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David Crockett (August 17, 1786 – March 6, 1836) was a celebrated 19th-century Americanmarker folk hero, frontiersman, soldier and politician; referred to in popular culture as Davy Crockett and often by the epithetKing of the Wild Frontier.” He represented Tennesseemarker in the U.S. House of Representatives, served in the Texas Revolution, and died at the Battle of the Alamomarker.

Crockett grew up in the hills and river valleys of East Tennessee, where he gained a reputation for hunting and storytelling. After rising to the rank of colonel in the Lawrence County, Tennesseemarker militia, Crockett was elected to the Tennessee state legislature in 1821. In 1827, Crockett was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time. As a congressman, Crockett vehemently opposed many of the policies of President Andrew Jackson, most notably the Indian Removal Act. Crockett's opposition to Jackson's policies led to his defeat in the 1835 elections, prompting his angry departure to Texasmarker shortly thereafter. In early 1836, Crockett joined the Texas Revolution and died at the Battle of the Alamomarker in March of the same year.

During his lifetime, Crockett became famous for larger-than-life exploits popularized by stage plays and almanacs. After his death he continued to be credited with brazen acts of mythical proportion, which continued into the 20th century with television and movie portrayals, and he grew to become one of the most well-known folk heroes in American history.

Ancestry and birth

Crockett was born on August 17, 1786 near the Nolichucky Rivermarker in what is now Greene County, Tennesseemarker. A re-creation of his birthplace cabin stands in Davy Crockett Birthplace State Parkmarker along the Nolichucky near Limestone, Tennesseemarker. His father's ancestors were of Scots-Irish and Anglo-Irish descent, while his mother's ancestors appear to have been exclusively English. Tradition has it that David Crockett's father was born on this family's migrational voyage to America from Ireland, but, in fact, it is his great-grandfather, William David Crockett, who was registered as being born in New Rochellemarker in 1709.
Commemorative stone...
The Crocketts were the descendants of Monsieur de la Croquetagne, captain in the Royal Guard of the king of France, Louis XIV. As a Huguenot, he or his descendants eventually fled France in the 17th century and migrated to Ireland.

David Crockett was the fifth of nine children of John and Rebecca Hawkins Crockett. He was named after his paternal grandfather, who was killed at his home in present-day Rogersville, Tennesseemarker, by Native Americans in 1775. His father, John, was one of the Overmountain Men who fought in the American Revolutionary War at the Battle of Kings Mountainmarker. The Crocketts moved to Morristown, Tennesseemarker, sometime during the 1790s and built a tavern. A museum now stands on this site and is a reconstruction of that tavern.

Childhood

...and replica cabin at Crockett birthsite
According to Crockett's autobiography, his early years were filled with adventure, hardship, and travelling. In 1794, he told his father he wanted to hunt with a rifle. John Crockett said he could not afford to waste rifle balls on "a boy's missed shots". David promised to make every shot count, and began to hunt with his older brothers. Shortly after being sent to school, he dropped out to run away from home and avoid an unfair beating at the hands of his father. According to Crockett, he apparently had "whupped the tar" out of a school bully who had embarrassed him on his first day in class and, to avoid a whipping at the hands of the school teacher, began skipping school. After several weeks, the teacher wrote to Crockett's father asking why his son was not attending class. When questioned, Crockett explained the situation to his father, who apparently was angered that family trade goods exchanged for his son's education had gone to waste and refused to listen to his son's side of the story. Crockett ran away from home to avoid the expected beating and spent three years roaming from town to town. During this period, Crockett reports that he visited most of the towns and villages throughout Tennessee and learned the majority of his skills as a backwoodsman, hunter and trapper.

Around his 15th birthday, Crockett returned home unannounced. During the years away, his father had opened a tavern and Crockett had stopped for a meal. He was unnoticed by most of his family, but his older sister, Betsy, recognized him and cried, "Here is my lost brother! Look! He is home!" Much to Crockett's surprise, the entire family (including his father) were more than happy to see him and he was welcomed back into the family. His father owed money, so he hired Crockett out to John Kennedy, a farmer. During this time, he fell in love with Kennedy's niece, who was already married.

