New Crockett Letter Discovered

Originally posted on April 7, 2011

Yesterday Jim Boylston and Allen J. Wiener, authors of David Crockett in Congress: The Rise and Fall of the Poor Man’s Friend (Bright Sky Press, 2009) announced that they had uncovered a letter written by Crockett to the publishers of his best-selling autobiography. (By the way, I highly recommend their book for anyone interested in Crockett and/or Tennessee history.)

The letter was written a year before his reelection campaign against the subject of my own book Adam Huntsman: The Peg Leg Politician. As he concludes, Crockett is looking ahead to the campaign and asks his publishers for an advance of $150-$200 to help finance it. He writes:

I was beaten the election before the last and it give me a back set in money matters    An election costs a man a great deal in my country and I had strength and power to contend against

The “strength and power” he has “to contend against” turns out to be Huntsman, a formidable opponent who narrowly beats him for reelection. Of course this defeat led him to go to Texas, and the rest is history.


Is This Book Really Necessary?

Originally posted on May 27, 2011

Whenever I choose the subject of a book project, I always ask myself: Is this book really necessary? Does it share new information, present corrections to works already published, or give a different opinion of the subject?

If the answer is no, I believe the project is not worth pursing.

Case in point: A new biography of David Crockett (political opponent of Adam Huntsman, whom I’ve written about) written by Michael Wallis entitled David Crockett: The Lion of the West is now available. I’ve not read it, so this isn’t a critique of the book itself. But I wonder if this one is really necessary? Will it add to our knowledge of the fabled frontiersman based on groundbreaking research or the discovery of new letters written by him? Or is it simply a retelling of what serious Crockett readers already know without adding anything new, because the author simply wanted to write a book about him?

I’m afraid the latter point will be the case with Lion of the West.

For me, the three best Crockett biographies in terms of historic value are: William C. Davis’s Three Roads to the Alamo: The Lives and Fortunes of David Crockett, James Bowie, and William Barret Travis; David Crockett in Congress: The Rise and Fall of the Poor Man’s Friend by James R. Boylston and Allen J. Wiener; and James Atkins Shackford’s groundbreaking David Crockett: The Man and the Legend.

Truth be told, unless there’s a cache of heretofore unknown Crockett letters out there or a family diary that tells us more about his personal life, I don’t see the need for yet another Crockett biography that supposedly “uncovers” the “real” man underneath the Disney legend. This “uncovering” has already been done by Davis, Boylston, Wiener, and Shackford. Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but when I buy a book, I expect to learn something that I never knew before. I expect diligent research that presents new information about the subject of that particular book. Perhaps it’s too much to ask.

I’d like to hear from anyone who has read Lion of the West to share their take on Wallis’s interpretation of David Crockett. Is it worth reading? I’m sure I’ll give it a chance and add it to my Crockett bookshelf eventually.

Adam Huntsman: The Peg Leg Politician Available Soon

My latest book–Adam Huntsman: The Peg Leg Politician–will be released officially on February 11, 2011, on what would have been Huntsman’s 225th birthday. But copies will be available for purchase in early January if you can’t wait that long. Anyone who is interested in Tennessee history or David Crockett in particular will enjoy this 298-page biography. If you’re a Crockett fan, it offers a different perspective on his political career from the viewpoint of one of his most determined opponents.

To learn more about Adam Huntsman, here’s an earlier post about his life and political career and another on his trademark peg leg.

Happy Birthday, Adam Huntsman!

Adam Huntsman, the subject of my latest book project, would be 223 years old today.

I grew up in Jackson, Tennessee, where he lived the last 26 years of his life. He will always be best known as the man who beat David Crockett for Congress in 1835, which led Crockett to Texas and his heroic death at the Alamo. But there’s a lot more that should be known about this colorful and eccentric frontier lawyer and politician.

His most distinguishing feature was a wooden peg leg. He used the artificial appendage to his advantage during his legal and political career. When he delivered a speech, he would pound it on the floor to emphasize a point he was making. It was also a visiable reminder of the sacrifice he made for his country, much to the chagrin of his political opponents. How he lost the limb has been the subject of speculation for many years: Crockett claimed it was lost “in an [I]ndian fight during the last war,” implying that it happened during the Creek War or the War of 1812. I have my own theory that I will share in my upcoming book.

Huntsman was born in Charlotte County, Virginia on 11 February 1786. I’ve tried in my research to identify his parents, but the best I’ve come up with is circumstantial evidence that points to Adam Huntsman (senior) and Jeane Francis of Charlotte County. (I can’t even prove–aside from the fact that she had married a Huntsman–that they were even married.) It’s certainly one of the more frustrating aspects of the project.

He left Virginia for Knox County, Tennessee, settling there about 1809. He studied law under John Williams and obtained his license, but he never hung his shingle there. It may have had something to do with his paternity of an illegitimate daughter in 1811. He moved to Overton County and practiced law in that area of Middle Tennessee until 1823. During this time, he served three terms in the Tennessee state senate representing Overton, White, and Jackson counties.

