The Legacy and Legend of Davy Crockett

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Introduction

Many famous figures and legends in the United States revolve around people born on the frontier of civiliization, who become well-known by virtue of their courage and willingness to speak and act freely. Perhaps no historical personage embodies this type of hero better than Davy Crockett. Crockett was frontiersman born in the Tennessee wilderness whose real-life accomplishments are mixed with fantastic legends.

Davy Crockett’s Early Life

While the legend says that Crockett was born in the mountains of Tennessee, he was actually born in the lowlands of Tenessee, which was a United States Territory at the time of his birth on August 17th, 1786. Crockett was known to be hardworking and honest in his youth. He ran away from home when he was just 13, and made his living off of doing odd jobs for settlers in Tennessee. He returned home when he was 15 and while living at home, he decided to work for six months in order to pay off some of his father’s debts.

When he reached his twenties, Crockett enlisted in the Army to fight in Alabama in the Creek War, which was a battle between opposing forces of the Creek Native American Tribe, the United States, and various European powers. Crockett made a name for himself as a scout and a hunter, using the skills he had learned in the Tennessee countryside to provide food for his regiment.

Crockett enters the World of Politics

Crockett returned from the War of 1812 to serve in politics in his native Tennessee. After serving in low level political jobs such as a seat in the Tennessee legislature and town commissioner, Crockett eventually was elected to a seat in Congress in 1827. Although he was not nearly as educated as many of his fellow congressmen, Crockett had a sharp wit, a gift for public speaking, and a rough and honest manner that drew many people to him.

Crockett won his seat in congress partially through his support of his good friend Andrew Jackson, who was a prominent political figure in the southern United States (and would one day serve as President). However, through a series of political intrigues, Crockett and Jackson had a falling out. Crockett lost his seat in Congress when Jackson endorsed his opponent. However, Crockett won back his seat by running as an anti-Jacksonian in 1833. After losing that seat to a Jackson supporter in 1835, Crockett decided to leave Washington for a bit and headed for Texas.

Crockett Heads to Texas

Crockett was heading to Texas during a time of turmoil. The Texas Revolution had just broken out, and Americans were entering the territory in droves to fight for the United States against Mexico in hopes of making the territory an American territory and securing some land for themselves in the process. Crockett’s arrival in Texas was met with great fanfare as most people believed that Crockett was there to fight for Texas. Crockett decided to head where the action was and he had heard that the action was in San Antonio, so that was where he went.

The present-day Alamo in San Antonio, Texas.

In 1836, Crockett arrived at the Alamo, which was an American Army fort in Texas. He had arrived with a group of settlers from Tennessee who had me him their de facto leader. The beleaguered occupants of the Alamo were encouraged by the arrival of such a famous man as well as the Tennesseans and their long guns. The Mexican army had been laying seige to the Alamo, and the outlook had been grim for those in the Alamo at that point. Crockett quickly put his skills as a diplomat to work, diffusing tension between Jim Bowie, who was leader of the volunteers, and William Travis, who was the commander of the enlisted men stationed at the fort.

In the morning of March 6, 1836, the President of Mexico and General Santa Anna ordered the Mexican Army to attack the Alamo. Although the soldiers and volunteers fought bravely, they were overwhelmed by the Mexicans’ superior numbers. The Mexicans overran the Alamo within 90 minutes killing everyone inside. After the battle,a small group of American fighters were captured and executed on the orders of Santa Anna. There is some historical evidence that Crockett may have been included among these men. Other sources claim that Crockett died during the battle. Whatever the case may be, Crockett lost his life along with the other 200 men who fought for the Americans at the Alamo.

Davy Crockett’s Legacy 

A coonskin hat like that supposedly worn by Crockett.

Crockett very soon became a folk hero in the state of Texas. He was a martyr figure for the Texas Revolution, and his death energized the Americans at a time when they needed it the most. The story of Crockett’s heroic death encouraged others to come and fight for Texas. The fact that such a famous man was willing to give his life for this cause inspired others to fight for that same cause.

Even today Crockett is a Texan hero. There is a town named Crockett, Texas and a Fort Crockett on Galveston Island. Crockett has been portrayed in various TV shows and movies, and there was a hit song made about Crockett entitled The Ballad of Davy Crockett by Fess Parker in 1955.

Davy Crockett’s Legend

Although much of Davy Crockett’s heroism can be attributed to real life events, there are other facets of his life that are more legend than history. For example, Crockett was supposed to have worn a coonskin cap, which many young people copied in the 1950’s; however, this was never the case. The song claims that Crockett killed a bear when he was only three, but this is highly unlikely as well. Crockett even contributed to his own legend, as he claimed in his autobiography to have killed 105 bears in one year. Even Davy’s name is a bit of a legend. “Davy” signed his correspondence as “David” and is said to have preferred the latter name.

Davy Crockett Fun Facts

  • Crockett nearly died in a boating accident. The boat that Crockett had hired to take him to New Orleans on the Mississippi River nearly capsized, and Crockett had to be saved by crew members from another boat.
  • A play helped make Crockett famous. In 1831, The Lion of the West opened on Broadway to much fanfare. The play revolved around a fictitious senator from Kentucky. The character was based on Crockett and helped make Crockett a legendary figure.
  • Crockett was given rifles as political gifts. He received two rifles – one he named “Old Betsy,” and the other he named “Fancy Betsy.”
  • Much of Crockett’s legend was created by Walt Disney. There was a portrayal of Crockett in a Disney serial and Crockett was featured at the Amusement Park in California.

Sources

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