may have fiddled while Rome burned, but Davy Crockett surely had no time for one
last tune when Mexican soldiers made their final assault on the Alamo.
While Crockett did not survive the
battle, his fiddle apparently did. |
observed its centennial of independence
from Mexico in the spring of 1836, an 80-year-old East
Texas man claimed a vintage violin he owned had once belonged to the Tennessean
who died in the old mission at San
Antonio de Bexar on the morning of March 6, 1836.
Described as a “Texas
rover,” John Houston Thurman of Longview
told his story to a reporter for the old Dallas Journal. The afternoon newspaper,
long since defunct, published the story on March 20, 1936.
the battle, Thurman began his
tale, Mexican troops collected as war trophies many of the arms and personal possessions
of the slain defenders. Among those items was “the cherished fiddle of David Crockett,”
a well-used instrument he is believed to have used to entertain the Texans during
the 13-day siege.
A decade later, U.S. soldiers under Gen. Winfield Scott
captured Mexico City during the Mexican-American War. According to the Dallas
newspaper story, “A soldier in Scott’s command found Crockett’s fiddle in the
wild confusion that attended the general’s victory. Probably needing funds, he
sold it, no doubt for a ‘song.’”
At some point after that Thurman’s father
– also a soldier in the U.S. Army -- purchased the fiddle from a secondhand store
in Mexico City. When he returned to the U.S. in 1848, he had the violin with him.
years later, when the Civil War started the elder Thurman again signed up to fight,
this time for the Confederacy. When he marched off, he left his fiddle behind.
In 1864, while he was still in the field, someone broke into his house and stole
Whether he learned to saw a bow from his father or elsewhere,
John Houston Thurman grew up to become a traveling musician. In need of some more
instruments while on the road in 1892, Thurman found an old fiddle for sale in
Parsons, KS. Thurman said he recognized the fiddle as the one his dad had owned.
Doubtless trying hard to hide his excitement, he bought the instrument.
how do you know it was your father’s, and before that, David Crockett’s fiddle,
the Dallas newsman must have asked the old man.
Thurman said he’d heard
that Crockett had the habit of carving his name into just about everything he
owned. Indeed, carved on one side of the fiddle’s head was “D. Crockett.” On the
other side it said “…Tenn. 1835, D.C. Texas, 1836.”
Of course, anyone
with a pocket knife could have left those marks on the old fiddle, even its then-owner.
How long Thurman continued to carry a tune – and the old fiddle he claimed to
have been Crockett’s – is not known.
And whether Thurman’s fiddle had really
belonged to Crockett remains to be learned, but by the summer of 1955, San
Antonio’s Witte Museum had in its collection a Crockett fiddle of apparently
undisputed provenance. Possibly the museum got the fiddle from Thurman or his
estate, but more digging needs to be done to say for sure.
the Crockett fiddle came to the Witte, later that year, an Alamo City country
western singing named Red River Dave used the old instrument to record his latest
song, “When Davy Crockett Met San Antonio Rose.” The performer later played the
song on his WOAI radio show, “Red River Dave’s Barn Dance.”
to a December 1955 newspaper report, Dave recorded the song at San Antonio’s T.N.T.
Studios “while armed guards stood by to act as custodians.” The article continued,
“The song is based on historical fact – the dance held in front of the Alamo
prior to the arrival of Gen. Santa Anna’s troops.”
More recently, in 2002
Dean Shostak used the Witte-Crockett fiddle to record a CD of some of the music
Crockett is known to have played. Six years later, K.R. Wood also used the instrument
to record the album, “Davy Crockett’s Fiddle Plays On: Live at the Alamo.”
- August 11,
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