Doubts Raised about Authenticity of Davy Crockett Letter

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AUSTIN — Two historical document specialists said they doubt the authenticity of a Davy Crockett letter acquired this week by the Texas Historical Commission, but state officials said they're virtually certain the Alamo defender penned it himself.

The commission announced Tuesday it had purchased the letter for $490,000 from Simpson Galleries, a Houston fine arts auctioneer.

Dated Jan. 9, 1836, it's the last known letter Crockett wrote before he and about 200 other Alamo defenders were killed by Mexican forces led by Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.

The skeptics contend the handwriting in the letter doesn't match Crockett's handwriting on other known documents.

State officials said the letter had not yet been authenticated. Debbi Head, spokeswoman for the Historical Commission, said the $490,000 will remain in an escrow account pending the outcome of a third-party investigation.

"We built that caveat into the contract so that the purchase wouldn't go through without an authentication process," she said. "We are currently in the process of putting together the best team of experts of people who actually do this type of work — forensic experts, appraisers, handwriting experts, all kinds of people."

Head said she's "99.9 percent sure" the letter is real. "We just want to have it authenticated by our experts to put us at 100 percent certainty that this is the real document," she said.

Everett Wilke, a private appraiser of historical manuscripts based in Bluffton, said he compared the handwriting in the letter with that of known Crockett letters owned by East Carolina University.

"Those are genuine Crockett letters, and it (the letter purchased by the state) don't look a thing like them," he said. "It's not that difficult to tell it's not real."

Wilke, who has been studying and appraising Americana manuscripts for 30 years, said the signature on the letter is different from Crockett's signature on other documents. He said the "k" in Crockett on the East Carolina University letters doesn't match the Texas letter.

"It's one of the giveaways of his signature, the way he signs that 'k.' It's a very unusual formation of 'k.' Most people do not write it that way — they start at the bottom."

Wilke said he's disproved another purported Crockett document for a private collector.

"This happens all the time," he said. "I think it's just a copy that was made without any intention of deceit. It doesn't mean anybody was trying to do anything underhanded."

Kevin MacDonnell, a seller of antique books in Austin, also cited the handwriting in explaining his doubts about the letter.

"I am of the opinion that this letter is not of Davy Crockett's hand," MacDonnell said. "It is my gut feeling that this is probably an innocently made true copy."

He said the letter was probably written by someone charged with making a copy of Crockett's original letter for reference purposes. The correct spelling of words throughout the letter raises questions, he said.

"The letter has better grammar, better punctuation than Davy Crockett had ever used," MacDonnell said. "The copyist or scrivener probably cleaned up the writing on the letter when he was copying it."

Ray Simpson III of Houston, the letter's seller, said he hadn't heard any doubts about the letter's authenticity.

"I am very positive that this is the original Davy Crockett letter," he said. "We do think it's right, and we do think it will be proven through the state's third-party investigation."

Head said the state has 120 days to complete the authentication process.