The Life and Legend of David "Davy" Crockett

Frontiersman, Politician and Defender of the Alamo

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David Crockett.

David "Davy" Crockett, known as the "King of the Wild Frontier, was an American frontiersman and politician. He was famous as a hunter and outdoorsman. Later, he served in the U.S. Congress before heading west to Texas to fight as a defender at the 1836 Battle of the Alamo, where it is believed he was slain with his comrades by the Mexican army.

Crockett remains a well-known figure, particularly in Texas.

Crockett was a larger-than-life, American folk hero figure even in his own lifetime, and it can be hard to separate facts from legends when discussing his life.

Crockett’s Early Life

Crockett was born on August 17, 1786, in Tennessee, then a frontier territory. He ran away from home at the age of 13 and made a living doing odd jobs for settlers and wagon drivers. He returned home at the age of 15.

He was an honest and hardworking young man. Of his own free will, he decided to work for six months to pay off one of his father’s debts. In his twenties, he enlisted in the Army in time to fight in Alabama in the Creek War. He distinguished himself as a scout and hunter, providing food for his regiment.

Crockett Enters Politics

After his service in the War of 1812, Crockett had a variety of low-level political jobs such as Assemblyman in the Tennessee legislature and town commissioner. He soon developed a knack for public service.

Although he was poorly educated, he possessed a razor-sharp wit and a gift for public speaking. His rough, homespun manner endeared him to many. His bond with the common people of the West was genuine and they respected him. In 1827, he won a seat in Congress representing Tennessee and running as a supporter of the immensely popular Andrew Jackson.

Crockett and Jackson Fall Out

Crockett was at first a die-hard supporter of fellow westerner Andrew Jackson, but political intrigues with other Jackson supporters, among them James Polk, eventually derailed their friendship and association. Crockett lost his seat in Congress in 1831 when Jackson endorsed his opponent. In 1833, he won his seat back, this time running as an anti-Jacksonian. Crockett's fame continued to grow. His folksy speeches were very popular and he released an autobiography about young love, bear hunting and honest politics. A play called The Lion of the West, with a character clearly based on Crockett was popular at the time and was a big hit.

Exit from Congress

Crockett had the charm and charisma to make a potential presidential candidate, and the Whig party, which was Jackson’s opposition, had their eye on him. In 1835, however, he lost his seat in Congress to Adam Huntsman, who ran as a supporter of Jackson. Crockett knew he was down but not out, but he still wanted to get out of Washington for a while. In late 1835, Crockett made his way to Texas.

The Road to San Antonio

The Texas Revolution had just broken out with the first shots fired at the Battle of Gonzales, and Crockett discovered that the people had a great passion and sympathy for Texas.

Flocks of men and families were making their way to Texas to fight with the possibility of getting land if the revolution was successful. Many believed Crockett was going there to fight for Texas. He was too good a politician to deny it. If he fought in Texas, his political career would benefit. He heard that the action was centered around San Antonio, so he headed there.

Crockett at the Alamo

Crockett arrived in Texas in early 1836 with a group of volunteers mostly from Tennessee who had made him their de facto leader. The Tennesseans with their long rifles were most welcome reinforcements at the poorly-defended fort. Morale at the Alamo surged, as the men were delighted to have such a famous man among them. Ever the skilled politician, Crockett even helped defuse tension between Jim Bowie, leader of the volunteers, and William Travis, commander of the enlisted men and ranking officer at the Alamo.

Did Crockett Die at the Alamo?

Crockett was at the Alamo on the morning of March 6, 1836, when the Mexican president and General Santa Anna ordered the Mexican army to attack. The Mexicans had overwhelming numbers and in 90 minutes they had overrun the Alamo, killing all inside. There is some controversy over Crockett's death. It is certain that a handful of rebels were taken alive and later executed by order of Santa Anna. Some historical sources suggest Crockett was one of them. Other sources say he fell in battle. Whatever the case, Crockett and about 200 men inside the Alamo fought bravely until the end.

The Legacy of Davy Crockett:

Davy Crockett was an important politician and an extremely skilled hunter and outdoorsman, but his lasting glory came with his death at the Battle of the Alamo. His martyrdom for the cause of Texas' independence gave the rebel movement momentum when it needed it the most. The story of his heroic death, fighting for freedom against insurmountable odds, made its way east and inspired Texans as well as men from the United States to come and continue the fight. The fact that such a famous man gave his life for Texas was great publicity for the Texans' cause.

Crockett is a great Texan hero. The town of Crockett, Texas, is named after him, as is Crockett County in Tennessee and Fort Crockett on Galveston Island. There are many schools, parks and landmarks named for him as well. The character of Crockett has appeared in countless films and TV shows. He was famously played by John Wayne in the 1960 movie, "The Alamo" and again in the 2004 retread of "The Alamo" portrayed by Billy Bob Thornton.

Source:

Brands, H.W. Lone Star Nation: the Epic Story of the Battle for Texas Independence. New York: Anchor Books, 2004.