Archive for May, 2011

The Wall Street Journal Reviews Crockett

Saturday, May 28th, 2011

An Inexplicable Gift for Fame
by Henry Allen

The mystery is not who Davy Crockett was but how he got that way and why.

In 1834, two years before he died at the Alamo at 49, Crockett himself posed the same question: “I know that, obscure as I am, my name is making a considerable fuss in the world,” he wrote in his autobiography. “I can’t tell why it is, nor in what it is to end. Go where I will, everybody seems anxious to get a peep at me. . . . Therefore, there must be something in me, or about me, that attracts attention, which is even mysterious to myself.”

He was being honest, not modest. Until he became an author, notable achievement had eluded him except in the killing of bears and in the selling of their skins, meat and oil rendered from fat. He claimed to have killed 47 in one month. He also said that he had killed one with a knife, no easy trick.

He was a brave soldier of no particular distinction in battles against the Indians, though he acquired the title of colonel, not uncommon in the South, by being elected commander of a local militia. He was elected to three terms in Congress, but he failed to win passage of a single bill, including the homesteading bill he campaigned on, one that would have empowered the poor to buy public lands along with the rich he despised—plantation owners such as his fellow folk hero, Andrew Jackson.

He came to ruin as a manufacturer of gunpowder and barrel staves. He bought farms and neglected them. He blazed few trails along the lines of explorers such as Daniel Boone or Kit Carson. He stayed mostly in Tennessee until his debts were huge, his wife and children had left him, and he’d just lost an election to the House.

At that point, there was nothing left for him but to go to Texas, fulfilling a campaign promise to voters who would desert him: “You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas,” he said. Back then Texas was known as a last refuge for debtors and desperadoes—the empty cabins of unlucky Tennesseans would be marked with “GTT” for “Gone to Texas.”

And yet, and yet . . . he is Davy Crockett, the American’s American, folk hero and icon, exemplar of frontier independence, template of man at home alone in the wilderness, teller of tales, drinker of whiskey, a sharpshooting legend in buckskins and a coonskin cap, famous in his own time and ours.

On his fateful trip to Texas, a Little Rock, Ark., newspaper reported that “hundreds flocked to see the wonderful man, who, it is said, can whip his weight in wild-cats, or grin the largest panther out of a tree.”

Crockett is best known to us from Walt Disney’s apotheosis of him on television in the 1950s. In movies he has been played by John Wayne, Johnny Cash, Brian Keith and Billy Bob Thornton, among others. “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” from the 1954 TV series starring Fess Parker, was a much recorded hit song, though Crockett was not “born on a mountaintop in Tennessee” and had not “kilt him a b’ar when he was only three.”

He was big for his time—one estimate put him at 6 feet and 180 to 200 pounds. He had pink cheeks, a big chin, bright eyes and a genial innocence about him, a charm that prompted the writing of biographies and almanacs, starting before his death and continuing through this spring’s biography, “David Crockett” by Michael Wallis, a specialist in Western Americana and biographer of other folk icons like Billy the Kid and Pretty Boy Floyd.

Mr. Wallis uses a chronological format to pick through the much picked-through records of Crockett’s life along with the re-told tales and myths. He calls him David, because that’s how Crockett signed his name, though some documents of the time refer to him as Davy.

Crockett was born in 1786, Scots-Irish, a descendant of the impoverished, raucous, land-hungry, war-loving tribe that had swarmed into America in the 1700s in a horde far outnumbering the Puritans or Quakers or Cavaliers of Virginia—2½ times as many as all the others combined. Their restlessness settled the West all the way to California.

He had literate parents but next to no schooling. He grew up in dirt-floored cabins in the Tennessee forest. In fear of a beating from his hard-drinking debtor father, a tavern-keeper, he ran away from home at 13 and returned when he was almost 16. Thanks to a Quaker farmer, he then learned how to read and write.

He seems to have been a genius as a talker, famous as much for the telling as for the tales themselves. Mr. Wallis quotes a Texan named John Swisher, who wrote that Crockett “had an ease and grace about him which, added to his strong natural sense and the fund of anecdotes that he had gathered, rendered him irresistible.” Swisher recalled that “he conversed about himself in the most unaffected manner without the slightest attempt to display any genius or smartness.”

Crockett’s brags were legendary, but they were a comic art form practiced throughout the frontier, and so tongue-in-cheek as to be a form of modesty in themselves, as in the much-reported: “I’m that same David Crockett, fresh from the backwoods, half-horse, half-alligator, a little touched with the snapping turtle; can wade the Mississippi, leap the Ohio, ride upon a streak of lightning.”

Crockett possessed that inexplicable gift of fame, something produced by some mysterious scent, vibration, telepathy or maybe a noise so high and fine that only dogs can hear it—dogs and the media.

In any case, Crockett matched the modern definition of celebrity—famous for being famous. The difference is, his fame persisted. Think of the unspeakably famous people whose celebrity is fading like the Cheshire cat—Winona Ryder, Ross Perot, G. Gordon Liddy, Phil Donahue. Et tu, James Reston, king columnist of the New York Times? Note too the fame of Sarah Palin, who plays the Crockett card—geniality, folksiness, rifle shooting, wisecracks and wilderness adventures recorded for television.

Crockett helped teach Westerners who they already were and gave them a proud self-consciousness, like that of New Englanders with their Yankee jokes. (E.g.: You can’t get theah from heah.) He spoke the American language, funny and sly in the frontier style that would later make Mark Twain famous, too.

In his autobiography, “A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, of the State of Tennessee, Written by Himself,” he warns the reader: “On the subject of my style, it is bad enough, in all conscience, to please critics, if that is what they are after. They are a sort of vermin, though, that I shan’t so much as even stop to brush off.”

If Mr. Wallis had quoted more of Crockett’s own narrative I would have read it gladly, but he focuses on getting the facts straight, even wading into the dispute over exactly how Crockett died at the Alamo, a question that will never be settled. Did he die fighting? Did he surrender and then die at the hands of Gen. Santa Anna’s officers? In the end, Mr. Wallis asks, “does it truly matter how Crockett died?” His fame helped make the battle a great moment in American history, and Mr. Wallis even argues that “to those who claim that God made Texas, one may say that, figuratively, Crockett invented Texas.”

