Quote of the Day: The Ballad of Davy Crockett

 

Born on a mountain top in Tennessee
Greenest state in the land of the free
Raised in the woods so he knew ev’ry tree
Kilt him a ba’ar when he was only three
Davy, Davy Crockett, King of the wild frontier!

My family first descended on the United States on October 29, 1963, when we arrived at Boston’s Logan Airport and settled for a year in a cramped second-story apartment in Brookline, MA.

I was in the fourth grade and attended Edward Devotion Elementary School, JFK’s alma mater. When Kennedy was shot, just three weeks after we arrived, the grief was palpable. Dad was a Fellow at Harvard’s Center for International Affairs, and the entire area came to a standstill.

It was a rude introduction to life in a new country, and something of a crash course in American culture, politics, and current events. I’ll never forget it, or the events of a couple of days later when Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald at close range and on live television. I’d never seen anything like it before, and I don’t think I have since. Perhaps the greatest exemplar of Reality TV ever, it occurred years before such a thing became popular, and maybe that’s why the carefully staged attempts of more recent times always seem like such a letdown to me.

I’ve loved history, and historical stories, books, and poems ever since I was a tiny child, although I think that prior to the events of late November 1963, I only knew two pieces of American history, both of them imaginatively portrayed and highly fictionalized.

I was familiar with Longfellow’s retelling of the exploits of one Boston silversmith named Paul Revere, and of his brave ride in April of 1775, to warn the treasonous patriotic colonists that British troops were on the move towards Concord and Lexington. (I was dismayed, years later to discover that he didn’t shout “The British are coming!” at every house he came to (to be fair, Longfellow never claimed that either), but moved with much stealth, and probably muttered, sotto-voce, something like “The regulars are coming out. Pass it on.”)

Longfellow’s poem was included in The Golden Treasury of Poetry, one of my favorite books when I was a kid. It’s a marvelous compendium of hundreds of poems of every sort, lavishly illustrated, and with a very short foreword by Louis Untermeyer which begins, “This is a book to grow on. It is also a book to grow with. In these pages are poems that will become favorites; you will never lose your taste for them.”

He was right: It is. I did. They did. I didn’t. It’s a wonderful book. My original volume didn’t fare so well, but several years ago I found a second-hand copy for a reasonable price, and my ancient self today loves it as much as the younger me did, all those decades ago.

The other US historical luminary I had some truck with at a very early age is the subject of today’s quote of the day, Tennessee’s native son, Davy Crockett.

For reasons which I was too young to inquire closely into at the time, Davy Crockett was a bit of a cultural phenomenon in the 1950s, in both the United States and the UK. Disney devoted several episodes of their Disneyland program to his life and legend (they later edited and pasted them together into a “movie,” and rebroadcast the TV shows, this time in color, in the 1960s. For those of you interested in finding out if nostalgia ever does actually measure up to what it used to be, they’re still available.

And the theme song, written by George Bruns and Thomas W. Blackburn (who scored a number of Disney movies), shot up the charts in several incarnations, one by the show’s star, Fess Parker, another by Tennessee Ernie Ford, and still another by the popular Bill Hayes. All three of them made the top ten on 1955’s Billboard US charts, as did a subsequent release by the bluegrass singer Mac Wiseman. Still more US recordings, from Burl Ives, The Sons of the Pioneers, and The Wellingtons did well, and numerous popular British artists covered it too. Many years later, in 1968, it was even recorded, in his own inimitable fashion, by Louis Armstrong.

Although many of his exploits are exaggerated for effect, or simply invented for the purposes of the song, Davy Crockett certainly did have an interesting life and deserved his reputation as a hunter and outdoorsman. He served three (non-consecutive) terms as a Tennessee Congressman between 1827 and 1835. His campaign for a fourth congressional term ended in defeat, and Crockett said his farewells, both to the nation’s capital and to his home state, by memorably announcing:

I told the people of my district that I would serve them as faithfully as I had done; but if not, they might go to hell, and I would go to Texas.

He did go to Texas, signed an oath of fealty to the Provisional Government of the soon-to-be Republic of Texas, and traveled down to San Antonio, arriving on February 8, 1836.

