‘Timber Toe’ and the Alamo

Fame eluded wooden-legged Tennessee Congressman Adam Huntsman.

But the incumbent he unseated in 1835 is an American legend. Dubbed
“King of the Wild Frontier,” he is a hero of history books, movies
and even a TV show.

Nonetheless, he took defeat hard, admonishing his constituents,
“Since you have chosen to elect a man with a timber toe to succeed me, you
may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.”

The sore loser was Davy Crockett.

Huntsman ended up in Washington. Crockett ended up dead at the

Little history

Kevin D. McCann, of Dickson, Tenn., Huntsman’s biographer,
said the congressman didn’t leave much of a paper trail. “I
couldn’t even find any evidence of how he lost his leg or even which leg
it was,” said the author of Adam Huntsman: The Peg Leg Politician.

Illustrations in McCann’s book show Huntsman minus his lower left
limb. McCann said he had to guess which limb was lost.

Born with both legs in Charlotte County, Va., in 1786, Huntsman migrated
to Tennessee. He became a lawyer in Knoxville and a Democratic politician in
Jackson, where voters elected him to the state Senate and to the state
constitutional convention of 1834 before elevating him to Congress.

Huntsman, who McCann said never lost an election, represented West
Tennessee’s 12th District in the US House of Representatives. He served a
single term, declining to stand for reelection in 1837, the year after
Crockett’s immortal last stand at the Alamo.

Huntsman’s successor was John Wesley Crockett, Davy’s oldest

“Never a Democratic front-runner, Huntsman nevertheless served the
party well as a dependable ‘war horse,’” according to the
Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture online. “He influenced
legislation on banking, tariffs and internal improvements.”

The encyclopedia entry also says Huntsman evidently lost his leg
fighting the Creek Indians from 1813 to 1814. McCann suspects he suffered a
wound that necessitated amputation while battling the Seminoles in Florida in

Although he was an alleged victim of Davy Crockett’s pranks, Adam Huntsman had the last laugh by beating Crockett in a race for the US House of Representatives.

Although he was an alleged victim of Davy Crockett’s pranks, Adam Huntsman had the last laugh by beating Crockett in a race for the US House of Representatives.

By Thomas R Machnitzki (thomas@machnitzki.com) (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


“Huntsman paid a steep price for his military adventure in the
swamps of East Florida,” wrote McCann, founder of BrayBree Publishing Co.,
which specializes in books about Tennessee history. “He would have to use
a wooden peg leg to stand and walk the rest of his life. But he used it to his
advantage, both to show the personal sacrifice he had made for his country and
as a prop for his self-directed sense of humor.”

Self-deprecating wit

McCann’s book includes several examples of Huntsman’s keen
wit. The author related the story of a traveling companion who asked Huntsman
about the absent appendage.

Huntsman said just thinking about it summoned “terrible
memories.” Yet he assented to tell the fellow if he would give his word he
would not inquire further.

“When the man agreed, Huntsman stoically told him it had been
bitten off. The journey continued in silence as the man pondered this scant
information until he could no longer hold his curiosity. ‘Well stranger, I
promised not to ask another question about the loss of your leg, but I’d
like very much to know what bit it off.’”

Huntsman did not reply.

McCann also wrote that more than a few Tennesseans of Huntsman’s
day looked with disdain upon lawyers, amputee or otherwise. The historian added
that Huntsman always responded “with his usual self-deprecating wit.”

Huntsman explained that “his choice of profession had been forced
upon him owing to the debilitating loss of his leg. ‘I could not work, to
beg I was ashamed, and I could not steal, because they would all know it was
Huntsman by his track, and I was thus compelled to be a lawyer.’”

Congressman Crockett, a Whig, wasn’t a lawyer, but he was as quick
with a quip as Huntsman. The famous frontiersman styled himself
“half-horse, half-alligator and a little attached with snapping

Though he and Huntsman were fiercely loyal to their parties, they were
remarkably similar in background and campaign style, according to McCann’s
book. “As the candidates traveled…‘speechifying the
people,’ voters learned that both men…were born six months and six
days apart (Huntsman being the older of the two); both had been Indian
fighters, with Huntsman’s peg leg serving as a visible reminder of the
personal sacrifice he made.”

Yarn spinners and tall tales

Both, too, were accomplished yarn spinners “who used their talents
to entertain and enlighten their audiences. All things considered,
one…newspaper concluded that the candidates were like ‘tweedledum and

Crockett, whose home was near Rutherford, and Huntsman often campaigned
the district together. Sometimes, they were roommates.

McCann recounted the time Huntsman and Crockett bedded down in the back
room of a farmhouse. The farmer was on the fence about the election; Crockett
decided to trick him out of his vote.

A porch connected the candidates’ sleeping quarters to the bedroom
of the farmer’s daughter. “As everyone slept, Crockett crept outside
with a chair in hand and walked across the porch to the daughter’s door.
He tried opening the door, making enough noise that it sounded like an
intruder, and the daughter screamed.”

In a flash, Crockett turned the chair backward, planted one foot on the
bottom rung, hobbled back across the porch, leapt in bed and pretended to be
asleep. “The farmer burst into the room with every intention of killing
Huntsman, who had no idea what was going on and pleaded his innocence. But his
host was not convinced: ‘I know you too well and I heard that damned old
peg-leg of yourn, too plain.’”

Another time while Huntsman slumbered, Crockett supposedly put a hot
coal from a fireplace on his foe’s wooden leg, making a large scorched
spot his trousers would not hide. “At their next speaking engagement,
Crockett told the crowd: ‘Now Huntsman has accused me of being a whiskey
man. We stayed at the same man’s house and I had a little whiskey just for
my stomach’s sake. Huntsman got hold of it, got drunk and fell in the
fire, burning his leg. Don’t you see the place?’”

Another tale, which McCann doubts, had Crockett and Huntsman fast asleep
outside around a campfire. Crockett grabbed McCann’s artificial limb,
tossed it into the flames “and watched while it was consumed.”

Despite such shenanigans, real or fictionalized, McCann wrote that the
1835 hustings were “conducted with ‘perfect harmony and good
humor.’” Yet Huntsman’s descendants claim that their ancestor
and Crockett nearly fought a duel over the election. “A brace of pistols
had even been purchased and affixed ‘with silver plates which bore the
names of the duelers.’ But calmer heads prevailed and the duel never took

A squeaker

Finally, Aug. 6, election day, rolled around in the eight-county
district. Huntsman won in a squeaker, collecting 4,652 ballots to 4,400 for
Crockett. A happy Democrat gloated that “the great Hunter one Davy has
been beaten by a Huntsman,” McCann wrote.

The author added that a peg-leg wasn’t Huntsman’s only
distinctive physical feature. “He was short in stature and somewhat rotund
with a balding head that on occasion was adorned with a hairpiece.”

McCann’s book also has the story of how Huntsman’s artificial
parts terrified a lad in Nashville, the Volunteer State capital. Huntsman was
in his room at a local boardinghouse when the boy arrived to fetch his boots
for cleaning.

After the youngster spied Huntsman, he bolted and refused to return.

“The frightened boy explained that Huntsman ‘took all the hair
off his head and laid it on the table, and took his teeth out, and then took
off one of his legs.’ ‘I can’t stay where that man is,’ he
told the landlord, “he’s taking himself all to pieces!’”

Huntsman remained intact and died in 1849. He is buried in Jackson.

For more information:

McCann K. Adam Huntsman: The Peg Leg Politician. Tennessee:
BrayBree Publishing Company; 2011.

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