Contract of marriage for October 21, 1805
Shortly afterwards, Crockett became engaged to Margaret Elder and, although the marriage never took place, the contract of marriage (dated October 21, 1805) has been preserved by the Dandridge, Tennesseemarker courthouse. It is well documented that Crockett's bride-to-be changed her mind and married someone else. Heartbroken at age 19, Crockett decided he was "only born for hardships, misery, and disappointment."

On August 16, 1806, one day before his 20th birthday, Crockett married Mary (Polly) Finley in Jefferson County, Tennesseemarker. They had two boys: John Wesley Crockett was born July 10, 1807, followed by William Finley Crockett (born 1809). They also had a daughter, Margaret Finley (Polly) Crockett in 1812. After Polly's death, Crockett married a widow named Elizabeth Patton in 1815; they had three children: Robert, Rebecca and Matilda.

Tennessee Militia

On September 24, 1813, Crockett joined the Second Regiment of Tennessee Volunteer Mounted Riflemen for an initial term of sixty days and served under Colonel John Coffee in the Creek War, marching south into present day Alabamamarker and taking an active part in the fighting. He was eventually discharged from service on March 27, 1814. Crockett was elected Lieutenant Colonel of the Fifty-seventh Regiment of Tennessee Militia on March 27, 1818.

Political career

On September 17, 1821, Crockett was elected to the Committee of Propositions and Grievances. He lost his first run for Congress in 1824, but ran again in the next election. In 1827 he was elected to the United States House of Representatives. As a Congressman, Crockett supported the rights of squatters, who were barred from buying land in the West without already owning property. He also opposed President Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act, and his opposition to Jackson caused his defeat when he ran for re-election in 1831; however, he won when he ran again in 1833. As he explained, "I bark at no man's bid. I will never come and go, and fetch and carry, at the whistle of the great man in the White House no matter who he is."

Under date of November 26, 1833, John Quincy Adams records in his diary an encounter with Crockett, whom he quotes as saying that he (Crockett) "had taken for lodgings two rooms on the first floor of a boarding-house, where he expected to pass the winter and to have for a fellow-lodger Major Jack Downing, the only person in whom he had any confidence for information of what the Government was doing."

In an 1884 book written by dime novelist and non-fiction author Edward S. Ellis, Crockett is recorded as giving a speech (the "Not Yours to Give" speech) critical of his Congressional colleagues who were willing to spend taxpayer dollars to help a widow of a US Navy man who had lived beyond his naval service, but would not contribute their own salary for a week to the cause. Ellis describes how the once popular proposal died in the Congress largely as a result of the speech. The authenticity of this speech is questioned; however, since the Register of Debates and the Congressional Globe do not contain transcripts of speeches made on the house floor, there is no way to know whether the speech is authentic. Crockett is on record opposing a similar bill and offering personal support to the family of a General Brown in April 1828.

In 1834, his autobiography titled A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett. Written by Himself was published. Crockett went east to promote the book and was narrowly defeated for re-election. In 1835, he suffered yet another defeat. He said, "I told the people of my district that I would serve them as faithfully as I had done; but if not ... you may all go to hell, and I will go to Texasmarker." Following his defeat, he did just that.

Texas Revolution

By December, 1834, Crockett was writing to friends about moving to Texas if Van Buren were elected President. The next year he discussed with his friend Benjamin McCulloch raising a company of volunteers to take to Texas in the expectation that a revolution was eminent. After the election results became known in August, his departure to Texas was delayed by a court appearance in the last week of October as co-executor of his deceased father-in-law’s estate, and he finally left his home near Rutherford in West Tennessee on Nov. 1, 1835, with three other men to explore Texas. <="">ref> His youngest child, Matilda, later wrote that she distinctly remembered the last time she saw her father: “He was dressed in his hunting suit, wearing a coonskin cap, and carried a fine rifle presented to him by friends in Philadelphia . . . He seemed very confident the morning he went away that he would soon have us all to join him in Texas.”

From his home he traveled to Jackson, arriving there with 30 well-armed men, where he gave a speech from the steps of the Madison County courthouse, and then rode southwest to Bolivar, where he spent the night at residence of Dr. Calvin Jones, once again drawing crowds who sent him off the next morning. He arrived in Memphis in the second week of November with a much-diminished company, and ferried over the Mississippi River the next day and continued his journey on horseback through Arkansas.

