Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

December Books 23) A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, of the State of Tennessee.

I was startled to find this referenced in the bibliography for Lois McMaster Bujold's The Sharing Knife: Passage, and sufficiently intrigued to track it down on Project Gutenberg and speculate about the author's uncle. It's a book which is quite obviously a first step in a presidential election campaign that never happened, full of references to the incumbent Andrew Jackson, most of which are rather obscure to anyone not familiar with the micro-politics of the year 1834. There is a lot of interesting detail about life on the frontier, including gruesome details of combat with various tribes and indeed with other white men; there's a surprisingly lengthy section about the intricacies of bear hunting; there's a sense that Crockett (and/or his ghost-writer) intended for large sections of it to be read aloud to his adoring public. There is surprisingly little detail on the politics - this is the most substantial passage about his falling out with Andrew Jackson:
I can say, on my conscience, that I was, without disguise, the friend and supporter of General Jackson, upon his principles as he laid them down, and as "I understood them," before his election as president. During my two first sessions in Congress, Mr. Adams was president, and I worked along with what was called the Jackson party pretty well. I was re-elected to Congress, in 1829, by an overwhelming majority; and soon after the commencement of this second term, I saw, or thought I did, that it was expected of me that I was to bow to the name of Andrew Jackson, and follow him in all his motions, and mindings, and turnings, even at the expense of my conscience and judgment. Such a thing was new to me, and a total stranger to my principles. I know'd well enough, though, that if I didn't "hurra" for his name, the hue and cry was to be raised against me, and I was to be sacrificed, if possible. His famous, or rather I should say his in-famous, Indian bill was brought forward, and I opposed it from the purest motives in the world. Several of my colleagues got around me, and told me how well they loved me, and that I was ruining myself. They said this was a favourite measure of the president, and I ought to go for it. I told them I believed it was a wicked, unjust measure, and that I should go against it, let the cost to myself be what it might; that I was willing to go with General Jackson in every thing that I believed was honest and right; but, further than this, I wouldn't go for him, or any other man in the whole creation; that I would sooner be honestly and politically d—nd, than hypocritically immortalized. I had been elected by a majority of three thousand five hundred and eighty-five votes, and I believed they were honest men, and wouldn't want me to vote for any unjust notion, to please Jackson or any one else; at any rate, I was of age, and was determined to trust them. I voted against this Indian bill, and my conscience yet tells me that I gave a good honest vote, and one that I believe will not make me ashamed in the day of judgment. I served out my term, and though many amusing things happened, I am not disposed to swell my narrative by inserting them.
I wish he had swelled his narrative by inserting them. There's almost no indication in the book as to what Jackson's "Indian bill" (actually the Indian Removal Act) was about, and none at all as to Crockett's objections to it (other than that he thought it wicked and unjust).

Part of the charm of the book is the obscure vocabulary. What are we to make of the word "toated" in this passage, where he has an unexpected encounter with his future first wife?
I was sent for to engage in a wolf hunt, where a great number of men were to meet, with their dogs and guns, and where the best sort of sport was expected. I went as large as life, but I had to hunt in strange woods, and in a part of the country which was very thinly inhabited. While I was out it clouded up, and I began to get scared; and in a little while I was so much so, that I didn't know which way home was, nor any thing about it. I set out the way I thought it was, but it turned out with me, as it always does with a lost man, I was wrong, and took exactly the contrary direction from the right one. And for the information of young hunters, I will just say, in this place, that whenever a fellow gets bad lost, the way home is just the way he don't think it is. This rule will hit nine times out of ten. I went ahead, though, about six or seven miles, when I found night was coming on fast; but at this distressing time I saw a little woman streaking it along through the woods like all wrath, and so I cut on too, for I was determined I wouldn't lose sight of her that night any more. I run on till she saw me, and she stopped; for she was as glad to see me as I was to see her, as she was lost as well as me. When I came up to her, who should she be but my little girl, that I had been paying my respects to. She had been out hunting her father's horses, and had missed her way, and had no knowledge where she was, or how far it was to any house, or what way would take us there. She had been travelling all day, and was mighty tired; and I would have taken her up, and toated her, if it hadn't been that I wanted her just where I could see her all the time, for I thought she looked sweeter than sugar; and by this time I loved her almost well enough to eat her.

At last I came to a path, that I know'd must go somewhere, and so we followed it, till we came to a house, at about dark. Here we staid all night. I set up all night courting; and in the morning we parted. She went to her home, from which we were distant about seven miles, and I to mine, which was ten miles off.
I'm mystified. I find definitions for 'toat' including "The handle of a joiner's plane" and "A tenth of a ton, or a woman weighing 200 pounds", but those are nouns; I need a verb which suits the situation, and can't really think of one. But it certainly has the effect of adding to Crockett's homespun mystique. He concludes that
I do reckon we love as hard in the backwood country, as any people in the whole creation.
Of course, the book failed to get Crockett re-elected to congress in late 1834, and consequentially he went south to Texas and his story ended at the Alamo on 6 March 1836. But it's interesting to see an early example of a potential presidential candidate writing his autobiography, a path later pursued more successfully (from the perspectives of both political success and literary quality) by the current chap.
Tags: bookblog 2011
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