Davy Crockett’s life ended 27 days later on March 6, 1836, at the Battle of the Alamo. His legend has only continued to grow with time and, in keeping with his mythic status as an American folk hero, the circumstances of his death are disputed, with no-one being sure if he died in battle; or if he surrendered, or was captured, and subsequently executed.

I’m including the Bill Hayes version of the song with this post, because it’s the one I grew up with. (“The Ballad of Davy Crockett” was Hayes’s only UK hit, peaking at number two on the charts.) Dad loved it, and was prone to whistling it, tunelessly and irritatingly, to himself while engaged in home improvement projects. True to our treasured family traditions of eccentricity and cultural incoherence, he’d make up his own words when he occasionally burst into song. The most memorable of his efforts in this regard (I know this is true because it’s the only one I remember) was the refrain which went “Kwame, Kwame Nkrumah, King of the wide, wide boys.”

But that, my poppets, is another tale for another time.

Happy 101st Birthday, Dad. Miss you much.

.

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  1. SkipSul Inactive
    SkipSul
    @skipsul

    Back when Disney was new to cable (and unscrambled if you had a backyard dish – which we did), and more interested in its own back catalog (and less embarrassed by it) for a time they broadcast these episodes, and I watched every one I could.  I don’t know if they’d still hold up for me now, but at the time they painted an image in my head of a more dangerous and adventurous America than my own backyard could provide.  And of course, long after they had gone out of fashion, I wanted my own coonskin cap.

    • #1
  2. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    She: to warn the treasonous patriotic colonists

    Yep, the winner gets to choose the nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs used when recounting history.  We in the South have been dealing with it for 155 years . . .

    • #2
  3. Michael Brehm Coolidge
    Michael Brehm
    @MichaelBrehm

    This recently appeared in my Spotify recommendations:

    The Ballad of Davy Crockett was a favorite song in my Dad’s repertoire. Hearing it again reminds me of all the hikes up and down the Stony Creek trail that I took with my Dad when I was “knee-high to a grasshopper.”

    • #3
  4. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    She: I was familiar with Longfellow’s retelling of the exploits of one Boston silversmith named Paul Revere, and of his brave ride in April of 1775, to warn the treasonous patriotic colonists that British troops were on the move towards Concord and Lexington.

    • #4
  5. Vectorman Inactive
    Vectorman
    @Vectorman

    I remember having a plastic version of the “coonskin cap” back then, and used it for Halloween. I outgrew it quickly, but kept it for a few years.


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    • #5
  6. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Michael Brehm (View Comment):

    This recently appeared in my Spotify recommendations:

    The Ballad of Davy Crockett was a favorite song in my Dad’s repertoire. Hearing it again reminds me of all the hikes up and down the Stony Creek trail that I took with my Dad when I was “knee-high to a grasshopper.”

    I’m glad!  I love it when posts (mine, or others’) evoke memories like that.

    • #6
  7. Chris O. Coolidge
    Chris O.
    @ChrisO

    Speaking of Bill Hayes, we’ve talked about him before here because of his appearance(s) on The Tonight Show, including here with Jimmy Fallon.

    https://youtu.be/KVA89DT2j2M

    • #7
  8. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Chris O. (View Comment):

    Speaking of Bill Hayes, we’ve talked about him before here because of his appearance(s) on The Tonight Show, including here with Jimmy Fallon.

    https://youtu.be/KVA89DT2j2M

    My mother was charmed when he turned up on her favorite soap opera, Days of Our Lives.

    • #8
  9. EHerring Coolidge
    EHerring
    @EHerring

    Somewhere in my home library I have his autobiography.

    • #9
  10. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher
    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo…
    @GumbyMark

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    I remember having a plastic version of the “coonskin cap” back then, and used it for Halloween. I outgrew it quickly, but kept it for a few years.


    Join other Ricochet members by submitting a Quote of the Day post, the easiest way to start a fun conversation. There are many open days on the March Signup Sheet. We even include tips for finding great quotes, so choose your favorite quote and sign up today!

    Still have a photo of me as a 4 year old wearing my coonskin cap.

    • #10
  11. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    We sang that song all the time as kids, and so many of the boys wore their coonskin caps to school.

    • #11
  12. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Boy, that has to be the worst version of the song ever. I wonder why the lyricist didn’t end with Crocket’s heroic death.