By 1823, Huntsman was married to Sarah Wesley Quarles and had moved to Madison County, where he settled four miles east of Jackson in the Cotton Grove community. He practiced law and was engaged in various civic and business activities. In 1827, he was elected as West Tennessee’s first senator to the General Assembly and served one term. He later represented Madison County at the state constitutional convention in 1834.

Huntsman was a staunch supporter of President Andrew Jackson and the fledgling Democratic Party in Tennessee. He enjoyed the game of politics and played an active role in various campaigns in West Tennessee throughout the 1830s and 1840s. In 1835, he opposed incumbent congressman David Crockett’s re-election bid in a lively campaign pitting masters of the stump speech and tall tale telling. (Huntsman was regarded as the better speaker of the two.) Huntsman won the election by 2,000 votes and served one term in the 24th Congress (1835-37). He stepped aside rather than seek re-election: his opponent would have been John Wesley Crockett, a fellow attorney and eldest son of his former opponent.

Huntsman corresponded for 13 years with fellow Tennessean James K. Polk, an exchange of letters that continued into Polk’s presidency (1845-49). He was nine years older than Polk and acted as an advisor to him while he served as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, governor of Tennessee, and president of the United States. Huntsman first met Polk while serving as a state senator and Polk was its clerk. When Polk received the Democratic nomination for president in 1844, Huntsman congratulated him in his own humorous way:

“I suppose miracles will not cease in the land. To have supposed it possible that such a Possum looking fellow as you were twenty five years ago, would ever have [been] nominated for President of the United States would have been deemed Quixotism[.] But so it is, and we must make the best we can out of you.”

Huntsman noted that three former presidents–George Washington, James Madison, and Andrew Jackson–had no children. If Polk were to win (he too had no children), Huntsman noted “the World will believe that the qualifications of an American President lies all in his head, and none in his Breeches.”

Adam Huntsman died at his home on present-day Cotton Grove Road near Jackson, Tennessee on the evening of Thursday, 23 August 1849. He was 63 years old.

My book project on the life and political career of Adam Huntsman will be published later this year. If you would like to be notified when it is available, please send me an email here.

Checking In On Adam Huntsman

Today after work, I stopped by Old Salem Cemetery in Jackson, Tennessee to check in on an old friend. I’m sure it sounds weird–maybe even a bit morbid–but I make a point now and then to visit one of the oldest cemeteries in Madison County and walk to the graves of Adam Huntsman and his three wives.

Writers sometimes become attached to their subjects; for me, it’s the peg-legged politician most famous for defeating David Crockett for Congress in 1835, a loss that sent the fabled frontiersman to Texas and Disney glory. He led an interesting life as a frontier lawyer and public servant with an eccentric personality and a wit for political satire. He was a bachelor for the first thirty-five years of his life, yet spent the last twenty-eight years with three different wives!

For many years, their graves were neglected and forgotten. Teenagers used the cemetery as a place to party, littering the ground with beer bottles and trash, and using tombstones for target practice and broken ones for traction to get their vehicles out of the mud.

Thankfully, Old Salem Cemetery is once again treated with dignity and respect. For the past fourteen years, it has been maintained by Malcolm Wilcox and the John B. Ingram Camp 219 chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Focusing on its role in a minor battle between Union forces and the Confederate cavalry of General Nathan Bedford Forrest on December 19, 1862, they have turned it into a modest tourist attraction for Civil War buffs. The grass is now mowed and the grounds cleaned of any debris. There is a metal barricade that keeps anyone from driving close to the cemetery.

A tip of the hat to Mr. Wilcox and the men of Camp 219: thank you for taking care of this part of local history. I’m sure Mr. Huntsman would be pleased.

Long Time, No See

It’s been quite a while since I last posted to this blog. I’ve been writing the last three months, but the topics have been political in nature.

Now that the late unpleasantness is over, I hope to return to a few book projects I have in the works. Two projects in particular–a history of the Kitty League (minor league baseball) and a new biography of Adam Huntsman–have my attention. The latter will build on a previous biography I published in 1996 entitled The Peg-Legged Politician. I’ve learned a lot more in the past twelve years about the life of this eccentric but fascinating character. I hope to share it with readers who are interested in David Crockett, frontier politics in the Age of Jackson, and Tennessee history in general next year.

My book project on Ken Boyer is still in the research phase. Other writing assignments include a project with SABR (Society for American Baseball Research) for a book on the 1964 St. Louis Cardinals. I will write short biography on outfielder Mike Shannon.

Adam Huntsman’s 222nd Birthday

Today marks the 222nd birthday of Adam Huntsman, the man responsible for the legend of David Crockett at the Alamo.

Had the peg-legged lawyer and politician from Jackson, Tennessee not defeated him for re-election to Congress in 1835, Crockett would have returned to Washington and missed the Battle of the Alamo and the legendary stature that he enjoys today.

Huntsman was born today in Charlotte County, Virginia in 1786, six months and six days before his famous opponent. He lost his leg at some point during the War of 1812 and wore a wooden prosthesis the rest of his life. It added to his colorful character and emphasis to his speeches; while serving in Congress, he stomped it on the floor to make a point! “He was a man of great ability, fully equal to Crockett in native intellect, and much his superior in education and mental training,” recalled Peter H. Burnett, a Hardeman County, Tennesse resident and later the first governor of California.

