More than just a hat: How Davy Crockett’s legend inspired America’s obsession with guns
Published on Wed 25 Sep 2019 by Jonathan Watson
America’s controversial gun culture may be the divisive legacy of one of the country’s most famous folk heroes, a University of Dundee expert has said.
Dr Matthew Ward, a Senior Lecturer in early American history, says that the image of the politician and frontiersman cultivated following his death has been central to an issue that splits the country to this day.
Dr Ward will be discussing the United States’ complex history with guns at the next Dundee Arts Café, which takes place in the McManus Café, McManus Gallery, on Tuesday 1 October.
“Gun culture goes back to the 18th century and has evolved ever since,” he said.
“The big turning point was the mass production of handguns in the 19th century, which made the carrying and firing of a gun much easier. The other is the popularisation of the image of the violent, gun-toting, misogynistic man, which was cultivated and manipulated in the Davy Crockett almanacs of the 1830s and 1840s.
“He consciously created this image of himself as a frontiersman and, following his death, these almanacs contained stories and pictures of him showing men his interpretation of how they should be behaving. Guns were central to these images and stories and the popularity of these publications meant that the image continued to endure and evolve.”
A former US Congressman, Crockett grew disillusioned with politics in 1834 and joined American settlers in the Texas Revolution against the Mexican government. He died in the uprising at the famous Battle of the Alamo two years later at the age of 49.
His legend was founded in a series of journals and stage plays throughout the century, a portrayal that was revived in the 20th century through a host of movies, television shows and comic strips, at which time he was endowed with the coonskin cap for which he remains synonymous.
Dr Ward has extensively studied how guns and violence have been depicted throughout culture and mass media and how imagery and stories relate to masculinity and wider society.
“American gun culture is not a contemporary issue but something rooted in the past,” he added.
“I don’t think there’s a direct political solution to it. Guns are so deeply engrained within the American psyche and this is something that will take generations to change.”
Dr Ward’s talk ‘Guns, Violence and Toxic Masculinity in the USA,’ takes place in the McManus Café, McManus Gallery, at 6pm on Tuesday 1 October. Attendance is free and non-bookable. Places are limited so visitors are advised to arrive early to avoid disappointment.