    And that reached number 2 on the British charts?  The Brits have a tin ear for music, a tin tongue for food.

    I loved your post and your prose, She, as usual.  I sometimes think that you’re like one of those “mute inglorious Miltons” that Thomas Gray mentions in Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard — though you’re not buried and you’re not a male, and you’re not mute.  Hell, I don’t know what I’m talking about.  You’ll have to sort it out for yourself.

    • #12
  13. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Boy, that has to be the worst versions of the song ever. I wonder why the lyricist didn’t end with Crocket’s heroic death.

    And that reached number 2 on the British charts? The Brits have a tin ear for music, a tin tongue for food.

    I loved your post and your prose, She, as usual. I sometimes think that you’re like one of those “mute inglorious Miltons” that Thomas Gray mentions in Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard — though you’re not buried and you’re not a male, and you’re not mute. Hell, I don’t know what I’m talking about. You’ll have to sort it out for yourself.

    I think of myself more as a “flower born to blush unseen.”  Thank goodness there’s no desert air around here, though.  And no waste.

    Thanks @kentforrester (I think), in spite of your animadversions (!) on my countrymen’s musical and gastronomic inclinations.  No bubble and squeak for you!

    PS: “Mute” is an adjective that is rarely applied to me.  You can ask around, friends and foes alike, and I doubt you’ll find a single instance.

    • #13
  14. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    Here’s the full set of lyrics for the song, on Walt Disney’s site: https://genius.com/Walt-disney-records-the-ballad-of-davy-crockett-lyrics. Those of you who aren’t fans (@kentforrester, I’m looking at you, should be glad that the popular version was abbreviated.

    KentForrester (View Comment):
    Boy, that has to be the worst versions of the song ever. 

    I suspect the worst “ever” may have been the recording by Pinky and Perky, two pig puppets from a British children’s television show in the 50s.  I think they slightly pre-dated Alvin and the Chipmunks.

    I can’t find them singing Davy Crockett anywhere, but here’s a sample.  You’ll get the idea:

     

     

    • #14
  15. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    She (View Comment):

    KentForrester (View Comment):

     

    Thanks @kentforrester (I think), in spite of your animadversions (!) on my countrymen’s musical and gastronomic inclinations. No bubble and squeak for you!

    I’ll have to admit that the British have better names for their food than we do.  By the way, She, I’m trying hard to keep up with you in Likes.  Right now you’re ahead by five, but yours has been up longer than mine.  Despite my competitive spirit, I was forced, by my sense of fairness, to give you a Like. 

    • #15
  16. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    She (View Comment):

    Here’s the full set of lyrics for the song, on Walt Disney’s site: https://genius.com/Walt-disney-records-the-ballad-of-davy-crockett-lyrics. Those of you who aren’t fans (@kentforrester, I’m looking at you, should be glad that the popular version was abbreviated.

    KentForrester (View Comment):
    Boy, that has to be the worst versions of the song ever.

    I suspect the worst “ever” may have been the recording by Pinky and Perky, two pig puppets from a British children’s television show in the 50s. I think they slightly pre-dated Alvin and the Chipmunks.

    I can’t find them singing Davy Crockett anywhere, but here’s a sample. You’ll get the idea:

     

    I can just hear those cute little devils singing Davy Crockett.

     

    • #16
  17. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    We sang that song all the time as kids, and so many of the boys wore their coonskin caps to school.

    Is it true that you used to dip their coon tails in the inkwell? 

    • #17
  18. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    She (View Comment):

    Comment):

    Thanks @kentforrester (I think), in spite of your animadversions (!) on my countrymen’s musical and gastronomic inclinations. No bubble and squeak for you!

    She, I think that’s very animadversional of you to deny me bubble and squeak. I don’t think that made sense.  I just wanted to use all three funny words in the same sentence. 

    • #18
  19. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    KentForrester (View Comment):

     

    Thanks @kentforrester (I think), in spite of your animadversions (!) on my countrymen’s musical and gastronomic inclinations. No bubble and squeak for you!

    I’ll have to admit that the British have better names for their food than we do. By the way, She, I’m trying hard to keep up with you in Likes. Right now you’re ahead by five, but yours has been up longer than mine. Despite my competitive spirit, I was forced, by my sense of fairness, to give you a Like.

