We’ll be celebrating Disneyland Resort’s anniversary next month, and we’re starting off with a look back at its opening day and special guest Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier.
In his role as Davy Crockett, actor Fess Parker helped Walt Disney open Disneyland.
On December 15, 1954, during the premiere season of Walt Disney’s “Disneyland” TV show, the first of a three-part saga aired. “Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter,” turned its star, a tall texan named Fess Parker (1924-2010), into an overnight sensation. Fess became TV’s first mega star, being greeted by 20,000 fans at each airport of a national tour in 1955, and created a new national symbol that millions of children idolized. Even the theme song became an instant hit. The Bill Hayes version topped the Hit Parade for thirteen weeks. Several other versions, including this one by Fess Parker, were later recorded
The merchandise frenzy that accompanied the show’s success further demonstrated the power of television, which was still a novelty at the time. No self-respecting boy in the 1950s would have been caught without his Davy Crockett coonskin cap. In fact, over 10 million were reportedly sold. For a complete ensemble, kids donned buckskin shirts and toted toy “Old Betsy” rifles. With history coming into their very own living rooms, American children could actively participate in frontier adventures. They could act it out, dress the part, and be a part of history without leaving their homes. This fit perfectly into Walt’s theme park plans, for that was precisely what he wanted Guests to be able to do, to enter adventures in the confines of comfort.
Banking on the popularity of the Crockett films, Walt Disney invited Fess Parker, aka Davy Crockett, to ride alongside him in Disneyland’s opening day parade (see photo at top). While no current Disneyland attraction honors this American hero, his persona is evident throughout Frontierland. Several years ago, the Mike Fink Keelboats (based on a race in one of the movies) used to be called the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes, and the Davy Crockett Arcade is the main store in Frontierland. On the 50th anniversary of the first Davy Crockett episode, Fess Parker was honored with a proprietor’s window. His, unlike most, is not located on Main Street, USA. It instead adorns Frontierland’s Crockett & Russel Hats storefront.
The third Davy Crockett installment took viewers to the Alamo and to the death of Davy Crockett. By the time it aired, the national craze was in full swing, so Disney edited all three into one feature film, “Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier,” released in May of 1955. Disney also produced two prequels to air during the second “Disneyland” season that were also later combined into the 1956 feature film, “Davy Crockett and the River Pirates. The Disney films were inspired by the thrilling tales of the life of David Crockett, frontiersman, politician, legend. While the movies were fictional, key components were historically accurate, such as Crockett’s Indian battles and his participation in and death at the Alamo.
Today’s Takeaway is a study on military strategy and is geared toward older students. The Alamo, long story short:
In December 1835, Ben Milam led Texan volunteers in a victory against Mexican General Martín Perfecto de Cós and his troops, then occupied the Alamo. General Antonio López de Santa Anna’s army arrived outside San Antonio on February 23, 1836. The Texan group of Alamo defenders included Colonel William B. Travis, James Bowie, and David (Davy) Crockett, and numbered nearly two hundred men. They held out for thirteen days against Santa Anna’s army. Legend states that Colonel Travis drew a line on the ground and challenged the men willing to stay and fight to step over. All but one did. As the defenders saw it, the Alamo was the key to the defense of Texas, and a major component to gaining Texas’ independence from Mexico, and they would rather die than surrender to General Santa Anna and his 20,000 troops. March 6, 1836, the Alamo fell to Mexican forces in a predawn assault.
- Visit the official Alamo website to read detailed descriptions of the battle. If you can obtain Disney’s “Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier,” watch and pay close attention to the depiction of the Alamo battle. Also watch John Wayne’s 1960 “The Alamo” and the 2004 version. Then discuss the following
- Describe the Texan group of defenders. Contrast them with the Mexican army.
- What style of warfare did the Texans utilize (Guerilla-type warfare, sharpshooters, hidden)? What manner of attack did Santa Anna apply (formal, organized, set march)?
- Considering the differing military strategies, if troops had been more evenly numbered, which side would have been the victor?
For a writing assignment, have your high school or middle school students research this further and write an essay defending their answers to this question
SCHOOL SUBJECT: History
SKILL LEVEL: High School
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