On Nov. 12, 1835, Crockett and his entourage arrived in Little Rock, Arkansasmarker. The local newspapers reported that hundreds of people swarmed into town to get a look at Crockett, and a group of leading citizens put on a dinner in his honor that night at the Jeffries Hotel. Crockett spoke “mainly to the subject of Texan independence,” as well as Washington politics.

He arrived in Nacogdoches, Texasmarker, in early January 1836. On January 14, 1836, Crockett and 65 other men signed an oath before Judge John Forbes to the Provisional Government of Texas for six months: "I have taken the oath of government and have enrolled my name as a volunteer and will set out for the Rio Grandemarker in a few days with the volunteers from the United States." Each man was promised about 4,600 acres (19 km²) of land as payment. He also sold two rifles to Colonel O'Neal for $60. (After his death there was a claim for his heirs for $57.50. In 1854 his widow received a payment certificate for $24.00 from Texas.) On February 6, Crockett and about five other men rode into San Antonio de Bexarmarker and camped just outside the town. They were later greeted by James Bowie and Antonio Menchaca, and taken to the home of Don Erasmo Seguin.

Crockett arrived at the Alamomarker on February 8. To the surprise of the men garrisoned in the Alamo, on February 23, a Mexican army, led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, arrived. The Mexican soldiers immediately initiated a siege. Santa Anna ordered his artillery to keep up a near-constant bombardment. The guns were moved closer to the Alamo each day, increasing their effectiveness. On February 25, 200–300 Mexican soldiers crossed the San Antonio River and took cover in abandoned shacks approximately to from the Alamo walls.et al. (1998), pp. 42–3. The soldiers intended to use the huts as cover to establish another artillery position, although many Texians assumed that they actually were launching an assault on the fort. Several men volunteered to burn the huts. To provide cover, the Alamo cannons fired grapeshot at the Mexican soldiers, and Crockett and his men fired rifles, while other defenders reloaded extra weapons for them to use in maintaining a steady fire. Within two hours, the battle was over, and the Mexican soldiers retreated. Inside the Alamo, the stores of powder and shot were limited. On February 26, Travis ordered the artillery to stop returning fire so as to conserve precious ammunition. Crockett and his men were encouraged to keep shooting, as they were unusually effective.

As the siege progressed, Alamo commander William Barret Travis sent many messages asking for reinforcements. Several messengers were sent to James Fannin, who commanded the only other official group of Texian soldiers. Fannin and several hundred Texians occupied Presidio La Bahiamarker at Goliadmarker. Although Fannin ultimately decided it was too risky to attempt to reinforce the Alamo, historian Thomas Ricks Lindley concludes that up to 50 of Fannin's men left his command to go to Bexar. These men would have reached Cibolo Creek, from the Alamo, on the afternoon of March 3. There they joined another group of men who also planned to join the garrison.

That same night, outside the Alamo, there was a skirmish between Mexican and Texian troops. Several historians, including Walter Lord, speculated that the Texians were creating a diversion to allow their last courier, John Smith, to evade Mexican pickets. However, in 1876, Alamo survivor Susannah Dickinson said that Travis sent three men out shortly after dark on March 3, probably a response to the arrival of Mexican reinforcements. The three men, who included Crockett, Dickinson believed, were sent to find Fannin. Lindley stated that just before midnight, Crockett and one of the other men found the force of Texians waiting along Cibolo Creek, who had advanced to within of the Alamo. Just before daylight on March 4, part of the Texian force managed to break through the Mexican lines and enter the Alamo. A second group was driven across the prairie by Mexican cavalry.

