March 6, 2020
People filled the small tavern hoping for a glimpse of the former congressman traveling through town. David stood tall above the crowd as they waited for him to speak.
“I am told, gentlemen, that when a stranger, like myself, arrives among you, the first inquiry is - what brought you here?…I was, for some years, a member of congress. In my last canvass, I told the people of my district, that, if they saw fit to reelect me, I would serve them as faithfully as I had done; but, if not, they might go to hell, and I would go to Texas. I was beaten, gentlemen, and here I am.”
The crowd erupted in thunderous applause as David took his seat. Always a man of his word, David set out for Texas with three neighbors in November of 1835, following his defeat. Along the way, his group swelled to over 30 men. Reaching Nacogdoches, Texas, in early January, David signed an oath on the 14th along with 65 other men volunteering for a six-month commitment to the Provisional Government of Texas in exchange for 4,600 acres of land. A few weeks later, David continued on to San Antonio de Bexar to engage in the Texas War of Independence. Arriving at the Alamo Mission on February 8, David was full of optimism for the future. Unfortunately, his future would end within a month.
Following the Revolutionary War, territories worked to enter the new union now known as the United States of America. John Crockett led one of these efforts, campaigning to obtain state status for their area, which they called Franklin, that had broken from North Carolina. During this time, John and his wife Rebecca (nee Hawkins) grew their family, including a son on August 17, 1786, whom they named David. Franklin’s petition to become a state narrowly failed, as well as their attempt to survive as an independent republic, eventually becoming part of Tennessee.
A veteran of the American Revolution and a Overmountain Man, John struggled to provide for his family. Needing money and skills for his children, John indentured David to a man in Virginia when he was 12 years old. A few months later, David returned home where John enrolled him and his other children in school. After only 4 days, David found himself the target of an older and larger bully. A fighter from the start, David ambushed his tormentor, beating him severely. Fearing retaliation, he immediately starting playing hooky. When John found out, he picked up a switch and chased his son. David took off running and didn’t stop.
At age 13, David Crockett found himself on his own. Joining a group of cattle drovers, Crockett took several teamster jobs. He then moved on to being a farmhand before apprenticing with a hat maker. In 1802, when Crockett returned home after a two-and-a-half year absence, he confessed he had “been gone so long, and had grown so much, that the family did not at first know me.” Now 16, Crockett worked off family debts before again finding employment for himself.
On August 12, 1806, Crockett married Polly Finley and started a family right away. After 7 years of living near Polly’s parents, they moved with their 3 children to a farm on Beans Creek, which Crockett called “Kentuck”. That same year, Crockett joined the Tennessee militia under the command of Andrew Jackson to combat against the “Red Sticks” Creek Indians, of which Crockett was no stranger. During an attack on settlers by Creeks and Chickamauga Cherokees in 1777, natives murdered Crockett's grandparents in their home. Following the Revolution, the British encouraged natives to forcefully reject the Americans in an effort to regain the country. Shawnee leader Tecumseh led and inspired tribes from Ohio to Alabama to conduct raids on settlements throughout the frontier. (see and ) In response to the Creek Indians’ attack on Fort Mims in Alabama, Crockett participated in the retaliatory Battle of Tallushatchee. (see ) Promoted to sergeant, Crockett followed Jackson in his campaign into Spanish Florida as part of the War of 1812. He saw little combat as his main job was hunting for the soldiers. His enlistment ended in the spring of 1815. However, David left at the end of 1814 after hiring someone to complete his last few months.
Shortly after Crockett returned home, Polly passed away. Needing a mother for his young children, he married Elizabeth Patton, who had earlier lost her husband in the Creek War. A fellow soldier in the Creek War, James Patton asked Crockett to return his personal affects to his widow as he lay dying from wounds received at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. (see ) Crockett obliged, and following Polly's death, the two grieving souls found solace in each other.
