Dorothy Sloan -- Books

AUCTION 21

October 26, 2007

Superb Collection of Davy Crockett Almanacs
Economical on Truth but Rich in Humor & Social Insights

44. [CROCKETT, DAVID]. Collection of 21 Crockett almanacs, all in original pictorial wraps and profusely illustrated with humorous wood-engraved illustrations (many full-page). 21 vols., 8vo, each approximately 20.3 x 13 cm., all but one with original stitching, all untrimmed, some unopened. Other than the usual slight edge wear, very fine examples of unusual survivals in this condition. The most extensive run of Crockett almanacs offered in many decades.

            First editions. Grolier American Hundred 39 (citing the Nashville series): “It was the Crockett Almanacks which made Crockett a legendary figure and a part of American folk-lore.... Constance Rourke, Crockett’s biographer, observes that the legendary Crockett stories ‘constitute one of the earliest and perhaps the largest of our cycles of myth, and they are part of a lineage that endures to this day.’” Henderson, Early American Sport, pp. 55-56. Howes C897. Phillips, American Sporting Books, pp. 18-20. See also: Oxford Companion to American Literature (Fourth Edition), p. 196. Constance Rourke, Davy Crockett (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1934).

            The Nashville imprints seldom come on the market, and the Yaller Flower Almanac is particularly elusive. The almanacs with Texas-Alamo content are much sought after. Franklin J. Meine, in The Crockett Almanacks: Nashville Series, 1835-1838 (Chicago: The Caxton Club, 1955, pp. xv-xvi), succinctly assesses the Crockett almanacs as “‘damn rare,’ only three or four complete sets of the Nashville imprints being known.” The almanacs were issued for twenty-two years, from 1835 to 1856. The present collection has two almanacs for 1836, but lacks almanacs for the years 1840 and 1844. The collection consists of the following almanacs (entered chronologically according to wrapper titles):

(1) “Go Ahead!” Davy Crockett’s Almanack, of Wild Sports of the West, and Life in the Backwoods. Calculated for All the States of the Union. 1835. Nashville, Tenn. Published for the Author, [1834]. 47 [1] pp. American Imprints (1834) 34-24113. AII, Tennessee Imprints 522. Cf. Streeter 1194: “Though the first two Crockett ‘Go Ahead’ almanacs for the years 1835 and 1836 have no Texas interest they, along with...’Go Ahead No. 3,’ and ‘Go Ahead No. 4,’...are choice pieces for any collection on American sport and folk lore.” Streeter Sale 4183. Not in Drake or Rourke, who do, however, list another Nashville edition for 1835, with imprint of Nashville: Snag & Sawyer. This almanac contains a supposed biography entitled “Davy Crockett’s Early Days, Severe Courtship, and Marriage” and “Davy Crockett Chosen Colonel.” The almanac includes the famous illustration double-page view entitled “View of Col. Crockett Residence in West Tennessee.” This pamphlet purports to be written entirely by Crockett and is the first in this long, popular series.

(2) Vol. 1. “Go Ahead.” No. 2. Davy Crockett’s Almanack, of Wild Sports of the West, and Life in the Backwoods. Calculated for All the States of the Union. 1836. Nashville, Tenn. Published for the Author, [1835]. 47 [1] pp. American Imprints (1835) 35-31279. Drake 13408. Rourke, pp. 251-252. Streeter Sale 4184: “The amusing woodcut cartoons and vignettes of animals are particularly bright and sharp.-TWS.” Cf. Streeter 1194. Not in AII, Tennessee Imprints. This almanac includes a brief biography of Ben Harding, a member of Congress from Kentucky; the rest of the issue is made up of various hunting adventures and exploits related by Crockett, which involved himself and others. An example of humorous wit in short and snappy style is the observation: “Of all insects the Hornet is the most beautiful in my eye. There is no tickle to his sting, like the musquito and flea. He touches your feelings at once.”

(3) Crockett’s Yaller Flower Almanac for ‘36 Snagsville, Salt-River: Published by Boon Crockett, and Squire Downing, Skunk’s Misery, Down East. Sold by Elton, 134 Division Street, N.Y. New York: Elton, [1836]. 33 [3] pp. American Imprints (1836) 36-31205. Drake 7412. Rourke, p. 252. This very rare almanac contains “Colonel Crockett’s Celebrated Squatter Speech” (Crockett favored squatters in the settlement of the West). This was the first of the almanacs to contain poetry.

