Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier (1955)

 

 

 

Director:     Norman Foster.

Starring:    Fess Parker (Davy Crockett), Buddy Ebsen (his pal George Russel), Basil Ruysdael (Gen./President Andrew Jackson),  Hans Conried (Thimblerig), William Bakewell (Major Tobias Norton), Kenneth Tobey (Col. Jim Bowie), Pat Hogan (Chief Red Stick), Helene Stanley (Polly Crockett), Don Megowan (Col. William Travis), Mike Mazurki (Big Foot Mason).

Originally a three-part Disney series that created a real sensation for the coonskin cap.

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

A map shows Nashboro, Tennessee and the Natchez Trace going down to Natchez on the Mississippi River in Mississippi Territory.  In Alabama there is the town of Mobile and over to the east is Spanish East Florida. 

1813.  Andrew Jackson is given the task of quelling the Creek Indians who are on the warpath.  Jackson calls out for Major Norton.  He asks for the best scout and that's Davy Crockett, but he's out hunting this morning.  Jackson tells Norton to fetch the man right now. 

Norton goes out in a row boat to find Crockett.  He finds Crockett's pal George Russel on the banks of the river.  Norton comes ashore ignoring Russel's motions to be quiet.  Russel tells Norton that Davy is over in the bushes yonder trying to grin down a bear.  Norton doesn't believe it, so he goes over to the bushes and almost gets knocked down by Davy being thrown out of the bushes by the bear.  Davy goes back in, is thrown out again, but on the third try he is successful in killing the bear with his knife.  Now Crockett comes out to see what Major Norton wants.

Crockett comes back to camp with the bear in tow.  After telling Jackson about killing the bear, Jackson asks him to take a scouting party out and find out what the redskins are up to.  Davy says that the Major and his men aren't going to help make the assignment any easier. 

The scouting party goes through swamps, canebrakes and briar patches and the Major is fed up with it.  He decides to take a path that will make riding much easier, even though Crockett warns him that the path might lead to the death of the soldiers. 

On their own, Davy and his buddy spot a large Creek war party up on top of a ridge.  The scouts take cover.  Davy discovers that Chief Red Stick is leading the way. Leaving their horses below, Davy and Russel climb up to the top of the mountain.  The whole tribe has united.  Davy and Russel climb down fast to warn the Major.  As they go along, they hear the sound of firing.  Davy and Russel pretend that they are a large group of soldiers, yelling commands suited for a large army.  Davy and Russel continue barking orders as they start shooting the Creek Indians. This rallies the spirits of the Major's men and they fight harder.  Soon the Creek Indians have to flee.

The Major can't believe his eyes when he sees that the army is only Davy and Russel.  Davy tells the Major that what they faced was only a small party of Indians.  Up top in the mountains the whole tribe is uniting to prepare for battle.  Davy and Russel now ride back to see Gen. Jackson.  Davy tells Jackson about the large force of Creek Indians nearby.  Jackson immediately orders to strike the camp.  They move up on top of the mountain and look down on the Indians.  The band of scouts and frontiersmen attack the Indians first.  Davy is doing well until he confronts Red Stick.  Red Stick hits Davy on the head with his tomahawk.  When the Indians attack the soldiers in the woods, the Major orders his men to fire, but Red Stick orders his men to hit the ground and most of the bullets miss their targets.  Now the Indians rush the soldiers as they try to reload. 

Major Norton uses the term victory to refer to the battle.  Jackson tells him not to use that word.  Norton says the Indians had much higher casualties and the soldiers captured three chiefs.  In fact, the Creek now want to discuss a peace treaty. 

Davy tells Jackson and Norton that he and his men have got to go back home because they only signed up for 60 days and that period is already long gone.  Norton tells Crockett that no one's going home, that the war with the Creek isn't over.  But Davy insists they are leaving.  The scouts start for home but are met by a group of army regulars with Major Norton and a cannon.  But Davy and the group just slowly go through the line without incident. 

Davy comes home to his wife and two children. 

