Davy Crockett : Battle of the Alamo Hero
DAVY CROCKETT, (AKA DAVID CROCKETT) (1786-1836). David (Davy) Crockett, frontiersman, congressman, and defender of the Alamo, son of John and Rebecca (Hawkins) Crockett, was born in Greene County, East Tennessee (historic State of Franklin), on August 17, 1786. In 1798, two years after the Crocketts opened a tavern on the road from Knoxville
to Abingdon, Virginia, John Crockett hired his son out to
Jacob Siler to help drive a herd of cattle to Rockbridge County, Virginia. Siler tried to detain David by force after the job was completed, but the boy
escaped at night by walking seven miles in two hours through knee-deep snow. He eventually made his way home in late 1798
or early 1799. Soon afterward he started school, but preferred playing hooky and ran away to escape his father's punishment.
This "strategic withdrawal," as Crockett called it, lasted 2½ years while he worked as a wagoner and day-laborer and at odd
jobs to support himself. When he returned home in 1802 he had grown so much that his family did not recognize him at first.
When they did, he found that all was forgiven. Crockett reciprocated their generosity by working for about a year to discharge
his father's debts, which totaled seventy-six dollars, and subsequently returned to school for six months.
|Davy Crockett & Alamo Hero
|Davy Crockett and Alamo Battle Hero
On October 21, 1805, Crockett took out a
license to marry Margaret Elder of Dandridge, Tennessee, but was jilted
by her, perhaps justly, since local legend intimated that he was a less than constant suitor. He recovered quickly from the
experience, courted Mary (Polly) Finley, and married her on August 14, 1806, in Jefferson
County; they remained in the mountains of East Tennessee
for just over five years. Sometime after September 11, 1811, David, Polly, and their two sons, John Wesley and William, settled
on the Mulberry Fork of Elk River in Lincoln County, Tennessee;
they moved again in 1813, to the Rattlesnake Spring branch of Bean's Creek in Franklin County, Tennessee, near what is now
the Alabama border. Crockett named his homestead Kentuck.
He began his military career in September
of that year, when he enlisted in the militia as a scout under Major Gibson in Winchester,
Tennessee, to avenge an Indian attack on Fort Mimms,
Alabama. On November 3, under Andrew Jackson, Crockett participated in the retributive
massacre of the Indian town of Tallussahatchee. He returned
home when his ninety-day enlistment for the Creek Indian War expired on the day before Christmas, and reenlisted on September
28, 1814, as a third sergeant in Capt. John Cowan's company. He arrived on November 7, the day after Jackson
took Pensacola, and spent his time trying to ferret out the British-trained Indians from the
Florida swamps. After his discharge in 1815 as a fourth
sergeant Crockett arrived home and found himself again a father. Polly died the summer after Margaret's birth, although she
had been in good health when David returned.
On May 21, 1815, Crockett was elected a lieutenant
in the Thirty-second Militia regiment of Franklin County. Before summer's end he married Elizabeth Patton, a widow with two children (George
and Margaret Ann), and he explored Alabama in the fall with
an eye towards settlement. He nearly died from malaria-was reported dead-and astonished his family with his "resurrection."
By about September of the next year the Crocketts had moved to the territory soon to become Lawrence County,
Tennessee, rather than Alabama.
They settled at the head of Shoal Creek, and David continued his political and military career. He became a justice of the
peace on November 17, 1817, a post he resigned in 1819. He became the town commissioner of Lawrenceburg before April 1, 1818,
and was elected colonel of the Fifty-seventh Militia regiment in the county that same year.
|Davy Crockett : Alamo Battle
|Davy Crockett and the Battle of the Alamo
New Year's Day 1821 marked a turning point
in Crockett's career. He resigned as commissioner to run for a seat in the Tennessee legislature as the representative of Lawrence
and Hickman counties. He won the August election and, from the beginning, took an active interest in public land policy regarding
the West. After the session concluded he moved his family to what is now Gibson County in West Tennessee. He was reelected in 1823, defeating Dr.
