He may have "killed him a bar when he was only 3." And he even may have been King of the Wild Frontier before he met his Waterloo at the Alamo in 1836. But Davy Crockett never once set foot in Utah, or anywhere even close.
But that didn't stop early fur trappers from naming a fort after him, a fort appropriately located in the wildest of Western frontiers: the rugged Brown's Hole canyon country on the Utah-Colorado border.Fort Davy Crockett - perhaps Utah's first white settlement - was not large. It wasn't really a fort, for that matter. Rather it was a few ramshackle buildings where fur trappers and Indians passed the winter.
"It was a series of grubby little buildings of logs, mud and adobe," said Blaine Phillips, an archaeologist with the Bureau of Land Management in Vernal. "It lasted three or four years and then was abandoned. And it's been the subject of speculation ever since. We simply don't know where it is today."
That has led to a lot of speculation about the exact location of Fort Davy Crockett. Colorado boosters argue for a site on the Green River just inside their border, and Utah boosters argue for a different site, near the Jarvie Ranch, a few miles inside the Utah border.
"A lot has been said (about Fort Davy Crockett)," Phillips said, "but the facts are few and far between."
Little is known, also, about the earliest trappers in Brown's Hole. One mountain man book refers to a trading post in Brown's Hole as early as 1832, but the first factual evidence is a reference in the 1837 journal of trapper Robert Newell.
Kit Carson was employed by the fort through the winter of 1837-38 as a hunter, "having to keep 20 men supplied with meat," he later wrote. In spring 1838, Carson left Fort Davy Crockett to join Jim Bridger.
The best description of the fort comes from Thomas Farnham, leader of the adventurous Peoria Party or Oregon Dragoons that passed through Brown's Hole in August 1839:
"The fort, as it is called, appeared up in the center on the winding banks of the Sheetskadee (Green River). The dark mountains rose around it sublimely, and the green fields swept away into the deep, precipitous gorges. More beautiful than I can describe. We rode into the hollow square and received from (Prewett) Sinclair, the person in charge, the hearty welcome of an old hunter to Ft. David Crockett.
"The fort is a hollow square of one-story log cabins with roofs and floors and mud construction. Around this we found the conical skin lodges of the squaws of the white trappers, who were away on their fall hunt. And also the lodges of a few Snake Indians, who had preceded their tribe to the winter hunt. Here also were the lodges of Mr. Robinson, a trader, who usually stations himself here to traffic with the Indians and white trappers. His skin lodge was his warehouse, and buffalo robes spread upon the ground his counter on which he displayed his butcher knives, hatchets, powder, lead, fishhooks and whiskey."
Farnham adds that in the winter, the entire Snake Indian village, some 2,000 to 3,000 strong, would camp around the fort. Mountain man accounts attest to as many as 60 trappers passing the winter there.
While Farnham heaped praise upon the tiny fort, a Dr. F.A. Wislizenus, who arrived one week later, called it "the worst thing of the kind we have seen on our journey. In short, the whole establishment appeared somewhat poverty-stricken, for which reason it is also known to the trappers as Fort Misery."
By the time John C. Fremont passed through in 1844, the fort was gone.
In 1982, archaeologists located a site in Colorado downstream from the Brown's Park National Wildlife Refuge that could yet turn out to be the long-lost Fort Davy Crockett.
"No one is officially calling it Fort Davy Crockett," explained Glade Ross, a ranger at Dinosaur National Monument. "They are calling it a white-Indian contact point. There's not a lot there, but they did find glass pane fragments, clay pipes, musket flints and a musket hammer, and lots of beads."
And given the large amount of melted lead recovered, the site was apparently burned, perhaps because of disease.
Because there is no reference to any trading posts in Brown's Hole other than Fort Davy Crockett, Ross said it is logical to assume the artifacts, which all date to the fur-trapper era, are the telltale remains of Fort Davy Crockett itself.
Ross, who has examined the question of Fort Davy Crockett for years, believes the fort was used only during the winter when river flows were low. "It was built right on the river bank and would have been inundated in spring runoff," he said. "It was then abandoned during spring and summer when the water was high and the bugs were really bad."
"I don't think there's any question this is the site. There are vast grasslands and lots of cottonwoods - a perfect place to winter for both Indians and white trappers. And you can follow the journals and diaries (of those who were there) right down to it."
But Phillips is cautious, noting that no actual evidence of structures or a fort was ever recovered. Just a few artifacts.
And there remain strong advocates for another location for Fort Davy Crockett, this one on the Green River on Utah side of the border. "People for years have claimed the fort was located across from the Jarvie Ranch," said Diana Kouris, author of a book on Brown's Park. "The problem has been proving it."
But to Phillips, researchers into both sites have not proven their case. "There's a whole lot more conjecture than facts floating around," he said. And like the mountain men who built it, Fort Davy Crockett likely will remain an elusive part of Western lore.