He invented a kind of American manhood, too, one that depends on believing it can always survive walking alone down whatever mean streets—can pack up and head West as a last resort, like Huck Finn lighting out “for the Territory” or Jack Kerouac fleeing nothing and everything by heading west in “On the Road.”

Most of all, though, he invented himself, and we still want to hear about him.

Michael Wallis at the Tulsa Historical Society

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

On May 17th, 2011, Michael greeted readers at the Tulsa Historical Society and read from his three new books, The Wild West: 365 Days, David Crockett: The Lion of the West and Pretty Boy: The Life and Times of Charles Arthur Floyd.

The Tulsa Historical Society is the only museum in Tulsa focused on building, preserving, and presenting a broad based general collection of Tulsa’s history. Thanks to the vision, tenacity and commitment of dedicated board members and volunteers, the Tulsa Historical Society is located within a superb 28,000 square foot facility and grounds, formerly the site of a historic home in the Woodward Park complex. The Tulsa Historical Society is positioned to become increasingly valuable to the Tulsa community as they grow and expand their ability to collect, preserve and present Tulsa’s history.

Daily News Reviews David Crockett

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Mountain man, American hero: Davy Crockett embodied many qualities we still cherish
by Stanley Crouch

In a country overrun by myths, it is crucial to separate important figures from pleasant, paranoid or even poetic portrayals. The facts are always more interesting; bringing a historical figure to human size can be remarkable in itself.

That is the case with the recent “David Crockett: The Lion of the West” by the historian Michael Wallis, whose earlier books include “Pretty Boy,” an astonishingly serious treatment of the Depression-era outlaw Charles Arthur Floyd, a murderous and tragic figure.

I hope to someday have read all of his books, because Wallis understands the intriguing and mysterious element of American life and history. Whether in the Wild West that Wallis often writes about or in contemporary America, we are always quick to confer fame, but that fame is quite often followed by misunderstanding.

The tension between fame and notoriety, and how both are distorted in our rapacious media, is captured by Wallis in “Pretty Boy,” which tracks the career of one of the Midwest’s most notorious bank robbers. Wallis portrays a crude and savagely violent world in which the criminals of the 1930s are mowed down one by one, never quite understanding that the fateful powers that have elevated them – the newspaper, the photograph, the radio – are also helping to destroy them. There is a lesson here for today’s celebrities, too.

“David Crockett” concerns itself with a different breed of American. The pioneers of the age of Manifest Destiny moved into the wilderness of the American West with an unprecedented optimism. Driven by a dreamy hope, they completed their conquests out of the limelight.

For all the blues that these men would bring to domestic Indian tribes, our American predecessors were a hearty bunch who played the cards that frontier life served them, even if those cards were made out of razor blades. The bitching and whining of our time would not have been well received in Crockett’s world.

And as Wallis makes clear, Crockett had many more dimensions than the fictional character Walt Disney’s crew fashioned for children in “Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter” in the 1950s. Disney’s Crockett was a kitschy sensation of coonskin caps, plastic rifles and whatever else could feed the bottomless hunger for folksy American heroes.

As I am now learning in Wallis’ book, the real Crockett was folksy but intelligent, a masterful yarn spinner, a tremendously good shot and a very sturdy figure. And yes, Crockett was an actual Indian fighter – but he also opposed President Andrew Jackson’s genocidal policies.

As with “Pretty Boy,” Michael Wallis gives us a vital history of one segment of our shared past by clarifying the context of Crockett’s time, which – like the Depression – is crowded with misconceptions. The bittersweet history of our nation does not need the froth of exaggeration: All the poetry we need can easily be found in the souls of the people themselves.

This is especially true when the very idea of democracy leads citizens to stand up to whatever they have to face, simply because they believe that anything is possible.

No matter how misused and abused that idea might be, it still accounts for the countless Americans who want to be pioneers in this time – and may well turn out to be.

Michael Wallis on StudioTulsa

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Investigating an American Myth: Michael Wallis on the Legend of Davy Crockett

On today’s StudioTulsa, writer Michael Wallis discusses his latest book, “David Crockett: The Lion of the West” (Norton), which attempts to discern the truth about this out-sized personality. Wallis says that while most historians concentrate their efforts on the nature of the frontiersman’s controversial death at the Alamo, Crockett also lived an amazing (and somewhat unknown, or else less well-remembered) life: as a scout, hunter, and crack marksman; a champion in Congress for both the poor and the Indians; and as a humorist and storyteller who captivated a nation.

Tulsa’s acclaimed Public Radio interview program is Studio Tulsa. Since its inception more than a decade ago, Rich Fisher has hosted the program, anchoring it with his down-to-earth interviewing style that makes sense of complex issues and uncovers new perspectives on topics we might take for granted. Despite the wide variety of guests Rich has interviewed, many have one thing in common: At some point during the interview, you may hear them say, “That’s a very good question.” It’s hard to sum up the show’s continuing success any better than that.

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Urban Tulsa Weekly Features Michael Wallis

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Larger Than Life
by Mike Easterling

Michael Wallis remembers well the first time it occurred to him that being a writer seemed like a pretty good way to make a living.

At age 12, the Rockville, Mo., youth entered an essay contest sponsored by the American Automobile Association on “What It Means to Be a School Patrol Boy.” Wallis’ entry won first place, and the budding young writer was rewarded with a trip to a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game.

On the day of the game, Wallis and his father were delighted when a limousine pulled up in front of their suburban St. Louis home. They climbed in the back, enjoying the ride to Sportsman’s Park, the team’s ancient ballpark on the north side of the city. The elder Wallis was provided with a box seat just a few yards from the field and all the crisp, refreshing malt beverages he could drink, courtesy of the team’s ambitious owner, August “Gussie” Busch Jr., who was busy turning the small family operation he had inherited several years earlier into the world’s largest brewery, Budweiser.

The younger Wallis, meanwhile, was escorted down to the field and into the dugout. So excited he could barely breathe, he quickly found himself ensconced on the Cardinal bench between two of his heroes, third baseman Ken Boyer and outfielder Stan “the Man” Musial — the former on his way to becoming a St. Louis legend and the latter already there. To this day, Wallis can recall the peculiar aroma of sweat and tobacco juice, even urine, permeating the filthy, dank dugout, ballplayers being the vilest of professional athletes in terms of their personal habits.

