Ranting

Marcus and Davy

May 12th, 2011

His land is biggest and his land is best
From grassy plains to the mountain crest
He's ahead of us all meetin' the test
Followin' his legend into the West.
Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier!

You may not know all the lyrics, but you know this song. I’m betting some of you will be whistling it into my voicemail before the day’s over. Fess up, many of you not only know who Fess Parker is, you know what Buddy Ebsen did before The Beverly Hillbillies.

As published in The Daily News, May 13, 2011, and in The Memphis News, May 14-May 20, 2011

Winchester Marker

KINGS OF THIS WILD FRONTIER.

Marcus Winchester was the son of one of our founders, and he was our city’s first mayor, first postmaster and the proprietor of our very first store. He was also the agent for something called the Rice Tract, two adjoining 5,000-acre parcels on the Fourth Chickasaw Bluff acquired by Andy Jackson, John Overton and the Winchester family. That land would become Memphis, a city laid out by Jackson, Overton and General James Winchester in 1819 as a business venture.

The land, although part of the Chickasaw Nation, was originally sold to John Rice for 5¢ an acre. By the time Winchester bought out Jackson, it was up to $8 an acre. Before a new city could be promoted, a presidential commission was formed to deal with the pesky Indians. Guess who headed that commission? James Winchester. And Andy Jackson represented Tennessee. And an ex-governor and Jackson buddy Isaac Shelby – as in County – was on it, too. At about 4.5¢ apiece, around 99.5% below market value, the pressured Chickasaw ended up ceding almost seven million acres and agreed to move south of the Tennessee-Mississippi border.

The very first politically-wired, insider Memphis land grab was a done deal.

General Winchester was a bit of a romantic and classicist. Bit of an adman, too. He would name the city Memphis, promoting the Mississippi as the American Nile and the new city as a future commercial and cultural center like ancient Memphis. Cities weren’t the only things he named that way. Marcus’ brothers and sisters were named Brutus, Selina, Lucilius, Almire, Napoleon and – my favorite – Valerius Publicola.

Very first thing, he put his son in charge of selling the city and Marcus set up shop on what is now the southeast corner of Jackson and Front. An MLGW power station stands there now and a plaque tells you about Marcus, touching on the above. But the last line of that plaque – as is the case with many of the historical markers around town I encourage you to read – reveals something very cool I don't believe is widely known.

Seems Marcus is the one who got Davy Crockett to run for Congress.

Can’t you just hear that conversation around the store’s cracker barrel?

“You know, Mark, I was raised in the woods and know ev’ry tree. Kilt me a b’ar when I was only three. What’s left?”

“Run for Congress. If you pull it off, I’ll sell a barge load of those hats and you’ll get a song, maybe even a TV series.”

Four terms later, after losing his seat, Crockett delivered a great parting line to the House, and this is a real quote, “You can all go to hell, I will go to Texas.”

The rest, as they say, is history – and until Shane Battier made that game winner in game one, heroes leading a bunch of Tennesseans haven’t fared too well in San Antonio.

I’m a Memphian, and there are signs that some very interesting people have passed this way.

Comments

Brad Tomlinson: That is a great story about Marcus Winchester and Davy Crockett. It would have been cool to hear the real story on how Marcus Winchester persuaded Davy Crockett to run for Congress. This makes me want to read a biography about Davy Crockett so that I can unlearn some of the stuff I think I know about him and learn the truth about him, if that is possible. Knowing what is true about historical figures can sometime be tricky.

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