August 17, 1786
Davy Crockett Born
by LEGACY OF TEXAS
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August 17, 1786

 

Davy Crockett Born

On this day in 1786, frontier icon and Alamo defender Davy Crockett was born in Tennessee. He began his military career as a scout in the Tennessee militia in 1813 and was elected to the Tennessee legislature in 1821. After a turbulent political career, during which he split with President Andrew Jackson, a fellow Tennessean, and acquired a national reputation as a sharpshooter, hunter, and yarn-spinner, Crockett grew disenchanted with the political process and decided to explore Texas. He set out in November 1835 and reached San Antonio de Béxar in February 1836, shortly before the arrival of Antonio López de Santa Anna. Crockett chose to join Col. William B. Travis, who had deliberately disregarded Jackson sympathizer Sam Houston's orders to withdraw from the Alamo, and died in the battle of the Alamo on March 6, 1836. No matter how many fabrications gathered around him, the historical David Crockett proved a formidable hero in his own right and succeeded Daniel Boone as the rough-hewn representative of frontier independence and virtue. 

David (Davy) Crockett, frontiersman, congressman, and defender of the Alamo, son of John and Rebecca (Hawkins) Crockett, was born in Greene County, East Tennessee, on August 17, 1786. In 1798, two years after the Crocketts opened a tavern on the road from Knoxville to Abingdon, Virginia, John Crockett hired his son out to Jacob Siler to help drive a herd of cattle to Rockbridge County, Virginia. Siler tried to detain David by force after the job was completed, but the boy escaped at night by walking seven miles in two hours through knee-deep snow. He eventually made his way home in late 1798 or early 1799. Soon afterward he started school, but preferred playing hooky and ran away to escape his father's punishment. This "strategic withdrawal," as Crockett called it, lasted 2½ years while he worked as a wagoner and day-laborer and at odd jobs to support himself. When he returned home in 1802 he had grown so much that his family did not recognize him at first. When they did, he found that all was forgiven. Crockett reciprocated their generosity by working for about a year to discharge his father's debts, which totaled seventy-six dollars, and subsequently returned to school for six months.

Crockett died in battle of the Alamo on March 6, 1836. The manner of his death was uncertain, however, until the publication in 1975 of the diary of Lt. José Enrique de la Peña. Susanna Dickinson, wife of Almeron Dickinson, an officer at the Alamo, said Crockett died on the outside, one of the earliest to fall. Joe, Travis's slave and the only male Texan to survive the battle, reported seeing Crockett lying dead with slain Mexicans around him and stated that only one man, named Warner, surrendered to the Mexicans (Warner was taken to Santa Anna and promptly shot). When Peña's eyewitness account was placed together with other corroborating documents, Crockett's central part in the defense became clear. Travis had previously written that during the first bombardment Crockett was everywhere in the Alamo "animating the men to do their duty." Other reports told of the deadly fire of his rifle that killed five Mexican gunners in succession, as they each attempted to fire a cannon bearing on the fort, and that he may have just missed Santa Anna, who thought himself out of range of all the defenders' rifles. Crockett and five or six others were captured when the Mexican troops took the Alamo at about six o'clock that morning, even though Santa Anna had ordered that no prisoners be taken. The general, infuriated when some of his officers brought the Americans before him to try to intercede for their lives, ordered them executed immediately. They were bayoneted and then shot. Crockett's reputation and that of the other survivors was not, as some have suggested, sullied by their capture. Their dignity and bravery was, in fact, further underscored by Peña's recounting that "these unfortunates died without complaining and without humiliating themselves before their torturers."

Coincidentally, a work mostly of fiction masquerading as fact had put the truth of Crockett's death before the American public in the summer of 1836. Despite its many falsifications and plagiarisms, Richard Penn Smith's Col. Crockett's Exploits and Adventures in Texas...Written by Himself had a reasonably accurate account of Crockett's capture and execution. Many thought the legendary Davy deserved better, and they provided it, from thrilling tales of his clubbing Mexicans with his empty rifle and holding his section of the wall of the Alamo until cut down by bullets and bayonets, to his survival as a slave in a Mexican salt mine.

In the final analysis, however, no matter how fascinating or outrageous the fabrications were that gathered around him, the historical David Crockett proved a formidable hero in his own right and succeeded Daniel Boone as the rough-hewn representative of frontier independence and virtue. In this regard, the motto he adopted and made famous epitomized his spirit: "Be always sure you're right-then go a-head!"

Portrait of Davy Crockett 

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