John? Davy? Is That You?

Matthew Simerly and Gideon Daniels present an image reminiscent of how John Crockett and young son David might have appeared when still living at Greene County’s Crockett birthplace.

Crockett Days are on the way!

We are now into August and still things are topsy-turvy. Two events, one state and one national, I was hosting in Greeneville had to be canceled. The state event was moved to Grundy County where, I was informed, “nobody is worried about a virus.” I made reservations at a nice rustic cabin retreat there, then it hit me: where is Grundy County?

It has truly been an unusual summer of mostly sheltering in place. I did go to a state Sons of the American Revolution meeting in Nashville last week where everyone was spread out and required to wear a mask. I had not worn a mask until then. We had our temperature checked at the door and were later informed that two gentlemen that had met with us in February had passed away with COVID, which was followed by a stern warning “this thing is real.”

A lot of us have had to reinvent how we do meetings and events, and as in most tribulations, new ideas and innovations are born. We will get through this and be the better for it.

Next weekend, Aug. 15-16, one of Greene County’s long-held traditions will take place. The David Crockett Birthplace State Park is hosting its annual Crockett Days. There were Crockett Day events in 1889-90, in 1936 and 1955. However, it became a staple annual event in 1958. It is observed on a weekend close to Crockett’s Aug. 17 birthday. Traditionally, for some reason, it is always the two hottest days of the month. Former park manager Mark Halback used to say, “I don’t know why Crockett could not have been born in October when it is cooler.” Miserable or not, it is always a grand time along the Nolichucky.

The park is taking steps to make sure that COVID-19 guidelines are observed. It is an outdoor event, and everyone is encouraged to maintain a distance of 6 feet and wear a mask. Areas will be roped off to assure a proper distance from historical interpreters as they demonstrate the old ways and share their stories with visitors.

Saturday at 9 a.m., the Sons of the American Revolution and the local militia will place a wreath at the Crockett monument honoring Battle of Kings Mountain veteran John Crockett. A tribute will be paid to David Crockett with the U.S. flag being raised by the Boy Scouts. The militia will fire a volley in honor of the Crocketts. This will be a solemnly fitting tribute to these legendary pioneers of Greene County, the state, and national narrative.

I remember in the ’70s when preachers would let church out early so everyone could get to the birthplace before the crowds. Some were already there for the church service offered on the park grounds. I remember when the park was 3 acres, and tobacco and corn grew where the swimming pool and visitor center are now. The Ruritan club had long rows of chicken halves cooking over coals. Those were some great memories, and some good eating.

I have a lot of fond memories over the years being there in period attire, just hanging out with the other reenactors sharing the Crockett story with visitors. In 2015 Mark Halback and I were scheduled to tell the Crockett story at the same time. After a bit of back and forth of “you go ahead” we decided to tag-team it. That is one of my favorite memories as we each added to the other’s narrative as it went along.

This year we will have several interpreters sharing the story of the life of young David. The Alamo Society president Brian Gibson will be there sharing in the festivities and storytelling. He will have books and items for sale. The president of the Direct Descendants and Kin of David Crockett organization, which is me for another year thanks to COVID, will be there involved in the story. Larry Brenneman, who is recognized as the foremost Crockett interpreter, will be there as well. Larry is often seen as Colonel Crockett at the Alamo.

I wrote about the 1889-90 celebrations last year. The 1936 “Davy Crockett Sesqui-Centennial Celebration” commemorating his birth was in Greeneville Aug. 16-17. A large pageant was held featuring the life of Davy Crockett. It was written and produced by Harrington-Russell Festivals. The general chairman was Harry Beekner of Capitol Theater fame. It started with an overture and the prologue: “1786 Freedom invokes a Champion of her Cause.” The play was divided into six episodes in Crockett’s life and included two interludes. Future Greeneville mayor James N. Hardin played the lead role of Davy Crockett. It had a large cast of actors, dancers, and folks that were part of six groups. There had to be a band out there somewhere. The Mexican troops that stormed the Alamo in episode six were the boys of the Civilian Conservation Corps Company 4492. The Creek Indians in the Fort Talladega scene was CCC company 1457. The Citizens of Philadelphia and Nacogdoches were played by the citizens of Greeneville. Too bad this wasn’t filmed, and I have never seen pictures. It is another grand event lost to time.

