Did the Sea of Mud Knife Belong to Davy Crockett?
On about Nov. 18, 1835, the most famous fallen hero of the Alamo and his entourage crossed Town Creek on the Southwest Trail that led up the hill past James Black’s Shop to the Elijah Stuart’s tavern in Washington, Arkansas. Did former Tennessee congressman, Col. David “Davy” Crockett, or one of his companions buy the Sea of Mud knife from Black? Did Black give the knife to the famous folk hero?
On Nov. 1, 1835, Crockett, along with three others—William Patton, Abner Burgin and Lindsey K. Tinkle—left Crockett’s log cabin home near Rutherford, Tennessee, on a journey of adventure, exploration and fortune hunting.
Having recently lost his U.S. House of Representatives seat to Adam Huntsman, “a one-legged Jacksonian,” Crockett told his constituents, “Since you have chosen to elect a man with a timber toe to succeed me, you may all go to the devil and I will go to Texas.” Most certainly he told this tale over and over, all the way to Texas, always to the delight of his audience. He traveled to Jackson, Tennessee, arriving there with 30 well-armed men, where he gave a speech from the steps of the Madison County courthouse.
From there he rode southwest to Bolivar, where he spent the night at the residence of Dr. Calvin Jones, once again drawing crowds—including one that sent Crockett off the next morning.
He arrived in Memphis with a much-diminished company on Nov. 10. There that night much time was spent enjoying horns of drink with citizens and comrades at the Union Hotel, Hart’s Saloon and Neil McCool’s establishment.
At 7:30 a.m. on Nov. 11, Crockett and his entourage of six to eight men left Memphis on a packet steamboat. He obviously was recovering from a night of carousing. The steamboat traveled 311 miles down the Mississippi River and up the Arkansas River, arriving at Little Rock at 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 12. The local newspapers reported that hundreds of people swarmed into town to get a look at Crockett, and a group of leading citizens put on a dinner in his honor that night at the Jeffries Hotel. He spoke “mainly to the subject of Texan independence,” as well as federal politics.
Crockett had traveled 150 miles in nine days on his large chestnut horse with the star on its forehead. He had at least three more traveling companions with him when he left Little Rock that morning. It was only 125 miles down the Southwest Trail to Washington, Arkansas, and just a few more miles to Texas. It is not known how long he stayed in Washington, maybe just overnight, because he was so close to that wonderful land called Texas.
He had stayed with an old and dear friend from Rutherford County Tennessee, Hugh Armstead Blevins, in present-day Blevins, Arkansas, before riding into Washington. Blevins family tradition maintains that Crockett went on a weeklong deer-hunting trip with Hugh. Crockett stayed at Elijah Stuart’s tavern next to James Black’s shop in Washington. The people came in from all around to hear Crockett speak from the courthouse steps. After some celebrating, Davy and a half-dozen mounted companions could have ridden to the Red River and crossed into Texas at Dooley’s ferry.
Some historians say he went down the Fort Towson road 115 miles and crossed the Red River into Texas at Jonesboro, just north of present-day Davenport, Texas. He may have crossed the Red River at Dooley’s Ferry just as W.G. Featherstonhaugh did.
Several weeks after the fall of the Alamo Crockett’s widow, Elizabeth, received a small package from Isaac Newton Jones. The package contained a watch with Crockett’s name engraved inside. In an accompanying letter, Jones wrote:
“Last winter, Colonel Crockett … passed through Lost Prairie, on the Red River, where I live … the Colonel visited me the next day, and spent the day with me. He observed, whilst here, that his funds were getting short, and proposed to me to exchange watches. He priced his at thirty dollars more than mine, which sum I paid to him, and we accordingly exchanged … I was gratified at the exchange, as it gave me a keepsake which would remind me of an honest man, a good citizen, and a pioneer in the cause of liberty … the object of this letter is to beg that you will accept the watch which accompanies it … please accept, dear madam, for yourself and your family …”
The distance from Lost Prairie to Nacogdoches down Trammel’s Trace was 165 to 170 miles. At the rate of 25 miles per day Crockett should have arrived at Nacogdoches, Texas before the end of November. Crockett and his entourage were welcomed in Nacogdoches on Jan. 5, 1836.
Here is what Crockett stated in a letter written to his son and daughter from St. Augustine, Texas, dated Jan. 9, 1836:
“This is the first time I have had the opportunity to write to you with convenience. I am now blessed with excellent health and am in high spirits. Although I have had many difficulties to encounter, I have got through safe, and have been received by everybody with the open arm of friendship. I am hailed with a hardy welcome to this country. A dinner and a party of Ladys have honored me with an invitation to participate with them, both in Nacogdoches and this place. The cannon was fired here on my arrival, and I must say, as to what I have seen of Texas, it is the garden spot of the world. The best land and the best prospect for health I ever saw is here, and I do believe it is a fortune to any man to come here. There is a world of country to settle. It is not required here to pay down for your League of Land; every man is entitled to his head right of 4,000 & 428 acres. They may make the money to pay for it off the Land.
“I expect in all probability to settle on the Bodark or Choctaw Bayou of Red River. That, I have no doubt, is the richest country in the world. Good Land and plenty of timber, and the best springs and good mill streams. Good range, clear water and every appearance of good health, and game plenty. It is in the pass where the Buffalo passes from the north to south and back twice a year, and bees and honey plenty.
“I have a great hope of getting the agency to settle that country, and I would be glad to see every friend I have settle there. It would be a fortune to them all.
“I have taken the oath of the Government, and have enrolled my name as a volunteer for six months, and will set out for the Rio Grand in a few days with the volunteers from the United States. All volunteers is entitled to a vote for a member of the convention, or to be voted for, and I have but little doubt of being elected a member to form a constitution for this Province.
“I am rejoiced at my fate. I had rather be in my present situation than to be elected to a seat in Congress for life. I am in hopes of making a fortune for myself and family, bad as has been my prospects.
“I have not wrote to William, but have requested John to direct him what to do. I hope you show him this letter, and also your brother John, as it is not convenient at this time for me to write to them.
“I hope you will do the best you can, and I will do the same. Do not be uneasy about me, for I am with my friends.
“I must close, with great respects, your affectionate Father, Farewell David Crockett”
Crockett spent December roaming the north Texas countryside along the Red River visiting friends and looking for a prosperous place to settle down where there was good bear and buffalo hunting. He was also dodging Comanche Indians. He headed west along Ridge Trail or Choctaw Trail 175 miles along the Red River as far as Choctaw Bayou. Choctaw Bayou runs from Grayson County northeast into the Red River at the northwest corner of Fannin County above Sherman and Denison, Texas.
It is said that the morale of the defenders of the Alamo in San Antonio enjoyed a boost on Feb. 8, 1836, when the former U.S. congressman from Tennessee, bear hunter and Indian fighter rode in with a contingent of Tennessee Mounted Volunteers.
Next time: The fortifications by the defenders and the probing of them by the Mexican Army during the Alamo siege.