Remembering Davy, 1950s

Published 1:24 am Saturday, February 2, 2013

Can you guess what item actually racked up sales of 5,000 a day in 1955? Coonskin caps. Kids went wild over them. The craze began with Disney’s Sunday night television series about Davy Crockett starring the 6′ 5″ tall Fess Parker. “Davy Crockett Indian Fighter,” aired in December 1954. Four more shows followed: “Davy Crockett Goes to Congress” in January 1955; “Davy Crockett at the Alamo” in February 1955; “Davy Crockett’s Keelboat Race” in November 1955; and “Davy Crockett and the River Pirates” in December 1955.

In thumbing through a book about the 1950s, I saw a picture of a crowed of youngsters wearing coonskin caps gathered around a man also wearing one. He was behind a sign reading, “Will trade anything for a Davy Crockett cap.”

When 1955 ended, thousands of other Davy Crockett items were in demand by the younger generation. They included toys, lunch boxes, thermoses, coloring books, outfits, and even bath towels. One seller pushed the towels by stating that mothers would have no bath time struggles with their children if they used a Davy Crockett towel.

The price of the raccoon tails shot upward from a quarter a pound to $5 a pound. The run on coonskin caps was so great that suppliers ran short of them and had to use other animal skins. One company offered white fur Polly Crockett hats for girls.

If you were around when the Davy Crockett craze existed, any time you see or hear of a coonskin cap, you probably think of “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.” You might even have memorized some or all of it. The beginning lyrics were: “Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee, Greenest state in the land of the free, Raised in the woods so’s he knew ev’ry tree, Kilt him a b’ar when he was only three, Davy, Davy Crockett, King of the wild frontier.” Today you can even get a ringtone of “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” for your cell phone. You can also purchase MP3s and CDs on the Internet. I noticed that one of my favorite vocalists, Tennessee Ernie Ford, was just one of the many artists who recorded it. Sales of the recorded ballad generated millions.

I don’t know if there was a resurgence of popularity of the coonskin cap when Fess Parker donned one again in the Daniel Boone TV series. It aired from September 24, 1964 to September 10, 1970 on NBC for 165 episodes. My son was an infant when the Davy Crockett episodes appeared, so that rules out his getting caught up in the Davy Crockett phase. However, during his childhood, he had a coonskin cap. I think his acquisition of the cap was an influence of the Boone series.

In 2004, Fess Parker donated the coonskin cap, a buckskin jacket, fringed boots, shirt, pants, and long rifle from his Davy Crockett role to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. He also donated an Arkansas toothpick knife he used portraying Daniel Boone.