Fess Parker’s broad shoulders have a frontier to win. And some Indians to slay. – Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter
If there was one man who was tailor-made for tall tales, it was Davy Crockett. The rugged bear-killing martyr of the Alamo, whose sartorial sense would one day inspire such artistic treasures as “Apes in Coonskin Caps,” stands at the forefront of American icons. It’s therefore no surprise that the fine folks at Disney — soulless succubi that they are — would at one point sink their corporate hooks into his meaty patriotic flanks. And so they did, casting the monumental Fess Parker (who’d go on to play Crockett frontier predecessor Daniel Boone a lot more — quite a two-fer, one that indirectly gave Johnny Carson one of his greatest Tonight Show moments) in the title role for a brief series of wildly successful teleplays in the 1950s. If nothing else, we can thank it for the Bieber-esque frenzy that made those trademark chapeaux all the rage.
This Dell comic (Four Color #631, for those keeping score at home) was just riding that wave, and “Indian Fighter” roughly adapted the first of those popular Crockett serials.
There was a time when every kid learned the Davy Crockett bio-song. I don’t know if that’s still the case. It definitely was for my father’s generation, and it was for mine too. Now, though… If it isn’t, here’s a refresher course (art: John Ushler):
The story follows Crockett and a pal as they join up with regular military forces to fight Indians that have attacked an outpost. Tonally, it’s a lot like the Hopalong Cassidy book that we looked at here a few months ago. Both have the good vs. evil dynamic of pristine white pioneers against savage, sinister Native Americans, a narrow, myopic, but once popular worldview that makes audiences in this century cringe. Nowadays we only allow “Redskins” to be tossed about casually on NFL Sundays. Way back when, it was kosher for a kid’s comic:
Andrew Jackson, the most powerful enemy that the American Indian has ever known, is also featured in these pages, as the head of the troops that Crockett more or less joins up with. Old Hickory is all the “The only good Indian is a dead Indian!” that the most cynical of revisionist historians would imagine him to be:
That right there is Jackson’s “Richards…Bah!” Dr. Doom moment.
(A side note: I recall seeing Jackson’s uniform from the Battle of New Orleans over in the Smithsonian. It gives you an appreciation for all he did, good or ill, because you can’t imagine how he walked around. HE WAS THE SKINNIEST HUMAN BEING IN HISTORY. Seriously. His chest was about the size of my calf muscle.
Perhaps Jackson’s presence helps Crockett seem like more a middle of the road character. Though he kills his share of, yes, “Redskins,” by the end, when locked in mortal combat with Chief Red Stick (also a genuine historical figure from the Creek War), he’s the one to make peace:
What, no “White man speak with forked tongue”?
Once again, a cynic would say that of course it’s the white man who’s big-hearted enough the literally bury the hatchet. But hey, at least he buried it, you know?
Fess Parker was no Olivier. His performances as both Crockett and Boone are stiff as a rifle’s barrel, but he brought an earnest charm to his characters, and gave them both a larger than life goodness. Both roles gave audiences no-warts versions that couldn’t possibly have any basis in reality, but that’s what you got in that genre in that era. This comic, with its rough approximation of the events in the serial, which were themselves a rough approximation of history, fits right in with the hagiography. There are no shades of gray with Crockett, just a good guy who’s pure as the driven snow — even if we today might not think so. Take that for what it’s worth, inaccurate or no.