But the young dugout visitor felt no revulsion to the smell. To him, it was merely another element in an experience that was nearly incomprehensible in its grandeur.

“I was catatonic,” Wallis said, laughing, recalling how he sat glassy eyed and slack-jawed among the spitting, swearing, crotch-scratching ballplayers for two and a half hours before the fabled Musial ended the proceedings with a walk-off homer in the bottom of the ninth to win it for the Redbirds — the perfect end to a perfect day for the young visitor.

Wallis and his father retired to their limo for the ride home, the vehicle’s windows rolled down to catch the cool evening breeze. Still glowing, the boy looked down at the baseballs in his lap — one autographed by Musial, the other by Boyer — then glanced at his father, who was still a little glassy-eyed himself, having enjoyed his fill of Mr. Busch’s signature product.

“You know,” father Wallis said to his son, “this writing is not a bad deal.”

Michael Wallis grinned at his dad and nodded his agreement before glancing out his window as the limo zoomed back toward Rockville. Not a bad deal at all, he thought.

You can’t exactly draw a straight line from that moment to the life Michael Wallis enjoys today, more than five decades later, but there’s no overstating the impact that experience had on the Missouri native. Wallis, who moved to Tulsa in 1982, so enjoyed his first taste of success as a writer that, after a stint in the Marine Corps and college, he made words his career.

And what a career it’s been. Best known as the author of the seminal 1990 book “Route 66: The Mother Road,” Wallis finds himself on a publicity tour celebrating the May 16 release of his 16th book, “David Crockett: The Lion of the West,” while his 17th effort, “The Wild West 365” hit bookstores on May 1.

After all these years, and despite all that success, Wallis — who will turn 66 soon, a rather important milestone for a man whose name has become synonymous with the world’s most famous highway — still loves writing, though he finds it as difficult as ever to get started.

“When I really, truly enjoy writing is after I finally make myself do it,” he said. “Oftentimes, and I know I’ve talked to others who write, and they’ve had the same experience — it seems like I try to do every other thing I can before writing, and not just because I’m a procrastinator.

“But when the phone’s off, when the Internet’s off, when it’s quiet and still, and it’s just me and that chair and that keyboard, that’s when I’m happiest. And I ask myself, ‘Why don’t I remember that?’ Despite the fact it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, it’s also the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

It’s also something that gets more difficult all the time, he says.

“I’m always trying to do better, to live up to a reputation you’ve tried to achieve,” he said. “You try not to let down the readers who have followed you, but, more than that, I try not to let down myself. There’s a great obligation that comes with writing.”

A long line of legends

Michael Wallis has been writing about larger-than-life characters throughout his career — bank robber Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd, the late Cherokee Chief Wilma Mankiller and especially gunslinger Billy the Kid. But among the subjects he has chosen to tackle, only the Kid comes close to matching the outsized myth that accompanies the focus of Wallis’ latest book, “David Crockett: The Lion of the West.”

Wallis himself wonders which legend has grown larger over the years.

“It’s hard to say, if you would go to a village in eastern Europe or Miami Beach or Ontario and said, ‘Have you heard of Davy Crockett?’ or ‘Have you heard of Billy the Kid?’, it would be interesting to see which one would end up with the most tallies,” he said. “They’re so vastly different in every aspect. But the thing they do have in common is that both of these men certainly became legends in their own time, especially Crockett.

“Much of the mythmaking and the continued story of the Kid went on after his demise, and then from time to time has been brought back up and rejuvenated, so to speak. Same with Crockett, except that Crockett truly was a major personality in America by the time he was in his forties.”

One thing Crockett was not, Wallis says, is the character as he was portrayed either by Fess Parker during the 1950s ABC-TV series or by John Wayne in the 1960 Hollywood blockbuster The Alamo. Not that Crockett would have minded those swashbuckling characterizations, Wallis believes.

“Like a lot of myths, he’s prone to clichés and stereotypes and myth,” he said. “And a lot of the myth, he had something to do with, you know. I think he rather enjoyed some of the things that went on.”

Of all the depictions of Crockett that have emerged in popular culture — and the man has been portrayed literally dozens of times in big- and small-screen versions of his story over the years, as well as countless books — Wallis said Billy Bob Thornton’s portrayal of him in director Ron Howard’s 2004 version of The Alamo comes closest to hitting the mark.

“But even that was off,” Wallis said.

Still, it is those whiz-bang, one-dimensional depictions of the iconic Tennessean that in many ways piqued Wallis’ interest in writing about him. In the book’s introduction, Wallis recalls the fascination with the Crockett character that poured over the America of Wallis’ youth.

“It’s hard for anyone born after, say, 1958 to recall the ‘Davy Crockett’ frenzy that swept American in the 1950s,” he writes. “So profound was the cultural inundation that no baby boomer can fail to recall this charismatic American hero’s name. Such recognition, to my way of thinking, is a good thing, but the veritable flood of misinformation about Crockett’s life that resulted — which I became aware of only later in the life, and which in part motivated me to write this book — created a mythology that continues to this day.”

Like millions of other American boys, Wallis was mesmerized that December night in 1954 when he sat down in the living room before his family’s 12-inch 1950 RCA Victor television for an episode of Disneyland, an anthology series that was showing the first installment of a three-part series on Crockett. Wallis characterizes that experience as an unforgettable one.

“I was a goner,” he writes. “Within only minutes, the larger-than-life Crockett, clad in buckskin and wearing a coonskin cap, had won me over. My fickle 9-year-old heart pounded.”

Wallis, and the other boys in his neighborhood, couldn’t have been more devoted to their new hero.

“Davy Crockett quickly became our obsession,” he writes. “Until he came into our lives, we had mostly played cowboys and Indians; other times, we went to war as pretend soldiers, using the helmets and canteens our fathers and uncles brought home from the war. The nearby woods where we skinny-dipped in the creek turned into our hunting ground for imaginary ferocious bears like the ones Davy stalked. The dusty hill topped by a stand of oaks on the edge of the playground became our Alamo, and every day we pretended we were in a pitched battle against the forces of Santa Anna. We became Davy Crockett, William Travis, and Jim Bowie, the trio of legendary Alamo heroes. No one wanted to be with the Mexican side, so our enemy, as if borrowing a page from the cold war, was largely invisible. In the end, we died anyway, just as our heroes did so long ago, but we knew we would miraculously be resurrected the next day and come back for another round of combat.”

