David Crockett was born on Aug. 17, 1786not
on a mountaintop, but along the banks of the Nolichucky River
in Greene County. He was the fifth of six sons and one daughter
born to John and Rebecca Crockett.
John Crockett was a well-known figure in the region and a veteran
of Kings Mountain. The local pioneer businessman soon moved
his family from the Limestone Community to present day Hamblen
County. He built a building in the county that soon turned into
a Tavern for passersby on the way west or towards the boom city
of Knoxville. David and his family worked hard on the frontier
making a living.
When he was 12, Davids father suddenly passed away David
was forced to take on the responsibility of tending to his family.
His father had left the family in debt and, knowing no other
way, David left his home and moved to Baltimore to work for
the man his father owed. From 12 to 15-years-old, Crockett lived
the rugged life of a cattle driver. During that time, he received
only a modest education, but began developing a common-sense
wit about him that made him a quick study of people and circumstance.
It took him close to two years in the harbor town to pay off
his fathers debt and start home to Tennessee. It was an
experience that would show Crockett a different side of America
and influence him the rest of his life.
When David returned, he had no interest in trying his hand at
the Tavern business, and was forced to hunt and trap to make
a living. Crockett soon began to pick up a reputation as a woodsman
and was highly regarded as a guide. He married Polly Findley
when he was still a teenager and continued to live in Jefferson
County until he was 25. Two of his sons were born there before
Crockett moved west to Franklin County. Following the birth
of his daughter, Crockett left on a hunting trip and, while
he was away, Polly Crockett fell ill and died.
In the War of 1812, he decided to join General Andrew Jacksons
Tennessee militia and served as a scout against the Creeks at
Horseshoe Bend and against the British in New Orleans. During
that time, a maturing David Crockett proved to be a valuable
member of Jacksons Army. He was a shrewd thinker and his
ability to act under fire and fight made him a natural scout.
Crockett eventually remarried a lady named Elizabeth Patton
and moved to upper west Tennessee around the rugged country
of Reelfoot Lake. His reputation as a woodsman continued to
grow as David made a living hunting in the wilderness of Tennessee.
It was still a day in the region where a mans ability
to survive in the wilderness was highly regarded. Those who
exceeded the norm of experienced pioneers earned a kind of respect
that is hard to explain. It wasnt just the ability to
live off of the land that counted. A person was expected to
be able to deal with outlaws, wild animals, and local Native
American tribes in order to carve a living out of the wilderness.
Those who did not were often killed or maimed. Crocketts
reputation as a common sense individual and his homespun wit
appealed to the locals in his community. In 1821, he made a
run for the state legislature and won. He so impressed the people
that they returned him to the state house two years later as
Three years later, Crockett decided to toss his hat into the
ring for a Congressional seat. After a colorful campaign, he
was elected to Congress and Crockett began to gain a nationwide
reputation. As a federal representative, Crockett worked to
guarantee his people the right to keep land on which they had
settled before the area was opened by the Federal Government
During this time, Crockett became angered over President Andrew
Jacksons Indian policies and tried to rally support against
them in the house. His frontier wit proved to be a dangerous
thing for President Jackson. The Tennessee Congressman was an
avowed man of principals and dedicated his life to the frontier
values of freedom and liberty. He believed in the individuals
right to do as he or she pleased so long as it didnt harm
another person or their property.
The other Tennessee House members, however, were Jackson supporters
and rigorously opposed Crocketts intervention and his
speaking out against the President. In the 1831 campaign for
Congress, they fought against his reelection to the house and
succeeded, but the frontiersman fought back and was reelected
to Congress in 1833. Crockett continued to oppose Jackson and
attacked the President fiercely in his autobiography. Crockett,
like thousands of Tennesseans, despised the Presidents
treatment and removal of the Cherokee and took every opportunity
available to denounce it. The Whig Party was taken with the
Tennessean and David Crockett had developed such a national
appeal that he was soon speaking to groups around the young
country trying to counteract Jacksons populist appeal
among rural people. In addition, the Whigs published numerous
books supposedly written by Crockett that continued to sell
their partys platform and hammer Jacksons policies.
There was even talk of Crockett becoming a candidate for Vice-President
on the Whig ticket.
Crockett earned some powerful enemies in Tennessee. When he
ran for reelection, President Andrew Jackson threw his support
behind a Democratic candidate and saw to it that the frontiersman
was not reelected in the Congressional race of 1834.
