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Archive for April 8th, 2010

Fess Parker died last month.  He probably isn’t too well known to the younger generations but for anyone who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s, he was a big deal.  Portraying Davy Crockett in the movies and Daniel Boone on television, Parker was one of the biggest stars for kids of that time.  He became the personification of the mythical American frontiersman, the civilization shunning, wise old man of the mountains who lived off the land and gloried in his personal liberty.

Elbow room! cried Daniel Boone.

Popular myth has long glorified the lives of Boone and Crockett.  In the 1780’s, Boone exploits entered popular culture in a book that was more myth than fact.  It became a huge hit here and abroad, creating a legend that took on a life of its own, even influencing Lord Byron to make mention of Boone’s tales in his Don Juan.  He was portrayed as an Indian-fighting man of action who continually fled the reach of an ever impinging civilization.  A man who lived by his own rules without any concern for government.  Davy Crockett, in popular legend, was seen in much the same terms.  This mythic image of both has found its way into our collective psyche where it still dwells today, influencing our very definition of American liberty and the relationship of the common man to our government.  The Tea Party movement is filled with folks who grew up with these myths and surely believe that they can live a life like Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett, if only they could break the shackles of  government.

Unfortunately, many of the myths surrounding both men are unfounded and their real lives run counter to those who hold up their mythic images as a rallying flag.  Both were men were land-owners and served the government, Boone serving as a legislator and sheriff and Crockett as a congressman.  Both were leading citizens of their communities and basically enacted governance wherever they lived, prospering in civilization.  Boone’s biggest gripe with government came when he lost several land claims in a legal dispute about the same time he lost a government bid to another bidder for a contract to widen the Wilderness Road to aid in the westward expansion of the country.

I don’t really know why I’m mentioning this today.  Maybe it’s frustration at the rhetoric of some of the anti-government groups that have been filling the air recently.  Their usurping of American myth to fit their own selfish aims reminds me of evangelists who pull verses from the scriptures and throw them around out of context to prove their own selfish point.  Maybe that’s what I’m looking for here- context.

And an end to living a life based on unfounded myths such as the rugged individualist.

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