    Everything in French sounds edible; in British English not so much. 

    • #19
  20. EB Thatcher
    EB
    @EB

    She: I was familiar with Longfellow’s retelling of the exploits of one Boston silversmith named Paul Revere, and of his brave ride in April of 1775, to warn the treasonous patriotic colonists that British troops were on the move towards Concord and Lexington.

    My English husband’s parents came to Atlanta to visit us the Christmas after we were married. One night we were out to dinner and the subject of the American Revolution came up.  I said (only half-) jokingly that the colonists had won because “God was on our side.”  My mother-in-law said with a sweet smile, “It’s so interesting to hear things from another perspective.”

     

    • #20
  21. lowtech redneck Coolidge
    lowtech redneck
    @lowtech redneck

    I think there was some kind of minor Davy Crockett revival during the 80s, I also have memories of that coonskin hat, as well as watching reruns of the old black and white TV show.  

    • #21
  22. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    In checking a few dates and facts for this post, I ran across several references to the fact that Davy Crockett didn’t particularly like his coonskin cap.  Yet somewhere, I’m pretty sure I saw a quote from his sister that (perhaps the last time she saw him?) he was trundling off somewhere in his frontier outfit and his coonskin cap.  I can’t find it right now, but it makes me think that perhaps the coonskin cap isn’t an apocryphal part of the legend.

    • #22
  23. WillowSpring Member
    WillowSpring
    @WillowSpring

    Wow – that brings back memories.  I remember watching the series and at one of my father’s company picnics, I returned home with a treasured coonskin-cap.  I wore it for days.

    p.s. You can get them from Amazon now

    • #23
  24. She Reagan
    She
    @She

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    Comment):

    Thanks @kentforrester (I think), in spite of your animadversions (!) on my countrymen’s musical and gastronomic inclinations. No bubble and squeak for you!

    She, I think that’s very animadversional of you to deny me bubble and squeak. I don’t think that made sense. I just wanted to use all three funny words in the same sentence.

    LOL.

    • #24
  25. Richard Finlay Inactive
    Richard Finlay
    @RichardFinlay

    She: The most memorable of his efforts in this regard (I know this is true because it’s the only one I remember)

    I will find a way to force this into a conversation, somehow.

    • #25
  26. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Verizon gave me a year of Disney+. When I dug into the catalogue, I found the old DC TV shows stitched together into several movies. Fun to watch after all these years.

    • #26
  27. Quietpi Member
    Quietpi
    @Quietpi

    He was a hero in my youth, clearly in part due to the Disney series.  Still is, in many ways.  I have his autobiography around here, too.  

    He hated the nickname “Davy.”  

    One of his most memorable and still – applicable quotations:  “Remember these words when I am dead: First make sure you’re right.  Then go ahead.”

    • #27
  28. Lilly B Coolidge
    Lilly B
    @LillyB

    This post just made for a lovely bedtime story for my girls, with music and poetry as post scripts. Thank you!

    • #28
  29. JosePluma Thatcher
    JosePluma
    @JosePluma

    One of my favorite songs as a kid was Remember the Alamo by the Kingston Trio.  It starts out with a bang:

    A hundred-and-eighty were challenged by Travis to die.
    By the line that he drew with his sword when the battle was nigh.
    “The man who would fight to the death cross over but him that would live better fly, “
    And over his line went a hundred-and-seventy-nine.

    Wow.  But you wouldn’t want to base your historical knowledge on this song:

    And young Davy Crockett was smilin’ and laughin’, the challenge was fierce in his eye.

    Mr. Crockett was 49 years old-a little long in the tooth even now.  (Unless you’re running for president.)

    • #29
  30. JoelB Member
    JoelB
    @JoelB

    (I was dismayed, years later to discover that he didn’t shout “The British are coming!” at every house he came to (to be fair, Longfellow never claimed that either), but moved with much stealth, and probably muttered, sotto-voce, something like “The regulars are coming out. Pass it on.”)

    I think they still considered themselves to be British at that point. It would have been rather odd.

    Oh, and Captain Kangaroo used to play a song on his  TV program that went something like “Skiddle de – dum boom hot pot bubble and squeak.” was that a British folk song?

    • #30