There is probably not a person in America who was a child in the mid-1950s who can’t still sing the theme song to the TV show Davy Crockett. “Born on a mountaintop in Tennessee, greenest state in the land of the free. Raised in the woods so he knew every tree. Killed him a bear, when he was only 3.” Sales of coonskin caps like the character of Davy Crockett wore were huge. But who was this he?
Davy Crockett was a real person, who led a very interesting life. He was descended from French Huguenots, one of whom served in King Louis XIV’s Household Troops. His father, John fought at the Battle of Kings Mountain during the American Revolutionary War.
Davy Crockett himself served in the military as well and was also elected to Congress before famously dying at the Battle of the Alamo.
He was born on 17 August 1786 in Greene County, Tennessee, the middle child of 9. It’s easy to say he was meant to be a frontiersman, having been taught by his father to shoot his rifle at the tender age of eight. He loved to go hunting, but his father insisted he go to school when he became a teenager although school lasted less than a month as he ran away following an altercation with the school bully.
Davy Crockett did return a few years later at age 15 to help pay off debts his father owed, first to Abraham Wilson and then John Canady. His father had told him he was free to leave but he decided to stay in John Canady’s employ for a further four years during which time he fell in love with John Canady’s niece Amy Summer, who unfortunately for Davy was engaged to be married to Canady’s son, John.
Just before he turned 20, Davy Crockett married his first wife, Mary Finley, known as Polly, and they moved to a small farm. They had three children but sadly Mary died in 1815. Crockett then married a widow called Elizabeth Patton who already had two children, with the couple going on to have two more children of their own.
Davy Crockett’s military career began during the War of 1812 when he enlisted as a scout with a company of mounted riflemen. Serving under Colonel John Coffee, he preferred to hunt wild game rather than kill Creek warriors, staying with the company until December 1813.
Crockett reenlisted and was given the rank of third-sergeant in the Tennessee Mounted Gunmen with the aim of helping Andrew Jackson drive the British out of Spanish Florida although he saw little action. He served out his term, returning home in December 1814.
During 1817 Davy Crockett entered public office for the first time when he became a commissioner of Lawrence County following which he became a justice of the peace. As he was also now running several businesses he found that he no longer had the time required to dedicate to public office and so resigned as Justice of the Peach in 1819. In 1821 he stepped down as commissioner and successfully ran for a seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives. Only a few weeks later, the Tennessee River flooded and destroyed his business.
Davy Crockett first ran for the US Congress in 1825, a bid that was unsuccessful but in 1827 he did win and was also re-elected for the 1829-31 session. During this session, Crockett introduced a resolution to abolish the United States Military Academy at West Point and also opposed President Jackson’s 1830 Indian Removal Act. However, his opposition was not popular with his own district and so he lost the election of 1831. Crockett returned to congress when he was elected in 1833, serving a further two years. During his final year in Congress, Davy Crockett published his autobiography entitled A Narrative of the Life of Davy Crockett. In 1836 various newspapers published a now-famous quote from the book:
“I told the people of my district that if they saw fit to re-elect me, I would serve them as faithfully as I had done; but if not, they might go to hell, and I would go to Texas.”
Davy Crockett’s desire to help the underdog led him to leave politics behind and head to Texas in a bid to help the territory gain its independence from Mexico. He left West Tennessee on 1 November 1835, arriving in Texas in January 1836.
Having signed an oath to the Provisional Government of Texas for a period of six months in return for a promise of 4600 acres of land as payment, he and five other men headed for San Antonio, arriving at the Alamo Mission on 8 February.
Two weeks later a Mexican army arrived at the Alamo, surprising the men garrisoned there. The Mexican’s immediately began the incessant bombardment of the garrison, with the guns gradually being moved closer and closer in an effort to increase their effectiveness. Several messages were sent from the garrison requesting reinforcements and some men did make their way to the Alamo getting to within 20 miles by 3 March. Davy Crockett and two other men had been sent out to try and make contact with local Texan soldiers and the group managed to fight their way through the Mexican lines and back into the Alamo of 4 March.
On 6 March the Mexican’s attacked whilst the defenders were still asleep and the final battle began. The Mexican soldiers managed to breach the walls and so the defenders fell back to the barracks and the chapel. However, Davy Crockett and his men were too far away to make it back safely becoming the last of the defending soldiers to be left out in the open, resorting to hand to hand combat with the oncoming Mexican’s. The Battle of the Alamo lasted 90 minutes and all of the defenders were killed. Their bodies were taken by Santa Anna’s troops to some nearby trees and burned to ash. It would be almost a year before the ashes would be put into a simple coffin by a local carpenter, upon which was carved the names Travis, Crockett and Bowie.
There has been some controversy over the death of Davy Crockett. Whilst it is not disputed that he died at The Alamo on 6 March 1836 at the age of 49, the nature of his death has been called into question. Crockett loyalists claim he died in battle fighting off Mexican’s hand to hand with only his knife whereas it has also been claimed that he surrendered and was then executed by Santa Anna’s men. Whatever the truth about Davy Crockett’s death, he has become part of American folklore with streets, schools and state parks named after him and he will always be known as the King of Wild Frontier.