The new Crockett family moved westward to the unsettled wilderness country in Lawrence County, Tennessee. The couple added three more children to the family as Crockett started his political career. During the formation of its local government, Crockett filled several positions as needed in their new settlement. In 1818, the settlers elected him to head the 57th Militia Regiment as its colonel, a title he carried until his death. Three years later, they sent him to the state Legislature as their representative where he fought strongly for the rights of the settlers and squatters, and built his reputation as a man of the people. While there, leading Tennessee politicians, like Sam Houston and James K. Polk, become Crockett's associates.
Back home, Crockett attempted several professions, such as farming, manufacturing barrels, and making gunpowder. However, he found satisfaction and success in hunting. With his main target the black bears in the Tennessee woods, Crockett prospered in selling their pelts, meat, and oil.
In 1824, Crockett turned his political focus on a federal representative seat, losing in his first attempt. Declaring his opposition to President John Quincy Adams, who defeated Tennessean Andrew Jackson in a contentious election that same year, and Secretary of State Henry Clay, loyal Jacksonians gave Crockett a win in 1826. (see )
Jackson’s rise in politics granted the frontiersmen and settlers in the West a voice, who rejected the social class politics of the East. His supporters found another common man champion in Crockett. From the moment he took up residence in Washington D.C. with other legislators in town for Congress in Mrs. Ball’s Boarding House, the ‘canebrake congressman’ enjoyed instant popularity with supporters. Simultaneously, Crockett endured insults and mockery from anti-Jackson journalists labeling him an unsophisticated, country yokel unworthy of his position. However, the more the establishment ridiculed him, the more the hardworking people of America loved him, building his reputation as the image of the frontier.
Once in office, Crockett's loyalty to individual rights, land policies, and limited government eventually put him at odds with President Jackson. Continuing his campaign against the natives he started in the Creek Indian War, the “Father of the Democratic Party” proposed his 1830 Indian Removal Act, calling for the forced removal of American Indians. (see ) It was a policy Crockett could not support. The only Congressmen from Tennessee to vote against the act, Crockett found himself clashing with voters as well as fellow state leaders for putting principles over politics. Polk ridiculed his actions, jeering, “I have no other feelings towards Colonel Crockett than those of pity for his folly.” Despite the rejection of the citizens, a January 13, 1831, letter from Cherokee chief John Ross expressed the native's appreciation for Crockett's vote. Crockett later stated, “I believed it was a wicked, unjust measure and that I should go against it, let the cost against me be what it might.” The cost was his reelection bid in November, yet he regained his seat two years later.
In April 1831, New York premiered the play The Lion of the West. While it centered on Colonel Nimrod Wildfire, a Kentucky congressman, the country knew the fictional character was based on David Crockett. As the production grew in popularity, so did Crockett's reputation, increasing national interest in the frontiersman and prompting the 1833 unauthorized biography Sketches and Eccentricities of Colonel David Crockett of West Tennessee, Full of exaggerations and half truths, Crockett responded to the book by publishing his own autobiography, A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee, the following year as the Whig Party considered running him for president against Jackson. However, Jackson and his DC companions played the political game much more effectively than Crockett could, successfully squashing his political future.
After losing another election in 1835, Crockett had had it with Washington D.C. and his home state of Tennessee. He donned his coonskin cap and headed west to Texas in search of freedom, land, and adventure. Shortly after his arrival at San Antonio, Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna attacked the Alamo. (see ) Declaring "no quarter,” Santa Anna proclaimed there would be no survivors. When the smoke settled, Colonel William Travis, Colonel Jim Bowie, and Colonel David Crockett laid among the dead.
