The heroes and anti-heroes of Southwestern humor, despite their humble and vulgar origins, gave birth to enduring American characters and attitudes (one need only observe the boasting of rappers or the orchestrated mayhem of Hollywood to see the legacy today). The earliest stories expressed at best an ambivalence about these characters; they (both the stories and their protagonists) were lewd, violent, and uncouth. The intentions of their authors also conflict; some celebrate the wily and strong inhabitants of the frontier while others attack the uneducated masses that supported popular but unconventional national figures like Andrew Jackson and David Crockett. This ambivalence persisted throughout the era of this genre of humor and into the time of the local color authors (another by-product of this genre). Eventually, however, a sort of consensus emerged, and especially in the characters of Mike Fink and Davy Crockett Americans adopted a set of icons and helped establish what may be called an American character. These two were figures of admiration if not emulation; their verbal dexterity and boasting, their strength and skill in hunting and fighting, and their quick witted responses made them heroes and to some degree elemental forces of the American wilderness. America was wrought in their feats and accomplishments, because from lowly beginnings they had fought, scraped, and conned their way to respect and prominence.
Their adventures and antics are as disturbing as those of any other figure from the southwestern lore-- in one tale Fink shoots a black man's heel off because it offends him-- yet, and of greater import to their audience, they had risen to fame and power on the frontier. Fink first gained fame as a scout in western Pennsylvania while still a young boy, then as a boatman on the Missouri River, and he finally migrated to the Rockies where he was eventually killed; the tales surrounding him only slightly exaggerate many of his abilities. He could fight well and won the title of the "King of the Boatmen;" he would prove his expertise with a rifle by shooting cups off his friend's heads; however, as his reputation grew tales began to be attached to his name. He most likely was not "half man, half alligator" as the legends eventually proclaimed, yet he became a folk hero because was a manifestation of all the things that frontier life demanded. Crockett's real life exploits are better documented but equally thrilling; from the frontier he went to Washington, D.C. and then gave his life at the Alamo. Although his life also swelled to superhuman proportions in tall-tales, he undoubtedly made an odd presence in the Capitol and just as likely received his support based on his prowess on the frontier. While deTocqueville have derided the boasting and proud American type, enacting that character remained essential to success in the Southwest; marksman-ship far out-weighed familiarity with philosophy on the Missouri River.
Ultimately, deTocqueville's negative reactions did not take the form of overt criticism but of warnings against excesses. Southwest humor, however, revels in these excesses: ribald innuendoes; sadistic violence; indecent women; drunkenness; deceptions of the innocent; physical and verbal boasting. Why then were Americas drawn to this literature-- a literature that ostensibly mocked them. Sporting publications like the Spirit of the Times helped to widely disseminate this fiction (and the tales certainly improved the circulation of the papers), which explains a portion of their popularity. The connection between an interest in hunting, etc. and the exploits of a Davy Crockett seem apparent. Political affinities also existed between authors and their audience; many of the tales, such as John Robb's "The Standing Candidate," target the frontier politicians-- presumably including Andrew Jackson. The western dialects and foolish characters were to many readers entertaining, but tragically accurate, stereotypes. The tales though were not unanimously damning; "Nimrod Wildfire's Tall Talk" from The Lion of the West blatantly responds to Trollope's Domestic Manners of the Americans, siding with the anti-hero Nimrod not the foreign traveler. In this story lies the key to understanding this genre; while it may have begun as mockery it also rang true. As deTocqueville observed, Americans were in fact constantly moving west trying to advance, and on the frontier these traits could propel one to success. Celebrating this American character, especially in the face of criticism, seems somewhat natural then. They were essential to taming the wilderness, the native inhabitants, and despite their occasional buffoonery these heroes were more than capable of backing up their boasts.