|"We were now floating sideways, and the boat I was in was the hindmost as we went. All at once I heard the hands begin to run over the top of the boat in great confusion, and pull with all their might. And the first thing I know'd after this we went broadside full tilt against the head of an island, where a large raft of drift timber had lodged. The nature of such a place would be, as everybody knows, to suck the boats down and turn them right under this raft; and the uppermost boat would, of course, be suck'd down and go under first. As soon as we struck, I bulged for my hatchway, as the boat was turning under sure enough. But when I got to it, the water was pouring through in a current as large as the hole would let it, and as strong as the weight of the river would force it. I found I couldn't get out here, for the boat was now turned down in such a way that it was steeper than a house-top. I now thought of the hole in the side, and made my way in a hurry for that.|
"With difficulty I got to it, and when I got there, I found it was too
small for me to get out by my own power, and I began to think that I was
in a worse box than ever. But I put my arms through, and hollered as loud
as I could roar, as the boat I was in hadn't yet quite filled with water
up to my head; and the hands who were next to the raft, seeing my arms
out, and hearing me holler, seized them, and began to pull. I told them I
was sinking, and to pull my arms off, or force me through, for now I
know'd well enough it was neck or nothing, come out or sink.
"By a violent effort they jerked me through; but I was in a pretty pickle when I got through. I had been sitting without any clothing over my shirt; this was tom off, and I was literally skinn'd like a rabbit. I was, however, well pleased to get out in any way, even without shirt or hide; as before I could straighten myself on the boat next to the raft, the one they pull'd me out of went entirely under, and I have never seen it any more to this day. We all escaped on to the raft, where we were compelled to sit all night, about a mile from land on either side. Four of my company were bareheaded, and three barefooted; and of that number I was one. I reckon I looked like a pretty cracklin ever to get to Congress!
"We had now lost all our loading, and every particle of our clothing, except what little we had on; but over all this, while I was sitting there, in the night, floating about on the drift, I felt happier and better off than I ever had in my life before, for I had just made such a marvellous escape, that I had forgot almost everything else in that; and so I felt prime.
"In the morning about sunrise, we saw a boat coming down, and we hailed her. They sent a large skiff, and took us all on board, and carried us down as far as Memphis. Here I met with a friend, that I never can forget as long as I am able to go ahead at anything; it was a Major Winchester, a merchant of that place; he let us all have hats, and shoes, and some little money to go upon, and so we all parted.
"A young man and myself concluded to go on down to Natchez, to see if we could hear anything of our boats; for we supposed they would float out from the raft, and keep on down the river. We got on a boat at Memphis, that was going down, and so cut out. Our largest boat, we were informed, had been seen about fifty miles below where we stove, and an attempt had been made to land her, but without success, as she was as hard-headed as ever
"This was the last of my boats, and of my boating; for it went so badly with me along at the first, that I had not much mind to try it any more. I now returned home again, and, as the next August was the Congressional election, I began to turn my attention a little to that matter, as it was beginning to be talked of a good deal among the people."
Cotton was down very low. Crockett could now say to the people: "You see the effects of the Tariff." There were two rival candidates for the office, Colonel Alexander and General Arnold. Money was needed to carry the election, and Crockett had no money. He resolved, however, to try his chances. A friend loaned him a little money to start with; which sum Crockett, of course, expended in whiskey, as the most potent influence, then and there, to secure an election.
"So I was able," writes Crockett, "to buy a little of the 'creature,' to put my friends in a good humor, as well as the other gentlemen, for they all treat in that country; not to get elected, of course, for that would be against the law, but just to make themselves and their friends feel their keeping a little."
The contest was, as usual, made up of drinking, feasting, and speeches. Colonel Alexander was an intelligent and worthy man, who had been public surveyor. General Arnold was a lawyer of very respectable attainments. Neither of these men considered Crockett a candidate in the slightest degree to be feared. They only feared each other, and tried to circumvent each other.
On one occasion there was a large gathering, where all three of the candidates were present, and each one was expected to make a speech. It came Crockett's lot to speak first. He knew nothing of Congressional affairs, and had sense enough to be aware that it was not best for him to attempt to speak upon subjects of which he was entirely ignorant. He made one of his funny speeches, very short and entirely non-committal. Colonel Alexander followed, endeavoring to grapple with the great questions of tariffs, finance, and internal improvements, which were then agitating the nation.