By the summer of 1955, Wallis’ Crockett obsession had reached a fever pitch. He and his parents loaded up their dark green 1952 Plymouth and headed south out of St. Louis for Tennessee for their vacation. Young Wallis — his new coonskin cap perched atop his head — impatiently endured the stops at such tourist attractions as the Ryman Auditorium, home of the Grand Ole Opry, and Hermitage, home and final resting place of President Andrew Jackson. For him, the highlight of the trip would be the time the family spent in a motel in Gatlinburg, a resort town near Crockett’s birthplace in eastern Tennessee.

Wallis delighted in soaking his feet in the Little Pigeon River and riding a ski lift to the top of Crockett Mountain, glimpsing black bears in the distance. His imagination ran wild.

“I slept in my coonskin hat,” he writes.

The family learned from the woman who ran the motel that there was a wild blackberry patch just up the road, and when Wallis and his father returned to the establishment one day with a load of freshly picked berries, the woman whipped them up a batch of blackberry cobbler. The boy quickly dubbed it “Crockett Cobbler,” labeling it the best he had ever eaten. When the family returned home, it did so with two empty milk cartons crammed full of blackberries in the ice chest. Crockett Cobbler was about to become a staple in the Wallis household.

“Now, all these many years later, I still cherish the memories of that trip,” Wallis writes. “I think of it whenever I take out a photograph of my father and me sitting on the living room sofa. He is clowning around and has me hold a napkin to my chin while spoon-feeding me Crockett Cobbler. On my head is my coonskin hat. For the life of me, I cannot remember whatever happened to it.”

Setting the record straight

The heavily romanticized and carefully constructed Crockett of legend, in many instances, differs sharply from the real man, Wallis would discover in the course of writing “Lion of the West.” Deconstructing a myth can be a tricky business, but the journalist and historian in Wallis wouldn’t allow him to do anything else when it came time to creating his portrait of his childhood hero.

That’s the way it’s always been with him, he says.

“These kinds of people interest me, whether it’s Frank Phillips or Billy the Kid or Pretty Boy Floyd or Davy Crockett or Cyrus Stephens Avery,” Wallis said, reciting the list of individuals who have found their way into his books over the years. “I’m interested in human beings who are just that. And I like to approach them and present them in their human form.

“I don’t want to go to one extreme or the other. All of them have something in common, as far as the human condition. As they saying goes, they all put their trousers on one leg at a time. Now, some of them might have had fancier trousers than the others, but they had that in common. And I think it’s interesting to show their foibles, their shortcomings, show their strengths, whether I’m writing about an outlaw or an oil baron or an Indian chief or whatever. And Crockett is certainly one of those.

“I just like to set the record straight, you know,” he said. “That’s the main thing. That’s always been a goal of mine, as a journalist and a writer of books — set the record straight. Tell the truth as best you can.”

Wallis certainly does that with “Lion of the West.” His retelling of the Crockett legend may not satisfy those who prefer their heroes to have the depth of cardboard cutouts, but it is a balanced, insightful and, above all, well-told story that demonstrates its author’s obvious affection for its central character. There are more than a few surprises.

First, Wallis finds it necessary to dispel a few tall tales that linger from “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” the theme song to the ABC-TV series that became a No. 1 hit in 1955 on the Billboard charts, as sung by Bill Hayes. First and foremost, as the title of Wallis’ book makes clear, Crockett went by the first name David, never Davy, as Hayes sings in the famous refrain.

In fact, not much of the tune has a foot in reality.

“He was not born on a mountaintop,” Wallis said. “He was born pretty close to some mountains. He certainly did not ‘kill him a b’ar when he was only three.’ However, he did kill plenty of bears as a young man and adult.”

Indeed, Crockett was such a prolific hunter, he once killed 105 bears in a single season.

“He was a professional hunter,” Wallis said. “That’s what he did.”

But it is the enduring visual image of Crockett outfitted in buckskin and a coonskin cap that sticks in the minds of most Americans. Wallis maintains that, too, is a figment of Hollywood’s imagination.

“He hardly ever wore coonskin,” he said. “And certainly, when he went to Congress and even in later years, he was not decked out in buckskins. In fact, at the Alamo, there were witnesses who say that he was dressed like a gentleman. When he was in Congress, he was wearing a proper waistcoat, trousers and so forth, and looked the role of this congressman from rural Tennessee.”

Even so, Wallis says, many of the embellishments about Crockett’s life and personal style began with the man himself.

“When you’re a bigger-than-life character, and you have this very — for him — useful and expansive way of telling stories, the ability to be somewhat self-effacing but tell stories on yourself, there tends to be a bit of exaggeration,” he said. “I mean, every good storyteller keeps making the story better. I know that from personal experience.

“Certainly, Crockett knew that. And he discovered that storytelling ability early on, especially early in his political career when he was still running for state office before he went to Congress, giving the good, old-fashioned stump speeches — and they were very good.”

Crockett was the 19th century equivalent of a good ol’ boy, Wallis says, as much an entertainer as a politician.

“Most of what he was telling people had nothing to do with policy or what he thought he was going to do,” Wallis said. “I mean, he was quite naïve when he first got into politics. But he would tell stories on himself or some of his exploits, hunting bears, using some of those country parables and so forth.”

Crockett was also a crafty campaigner, being sure to budget enough money to hand out party favors to those who came to listen to him.

“That was very important,” Wallis said. “To be able to dole out some whiskey or a twist of tobacco endeared him to many a voter, which, of course, back in that time, were all white males. And it worked very well.”

Indeed, Crockett’s approach to campaigning got him elected to Congress in 1826. Again, the popular notion of Crockett as a guileless, rough-and-tumble, Indian-fighting woodsman unskilled in the realities of politics doesn’t really gibe with reality, Wallis said.

“I think he was a fairly quick study,” he said of Crockett the politician. “He was never a stellar congressman, but he worked at it. He certainly had his share of detractors, but he also had a good many friends. And he himself was always a populist. He felt like he was there representing people like himself, who came from his circumstances. He was there for the common man and woman, people of what was at that time the frontier, the far west, as far as the Anglo population went. And he wanted to help them out, the humble squatters who were just sitting on some Indian land out there, and try to help them get their piece of the American Dream, so to speak.”