The Fall of the Alamo by Robert Jenkins Onderdonk depicts Davy Crockett in a charge at the Mexican troops who have breached the walls of the mission.
The siege ended on March 6, when the Mexican army attacked while the defenders were sleeping. The daily bombardment by artillery had been suspended, perhaps a ploy to encourage the natural human reaction to a cessation of constant strain. But, the garrison awakened, the final fight began. Meanwhile, most of the noncombatants gathered in the church sacristy for safety. According to Susana Dickinson, before running to his post, Crockett paused briefly in the chapel to pray. When the Mexican soldiers breached the outer walls of the Alamo complex, most of the Texians fell back to the barracks and the chapel, as previously planned. Crockett and his men were too far from the barracks to be able to take shelter. and were the last remaining group within the mission to be in the open. The men defended the low wall in front of the church, using their rifles as clubs and relying on knives, as action became too furious to allow reloading their weapons. After a volley of fire and a charge with bayonets, Mexican soldiers pushed the few remaining Texians back toward the church. The Battle of the Alamomarker lasted almost 90 minutes.

Once all of the defenders were dead, Santa Anna ordered his men to take the bodies of the Texans to a nearby stand of trees where they were stacked together and wood piled on top of them. That evening, a fire was lit, and the bodies of the defenders were burned to ashes.

The ashes were left undisturbed until February 1837, when Juan Seguin and many members of his cavalry returned to Bexar to examine the remains. A local carpenter created a simple coffin, and ashes from the funeral pyres were placed inside. The names Travis, Crockett, and Bowie were inscribed on the lid. The box is thought to have been buried in a peach tree grove, but the spot was not marked and cannot now be identified.

Death and controversy

All that is certain about the fate of David Crockett is that he died at the Alamo on March 6. According to many accounts of the battle, between five and seven Texians surrendered during the battle, possibly to General Castrillon. Incensed that his orders had been ignored, Santa Anna demanded the immediate execution of the survivors. Although Castrillon and several other officers refused to do so, staff officers who had not participated in the fighting drew their swords and killed the unarmed Texians. Weeks after the battle, stories began to circulate that Crockett was among those who surrendered and were executed. However, Ben, a former American slave who acted as cook for one of Santa Anna's officers, maintained that Crockett's body was found in the barracks surrounded by "no less than sixteen Mexican corpses", with Crockett's knife buried in one of them. Historians disagree on which story is accurate. According to Petite, "every account of the Crockett surrender-execution story comes from an avowed antagonist (either on political or military grounds) of Santa Anna's. It is believed that many stories, such as the surrender and execution of Crockett, were created and spread in order to discredit Santa Anna and add to his role as villain."

In 1955 Jesús Sánchez Garza self-published a book called La Rebelión de Texas—Manuscrito Inédito de 1836 por un Ofical de Santa Anna purporting to be memoirs of José Enrique de la Peña, a Mexican officer present at the Battle of the Alamo. In 1975 the Texas A&M University Press published an English translation of the book, called With Santa Anna in Texas: A Personal Narrative of the Revolution. The English publication caused a scandal within the United States as it asserted that Crockett did not die in battle. Historians disagree on whether any or all of the book has been faked. Because the original book was self-published, no editor or publisher ever vetted its authenticity. Garza never explained how he gained custody of the documents or where they were stored after de la Peña's death.

Some historians, including Bill Groneman, found it suspicious that Garza's compilation was published in 1955, at the height of interest in Crockett and the Alamo caused by Walt Disney's television miniseries about Crockett's life, Davy Crockett. Groneman also points out that the journals are made up of several different types of paper from several different paper manufacturers, all cut down to fit. Historian Joseph Musso also questions the validity, also basing his suspicions on the timing of the diaries' release. However, James Crisp, a history professor from North Carolina State Universitymarker, has studied the papers and is convinced they are genuine.

In De la Peña's narrative, he adds a footnote which may align both versions. He states that "All of the enemy perished, there remaining alive only an elderly lady and a Negro slave, whom the soldiers spared out of mercy and because we had established that only force had kept them in danger." (Perry 1975) This implies that the summary execution of the survivors may have occurred prior to the releasing of Dickinson and Joe, so that they observed Crockett as dead, lending credence to their testimony. De la Peña describes the disposal of the dead and wounded as an ongoing process that took some time.

