Tuesday, April 16, 2013

New Books on The Searchers and Davy Crockett

The new book on The Searchers is worth reading. Alan LeMay made his novel a composite of the events in several historical western narratives–not to the nth degree of Cormac McCarthy in Blood Meridian (as documented by John Sepich’s Notes On Blood Meridian) but still LeMay went to a surprising amount of research, with solid results.

Glenn Frankel’s The Searchers: The Making of An American Legend is 400 pages or so, counting the endnotes, a nice bibliography, and an index. The author goes over the Texas history behind the novel, then discusses the history of the novel, then the making of the movie and its wide legacy. Even though I knew much of it already, it was a solid read. Recommended.

Also recommended is the new book by Bob Thompson:
Born On A Mountain Top: On The Road With Davy Crockett And The Ghosts Of The Wild Frontier. Among other things, Thompson details the controversy over the evidence of whether Crockett went down fighting at the Alamo or surrendered before he was shot.

It amazes me that it took so long to decide to authenticate the de la Pena manuscript and then so little time to do it. It reminds me of the delay in authenticating Samuel Chamberlain’s My Confession, which would be so easy to do, but which now probably will not be accomplished during my lifetime. Or so it seems.

Thompson throws the evidence in the de la Pena manuscript out anyway in his assessment, not on the basis of historical authenticity, but because he is cynical about the then contemporary hype surrounding Davy Crockett and the Alamo.
And of course, if the Chamberlain manuscript is proven authentic, it doesn’t mean that the man always told the truth, nor does it prove the existence of Judge Holden by that name. Still, enquiring minds want to know.

Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett was an amazing work. It featured a very unconventional opening, especially for the 1950s. Crockett is not seen until he is thrown out of the bush by an angry bear, who, he says, he had been trying to grin to death. We know right then that this is the history of the legend that we are seeing, not the actual history of the man, and we also know then that there will be comic relief along the way.

But what is most impressive is that Crockett resists Andrew Jackson’s toady bureaucrat, and that he goes home to see about his family even when Andrew Jackson tries to extend the service of Crockett’s company for the duration of the war. Here we have a striking civil disobedience lesson, and a lesson in the evils of bureaucracy that no doubt lingered in many of the minds of those who first saw it way back when.

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