When Davy and Russel come back to the army, they find that Jackson has gone to fight what will be the Battle of New Orleans and Major Norton is now in command.   The guys go to report in to the Major, who is very happy to see them.  Norton is troubled because he and most of the men have swamp fever.  Moreover, they can't seem to located Red Stick.  Crockett says he and Russel will go out and try to find Red Strick.  Norton says no because he has lost too many men already to Red Stick, but Davy goes anyway.  They pick up a moccasin footprint at the side of a lake.  The foot prints go around the lake so Davy goes one way and Russel the other way and they will meet on the other side of the lake.

An Indian throws his tomahawk that hits Russel and knocks him unconscious.  He and other Indians then take him to their camp.  The Indians prepare to torture Russel to get information out of him.  Davy arrives just in the knick of time.  An Indian tries to shoot Davy but the frontiersman throws a knife into the fellow.  So Red Stick lets Crockett speak.  Davy says a lot of braves are dying just because Red Stick is a bad chief.  Crockett now challenges Red Stick to a duel with tomahawks. 

The two men fight and wrestle each other.  They both lose their tomahawks, but an Indian gives Red Stick a hatchet.  Crockett wrestles the hatchet out of Red Stick's hand and has his opponent up against a tree with his left hand holding on to the man's neck.  So Red Stick gives in.  Crockett tells him that if he and his tribe will give themselves up, they will be able to go back to their lands, but Red Stick says the government lies.  Davy says that he doesn't lie.  He gives him his hand on that.  The two men shake hands. 

In the winter Davy stays with his wife and kids, but come spring he and Russel want to be out on moe adventures.  A map shows how Davy and Russel leave the outskirts of Winchester, cross Elk Creek, head through Lawrenceburg, cross the Tennessee River, go through Jackson and reach the Obion River, close to the Mississippi River.  The two scouts think they might just stay and live in the area.  They go to a small settlement and join in on a shooting contest.  Big Foot Mason is the man to beat. 

Crockett and Big Foot shoot to decide the best of the two men.  Crockett wins when he shoots a bulls eye and then puts another ball right inside the same hole.  Big Foot is a sore loser and immediately leaves. 

  Davy and Russel buy land in the area.  They will have as a neighbor a Cherokee known as Charley Two Shirts.  When Davy signs the land document, the seller can't believe that it's the real Davy Crockett.  He is impressed. Taking advantage of the opportunity, he asks Davy to take the job as magistrate.  They need someone who can stand up to that crook Big Foot who is selling Cherokee land to newcomers who don't know any better.  Davy says he will think about it.  After all, he does have a lot to do to build a decent cabin for his family. 

Davy and Russel are working hard on chopping timber to make the logs for the cabin.  Russel goes to get a drink of water.  An Indian fellow has been watching them and now when he sees Russel he ducks down in the bushes and sneaks away.  Russel whistles to Davy and Crockett brings down the rifles and powder horns.  Now they start looking for the man.  Davy finds the wife and children of Charley Two Shirts.  Russel captures their neighbor. When the Indian tells the two white men he is Charley Two Shirts, they smile about having captured a neighbor.   The fellow has some cuts on his face and the two white men want to know what happened to him.  Charley tells them that white men came to his place and told him to get off the land because no Indians own land in the area.  Charley and his family are now homeless.

Davy decides to take the job of magistrate and the three men go over to Charley's cabin.  Big Foot is there with two other men.  He and Davy are going to fight each other with their fists.  Big Foot fights dirty and gets an edge on Davy, but Davy is still able to knock him out.  When one of Big Foot's men tries to shoot Davy in the back, Charley shoots the would be assassin.  So now the three good men take the two surviving bad men to the settlement to lock them up.   They will stand trial. 

In the fresh air, the settlement is having a nice party complete with music and dancing.  The unofficial mayor says that the dance was made possible by the terrific job Davy has done as magistrate. And now honest settlers are moving in again.  Now he wants Davy to run for the state legislature.   

Davy gets a letter from his sister-in-law.  Polly got sick and died.  The two boys are living with them now. 

