Colonel David Stern Crockett (August 17, 1786 March 6, 1836) was a celebrated 19th-century American folk hero, frontiersman, soldier and politician; referred to in popular culture as Davy Crockett and often by the popular title "King of the Wild Frontier." He represented Tennessee in the U.S. House of Representatives, served in the Texas Revolution, and died at the Battle of the Alamo. His nickname was the stuff of legend, but in life he shunned the title "Davy" and referred to himself exclusively as "David.
The Crocketts were the descendants of Huguenots who fled France in the 17th Century and migrated to Ireland. Crockett is an Anglicized version of the name "de Crocketagne".
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, Tennessee, by Indians in 1775. His father John was one of the Overmountain Men who fought in the American Revolutionary War at the Battle of Kings Mountain. The Crocketts moved to Morristown, Tennessee sometime during the 1790s and built a tavern. A museum now stands on this site and is a reconstruction of that tavern.
Around his 16th birthday Crockett returned home unannounced. During the years of his travels his father had opened a tavern and Crockett had stopped for a meal. He was unnoticed by his family but one of his younger sisters recognized him with delight. Much to Crockett's surprise, the entire family - including his father - were more than happy to see him and Crockett was welcomed back into the family.
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, Tennessee, courthouse. It is well documented that Crockett's bride-to-be changed her mind and married someone else.
On August 14, 1806, three days before his 20th birthday, Crockett married Mary (Polly) Finley (1788-1815) at the home of Polly's parents in Jefferson County, Tennessee. 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. After Polly's death David remarried in 1816 to a widow named Elizabeth Patton and they had three children: Robert, Rebecca and Matilda.
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." Diary (New York: Longmans, Green, 1929), p. 445.
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 1833, 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 1834, 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 Texas." Following his defeat, he did just that.
Crockett arrived at the Alamo on February 8. To the surprise of the men garrisoned in the Alamo, on February 23 the Mexican Army arrived, led by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. The Mexican army immediately initiated a siege. Santa Anna ordered his artillery to keep up a near-constant bombardment. Each day, the artillery was moved closer to the Alamo walls. On February 25, 200–300 Mexican soldiers crossed the San Antonio River and took cover in abandoned shacks approximately to from the Alamo walls. The Mexican soldiers were intending to use the huts as cover to erect another artillery battery, although many Texians assumed that they actually launching an assault on the fort. Several men volunteered to burn the huts. To provide cover, the Alamo cannons fired grapeshot towards the Mexican soldiers, and Crockett and his men fired rifles, while other Texians reloaded extra weapons for them. Within two hours the battle was over. The Mexican soldiers retreated. The Texian stores of powder and shot were limited. On February 26, Travis ordered the artillery to stop firing to conserve powder and shot. Crockett and his men were encouraged to keep shooting, as they rarely missed and thus didn't waste shot.
As the siege progressed, Alamo commander William Barret Travis sent many messages asking for reinforcements for the undermanned garrison. 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 Bahia at Goliad. 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 were planning to join the Alamo garrison.
That night, 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 escape. However, in 1876, Alamo survivor Susannah Dickinson said that Travis sent three men out shortly after dark on March 3, probably in response to the arrival of Mexican reinforcements. The three men, who Dickinson believed included Crockett, 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 soldiers.
The siege ended on March 6, when the Mexican army attacked the Alamo as the defenders were sleeping. As the fighting began, 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 army 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. After a volley of fire from Mexican soldiers and a wave of Mexican soldiers with bayonets, the few remaining Texians in this group fell back toward the church. The Battle of the Alamo lasted almost 90 minutes.
Once all of the defenders were dead, Santa Anna ordered that the Texian bodies be stacked and cremated. Cremating bodies was anathema at the time, as most people believed that a body could not be resurrected unless it were whole.
The ashes were left where they fell 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 burial location was thought to be under a peach tree grove, but the spot was not marked and cannot now be identified.
In 1955 Jesús Sanchez Garza self-published a book called La Rebellion de Texas—Manuscrito Inedito 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 series about Crockett's life. 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 University, 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 breeching 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 breeched 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 breeching the walls, and took him to be Travis.
''Be always sure you are right, then go ahead
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.
By the late 19th century, Crockett was largely forgotten. His legend was reborn in the 1950s by Walt Disney. 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, Disneyland, 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 writes also questioned the series' historical accuracy. Nevertheless, the shows proved very popular. They were combined into a feature-length move 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 of Davy Crockett merchandise ($2 billion in 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.
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."