Crockett was very much a man of his time, Wallis said — one who owned slaves despite having emerged from a poor childhood in which his own father had indentured him out from time to time to pay off his own debts. His formal education was extremely limited, but Crockett far from being a dumb redneck, Wallis maintains.

“He was not illiterate,” he said. “He could write. And we have some of his letters. He wasn’t exactly William Shakespeare, but for his day and his time and his station, he wrote a fairly good letter. He read Shakespeare.”

In the course of writing the book, Wallis unearthed a gem in regard to his subject’s reading habits — a copy of Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” that once had belonged to Crockett. Wallis acknowledged he was quite surprised to realize Crockett had tackled a volume of such weight.

“It was not in Latin,” he said. “It had been translated, and it was a schoolboy’s edition. But I didn’t think he could read, probably, or very little, even if he did go to Congress.”

But it was what happened after Crockett left Congress — his ill-fated decision to go to Texas and join the Anglo revolution that was taking place there — that really intrigues most Americans and serves as the foundation for so much of his legend. Again, Wallis has a much different take on that.

“In researching and writing this book, I’ve come away with a whole other look than I was starting to accept about the so-called Texas Revolution and the Alamo,” he said. “I make a point in here that Texas claims Crockett as their own. He was definitely not a Texan. He was a Tennessean. I even say in there that actually what Crockett did was help invent Texas.”

Talk about tricky territory. Wallis understands how fiercely protective Texans are of their creation myth, of the glorious Battle of the Alamo, yet he doesn’t blink when he asserts that many of the leaders of the Texas “revolution” were simply land speculators or others running out on their debts, wives or other problems back home. That’s not to say there weren’t a lot of good people involved, he acknowledges. But it certainly wasn’t “these pioneer types in gingham bonnets,” he noted drily.

And many of those émigrés from the American South had a strong ulterior motive for seeking Texas independence: they badly wanted to keep their slaves, something that was prohibited under the Mexican Constitution, he said.

Eventually, Wallis said, so many Anglos were moving to Texas that Mexican officials were forced to stop them. Wallis grinned as he expressed his reaction to that.

“I find it so ironic that Mexico was having this problem with these gringos, and now, what is one of the hotbeds of anti-immigration but Texas?” he said. “Of course, Oklahoma is another state settled by Anglos — Sooners and Boomers — who were illegal immigrants, too. In the end, people just don’t learn from their history.”

Wallis said he is anxious to see how his book plays in Texas, not just because of his willingness to tackle those issues, but also his conclusion that Crockett initially survived the fighting at the Alamo only to be executed later. That contention is based on a 1955 book purportedly based on the memoirs of a Mexican officer named de la Pena who was present at the battle and who claims he witnessed the killing of Crockett and six other survivors who had surrendered.

Wallis believes the memoir to be genuine, though others have disputed its authenticity and rejected it. Wallis knows the diary is a major point of contention among Crockett historians.

“As I say in the book, in the long run, it doesn’t really matter how he died,” he said. “The fact is that David Crockett, at age 49, ended his very colorful life at a place called the Alamo.

“But me personally? I don’t believe he was the last man to die or one of the last swinging his rifle. Nor do I believe he fled as a coward (as other tales have indicated). I really accept the de la Pena account.”

Wallis prefers to view what transpired at the Alamo as “pure theater, and an ideal venue for Crockett, who was at center stage,” as he writes. “His participation in the quintessential event in Texas history was all part of the drama that had been playing out for the almost half century that he lived. And the final scene took place at the Alamo. The curtain calls, however, never cease for the Davy Crockett of imagination. The Alamo is what most people think of when they hear his name.”

Nevertheless, Wallis believes, it is a serious mistake to view everything that happened to Crockett before he met his demise in San Antonio de Bexar on March 6, 1836, as mere prologue.

“In the end, Crockett was a uniquely American character and formidable hero in his own right,” he writes. “He should not be judged by his death but rather by his life, including the good, the bad and the shades of gray. Consider him as a legend and a hero, but always bear in mind that he was a man willing to take a risk. That was what he symbolized, and that is how he should be remembered.”

A man of the people

Even by his own lofty standards, this is an exceptionally prolific period in Michael Wallis’ career. In addition to his two new books, a new version of his 1992 biography “Pretty Boy: The Life and Times of Charles Arthur Floyd” is due out June 6, while he has reprised his role as the Sheriff in the Disney/Pixar computer animated feature Cars 2, which will hit theaters June 24.

He also serves as co-executive director of the Route 66 Alliance, a national organization headquartered in Tulsa that promotes and preserves the historic roadway.

Wallis said he’s gotten busier and busier over the last few years as he has continued to develop his other talents — namely his deep, booming, mellifluous voice, an imposing instrument that immediately commands attention in a crowd. Wallis regularly does voice work for documentary films and museum narrations, and a few years ago, he found himself in such high demand as a public speaker, he had to get himself an agent.

Now, he says, that is one of his favorite activities.

“What I’ve found is, I love doing these speaking engagements, talking at town halls, talking at universities,” he said. “As I’ve said, I get as much creative satisfaction out of speaking as I do out of writing.”

Wallis estimates he makes 50 or 60 such appearances a year. They never become tiresome, he says.

“No, I really love it,” he said. “I really love speaking to people. It’s just another form of articulation, because I’m speaking about things I care about, things I know, things I have a passion for. And I think that comes through in the speeches. Fortunately, I like people, and I always have a good time afterward — much to some people’s chagrin, like a handler or a host, because I’ll stay and sign books, talk to people. To me, that’s what it’s all about — people.”

That affinity for wading into a crowd and mixing it up has led Wallis to weigh the idea of getting into national politics, he said.

“I was asked by several leaders in the Democratic Party to consider running for Congress from (the 1st) District,” he said. “And I must say I seriously considered it.”

Wallis said he’s been asked twice by Democratic leaders to run. Both times, he said, his wife Suzanne has encouraged him to do so, but Wallis found himself unwilling to make that leap.

“I have resisted for a lot of reasons, but mostly this — I think that I can do a good job and affect people and society by doing what I’m doing, just doing my work,” he said. “I’ll be 66 in October, so at this age, I plan to live many, many years. But I have totally paid my dues. I have got on a wild bronc and busted it, and now I’m having a great ride loping along here. And I’m not sure I want to leap off the back of this trusty steed on to the back of another bucking horse in Washington, D.C.

