On October 19, 1818, the Jackson Purchase areas between the Mississippi and the Tennessee Rivers were included in the land treaty between the United States and the Chickasaw Indian Nation including the parts of Tennessee between these rivers down to the Mississippi line. One of the early pioneers into this area was Davy Crockett.
While he was stumping for congress in his frontier Weakley County, Tennessee district in 1835, Davy Crockett relates a story about how a coon skin trick helped him get elected.
Stumping had a literal meaning during this time period because a tree was cut down to allow the candidates to step up and give their speeches. After stepping up, Crockett was quickly interrupted by the crowd.
I had not been up long before there was such an uproar in the crowd that I could not hear my own voice, and some of my constituents let me know, that they could not listen to me on such a dry subject as the welfare of the nation, until they had something to drink, and that I must treat ’em. Accordingly I jumped down from the rostrum, and led the way to the shantee, followed by my constituents, shouting, “Huzza for Crockett,” and “Crockett for ever!”
Treating was common in the frontier areas where getting people’s interest to listen involved a small treat of a stiff drink. It is revealing that even in this time period, politicians had to pander to get votes.
Unfortunately for Crockett, when they arrived to the shanty to buy the round of drinks, he was shown a sign on the wall that read, “Pay to-day and trust to-morrow.”
The voters, seeing my predicament, fell off to the other side, and I was left deserted and alone, as the Government will be, when he no longer has any offices to bestow. I saw, plain as day, that the tide of popular opinion was against me, and that, unless I got some rum speedily, I should lose my election as sure as there are snakes in Virginny, — and it must be done soon, or even burnt brandy wouldn’t save me. So I walked away from the shantee, but in another guess sort from the way I entered it, for on this occasion I had no train after me, and not a voice shouted “Huzza for Crockett.” Popularity sometimes depends on a very small matter indeed; in this particular it was worth a quart of New England rum, and no more.
In the frontier, money was not always at hand so Crockett was in a dilemma. How would he raise the money that he needed so quickly to get the public interested again to what he had to say? Fortunately, Crockett had all he needed with him. He had his rifle.
In less than fifteen minutes, Crockett had walked to the woods and shot a fat raccoon and skinned it. Returning to the shanty with the skin, he was able to barter for the round of drinks, but after returning to the stump, he was interrupted again about half-way through his speech for another treat and they again withdrew to the shanty.
While standing at the bar, feeling sort of bashful while Job’s rules and regulations stared me in the face, I cast down my eyes, and discovered one end of the coon skin sticking between the logs that supported the bar. Job had slung it there in the hurry of business. I gave it a sort of quick jerk, and it followed my hand as natural as if I had been the rightful owner. I slapped it on the counter, and Job, little dreaming that he was barking up the wrong tree, shoved along another bottle, which my constituents quickly disposed of with great good humour, for some of them saw the trick, and then we withdrew to the rostrum to discuss the affairs of the nation.
He was able to trick the proprietor of the shanty ten times that day with the same coon skin and Crockett believes this is what helped him win the election. Crockett explains:
This joke secured me my election, for it soon circulated like smoke among my constituents, and they allowed, with one accord, that the man who could get the whip hand of Job Snelling in fair trade, could outwit Old Nick himself, and was the real grit for them in Congress.
With no television, phones or other forms of entertainment, elections were very festive affairs and the inhabitants in these rural areas delighted in ‘politicking’ with each other, as Crockett would say. Besides being a great study of the dialect of the early pioneers, it is interesting to note how the politics of that age has not really changed that much compared with today.
* This story can be found in Davy Crockett’s autobiography, A narrative of the life of David Crockett.
Also, here is the full audio book by John S.C. Abbott: David Crockett: His Life and Adventures
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