(4) Vol. I. “Go Ahead!” No. 3. “Davy Crockett’s 1837 Almanack, of Wild Sports in the West, Life in the Backwoods, & Sketches of Texas. Nashville, Tennessee. Published by the heirs of Col. Crockett. [1836]. 46 [2] pp. American Imprints (1836) 36-37039. AII, Tennessee Imprints 591. Drake 13411. Rourke, p. 252. Streeter 1194: “This almanac has the zip and tang of the one for the year 1835.... There are some great hunting stories, including ‘Perilous Adventure with a Black Bear,’ ‘Two Panthers Killed during a Deer Hunt,’ ‘Fatal Bear Fight on the Banks of the Arkansaw’ and ‘Hunting a Wild Hog in the Forests of Tennessee.’ For Texas there is an account of Crockett’s death at the Alamo and ‘Method of Catching Wild Horses on the Prairies of Texas.’ “ Streeter Sale 343: “The last two illustrations in the pamphlet were inspired by events in the Texas Revolution.” The “Explanatory Preface” on page 3 states: “Col. Crockett had prepared the matter for this year’s Almanac before he went to Texas. And the last year’s one having such an immense sale, he was induced to prepare matter and illustrations for several Almanacs. So that his absence for two or three years should not prevent the Almanac’s being published, so that his family might have the benefit of it. From a careful perusal of his manuscript writings, there is enough to make six almanacs after the present one, and they will continue to be published until 1843.”

(5) Vol. 1. “Go Ahead!” No. 4. Davy Crockett’s 1838 Almanack, of Wild Sports in the West, Life in the Backwoods, Sketches of Texas, and Rows on the Mississippi. Nashville, Tennessee. Published by the heirs of Col. Crockett, [1837]. 44 [2] pp. American Imprints (1837) 37-43979. AII, Tennessee Imprints 624. Drake 13413. Rourke, p. 252. Sabin 17576. Streeter 1270: “This is included because of ‘Texas’ in the title though the only sketch with the scene laid in Texas, and it might have been anywhere else in the Southwest, is ‘A Narrow Escape of a Woman from a Panther in Texas.’ There are some tall hunting tales here, including ‘A Buffalo Hunt on the Grand Prairie of Arkansaw’ and ‘A Snake Fight and Chase.’ ‘Mike Fink, the Ohio Boatman’ is perhaps the first reference to the legendary Mike of the Crockett almanacs.” Another incident relating to Texas is entitled “Crockett and Santa Anna,” in which Crockett nearly kills the Mexican general as he is planning his attack on the Alamo.

(6) Vol. 2. “Go Ahead!!” No. 1. The Crockett Almanac 1839. Containing Adventures, Exploits, Sprees & Scrapes in the West, & Life and Manners in the Backwoods. Nashville, Tennessee. Published by Ben Harding, [1838]. 35 [1] pp. American Imprints (1838) 38-49951. AII, Tennessee Imprints 665. Drake 13414. Hamilton 1578 & 1004n. Rourke, pp. 252-253. Sabin 17576. Streeter Sale 4187. This was the first of the Crockett almanacs to bear the Ben Harding imprint, and the first to contain signed illustrations. Three of the illustrations are by Alonzo Hartwell after William Croome (cf. Hamilton II, pp. 96 & 139 & Fielding, p. 190).

(7) Correct Astronomical Calculations for Every Part of the United States, Territories, and Canadas. “Go A-Head.” The Crockett Almanac 1841. Containing Sprees and Scrapes in the West; Life and Manners in the Backwoods; And Exploits and Adventures on the Prairies. Boston: Published by J. Fisher, 71 Court Street. Sold by Turner & Fisher, New York, and Philadelphia, [1840]. [36] pp. American Imprints (1840) 40-1729. Drake 4212. Rourke, p. 253. The focus of the action is in the Southwest, including “Dreadful Massacre of the Whites by Indians” and “A Regular Row in the Backwoods.” The illustrations [2], [4], [5], and [8] are by Joseph H. Brightly (cf. Hamilton II, p. 83).

