What a Crockett!

The crinkly piece of paper that the Texas Historical Commission is on the verge of buying for half a million dollars is not what it appears to be.

On January 9, 1836, Davy Crockett sat down to write a letter to his daughter Margaret and her husband, Wiley Flowers. During Crockett’s three terms in the United States Congress, he had written numerous letters and even published an autobiography, A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee. But after being voted out of office in 1834, he had seldom bothered to write anything at all. Having only recently arrived in Texas, however, he was spilling over with enthusiasm for the country and for the life he thought he could have here. The extravagantly friendly reception he had received in Nacogdoches had left him almost giddy; he wrote to his daughter and son-in-law back in Tennessee because he wanted them to know that he was not just a defeated congressman with few prospects but a famous and popular personage with real opportunities in a new land: “I must say as to what I have seen of Texas it is the garden spot of the world the best land and best prospect for health I ever saw is here and I do believe it is a fortune to any man to come here.”

Because of that phrase describing Texas as “the garden spot of the world,” this letter, the last that Crockett ever wrote, has been quoted in nearly every history of the Texas Revolution, from scholarly tomes to grade-school textbooks; in every biography of Crockett; and in most accounts of the Battle of the Alamo, where he met his death less than two months later. But anyone who checks the notes and sources of these books discovers that the authority for this letter is simply that it has been quoted in previous books or articles. None of the historians, textbook writers, or biographers had ever seen the letter themselves. In David Crockett: The Man and the Legend, which is still the standard biography even though it was published 52 years ago, James Atkins Shackford wrote that the letter was in the hands of J. D. Pate, of Martin, Tennessee. Not only was this fact never verified, but Mr. Pate has never been found.

Assertions on such slight authority are barely more than rumors, so scholars long ago accepted that the letter had probably been destroyed somehow, another bit of history lost forever. Then, last September, in an elaborate ceremony at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, in Austin, Governor Rick Perry announced that Crockett’s famous epistle had reappeared. What’s more, the Texas Historical Commission planned to purchase it, pending authentication, for $550,000.

Perry’s announcement was met with groans among the small but intense community of Texana collectors and dealers, Alamo enthusiasts, amateur and professional Texas historians, and grown men still fixated on Davy Crockett. To begin with, the letter’s seller, Ray Simpson III, was the grandson of William Ray Simpson. The elder Simpson was a cagey, slightly stuffy gentleman who in his youth had been a minor acolyte of Ezra Pound’s and who, in 1962, founded the Simpson Galleries, in Houston. His shop, then on Main Street a few blocks west of downtown, was home to a fascinating hodgepodge of antiques, fine art, silver, jewelry, books, and manuscripts. But it was also the

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