Davy Crockett

Davy Crockett (1786-1836) was one of the most famous frontiersmen in U.S. history. He became known as a hunter and Indian fighter and used his reputation to build a political career. Crockett succeeded Daniel Boone as the nation's best-known symbol of the American frontier. Many people felt the national spirit of the United States was reflected in Crockett's motto: "Be always sure you're right--then go ahead!" Crockett died fighting in the war for Texas independence. His life and death became a part of both history and legend.

Early life. David Crockett was born in Greene County, Tennessee, on Aug. 17, 1786. The Crockett family moved to Jefferson County, where Davy's father opened a tavern in 1796. Davy started school at about the age of 13. He often played hooky, and he ran away from home for about 21/2 years to avoid being punished for missing class. In 1806, Crockett married Mary (Polly) Finley, the daughter of a farmer. They had three children.

In 1813, Crockett became a U.S. Army scout. He fought in the Creek Indian War in what is now part of Alabama and Florida until 1815. His wife died that year. In 1816, Crockett married Elizabeth Patton, a widow with two children. They moved to western Tennessee in 1817.

Political career. In Tennessee, Crockett developed a successful political career. He held several local positions, including justice of the peace, town commissioner, and colonel of the county militia. Crockett served in the Tennessee legislature from 1821 to 1824. He won a seat in the United States House of Representatives from Tennessee in 1827 and was reelected in 1829 and 1833.

In Congress, Crockett opposed President Andrew Jackson and other Tennessee members of Congress on several issues, including land reform and a bill to relocate Indian tribes. Whig Party leaders promoted Crockett as a presidential candidate for the election of 1836. But Crockett lost his reelection bid for Congress in 1835, and his presidential ambitions ended.

The Alamo. In November 1835, Crockett set out for Texas. He felt he could renew his political career there and become wealthy as a land agent. At the time, Texas was fighting to gain its independence from Mexico. In early February 1836, Crockett joined 188 men who had established a fort at the Alamo, an old Roman Catholic mission in San Antonio. When Mexican troops attacked the fort, the men held them off for nearly two weeks. But on March 6, the Mexican forces overran the Alamo. Some historians believe that a few men, perhaps including Crockett, survived the battle but were then executed by the Mexicans. Other scholars believe that all the defenders died in the battle.

The legends. Crockett excelled at backwoods brag, a type of country exaggeration, and he told many tall tales about himself. In one tale, a raccoon gives up when Crockett spots him while hunting. Crockett also may have been exaggerating when he claimed to have killed 105 bears in seven months.

Crockett became known for political antics as well. For example, he once memorized an opponent's standard speech and spoke it word for word as his own at a debate. Not being able to repeat the same speech, his confused rival was forced to make an unprepared reply.

Stories written after his death helped create the fictional legends of Davy Crockett. One description claimed that he could "run faster, jump higher, squat lower, dive deeper, stay under longer, and come out drier than any man in the whole country." Through the years, Crockett has been the subject of songs, books, TV programs, and movies.

Children of David Crockett and Polly Finley Crockett:
John Wesley Crockett, b. 1808
William Finley Crockett, b. 1809
Margaret Finley (Polly) Crockett, b. 1812.

Children of David Crockett and Elizabeth Patton Crockett:
Rebecca Elvira Crockett, b. 1815
Robert Patton Crockett, b. 1816
Matilda Crockett, b. 1821

SOURCE: IBM World Book (1999 Ed.)

Contributor: Michael A. Lofaro, Ph.D., Prof. of American Literature and American Studies, Univ. of Tennessee.

See also ALAMO; PIONEER LIFE IN AMERICA (Places to visit).

Additional resources

Derr, Mark. The Frontiersman: The Real Life and Many Legends of Davy Crockett. Morrow, 1993.

Lofaro, Michael A., ed. Davy Crockett. Univ. of Tennessee Pr., 1985.

Lofaro, Michael A., and Cummings, Joe, eds. Crockett at Two Hundred. Univ. of Tennessee Pr., 1989.

Santrey, Laurence. Davy Crockett. Troll, 1983. Younger readers.

The Alamo

Alamo (pronounced AL uh moh) is a historic structure in the center of San Antonio. A famous battle was fought there from Feb. 23 to March 6, 1836, during the war for Texan independence. The Alamo is sometimes called the Thermopylae of America, after the famous battle in which the ancient Greeks held off a large Persian force. No Texans escaped from the Alamo after the night of March 5. The Alamo is now a restored historic site.

Early days. The Alamo was built as a Roman Catholic mission. Padre Antonio Olivares, a Spanish missionary, established it at San Antonio in 1718. The mission consisted of a monastery and church enclosed by high walls. The mission was originally called San Antonio de Valero. It was later called Alamo, the Spanish name for the cottonwood trees surrounding the mission. The Texans occasionally used the mission as a fort.

During the winter of 1835-1836, the people of Texas decided to sever their relations with Mexico because of dissatisfaction with the Mexican government. To prevent the success of this independence movement, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, in command of the Mexican Army, approached San Antonio with his troops. Lieutenant Colonel William Barret Travis and a force of about 150 Texans sought to defend the city. The company included the famous frontiersmen James Bowie and Davy Crockett. The quick arrival of the Mexicans took the Texans by surprise. They retreated to the Alamo to hold off the Mexican force of approximately 4,000 troops. Travis sent out a plea for help, supposedly declaring, "I shall never surrender or retreat." A relief party from Gonzales, Tex., passed through the Mexican lines and entered the Alamo, increasing the Alamo forces to 189 men. Colonel J. W. Fannin left Goliad, Tex., with most of his 400 men to relieve the Alamo, but he had equipment trouble on the way and returned to Goliad.

The siege of the Alamo lasted 13 days. By March 5, the garrison could not return Mexican fire because ammunition was low. This convinced Santa Anna that the fort could be assaulted. Early the next morning, the Mexicans succeeded in scaling the walls. At the end, the Texans fought using their rifles as clubs. Some historians believe that a few defenders, perhaps including Crockett, survived the battle only to be executed at Santa Anna's orders. Other historians accept the more familiar story that all the Texans who fought died in the battle. At 8 a.m., the Mexican general reported his victory to his government. Survivors of the battle included Susanna Dickinson, the wife of an officer; her baby; her Mexican nurse; and Colonel Travis' black slave Joe.

"Remember the Alamo" became a battle cry. The determined defense of the Alamo gave General Sam Houston time to gather the forces he needed to save the independence movement of Texas. He retreated eastward, pursued by Santa Anna. At San Jacinto, Texas, he turned on the Mexicans, surprised them during an afternoon siesta, and on April 21, in just 18 minutes, captured or killed most of the Mexican army of over 1,200 men. Houston's army captured Santa Anna the following day and forced him to sign a treaty granting Texas its independence.

SOURCE: IBM World Book (1999 Ed.)

Contributor: Joseph A. Stout, Jr., Ph.D., Prof. of History, Oklahoma State Univ.

Additional resources

Long, Jeff. Duel of Eagles: The Mexican and U.S. Fight for the Alamo. 1990. Reprint. Morrow, 1991.

Seguin, Juan N. A Revolution Remembered: The Memoirs and Selected Correspondence of Juan N. Seguin. Ed. by Jesus de la Teja. State Hse. Pr., 1991.

Philosophos Historia

See The History Professor, for timeline-oriented original documents and factual materials of historical figures and events that led to the founding of America, the evolution of the Constitution, and the political system of the USA.

Blue Quill Index

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