Following his defeat, Crockett returned to the pioneer life
and soon became bored with it. Depressed and somewhat disgusted
with politics and the Washington power structure Crockett
and his entourage left Memphis and rode west toward the Texas
territory. The promise of new lands had already drawn numerous
Tennesseans to the region to settle. Among them, were Crocketts
old friends Jim Bowie and Sam Houston, who was making a name
for himself as a leader in the territory.
Mexico had thrown off Spanish colonial rule and under the dictatorship
of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was trying to rein in
the Texas rebellion. Whether it was fate or bad luck, former
Tennessee Congressman David Crockett found himself at the Franciscan
Mission near San Antonio known as the Alamo.
He rode in unexpectedly on Feb. 8, 1836 at the head of a dozen
sharpshooters he called the Tennessee Mounted Volunteers. Crockett
was 49-years-old and his arrival with his fiddle and the long
rifle he called "Betsy" touched off a wild party in
the Alamo. Travis offered him command of the Alamo, but Crockett
turned him down in a stirring speech.
"I have come to aid you all that I can in your noble cause,"
said Crockett, "and all the honor that I desire is that
of defending as a high private the liberties of our common country."
Word had come to Alamo Commander Lieutenant Colonel William
Travis that Santa Anna was bearing down on the fort with 5,000
seasoned campaigners. Santa Annas men had been quelling
rebellions throughout the Mexican territory and were now marching
on Texas to deal with the uprisings and pull it back under Mexican
With Santa Annas brutal reputation preceding him, Travis
felt he had no option but to pull his men back into the Mission
along with their families and wait for Santa Anna to arrive.
He knew the Texas Army was still trying to pull itself together,
but felt his men could hold them off long enough to allow the
army to mount a relief effort.
On Feb. 23, 1836, General Santa Anna arrived in San Antonio
with his Army.
Texans and their Mexican friends fled to the Alamo for protection.
At the sight of the Army, Travis began deploying his men around
the fortress. Crockett went to Travis when he saw the activity.
"And here I am Colonel," said Crockett, "assign
me to some place and I and my Tennessee boys will defend it
Travis posted Crockett and his men at a newly built wall on
the southeastern side of the mission between the church and
the low barracks where he felt the mission was most vulnerable.
From the Alamo walls, Travis and his men saw Santa Anna raise
the tri-color flag of Mexicoa sign they all knew meant
that the Mexican Army would offer no quarters to those captured.
General Santa Anna pulled his 5,000-man-army into formation
around the Alamo Mission and sent a detachment forward with
his demands that the Texans holding the mission surrender or
he would attack.
William Travis immediately replied; "I shall never surrender
or retreat. It will either be victory or death."
General Santa Anna took the message in stride and fell back
to organize his assault on the mission. Crockett and his Tennesseans
took up their position on the southeast wall of the mission
and readied themselves for a fight.
On Feb. 24, General Santa Annas Army fired the first shots
and began the Armys Napoleonic march towards the mission.
The Army ran full scale into seasoned frontiersmen who sent
them reeling backwards with a steel curtain of bullets and canon
fire. The Alamo volunteers were veterans of Indian wars, outlaws,
and countless skirmishes with the Mexican Army. They knew how
to fight from the most vulnerable position and in the worst
of conditions. They were not peasants armed with pitchforks,
but individual fighters used to being outnumbered and outgunned.
For the next ten days, the Mexican Army and the garrison of
200 men traded shots and canon fire. When the Mexican Army would
advance, the Texans would beat them back and among the deadliest
fire from the Alamo was the southeastern wall defended by Crockett.
Mexican Officer Captain Rafael Soldana later described a man
firing from the southeast wall.
"He was a tall man with buckskin clothes and flowing hair
who was dressed differently from the others," said Soldano.
"This man would rest his long gun and fire, and we all
learned to keep a good distance when he was seen to make ready
to shoot. He rarely missed his mark, and when he fired he always
rose to his feet and calmly reloaded his gun, seemingly indifferent
to shots fired at him by our men. He had a strong resonant voice
and often railed at us. This man I later learned was known as
Regardless of how good their marksmanship or how determined
the Texans were in defending the Alamo, the mission fell to
the Mexicans on March 6,1836. To the tune of "Deguello"the
"fire and death" call that signaled total destruction,
General Santa Anna dispatched his reserves towards the walls.
