William Alexander Ridgeway, who last May 26 was 87 years old is the last man living who knew David Crockett, famous trapper and hunter and hero of the Alamo, one of the American officers who fell after he had piled in front of and around him a heap of dead Mexicans. Mr. Ridgeway lives at Buford, Ark., in the Ozark Mountains and, with faculties unimpaired, a few days ago wrote, at the request of his grandson, T. H. Ridgeway, an attorney in San Antonio, his recollections of the celebrated frontiersman for the Sunday Express.
Five years ago the aged gentlemen fell on the ice after a sleet storm and broke his hip. Two Sundays ago, however, he rode on horseback three-fourths of a mile to church, with no other bad effect than feeling shaken up and very tired upon his return home. He has been a member of the Primitive Baptist Church for sixty years. Following is Mr. Ridgeway's own story.
Davey Crockett was a large man, more than six feet in height and weighed over 200 pounds but was not fleshy. He was one of the wittiest men I ever heard make a speech and I heard him make his last public speech while canvassing for a second term in Congress. Crockett was a No Party man but always opposed Andrew Jackson. The Congressional District in which he lived was largely Democratic. I think he had an opponent the first time. I was quite a small boy but I remember well the name of the man he unsuccessfully ran against for a seat in Congress, Adam Hutsman, a one-legged lawyer from Madison County, Tenn.
Hutsman was a Democrat and a great friend of Jackson and his wooded leg was the reason he beat Crockett who contended Jackson should not have voted the United States bank bill. It was about the time of the beginning of the great controversy between the two parties, Whig and Democrat. Crockett was so witty and kept the crowd so constantly in hearty laughter that, though a boy, as I said, my attention was rivetted and I recall very well some of Crockett's remarks as he closed. He said Hutsman had accused him of saying that if beaten he "might go to Hell" and he would go to Texas. He said:
"Now Hutsman, I didn't say that. I say you may go to Congress and I will go to Texas."
History shows how he made his words good.
It is said that Crockett had but little education; he was a self-made man. He served one term in the Legislature-I think he then lived in Madison County. Even then he was famed as a frontiers-man and a great hunter of wild game. His last residence was in Gibson County, Tenn.
Crockett was not a dissipated man. At this time whiskey was as common as spring water, almost, and at the speech makings, during political campaigns, it was a common custom for candidates to treat the crowd.
In 188 I traveled in Texas and stopped one day with a man named Smith. He was a very old man, and we got to talking about Crockett. He had been captain of a company of Texas Rangers and was a son of General Smith, who was under Gen. Sam Houston. This man told me he never saw Crockett, but his father had told him that Crockett had become displeased with General Houston for some cause and that when Houston sent a courier to Crockett to know if he wanted reinforcements that Crockett told him he could hold the Alamo with what men he had. This Mr. Smith told me there was an American woman in the fort. After Crockett and his men had been killed, the Mexicans told her that Crockett killed sixteen of them before they killed him. They said it was a pity to kill as brave a man as Crockett. He also told me of seeing one man many times who, in leaving the fort and making his way through the prickly pear, had suffered terrible torture and the skin and flesh had come off the forepart of his legs and the bone was naked.
Going back to Hutsman - Hutsman's false leg was not made of cork but of some kind of light wood. It was the fashion for men to wear pants very large, or voluminous, but short in length, coming a little below the calf of the leg. Crockett obtained a coal of fire and laid it on Hutsman's leg after they had retired and the latter had fallen asleep. The coal burned a place as large as a dollar and, of course, the lawyer's pants were too short to hide the burned place. I remember Crockett saying" Now, Hutsman has been accusing me of being a whiskey man. We stayed at the same man's house and I had a little whiskey just for my stomach's sake. Hutsman got hold of it, got drunk and fell in the fire burning his leg. Don't you see the place?" Sure enough it was plain to be seen.
The name of Davey Crockett was a popular byword when I was a boy. Many children were named Crockett. I have several cousins bearing that name; there is a station on the Mobile & Ohio railroad near where I once lived and where one of the Crockett shanties stood, a place he would use for a camp while hunting, called Crockett Station, so christened after the railroad was built. The passengers would get an ax and cut off pieces for souvenirs and when I left that country it had disappeared, every piece, every splinter-everything.
Four counties in West Tennessee once "cornered" together, Madison, Haywood, Gipson and Dyer. Several years ago the state cut off ten miles square from each county and named the new county Crockett and the county seat Alamo in honor of the hero's memory. Crockett County is now one of the most prosperous counties in the state for its size. I am told it is a veritable truck garden. Two railroads traverse it and the people are prosperous and contended. I lived three years near Reelfoot Lake in Obion County in Crockett's old hunting ground and have seen his name cut on beech trees and the signs of the scaffolds where he would put his bear and deer meat to keep it safe from the reach of wolves until he had finished his hunt.
I had an uncle who was Crockett's neighbor for many years and he said Crockett was among the best neighbors he ever lived by. I remember hearing my uncle tell of a little circumstance that took place during this friendship. In those days there was no such thing as a cook stove. In the summer the men would build pens of rails or poles, leaving one side open for the women, so they could cook out doors in the cool shade from the trees, instead of the heated house. My uncle had one of these outdoor kitchens or camps, as they called them. Crockett always had ten or a dozen old bear dogs which he never fed but little, saying a fat dog was not fit for a hunting dog. As the cooking vessels would be left in the camp and Crockett's old dogs would always be bothering uncle's camp, one night he took a club and beat those dogs good and they stated away from then on.
Regarding Davey Crockett's family, I lived as neighbor for several years to a man whose wife was a sister of Crockett. She was a large woman and one of the best, sweet-tempered old ladies I have ever met; she always seemed to be in good humor and was an excellent neighbor.
I have seen John Crockett, a son of Davey, several times. He was a brilliant lawyer of West Tennessee; but died before he was 50 years old. Bobby Crockett, a son of John Crockett, died a few years ago at Stuttgart, Ark., and though I never met him I have been told by those who were his friends that he as one of the best of men. Bobby Crockett had a son - I forget his initials - who is now and has been for several terms holding a State office. I met him once, and when I told him I had seen his great-grandparents and, not only that, but had heard him make his last speech, we had a long conversation. He expressed himself as proud to meet a man who had seen his famous ancestor and said he had met but one other man who had ever seen his great-grandfather.
If Davey Crockett had lived until Texas had gained her independence, I believe he would or could have been President of these United States, and it would be good for the country if today we had such men as Davy Crockett to administer the affairs fo our Government.
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