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April 19, 2014

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Crockett Christmas:
How Pioneers Did It

Sun photo by Ken Little

Steve Ricker of Greeneville, center, is flanked by brothers Cohen Daniels, 3, left, and Ivan Daniels, 6, at the “Crockett Christmas” celebration Saturday at Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park.

Originally published: 2012-12-11 10:21:42
Last modified: 2012-12-11 10:22:33

Sights And Sounds

Of The Seasons

Were On Display

At State Park



LIMESTONE -- A window into how pioneers celebrated Christmas opened wide Saturday at Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park.

Volunteers clad in buckskins and coonskin caps mingled with visitors and shared glasses of hot wassail, also known as mulled cider.

Fiddle and dulcimer music filled the cozy Crockett replica cabin near the banks of the Nolichucky River, on the spot where the famous frontiersman is believed to have been born.

The event more than lived up to its billing as "a pioneer celebration of the Christmas season at Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park."

Those who came to the Crockett Christmas event were able to participate in living history, said Mark Halback, park manager.

Halback, wearing a tricorne hat popular in the 1700s and standing near a smoothbore musket he made himself, is well versed on the land the park sits on.

It's been in use by humans since the Paleoindian Period, which predates recorded history, Halback said.

By the time John Crockett, Davy's father, migrated westward and settled on the spot with his family about 1775, America's struggle for independence from British rule was heating up.

Volunteers from the Pioneer Friends of Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park, which sponsored the Crockett Christmas event, said that the role played by John Crockett and his contemporaries in this region was pivotal in the Revolutionary War.


Tim Massey, looking every bit the frontier outdoorsman with his raccoon hat and buckskin breeches, is a blood relative of Crockett.

"I'm a fifth great-nephew descended from his sister, Margaret Catherine Crockett," said Massey, who lives in Greeneville and is vice president of the Pioneer Friends group.

Davy Crockett was one of a family of four boys and three girls.

"Everybody (now) says Davy but he always said David," said Robert Etheredge of Greeneville, president of the Pioneer Friends group.

The men stood and talked on the wood porch of the little cabin, facing the Nolichucky River, as the Crocketts might have done more than two centuries ago.

Etheredge wore a "patch knife," or knife hanging around his neck sheathed in a bone horn also used to pour powder into a flintlock musket.

The knife also doubled as an eating implement at a time when silverware was rare on the frontier.

Massey wore center-seam moccasins, and the men had other clothing identifying them as "long hunters," Etheredge said.


The knife Etheredge wore at his side has a bear jaw for a handle. It and many of the other tools of everyday pioneer life displayed at the Christmas celebration were made by Greeneville native Steve Ricker, another Pioneer Friends member.

Neal Boger wore a tricorne hat and outdoor hunter's jacket that identified him as a Colonial-era tradesman or shopkeeper.

Because of the powerful legacy Davy Crockett left in this region, there are many 1700s reenactors, possibly even outnumbering Civil War reenactors.

"The important thing is to just keep the history alive. That's what's going on here," Boger said.


Etheredge said John Crockett's contributions to the nation's history are nothing less than monumental.

Crockett was a participant in the Battle of Kings Mountain, which took place on Oct. 7, 1780, in rural York County, S.C.

The battle between the Patriot militia and the Loyalist militia, commanded by British Maj. Patrick Ferguson, ended in defeat for the Loyalists. Crockett was among the group led by John Sevier who fought with the Patriot militia.

"It's the key to this area. We would not have a U.S. if the man who built a cabin here [didn't participate]," Etheredge said.

The British did not want white settlers on the Tennessee side of the mountains, and enlisted the Cherokees and other Native American tribes to fight in support of the British, he said.


Several times, Ricker fired the smoothbore musket that he made. Ricker said that, for a living, he reproduces guns and other items that were essential to pioneers.

Ricker is very highly regarded at what he does, Etheredge said.

"That's all I do for a living. We do frontier art," Ricker said.

Children and adults alike watched wide-eyed as Ricker put powder in the musket, cocked it, and fired it. A loud report and cloud of smoke rose from the gun.

In battles such as King's Mountain, it is estimated that 20,000 musket shots were fired, making for a very smoky battlefield, Ricker said.

Inside the cabin, musicians Art Lang and Cathy Ciolac provided musical entertainment for visitors as they enjoyed a warm cup of wassail.

Lang, of Roan Mountain, played a fiddle and later switched to a handcrafted fretless banjo made of a gourd, of the type pioneers used.


Davy Crockett and his family likely knew well many of the songs played by Lang and by Ciolac, who accompanied Lang on a mountain dulcimer.

"We know a number of them. All we play is old-time [music] anyway," Lang said. "A lot of it is from the 18th century."

One toe-tapping song, called "Soldier's Joy," originated in Scotland and has been played in the Tennessee mountains for more than 200 years.

"It was definitely around at that time," Lang said.


Eagerly taking in the Saturday's afternoon activities were two young brothers from Limestone, Ivan and Cohen Daniels, 3. Both were dressed in coonskin caps and other period clothing for the occasion.

The boys enjoyed the musket-firing demonstration. Ivan, 6, also spent some time inside the cabin listening to the musicians.

"I think that's cool. I get to be here and I get to see all the cool stuff that's here," he said.

Ivan had the honor of being sworn in as a "Junior Ranger" recently by Gov. Bill Haslam, who was in Erwin at a special ceremony to announce the future conveyance of more than 2,000 acres in the Rocky Fork area of Unicoi County.

The Rocky Fork area, including the 2,000 acres, will eventually become Tennessee's 55th state park.

Part of the park land is in Greene County, the rest in Unicoi.


"They are outdoor kids. They love being outdoors," said their dad, Josh Daniels.

Events such as Saturday's "Crockett Christmas" makes history come alive for children, Daniels said.

"It makes it more real for the kids so they can understand," he said. "It helps them understand the way they [pioneers] lived -- the house, the clothing.

"It's a real history lesson instead of trying to read it in a book. It's hands-on."

There's always something for the family to do, Daniels added.

"They've got camping, you can have a picnic, you can fish," he said. "They taught the kids how to throw tomahawks."

Melodie Daniels, the boys' mother, said many local residents aren't aware of all the park has to offer.

"It's been the most fun for us to do [as a family]," Daniels said. "There are so many programs designed to get kids off of video games."


Halback said the efforts of volunteers at the park are vital to passing the history on to younger generations.

"We have folks come out and mix a little bit of the history and the education into it," he said.

"One of the goals of this park is to keep this history alive and teach it to the visiting public."

For more information and stories, see The Greeneville Sun.

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