(8) Improved Edition. 1842. Containing Real Stories. Crockett Almanac Improved 1842. Boston. Printed and Published by S. N. Dickinson, and for sale by T. Groom & Co., Boston; D. Felt & Co., Collins, Keese & Co., F. J. Huntington & Co., New York; Grigg & Elliot, and Thomas, Cowperthwait & Co., Philadelphia; Cushing & Brothers, Baltimore; Oliver Steele, Albany, [1841]. 35 [1] pp. American Imprints (1841) 41-1370. Drake 4236. Hamilton 804. Rourke, p. 254. Sabin 17576. The wrapper is illustrated with a handsome, full-length portrait by Alonzo Hartwell after William Croome of Davy in buckskin waving his hat and holding a long rifle (Hamilton I, p. 96). Hartwell also did the woodcuts on pp. 16, 21, and 29. The illustration on p. 29 is by John H. Manning (cf. Hamilton, II, pp. 173-174).

(9) “I leave this rule for others, when I’m dead, Be always sure you’re right, then go a-head.” Fisher’s Crockett Almanac. Edited by Ben Hardin. 1843. Calendar for the Whole Country. With Rows, Sprees and Scrapes in the West: Life and Manners in the Backwoods: Terrible Battles and Adventures on Sea and Land. New York: Published by Turner & Fisher: 169 Broadway, and 15 North Sixth Street, Philadelphia, [1842]. [36] pp. American Imprints (1842) 42-1346. Drake 7974. Rourke, p. 254. Sabin 17576. Illustrations on the upper and lower wrappers are signed A. Fisher.

(10) Davy Crockett’s Almanac. 1845. I leave this rule for others, when I’m dead, “Be always sure your [sic] right, then go a-head.” Calendars Correct for the Entire Union, the Territories, Texas, and British Provinces. Boston: Published by James Fisher, No. 71 Court Street, [1844]. [36] pp. American Imprints (1844) 44-1865. Drake 4302. Hamilton 1001: “Numerous illustrations, many, if not all, of which were drawn by [John L.] Magee and engraved on wood by Watson.” Rourke, p. 255. Sabin 17576. Streeter 1490. The almanac includes “Crockett’s Opinion of Oregon, and the Annexation of Texas to the U.S.” and “Colonel Crockett’s Trip to Texas and Fight with the Mexicans.” The latter article purports in high hyperbole that Crockett killed hundreds of Mexicans with his sword, to the point that their heads were flying around as thick as chestnuts in a hurricane.

(11) Calendar Calculations Correct for the Whole Union. I leave this rule for others, when I’m dead, Be always sure you’re right, then go ahead.” Crockett’s 1846 Almanac. Scenes in River Life, Feats on the Lakes, Manners in the Backwoods, Adventures in Texas, &c. &c. Boston: Published by James Fisher, No. 71 Court Street, Toy Books, Song Books, Valentines, Colored Prints, etc., [1845]. [36] pp. American Imprints (1845) 45-1748. Drake 4323. Hamilton 1002: “Contains seventeen wood engravings, six of which bear Magee’s name. Probably all are his. Watson appears to have been the engraver.” Rourke, p. 255.

(12) Calendar Calculations, Correct for the Whole United States. I leave this rule for others when I’m dead, Be always sure you’re right, then go a-head.” Davy Crockett’s 1847 Almanac. Daring Adventures in the Back Woods; Wonderful Scenes in River Life; Manners of Warfare in the West; Feats on the Prairies, in Texas and Oregon. Turner & Fisher: No. 74 Chatham Street, New York, No. 15, N. Sixth Street, Philadelphia, [1846]. [36] pp. American Imprints (1846) 46-1037. Rourke, p. 256. Included in the illustrations are “The Ghost of Crockett Scaring John Bull from Oregon” and “John Bull Opposed to Annexation.” The latter shows Crockett sticking a snapping turtle labelled “Texas” onto John Bull’s arse. Drake 8414.

(13) Calculated for the Whole United States. Crockett’s 1848 Almanac. I leave this rule for others, when I’m dead, “Be always sure you’re right, then go a-head.” Turner & Fisher: No. 15 North Sixth Street, Philadelphia. 74 Chatham Street, New York, [1847]. [36] pp. Drake 4385. Rourke, p. 256. A pictorial life of Crockett with humorous illustrations relating especially to his younger days and including his death at the Alamo depicting a Mexican bayoneting him. Other illustrations set in Texas are “Crockett’s Fight with the Rancheros” and “Crockett at the Alamo,” the latter with text containing the outrageous assertion that Davy sent Mrs. Crockett the many Mexican scalps he took at the Alamo so she could make a quilt of them.

