Friday, October 14, 2011

Michael Wallis' "David Crockett: The Lion of the West"

This was a fun read. The author is roughly my age and got bit by the same Disney-inspired Davy Crockett bug as me. He wrote this book to set the history straight. It is certainly less wildly romantic and adventurous than the Disney version. What I found saddest was that David Crockett fell into the same trap of poor money management and debt as his father. Crockett was a fun guy who certainly pulled his own weight, but he neglected his family and he had "big ideas" that led him astray. He couldn't settle down and prosper. For him the "main chance" was always to move to a new valley and start fresh with a big new dream. But rather than farm or run one of his small industries, he could disappear into the woods and hunt. That was his passion. And it was his downfall.

This book puts you right into the grubbiness of life in the early 19th century. It will knock the romanticism out of you. At age 13 Crockett ran away from home fearing a beating for skipping school. The hair raising adventures make for fun reading but they reinforce the harsh conditions of life back then. People today that grumble about "modern industrial society" need to be shipped off to the early 1800s to "taste" the real life of a pre-industrial economy.

This book removed the romanticism of Crockett's death at the Alamo. He was in Texas mainly to run away from his frustrations with a failed political career. He foolishly signed on to the Texas "cause" and promptly died in a hopeless seige of the Alamo. This was the result of his siding with the anti-Andrew Jackson faction among the revolting Texans. It was a completely avoidable death but he stuck with it and didn't complain, a sad end to a rough life.

I loved the bits that let you get a real taste of the early 1800s. I have relatives from that area and the kind of crazy Scots-Irish personality traits that Wallis draws reminds me of my relatives. It is funny how deep culture runs. Even today, the anti-science, fundamentalist religion of the deep South traces back to the immigrants to this area. They behaved stupidly then. They behave stupidly today. Poverty is endemic because they discount education and they end up short-sighted in their goals. The book touches very lightly on the slavery of the time and it doesn't go into much depth to explain the cruelty and double-dealing of the American invaders dealing with the native Indians. It is a tragic tale.

The book won't "teach" you anything. But it gives you an excellent insight into a corner of history and the nature of Americans then and now. I certainly enjoyed the book.

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