Books have been written and movies produced that tell about the legendary figure in America’s history named Davy Crockett. The reality of Crockett the man through such media has been obscured by legend-making which had been handed down, generation-to-generation. By now, Davy Crockett is more of a mythical figure, as much a victim of the imaginations of writers bent on creating a national hero as he was a willing conspirator in fabricating tales about himself (Nilsson, 2011). Born into poverty in 1786, in an area of the country that would eventually be a part of Tennessee, as soon as David was old enough he toiled alongside his father in various unsuccessful business ventures. At the age of 12, young Davy was indentured to tend cattle in order to help his family pay off their debt to a local rancher (Crockett, 1834). Upon his return home Davy entered school but soon left after getting in a fight with a fellow student. As a result, Crockett ran from his father who was bent upon whipping his son, and it was then that Davy entered the world of gainful employment for over four years, working in cattle drives and with local farmers until returning to his family and again becoming an indentured worker for purposes of paying off a debt incurred by his father. After paying his father’s debt in 1802, Davey was free to go anywhere he pleased, but chose to remain under the employ of the man who had held his father’s debt, who he stayed with for the next four years (Crockett, 1834).
Crockett’s acclaim as a frontiersman began well past the age of 18 and only after he had set out to marry and begin raising a family. He had suffered greatly in two failed attempts at securing a bride and was sorely challenged by a dour and highly reticent future mother-in-law bent on ensuring that her daughter was betrothed to another (Crockett, 1832). But with the blessing of the father, Davy married his bride and the couple settled in an area close-by, while he continued to work as a laborer for a local Quaker family and foraged for game. Shortly after the birth of his two sons Crockett moved his family to the southern part of Tennessee where he would then become known in the region as a skilled hunter. As someone familiar with the area terrain, Crockett would volunteer as a scout for the local militia which eventually resulted in his serving under the same capacity for future president Andrew Jackson in his 1813 campaign against a faction of Creek Indians (PBS, 2004). Davy began to gain a great deal of respect from fellow troops for his efforts hunting game when their rations had been depleted. But this is also how his legend begins, because as Crockett remembers, he had merely found a freshly hunted carcass that had been recently killed by a local Creek, “I was never in favor of one hunter stealing from another, yet meat was so scarce in camp, that I thought I must go for it” (Crockett, 1832, p. 84).
After his turn serving in the militia during the Creek War, Crockett reenlisted to again act as a scout during the War of 1812. But he saw little action and instead led hunting parties for purposes of supporting front-line troops engaged in the fighting (Crockett, 1832). By 1815 he had fulfilled his obligation with the Tennessee militia and shortly after his return home his wife died. Later that year Crockett married again, and his family grew significantly with the addition of a step-daughter and step-son, followed by the couple’s own son and two daughters. A brief time after his second marriage was filled by forages throughout the frontier until Crockett’s return home for purposes of entering the local political area. His ascension as a politician was not necessarily rapid, becoming a county commissioner in 1817 and shortly thereafter was appointed as the local magistrate. Crockett successfully ran for a seat in the Tennessee General Assembly in 1821, and after an unsuccessful bid to become a member of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1824, Crockett would eventually succeed after running a successful campaign during the 1826 election season (Crockett, 1832). Davy was the only member of the House to oppose Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act and he suffered for it politically, losing his congressional seat in 1831. But he would regain the position in 1833 and then retired from politics in 1835 (Brennan, 2015).
By this time Davy Crockett was a name known throughout the country. The media during the time took to Crockett, who was seen as boisterous and accessible who initially saw nothing wrong with the embellishments printed about his character and exploits, “The young Congressman from Tennessee was happy to step into the role of the rugged, high-spirited backwoodsman. Soon newspapers were carrying tales of his mythical exploits” (Nilsson, 2011, par. 1). Eventually, Crockett grew tired of most of this and decided to write his autobiography as a way of setting the record straight. In the preface of his book, Davy laments the fact that other writers had taken a great deal of liberty concerning his person and exploits, and explains that the purpose of the book is to provide the plain, honest truth, “In the following pages I have endeavored to give the reader a plain, honest, homespun account of my state in life, and some of the few of the difficulties which have attended me along its journey down to this time” (Crockett, 1832, p. 6). This book was followed by another a year later, and shortly afterward Crockett made his ill-fated decision to move to Texas (Brennan, 2015).
The 1836 siege at the Alamo would mark the end to the life of one of America’s great folklore figures. But before the day of his death locals took to calling him “Don Benito” because of his friendly nature (PBS, 2004). He was important to the other fighters there because Crockett provided a much-needed morale boost, often playing his fiddle during late evening vigils. Davy was instrumental to the fighting as leader of point excursions, tactics used in guerilla warfare. It I said that Crockett was one of the last fighters who, along with his own men, survived the encroaching Mexican Army. The last moments of his life remain the stuff of legend, but it is said that he and his men were needlessly executed by a general bent upon killing every soul who fought against him.
- Brennan, S. V. (Ed.). (2015). An autobiography of Davy Crockett. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing.
- Crockett, D. (1834). A narrative of the life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee (6th ed.). Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/narrativeoflifeo00crocrich
- Nilsson, J. (2011, August 13). Looking for the real Davy Crockett. Retrieved from http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2011/08/13/history/post-perspective/real-davy-crockett.html
- PBS. (2004, January 30). People & Events: David “Davy” Crockett (1786-1836). Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/alamo/peopleevents/p_crockett.html