“But I’ve talked to plenty of people who believe I would get a lot of crossover votes. Wilma (Mankiller) and I used to kid each other. I’d say, ‘Why don’t you take the 2nd District, and I’ll take the 1st District. We’ll turn this state upside down. We’ll only be in for one term, but we’ll have a good time.’ ”

Wallis describes himself as a staunch liberal and understands that fact alone would make it difficult for him to win a congressional seat in Republican-dominated Oklahoma. But an even bigger hurdle, he believes, would be his insistence on maintaining his distance from lobbyists — something he swore to himself he’d do after serving as a newspaper reporter in the Texas state Capitol earlier his career and witnessing the undue amount of influence they had on the political process, and particularly on idealistic young office holders.

“I felt like if I became involved in political office, I would not allow a lobbyist of any sort — be it a lobbyist for the school teachers or for whiskey or guns or for something I believed in, like teachers — I would never allow them to buy me a single cup of coffee. And when I’ve told that to some political people, they’ve told me, ‘You’re going to have a hell of a hard time running.’ And I think I would, I think I would.”

So Wallis seems more than content to keep doing what’s he’s doing — knocking out books about subjects that intrigue him, making speeches and serving as a tireless champion for Route 66, his beloved Mother Road. Wallis’ bestselling book on the highway in 1990 triggered his rapid ascent up the publishing food chain, making him a household name in communities all along the route and beyond. His book tours now lead Wallis to regular guest spots on such programs as Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report or National Public Radio’s The Diane Rehm Show.

That’s a far cry from Wallis’ early days, when he found himself fresh out of the Marine Corps and enrolled in a basic Spanish class at the University of Missouri taught by an attractive young graduate student from El Paso named Senorita Suzanne Fitzgerald. The obnoxious Wallis — one of the worst Spanish students in history, by his own admission — kept trying to get her attention by throwing his hand up whenever she posed a question to the class. Wallis never had any idea what the answer was, but he found himself fearlessly spouting stream-of-consciousness gibberish in Spanish — or Wallis’ version of Spanish, anyway — whenever Fitzgerald called on him.

A flummoxed Fitzgerald endured this nonsense for several weeks, then finally wised up and quit calling on this smartass leatherneck. By mid-semester, Wallis was doing so poorly, he received a note from Fitzgerald, asking him to come by her office so the two could discuss his classwork. Wallis recalls Fitzgerald — who had an ironclad rule about fraternizing with students — handling herself in a prim-and-proper fashion as he took a seat in her cramped office.

“She said, ‘Senor Wallis, I had to call you in because I know you’re trying so hard, but you’re not really doing very well,’ ” he said. “I’m going to be forced eventually by the university to send a letter to your parents.’ Now, I hadn’t lived at home for some years, and I had been in the Marines, I had been married, I had bounced around. I said, ‘Well, Senorita, you do what you think’s best.’

“And I went back to class and finished up that semester. And she told me sometime later, she was looking at that grade book, those final grades, and she said, ‘You really richly deserved an F, but I just couldn’t do it.’ She gave me a D-minus.”

The next semester, the two bumped into each other in the student union and began a friendship, with Fitzgerald even serving as Wallis’ tutor as he limped through his next Spanish course. Eventually, they would become romantically involved and wound up in Santa Fe together. Wallis treasures the time he spent in that city in the late 1960s and early 1970 rubbing elbows with the likes of writer Frank Waters, photographer Laura Gilpin and painter Dorothy Brett, who gave Wallis a double-headed ax that once belonged to her friend D.H. Lawrence. It was there, on the streets and in the bars of Santa Fe, Wallis said, that he picked up his graduate degree in life from those who had come there before him to write and paint and ruminate on life. Wallis called them “the keepers of the old wisdom,” and he availed himself of their perspectives at every opportunity.

After a while, he and Fitzgerald parted ways. But they crossed paths again in the early 1980s when Wallis was working in Miami in the Caribbean bureau of Time magazine. This time, their relationship clicked, and in 1982, they were married and moved to Tulsa.

Since then, Wallis said, his erstwhile Spanish teacher — who went on to run her own highly successful public relations firm in Tulsa for many years — has become integral to his success as a writer.

“Anytime I write something, the first person who sees it is Suzanne,” he said. “That’s because I trust Suzanne so much. I can’t tell you how important she is to me in every way. I would not be the person I am today nor be in the position I am today without Suzanne.

“The best thing that every happened to me in my life was to stumble into that Spanish classroom in Columbia, Mo. There is no doubt in my mind that is the best thing that ever happened to me. She just backs me, but she certainly is her own person. As I’ve said to many people, Suzanne does an incredibly good job of not allowing me to believe my own publicity. We’re good partners.”

Success at last

When he looks back on the moments that have made a tremendous impact on his life, Wallis still recalls that ride home in a limousine with his father in St. Louis in the 1950s. In his mind, it serves as perhaps the perfect bookend for another enjoyable moment, one that took place in 2008 when Wallis was on a book tour stop in Santa Fe to promote the release of his “Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride” biography.

Wallis arose one morning in his suite at La Fonda, the historic hotel at the end of the Santa Fe Trail that has witnessed, and been a part of, so much of that city’s 400-year history. As he sat on his terrace overlooking the Plaza and sipping his coffee, he perused that morning’s edition of The New York Times that had been left at his door. Inside was a glowing review of “Billy the Kid.”

Nearly 40 years earlier, Wallis had been a poor, aspiring writer in Santa Fe, struggling to pay his $50-a-month rent or scrape together $1 a day to pay a lunchtime visit to a buddy who was a bartender at La Fonda. For that modest sum, Wallis could enjoy a shot of Jack Daniels and a bowl of piping hot tortilla chips and queso. Miraculously, as Wallis recalls, smiling, that shot of whiskey stayed topped off as long as he sat at the bar wiling away the afternoon.

It was during one of those leisurely, boozy lunchtime visits to the cantina that Wallis was introduced to Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Thornton Wilder, author of “Our Town.” Wallis wound up spending four days in Wilder’s company, picking his brain about writing and life. The things he learned over those four days, he said, were invaluable.

Wallis lowered his copy of the Times and thought about those days as he looked across the Plaza that morning in 2008, comparing them to his current circumstances. Finally, he could allow himself the luxury of believing he had made it, that he had become a success, perhaps in his own way becoming one of those keepers of the old wisdom and doing his part to pass a little of it along to the younger generation.

