The first time Al Bouler and I came into contact was back in the days of an old Alamo message board dedicated to discussing the release of John Lee Hancock’s 2004 film. Al happened to post a picture of himself as David Crockett, and something drew me to it. I was not looking at a man portraying Crockett, I was looking at Crockett himself.
Al, who was born in Lubbock, Texas, now finds himself living in Montgomery, Alabama, and working as a living-history historian at a place called “Old Alabama Town”. There he plays the role of a nineteenth century schoolmaster, as well as the Crockett character which he is noted for. He also finds himself portraying Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Dickens on other occasions, with his girlfriend Kathy, who joins in the fun.
He can be seen here, in the video below, hard at work entertaining visitors as David Crockett at the historic site in Alabama:
But even with Al’s stunning resemblance to Crockett, that would all be moot if he did not know the history, and more importantly, folklore behind him. As seen in the video, he clearly knows his history, and enjoys what he does.
I recently sat down with Al Bouler, picking his brain on his “career” as a living-history historian. He explains how it all began in 1990, while he was a school teacher, “I was teaching at a school at the time and had begun playing Crockett for the kids in various classes. I had heard about a rendezvous at a place called Fort Toulouse, and I went there with my pieced together outfit; I was also looking for a real coonskin cap. After I got there, I was hooked. I ended up getting the cap and met some local reenactors by the names of Richard Harris and his girlfriend Mama Lou. They took me in and I was literally what you would call a “greenhorn”. They showed me the ropes and introduced me to the reenactors at Fort Toulouse that portrayed the Tennessee Militia during the Creek Indian War.”
This little introduction would then expand into the character he is known as today, “This later evolved into my playing Crockett there at Toulouse. Crockett came through there in 1814 when the site was being used by Andrew Jackson during the close of the Creek War. My playing of Crockett is just an extension of my childhood when I played around as him. When I first saw Fess Parker as a child on the Disney show, I was never the same.
It is truly amazing how many folks have been inspired or interested in history solely because of Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett TV show, and later, duo of films. Even kids today, who had clam-shell cover VHS tapes passed down to them from parents can claim Fess Parker as their initial spark of interest.
Here are some more pictures of Al as Crockett:
But Al does not just portray Crockett. At various events he dresses up as Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Dickens. Below is a picture of he and Rebecca Ochs, who plays Emily Dickinson, Poe’s companion at such events.
Below is Al as Charles Dickens, with Rebecca again, this time as Jane Austen. These representations are as accurate as his Crockett one.
In getting back to Old Alabama town, can you believe that it is actually Al’s full-time job? That would be a dream for anyone that loves history. But Al was not always a reenactor; here Al tells us how his interest was sparked, and how he came to be a regular, after getting his start at Fort Toulouse, “Playing Davy Crockett and reading everything I could on him really sparked my interest in history. Reenacting as an adult and playing Crockett is a natural thing I’ve been doing all my life. What is nice is the fact that I actually make a living doing it, and I consider myself very lucky and blessed. Working at O.A.T is my full time job right now, but I was originally a special education teacher for almost nineteen years.”
But here is where the job does not really feel like a job anymore, “It is a lot of fun because I get to meet people from from all over the world and meet every 4th grader in Alabama,” Al notes, “Either as Crockett at O.A.T, Frontier Days at Fort Toulouse, the River Festival in Monroe, or the Pioneer Days in Troy. [Aside from Crockett] I play the Schoolmaster Adams at O.A.T for school tours. We probably see around 40,000 kids and tourists every year.”
Al can also taste a bit of fame when he tells me, “I get recognized quite a bit where I go out. It is really nice when kids come up to me and say, ‘Hi Davy Crockett’ or ‘Hi Mr. Adams’.” Al also tells me of several occasions where he has gone into stores right after work, still dressed in his 1800′s attire. I would love to have video footage to see peoples reactions of this, especially when walking into a Wal-Mart dressed as Davy Crockett.
Before we finished the interview, I just had to bring up Al’s resemblance to John Lennon. Just take a look at this picture, and maybe you’ll see it too.
Being not much of a fan, or really knowing nothing about John Denver, I did not notice any similarity, but Al says he always has people saying he looks like him or Lennon. But as Al jokingly noted, “Everyone who I look like is dead. This troubles me.”
Finally, I just had to ask the one question that must be asked of every historian, and that is, why is it so important to keep the past alive, and what makes it so fun? Al claims, “It makes me feel good but it really blows me away when people remember me. Anyone who keeps history alive has an important job. There are a lot of folks out there who just want to ignore history because it is embarrassing to their sensibilities. Crockett fought the Indians in war, then in Congress cast a no-vote to their removal from Alabama. One of the stories I tell at Frontier Days (circa 1814), is about Creek potatoes. Crockett and his men had cornered Indians into a cabin and set it on fire, and the grease that burnt out of their skin cooked the potatoes that were being stored in a root cellar. Crockett and his men were starving, so they ate them. Crockett during his life mentioned this and a few other incidents drawing sympathy towards the Indians, and then justifying his opinion which was against their removal. This incident I explain using his own words from his book, and it gets a strong reaction from whom ever I am speaking to. Some might find it startling, but it is the truth, and Crockett wanted to shed light on the cruelty of war, and the harsh treatment of the Indians.”
As I told Al, I don’t know what would ever bring me down to Alabama from New Jersey, but if I ever go anywhere near there, I would just have to stop by and visit the town. It is much like Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, in being a fully operational living history town, and keeping the past alive.
If I were to go down there, perhaps I could go dressed in the character I portray at the Proprietary House in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, Corporal John A. Lazenby, a militia man. And due to the magic of Photoshop, Al and I have already appeared together:
I hope you all enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it. If you ever find yourself in Alabama, pay Al, err…I mean, Mr. Crockett a visit, and tell him you heard about him from this website. It was through the power of the Internet that I found Al, and he still attributes, or in his words, “blames” me for turning him into a star on the Internet circuit.
As David Crockett once said in a letter to his wife right before he died at the Alamo, “Do not be uneasy about me, I am with my friends. I will try to do my best and you do the same.” You are among friends when with Al, and he is surely doing the best he can.