Davy Crockett is 'the most famous frontiersman in American history.' This incredibly brave, colorful, charismatic, larger-than-life folk hero was a man’s man. He was a skilled woodsman, expert trapper, legendary hunter, and unparalleled sharpshooter.
David Stern Crockett always hated the nickname 'Davy.' Those who knew him called him David. People loved his great sense of humor. He was not only a fabulous raconteur; he also starred in many a tall tale spun by others.
The 'Lion of the West' was a natural leader of men. He is remembered as a man of character who was widely admired. A patriot, a soldier, an adventurer, and a Christian; Davy Crockett was truly 'The King of the Wild Frontier.'
Davy Crockett Biography
Born in a log cabin in 1786, David Crockett was the fifth of nine children. His lineage was French and Scots-Irish. The name was originally Croquetagne from ancestors who fled France for Ireland under persecution as Protestant Huguenots. After immigrating to America, both grandparents were tortured and gruesomely murdered by Indians in East Tennessee.
The father of Davy Crockett fought in the American War of Independence before settling in Greene County, Tennessee. It was named for Major General Nathanael Greene, who rose from the rank of Private in the Continental Army to become George Washington’s most gifted officer.
In 1796, Ma and Pa Crockett (John and Rebecca) opened a tavern on the road that ran east from Knoxville to Virginia. At age 12, young Davy worked on a cattle drive up that same road. Daddy had taught him to shoot rifles four years earlier.
David ran away from home at 13 and went out into the big world on his own. He had little formal schooling and didn’t learn to read and write until he was18. But by that age the six-foot-tall young man was strong as a bull and had already killed 105 bears—including at least one with a knife. People did not romanticize man-eating beasts in those days.
In 1806, Crockett married Polly Finley, and they had three children together. She died in 1815, and Crockett later married Elizabeth Patton, a widow woman with two younguns. They moved to Gibson County in west Tennessee, right near where my daddy is from and where I still have distant relatives I have met.
David Crockett enlisted in the militia in 1813 and served as a Scout for Andrew Jackson, the future President of the United States. When the army ran out of food, Crockett fed the starving troops by trapping and hunting game. He would eventually rise to the rank of Colonel, which is just below General.
Crockett Goes to Congress
Davy Crockett served his community well as Justice of the Peace, so his neighbors twice't elected him to the Tennessee Legislature (1821-1825) and then sent him to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1827 and again in 1829. He famously said:
“I don’t know why I should be afraid to rise and address the House of Representatives, for I can whip any man in it.”
In 1831 though, Congressman Crockett vehemently opposed his old friend, now President Andrew Jackson, over the Indian Removal Act, and narrowly lost his bid for reelection to a candidate backed by Jackson. 1833 found him back in Congress but 1835 saw him lose again—this time by a mere 252 votes.
That marks the end of his days as a legislator, but by this time Davy Crockett had become one of the most famous men in America. His 1834 autobiography had proved very popular, and over the next 20 years scores of books were published about him, as well as plays performed on Broadway in New York City. He was also famed for speeches given before Congress. In one, he opposed a bill for congressional charity to widows:
“Congress has no power to appropriate money for charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right as individuals to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right to appropriate a dollar of the public money.”
To give you an idea of the fictional accounts written about Crockett, in one it has him speaking to the U.S. Congress:
“I have got the roughest racing horse, the prettiest sister, the surest rifle, and the ugliest dog in the district. I’m the savagest critter you ever did see. My father can whip any man in Kentucky, and I can lick my father. I can out-speak 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 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."
To Texas and the Alamo
Davy was disgruntled about being turned out of office and decided to move to Texas. It was a long journey to San Antone. Along the way people swarmed to get a look at the living legend, especially in Memphis and Little Rock. The people of Texas greeted Colonel Crockett like the celebrity he was. And he loved Texas, calling it ‘the garden spot of the world.’
The Americans living in Texas were divided. Some wanted Texas to become an American state but others want an independent Republic of Texas.
Sam Houston supported Andrew Jackson so Crockett split from him and chose to team up with William B. Travis. They died together at the Alamo, where Crockett played a central role in its defense.
The now 49-year-old Davy Crockett was in favor of a Republic of Texas. He and others were promised 4,600 acres of land each if they would fight for it. In San Antonio—population 2,500—Jim Bowie, who had brought 30 volunteers to defend the Alamo, which was garrisoned by 104 Texan troops, greeted Crockett and his 30 Tennesseans. The President of Mexico, General Santa Anna, was on the way to attack with 4,500 men.
Davy buoyed the spirits of the troops during the 13-day siege and battle by playing his beloved fiddle for them. He was the “leading spirit” of the men, who knew they were doomed. It is said that he was one of the last men standing; that he was captured with 15 dead Mexican Army regulars slain around him.
As he was standing before Santa Anna, unarmed and tied up, the Mexican General ordered him hacked to pieces. An eyewitness wrote: “He died without complaining; and without humiliating himself before his torturers.”
The body of David Crockett was never found. The 200 slain defenders of the Alamo were stacked like firewood and burned to ashes on the orders of Santa Anna—refused proper burial. This is a major part of the reason that the battle cry of Texans became “Remember the Alamo!”
Crockett once said: “Most men are remembered as they died, and not as they lived. We gaze with admiration upon the glories of the setting sun, yet scarcely bestow a passing glance upon its noonday splendor.”
Crockett Fiddles at the Alamo
A five-part mini-series about Davy Crockett, produced by Walt Disney Pictures, was a sensational success in 1955. It starred Fess Parker as Crockett with Buddy Ebsen—Jed Clampett—as his sidekick. It was filmed at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
$300 Million worth of Davy Crockett merchandise sold in just that one year; and sales of such items have by now surpassed $2 billion. It seemed half the boys in the country had a coonskin cap.
Even more surprising perhaps, “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” sold 10 million copies—the number one song of 1955.
A Davy Crockett character has appeared in over 21 films; including 8 with his name in the title. John Wayne played him and so did Johnny Cash.
His son, John Wesley Crockett, became a merchant, newspaper editor, lawyer, and congressman in Paris, Tennessee. He died at age 45. Every other year the ‘Direct Descendants of David Crockett and Kin’ hold a family reunion.