A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, David Crockett, 1834 and The Big Bear of Arkansas, T. B. Thorpe, 1836
Today, I bring you two stories of ego-maniacal white men exploiting the riches of North America! The Big Bear of Arkansas is a short story in which a man entertains his fellow steamboat riders with a tale of hunting bear in Arkansas. The Narrative of the Life of David Crockett is an autobiography written by Crockett to increase his popularity heading into a presidential campaign. Why did I choose to review these two items of literature together? Because I figured you only need to hear me rant about wanton, excessive bear slaughter once on this blog.
The Big Bear of Arkansas is a “big fish” story, but about a bear. This short story features a man bragging about the bounteous game and fertile soil of Arkansas. He then describes in detail his hunting of a semi-mystical bear. That’s all there is to it. It has a proto-Mark Twain vibe. The story also contains one of the most sickeningly racist metaphors I have ever heard. I won’t repeat it here, because it’s disgusting.
A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett was also disturbingly racist, which I’ll address in a moment. Crockett talks about his wild upbringing in Tennessee. He was the son of a dirt poor farmer, who hired young David out to neighboring farmers and traveling salesmen to help pay off his debts. Crockett describes his misadventures and hardscrabble lifestyle with colorful, folksy colloquialisms—really the only worthwhile element in this narrative.
As a young man, Crockett joined Andrew Jackson’s militia to fight the Creek Indians. If his callous description of the slaughter of Creek warriors doesn’t turn your stomach, this excerpt will:
We now shot them like dogs; and then set the house on fire, and burned it up with the forty-six warriors in it. I recollect seeing a boy who was shot down near the house. His arm and thigh was broken, and he was so near the burning house that the grease was stewing out of him. In this situation he was still trying to crawl along; but not a murmur escaped him, though he was only about twelve years old. So sullen is the Indian, when his dander is up, that he had sooner die than make a noise, or ask for quarters.
[…] We went back to our Indian town on the next day, when many of the carcasses of the Indians were still to be seen. They looked very awful, for the burning had not entirely consumed them, but given them a very terrible appearance, at least what remained of them. It was, somehow or other, found out that the house had a potatoe cellar under it, and an immediate examination was made, for we were all as hungry as wolves. We found a fine chance of potatoes in it, and hunger compelled us to eat them, though I had a little rather not, if I could have helped it, for the oil of the Indians we had burned up on the day before had run down on them, and they looked like they had been stewed with fat meat.
Now, I don’t know if that really happened. But I do know that Davy Crockett chose to include this in his autobiography, so he must have thought this charming detail would win hearts and minds and help him get the presidency.
The rest of the book consists of Crockett bragging about how much smarter he is than his political opponents and how great he is at hunting. He dedicates many pages to describing his bear hunts. He actually boasts that he could shoot so many bear in a day that he had to leave much of the meat to rot.
Crockett’s autobiography consists almost entirely of the egotistical ramblings of an entitled white man. His argument for why he deserves the presidency boils down to “I am great at slaughtering bear and Indians.” It’s nauseating.
You might like The Big Bear of Arkansas and A Narrative of the Life of David Crocket if:
- you’re really into hunting.
You might not like The Big Bear of Arkansas and A Narrative of the Life of David Crocket if:
- you’re disgusted by the worldview of settlers who not only felt entitled to shoot everything they saw whether man or beast, but felt that their skill as slaughterers was ennobling.
David Crockett was neither noteworthy nor admirable. He represents some of the worst, most destructive American ideals. Ideals that lead to cruelty and oppression. It’s completely ridiculous that we make a hero out of this guy. There are plenty of forgotten Americans who achieved more and lived more commendable lives. He died at the Alamo and he’s very quotable. That’s all.
Listen, it’s good to question the foundation of American values. If you’re on a mission to indulge your bitter skepticism and growing sense of dissatisfaction with the U.S.A., Crockett’s autobiography will help. Godspeed.