Wednesday, May 29, 2002

Crockett vs. Boone: Who would win?

By C. Ray Hall
The (Louisville) Courier-Journal

        We quizzed James C. Klotter, Kentucky state historian; Yale University professor John Mack Faragher, a Daniel Boone biographer; Michael A. Lofaro, a University of Tennessee English professor who has written extensively about Boone and Davy Crockett; and Western Kentucky University history professor Carol Crowe-Carraco (who huddled with historian and author Lowell Harrison). We also enlisted a former University of Texas history major named Fess Parker. (Parker played both Boone and Crockett on television.)

        Question: Which man — Boone or Crockett — had the greater effect on the country?

        Lofaro: “Historically, it would be Boone. Culturally, Crockett.”

        Faragher: “A hard one. ...They had very different impacts. Boone was a hero of the Revolution, and the prototype of the strong but silent frontier hero. ...Crockett was a frontier jokester, a man who patterned himself superficially on Boone, but played a very different game — loudmouth, braggart, punster — a hero of what (Kentucky historian) Tom Clark once described as the "rampaging frontier.'

        “The two men spoke to their respective ages. Boone was an Indian fighter, but also a man who articulated considerable respect for Indians. Some thought he was an Indian-lover ("some of my best friends were Indians'), and this became a controversial side of his persona. His public position was that he abhorred violence.

        “Crockett — and even more so "Crockett' the literary character ...played with the Indian-hating, racist rhetoric of his time. He was a man of the spread-eagle expansionism that characterized the era of Manifest Destiny.”

        Q: Who would win a frontier version of the decathlon? (Scouting, shooting, swimming, hiking, surviving, etc., and then tell about it?)

        Lofaro: “Scouting, shooting, hunting — a dead heat. Swimming, a tie. Storytelling, Crockett. Hiking, Boone: Around 1810, in his mid-70s, he walked from Missouri to Pennsylvania and back to pay a last visit to relatives.”

        Parker: “I would be hard-pressed not to support Boone in that. . . . Boone had something about being constantly on the move, constantly in the wilderness, it seems. He preferred that, apparently. Also I'm basing that (conclusion) on a very funny thought — his genes, which allowed him to live to quite an extraordinary lifetime in his period (85 years).”

        Crowe-Carraco: “I think that probably Simon Kenton would have won — not either of these guys. There's this wonderful story where Daniel Boone is wounded, and Simon Kenton picks him up and carries him back to civilization.”

        Klotter: “Daniel Boone died of old age. Davy Crockett didn't. Boone had enough skills to survive.”

        Faragher: “I don't want to denigrate Crockett's abilities — he was clearly a brave man. But Boone was an incomparable woodsman and scout. Crockett was surely honest enough to acknowledge that.”

        Q: Who would you rather hear as an after-dinner speaker, or drive across the country with?

        Faragher: “Crockett was a great speaker, especially after he'd had a few pops. Boone was painfully shy and modest. But on substance, Boone had the experience and owned the stories.”

        Lofaro: “No question it would be Crockett. He was an expert storyteller, fiddler, hail-fellow-well-met kind of guy — a far more public person than Boone.”

        Crowe-Carraco: “Crockett. Boone was a rather morose person from all that I can tell. He preferred to be alone, and he wouldn't have been a good traveling companion or conversationalist. ...If you think of a lot of the stories we know about him, he is alone.”

        Klotter: “I would rather hear Crockett as an after-dinner speaker because he was more entertaining. I would not want to be in a car with Davy Crockett going across the country.”

        Parker: “Crockett, by all means. . . . He was quite a dramatic and colorful figure.

        “I never got the impression that (Boone) was a storyteller or quite as colorful. I have a hunch that his solitary periods of being in the forest and the pressures of that kind of experience — from perhaps unfriendly people and wild animals — I suspect the habit of silence was more comfortable in Boone.”

        Q: If not for pop culture (Disney, Fess Parker, John Wayne and must-have toys), would they be Boone and Crockett, rather than Boone-Crockett, inextricably joined in the public imagination?

        Faragher: “The only real historical connection between the two men is that Crockett positioned himself to wear the Boone mantle, but he did something completely different with it. The modern confusion has more to do with Fess Parker's TV roles than anything else: "Is it true what they say about Daniel Boone at the Alamo?”'

        Lofaro: “It's hard to tell. There would certainly be a far greater separation without the Fess-Walt overlay that dominates present-day cultural memory.”

        Klotter: “It's hard to separate Boone from pop culture. Both of them had an autobiography that pretty much gave them their fame. I think you could argue that — without that autobiography — that James Harrod, Simon Kenton, Daniel Boone might all be people you would say made a contribution to frontier history, but that Boone might not be the one that stood above.

        “I still would argue that what he did — what all of them did — was greater than what Crockett did.”


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