We took a little trip to Shreveport this weekend for my youngest godchild’s first birthday. As always, we packed a lot in.
We toured Bossier City in search of my teenage haunts (movie theater is deserted; mall isn’t far behind). We ate in an acclaimed Chinese restaurant that bizarrely is in a seedy motel (rooms may very well be rented by the hour). We introduced my dad to “King of Queens” and snuggled with his new puppy. We showered my 1-year-old godchild with love and gifts. He returned the favor by puckering up his face and screaming whenever he felt in danger of being picked up and cuddled by anyone but his mom (although he did seem delighted with the bicycle we brought him). Eventually, we wound up his sister and brother into a kolache-fueled frenzy of high pitched giggles and took our departure.
There are three major cities between Shreveport and Baton Rouge: Natchitoches, Alexandria and Lafayette. We got off the interstate in Natchitoches, ate lunch alongside the river and did some quick exploring, which brought us to the American Cemetery.
According to the city of Natchitoches, the American Cemetery is the oldest graveyard in the Louisiana Purchase and contains the remains of “war heroes and villains, doctors, politicians, educators, a former mayor who was murdered and a plantation owner who had numerous children with a slave whom he set free by the time of his death.”
It sits not far from the Cane River in a neighborhood of graceful homes, inns and fraternity houses. At first glance, I was a bit disappointed. I only saw fairly new graves. Then I peeked through the trees and saw the fenced enclosures of older family plots.
First, a few fun facts.
- If you’re a fan of the movie “Steel Magnolias,” Shelby’s funeral was filmed at the American Cemetery. Sally Fields’ hair never looked better.
- The cemetery is near Fort St. Jean Baptiste, the French outpost that began as two huts alongside an Indian village and grew into a major trade center that formed the foundation for the town of Natchitoches.
- Supposedly, Davy Crockett’s wife is buried in the cemetery.
That brings me to the Crockett family. I took the long route, didn’t I?
As anyone with a drop of Texas blood knows, Davy Crockett was a frontiersman who died at the Alamo in 1836. More than a century later, he vaulted from folk hero to pop star when Disney put a raccoon on his head and built a TV series about him. Kids preparing to go back to school in the 1950s could buy lots of Davy Crockett merchandise, including rings and balloons. Membership in the Davy Crockett Club was complimentary.
What I didn’t know was much about his family other than vaguely remembering he came from Tennessee pioneer stock.
Crockett married Polly Finley in 1803. They had three children before she died in 1815. His next wife was a widow named Elizabeth Patton. They formed a blended family of his three kids, her two kids and their own three kids.
As far as I knew, Crockett left the wives and children behind in Tennessee when he went on his fame-making adventures: fighting the Creek Indians in Alabama, serving alongside Andrew Jackson in Florida and making his last standoff in Texas. When did he find time to collect a wife from Tennessee and settle with her long enough in Louisiana for her to die and be buried? Although, if he managed to kill himself a bear when he was only 3 …
According to Find A Grave, Polly died in Tennessee, where she’s buried in a cemetery that carries her name. Elizabeth is supposedly buried in Acton, Texas, with several of her children.
What’s clear is that Crockett did spend time in Natchitoches. “The Shreveport Journal” – a now defunct newspaper – recounted his visit in 1955 (spending a great deal of time on the question of whether a trip to Natchitoches would have taken him through Shreveport). Once that TV show hit the air in the 1950s, everyone wanted a piece of Davy Crockett.
In 1836, Crockett – who zigzagged between adventures and politics – was smarting from losing an election when he set out from Tennessee intent on redeeming himself in Texas. It was winter and so cold that the thermometer stood somewhat below the freezing point. His journal details what he had with him: a clean hunting shirt, a fox skin cap with the tail hanging behind and his rifle Betsy. He clearly states that he left his wife and children in Tennessee.
Here’s the supposed travel route: Crockett left Tennessee and headed to Little Rock for some speechmaking. After renting a horse, he rode to Fulton, where he boarded a steamer. If he stayed in Shreveport at all, it was likely aboard the steamer or at the city’s only hotel. From there, he arrived in Natchitoches, where he stayed for two days before continuing on to Texas.
Crockett wrote about Natchitoches, which he reckoned boasted 800 residents. He took note of the houses, which all seemed to be on one street parallel to the river. He wrote about securing a horse for the journey into Texas. At no time did he mention burying a wife. And, if you’ll remember, he was on the way to his own death.
I’ve tried to figure out where the legend started. Was it a granddaughter who’s buried in the cemetery? I had no luck in finding the answer.
As consolation, I’ll leave you with the scene from a Davy Crockett-themed birthday party in 1955. My favorite part is the coon skin cap birthday cake, complete with a long tail. This party took place in Cloutierville, which is just down the road from Natchitoches.