Southwestern Historical Quarterly
The Frontiersman: The Real Life and Many Legends of Davy Crockett. By Mark Derr.
(New York: Morrow, 1993- Pp. 304. Acknowledgments, introduction, notes,
index. ISBN 0-68809-656-5. $23.00.)
Few nineteenth-century characters have captured the American imagination
like Davy Crockett. Whether as a renowned hunter, tall-tale boaster, stalwart
Alamo defender, or "King of the Wild Frontier," his remarkable life has secured
him a place in the nation's pantheon of heroes. But how much of his legend is
true? Mark Derr's The Frontiersman carefully reexamines both primary and sec-
ondary sources to separate the real from the apocryphal in Crockett's eventful
After an early life of hardship and poverty, Crockett, like so many other Amer-
icans, found opportunity in the national boom that followed the War of 1812.
He set his sights on politics and won election to the Tennessee House of Repre-
sentatives. After some political and personal setbacks, Crockett won a seat in
Congress, where he worked tirelessly for his constituents, especially in the cause
of liberal land reform. More noted for his rustic charm and stump theatrics,
Crockett lacked the legislative skills to garner support for his legislation, and en-
joyed little success as a lawmaker. Turning from politics to exploiting his popu-
lar image as a frontiersman, Crockett parlayed his reputation into several
ghost-written best-sellers. Still, the profits he earned from his literary endeavors
and the money his wife made on their business enterprises were never enough
to ensure financial security. Heading for brighter prospects in the West, Crock-
ett ventured to Texas in search of cheap land. Instead, he arrived at the Alamo
on the eve of the Mexican attack, was captured after the battle, and was execut-
ed by Santa Anna's army.
The Frontiersman successfully revises both historical and popular understand-
ings of Crockett's life, and Derr concludes that, despite his myth, Crockett was
the prototypical "common man" (p. 269). Yet Crockett seems to have been an
altogether uncommon common man. To recover the historical Crockett from
his Disneyesque permutations, Derr has crafted a straightforward narrative that
adheres closely to the historical sources and steers clear of the pitfalls of psy-
chobiography. While such an approach makes for solid scholarship, it fails to ex-
plain fully the sources of Crockett's exceptionalism. For this reason, some
readers may find Derr's conservative approach overly cautious and unsatisfying.
Nevertheless, The Frontiersman is a fine piece of revisionist history that will reac-
quaint the scholar as well as the general reader with a popular figure whose real
life has been as misunderstood as it has been exploited.
University of Kentucky JAMES TAYLOR CARSON
The Historical Atlas of the Congresses of the Confederate States of America: 1861-z865.
By Kenneth C. Martis. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994. Pp. xii+157.
Tables, maps, preface, appendices, bibliography, index. ISBN 0-13390-155-
Kenneth C. Martis, a professor of geography at West Virginia University, is the
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 98, July 1994 - April, 1995. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101216/. Accessed August 29, 2015.