When I was a kid of 10 years old, Sunday night was a big deal. I would get especially excited when I knew Walt Disney would have Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier. He was a great hero of mine, born on a mountaintop in Tennessee and he killed a bear when he was only three. I somehow wrangled my mother into buying the coonskin cap which was associated with Davy. I spent days on end out in the woods playing the great Indian fighter and frontiersman with coonskin cap on my head and BB gun in hand. It was only a few years ago that I learned that Davy Crockett had a strong Alabama connection. Little did I know that he almost died less than 10 miles from my house in Ross Bridge. Yes, in the area of the water park near Interstate 20, in Old Jonesboro, he almost met his maker. Here is the story that I like to tell about that occasion in 1816.
At the conclusion of the Creek Indian War settlers, many of them 1812 veterans, began flooding into Alabama. They had seen the new territory and knew where the good lands were. From the commanding general down to the private they came. General Jackson, General Coffee, and President Monroe bought land in northern Alabama. Davy Crockett of Tennessee was one of those soldiers. In 1815, Davy Crockett was now thirty-one, a “rough backwoodsman,” unable to write, but strong and brave. His second marriage was a widow of a volunteer killed in the Creek War. Having married, he was at liberty to indulge the restless strain in his blood for elbow room by an excursion into Alabama. The next fall after this marriage, he and three of his neighbors, Robinson, Frazier, and Rich, decided to explore the new country. They set out for the Creek country, crossing at Ditto’s Landing on the Tennessee. The party headed down the old Huntsville Road just to check things out. After a day’s travel, they stopped at Bear Meat Cabin, Blountsville to visit a cousin and explore the area for a while. While exploring, Crockett found a farm site near Oneonta which he said was “the one spot in the world” where he would like to make his home.
In early 1816, They passed through a large rich valley, called Jones Valley, where several other families had settled. The Crockett party passed through Old Jonesboro and then Bucksville (Old Jonesboro, near Bessemer, became the county’s first important settlement). They continued, making camp near the Warrior River where Tuscaloosa now stands. Crockett had been to the Tuscaloosa area before.
In 1813 , General Jackson ordered Colonel John Coffee, with a force of about 800 men, to proceed to the Falls of the Black Warrior to destroy Black Warrior’s Town. Davy Crockett was a scout in Coffee’s command and described the experience, “This Indian town was a large one; but when we arrived we found the Indians had all left it. There was a large field of corn standing out and a pretty good supply in some cribs. There was also a fine quantity of dried beans, which were very acceptable to us; and without delay we secured them as well as the corn, and then burned the town to ashes; after which we left the place.”
In order to ensure Crockett’s aid in this endeavor, Andrew Jackson had promised to grant him a substantial amount of land. He chose the land atop the bluff that rises just above The Forks. Local legend has it that Crockett liked the view and planned to build a house there. However, he would never build a house there. Something happened to Davy Crockett regarding Black Warrior Town; something that made him decide to never return.
Exploring this property may have been one of the reasons he came back in 1816. Crockett recalls, “We hobbled out our horses for the night. The job was not a good one, or someone maliciously cut the ropes. About two hours before day we heard the bells of our horses going back the way we had come; they had started to leave us.
At day light I started in pursuit of them on foot, carrying my rifle, which was a very heavy one. I went ahead all day, wading through creeks and swamps, and climbing mountains, but could not overtake the horses. I gave up the pursuit at last, and, from the best calculation I could make, had walked over fifty miles. Next day I returned on my track, ’till mid-day, when I became sick, and could go no further, and laid down in the wilderness. I now begin to feel mighty sick and had a dreadful headache. My rifle was so heavy, and I felt so weak, that I lay down by the side of the trace in a perfect wilderness too, to see if I wouldn’t get better. I got up to go; but when I rose, I reeled about like a cow with the blind staggers, or a feller who had taken too many horns.
Some Indians came along, and they signed to me that I would die and be buried-a thing that I was confoundedly afraid of myself. I asked how far to any house. They made me understand it was a mile and a half. An Indian proposed to go with me and carry my gun. I gave him half a dollar. (The cabin belonged to Jeremiah Jones one of the earliest settlers of what was then known as Jones Valley. Jones Valley, named for Jeremiah’s brother “Devil” John Jones, stretched from the upper reaches of what is commonly referred to as Murphree’s Valley to South of present-day Birmingham.) We got to a house, by which time I was pretty much gone. I was kindly received and put to bed. I knew but little that was going on as the woman at the attended to me. She was the wife of Jeremiah Jones, and she thought I would die anyhow, if she didn’t do something, so she gave me a whole bottle of ‘Batemans’ Draps, and it threw me into a sweat. Crockett said the woman thought he was going to die of malaria and gave him “a whole bottle of Bateman’s Drops”, a mixture of 46% alcohol and two grams of opium per fluid ounce. When he awoke, and asked for water, nearly frightening the kind woman to death, for she had expected him to die without recovering consciousness. After the end of two weeks he began to mend.
He had no difficulty in obtaining a ride back to Tennessee, as there was a steady stream of immigration. “When I got so I could travel a little, I got a waggoner who was passing to haul me to where he lived, which was twenty miles from my house.” His wife was astonished at his return because the friends with whom he had originally started to the new country had reported that they had talked with men who claimed to have seen Crockett draw his last breath and to have seen him buried. Concerning the report, Davy says, “I know’d this was a whopper of a lie as soon as I heard it.
One question that remains, why did he not return to claim his land and build that house that he wanted overlooking the confluence of the Mulberry and Sipsey Forks? When Crockett returned in 1816 and became critically ill and delirious while exploring the area around the Black Warrior River, perhaps even scouting where he would build his new home on the land he would receive from serving Andrew Jackson. It is during this delirium that legend says he found himself on the bluff above The Forks. He was alone there except for a Creek girl.
“You don’t belong here,” she told him. “This place isn’t meant for you. It’s ours.”
“What does it matter? Your people are gone,” Crockett replied.
“No,” she smiled. “We remain.”
Crockett was so rattled by the vision that he never claimed the land.