Following his death, Crockett remained a frontier hero among the people. Movies about or including Crockett started with the rise of motion pictures at the turn of the 20th Century, forever dubbing him Davy Crockett, though he personally preferred David. However, his popularity didn’t fully revive until Disney began production of a series of movies in the 1950’s, cementing his image and certain characteristics in the hearts and minds of Americans across the country. At the peak of popularity, fans purchased coonskin caps at the rate of 5,000 per day. Historians contend it was not everyday attire for him, yet his youngest child Matilda recalled, “He was dressed in his hunting suit, wearing a coonskin cap, and carried a fine rifle presented to him by friends in Philadelphia,” on the day he left for Texas. While he owned multiple firearms, admirers knew Crockett's most treasured pieces were named “Betsy” and “Fancy Betsy”. His prodigious status as a hunter was bolstered by his claim in his autobiography of conquering 105 black bears during the winter of 1825-26, which was highlighted in his movies. He even acquired his own ballad that proclaimed, “Killed him a bear when he was only three…Davy, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier.” (see Ballad of Davy Crockett and .)
Stories and movies featuring Crockett and the Alamo portrayed him as being shot down in a blaze of glory, waving an empty rifle at the enemy. A noble death for a beloved American icon. Yet in 1955, at the height of the Crockett-mania, the diary of Lieutenant Colonel José Enrique de la Peña was found in Mexico. Within its pages, de la Peña recounts seven men surrendered at the Alamo only to be immediately executed on orders of Santa Anna. Among these Texas defenders was supposedly Crockett. Discovery of the diary started an inquiry into the actually fate of Crockett in his last moments. Susannah Dickerson, fresh widow of Captain Almarcon Dickinson, was granted permission by Santa Anna to leave the mission with her infant daughter. She later declared, ‘I recognized Col. Crockett lying dead and mutilated between the church and the two story barrack building, and even remembered seeing his peculiar cap lying by his side.’ However, it is unclear if this was before or after the execution of the survivors.
Die-hard Crockett enthusiasts were infuriated by the claim that Crockett would have surrendered. Such an accusation contradicts Crockett’s behavior his entire life. Several pieces of evidence have been found supporting de la Peña’s description of events, yet one could argue Mexico could have pushed the idea of taking down the famous David Crockett to boost their standing in a war. In the end, the result was the same; Crockett was killed honorably defending the Alamo.
Liberty, it is absolutely fascinating the courage and determination our forefathers had in forging our country. While today's society and education system want you to believe all the white people were rich slave owners, building this country only on the backs of slaves, but frontiersmen like Daniel Boone (see ), Simon Kenton (see ) and David Crockett exhibit a more accurate truth regarding the blood, sweat, and tears that cultivated this land. We should be humbled by their fortitude instead of attempting to erase their existence over progressive accusations of racism and sexism.
The sordid campaigns in the Adams-Jackson election of 1824 fractured the Democratic-Republican Party. Feeling slighted and defrauded, Jackson formed the Democratic Party and took the presidency from Adams in 1828. (see ) However, instead of cleaning up the Washington elitism, he grabbed it by the horns and ran with it, using the same underhanded tactics against Crockett when he dared to oppose him. But as they say, "The more things change, the more things stay the same."
While doing my homework on Crockett, I could not help seeing the similarities with politics today. The Democratic Party, with the media in their pocket, are still trying to politically destroy their opponents. In most cases, they succeed. However, they didn't see our modern day Davy Crockett on the horizon. A man truly fighting for the people, Republican President Donald Trump continues to put 'America First' while refusing to play Washington's political games.
Characterizing him as a buffoon, an idiot, and an incompetent fool, as they did Crockett, Democrats and NeverTrumpers have been attacking Trump constantly for three years like Santa Anna bombed the Alamo, including conducting a sham impeachment trial. Most politicians would have fallen long before now, yet Trump is still standing, waving his proverbial rifle in the air. We have several more months until the presidential election where we know Democrats will do everything they can to eliminate their opposition. Yet if they bothered to learn history instead of burying it, they would know similar attacks on Crockett only made him more popular with the people. Trump supporters know he will never surrender.
That’s my 2 cents.
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