Alamo’s Davy Crockett became a hero in two centuries

August 17. 1786

On this day, 19th century Alamo folk hero, Davy Crockett, was born sort of in Tennessee, almost sharing a birth date with 20th star, Fess Parker, who made him a global phenomenon  

Woodsman, soldier and politician, his death at the Alamo fighting for Texas independence elevated Crockett (left, early oil painting) to his status as an icon.  Claimed by Tennessee as a native son, he was actually born in the state of Franklin, an autonomous group of counties once part of North Carolina.   The area was ceded to the federal government as a way to cover  Revolutionary War debts.  After a failed attempt at statehood in 1785, it became a part of Tennessee the year Crockett was born.

He was the fifth of nine children born to Irish, English, Scottish, French Huguenot parents.  Details of his early life came from Crockett himself.  Taking a page from modern-day politicians, he wrote an autobiography to raise his name recognition with the voters.  He was elected to Congress, lost twice and decamped to Texas in a huff.

According to Crockett, his childhood was full of hardship as well as adventure.  He learned to hunt with his older brothers at the age of eight.  When his stiff-necked father sent him to school at 13, he “whopped the tar” out of the schoolyard bully after just four days.  Fearful the bully would recruit reinforcements, he decided to skip school altogether.  Fearing his father’s wrath even more, he left home and lived by his wits for the next three years.  Supposedly moving from town to town, his survival depended on his skills in the wild.

When he returned home at age 16, apparently all was forgiven.  His father hired him out to settle a $36 debt and young Crockett did his father one better, earning an extra $40 to cover yet another family debt.

Not long after the reunion, he became engaged to Margaret Elder.  But when Elder married someone else, Crockett was reportedly heartbroken, writing at the time he was “born for hardship, misery and disappointment.”  

His heart apparently mended quickly.  Just before his 20th birthday he married Mary “Polly” Finley in Jefferson County, Tennessee.  The couple had two sons and a daughter.  Crockett moved the family to Franklin County before marching off for two tours with the Tennessee Mounted Riflemen in its ruthless campaign against the Creek Indians.

When Mary died not long after Crockett’s return, he quickly married the widow Elizabeth Patton (right) in 1815.  They also had three children.

Turning to politics, Crockett was first elected to the Tennessee House in 1821 and to Congress in 1826.  He lost his seat in 1830 after vehemently opposing President Andrew Jackson’s popular policy of Indian removal and supporting the unpopular right of squatters to buy land.  He won again in 1830 and lost again in 1834, prompting his angry exit. 

“I told the people of my district that I would serve them as faithfully as I had done,” he said  “but if not, they might go to Hell and I would go to Texas.”  

He did just that, leaving his home near Rutherford, Tennessee on November 1, 1835 with three me, arriving in Jackson with 30 well-armed volunteers.  His entourage dwindled a bit before reaching Little Rock, Arkansas, on November 12.  

 Crockett and 65 fellow citizen soldiers arrived in Nacogdoches on January 14, 1836, pledging to fight for Texas.  Each was promised 4,600 acres for their trouble.  

San Antonio de Valero Mission with the remaining chapel. 

They got to the Alamo February 8,  just 13 days before the Mexican Army under the command of Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna laid siege.   The 13-day assault ended March 6 when the defenders were overrun, with reinforcements almost on the horizon.  

Reportedly the ruthless Santa Anna (right) had the remains of the Americans moved to a nearby grove of trees and burned.  It was also claimed that as many as a half a dozen actually surrendered but were later executed on the general’s orders.  How Crockett actually died remains a mystery.  All that is known for sure is that it happened at the Alamo and he was 49 .

Crockett’s legacy wasn’t free from controversy.  A memoir of Mexican officer José Enrique de la Peña was published in English by Texas A & M in 1955, creating a bit of a posthumous scandal.  Claiming Crockett didn’t actually die in battle, defenders of the legend pointed out the unverified manuscript became public at the height of Disney Davy mania.  

But Crockett proved to be an enduring hero despite detractors.  Portrayed in more than two dozen movies by a long list of stars, it was Fess Parker’s performance in Disney’s classic,“King of the Wild Frontier” that reignited Crockett’s fame around the globe.  

Davy wasn’t the last Crockett to fight for Texas, however.  Col. Robert Patton Crockett (right), Elizabeth Patton Crockett’s first-born, left Tennessee after his father’s death and remained in Texas until independence.  He returned in 1854 and settled on those hard-won 4,600 acres, dying there at age 73.

The Alamo National Historic Landmark, 100 Alamo Plaza San Antonio, is perhaps one of the nation’s most recognizable sites.  The church, built in 1744, was part of the San Antonio de Valero mission founded by the Franciscan fathers in 1718.  Its popular name “Alamo” was derived from the Spanish word for “cottonwood tree” by Spanish soldiers posted there during Mexico’s war for independence. 

Open daily from 9:00 to 5:30, with extended hours during June, July, and August when it is open until 7:00.  Its closed only on Christmas Day.   For further information go to thealamo.org  or call  (210) 225-1391. 

© Text Only – 2018 – Headin’ West LLC  – All photos – public domain or fair use.