However, critics now tend to discount this on three key points. First, no other accounts of Crockett surviving the Alamo have surfaced besides De la Peña's diary. No documentation in the archives of the Mexican government, nor any of the personal records of others present at the Battle of the Alamo, give any hint of survivors amongst the defenders, much less any claiming Crockett as a survivor. Secondly, there is some speculation that De la Peña's account may have been a deliberate fabrication, with the intention of presenting Santa Anna in a far more diabolical light than American (and especially Texan) historians have given him since the fall of the Alamo. Finally, it is highly dubious that the Mexican soldiers, ripped and torn as they were in breaching the walls of the Alamo, filled with the blood-lust that battle generates, furious at seeing their friends killed or wounded beside them, and with explicit orders to give "no quarter" would have had the slightest intention to spare the lives of any obvious Texan combatants.

The written account by De la Peña, even if a legitimate writing, has also been questioned in that many doubt his abilities to identify any of the Alamo defenders by name. It is a popular belief by many historians that De la Peña may have witnessed or been told about executions of some Alamo survivors, but in fact neither he nor his comrades would have known who these men were. Part of the reason that de la Peña's memoirs are questioned comes from his detailed account of Col. William Travis' death in "With Santa Anna in Texas". In that account, he describes with detail how Travis was heroic in his final moments, turning straight into the Mexican soldiers and facing his death with honor. The problem with this, is how de la Peña would have been able to distinguish Travis from any of the other defenders of the Alamo. The freed former slave to Travis, Joe, claimed Travis died early on in the battle, on the north wall. In addition to this, the Mexican Army had not breached the walls of the Alamo when Travis was killed, therefore they would have been seeing him from an area below the walls, while being fired down upon by the defenders. To add to this, Travis was killed before daybreak, meaning it was still dark. Therefore, it is believed that De la Peña either created the scenario of Travis' death, or he saw another of the defenders after breaching the walls, and took him to be Travis.

Legacy

One tale tells how Crockett greeted a crowd on his way to Congress. He bragged, "I'm that same David Crockett, fresh from the backwoods, half-horse, half-alligator, a little touched with the snapping turtle; can wade the Mississippi, leap the Ohio, ride upon a streak of lightning, and slip without a scratch down a honey locust [tree]."

Davy Crockett’s Almanac, of Wild Sports in the West, Life in the Backwoods, & Sketches of Texas, a jest book, printed the text of a speech Crockett supposedly made to Congress. While there is no evidence whatever that the speech is authentic, it suggests the image of Crockett promoted by the "Crockett Alamanacs," published annually for years after his death

"Mr. Speaker.

"Who-Who-Whoop — Bow-Wow-Wow-Yough. I say, Mr. Speaker; I ve had a speech in soak this six months, and it has swelled me like a drowned horse; if I don’t deliver it I shall burst and smash the windows. The gentleman from Massachusetts [Mr. Everett] talks of summing up the merits of the question, but I’ll sum up my own. In one word I’m a screamer, and have got the roughest racking horse, the prettiest sister, the surest rifle and the ugliest dog in the district. I’m a leetle the savagest crittur you ever did see. My father can whip any man in Kentucky, and I can lick my father. I can outspeak any man on this floor, and give him two hours start. I can run faster, dive deeper, stay longer under, and come out drier, than any chap this side the big Swamp. I can outlook a panther and outstare a flash of lightning, tote a steamboat on my back and play at rough and tumble with a lion, and an occasional kick from a zebra.

"To sum up all in one word I’m a horse. Goliah was a pretty hard colt but I could choke him. I can take the rag off-frighten the old folks-astonish the natives-and beat the Dutch all to smash-make nothing of sleeping under a blanket of snow and don’t mind being frozen more than a rotten apple.

"Congress allows lemonade to the members and has it charged under the head of stationery-I move also that whiskey be allowed under the item of fuel. For bitters I can suck away at a noggin of aquafortis, sweetened with brimstone, stirred with a lightning rod, and skimmed with a hurricane. I’ve soaked my head and shoulders in Salt River, so much that I’m always corned. I can walk like an ox, run like a fox, swim like an eel, yell like an Indian, fight like a devil, spout like an earthquake, make love like a mad bull, and swallow a Mexican whole without choking if you butter his head and pin his ears back."

One of Crockett's sayings, which were published in almanacs between 1835 and 1856 (along with those of Daniel Boone and Kit Carson), was:

In 1838, Robert Patton Crockett went to Texas to administer his father's land claim. In 1854, Elizabeth Crockett finally came to Texas to live, dying in 1860. Crockett's son John Wesley Crockett was a U.S. Congressman from Tennessee, serving two terms between 1837 and 1841.