(14) Calendar Calculated for the Whole United States. Crockett Almanac 1849. Boston: James Fisher, 71 Court Street, [1848]. [36] pp. Drake 4429. Rourke, p. 256. Cf. Sabin 17576. The title page and one other illustration are signed “E.A.W.” Several of the tall tales relate to Oregon, including Crockett’s contention that he emigrated to Oregon Territory “takin’ up swine collections for the hungry Emigrants in Oregon.”

(15) “I leave this rule for others, when I’m dead, Be always sure you’re right, then go a-head.” Crockett’s 1850 Almanac. Containing Rows, Sprees, and Scrapes in the West; Life and Adventures in the Backwoods. Adventures on the Ocean, etc. Published by Fisher & Brothers: (Successors to Turner & Fisher.) James Fisher, No. 74 Chatham Street, New York; Abraham Fisher 15 North Sixth Street, Philadelphia; William R. Fisher, 71 Court Street, Boston, [1849]. [36] pp. Drake 4453. Rourke, p. 256. This almanac contains numerous Crockett adventures, including one in which he was treed by a wolf pack and miraculously escaped, and another in which he freed a girl from captivity.

(16) I leave this rule for others, when I’m dead: “Be always sure you’re right, then go ahead.” Crockett’s Almanac. 1851 Containing Life, Manners and Adventures in the Back Woods, and Rows, Sprees, and Scrapes on the Western Waters. Baltimore: Fisher & Brother: Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Baltimore, [1850]. [36] pp. Rourke, p. 257. This almanac includes illustrations and tales of “Cuffee and the Texian Condor” and “Davy in the Mexican Arena,” the latter a tale of Crockett fighting a lion after being taken prisoner by Santa-Anna during the Texas Revolution.

(17) I have this rule for others, when I’m dead: — “Be always sure you’re right, then go ahead.” Crockett Almanac 1852 Containing Life, Manners, and Adventures in the Back Woods, and Rows, Sprees, and Scrapes on the Western Waters. With Handsome Illustrations. Fisher & Brother: No. 15 N. Sixth Street, Philada.: 74 Chatham Street, New York: 71 Court St., Boston: 62 Baltimore St., Baltimore, [1851]. [36] pp. Rourke, p. 257. Streeter Sale 4198. This almanac contains various stories concerning John C. Frémont, Kit Carson, and incidents that occurred in California, along with an article, “A Texas Indian’s Terrible Punishment of a Camanche Spy,” and another story about a squaw who stole and cooked a horse from the Mormons on their way to Deseret.

(18) I have this rule for others, when I’m dead: — “Be always sure you’re right, then go ahead.” Crockett 1853 Almanac Containing Life, Manners, and Adventures in the Back Woods, and Rows, Sprees, and Scrapes on the Western Waters. With Handsome Illustrations. Fisher and Brother, Philadelphia, New York, Boston & Baltimore, [1852]. [36] pp. Rourke, p. 257. One yarn in this almanac, “Col. Jack Hayes Rescuing the Corpse of his Comrade from the Mexican Wolves,” focuses on legendary Texas Ranger Col. John Coffee “Jack” Hayes in the Mexican-American War. Hayes joined the 1849 exodus to California, eventually becoming sheriff of San Francisco County and laying out the city of Oakland. This almanac includes “A California Adventurer Having Returned from the Diggins with $500 and Behaving Most Shamefully, Is Suddenly Missed and Is Supposed Was Ridden by the Devil to his Diggins Below,” “A Mormon Preacher is Treed in the Act of Making Love to a Beautiful Plantation Wench” (with illustration). “The ‘Gold Maiden:’-An Adventure in California” is the moralistic story of a man who eventually “possessed a treasure worth all the gold in California-a true wife.” The lady had the uncanny power to intuit the presence of gold.

