Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

A NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF DAVID CROCKETT appeared in print in 1834 while the author was serving a term in Congress. By that time Crockett had become a folk hero of such consequence that there had already appeared an unauthorized book, SKETCHES AND ECCENTRICITIES OF COL. DAVID CROCKETT, OF WEST TENNESSEE, which Crockett resented and which prompted him to write his own book. Crockett published a sequel in 1835, AN ACCOUNT OF COL. CROCKETT’S TOUR TO THE NORTH AND DOWN EAST, in which the author’s political complaints and harangues unfortunately detract from his rambunctious personality in print.

What is likeable about Crockett in his autobiography is that he is unique, proud, ignorant, and boastful, the prototype of the “Rugged Individual” spinning yarns of frontier life. At the same time, this backwoodsman serving in Congress, unschooled and barely literate, seems primitive and picturesque, even in his own day.

As a narrator, Crockett is uneven, at times monotonous, yet at other times so well in possession of common sense that he is nearly witty, or, as Hamlin Garland put it, “whimsical.” Garland’s opinion that Crockett “was in a crude sort the direct progenitor of Lincoln and Mark Twain” seems generous, but on occasion Crockett manages a fine episode. For instance, his account in Chapter XI of deer hunts and of replenishing his powder supply on Christmas, 1822 shows him at his best as a dramatic storyteller.

Crockett’s autobiography occupies a unique place in the library of American letters. Part history and part tall-tale, perhaps part political apology—for Crockett never tires of stating his differences with Andrew Jackson or his independence from the Party—his narrative is nothing if not idiosyncratic. It is, in Crockett’s own words, “the exact image of its Author.”