Don’t Fence Me In: Growing up in the Era of Crockett

The individuals I chose to interview were deeply influenced by the allure of Crockett. Each of the men was a child when the David Crockett craze swept the nation. Coming from a rural area, they didn’t have the experiences of the suburbs, nor did they suffer from the confining presence of backyard fences or playgrounds, like Griffin mentioned. Contrary to his assessment of suburbia, which suggested that children “had no need to use the public space of the street,”  my father and his brothers’ childhood experiences were not contained in a space that was rapidly shrinking due to parental concerns, rather they were largely left to their own devices and were not “easily monitored” (105). My father and his brothers and cousins lived near the woods and were often allowed to go play, unsupervised, which supports Griffin’s claim that “rural life… would give children room to live and grow.” This play was immensely influenced by Davy Crockett. My father was encouraged to explore in the woods and entertain himself with nature and the company of similarly aged relatives. The woods near their house transformed into the ideal environment to play Crockett, because it allowed them to “envision themselves in the wild west.” This portion of the pretending fits nicely with Griffin’s analysis that Davy Crockett provided children with a way to access the “myth of the Western frontier… which each can develop in his own [sic] peculiar way” (106), as their play allowed each of them to take on the role of the “romanticized and idealized individual” of Davy Crockett.

My dad and his brothers and cousins would undertake tremendous preparations to most accurately represent Crockett during play. They would first frame their play as a dramatic “Man vs Nature” conflict, which required them to struggle against the brutal elements to survive with limited resources that were dwindling as civilization encroached on the woods. In order to best stage this portion of their play, they would find empty and abandoned old structures in the woods and seek permission from the property owners and then play there, uninterrupted, for hours at a time. One of my dad’s cousins mentioned that though they were allowed to play unsupervised, the owners of the structures often cautioned the boys about the dangers of accidentally starting a wildfire with firecrackers and matches as that could incinerate the woods. They received advice on how to avoid dangers that would pose threats to both, themselves and the pristine nature around them; rather than the cautionary narratives of stranger danger that were heavily discussed in the Griffin piece.

Imitating the image of Davy Crockett was absolutely essential. My father and his brothers and cousins desired to emulate “replicas of Davy’s coonskin cap;” and even though they grew up with few extras, their parents were still willing to “shell out for coonskin caps” (113). Though they did have the caps, my dad did spend a fair amount of time describing how his cap failed to measure up with Davy’s. My father’s cap was from a major department store and was constructed from “imitation material,” which made it less authentic and thus harder for my father to best play Crockett. The other details of the costuming were less important, as he was satisfied with his “leather-looking vest, pants and, of course, the moccasins” which speaks to the iconic nature of the coonskin cap. My father and his friends spent what money they did have purchasing materials to mimic Crocket. My uncle described their purchase of fake rifles that looked like Crockett’s and “would make sounds like flintlock rifle fire (karrrrr-bang)” and “rubber knives that you could buy at the local “Five and Ten” (meaning nickel and dime) store to do hand-to-hand combat.” In each of my family members’ accounts, a point was made to assure me “no one got hurt, but we all seemed to have wild imaginations as our adrenalin went crazy and exhausted us until lunch or supper time.”

My father described how pretending to be Crockett infiltrated other spheres of life, not just the time in the woods. He stated they used to scream the Crockett theme song at recess. To them this song was viewed as a “patriotic” battle cry. Unlike Griffin’s claim that Crockett caused a disruption to order, from my father’s perspective, institutions and adults supported this more rowdy  behavior rather than “complaining that the growing Crockett fad interfered with classroom discipline” (111). According to my father’s cousin, the local library hosted contests that doled out awards for dioramas that best captured the adventures of Crockett and brought in “old timers” dressed as Crockett to tell stories of the Frontier.

Davy

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2 thoughts on “Don’t Fence Me In: Growing up in the Era of Crockett

  1. I think it is interesting how important Crockett is to your father and to many other people as well who grew up watching it. One thing I would be curious about is how young adults would react to it now. My brother, for example, is 14 and even though he lives in a suburb, he would live out in the country or woods if he had his way. He loves to hunt and to be outside, he definitely does not like to be stuck in the house or play video games even. I would like for him to watch Davy Crockett, I feel like he still might identify with Crockett’s masculinity and probably would look up to him which is good and bad in several different ways, as we talked about in class. It is cool to hear what people have to say who grew up watching it versus how someone might understand it now!

  2. This is such a fantastic and delightfully detailed analysis, Paige. I love how you situate your father and cousin’s experiences both in the wild and “in society” — and how both simultaneously engaged in the most salient components of the Crockett narrative while adapting other elements to the specifics of what was available. I’m also sure that your father was by no means the only person chagrined by a “sub-par” Crockett hat — but I wonder why people wanted “good” ones? Status symbols? Warmth? Wouldn’t a focus on the “right” hat (as opposed to the best one for the purposes at hand — camoflauge, hunting, etc.) be more befitting of the Crockett ideology?

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