A section of U.S. Route 64 between Winchester, Tennesseemarker and Lawrenceburg, Tennesseemarker is signed as David Crockett Memorial Highway.

By the late 19th century, Crockett was largely forgotten. His legend was reborn in a 1950s TV show by Walt Disney, which also introduced his legendary coonskin cap. In 1948, Disney told columnist Hedda Hopper that it was "time to get acquainted, or renew acquaintance with, the robust, cheerful, energetic and representative folk heroes". As part of a deal that allowed him to build a theme park, Disneylandmarker, Disney would produce weekly one-hour television programs for ABC. Disney wished to highlight historical figures and his company developed three episodes on Crockett—Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter, Davy Crockett Goes to Congress, and Davy Crockett at the Alamo— starring Fess Parker as Crockett. According to historians Randy Roberts and James Olson, "by the end of the three shows, Fess Parker would be very well known, the power of television would be fully recognized, and Davy Crockett would be the most famous frontiersman in American history." The shows sparked heated debate, with many questioning whether Crockett was really deserving of the amount of attention he was now receiving. Letter writers also questioned the series' historical accuracy. Nevertheless, the shows proved very popular. They were combined into a feature-length movie in the summer of 1955, and Parker and his co-star Buddy Ebsen toured the United States, Europe, and Japan. By the end of 1955, Americans had purchased over $300 million worth of Davy Crockett merchandise ($2 billion by 2001). The television series also introduced a new song, "The Ballad of Davy Crockett". Four different versions of the song hit the Billboard Best Sellers pop chart in 1955. The versions by Bill Hayes, TV series star Fess Parker, and Tennessee Ernie Ford charted in the Top 10 simultaneously, with Hayes' version hitting #1.

The shows were repeated on NBC in the 1960s after Disney had moved his program to that network. The 1960 repeats marked the first time that the programs had actually been shown in color on TV. Davy Crockett made a return with Disney in two further adventures: Davy Crockett's Keelboat Race and Davy Crockett and the River Pirates. In these two episodes Crockett faced off against Mike Fink, another early American legend. A three-episode 1988-89 revival was made entitled The New Adventures of Davy Crockett, in which Tim Dunigan took over Fess Parker's famous role. Johnny Cash played an older Davy in a few scenes set before he went to Texas.

The fad eventually waned, but Crockett was often a prominent role in movies about the Alamo. In the 1960 film The Alamo, John Wayne portrayed Crockett. More recently was the John Lee Hancock version of The Alamo (2004). This Crockett, played by Billy Bob Thornton, is portrayed as a man trying to downplay his legend, but in the end unable to escape it. This is epitomized in a scene where Crockett, speaking to Bowie says, "If it was just me, simple old David from Tennessee, I might drop over that wall some night, take my chances. But that Davy Crockett feller...they're all watchin' him."

A seventh-season episode of the Discovery Channel series MythBusters explored a story of Crockett's backwoods exploits: that he could stick an axe into a tree trunk, fire his musket from 40 yards away, and hit the edge so precisely that the bullet would split in two. After some practice, the team was able to duplicate the feat from 20 yards and declared the myth "Confirmed," reasoning that Crockett could have consistently made the 40-yard shot with enough experience.

Crockett in films

In films, Crockett has been played by:



See also



Footnotes

References

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  • . Reprint. Originally published: New York: McGraw-Hill, 1958


Further reading

  • Crockett, David, A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee; University of Nebraska Press; ISBN 0-8032-6325-2
  • Derr, Mark The Frontiersman. Davy Crockett William Morrow and Co. ISBN 0-688-09656-5
  • Davis, William C., Lone Star Rising-The Revolutionary Birth of the Texas Republic; Free Press; ISBN 0-684-86510-6
  • Davis, William C., Three Roads to the Alamo; Harper Collins; ISBN 0-06-017334-3
  • Levy, Buddy, The Real Life Adventures of David Crockett; Putnam Press; ISBN 0-399-15278-4
  • ; written by John S. C. Abbott


External links






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