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Our Davy Crockett Adventure: Day 2

August 18, 2014

Day 2: Birth, Boyhood, Betrothal – From Johnson City to Great Smoky Mountain National Park

“Like clockwork” is how we described Day 2. Sometimes ahead, sometimes behind, our imagined itinerary; not always finding what we expected, but also surprisingly satisfied with every encounter. Our travels today encompassed Davy’s early life and brought us to our first camp.

The McDonalds where our overnight bus dropped us on Bobby Hicks Highway was our first surprise. (Bobby Hicks, if you didn’t know, is a ten-time Grammy Award winning fiddler. You can play the video below as you keep reading this blog.)

The McDonalds staff were friendly and helpful, watching our gear for us and providing a phone and directory to order a taxi to the airport. This McDonalds also had a full sized Playland. August had barely finished two hashbrowns before he was into the play apparatus, something much needed after the eleven hour bus ride. All our playtime, however, left us well behind schedule.

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Our taxi to the airport was outrageously expensive, but also the only taxi the answer our call. By 8:00 we had our rental car and were on our way. An amazingly fast trip to Food City for provisions put us back ahead of schedule, and by 10:30 we were exploring Davy Crockett Birthplace State Historic Park. After months of anticipation, words cannot express what it felt like to stand at the confluence of the Limestone and Nolichucky Rivers where David was born on August 17th, 1786. A replica of the house in which he was reared sits just hundred of feet from the river, and we cast our feet into the muddy waters.  In the visitor’s center we outfitted ourselves with a  replica coonskin hat, a few postcards, and a book or two.

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A very short trip down the road brought us to Greenville and the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site. Johnson was Lincoln’s vice-president, and became our 17th president when Lincoln was assassinated in 1865. August aspires to be a junior ranger in all 400 of our national parks, so this stop was a must, though it seemed to deviate from our Crockett story line. We figured we would spend an hour or two of due diligence to complete the junior ranger requirements, but three and a half hours later we were still listening attentively to ranger talks. Johnson first worked as a tailor in Greenville, and his tailor shop is preserved within the visitor center. Johnson became well known for political conversations he hosted in the shop, and our Crockett connection was made when we realized that David would he been Johnson’s representative in congress during this time. We toured the Johnson family home, ravaged by confederate troops during the civil war, and participated in his impeachment trial, each of us casting our own vote for whether he had violated the constitution or not in carrying out his and Lincoln’s plans for reconstruction.

The rangers at this site were generous with advice for our trip and introduced us to a special ranger patch: the Junior Ranger Civil War Historian. For the 150th anniversary of the end of the war, the National Park Service is offering this patch to students who earn their JR badge from at least three Civil War sites, monuments or battlefields. The patch will only be given during this anniversary. With this new goal set, and the ranger’s signature on our “historian application,” we were almost ready to move on. But first we needed to pick up a graphic novel on the Battle at Shiloh, which was duly devoured as we headed down the road. (By the end of our trip August will be able to name all the civil war generals on both sides of the conflict).

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Our next stop was the Crockett Tavern in Morristown. As luck would have it, the museum inside was closed on the day of our visit, but there was still plenty to do and see. August was particularly intrigued by the ash-hopper and to learn how soap was made 200 years ago. This too would prove useful information later on this trip.

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Behind the tavern we found this wagon. Christian Bible, son of Hans Adam, moved his family to Greenville in the early 1790s in this wagon from Hampshire County, Virginia. It is a typical Conestoga wagon, sixteen feet long and four feet wide, used by those who crossed the Alleghany mountains heading west. Later in the week as we hiked through the Cumberland Gap, we would remember this wagon and try to imagine getting it up and over the path. We were duly impressed.

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Another 20 minutes down the road brought us to the town of Dandridge where David married Polly Finley, the love of his life. They received their marriage license at the Jefferson County Courthouse, which is the oldest courthouse in this state still in continuous use. Inside, the marriage license is on display, as well as other Crockett items.

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Having now seen the sites of David’s birth, boyhood and betrothal, we finished our afternoon with the short drive down through  Sevierville (named after the first governor of Tennessee, John Sevier), Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg on our way to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Here we will camp for the next three nights. As we pulled into Elkmont Campground August spotted his first black bear, a particularly smart and tricky bear that had been bothering campers for a month, eluding capture by the rangers. In no time August and I had our tent set up, a fire going, and hot dogs roasting. We baked potatoes in the flames, and even foil roasted vegetables. It was a busy first day, and we slept well.

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Recommended Reading: Randall Jones,  In the Footsteps of Davy Crockett (John F. Blair, 2006). This book is a guide to 49 sites in 10 states plus the District of Columbia where Crockett’s adventures are commemorated. It was essential reading for this trip and guided us to lots of out-the-way artifacts we would have otherwise missed. It includes driving directions and maps. See our TRIP INDEX for more of our Davy Crockett Adventure.

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