The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 91, July 1987 - April, 1988 Page: 482
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Southwestern Historzcal Quarterly
In many respects, Crockett's life portraits and fictionalized images
parallel the course of his reputation. If one were to graph, on the one
hand, the factual portrayal of Crockett's life and, on the other hand,
the representation of him as a mythical figure, one would find that the
upward-moving legend line had by the late spring of 1834 crossed the
downward-tending truth line. Until that time artists had always por-
trayed him more or less as what he was-a man of humble origin who
had realized a modicum of respectability, fame, and national influence
but who still betrayed beneath the broadcloth some of his homespun
beginnings. But in 1834 the fictions about Crockett were rapidly be-
coming more substantial in the popular mind than the reality, and even
Crockett's own view of himself seems to have been colored by this turn
of events. There is no clearer indication of this than the conception in
June, 1834, of John G. Chapman's monumental likeness, so obviously
designed to celebrate Tennessee's most noted anti-Jacksonian as a fron-
tier original. After that point, his images never returned to the more
earthbound reality of former times. Instead, they reflected the fact that
Americans were far less concerned with knowing the Crockett of his-
tory than they were with perpetuating his legend. Even in those rare
instances when an artist sought veracity-as in the case of Robert
Onderdonk's turn-of-the-century portrayal of Crockett's death-the
insistence on exactitude stopped well short of trying to recreate some-
thing as basic to that goal as Crockett's actual physical appearance.
The explanation for this retreat into myth in Crockett imagery and
its persistence into the twentieth century is not simple. But a portion of
it lies in the fact that all societies must have their heroes and that as time
passes the warts and weaknesses of these heroes-if they were ever rec-
ognized in the first place-are overtaken by a popular wish to bring
those heroes to perfection in the mind's eye. More importantly, the
continual preoccupation with the Crockett of legend was a reflection of
America's tendency to idealize its brave, resourceful, and independent
frontier yeomen as a main source of cultural originality and democratic
virtue. Given this inclination, any recognition of the many pedestrian
historical truths about these individuals risked diminishing their stature.
As one, therefore, who along with Daniel Boone had come to epitomize
western manliness, Crockett had to be protected from any facts that
might call his imagined superiority into question. To do otherwise
might bring into jeopardy not only the reputation of Crockett himself,
but also the whole notion of the specialness of this country's frontier
See also Thomas Lawrence Connelly (ed.), "Did David Crockett Surrender at the Alamo? A
Contemporary Letter," Journal of Southern Hstory, XXVI (Aug., 1960), 368-376.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 91, July 1987 - April, 1988, periodical, 1987/1988; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101211/m1/554/: accessed May 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.