Davy makes a brief campaign speech.  He gets elected and goes to Nashville, Tennessee.  There Major Norton pays a visit to Davy.  He is trying to help get Andrew Jackson elected as President of the United States.  Jackson wants to see Davy and will invite Davy out to Jackson's place, the Hermitage. 

Davy goes out to talk with Jackson.  Jackson tells Davy that next to him Davy is the most famous person in Tennessee.   Davy is shown a book written by his friend G. E. Russel, but it's set in the Rocky Mountains when the fact is that Davy has never been west of the Mississippi.  Jackson tells Davy that he wants him to run for US congressman. 

Davy wins election to the House of Representatives.  He appears in the nation's capital dressed in his buckskin outfit complete with raccoon hat. To hear Davy's maiden speech in congress, G. E. Russel comes to congress.  Davy is awfully glad to see him.  When Davy gets up to make his speech, he charms his audience with his backwoods oratory.  Jackson talks to Davy again and says the nation has 13 million people in it, so he is going to push for expansion of the nation to the west. 

President Jackson is now in his second term.  Davy has become a national figure.  So Norton tells him that they want him to go on a national speaking tour. He says this is a big opportunity for Crockett, because some of the guys have been talking about electing Crockett to the presidency. 

Crockett tours in Boston, New York and Philadelphia.  In Philadelphia they present Crockett with a handsome rifle.  Davy says he is going to call it Betsy.  After his little speech, Davy gets bad news from Russel.  It seems the reason Norton and the others sent Davy on this speaking tour is that they wanted him out of Washington.  They are trying to pass the Indian Bill and figured it would be a lot easier if Crockett wasn't there to speak up for the Indians. 

Crockett and Russel ride as fast as they can to Washington City.   When Davy arrives Norton tries to stop him from going inside the House of Representatives.  He lies saying the bill has already been passed.  He also says if Davy goes inside, he will be committing political suicide.  Davy socks Norton unconscious and Russel catches the man as he falls.  Crockett goes in and tells the congressmen:  "Expansion's no excuse for persecutin' a whole part of our people because their skins are red and they're uneducated to our ways."   When he finishes his speech, Davy walks out of congress. The Indian Bill doesn't pass. 

Now Davy and Russel get on a steam boat heading south on the Mississippi.  Russel asks where are they going and Davy shows him an article in the paper about how Mexican General and President Santa Anna is threatening to squash by force any independence for Texas.  They are going to Little Rock and from there to Texas.  On the steam boat they meet a riverboat gambler named Thumblerig who wants to join forces with Crockett.  In fact, the man is even willing to go to Texas. 

The guys are just about to enter Texas when they see smoke signals announcing their presence.  The men say they better get out of here or they will have problems with the Comanche.  They hear a thunderous roar and climb a hill to see what's going on.  They see a herd of buffalo thundering down a valley.  Then they see a lone Indian chasing them, but he is headed through a field of prairie dogs with their many holes in the ground.  His horse trips because of a hole and falls and the man hits his head on his way down and is knocked out. 

Davy comes over to see if the fellow is okay.  Whiles he is checking the man out for possible broken bones, the Indian awakens and attacks Crockett.  With the help of Russel they subdue the fellow who goes unconscious again.  When the Indian awakens again he is laying on a blanket on the ground near a campfire.  Crockett goes over to the Indian and starts talking with him in sign language.  Crockett translates later for the English speakers.  He says the guy has gone through a series of hard knocks and then his horse falls, he is injured and the buffalo get away.  The river boat gambler says he doesn't trust the savage, but Davy tells him that the savage is the only one who knows the way to the next watering hole.  And he is going to help keep them away from the Comanche. 

They come across a Mexican family who warns them about going to San Antonio because Santa Anna has already take the town.  The Texans are holed up in an old mission known as the Alamo, but Santa Anna's army has the mission surrounded by a large army.  The head of the family says that there are also many Mexican patrols around.  The guys decide to head for the Alamo.  Along the way they have to ride away from a Mexican patrol.  The patrol gives chase and keeps firing at the newcomers. 