(19) “I leave this rule for others, when I’m dead: Be always sure you’re right, then go-ahead!” Crockett 1854 Almanac. Containing Life, Manners, and Adventures in the Backwoods, and Rows, Sprees, and Scrapes on the Western Waters. Fisher & Brother. No. 15 North Sixth Street, Philadelphia; No. 74 Chatham Street, New York; No. 71 Court Street, Boston; 5 North Street; Baltimore, [1853]. [36] pp. Rourke, p. 257. This almanac includes material on Kit Carson and California, the latter including “Perils of the Rocky Mountains. A Woman Rescued from the Snow-Drift,” the story of a female emigrant to California saved from certain death by a monk and his search dog, and “A Woman in California.” A Mexican-American War tale is “Anecdote of the Mexican Campaign.” In “Perilous Situations of Mrs. Crockett, Discovery of an Eagle’s Nest” Davy’s wife, Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind, demonstrated that the distaff Crocketts were also ingenious and physically powerful by gathering eagle eggs and milking a she-buffalo to make eggnog.

(20) “I leave this rule for others, when I’m dead: Be always sure you’re right, then go-head [sic]!” Crockett 1855 Almanac. Fisher & Brother, No. 15 North Sixth Street, Philadelphia; 74 Chatham Street, New York; 71 Court Street, Boston; 64 Baltimore Street, Baltimore, [1854]. [36] pp. Rourke, p. 258. The rugged portrait of Crockett appearing on the upper cover and on p. [25] is signed “N.B.” (i.e., Nathan Brown; cf. Hamilton I, p. 86 & II, p. 53). The portrait of Crockett dressed as a Congressman on p. [7] and the portrait of an unidentified man on p. 9 are both signed C. H. Hayes. Incidents set in California include “A California Miner Finds Himself Minus, and Advertises his ‘Diggins’ to Let,” “A California Indian Adventure,” “A Fight with a California Bull-Bear,” and “A Gold [Digger]-Ruminating Upon Ruination.” The anecdote accompanying the story called “David Crockett,” as he appeared in his regimental decorations, recounts that Crockett was summoned to meet a group of Mexican generals during the Texas Revolution who, when noticing how plainly he was dressed, enquired about the absence of his “official decorations,” to which Crockett, pointing to the scars on his face, retorted, “Here, show better decorations if you can.” This anecdote represents an interesting development in the portrayal of Crockett, showing wit and sophistication as opposed to the rather crude humor that prevailed in previous editions of the almanac.

(21) “I leave this rule for others, when I’m dead: Be always sure you’re right, then go-ahead!” Crockett 1856 Almanac. Fisher & Brother, No. 15 North. Sixth Street, Philadelphia; 71 Court Street, Boston; 74 Chatam [sic] Street, N.Y. 64 Baltimore St. Baltimore, [1855]. [36] pp. Rourke, p. 258. Hamilton 1757a: “Contains thirteen wood engravings, one repeated on the title-page. That on the sixth page is signed ‘Howell’ and ‘H. Sebald sc.’ and several others have Howell’s name. It seems likely that this is the Philadelphia painter, Joseph B. Howell, and that he designed all the cuts and Hugo Sebald engraved them. However, it is possible that Sebald, who was both an engraver and designer, made the drawings for some of the cuts on which Howell’s name does not appear.” On Sebald, see Hamilton II, p. 132. This almanac includes “Crockett on Santa-Anna’s Worldly Effects,” which pokes fun at the Mexican dictator’s debauched, unruly life.

Although Santa-Anna managed to exterminate the Alamo defenders, he was completely unable to uproot the considerable legendary edifice that was built upon their dead and burned bodies. Travis, Bowie, and their companions gave rise to vast mythology surrounding their battles and their deaths, legends which exist to this day and are still exploited in the commercial spheres of books, movies, television, and memorabilia. None of those heroes, however, had such a rapid rise to national fame as did Davy Crockett, who was immortalized almost immediately by the publication of the almanacs offered here. Publishers, correctly recognizing not only Crockett’s fame but also the new medium of the comic almanac, the first of which had appeared in 1830, played on Crockett and a host of companions to parlay his name and deeds into an important series of publications that by most accounts helped to define the U.S. views of heroism, tall tales, mythical beasts, even more mythical deeds, and the crude, straightforward language and images of the frontier, not only in Crockett’s native Tennessee but also beyond to the greater West, the Pacific, and even around the world.