When the Mexicans surged over the walls, Crockett, his men,
and the rest of the defenders went hand to hand with the overwhelming
numbers. Some of the gunners had filled their canons with old
horseshoes, grapeshot, anything that would fire and turned it
loose on the Mexicans sending wave after wave of charging soldiers
into the Texas dirt. The carnage of the fight was unbelievable.
All 186 defenders inside the Alamo were killed, including famed
Tennessean David Crockett.
A Mexican sergeant named Felix Nunez later described the actions
of a man identified only as a member of the Tennessee force
defending the southeastern wall.
"He was a tall American of rather dark complexion and had
on a long buckskin coat and a round cap without any bill, made
out of fox skin with the long tail hanging down his back,"
said Nunez. "This man apparently had a charmed life. Of
the soldiers who took deliberate aim at him and fired, not one
ever hit him. On the contrary, he never missed a shot. He killed
at least eight of our men, besides wounding several others.
This being observed by a lieutenant, who had come in over the
wall, he sprang at him and dealt him a deadly blow just above
the right eye, which felled him to the ground. In an instant,
he was pierced by not less than 20 bayonets."
David Crocketts last action at the Alamo turned him into
a full-fledged American icon. While reports would later say
that Crockett was among a handful of survivors who were executed
by General Santa Anna, his memory would continue to ignite American
sentiments and turn the tide of public opinion towards supporting
the Texas cause. What happened following his death is not known
and his grave has, to this day, never been found.
Following the defeat of Santa Annas Army and Texas Independence,
a Nashville publisher put out the first edition of the "Davy
Crockett Almanac" and it was a huge success in no small
part due to Crocketts martyrdom at the Alamo. Over the
next 20 years, various publishers put out over 55 issues of
the Almanac, which included so many tall tales about the Tennesseans
exploits, that he faded into the background of American folklore
as almost a mythic figure. David Crocketts death was a
huge motivating factor in Tennesseans who volunteered for the
Mexican War, especially when General Santa Anna left Cuban exile
to lead the Mexicans.
There are few books written about the Tennessean, but his autobiography
is still considered a classic on frontier humor and the day.
The David Crockett Birthplace Museum in the Greene County community
of Limestone is open year round. It features a log cabin on
the banks of the Nolichucky River and an interpretive center
featuring numerous artifacts of David Crocketts belongings.
The State Historic Site is open year round from 8:30 a.m. to
While many films and broadcast programs about David Crockett
exist, including the famous Walt Disney production, historians
at the park run a copy of the film "The Alamo" with
John Wayne as David Crockett. Historians, who have studied Crockett
and his life, claim Waynes portrayal of the Tennessean
is among the most accurate Hollywood ever produced.
In addition, there is a flag monument on the Park grounds between
the Center and the cabin. The bricks in the circular monument
were donated by all 50 states in America in order to build a
national shrine to the Tennessean.
The David Crockett Tavern in Morristown is also a good interpretive
center of Crocketts life and features numerous historical
artifacts of the day.
Across the state, you will find numerous statues and monuments
commemorating David Crockett, including a west Tennessee county
named in his honor, however, there are many myths that continue
to this day. Crockett was a man who often wore the traditional
top hat of the day rather than the coonskin cap he was often
portrayed as favoring.
Many high school students doing research papers on the Tennessean
and seeking background information on his life and later years
have found some historical revisionism that is not true about
Crockett. In addition to the old myths we have all heard, I
learned that some recent history textbooks have labeled him
in their "discussion sessions" as an Indian oppressor.
They cited Crocketts service with Jackson at the Battle
of Horseshoe Bend as proofseeming to pay no attention
to the fact that, without the Cherokee, America would have suffered
two or three times the casualties against the British-backed
"Red Stick" Creeks or that Crocketts Congressional
stance against the Presidents Indian removal policy helped
cost him his seat in the House.
Crockett, like most famous people, was a product of his time
and his upbringing. He was a skilled communicator and rough-and-tumble
frontiersman with little formal education, but one who knew
how to lead and when to serve. Through both actions, he earned
the most coveted spot in any nations history a position
of Homeric stature that would provide America with a man whose
life would become the subject of songs and legends for countless