William E. Butler, but was in turn defeated in August 1825 in his first bid for a seat in Congress. In 1826, after returning
to private business, Crockett nearly died when his boats carrying barrel staves were wrecked in the Mississippi
River. When he was brought to Memphis he was encouraged
to run again for Congress by Maj. M. B. Winchester and won election over Gen. William Arnold and Col. Adam Alexander to the
United States House of Representatives in 1827. He was reelected to a second term in 1829 and split with President Andrew
Jackson and the Tennessee delegation on several issues,
including land reform and the Indian removal bill. In his 1831 campaign for a third term, Crockett openly and vehemently attacked
Jackson's policies and was defeated in a close election by
By this time Crockett's reputation as a sharpshooter,
hunter, and yarn-spinner had brought him into national prominence. He was the model for Nimrod Wildfire, the hero of James
Kirke Paulding's play The Lion of the West, which opened in New York City
on April 25, 1831. Life and Adventures of Colonel David Crockett of West Tennessee was published in 1833 and reprinted
the same year under the more accurate title of Sketches and Eccentricities of Colonel David Crockett of West Tennessee.
Much of the same material spilled over into the first few issues of a series of comic almanacs published under Crockett's
name from 1835 to 1856 that, as a whole, constituted a body of outrageous tall tales about the adventures of the legendary
Davy rather than the historical David Crockett.
Building in part upon his growing notoriety,
Crockett defeated the incumbent Fitzgerald in 1833 to return to Congress. The following year he published his autobiography,
written with the help of Thomas Chilton, A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee, the only
work that he actually authored. It was intended to correct the portrayal given by Mathew St. Clair Clarke in Sketches and
Eccentricities and to deny Crockett's authorship of that account, which did not bear Clarke's name. The Narrative
was also a campaign biography of sorts, for Whig politicians were touting Crockett as an anti-Jackson candidate for the presidency
in 1836. On April 25, 1834, he began a three-week triumphal tour of the eastern states, and his "campaign swing" was recorded
in the first of two Whig books published the next year under his name, An Account of Colonel Crockett's Tour to the North
and Down East. The second, a negative Life of Martin Van Buren, was issued less than three months later.
Crockett apparently thought himself a serious
candidate, but he was likely only a convenient political tool to the Whigs, an independent frontiersman with a national reputation
perhaps the equal of Jackson's who opposed Jackson on key political issues. The point became academic, however, when Crockett
lost his 1835 congressional campaign to Adam Huntsman, a peg-legged lawyer supported by Jackson
and by Governor Carroll of Tennessee, by 252 votes.
|Davy Crockett Battle of the Alamo
|Davy Crockett Alamo Battle Hero
Disenchanted with the political process and
his former constituents, Crockett decided to do what he had threatened to do-to explore Texas and to move his family there
if the prospects were pleasing. On November 1, 1835, with William Patton, Abner Burgin, and Lindsey K. Tinkle, he set out
to the West, as he wrote on the eve of his departure, "to explore the Texes well before I return." At this point he had no
intention of joining the fight for Texas independence.
The foursome reached Memphis
the first evening and, in company with some friends congregated in the bar of the Union Hotel for a farewell drinking party,
Crockett offered his now famous remark: "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." They set off the next
day. Their route was down the Mississippi River to the Arkansas and then up that river to Little Rock; overland to Fulton,
Arkansas, and up the Red River along the northern boundary of Texas; across the Red River, through Clarksville, to Nacogdoches
and San Augustine; and on to San Antonio.
At San Augustine the party evidently divided.
Burgin and Tinkle went home; Crockett and Patton signed the oath of allegiance, but only after Crockett insisted upon the
insertion of the word "republican" in the document. They thus swore their allegiance to the "Provisional Government of Texas
or any future republican Government that may be hereafter declared." Crockett had balked at the possibility that he
would be obliged to support some future government that might prove despotic.
had changed his plans was indisputable. His last extant letter, written on January 9, 1836, was quite clear:
I must say as to what I have seen of Texas it is the garden spot of the world. The best land and the best
prospects for health I ever saw, and I do believe it is a fortune to any man to come here. There is a world of country here
to settle. . . . I have taken the oath of government and have enrolled my name as a volunteer and will set out for the Rio
Grand in a few days with the volunteers from the United States.