The central fiction employed, especially in the early numbers, is that the text was written by Crockett himself, an assertion that probably genuinely misled some readers. The first edition, in 1835, could quite naturally play to that assertion, since Crockett was still alive and enjoyed some reputation because of his Congressional career and his skills as a frontiersman. Not the least bit flustered by the potentially inconvenient fact that Crockett had been killed in early 1836, the “Nashville” publishers in the 1837 edition explained that the hero had left more than enough material for almanacs to 1843 before he departed for Texas. When that fiction reached its end, the almanacs morphed into a series of publications about Crockett and his fellow frontier denizens. There is little evidence that the public, by now disabused, lost its interest in the publications. In fact, Crockett is not known to have written a single word of any of the fifty or so almanacs that appeared in his name, and even some of his speeches printed in these pamphlets are perhaps spurious. Nor is anyone certain how much of Crockett’s autobiographies to ascribe to their subject. The material in the early almanacs was, in all likelihood, created by hack writers in the publishers’ employ, and it is regrettable that every single one of them has sunk into anonymity. Even the identity of the publisher of the Nashville edition is unknown, and it has been conjectured that they were in fact printed elsewhere, perhaps in Boston.

Of the written and graphic elements in the almanacs, it is difficult to say which is the more important; the two complement each other in style, subject matter, and tone. One is somewhat astonished to think that the gritty style and vocabulary contained in these stories could have been invented and put into prose by armchair travellers back East, although they certainly proved up to the task later as the new West of the cattle drive, gunslinger, Indian wars, and Wyatt Earp later unfolded. In general, the style here often consists of mangled words (e.g., “hull tiger family”), misspelled words (e.g. “littel”), incorrect substitutions (e.g. “Gastronomical calculations”), or typical colloquialisms (e.g., “agin”). Stories written in such style often exist side-by-side with others than are fairly literate and straightforwardly presented. To prepare such vernacular texts does not, of course, require an ignorant writer; it requires a literate one. Melding such writing styles with the tall tales found in these publications resulted in a series that, for much of the nation, captured and defined the nature, style, and essence of the trans-Allegheny west, the Appalachian frontier, and the far West, all of which came to be understood through the medium of the Crockett almanacs. How accurately the almanacs reflected the real vernacular of those areas is a matter of debate.

The almanacs are always illustrated by woodcuts, the majority of which are, again, by anonymous drawers and engravers. Most of them were obviously designed and executed for the specific almanac in which they appeared; few stock cuts seem to be present, and most of those occur as illustrations to the ephemeris, which one suspects was truly of little interest to readers. Considerable care was often given to these cuts, and the first edition contains a beautiful double-page view of Crockett’s residence, the only illustration in that format to occur in the present examples. The cuts in the 1836 Nashville edition are indeed spectacular, well executed and very boldly engraved, with heavy lines and vivid action. Although later editions contain numerous interesting examples of the wood engraver’s art, in many respects the ones in the 1836 edition were never surpassed. The 1855 edition is another anomaly. The comic aspect of the illustrations has been foregone for more serious, realistic depictions. Several portraits by G. H. Hayes and others are unusual departures for this series, and the remaining cuts likewise show a restraint usually not found here.

As seems obvious from their context, the engravings were all ordered after the text had been written. Very few of them are generic or unrelated to the stories they accompany and illustrate. In almost all cases, the engraver’s imagination was allowed to run wild along with the writer’s. Clearly many of them were executed by people who had never seen what they were illustrating. In the case of the depictions of Crockett’s mother and father, both of whom are said to be well over 100 years old, nobody at the printing office had probably ever seen the subjects. Thus, the verisimilitude of the depictions, if such can be expected, varies enormously. Some bears, for example, seem to have been drawn by people well aware of the animal; other depictions seem to be based partly on conjecture and are fittingly comic. In depictions of Crockett’s death at the Alamo, one is as good as the other since nobody is sure how he died. On the other hand, in most instances, illustrations of people firing muskets are quite accurate, and one assumes that the illustrators were probably familiar with that act. Throughout the almanacs, in any case, the engravings serve to give life and context to the stories and in that mission succeed admirably, even if they do not always convey the literal pictorial truth, a standard that is practically meaningless in this context.

From their inception, the almanacs were clearly destined to concentrate heavily on animals, both wild and domestic, and various encounters with them, in which the beast is often killed. The 1835 edition has several stories about bears, the beast that would become a central figure in all the almanacs. Bears were soon joined by huge snakes, eagles, catamounts, alligators, wolves, elk, catfish, anacondas, and numerous other creatures over which the human characters in the stories triumphed in various ways, often after superhuman struggles. On the other hand, Crockett had supposedly domesticated several wild animals for pets, among them a bear and an alligator. Spectacular fights between animals are also prominently featured. The almost endless ways in which these encounters between animals and humans are spun out in tales and yarns boggles the imagination and must have given readers something fresh to look forward to with each passing year and new edition.

