Gateway to the Classics: Davy Crockett by Frank Lee beals
Davy Crockett by  Frank Lee beals

A New Wilderness Home

D AVY CROCKETT'S fame was growing. He was known far and wide as a great hunter and as a fearless, able judge. He was loved by all the people who knew him. Many, many stories were told about him. All of the stories told of his frank, honest nature. His generous and kind-hearted deeds were told again and again. Davy Crockett's word was the law of the New Purchase.

In 1821 Davy was elected to the State Legislature of Tennessee. The night before he left for Nashville to take up his duties he said to his wife, "For the first time in my life, I am afraid."

"Why are you afraid?" she asked.

"I am going to meet men who know a great deal about how to make laws for our state. Many of them are brilliant and able men. I am a poor, uneducated man. I know nothing about what I will have to do."

The trip over the wild, unexplored land was difficult. But Davy did not mind hardship. Davy and his companions climbed steep hills and waded through streams and marshy regions. They cut their way with hatchets through the underbrush of the forests. Nights were spent in the open around a campfire. Davy was happy in these rough surroundings.

After many days they came to the Obion River on the western frontier of Tennessee.

"There ahead," pointed Davy, "is where we will make our home. This is what I have been looking for all my life. A wild country and neighbors far from our cabin."

"We passed one cabin about seven miles from here," said John. "That is where Mr. and Mrs. Owens live."

"There are only two other families around here. One family lives fifteen miles away and the other twenty," spoke up Henry.

"This is where we will live," said Davy as he walked about trying to decide where to build a log cabin. When he had decided upon a suitable spot he called to Henry, "Take your ax. We will start right away."

During the days that followed the men cut down trees to build a cabin. They cleared about eight acres of ground, and planted corn. They had no plows. All they needed to do was to make a hole in the ground and put in a few seeds of corn. The soil was fertile and many bushels of corn could be raised on a small tract of land.

"Let's go visit our nearest neighbor," said Davy when the cabin was built. "We can walk along the bank of the river until we find a place shallow enough for us to wade."

They walked along the river bank until they came to a place where the river was shallow.

"I think we can wade here. I'll go on ahead," said Davy. "You follow me."

"This water is icy," said John as he followed his father into the river.

Davy laughed but said nothing. He carried a long pole in his hand and felt his way along. Whenever he was too far ahead he waited for John and Henry to overtake him.

"The water is getting deeper all the time," he said. "Do you think you can make it, John?"

"Sure I can. If I have to, I will swim."

Davy went on ahead again. He kept testing with the pole to see how deep the water was. Some of the time it was up to his armpits. "Swim, John!" he would call back. Slowly they made their way across.

Ahead was the rapid current of the channel.

"How deep is that channel?" Davy asked himself. "It looks too dangerous to try to swim it. The current is very swift." He stood still looking about to see how he could cross the channel. He saw a great tree that had fallen across it a short way down stream. "See that tree?" he called. "We will make for it. Go slowly!" Cautiously Davy guided the way. They reached the tree and were able to get to the bank of the river.

When they reached the bank they were not far from the neighbor's cabin. John was shaking with cold and chills. Davy picked him up and hurried to the cabin. Mrs. Owens immediately put John to bed.

Davy and Henry stayed at the Owens' cabin while John was ill. There were other visitors there, too. They were traders. They had a boat on the river near the Owens' cabin. On board they had flour, sugar, hardware, guns, and gunpowder. They were on their way to a trading post about thirty miles up the river.

"Davy Crockett," said one of the men when he met Davy. "I have heard of you. You were a scout during the Creek war and you are a great hunter."

"I was a scout," answered Davy, "and I am a hunter."

"Then this is the country for you. Never have you known such hunting. You are now in the land of the Shakes."

"I have heard that the hunting is good," Davy answered. "I can tell from many signs that the forest is full of animals. What game will I find?"

"Deer, coons, squirrels, turkeys," said the man.

"I have hunted those for years," said Davy.

"Wait! Black bears, panthers, elk, wild cats, and wolves are out there, too."

"A hunter's paradise," and turning to Owens Davy said. "Tell John the story of the Shakes."

John pulled himself up in bed and said, "Do tell me, Mr. Owens."

"Your father must have told you the story many times," said Owens.

"Is it about Tecumseh, the Great Shawnee Chief?" John wanted to know.

"Yes. Before the Creek war, Tecumseh tried to unite all of the Indian tribes. He wanted them to fight the white settlers. One of the Indian chiefs would not follow Tecumseh. So Tecumseh threatened to destroy the chief's village. Several months later an earthquake shook this part of Tennessee. The Indian village was destroyed. All the Indians believed that Tecumseh stamped his foot on the ground and caused the earthquake."

"I do remember that story," said John. "Please tell me about the country. I have seen great cracks in the rocks and earth. Were they caused by the earthquake?"

"Yes, indeed. And the only lake in our state was made by the earthquake. It is called Reelfoot Lake. I say earthquake but all the people around here, because of the earthquakes, call this land the Shakes. Even now the earth trembles and shakes."

"Really?" questioned John.

"Years ago the Chickasaw Indians lived here. After the Shakes they became frightened and left. It has been only within the last year or two that the white people have moved into this part of Tennessee. This is the western border of our state. The great Mississippi River is only a few miles from here."

"I heard one of the men tell my father about hunting. Why are there so many animals here?"

"For years there were no hunters here, John. The forests are crowded with animals because no one has been here to kill or scare them away. Everywhere you go you will see marks of the Shakes. Great old trees were split wide open. Rocks fell apart. Islands in the river disappeared."

Western Tennessee was a wild country. The soil was so fertile that it hindered rather than helped the pioneer settlers. There were many canebrakes. The tall canes made a tangled jungle almost impossible to travel through. Many times Davy had to use his hatchet to cut his way through the canebrakes. It was here the bears and panthers lurked.

The new home was ready. The corn was growing. Davy decided to return for his family. "We will not waste any time, John," he said. "We will come back as soon as we can. I want to go on a bear hunt right over there." He pointed to a canebrake.

* * * * * *

This land became known as the land of the Chickasaws and Davy Crockett.

1. What does Davy Crockett's motto mean to you? Make a list of several other famous mottoes.

2. What did the frontiersmen like Davy do to protect themselves from the lawbreakers?

3. Tell how Davy crossed the Obion River.

4. Tell the story of the Shakes.

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