The group of four ride right through a line of cannon and gunners and continue riding as fast as they can to get to the mission.  When the patrol gets in range of the rifles from the Alamo, they start getting shot, so they turn around and leave.  The group of four ride through the gate of the Alamo fortress. 

Davy wants to meet the commander so the second in command takes him to see the presently ill Jim Bowie, famous for his large Bowie knife.  Bowie knows about Davy Crockett and welcomes him, but expresses doubt about the wisdom of his coming here.  He is disappointed when Davy tells him he only brought himself and three men with him.  Bowie tells Crockett that they would need a thousand men to defend the fort properly but he doesn't even have 200.  He adds that if they can hold the Alamo and give Houston and others enough time to get more men, the chance for an independent Texas will be a real one.  Bowie says they are also short of food rations and powder.

Santa Anna sends an ultimatum to the fort to surrender or be slaughtered.  Of course, the Texans won't surrender.  So the attacks on the fort continue. 

Russel comes to Davy to tell him he just learned that they are almost out of ammunition.  Davy says he's known that since the first day they got here, but couldn't tell Russel because Bowie made him promise not to say anything to the men.  But Russel is still mad because he believes that Davy didn't trust him enough to confide in him.  His feelings are hurt and he tells Davy from now on it's going to be everyone for himself.  He goes to Col. Travis and offers to try to break out and ride to Goliad for help.  When Davy learns that Russel is trying to break through to get to Goliad, he feels pretty bad. 

A Mexican cannon has been moved up closer to the fort and now lobs a cannon ball into the fort.  Davy and another fellow try to shoot the gun crew, but the first try is a failure.  The Indian gives Betsy back to Crockett and says it will reach the gun crew.  And sure enough Crockett is able to kill one of the gunners.  The other fellow, after raising his sights, now also hits a gunner. 

Russel comes riding back into the fort with the bad news that Goliad can't or won't  spare any men for the Alamo.  Davy comes rushing down to the courtyard to scold Russel for coming back to the fort, after being in the clear at Goliad.  Russel just says he was feeling lonesome.  Col. Travis tells Davy that he is going to have the tell the men now that there is no help coming from Goliad and they are very low on ammunition.  He asks Davy to go tell the same to Col. Bowie.  Crockett tells Bowie that no help is coming from Goliad.  Bowie wants to hear the announcement from Travis and be with the other men, so Davy gets some men to move Bowie's bed to the courtyard. 

Travis tells his men the truth.  He then draws a line in the sand.  He asks those who are staying to cross over the line.  Only the gambler is left behind, but he soon steps over the line too.  During the night, Davy sings a song that he wrote himself.

A guard sees the Mexicans coming and shouts the warning.  The enemy has brought a lot of ladders with them and they try to get inside the fort, but they take too many losses and retreat.  In the next attack, however, some Mexican soldiers do get over the wall.  News comes that they have breeched the north wall.  The Indian with Davy gets killed.

The Mexicans now break through the front gate.  Col. Travis is shot, then the gambler and then Russel.  Russel gets shot again.  Russel dies saying:  "Give 'em what for, Davy."  Davy starts using his rifle as a club to knock down the Mexicans trying to climb up and get kill him.

"March 6, 1836.  Liberty and Independence forever!"

 

 I saw this film when I was a young boy and fell in love, like so many other youngsters, with the character known As Davy Crockett.  Yep, Davy Crockett was a big deal back then.  Many a raccoon cap was sold to the boys.  It was the most impressive film I saw as a young fellow and certainly the one I remember the most.  Watching it again after so many years, I still can see what I liked about it.  Davy Crockett is a good and humble man who is loyal to his best friend who is also a good man.  Moreover, Crockett was a fearless Indian fighter and one of the heroes of the Alamo.  The film is one exciting adventure after another.  In addition, there's enough comic relief to sweeten the action.  Fess Parker became quite the sensation of the times.  I always had fond memories of Fess Parker and his partner Buddy Ebsen.  