In honor of Adam Huntsman’s birthday, I’ve created a new website at

David Crockett Family Reunion

I came across this interesting video while searching YouTube recently. The focus is a huge three-ring binder guarded by Joy Bland, family historian for the Descendants and Kin of David Crockett. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Bland several years ago when I was considering writing a small book on the life and political career of John Wesley Crockett, oldest son of David from his first marriage. She was extremely helpful and shared with me information and photos she had collected from her research. I’d still like to write that book someday.

The Fabulous David Crockett

I’ve been a history buff (or nut, whichever one prefers) since I was a little kid. I wanted to stop and read every roadside Tennessee historical marker and practically every family vacation included some kind of historical attraction for my benefit. My grandparents also tolerated my interests and did the same when I went places with them. And I always wanted to stop at the gift shop (there’s always one at the end of the tour) and buy a souvenir. Unlike other kids who wanted some kind of toy, I wanted a book. Usually it was one of those inexpensive ones that had pictures of the historic site and told the story behind it.

One of the first such books I remember getting was The Fabulous David Crockett: His Life and Times in Gibson County, Tenn. Including Tall Tales and Anecdotes of the Western Wilds. (What a title!) It was written by Ernest T. Thompson and published by the David Crockett Memorial Association in 1956. Mine was purchased sometime in the late 1970s at the David Crockett Home in Rutherford, Tennessee.

This 58-page paperback was somewhat dated by the time I read it, but still it introduced me to the famous frontiersman David (don’t call ’em Davy) Crockett, native Tennessean and defender of the Alamo. It was the real person, not the cartoon character created by Walt Disney who could grin down bears and other nonsense. The beginning explained how the Crockett home near the small town of Rutherford had been saved by a local banker, who bought it from a farmer for $25 before it was to be destroyed in 1934 . But it wasn’t until 1955 that the dismantled cabin was rebuilt with funds from a state grant.

The book went on to tell the life of the real David Crockett, from the mountains of East Tennessee through Middle Tennessee and onto West Tennessee, losing his last political campaign to Adam Huntsman, and leaving to seek better fortunes in Texas. It also included several illustrations taken from the Crockett Almanacs that were published during his lifetime and for many years afterward. The Fabulous David Crockett was a wonderful introduction to a colorful life. It also introduced me to Adam Huntsman, who opposed Crockett for re-election ton Congress in 1835.

Not too long ago, I read that Mr. Thompson currently lives at a nursing home in Humboldt, Tennessee. I’d sure like to meet him some day and thank him for helping spark my interest in Crockett and Tennessee history.

The Peg-Legged Politician

Continuing to go back and update my earlier books, I’ve decided to publish a second edition of The Peg-Legged Politician: The Life of Adam Huntsman. It was one of what I call my “Kinko’s books” that I had copied and bound at Kinko’s Copies in Nashville, TN in 1996. I really didn’t promote it and only make a few copies, primarily for the Tennessee Room at the Jackson-Madison County Public Library and the Tennessee State Library and Archives. Now twelve years later, I’d like to fix it up a bit, add some new information, and publish it as a perfect bound, paperback book.

Who was Adam Huntsman, you may ask? Most Tennesseans know that David Crockett (not Davy of the Walt Disney films) made his fateful journey to Texas, the Alamo, and glory after losing his Congressional seat in 1835. He lost to a clever and talented lawyer and politician named Adam Huntsman, who gave the Democratic Party a bit of revenge against their former ally. He wore a wooden prosthesis for the leg he lost, supposedly in the Creek War or the War of 1812, that only added to his colorful character. It also earned him such complimentary nicknames as “Peg-leg” and “Timber Toe.”

Adam Huntsman could be every bit the storyteller and prankster that Crockett was for the voters, but he was also a skillful composer of satirical articles for the newspapers that entertained and drew others to his point of view. His “Book of Chronicles, West of the Tennessee and East of the Mississippi” was perhaps his best work and was credited by David Crockett himself for his defeat in the 1831 Congressional election. It was written like prose from the Holy Bible and told the story of David, who belonged “to the tribe of Tennessee, which lay upon the border of the Mississippi and over against Kentucky” and “was chosen by the people in the river country, to go with the wise men of the tribe of Tennessee to the grand Sanhedrim held yearly…at the city of Washington.” But David was led astray by “wicked men sons of Beleal, to wit: the Claytonites, the Holmesites, the Burghesities, the Everettities, the Chiltonites, and the Baronites…who hated Andrew [who was “chief ruler over the children of Columbia”].”

(Of course Andrew was President Andrew Jackson, the Claytonites were Senator Henry Clay and his supporters, and the “grand Sanhedrim” was Congress.)

Politics was the chief form of entertainment for the people of the frontier and Adam Huntsman made it all the more fun and entertaining for the people of Madison County and West Tennessee. I’ll have some more to say about ol’ Adam as time goes by. I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with him this year.