Almanacs, Part II: Crockett Almanacs
In our entry two weeks ago, we explored some nineteenth-century almanacs in the DRT Library’s collection. In discovering these materials, we also found three copies of The Crockett Almanac/Davy Crockett’s Almanac from 1839, 1840, and 1847. At least forty-five such almanacs were published by various firms between 1835 – the year that the real David Crockett lost his Congressional seat and headed to Texas – and 1856. Historian Paul Andrew Hutton has explored the significance of the almanacs, writing:
A celebrity in his own time, Crockett was elevated to near-mythical status by his heroic death at the Alamo in 1836…He had courted fame while alive, and…he had taken an active role in the creation of his own overblown legend. His story, however, quickly became the property of others. They greatly embellished the core of truth he had projected to create the archetypical backwoodsman and Jacksonian self-made man who captured the imagination of the world (10).
Additionally, asserts Hutton,
the almanacs ensured a continued notoriety for Crockett long after his death, while at the same time creating a Herculean Davy who accomplished deeds far beyond the capacity of any ordinary mortal. They invented a hard-edged hero for the masses, the popular audience that at first parodied but soon eclipsed Cooper’s romanticized Leatherstocking as the frontier ideal. They enshrined the democratic humor of an expansive, rough-hewn, and bawdy people replete with local idioms, bizarre dialects, fantastic characters, cruel racism, eccentric wit, and clever tricks. The almanac Davy was part braggart, part trickster, part fantasy hero, and all American. He mirrored a still evolving national character – celebrating its crudeness, its toughness, its daring, its egalitarianism, and, above all, its wit (21).
The Crockett almanacs contained some of the same information found in other nineteenth-century almanacs, including calendars, sunrise and sunset times, astronomical data, and important dates, historical anniversaries, and holidays. Primarily, however, the almanacs focused on Crockett himself. Throughout their entire publication history, the almanacs featured comic and exaggerated stories about Crockett battling, hunting, or escaping from eccentric characters (both men and women) and wild animals. Interwoven with these accounts were “folk wisdom and backwoods humor.” Beginning in the 1840s, however, “a new political element was added as the almanacs increasingly became mouthpieces for Westward expansion [e.g. Manifest Destiny] and a wildly jingoistic nationalism” (18). Additionally, a “true democratic spirit of insult” characterized the almanacs, which poked fun at a range of groups including Irish immigrants, Northern Yankees, and residents of Western states. According to Hutton, “particularly mean-spirited bigotry” was reserved for African Americans and Native Americans, which “accurately and sadly reflected ante-bellum racial sensibilities and…the prevailing racist popular culture of the time” (20).
Hutton argues that publication of the Crockett almanacs ceased in the middle 1850s because “the nation was fast losing its sense of humor,” and “rustic tall tales from a seemingly distant past gave little solace to readers facing a dark future.” Specifically, “the slavery question, and especially the issue of its expansion into the Western territories, whose conquest the almanacs had celebrated, tore at the fragile fabric of Union.” Additionally, asserts Hutton, “the nationalism of the almanacs soon found fewer adherents in the South, while Crockett looked a bit too Southern to many in the North” (21). Even though the almanacs eventually fell out of favor with American readers, they had been enormously popular for more than twenty years.
To see more images from the Crockett Almanacs and learn more about the historical context in which they were produced and consumed, see the Mercantile Library (University of Missouri at St. Louis) online exhibit, “The Crockett Almanacks and the Myth of the West.”
Hutton, Paul Andrew. “‘Going to Congress and making allmynacks is my trade’: Davy Crockett, His Almanacs, and the Evolution of a Frontier Legend.” Journal of the West 37:2 (April 1998): 10-22.