“Took over Washington, so we hear tell” is a line from the song that is not accurate.
Bob Thompson spent three years with the song that’s about to be stuck in your head. In researching “Born on a Mountaintop: On the Road with Davy Crockett and the Ghosts of the Wild Frontier,” the former Washington Post writer discovered that the theme from the 1950s Disney TV series is a universal ear worm.
“For people of my generation, everybody knows the song from watching the TV show,” he says. “I don’t quite know how the 20-somethings know it.”
On his road trip through the 19th-century politician/folk hero/Alamo martyr’s life, Thompson found that, while the ballad doesn’t get all the facts right, it nails the essence of Crockett: part man, part myth, always fun to read about.
You wrote the book after one of your daughters got obsessed with Davy Crockett. How much did you know about him before?
I knew there was a song and he was a real person and he died at the Alamo. I kind of knew he had served in Congress.
The myths surrounding Crockett started during his lifetime. Did he help create them?
He was a participant in the process, but he didn’t control it. He started out with this backwoods persona in local politics that’s more familiar to us today: “I’m not a politician; I’m a plain backwoods guy!” When he got to Washington it all gets kind of magnified, with some people seeing it as charming and others seeing him as a buffoon.
Did he capitalize on that?
He wrote his biography in part to capitalize on that. He was [also] pissed off about [another, unauthorized] one because he felt it misrepresented him. And he was always in debt, so he wanted to both get his story out there and make some money off it.
Crockett was a three-term congressman, but you don’t hear much about his time in D.C. Why?
Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW; Sat., 6 p.m., free; 202-364-1919. (Van Ness)
The Disney series has three parts, and the second is “Davy Crockett Goes to Congress.” It makes a huge, dramatic deal about his opposition to the Indian Removal Act. Unfortunately, it’s not very accurate. If you hadn’t watched the Disney film, one of the reasons you wouldn’t know it is he didn’t get anything done.