My dad is a mountain man.

Ever since I can remember, my dad has loved everything having to do with mountain men. He loves their way of life, their clothes, and their disconnection from the world of technology that we live in now. I mean, my house has always been that house that has the windows wide open in the winter. One day, when I got home from school, I saw my dad sitting on the couch, sporting his buckskin robes and moccasins, and watching Jeremiah Johnson. I am pretty sure he has seen that movie hundreds of times. He continues to watch it, but I have come to realize something. Not only is it something he has always had an interest in, but now more than ever, I think it really makes him think of when he was younger. He had a hard childhood, to say the least, but these are the fonder memories he has of being young. I feel like this is what he most wishes to connect to. To the days of pretending to live in a world apart, and to escape the traumatic household in which he was being raised. To the days where he pretended to be Davy, Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier.

After I asked him about Davy Crockett, he said “You know, when you asked me that, I thought ‘well, I lived that way.'” My dad grew up in Skamania, Washington, a very small community in the Columbia river gorge. The town was small, and pretty rural, and being outside was a very common thing. There were not many other things for him and his siblings to do. He mentioned that sometimes, his friends would play with him, but oftentimes, his companion was his sister, Vicki. It was always the two of them in the 157 acres of wood that surrounded their home. “It had creeks on it and a lake,” he told me, “and we would wander all over the property and build forts and huts and shelters of any kind. We would build campfires and sleep out in the woods. Basically, in the trees. We were always trying to be somebody else in the woods. I was really comfortable out there.” Perhaps Davy Crockett really was a “preserver of childhood innocence” (112). He told me that they often pretended to be Davy Crockett (or Daniel Boone, who was another big icon of the time for my dad). He said “[Davy] would have an Indian friend and we would walk through the woods and look for coons and bears- we would trade off, [Vicki] would be an Indian first and I would be the mountain man, then we would switch”. My dad would also play “Native American” often, due to my family’s Cherokee ancestry. They would paint their faces with mud and use bow and arrows instead of guns. He thought it was cool to act out that side of the stories as well.

Columbia River, Skamania, WA

Columbia River, Skamania, WA

This was one difference I saw between my dad’s play and the kid’s in Griffin’s article. He didn’t only find joy out of being Davy exclusively. I thought a lot about the Griffin reading while listening to my dad talk, as well as when I was writing this. The way he described “Crockett play” in his article sounded both similar and different in some respects to the experience my dad had. While the kids mentioned in Griffin’s article “stood on the highest point of the backyard and silently surveyed the ‘frontier’ before them” (111), my dad climbed in the trees, built forts, and smeared mud over his face. His playing was more wild. And he didn’t have to imagine the forest. It was just there.

He continued, saying, “When we climbed trees, we would pretend like we were hiding from the Indians or people like Davy Crockett and waiting for them to go by. Always on the lookout for something, or we were hunting animals up in the trees- waiting to shoot and arrow or spear or use a pretend rifle made out of wood. When I got a BB gun I would carry that around as a hunting weapon too.” They also saved animals, something he thought Davy Crockett may not have done (“perhaps more of a Grizzly Adams influence”, he said). He told me about his outfits that he would wear as well, including the famous coonskin cap that Crockett always had on. “It was not a real one, but one of those dime store ones” he told me. One year, however, his biological father, Roger, sent him an actual coonskin cap. “I was 9 or 8, or I could have even been younger. I wore it for a while- I think he bought it for me cause of Davy Crockett or Daniel Boone. He was a kind of chauvinistic person- he would have sent Vicki something girly. But she probably wore it once I had it.”

Fess Parker as Davy Crockett

Fess Parker as Davy Crockett

It was at this point that I asked him about his sister. I asked whether or not this was a normal thing for girls to be doing, and whether or not she was going against what was commonly thought as a proper thing for a young girl to be doing when they were young. He told me that they didn’t really get to see a lot of media (even the amount of Davy Crockett they got to watch was minimal), and so society’s ideas of what girls should have been doing were not really imposed upon them. He also talked a bit about Vicki specifically, and how she was a “tomboy” when they were growing up. “I wouldn’t doubt that she played Davy Crockett as much as I did cause she was that kind of girl”. But clearly there was some sort of expectation there, or she would have gotten her own coonskin cap. This much is supported by the Griffin article, which talks much about the “consumer frenzy” that followed the coonskin caps (112). Everyone was getting them. So why not my aunt?

She adored the idea of playing Davy Crockett just as much as my dad did. And although she was not told this specifically, it was clear when she was not given a coonskin cap that some kind of ideal gender role still existed. Even if “boys and girls” were both invited to “join the Davy Crockett club” (114), it was still a time when “young girls were expected to…[learn] ‘proper’ feminine behavior” (115). And apparently playing Davy Crockett did not fall under this category. But it didn’t matter much. My aunt remained my father’s sidekick, the two playing in the woods until the sun had set far beyond the tops of the Cascades.

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2 thoughts on “My dad is a mountain man.

  1. Wonderful post, Noelle! I love how you underline that your Dad and Aunt didn’t need to “imagine” wilderness — it was just there. In other words, Crockett wasn’t utilized as a way to imagine/create a space/idea that no longer existed, but to spark ways of playing in the world that did. Excellent analysis of your Aunt’s play as well.

  2. I think that our dad’s would have gotten along great as kids. Like your dad, mine was not left to imagine the frontier in his fenced back yard, actually encouraged to explore it. Davy was more of an encouragement of the adventure rather than a new breakthrough. The gender differences our dads experienced were different, in that my dad grew up in the South where girls were gender roles were probably much more pronounced. It also seems like the isolation and the acres of land that your dad and his sister had to play on could have encouraged the young girl to experiment with the Crocket Craze and be more masculine as society was not often around to judge or correct her.

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