General Arnold then, in his turn, took the stump, opposing the measures which Colonel Alexander had left. He seemed entirely to ignore the fact that Crockett was a candidate. Not the slightest allusion was made to him in his speech. The nervous temperament predominated in the man, and he was easily annoyed. While speaking, a large flock of guinea-hens came along, whose peculiar and noisy cry all will remember who have ever heard it. Arnold was greatly disturbed, and at last requested some one to drive the fowls away. As soon as he had finished his speech, Crockett again mounted the stump, and ostensibly addressing Arnold, but really addressing the crowd, said, in a loud voice, but very jocosely:
"Well, General, you are the first man I ever saw that understood the language of fowls. You had i not the politeness even to allude to me in your speech. But when my little friends the guinea-hens came up, and began to holler 'Crockett, Crockett, Crockett,' you were ungenerous enough to drive them all away."
This raised such a universal laugh that even Crockett's opponents feared that he was getting the best of them in winning the favor of the people. When the day of election came, the popular bear-hunter beat both of his competitors by twenty-seven hundred and forty-seven votes. Thus David Crockett, unable to read and barely able to sign his name, became a member of Congress, to assist in framing laws for the grandest republic earth has ever known. He represented a constituency of about one hundred thousand souls.
An intelligent gentleman, travelling in West Tennessee, finding himself within eight miles of Colonel Crockett's cabin, decided to call upon the man whose name had now become quite renowned. This was just after Crockett's election to Congress, but before he had set out for Washington. There was no road leading to the lonely hut. He followed a rough and obstructed path or trail, which was indicated only by blazed trees, and which bore no marks of being often travelled.
At length he came to a small opening in the forest, very rude and uninviting in its appearance. It embraced eight or ten acres. One of the humblest and least tasteful of log huts stood in the centre. It was truly a cabin, a mere shelter from the weather. There was no yard; there were no fences. Not the slightest effort had been made toward ornamentation. It would be difficult to imagine a more lonely and cheerless abode.
Two men were seated on stools at the door, both in their shirt-sleeves, engaged in cleaning their rifles. As the stranger rode up, one of the men rose and came forward to meet him. He was dressed in very plain homespun attire, with a black fur cap upon his head. He was a finely proportioned man, about six feet high, apparently forty-five years of age, and of very frank, pleasing, open countenance. He held his rifle in his hand, and from his right shoulder hung a bag made of raccoon skin, to which there was a sheath attached containing a large butcher-knife.
"This is Colonel Crockett's residence, I presume," said the stranger.
"Yes," was the reply, with a smile as of welcome.
"Have I the pleasure of seeing that gentleman before me?" the stranger added.
"If it be a pleasure," was the courtly reply, "you have, sir."
"Well, Colonel," responded the stranger, "I have ridden much out of my way to spend a day or two with you, and take a hunt."
"Get down, sir," said the Colonel, cordially. "I am delighted to see you. I like to see strangers. And the only care I have is that I cannot accommodate them as well as I could wish. I have no corn, but my little boy will take your horse over to my son-in-law's. He is a good fellow, and will take care of him."
Leading the stranger into his cabin, Crockett very courteously introduced him to his brother, his wife, and his daughters. He then added:
|"You see we are mighty rough here. I am afraid
you will think it hard times. But we have to do the best we can. I
started mighty poor, and have been rooting 'long ever since. But I
hate apologies. What I live upon always, I think a friend can for
a day or two. I have but little, but that little is as free as the
water that runs. So make yourself at home."
Mrs. Crockett was an intelligent and capable woman for one in her station in life. The cabin was clean and orderly, and presented a general aspect of comfort. Many trophies of the chase were in the house, and spread around the yard. Several dogs, looking like war-worn veterans, were sunning themselves in various parts of the premises.
All the family were neatly dressed in home-made garments. Mrs.
Crockett was a grave, dignified woman, very courteous to her guests. The
daughters were remarkably pretty, but very diffident. Though entirely
uneducated, they could converse very easily, seeming to inherit their
father's fluency of utterance. They were active and efficient in aiding
their mother in her household work. Colonel Crockett, with much apparent
pleasure, conducted his guest over the small patch of ground he had
grubbed and was cultivating. He exhibited his growing peas and pumpkins,
and his little field of corn, with as much apparent pleasure as an
Illinois farmer would now point out his hundreds of acres of waving
grain. The hunter seemed surprisingly well informed. As we have
mentioned, nature had endowed him with unusual strength of mind, and
with a memory which was almost miraculous. He never forgot anything he
had heard. His electioneering tours had been to him very valuable
schools of education. Carefully he listened to all the speeches and the
conversation of the intelligent men he met with.
John Quincy Adams was then in the Presidential chair. It was the year 1827. Nearly all Crockett's constituents were strong Jackson-men. Crockett, who afterward opposed Jackson, subsequently said, speaking of his views at that time:
"I can say on my conscience, that I was, without disguise, the friend and supporter of General Jackson upon his principles, as he had laid them down, and as I understood them, before his election as President."
