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Columns | "Texas Tales"

Davy Crockett Won

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox
“Davy Crockett Won,” reads the small-type headline on a back page of the Jan. 4, 1893 Austin Daily Statesman.

Well, on at least a couple of levels that assertion is true. In Tennesse, Crockett won election to Congress. However, when he came to Texas in 1836, he lost at the ultimate level at the Alamo.

But the story in the Capital City newspaper is not about Crockett’s demise at the Alamo, however he spent his final moments. Some say he died swinging his famed flintlock “Old Betsy,” while others maintain he survived the fighting only to be executed after the battle.
Davy Crockett
Davy Crockett
Photo Library of Congress

Attributed to one Asa Musgrove, the Statesman story decribes an event that supposedly took place a couple of years before Crockett crossed the Red River into Texas in January 1836. In it Musgrove (the story referred to him as “Judge,” a common term for lawyers back then) relates an amusing incident involving the colorful frontiersman he said he saw happen in Santa Fe.

“It was in 1834, shortly before the outbreak of the war between Texas and Mexico,” Musgrove began. “A party of a dozen or more was shooting at a target with rifles when a stranger rode up, threw his leg across the pommel of his saddle and watched the sport.”

Musgrove observed that the man had a long rifle strapped across the back of his saddle, “one of tghose old-fashioned affairs heavily ornamented with silver.”

Though his opinion does not seem to have been solicited, the stranger began commenting on the men’s marksmenship – or rather, their lack of it. Soon, they invited him to “set the pace” if he knew so much about shooting.

“He replied that he never throwed away any ammunition, but if they would put up their crack shot he would shoot with him for 10 Mexican dollars,” Musgrove continued. “The crowd agreed, and the stranger unslung his gingerbread gun, as his opponent dubbed it.”

Before any lead flew, the stranger made a suggestion:

“Perhaps y’d like t’ raise the bet?”

Sizing him up as just another freshly arrived blowhard, the shooters doubled the bet and then tripled it.

To sweeten the deal, the stranger offered to bet his gun against his opponent’s rifle. The confident local shooter, envisioning a small fortune in silver and a rifle to boot, readily accepted the wager.

At that, the stranger assumed a wide-footed stance, raised his rifle and nestled the butt-plate against his shoulder.

To the delight of the crowd, the muzzle of that flintlock wobbled worse than a homeward-bound drunk. Someone yelled out to the stranger that if he didn’t watch out, he’d end up shooting a circle around the target.

The man lowered his rifle, stood silently for a moment as if weighing a big decision, and then said he’d bet his horse against $40 more dollars. Happy to take advantage of a foolhardy stranger who clearly couldn’t even hold his rifle steady, the crowd assented to the proposition and further enhanced the pot.

The matter settled, the stranger again raised his flintlock. This time, the rifle extended from his shoulder as steady as a big oak limb.

When he squuezed the trigger, a cloud of black powder smoke billowed from the barrel as a round lead ball punched a neat hole dead center in the target.

Reloading, the stranger fired again, his bullet going through the same hole. He did the same thing a third time, easily out-shooting his no-longer-cocky opponent.

“As he rode off with the spoils some one cried out, asking his name. ‘Davy Crockett,’ came the reply, and the party adjourned to the nearest saloon without another word.”

While Musgrove, whoever he was (no information on anyone by that name turns up on an Internet search), told a good story, it’s clearly just one of the many made up tales about Crockett. The backwoods gentleman from Tennessee, while he definitely knew some characters who had traveled the Santa Fe Trail, never made it to New Mexico.

Of course, it’s at least possible the incident could have happened elsewhere. Crockett supposedly was a good shot and on occasion well could have taken advantage of that skill to earn himself a little whiskey money. No matter, as a fun piece of folklore, it hits the bull’s eye.

© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales"
February 10, 2011 column
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