Law of the Frontier
G REAT was the surprise of Davy's family when he returned home. The children shouted and danced around him. Elizabeth wept with joy.
"Davy," she said, "we feared that you were dead. Some neighbors found the horses miles from here and brought your horse home to me. Other people told me that the settlers in the south said that you were dead. I did not believe it at first, but we waited so long, Davy, that I had almost given up hope. All winter I prayed for your return."
"And now I am here," said Davy. He told her of his long illness. "I came back as soon as I could travel."
After supper the children went to bed. Davy and Elizabeth sat on homemade stools just outside the cabin door. Davy's hunting dogs lay on the ground. Occasionally one of the dogs would get up, walk over to Davy, sniff, and return to his place on the ground.
"Even the dogs find it hard to believe that I am home," said Davy.
After a long silence Elizabeth said, "Davy, the United States government has just purchased a large tract of land from the Chickasaw Indians. The land is about eighty miles west of here."
"I started out to locate a new home," said Davy. "Why don't we move to this new government purchase?"
"But you must get well and strong before we move," answered Elizabeth. "You are thin and pale. Later on, if you still want to go, we will move."
The months passed and Davy regained his health. When he was well he decided to move his family to the New Purchase. This time they all went together.
When Davy had picked out a site for their home he set to work to build a new log cabin. It was in the center of a wild forest. There was plenty of game awaiting the hunter. Wherever the land was cleared of trees and underbrush, the rich soil made farming easy.
In the early pioneer days people moved very little of their furniture. Most of it was homemade. When a man built a new cabin, he also made new furniture. Beds, tables, and chairs were made from the native woods found on the place. When Davy's new cabin was completed he set to work to make the necessary furniture.
All of the family goods which Davy and Elizabeth took with them were carried on the backs of two pack horses.
"This new land will be settled in a short time," said Elizabeth, "if it is as fertile as we have been told."
"That is the only thing about it that I do not like," said Davy. "People will come from all over the country to settle here."
"We are settlers, too, Davy," said Elizabeth. "Our kind of people make a country. We are not like some of the settlers who will locate here."
"What do you mean, Davy?" asked Elizabeth.
"I mean," he said, "that some of the settlers who come here will be like us. They will want to build up this great New Purchase. They will want to make the country safe for their families. But other men who have no respect for law and order will come here, too. These are the ones who will cause trouble. They are the kind of people who have always made trouble in frontier regions. Some of them are fortune hunters, some are criminals, and they are the ones who are greedy and cruel."
"I have never heard you talk like this before, Davy," said Elizabeth.
"You and I have lived in a wilderness all of our lives," said Davy. "We are honest and our neighbors are honest, too. We have now come into a new land—a 'no-man's land.' "
Davy was right. The New Purchase attracted many undesirable people. Some rough and greedy people came to settle there.
Davy became aroused over the behavior of the undesirable people. He rode about the settlement to talk the matter over with some of his neighbors.
"We must do something to make the New Purchase safe for our families," he said to them. "As matters are now, every man is a law unto himself. Some of the people who are coming to this part of the country do not respect law and order. We must organize! We must have law and order!"
The neighbors agreed with Davy.
"You are right," said one of them. "We should organize a regiment of militia. We must call a meeting for this purpose."
"That's a good idea," said Davy. "I will call a meeting at my cabin."
Davy did call the meeting. Word was passed along from one honest settler to another. They were told to meet at Davy Crockett's cabin. A few days later the men met to talk over their plans.
One of the settlers who came was John Davis. He stood before the men who were gathered in Davy's yard and said, "We must protect our families, our homes, and our belongings. We are all agreed, I think, that what we need is a regiment of militiamen. I move that we elect Davy Crockett the colonel of our new militia."
The men cheered. At once they enlisted.
As soon as the organization was completed, Colonel Davy Crockett called the men to order and said, "You have elected me the colonel of our militia regiment. I am ready to serve you as colonel or in any other way. Having a militia, however, will not solve all of our problems. We must have a court of law before which lawbreakers can be tried."
John Davis jumped to his feet. He called to the men, "I move that we elect Colonel Davy Crockett our magistrate. When he tries a case we will see that his decision is carried out."
"Aye! Aye! Davy Crockett for magistrate," called the men.
"Where will you hold court?" asked one of the men.
"Since you have elected me your magistrate," Davy said, "I will hold court in my cabin."
Another man stood up and asked, "Are we to have constables and warrants?"
"Yes," said Davy. "I appoint John Davis constable right now."
The militia lost no time in warning the lawbreakers.
"You will have a trial by our magistrate and whatever his sentence is, we will carry it out," they warned.
"Who is your magistrate? Where is your court?" laughed one of the lawbreakers.
"Davy Crockett is our magistrate. His court is held in his cabin."
"And does he have constables and warrants?" asked the man cautiously.
"He does! I am one of his constables. I have a warrant for your arrest."
"What am I charged with?" the man demanded. "Marking and hog stealing. Both are serious charges!"
"You can't prove it!"
"Wait and see!"
Hogs were very valuable to the settlers in this new country. Each man had his own marking on the ears of his hogs. The hogs roamed at will in the forests. Anyone caught stealing hogs was severely punished. Any man caught changing the markings on the hogs was punished, too.
The constable arrested the hog stealer. He took him to Davy's cabin. The settlers whose hogs had been stolen were there, too. Davy listened to both sides of the case. He looked directly into the arrested man's eyes. The man looked away.
"Take him," Davy ordered, "give him twenty lashes across his back. Burn down his cabin. You have your orders, Constable." Davy walked over to the man. "Get out of this country! We will give you exactly a four hour start!"
The sentences given were harsh, but Davy had to hold court for harsh, cruel, and dishonest men. Davy knew nothing about law. He had never seen or read a law book. It was his honesty and good, sound judgment that helped him decide what was best to do. The law-respecting people believed in him. The lawbreakers feared him. All, even his enemies, admired his calm, cool courage and his fairness. Not one of Davy's decisions was ever questioned.
After the men left Davy's cabin, Davy turned to the clerk of the court and said, "Write the case in our record book." Quickly he walked out of the cabin.
Elizabeth was sitting under the shade of a big tree. She was making a shirt of buckskin.
"Elizabeth," he said as he threw himself down on the ground. "I am going to learn to write."
"Why, Davy?" she asked.
"I can write a little," he said almost to himself. "I can write my name and a few other things. But I want to learn to write easily and quickly."
"If you feel that way, Davy, you can learn to write," answered Elizabeth.
Davy spent many hours learning how to write. Instead of going hunting he stayed home to study. In a few weeks he was writing all of his reports and was keeping his own records.
"Take these reports," he said one day to the clerk of the court.
The clerk took the papers. He looked down at the first report. Davy's clear handwriting filled the page. At the bottom of the page, Davy had written in bold letters:
Be sure you are right, then go ahead!