Perhaps no figure is more a part of Texas History and American folklore than Davy Crockett. In his life on the frontier and his death, he has been a hero to millions of Americans for generations.
David Crockett was born in the mountains of eastern Tennessee in 1786. He was the fifth of nine children in a farming family. By the age of twelve, he was part of cattle drives from Tennessee into Virginia. He had little formal education and taught himself to read, write, and add. He became known for his quick wit and storytelling.
By 1816, Crockett and his new family settled in Lawrence County, Tennessee, where Crockett farmed, hunted, and ran two mills and a distillery. He was soon elected as county commissioner and became a lieutenant colonel in the local militia unit. He was elected to the state legislature by 1821 and to Congress by 1827.
He had a bitter falling out with President Andrew Jackson over federal land sales and treatment of Native American tribes. As a result, Jackson used all of his political will to destroy Crockett’s political career.
He lost the 1834 election to Adam Huntsman, a Jackson ally. After the bitter defeat, Crockett left for Texas in 1835, seeking the promise of new lands and a fresh start.
As for Huntsman, Crockett’s eldest son, John Wesley Crockett, defeated him for re-election in 1836, avenging his father’s name once and for all.
Crockett’s time in Texas was short. Almost immediately upon his arrival, he was swept up in the excitement of the Texas Revolution as Mexico was pulled apart. He joined a volunteer unit heading to San Antonio to meet the approaching forces under Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.
Crockett reached the Alamo on February 8, 1836, and began shoring up the old mission’s defenses. By February 23, the Mexican army arrived and the siege began. The defenders held out for two weeks against a heavily armed force ten times their size. Santa Anna seized the mission on March 6, and 182 defenders perished.
What happened to Crockett at the fall of the Alamo has been a source of intense debate for many years. Some studies contended for years that he fought to the bitter end, never surrendering. Reports from Mexican troops contended that he was captured, and while Santa Anna’s troops, impressed with his bravery, pled for Crockett’s life, the bitter and vainglorious general ordered his execution anyway. Regardless, when Texas troops made their stand in that desperate siege, Crockett stood with them.
In the years after his death, Crockett became a larger-than-life legend, adored by countless Americans. Numerous landmarks were named in his honor. The town of Crockett was founded near Houston in 1837. Crockett County in western Tennessee, not far from Memphis, was named for him in 1871 (with the county seat in the community of Alamo). Crockett County in West Texas was named for him in 1891. Numerous schools have been named after him, including in Austin, Dallas, and Grand Prairie. This is in addition to the Crockett National Forest and Lake Davy Crockett, both in East Texas.
Many films, books, and television shows have told and re-told his tale often. Perhaps the most famous was the Walt Disney depiction on television that originally appeared in 1954 and 1955, starring Fess Parker as Crockett in a coonskin cap. American children were captivated by the wild frontiersman image of Crockett, reportedly buying millions of coonskin caps to imitate Parker’s portrayal of the “King of the Wild Frontier.” In modern America, the legend has become almost inseparable from the man.
Ken Bridges is a Texas native, writer and history professor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.