Encounters between various humans are no less frequent. Among the privileged groups are frontier people, such as Kit Carson, Crockett, Ben Hardin, and Mike Fink, all of whom are of legendary stature and always prevail. On the other hand, there is often presented a distinct lower class consisting principally of Mexicans, African-Americans, and Native Americans. As with the wild animals in the stories, this class of people rarely comes out on top and is usually killed off, unless they are spared to be the butt of jokes. Crockett is even said to have ridden his pet bear back to Texas to kill even more Mexicans; that event was reported, ironically, several years after his death at the Alamo. The 1845 edition reports an incident in which Crockett single-handedly defeated a Mexican pirate ship. All such stories are reflections of the age’s prejudices, of course, although again one is amazed at the writers’ collective genius at dreaming up creative ways to torture and humiliate these people. In the story of the Mexican pirates, for example, it is not enough that Crockett stove in the head of an adversary; it is reported that he smashed the Mexican’s head down below the level of his shoulders. The reasons for such excessive cruelty, often displayed to any minority opponent, strike the modern reader as baffling.

As a class, women play a prominent role in the almanacs. As Michael A. Lofaro, Davy Crockett’s Riproarious Shemales and Sentimental Sisters: Sentiment, and Stereotypes, Women’s Tall Tales from the Crockett Almanacs (1835-1856) (Stackpole Books, 2001), comments:

Do the names Florinda Fury, Katy Goodgrit, Hippotamus Zephyr, Sal Fink, Comfort Crockett, and Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind Crockett draw only a blank? Indeed, when asked to recall any of the tall tales of Davy Crockett, most people never knew that he served as the fictional narrator of often outrageous tall tales much less that a significant number of the tales concern the exploits and adventures of backwoods women. The question might cause a few devotees of the legendary Crockett to pause, fall back upon memories of Walt Disney, and “Kilt him a bar when he was only three,” a line from “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.” Or upon further thought, they might also remember that when hunting, his grin was often as effective as his rifle, a story the Disney production staff revived rather than created.... And such traits likewise hint at the extraordinary deeds performed by women, though riproarious shemales and sentimental sisters of the Almanacs whose actions nearly echoed those of Crockett himself. This tall-tale Davy and his crew of fellow half-horse, half-alligator frontier screamers had an extraordinary group of female relatives and counterparts who could be just as wild, heroic, comic, and grotesque as the male characters, but whose depictions still maintained or parodied many of the feminine traits accepted as norms in nineteenth-century America.

As examples of early feminist history and of male equality, this group of characters is singular and seems totally unaffected by penis envy or any other modern-day malaise. Rarely had any such characters appeared on the U.S. scene since Moll Flanders landed in Virginia. Some of them are Crockett’s relatives, such as his wife, mother, and sister. Others are more typical of the time, including several women and girls rescued from Indian captivity, an ongoing theme in U.S. literature since Colonial times.

No satisfactory explanation has ever been advanced for why the Crockett almanacs abruptly died out in 1857. At that point, the country had largely changed its vision in light of the fact that Manifest Destiny, realized after the Mexican-American War, was now a reality rather than an ideal. Crockett, his companions, and mythical beasts came to be replaced by others who were not only mythical in some respects but were described by writers who had been to the places depicted. They all became replaced by Joaquin Murieta, the Heathen Chinee, and the celebrated jumping frog of Calaveras County. The California Gold Rush and the annexation of nearly half a continent created a vast need for factual information about the trans-Mississippi West, and it seems possible that those needs supplanted the desires for a comic almanac that, although humorous, relayed little factual information about how to get to the great West and what would actually be encountered on the way there. It is unlikely that anyone really believed the Mississippi could be waded, for example. In some ways, perhaps, the need for truth finally killed the need for these legends.

            Provenance: The almanacs were rescued by an avid collector in the Midwest, whose daughter carefully preserved them over the years. The owner reported to us: “In 1947, there was a paper drive to raise money for high school band uniforms. My father and I found all the almanacs on a curb in front of someone’s house in Spencer, Iowa. I can remember riding around town in the back of the open truck and collecting stacks of papers from block to block.” ($50,000-75,000)

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