“It was just a magical, magical time,” Wallis said of his younger days in Santa Fe, which he still visits several times a year. “I was full of piss and vinegar, full of idealism. Hopefully, I’ve kept that in my life. I’ve tried to.”

Chapter 16 Reviews David Crockett

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Michael Wallis demythologizes Tennessee’s greatest folk hero
by Chris Scott

Even if they don’t know all the lyrics, most Americans know the opening lines of The Ballad of Davy Crockett, the Disney-originated hit tune of the 1950s. In fact, what most people know about this country’s most famous frontiersman begins and ends with the Disney version of Crockett’s extraordinary life. Based on the myth-busting facts presented in Michael Wallis’s new biography of Crockett, the lines in the song should have been “Born on a riverbank in Tennessee,” “Killed him a bar when he was in his teens,” and “Da-vid, Da-vid Crockett, The Lion of the West.” As for the coonskin-cap image, it would also have to go: he wore one only occasionally, after his legend had grown and people expected backwoods clothing. And don’t even think of calling the great man Davy—he was always David.

Wallis’s book, David Crockett: The Lion of the West, is full of the kind of information that every Tennessean should know but has likely never learned—including, for example, the fact that Crockett was an adventurer, patriot, and politician who used his fame to oppose the policies of Tennessee’s other larger-than-life personality, Andrew Jackson. Crockett was a complex man given to strong drink and an even stronger sense of honor, and by the end of his life he was fighting for control of his own legend.

In the introduction to David Crockett, Wallis admits to a certain bias toward his subject, one that originated in the 1950s when, like millions of kids, he sported a coonskin cap and sang the ballad while he and his friends pretended to take on the Mexican army at the Alamo. Indeed, the legend propagated by Walt Disney’s three made-for-TV movies permeated society to the point that, as Wallis writes, “[w]ithin only months of the series premier, more than $100 million was spent on at least three thousand different Crockett items, including pajamas, lunch boxes, underwear, comics, books, moccasins, toothbrushes, games, clothing, toy rifles, sleds, and curtains.” Too bad Crockett was long dead by that time—he spent most of his life in debt and could have used the royalties.

The ballad was correct about some things, however. For example, Crockett was Tennessee through-and-through. Born in the eastern portion before statehood, he gradually migrated west with the frontier, homesteading in Middle and finally in West Tennessee, where he staked a claim in Obion County, known as “the land of the shakes” after the giant 1812 earthquake. Although he made forays to the south to fight Indians and later to Washington to fight Jackson’s Indian-removal policy, he traveled little outside his home state until the end, when Texas beckoned with a promise of an even greater frontier. But though he stayed mostly in Tennessee, Crockett was no homebody. A neighbor once described him as “itchy footed,” a fact his second wife learned the hard way when, as Wallis relates, “David surprised his new bride with news of a honeymoon. The only problem was that Elizabeth was not invited to come along.” Crockett headed off hunting again, a pastime at which he excelled and that brought much-needed income.

Crockett himself gets to speak in this accessible biography, through quotations Wallis gleaned from Crockett’s autobiography and letters. In those words are found a man of colorful language and great depth of feeling. Only a callous reader will not be moved when the frontiersman describes an unrequited first love by writing, “[W]hen I think of saying anything to her, my heart would begin to flutter like a duck in a puddle; and if I tried to outdo it and speak, it would get right smack up in my throat, and choak me like a cold potatoe.” Such emotion paid off during his political career, in battles over land policies and the central bank. “Crockett,” writes Wallis, “defined what it meant to be a populist—an advocate for the rights and interests of ordinary people.” Elected twice to the state legislature and three times to Congress, Crockett never gave up his principles, even though sticking to them ultimately cost him his seat.

During his time in Washington, Crockett’s life story was appropriated by others who sought to profit by exaggerating his exploits and mannerisms. A popular and sensationalized play titled “The Lion of the West” gave him his unofficial moniker and convinced him that he needed to regain control of his life by writing his autobiography. But even as he toured the east to promote his book, Crockett played up his frontier life for political effect. His fierce reputation always preceded him, and while visiting Peale’s Museum of Curiosities and Freaks in Philadelphia, he viewed the menagerie that included, notes Wallis, “an assortment of live rattlesnakes, tigers, and, much to Crockett’s delight, bears. The curators breathed collective sighs of relief when assured their famous guest was not armed.”

In David Crockett, as he has done previously with subjects as varied as Billy the Kid and Route 66, Wallis provides a fresh view of a subject near and dear to the hearts of Americans, an inspiration to several generations. Crockett’s autobiography influenced Mark Twain’s writing style, and, Wallis claims, “Abraham Lincoln was yet another historical figure who fell under the spell of the mythical Crockett.” Lincoln, too, “admired Crockett, a man, like himself, who grew up in poverty and became a national icon.” Such is the power of myth when wrapped around the core of an exceptional, real human being. King of the Wild Frontier, indeed.

Michael Wallis will discuss David Crockett at 7 p.m. on May 18 at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Brentwood.

Tulsa World Features Michael Wallis

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

Michael Wallis goes wild in new books on the West
by James D. Watts Jr.

It’s not often that a writer can pinpoint the exact moment of inspiration for a given book.

But, in the case of his latest biography, Tulsa writer Michael Wallis knows exactly when he first became fascinated by the subject.

It was the evening of Dec. 15, 1954, when the 9-year-old Wallis watched “Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter,” the first of five episodes about the frontiersman that aired during the first season of what would become “The Wonderful World of Disney.”

“I was one of millions of kids smitten by that program,” Wallis recalled, during a conversation in his book-and-memorabilia filled workspace. “I went back and watched the series recently, and it is so bad, so cornball. It was a very typical Disney production – anyone who might get shot never bleeds, that kind of thing.”

The Disney shows also played into the mythology that surrounded Crockett’s life and exploits, typified by the line in the show’s theme song, about how Crockett “kilt him a b’ar when he was only three.”

“The main focus of everything I’ve done as a writer has been to set the record straight, to get the facts right,” Wallis said. “For me, the truth about person or a place or a time is always better – and usually a great deal stranger – than any fiction.”

Wallis, the author of “Route 66: The Mother Road” and “Billy the Kid: The Endless Ride,” has three books coming out almost simultaneously.

