Davy Crockett was born nearly fifty years after Daniel Boone, but went on to become more famous than him, probably because he became the subject of a hugely popular Disney series in the 1950, starring Fess Parker. He had his own theme song, which acknowledged him as the King of the Wild Frontier, and coonskin caps became all the rage. I was a little too young for the series but had picked up a coonskin cap on a horse-riding trip in Colorado, and subsequently got to star as Davy in a school pageant during the bicentennial. I wrestled a bear and fought two Mexicans, while the rest of the class stood behind me, dressed as trees and singing the chorus.
From the Carl Sandburg Home it was two hours north on the 26 to reach the David Crockett Birthplace State Park. When I reached the town of Erwin, I headed west on the 107. There was a nice campground there beside the Nolichucky River. If it hadn’t been so early yet I would have set up camp.
As with Daniel Boone, and almost every other legend of the American West, it is hard to know where the real-life story of Crockett ends, and the myth begins. If anything, he was a storyteller. Tall tales that sprang from his life include him killing a bear when he was three and being charismatic enough to smile a raccoon down from a tree. He did serve as a scout and in Congress, where his oratory skills set him apart, and he did die at the Alamo, during the Texas Revolution. That much is true. Every other fact of his life has been stretched beyond recognition, and that’s what makes him fun.
The cabin and farm that make up the Crockett Homestead have been recreated. A stone marker testifies that this is the spot where they once resided. There were pictures of him in his buckskins and coonskin hat, loading the muzzle of a rifle. Next to that is a picture of an Indian warrior, feathers in his mohawk, his own rifle laid across his knee. I walked down to the river, taking the opportunity to call my mother and let her know I’d be back in a few weeks. Had I already been on the road almost a month? It appeared so, but time is elastic, we all know that. It modifies itself to fit the occasion.
My plan was to make it to the Great Smoky Mountain Nation Park and camp there that night. It was just a few hours away to Gatlinburg, the Gateway to the Smokies. I got back on the 26 to the 40 west. At one point I had to get over to the 321. About five miles from the park entrance, it began to resemble an amusement park, sort of like the main drag of Branson. There was a Space Needle and Sky Lift, lodges, museums, hotels, inns, old-time photos, gift shops, black bears, pumpkins and scarecrows for Halloween, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, mini-golf, waterparks, Ole Smoky Moonshine, Margaritaville. In nearby Pigeon Forge, there was Dollywood and the Rain Forests Adventure Zoo.
Making it through all that, I was just glad that the park was open and that they accepted my National Park Pass. I stopped at the visitor center, but there was a lethal combination of tourist mania and COVID paranoia going on. A masked ranger stood at the door to it, letting visitors in two at a time, once two people had exited. Meanwhile, back in Gatlinburg they’d been cramming them into the gift shops and restaurants like sardines.
Where did the true danger lie? With the virus? With the black bears that everyone wanted to see? With the other tourists? With the government? With the society? Maybe I was getting closer. I decided to get away while I still could.