Alluding to Crockett's political views at that time, his guest writes, "I held in high estimation the present Administration of our country. To this he was opposed. His views, however, delighted me. And were they more generally adopted we should be none the loser. He was opposed to the Administration, and yet conceded that many of its acts were wise and efficient, and would have received his cordial support. He admired Mr. Clay, but had objections to him. He was opposed to the Tariff, yet, I think, a supporter of the United States Bank. He seemed to have the most horrible objection to binding himself to any man or set of men. He said, 'I would as lieve be an old coon-dog as obliged to do what any man or set of men would tell me to do. I will support the present Administration as far as I would any other; that is, as far as I believe its views to be right. I will pledge myself to support no Administration. I had rather be politically damned than hypocritically immortalized.'"
In the winter of 1827, Crockett emerged from his cabin in the wilderness for a seat in Congress. He was so poor that he had not money enough to pay his expenses to Washington. His election had cost him one hundred and fifty dollars, which a friend had loaned him. The same friend advanced one hundred dollars more to help him on his journey.
"When I left home," he says, "I was happy, devilish, and full of fun. I bade adieu to my friends, dogs, and rifle, and took the stage, where I met with much variety of character, and amused myself when my humor prompted. Being fresh from the backwoods, my stories amused my companions, and I passed my time pleasantly.
"When I arrived at Raleigh the weather was cold and rainy, and we were all dull and tired. Upon going into the tavern, where I was an entire stranger, the room was crowded, and the crowd did not give way that I might come to the fire. I was rooting my way to the fire, not in a good humor, when some fellow staggered up towards me, and cried out, 'Hurrah for Adams.'
"Said I, 'Stranger, you had better hurrah for hell, and praise your own country.'
"'And who are you? said he. I replied:
"'I am that same David Crockett, fresh from the backwoods, half horse, half alligator, a little touched with the snapping-turtle. I can wade the Mississippi, leap the Ohio, ride upon a streak of lightning, and slip without a scratch down a honey-locust. I can whip my weight in wildcats, and, if any gentleman pleases, for a ten-dollar bill he can throw in a panther. I can hug a bear too close for comfort, and eat any man opposed to General Jackson.'"
All eyes were immediately turned toward this strange man, for all had heard of him. A place was promptly made for him at the fire. He was afterward asked if this wondrous outburst of slang was entirely unpremeditated. He said that it was; that it had all popped into his head at once; and that he should never have thought of it again, had not the story gone the round of the newspapers.
"I came on to Washington," he says, "and drawed two hundred and fifty dollars, and purchased with it a check on the bank in Nashville, and enclosed it to my friend. And I may say, in truth, I sent this money with a mighty good will, for I reckon nobody in this world loves a friend better than me, or remembers a kindness longer."
Soon after his arrival at Washington he was invited to dine with President Adams, a man of the highest culture, whose manners had been formed in the courts of Europe. Crockett, totally unacquainted with the usages of society, did not know what the note of invitation meant, and inquired of a friend, the Hon. Mr. Verplanck. He says:
"I was wild from the backwoods, and didn't know nothing about eating dinner with the big folks of our country. And how should I, having been a hunter all my life? I had eat most of my dinners on a log in the woods, and sometimes no dinner at all. I knew, whether I ate dinner with the President or not was a matter of no importance, for my constituents were not to be benefited by it. I did not go to court the President, for I was opposed to him in principle, and had no favors to ask at his hands. I was afraid, however, I should be awkward, as I was so entirely a stranger to fashion; and in going along, I resolved to observe the conduct of my friend Mr. Verplanck, and to do as he did. And I know that I did behave myself right well."
Some cruel wag wrote the following ludicrous account of this dinner-party, which went the round of all the papers as veritable history. The writer pretended to quote Crockett's own account of the dinner.
"The first thing I did," said Davy, "after I got to Washington, was to go to the President's. I stepped into the President's house. Thinks I, who's afeard. If I didn't, I wish I may be shot. Says I, 'Mr. Adams, I am Mr. Crockett, from Tennessee.' So, says he, 'How d'ye do, Mr. Crockett?' And he shook me by the hand, although he know'd I went the whole hog for Jackson. If he didn't, I wish I may be shot.
"Not only that, but he sent me a printed ticket to dine with him. I've got it in my pocket yet. I went to dinner, and I walked all around the long table, looking for something that I liked. At last I took my seat beside a fat goose, and I helped myself to as much of it as I wanted. But I hadn't took three bites, when I looked away up the table at a man they called Tash (attache'). He was talking French to a woman on t'other side of the table. He dodged his head and she dodged hers, and then they got to drinking wine across the table.
