Legendary American frontiersman and “Remember the Alamo” hero David Crockett (1786-1836) was once a familiar visitor to Buncombe County. His close friend and political ally Samuel Carson and his family lived in McDowell County, and Crockett often visited them there. It was reported that the famous Tennessean was even present at a duel Carson fought with a political rival and later brought the happy news to the community that his friend had won. Following the death of his first wife, Crockett married a local girl, Elizabeth Patton of Swannanoa, strengthening his ties even further with the area.
It is safe to assume that anytime a character like Davy Crockett enters the story, a host of legends and tales inevitably follow. In fact, as most schoolboys learned when I was growing up, Davy was the kind of guy who loved to invent yarns about himself — the more outlandish, the better. Therefore, any stories attached to his stay here have to be looked at a little skeptically.
One such story concerns his involvement in helping create a new road from Buncombe to McDowell County. As the tale goes, Crockett became upset over some tolls that were being charged for travelers coming up and down what is now known as Old Fort Mountain. Not willing to stand this outrage, he blazed his own road down the mountain, one that folks could traverse without interference or fees.
Some time ago, I asked regional historian and writer Bruce Whitaker about this story. He told me it was, in fact, largely true, and that it probably occurred not long after Crockett wed Patton and was keeping a part-time residence in Swannanoa.
“After he married, someone did indeed start charging tolls, which wasn’t that unusual,” Whitaker said. “Lots of people charged for crossing rivers and such. I guess he and some others weren’t too thrilled about paying it.” So they decided to make their own road. “The one they laid out came out of Charlotte Highway and reached to what is now Old Fort Road, over to No. 9. It went out about a mile to Crooked Creek to McDowell County.”
Whitaker said that, although a road may have already been there, it was Crockett, with the assistance of others, who helped make it into a thoroughfare for folks traveling up and down the mountain. He told me that there were letters indicating that when Davy was working on the construction of the Old Fort route, he stayed with some of Whitaker’s ancestors in their home in Swannanoa. Crockett didn’t stay in the main house, Whitaker said, but shared a bed with the male members of the household in a little one-room cabin attached to the property. “He would have shared quarters with the others, including my great-great-grandfather, who was around 5 years old at the time, and his brother.”
A footnote: It is said that Elizabeth Patton’s father didn’t want his daughter to marry Davy, noted Whitaker. “I don’t think it was anything against him,” Whitaker said. “It’s just that Davy apparently wasn’t all that good of a money manager, and her father worried he wouldn’t be all that good of a provider either — which turned out to be true.” Despite his b’ar fightin’ and polecat skinnin’ skills, Davy, it appears, wasn’t all that good at keeping his hands on a runaway buck.
Arden resident Joe Elliott is a writer and educator.