The 1958 celebration was big news in The Greeneville Sun. The Monday, Aug. 18 edition had the headline, “Davy Crockett Birthplace Park accepted by State in Ceremonies Sunday.” What I have never figured out is that while this and other articles mention it being “accepted by the state” it didn’t become a state park until 1986. If I ever figure that one out, I will let you in on it.

Present that day was Congressman Carrol Reece. Along with Reese was state representative Jimmy Quillen. It was called a “four-star” event with over 4,000 people attending. The paper said more than 1,000 were served lunch on Sunday.

In 1965 Quillen was back, this time as the keynote speaker in his new role as Congressman Quillen. Crockett Days would always attract a wide range of politicians and notable individuals.

Few realize today just how big a name David Crockett is. Crockett was a legend in his own time, made bigger by fictional plays such as “Lion of the West.” Then those little “penny” (as in one cent) publications sold like hot cakes when they featured the adventures of Davy Crockett. They relayed tales of Crockett in the Rockies fighting grizzly bears and riding sharks off the coast of California. Never mind that he had yet to cross the Mississippi River. Crockett was the superhero of his day, no doubt about it. He was real, he was legend, he was myth. Just the real Crockett is an amazing tale.

Tennessee has 17 state roadside historical markers related to Crockett. Try finding someone with more. There are two state parks and four local parks and historical sites connected to Crockett in Tennessee. Tennessee has Crockett County with the county seat of Alamo.

Then along came Disney in 1955 dedicating three programs to Crockett while never dreaming just how popular the series would be. Disney always lamented that if he could have known he would not have killed him off in the third program. Disney would give in to the craze and make three more pre-Alamo stories for their viewers. Not to mention cashing in on the biggest marketing boon of all time. Anything they could print Crockett on, they sold it. Every kid, girl or boy, wanted to be Davy Crockett. Truth be told, a lot of dads did too.

In 1836, newspapers published the now-famous quotation attributed to Congressman Crockett “I told the people of my district that if they voted for me, I would serve them as faithfully as I had done; but if not, they might go to hell, and I would go to Texas.” Crockett is supposed to have repeated this account in three places. One of which is in front of the Jackson, Tennessee, Courthouse where a sign marks the spot. I cannot tell you how much “stuff” I own with this quote. The folks in Texas love it, it’s everywhere!

Arkansas has the towns of Crockett and Crockett Bluff, not to mention Crockett’s Buffalo Trace. While in route from Tennessee to Texas, Crockett stopped off in Little Rock where a banquet was given in this honor. After much jollification he reportedly stated, “If I could rest anywhere it would be in Arkansas, where the men are of the real half-horse, half-alligator breed such as grow nowhere else on the face of the universal earth but just around the backbone of North America.”

He is the grandest of the heroes in Texas, where everything is bigger. Sure, they remember Austin, Houston, Travis and Bowie, but it is Crockett who gets top billing. When you visit the Alamo it’s Crockett! Everywhere, every gift shop, it’s all about Crockett and that famous quote. The Alamo sits in the shadow of the Crockett Hotel. They have the Crockett National Forrest, and the town of Crockett, to name a couple more. When Crockett wrote home after arriving in Texas, he called it “the garden spot of the world.”

People from around the world, thanks to Disney, travel to the U.S. to visit the sites related to Crockett. He is still a large tourist draw. In addition to the birthplace, we have the Crockett Tavern Museum in Morristown. Greene County has three of those state historic markers; two we just put up last year. The newspaper used to reflect “The Home of Davy Crockett” but that faded away.

Crockett Days is a great opportunity to bring the children and grandchildren and rekindle a bit of pioneer Crockett spirit.

Everyone seems to have some great memories from Crockett Days. Why don’t you put on the coonskin cap, put on the mask, stroll along the Nolichucky River or the paths along Limestone Creek and let the troubles of the day flow down the gentle current of the river and over the falls. Relax and enjoy some time learning about one of our national treasures-our native-born son David Crockett. It will be time well-spent, making your own memories.

Greene County historian Tim Massey is an award-winning writer for Civil War News with more than 40 photos featured on various magazine covers. He has served on various boards and held positions in several historic organizations. He can be reached at horses319@comcast.net.

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