Davy Crockett, born David Crockett on August 17, 1786, was an American politician, folk hero, frontiersman, and soldier. Known by most as the guy with the raccoon hat, Davy Crockett served in the Tennessee militia during the Creek War, as a congressman in the House of Representatives, and in the Texan army during the Battle of the Alamo.
Davy Crockett’s Childhood
Born in Green County, Tennessee to John and Rebecca Hawkins, Crockett spent most of his childhood between odd jobs and learning woodsman skills. At just 8 years old, Crockett’s father taught him how to shoot a rifle. When he was 13, his father paid for him to attend school. However, after attacking a school bully and fearful of his father’s punishment, Crockett ran away from home. Over the next two and a half years, Crockett went from odd job to odd job in order to support himself as he traveled around Tennessee, Virginia, and Maryland. He also learned to hunt, trap, shoot, and various other woodsman skills. When he was almost 16, Crockett returned home. When his family first saw him, they didn’t recognize him.
“The joy of my sisters and my mother, and indeed, of all the family, was such that it humbled me, and made me sorry that I hadn’t submitted to a hundred whippings, sooner than cause so much affliction as they had suffered on my account…I was now fifteen years old; and my increased age and size, together with the joy of my father, occasioned by my unexpected return, I was sure would secure me against my long-dreaded whipping.” -Crockett’s autobiography
For the next year or two, Crockett voluntarily hired himself out to help his father pay off his immense debt. He also went back to school for about six months, where he learned to read and write.
On August 14, 1806, Davy Crockett married his first wife, Molly “Polly” Finley. Her mother had tried to prevent the two from meeting due to Crockett’s lack of financial support, but eventually blessed the couple when he sold his Kentucky rifle and scraped up enough money to buy his fianceé a horse. They moved to Franklin County, Tennessee to a farm Crockett named “Kentuck” and had three children.
Crockett’s Military Life
Shortly after the beginning of the Creek War in 1813, Crockett enlisted against his wife’s wishes in the Second Regiment of the Volunteer Mounted Riflemen.
He recalled in his autobiography that “[I] told her, that if every man would wait till his wife got willing for him to go to war, there would be no fighting done, until we would all be killed in our own houses.”
Crockett scouted and fought in multiple battles against the Red Stick Creek Indians, most notably the Battle of Talluwshatchee. Due to the decentralized military of the time, Crockett and his fellow soldiers spent much of the war also fighting starvation.
As the war came to a close, Crockett returned home. Unfortunately, his wife, Polly, died shortly after due to unknown causes. Crockett and his children lived for a short time with his brother’s family until he married Elizabeth Patton, a widow, in the late summer of 1815. She had two children from her first marriage, and together, Elizabeth and Davy had two more children.
Crockett Enters the Political Scene
Crockett began his political career as the justice of the peace in Lawrence County, Tennessee, on November 17, 1817. He was also elected the town commissioner and colonel of the fifty-seventh militia regiment in 1818.
In 1821, Crockett resigned from these positions and ran for a seat in the Tennessee legislature. Winning the 1821 and 1823 elections, Crockett began to work to help the poorer people in the Hickman and Lawrence Counties that he represented. Crockett then lost the 1825 election for a seat in Congress and moved to start his own barrel manufacturing business. While traveling down the Mississippi River to sell his barrels in New Orleans, his ship sank and Crockett almost died. Upon returning to Tennessee, Crockett decided to run again for a seat in Congress.
In 1827, Crockett finally won a seat in the House of Representatives that he kept until he lost in 1830. His main focus was pushing a land bill through Congress that would help the “squatters” in Tennessee. “Squatters” were people that lived on and farmed a piece of land, but did not own it or had to take out huge loans to purchase it. Crockett wanted to help his people earn the right to be able to purchase the land they lived on.
However, Crockett vocally opposed President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830. He was the only representative from Tennessee to vote against the bill. The following year, Crockett lost reelection to the House.
In 1831, a play titled “The Lion of the West” debuts, in which the main character, Nimrod Wildfire, resembles Davy Crockett. The play quickly became the most popular play in the nation, causing Crockett to skyrocket in fame as well. An unauthorized biography containing mostly tall tales and outrageous stories about Crockett was released in 1833, angering Crockett. The following year, he came out with his autobiography to set the record straight and share his story with the nation.
Returning to Washington as a national celebrity, Crockett won a seat in the House in 1833 in the middle of the Bank War. President and Democrat Andrew Jackson was in the process of destroying the Second National Bank, an action that the Whig Party and Crockett opposed. Crockett, although from the same state as the president, was anti-Jackson and therefore an ally of the Whigs. The Whigs sponsored a national book tour for Crockett in an effort to use him as a pawn and possible presidential candidate against Jackson.