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 


Historical Background:

David Crockett; from The History Channel: Daniel Boone and David Crockett

1786 -- born the 5th son of a family in southeast, Tennessee. He was named after his grandfather, killed by Cherokee raiders. His father was an alcoholic and abusive. He sold David into indentured servitude at the age of 12. He drove cattle, was a teamster, plowed fields and in Baltimore even thought of signing on board a ship. He returns home after two years.

He only had 6 months of formal education.

He started to win shooting matches and became famous as a hunter. He meets Polly Finley.

1806 -- marries Polly. She gives him two sons.

1809 -- he moves his family west to Mulberry Fork of Elk River.

1811 -- moves west to Franklin County. Builds a cabin near Bean's Creek. He became a hunter and even kills 105 bears in one season.

1813 -- slaughter at Fort Mims, AL by Creek Indians. Andrew Jackson calls for volunteers. At Winchester, David joins up with the Tennessee Volunteer Mounted Riflemen. He becomes part of Colonel John Coffee's cavalry, 1,300 men strong.

The Shawnee Indian leader Tecumseh had called for a grand alliance of Indians. But a split in the ranks developed and some Creek, Cherokee, and Choctaw joined with Jackson.

Crockett served as a scout for Major John Gibson's advance guard. Crockett finds the Indians and reports it back to Jackson. He is not believed. But when Gibson reports he has found the Indians, he is believed. Crockett learns that class and position in America do matter.

At Tallasahatche (?) they attack an Indian village. Crockett was horrified by the slaughter of 200 Indians. He felt bad for the Indians.

Nov 8, the Battle of Talladega; Crockett played a prominent role, but now he had had enough of war. He goes home on furlough, thereby missing the decisive Battle of Horseshoe Bend. At the treaty the Creek give up some 23 million acres of land.

Crockett heads into the swamps of Florida chasing those Creek that had fled south.

March 27, 1815 -- Crockett discharged with the rank of sergeant.

Polly gives him a daughter, but not long after Polly dies. Crockett starts courting a neighbor woman, Elizabeth Patton, a widow with 2 children. Her husband had been killed in the Creek War.

1816 -- they marry; she gives him 3 more children. It was somewhat of a marriage of convenience.

He gets malaria, but is saved by Indians who find him and carry him home.

He moves west to west central Tennessee at Lawrenceburg. There he begins his political career becoming a magistrate, then a colonel of the local militia, then a justice of the peace. He represented west Tennessee. He fought for the poor and for squatter's rights.

A flood on Shoal's Creek destroys his grist mill and distillery (bought with his wife's inheritance) and ruins him financially. They move to Rutherford, northwest TN.

1823 -- elected as a state legislator. He was a Jacksonian.

1827 -- elected to the US Congress. He was a vernacular story teller. He was rough and uncouth and became somewhat of a sensation in Washington.

1828 -- Jackson wins the presidency. Crockett becomes the very symbol of the man of the age of Jackson.

But then he starts to break with Jackson over squatter's rights and what he feels is too much attention paid to the slave states. He finally breaks with Jackson over Indian removal. He spoke on the floor of Congress for the Indians. The eastern press praises him but he is defeated at the next election (for his third term).

He hunts bear while his legend grows.

1831 -- a play called the Lion of the West makes Crockett famous. The main character Nimrod was based on Crockett.

1833 -- reelected as an opponent of Jackson. A biography of Crockett becomes an enormous success and his fame grows.

1834 -- Crockett publishes his autobiography that adds to his fame.

1835-1855 -- Crockett Almanacs published.

The Whigs sponsor Crockett on a tour to promote his book. But in congress he finds himself blocked by Polk at every turn. However, Crockett becomes a celebrity.  He fed off it and got caught up in it and started to neglect his political duties.

1835 -- defeated for reelection. The Jackson forces had really worked hard for his defeat.

So he departs for Texas saying that his constituents can go to hell and he will go to Texas.

He sees Texas as an opportunity to revive himself. He joins with the Texas volunteers and heads southwest to San Antonio. He is killed at the Alamo.

 

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