October 2003 | Volume 54, Issue 5
Overrated Davy Crockett lived a hell of a life, no matter how you look at it. Because the facts don’t live up to the dime novels and Walt Disney and John Wayne doesn’t mean that Crockett was a fraud. In fact it’s amazing how much of the legend has grown from a hard kernel of truth. Crockett was an extraordinary hunter; he did fight in Indian wars; he did end up opposing Andrew Jackson’s more obnoxious policies; he was, for his time, fairly progressive on the issue of Indian rights; and last but certainly not least, he did choose to go to Texas, where he fought for independence and died at the Alamo. If his motives for joining the Texas army were not so idealistic as Fess Parker’s, there can never be any doubt of his commitment to republican government and what he conceived of as freedom. But even if every tall tale were true, neither Crockett nor any other American frontiersman before or after had as much of an impact on American history as Christopher (“Kit”) Carson.
Underrated True, we probably never would have heard of Kit Carson had he not accidentally hooked up with the “Pathfinder,” John Frémont, but it’s equally true that Frémont would not have made the pages of any history book save the ones he (or his wife) wrote had it not been for Kit Carson. Without Carson, every one of Frémont’s expeditions would have ended in failure and disaster. The conflict that resulted in the United States’s gaining possession of a good deal of Mexico would have stalled. It was Carson’s defeat of the seemingly invincible Navajos that hastened American settlement of New Mexico and Arizona, and while modern historians may justly criticize the ferocity of some of his methods, it is also true that by the standards of his time and place he was an uncommonly humane conqueror.
History should take back from John Frémont and place before Kit Carson’s headstone a famous title, the Pathfinder.