Crockett lost reelection for his congressional seat in 1835. Disheartened after being used by the Whigs and unsuccessful in his attempts to pass a land bill to help the poor residents of Tennessee, Crockett decided to travel to Texas. Americans that fought in the Texas Revolution were being promised large pieces of land, and Crockett, poor and unable to support his family after losing his gristmill, distillery, and gunpowder mill in a storm, sought to do just that.
“I told the people of my district that I would serve them faithfully as I had done; but if not, they might go to hell, and I will go to Texas.”-David Crockett, after losing his congressional seat
Davy Crockett at the Alamo
Arriving in Texas, Crockett found the revolutionaries torn over which American political party to support. He decided to side with Colonel William B. Travis and join him at the Alamo in San Antonio after Travis deliberately disobeyed Sam Houston’s orders to abandon the fort-a decision that proved fatal for many. Houston was a Jackson supporter, causing Crockett to distrust his opinions.
Santa Anna, a Mexican general, arrived at the Alamo with 2,000 troops on February 23, 1836. The estimated 185-260 Texan soldiers defended the Alamo for 13 days until the last men died on March 6th. Whether Davy Crockett died during the actual battle or was taken captive by the Mexican army and then killed is widely debated. Either way, Crockett died fighting for Texan independence, sealing his reputation as a true American hero.
What happened to Davy Crockett’s wife?
Davy Crockett was first engaged to Margaret Elder but was rejected and abandoned by her on their wedding day in 1805. The following year, Crockett courted and married Mary “Polly” Finley on August 14. The couple had three children together: John, William, and Margaret. Unfortunately, Polly died of unknown causes in 1815. After her death, Crockett married widow Elizabeth Patton and had three more children named Robert, Rebecca, and Matilda. In 1854, long after Davy’s death in 1836, Elizabeth moved to Texas with her son Robert to live on a piece of land granted to her by the Republic of Texas in honor of her husband’s death until she died in 1860. The state placed a monument on her grave in Acton, Texas in 1911.
How many bears did Davy Crockett kill?
Davy Crockett spent much of his life hunting and even claimed to kill 105 bears in seven months in 1825-1826 earning him the nickname “King of the Wild Frontier.” Crockett began hunting to support his family but continued to hunt even after his family was well-supplied. He wrote numerous tales and stories of his hunting trips in his autobiography, Davy Crockett: His Own Story: A Narrative and Life of David Crockett.
“As soon as the time come for them to quit their houses and come out again in the spring, I took a notion to hunt a little more, and in about one month I killed forty-seven more, which made one hundred and five bears I had killed in less than one year from that time.”Crockett’s autobiography
How did Davy Crockett die?
Davy Crockett died while fighting for Texas in the Battle of the Alamo on March 6, 1836. His exact death is debated, however. Until the mid-1900s, it was believed that Crockett died during the actual defense of the Alamo and was actually one of the last men standing. Susanna Dickens, the wife of Texian officer Almeron Dickson and resident of the Alamo, reported that Crockett was one of the first to fall outside of the Alamo. Joe, Travis’s slave, reported Crockett lying dead in the middle of multiple Mexican corpses. However, in 1975, the diary of Lieutenant Jose Enrique de la Peña was discovered. Peña served as a messenger to Santa Anna during the battle and wrote of witnessing the capture and execution of seven Texian soldiers, including Davy Crockett. The legitimacy of the diary is widely debated, but if it is genuine, Crockett was executed by General Lopez de Santa Anna. If not, he died during the Battle of the Alamo.
What were Davy Crockett’s Last Words?
Because Davy Crockett died during the Battle of the Alamo, his exact last words are unknown. Whether he died in battle or after surrendering is debatable. However, scholars have been able to uncover his last written words. Written two months before the Battle of the Alamo, a letter penned by Crockett himself was sent to Crockett’s daughter, Margaret, and her husband. He described the beautiful Texas land and the warm welcome he received upon arriving, explaining that “I would rather be in my present situation than to be elected to a seat in Congress for life.” He finished the letter with “Do not be uneasy about me I am with my friends,” and signed off “your affectionate father Farewell David Crockett.”
Davy Crockett’s Legacy
While Crockett was not very successful politically or economically, he remains a very important part of American culture today. In 1841, however, Crockett’s son, John Wesley, won a seat in the House of Representatives. He helped to push a bill very similar to his father’s through Congress to grant the Tennessee people land rights, finishing what his father had started. Throughout the next century, musicals, songs, and even a part of Walt Disneyland in California would be created, all focusing on the stories and tales of Davy Crockett, the American frontiersman in a raccoon-skin hat. In 1955, the price of raccoon pelts would explode from 55 cents a pound to $6/pound. The same year, “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” was the number one song in the nation for weeks with the sales of Davy Crockett items grossing over $100 million. Dozens of schools and parks across the nation are named after Crockett, preserving the impact he made on the United States for years to come.