"But when I looked back again my plate was gone, goose and all. So I jist cast my eyes down to t'other end of the table, and sure enough I seed a white man walking off with my plate. I says, 'Hello, mister, bring back my plate.' He fetched it back in a hurry, as you may think. And when he set it down before me, how do you think it was? Licked as clean as my hand. If it wasn't, I wish I may be shot!
"Says he, 'What will you have, sir?' And says I, 'You may well say that, after stealing my goose.' And he began to laugh. Then says I, 'Mister, laugh if you please; but I don't half-like sich tricks upon travellers.' I then filled my plate with bacon and greens. And whenever I looked up or down the table, I held on to my plate with my left hand.
"When we were all done eating, they cleared everything off the table, and took away the table-cloth. And what do you think? There was another cloth under it. If there wasn't, I wish I may be shot! Then I saw a man coming along carrying a great glass thing, with a glass handle below, something like a candlestick. It was stuck full of little glass cups, with something in them that looked good to eat. Says I, 'Mister, bring that thing here.' Thinks I, let's taste them first. They were mighty sweet and good, so I took six of them. If I didn't, I wish I may be shot!"
This humorous fabrication was copied into almost every paper in the Union. The more respectable portion of Crockett's constituents were so annoyed that their representative should be thus held up to the contempt of the nation, that Crockett felt constrained to present a reliable refutation of the story. He therefore obtained and published certificates from three gentlemen, testifying to his good behavior at the table. Hon. Mr. Verplanck, of New York, testified as follows:
"I dined at the President's, at the time alluded to, in company with you, and I had, I recollect, a good deal of conversation with you. Your behavior there was, I thought, perfectly becoming and proper. And I do not recollect, or believe, that you said or did anything resembling the newspaper-account."
Two other members of Congress were equally explicit in their testimony.
During Crockett's first two sessions in Congress he got along very smoothly, cooperating generally with what was called the Jackson party. In 1829 he was again reelected by an overwhelming majority. On the 4th of March of this year, Andrew Jackson was inaugurated President of the United States. It may be doubted whether there ever was a more honest, conscientious man in Congress than David Crockett. His celebrated motto, "Be sure that you are right, and then go ahead," seemed ever to animate him. He could neither be menaced or bribed to support any measure which he thought to be wrong. Ere long he found it necessary to oppose some of Jackson's measures. We will let him tell the story in his own truthful words:
"Soon after the commencement of this second term, I saw, or thought I did, that it was expected of me that I would bow to the name of Andrew Jackson, and follow him in all his motions, and windings, and turnings, even at the expense of my conscience and judgment. Such a thing was new to me, and a total stranger to my principles. I know'd well enough, though, that if I didn't 'hurrah' for his name, the hue and cry was to be raised against me, and I was to be sacrificed, if possible. His famous, or rather I should say his infamous Indian bill was brought forward, and I opposed it from the purest motives in the world. Several of my colleagues got around me, and told me how well they loved me, and that I was ruining myself. They said this was a favorite measure of the President, and I ought to go for it. I told them I believed it was a wicked, unjust measure, and that I should go against it, let the cost to myself be what it might; that I was willing to go with General Jackson in everything that I believed was honest and right; but, further than this, I wouldn't go for him or any other man in the whole creation.
"I had been elected by a majority of three thousand five hundred and eighty-five votes, and I believed they were honest men, and wouldn't want me to vote for any unjust notion, to please Jackson or any one else; at any rate, I was of age, and determined to trust them. I voted against this Indian bill, and my conscience yet tells me that I gave a good, honest vote, and one that I believe will not make me ashamed in the day of judgment. I served out my term, and though many amusing, things happened, I am not disposed to swell my narrative by inserting them.
"When it closed, and I returned home, I found the storm had raised against me sure enough; and it was echoed from side to side, and from end to end of my district, that I had turned against Jackson. This was considered the unpardonable sin. I was hunted down like a wild varment, and in this hunt every little newspaper in the district, and every little pinhook lawyer was engaged. Indeed, they were ready to print anything and everything that the ingenuity of man could invent against me."
In consequence of this opposition, Crockett lost his next election, and yet by a majority of but seventy votes. For two years he remained at home hunting bears. But having once tasted the pleasures of political life, and the excitements of Washington, his silent rambles in the woods had lost much of their ancient charms. He was again a candidate at the ensuing election, and, after a very warm contest gained the day by a majority of two hundred and two votes.
Back to: Biography of David Crockett
Source: David Crockett: His Life and Adventures by John S. C. Abbotts
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