For the generation of Americans who grew up with Fess Parker as Davy Crockett, Indian fighter, there is little doubt what kind of a legend he was. He was the same kind of man as portrayed by John Wayne in the Alamo—he was the man who went down fighting to the last against insurmountable odds.
Most wouldn’t recognize him as the politicians that had his fill of Washington and his constituents. When asked by some voters what he would do if they didn’t reelect him he answered, “You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas.” As one historian noted, “They didn’t – and so he did.”
The real David Crockett was born in a small cramped cabin on August 17, 1786, in the wilderness of eastern Tennessee (still know as Virginia at that time). Born into poverty, life was difficult in the wilderness. There were no schools, no education, no books, and no churches. His family finally managed to open the Crockett Tavern, an overnight stop for travelers going from Virginia to the West.
Davy, as he came to be known, was mesmerized by the stories travelers passing through told. At the age of twelve he joined himself to a Dutchman for a cattle drive. Along the way, the Dutchman was very kind to Davy, and once in Virginia, asked him to stay with him. But Davy’s desire to get home got the better of him. He took off, not yet a teenager, and traveled 200 miles alone back to his family.
By the age of sixteen, Davy was sensitive concerning his lack of education and the fact that he could neither read nor write. Desiring to learn, but too old to start again in school, he took a job where he worked two days a week for board and attended school for four days. After six months, Davy learned to sign his name and could accomplish a few simple math problems and very simple reading. With this limited knowledge, Davy then set out to find a wife.
Within a short time, he found and won the affection of a pretty Irish girl. Soon thereafter they married, and with fifteen borrowed dollars, settled in a log cabin. Still living in the wilderness, game was plentiful, and Davy was an outstanding shot with his musket. They had food and cloth, as his wife was handy with a loom, that provided them the necessities of life, although still very primitive. After frequent moves, they finally settled in 1813 in what is today Franklin County, Tennessee.
When news of the Creek massacre at Fort Mims in Alabama reached Crockett, he decided that the settlers must get organized to mount a defense. Among the first to enlist, he joined a volunteer army under the command of General Andrew Jackson and was placed him in charge of a scouting party. During the fighting, Jackson’s army was very poorly provisioned, almost to starvation numerous times. Had it not been for Crockett and his skills as a woodman and rifleman, able to find and kill game, the troops would surely have starved.
When he returned home from the Creek War, Crockett found his wife near death, and soon she left him alone with two children. Davy then met and married a widow with two children. Desiring less crowded surroundings in which to live, as by this time, many settlers were moving to his part of Tennessee, Davy and his wife and four children moved about eighty miles west, to what is today Giles County, Tennessee.
Within a few years, Davy had become well known among the locals and was called on to be what amounted to a justice of the peace. It is said that when asked to run for the legislature, he replied that he would if he knew what one was. His personality, storytelling, and honesty convinced most people he was their man, but he still lost – by two votes.
By the next election, Crockett was no longer green and was elected in 1827. Once in Washington, he introduced himself by saying, “I am the same David Crockett, fresh from the backwoods, half horse, half alligator, a little touched with the snapping turtle… I can whip my weight in wildcats and if any gentleman pleases, for a ten dollar bill, he can throw in a panther too.”
He was well liked and people loved to listen to him speak of his adventures. Several times he was entertained by President John Quincy Adams at the White House. His service as a Congressman was outstanding, with even his opponents acknowledging he couldn’t be bribed or forced to vote for anything he did know was right.
During his second term in office, his former fellow Indian fighter Andrew Jackson became President. He was supportive of Jackson until they came into conflict over measures Crockett could not agree with. Consequently, this brought him the censure of his constituency and defeat in his next election. Upon losing the election, Crockett said, “If they won’t elect me with my opinions, I can’t help it.”
After returning home, Crockett penned his autobiography and set out on a tour of eastern cities in 1834. When he arrived in Philadelphia, he was met by a crowd of five thousand, and here was presented with a rifle that would go on to replace “Old Betsy,” as well as serve him well at the Alamo. A larger crowd met in New York City, and in Jersey City he participated in a shooting match that proved his skill was no myth.
A year earlier, in 1833, Americans who had settled in Texas determined to seek their independence and separate from the Mexico. On December 10, 1835, they succeeded in capturing the town of San Antonio, driving the Mexican army, commanded by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, out of Texas. Near the center of town stood the Alamo, an old Spanish mission that had been converted into a fort, with a garrison of 150 Texans. The Texans were commanded jointly by Colonels William Barret Travis and James Bowie.
Infuriated by his defeat, Santa Anna decided to take his revenge at the Alamo in February of 1836. At about the same time, Colonel Crockett and four of his “Tennessee boys” arrived at the Alamo. They were there as volunteers, to fight for Texas against tyranny, wherever it may have been. Crockett and his few men, combined with those under the command of Travis and Bowie, numbered just 188. These patriots were ready at the Alamo to take on the force under Santa Anna, now marching in their direction with 5,000 troops.
On February 23, 1836, the fight at the Alamo began. Others at the Alamo during the siege were some of the families of the defenders, including the wife and daughter of Captain Almeron Dickinson, as well as a few servants. James Bowie, present during the battle as well, had been stricken with typhoid pneumonia and could not move from his cot.
The determined defenders repulsed them the Mexican troops twice, using the last of their cannon and musket fire. As the third attack came at the now battered north wall, Colonel Travis, leading his men, was shot through his forehead, falling across a cannon, dying instantly. Passing by where Travis lay, the Mexicans stormed into the plaza. Overwhelmed, and with no time to load their muskets against such a large force of Mexicans, the defenders used the muskets as clubs. Colonel Crockett, likewise using his musket as a club, was killed as the attackers, now with reinforcements, stormed the south wall and headed for the chapel, where those Texans inside were killed.
But the spirit of men like Davy Crockett lived on. Three weeks after the defeat at the Alamo, Santa Anna savagely ordered the massacre of 300 Texas prisoners. On April 21, 1836, just forty-six days after the fall of the Alamo, about 800 angered Texans and other American volunteers under the command of General Sam Houston launched an all out attack on Santa Anna and his force of 1,300 men at San Jacinto, shouting “Remember the Alamo!
They overran the Mexican army in a few minutes, killing 630, while only suffering eight losses themselves. In the battle, Santa Anna was captured. Texas was now free and a new republic was born. Texas acted as an independent nation for about ten years before being annexed into the United States on December 29, 1845.
Davy Crockett, who was born on August 17, 1786, died on March 6, 1836, at the young age of 49. He was then and still remains an outstanding American, statesman, and folklore hero. On the day he died, he wrote a letter to his daughter during the siege, saying not to worry about him, for he was with his friends.
Perhaps this one American hero who lived and died in a manner even larger than the legend that followed him, for he stood firm in his beliefs both in life and in death.