But all volunteers is entitled to vote for a member of the convention or to be voted for, and I have but little doubt of being
elected a member to form a constitution for this province. I am rejoiced at my fate. I had rather be in my present situation
than to be elected to a seat in Congress for life. I am in hopes of making a fortune yet for myself and family, bad as my
prospect has been.
Government service in Texas
would rejuvenate his political career and, as he stated elsewhere, provide the source of the affluence he had unsuccessfully
sought all his life. He intended to become land agent for the new territory.
In early February Crockett arrived at San
Antonio de Béxar; Antonio López de Santa Anna arrived on February 20. On the one hand Crockett was still fighting Jackson.
The Americans in Texas were split into two political factions
that divided roughly into those supporting a conservative Whig philosophy and those supporting the administration. Crockett
chose to join Col. William B. Travis, who had deliberately disregarded Sam Houston's orders to withdraw from the Alamo, rather
than support Houston, a Jackson sympathizer. What was more,
he saw the future of an independent Texas as his future,
and he loved a good fight.
Crockett died in the Battle of the Alamo on March 6, 1836. The manner of his death was uncertain, however, until
the publication in 1975 of the diary of Lt. José Enrique de la Peña. Susanna Dickinson, wife of Almaron Dickinson, an officer
at the Alamo, said Crockett died on the outside, one of the earliest to fall. Joe, Travis's
slave and the only male Texan to survive the battle, reported seeing Crockett lying dead with slain Mexicans around him and
stated that only one man, named Warner, surrendered to the Mexicans (Warner was taken to Santa Anna and promptly shot). When
Peña's eyewitness account was placed together with other corroborating documents, Crockett's central part in the defense became
clear. Travis had previously written that during the first bombardment Crockett was everywhere in the Alamo
"animating the men to do their duty." Other reports told of the deadly fire of his rifle that killed five Mexican gunners
in succession, as they each attempted to fire a cannon bearing on the fort, and that he may have just missed Santa Anna, who
thought himself out of range of all the defenders' rifles. Crockett and five or six others were captured when the Mexican
troops took the Alamo at about six o'clock that morning, even though Santa Anna had ordered that no prisoners be taken. The
general, infuriated when some of his officers brought the Americans before him to try to intercede for their lives, ordered
them executed immediately. They were bayoneted and then shot. Crockett's reputation and that of the other survivors was not,
as some have suggested, sullied by their capture. Their dignity and bravery was, in fact, further underscored by Peña's recounting
that "these unfortunates died without complaining and without humiliating themselves before their torturers."
Coincidentally, a work mostly of fiction
masquerading as fact had put the truth of Crockett's death before the American public in the summer of 1836. Despite its many
falsifications and plagiarisms, Richard Penn Smith's Col. Crockett's Exploits and Adventures in Texas...Written by Himself
had a reasonably accurate account of Crockett's capture and execution. Many thought the legendary Davy deserved better, and
they provided it, from thrilling tales of his clubbing Mexicans with his empty rifle and holding his section of the wall of
the Alamo until cut down by bullets and bayonets, to his survival as a slave in a Mexican salt mine.
In the final analysis, however, no matter how fascinating
or outrageous the fabrications were that gathered around him, the historical David Crockett proved a formidable hero in his
own right and succeeded Daniel Boone as the rough-hewn representative of frontier independence and virtue. In this regard,
the motto he adopted and made famous epitomized his spirit: "Be always sure you're right-then go a-head!"
BIBLIOGRAPHY: James Wakefield
Burke, David Crockett (Austin: Eakin Press, 1984). Richard Boyd Hauck, Crockett: A Bio-Bibliography (Westport,
Connecticut: Greenwood, 1982). Dan Kilgore, How Did Davy Die? (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1978).
Michael A. Lofaro, ed., Davy Crockett (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1985). James A. Shackford, David
Crockett: The Man and the Legend (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1956).
Handbook of Texas Online, Copyright © The Texas State Historical Association
Michael A. Lofaro
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