forest, which would
supply him with abundance of fuel. Crockett found such a place, exactly
to his mind. Being very fond of hunting, he was the happiest of men. A
few hours' labor threw up a rude hut which was all the home he desired.
His rifle furnished him with food, and with the skins of animals for bed
and bedding. Every frontiersman knew how to dress the skin of deer for
moccasins and other garments. With a sharpened stick he punched holes
through the rank sod, and planted corn, in soil so rich that it would
return him several hundred-fold.
Thus his tastes, such as they were, were gratified, and he enjoyed what
to him were life's luxuries. He probably would not have been willing to
exchange places with the resident in the most costly mansion in our
great cities. In a few days he got everything comfortable around him.
Crockett's cabin, or rather camp, was on the eastern side of the Obion
River. Seven miles farther up the stream, on the western bank, a Mr.
Owen had reared his log house. One morning, Crockett, taking the young
man Henry and his son with him, set out to visit Mr. Owen, his nearest
neighbor. He hobbled his horse, leaving him to graze until he got back.
They followed along the banks of the river, through the forest, until
they reached a point nearly opposite Owen's cabin. By crossing the
stream there, and following up the western bank they would be sure to
find his hut. There was no boat, and the stream must be swum or forded.
Recent rains had caused it to overflow its banks and spread widely over
the marshy bottoms and low country near by. The water was icy cold. And
yet they took to it, says Crockett, "like so many beavers."
The expanse to be crossed was very wide, and they knew not how deep they
should find the channel. For some distance the water continued quite
shoal. Gradually it deepened. Crockett led the way, with a pole in his
hand. Cautiously he sounded the depth before him, lest they should fall
into any slough. A dense growth of young trees covered the inundated
bottom over which they were wading. Occasionally they came to a deep but
narrow gully. Crockett, with his hatchet, would cut down a small tree,
and by its aid would cross.
At length the water became so deep that Crockett's little boy had to
swim, though they evidently had not yet reached the channel of the
stream. Having waded nearly half a mile, they came to the channel. The
stream, within its natural banks, was but about forty feet wide. Large
forest-trees fringed the shores. One immense tree, blown down by the
wind, reached about halfway across. Crockett, with very arduous labor
with his hatchet, cut down another, so that it fell with the branches of
the two intertwining.
Thus aided they reached the opposite side. But still the lowlands beyond
were overflowed as far as the eye could see through the dense forest. On
they waded, for nearly a mile, when, to their great joy, they came in
sight of dry land. Their garments were dripping and they were severely
chilled as they reached the shore. But turning their steps up the
stream, they soon came in sight of the cabin, which looked to them like
a paradise of rest. It was one of the rudest of huts. The fenceless
grounds around were rough and ungainly. The dismal forest, which chanced
there to have escaped both earthquake and hurricane, spread apparently
without limits in all directions.
Most men, most women, gazing upon a scene so wild, lonely, cheerless,
would have said, "Let me sink into the grave rather than be doomed to
such a home as that." But to Crockett and his companions it presented
all the attractions their hearts could desire. Mr. Owen and several
other men were just starting away from the cabin, when, to their
surprise, they saw the party of strangers approaching. They waited until
Crockett came up and introduced himself. The men with Mr. Owen were
boatmen, who had entered the Obion River from the Mississippi with a
boat-load of articles for trade. They were just leaving to continue
Such men are seldom in a hurry. Time is to them of but very little
value. Hospitality was a virtue which cost nothing. Any stranger, with
his rifle, could easily pay his way in the procurement of food. They all
turned back and entered the cabin together. Mrs. Owen was an excellent,
motherly woman, about fifty years of age. Her sympathies were
immediately excited for the poor little boy, whose garments were
drenched, and who was shivering as if in an ague-fit. She replenished
the fire, dried his clothes, and gave him some warm and nourishing food.
The grateful father writes:
"Her kindness to my little boy did me ten times as much good as anything
she could have done for me, if she had tried her best."
These were not the days of temperance. The whiskey-bottle was considered
one of the indispensables of every log cabin which made any pretences to
gentility. The boat, moored near the shore, was loaded with whiskey,
flour, sugar, hardware, and other articles, valuable in the Indian trade
in the purchase of furs, and in great demand in the huts of pioneers.
There was a small trading-post at what was called McLemone's Bluff;
about thirty miles farther up the river by land, and nearly one hundred
in following the windings of the stream. This point the boatmen were
endeavoring to reach.
For landing their cargo at this point the boatmen were to receive five
hundred dollars, besides the profits of any articles they could sell in
the scattered hamlets they might encounter by the way. The
whiskey-bottle was of course brought out. Crockett drank deeply; he
says, at least half a pint. His tongue was unloosed, and he became one
of the most voluble and entertaining of men. His clothes having been
dried by the fire, and all having with boisterous merriment partaken of
a hearty supper, as night came on the little boy was left to the tender
care of Mrs. Owen, while the rest of the party repaired to the cabin of
the boat, to make a night of it in drinking and carousal.
They had indeed a wild time. There was whiskey in abundance. Crockett
was in his element, and kept the whole company in a constant roar. Their
shouts and bacchanal songs resounded through the solitudes, with clamor
and profaneness which must have fallen painfully upon angels' ears, if
any of heaven's pure and gentle spirits were within hearing distance.
"We had," writes Crockett, "a high night of it, as I took steam enough
to drive out all the cold that was in me, and about three times as much
These boon companions became warm friends, according to the most
approved style of backwoods friendship. Mr. Owen told the boatmen that a
few miles farther up the river a hurricane had entirely prostrated the
forest, and that the gigantic trees so encumbered the stream that he was
doubtful whether the boat could pass, unless the water should rise
higher. Consequently he, with Crockett and Henry, accompanied the
boatmen up to that point to help them through, should it be possible to
effect a passage. But it was found impossible, and the boat dropped down
again to its moorings opposite Mr. Owen's cabin.
As it was now necessary to wait till the river should rise, the boatmen
and Mr. Owen all consented to accompany Crockett to the place where he
was to settle, and build his house for him. It seems very strange that,
in that dismal wilderness, Crockett should not have preferred to build
his cabin near so kind a neighbor. But so it was. He chose his lot at a
distance of seven miles from any companionship.
"And so I got the boatmen," he writes, "all to go out with me to where I
was going to settle, and we slipped up a cabin in little or no time. I
got from the boat four barrels of meal, one of salt, and about ten
gallons of whiskey."
For these he paid in labor, agreeing to accompany the boatmen up the
river as far as their landing-place at McLemone's Bluff.
Back to: Biography of David
Source: David Crockett: His Life and
Adventures by John S. C. Abbott
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