An Anecdote from Davy Crockett’s Journal: The Pioneer’s First Train Ride

Davy Crockett (1786–1836), frontiersman, congressman and defender of the Alamo, was born to a pioneer family living on the Nolichucky River near Limestone in East Tennessee. The rugged outdoorsman is referred to by many as the ‘King of the Wild Frontier,” as in the chorus of the famous Walt Disney song. He was raised in East Tennessee and acquired a solid reputation for his enjoyment of storytelling, hunting and fishing.

The noted pioneer became a colonel for the Lawrence County, Tennessee Militia and was later elected to the Tennessee State Legislature. He became a member of the U.S. Congress in 1827 and was known for his opposing much of Andrew Jackson's efforts, specifically opposing the Indian Removal Act.

Davy Crockett Decked Out  in Hunting Garb Along With Three Trusty Canine Friends

Today's column contains one of many anecdotes taken from the woodsman’s journals that he maintained while in Congress. As any wearer of a coonskin cap can enlighten you, Col. Crockett, as he became known, served his western Tennessee district in Congress for three terms: in the 20th, 21st and 23rd Congresses.

When Davy first went to Congress, he traveled by horseback, stagecoach and often by river steamboat. Toward the end of his last term, Davy’s doctor told him he ought to travel more for his health. According to his writings, which are on file, he left Washington by stage on April 26, 1834, heading for Baltimore, a journey of about 40 mile from the Capital. It seemed significantly longer because of having to travel over bumpy, dusty coach trails.

From Baltimore, Crockett traveled by steamboat to Frenchtown, Md. where he climbed aboard for his first train ride. After some delays, everyone got seated and they moved at a snail's pace as if they were impeded. However, the wheels began to take short breaths and away they sped, leaving behind a blue streak of smoke.”

While the train was whizzing along, Crockett started reading, but all of a suddenly, he burst out laughing. A traveling companion seated near him was curious about what was so funny. Davy explained without explanation: “That's no wonder the fellow's horses run off.”

Unknown to those seated around him that heard his answer, he was referring to an incident that had been reported by a man driving his wagon with a team of horses. He was crossing a railroad track at the same time that a train was rapidly approaching. 

Crockett read from his publication: “It was growing dark, and sparks were flying in all directions from the fast moving train. In sheer panic, his horses ran off causing the wagon to separate and break and the wagon's contents to be smashed into small pieces. The man ran to the house for help and when asked what scared off his horses, he amusingly replied that he did not know, but reasoned that it must have been something big that he hoped he never witnessed again.”  

On his way to New York, Davy booked a ride from Bordentown, N.J. on the newly opened Camden and Amboy Railroad. He clacked along the one-mile route to South Amboy, which he described as being the fastest ride of his life. He wrote that “the steam horse galloped along at a frightening speed of 25 miles an hour and nigh near knocked us from our perch. We were going so fast,” he said. “that I performed an experiment by throwing an object out the open window of the car and it came back and hit me smack in the face.”

All in all, Crockett was away on his sightseeing trip over 20 days. He later wrote that he was glad he did it, but he was a bit weary, saying: “There is something about swaying back and forth on a saddle that a man can't git over.” It is not known how many train rides, if any, Davy took after his first one.