One is “David Crockett: The Lion of the West” (W.W. Norton, $26.95), in which Wallis works to remove the fog of fable that has obscured Crockett’s true – and fascinating – life story.

The second is “The Wild West: 365 Days” (Abrams, $32.50), part of that publisher’s series of books that fits a wealth of information on a given topic into a year’s time line. Wallis collaborated with his wife, Suzanne, and Western history photography expert Robert McCubbins on this book.

The third is a reissue of “Pretty Boy: The Life and Times of Charles Arthur Floyd” (W.W. Norton, $16.95), Wallis’ 1992 biography of the Depression Era bandit that has been out of print for years.

“Another thing I’ve always been attracted to as a writer are the rascals,” Wallis said. “Not necessarily criminals, but people who aren’t too bound by convention, who are willing to stir things up.

“If there’s one thing that ties these books together, it’s that,” he said. “For example, in the ‘Wild West’ book, there is not a single lawman mentioned in it who did not at some time in life, follow ‘the outlaw trail.’ We tend to mythologize people so much. The Earps, for example, they were just a bunch of scoundrels.”

In deciding on a time span to contain the history of “The Wild West,” Wallis ultimately chose the century 1830 to 1930, which covers everything from the Indian Removal that would forcibly transplant the Five Civilized Tribes to Oklahoma to the start of the criminal career of Pretty Boy Floyd.

In that way, Wallis acknowledged, “The Wild West: 365 Days” is a kind of link between his other two books, as Crockett was an opponent of his one-time mentor Andrew Jackson’s plan to rid the Southeastern United States of the Indian nations that had lived for centuries.

“Crockett had seen the atrocities done to the Indian people, and he was quite brave to stand up to Jackson on this issue,” he said.

The popular conception of Crockett is as a rough-hewn, buckskin-wearing fellow in a coonskin cap who was the last man standing when the Alamo was overrun by the Mexican army in 1836.

Little of that is accurate, Wallis said.

“One of the things that surprised me in researching Crockett was his ability with language, verbally or on the page,” he said. “I found the copy of Ovid’s ‘Metamorphosis’ that he read in preparation to writing his own autobiography.

“He was familiar with Shakespeare and the King James Bible, and he was able to present a rather broad scope of knowledge with that kind of peculiarly American homespun sense of humor,” Wallis said.

Crockett’s death at the Alamo tends to overshadow everything else about his life – as a professional hunter, as an explorer, as a member of Congress – in part because it is the most mythologized aspect of Crockett.

“I give people a kind of jump-ball when it comes to Crockett’s death,” Wallis said, chuckling. “You have the two extremes – that he was the last to die, swinging his rifle about with 300 dead Mexicans at his feet, or that he disguised himself as a woman and sneaked away in shame.

“I prefer something in the middle of that,” he said. “There is a recently discovered diary by a soldier with the Mexican army, who recounts how Crockett was one of a few survivors of the siege, and that they were executed on (Mexican general) Santa Ana’s orders.”

Trailers for Cars 2

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Cars 2 opens in theaters on June 24, 2011 and Disney/Pixar has now released three trailers for the sequel to the 2006 film which features Michael’s voice as the Sheriff of Radiator Springs.

Directed by John Lasseter and co-directed by Brad Lewis, the movie stars Owen Wilson, Larry The Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Bonnie Hunt, Tony Shalhoub, Cheech Marin, Jason Isaacs, Joe Mantegna, Peter Jacobson, Thomas Kretschmann, Guido Quaroni, Lloyd Sherr, Paul Dooley, John Ratzenberger, Jenifer Lewis, Katherine Helmond, John Turturro, Franco Nero, Vanessa Redgrave, Eddie Izzard, Bruce Campbell, Michel Michelis, Jeff Gordon, Darrell Waltrip, Lewis Hamilton and David Hobbs.

BookPage Reviews David Crockett

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

Behind the famous ‘king of the wild frontier’
by Roger Bishop

One of America’s first celebrity heroes, David Crockett (as he always wrote his name) declared in his autobiography, “I stood no chance to become great in any other way than by accident.” He was born into a poor family and grew up in harsh circumstances in the back woods. As chance would have it, however, he became a mythical figure in his own lifetime, and the myth has continued to grow since his death as a martyr at the Alamo in 1836.

Crockett first became legendary for his expertise and passion as a hunter and masterful storyteller, and then later in life as a populist member of the Tennessee state legislature and the U.S. Congress. In the authoritative, fast-paced and very readable David Crockett: Lion of the West, Michael Wallis adroitly separates fact from fiction and shows us both the flawed human being who led a colorful life and the symbolic figure who represented the poor and downtrodden as well as the country’s philosophy of “Manifest Destiny” (a concept that did not have an official name until after his death).

As one of Crockett’s early hunting companions characterized him, he was “an itchy footed sort of fellow,” always ready to move on and take the next risk, without much concern for his family. His first wife died soon after they married and his second wife, Elizabeth, grew tired of her husband’s failure to keep the family out of debt and put the blame on his poor business judgment, his strong inclination to drink and his inability to cultivate any kind of spiritual life.

Of particular interest here is Wallis’ discussion of Crockett’s political career. He was a new kind of politician, a backwoodsman wanting to help people like himself who had not been able to purchase property of their own. He offered a contrast to his fellow Tennessean, Andrew Jackson, who presented himself as a populist but was really a patrician with large holdings in land, cotton, tobacco and slaves. As a legislator, Crockett was independent and frequently at odds with members of his party, a stance exemplified by his vote against Jackson’s Indian Removal Act.

Although Crockett had fought alongside Jackson in the Creek Indian War, he was one of the few men in government to oppose him. In doing so, he voted against a president from his own political party, all other members of the Tennessee congressional delegation and the vast majority of his constituents. Years later Crockett wrote that his opposition was a matter of conscience and described the bill as “oppression with a vengeance.” Some of his critics claimed that he was motivated by his escalating hatred of Jackson and the favorable attention Crockett was receiving from the Whig Party, which saw him as a possible presidential candidate. Overall, in fact, his refusal to compromise made him an ineffective legislator.

Wallis, author of acclaimed biographies such as Billy the Kid and Pretty Boy, has given readers a superb account of the real David Crockett, helping us to appreciate his place and time in American history.‘king-of-the-wild-frontier’