Who Was Davy Crockett? - Biography & Death at the Alamo

Instructor: Daniel McCollum

Dan has a Master's Degree in History and has taught undergraduate History

Best known today for the Disney movies inspired by his life, the coonskin hats of the 1950s, and many a tall tale, Davy Crockett was a real man. This lesson examines the true story of Davy Crockett and his place in history.

The Legend of Davy Crockett

In the 1950s, Davy Crockett mania swept through the United States, thanks to a miniseries produced by the Disney Corporation. This miniseries was first released in 1954 and introduced a generation of children to the legendary exploits of Davy Crockett, a renowned early American frontiersman. The miniseries proved so popular that it was later edited together into the 1955 film Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier. This started a coonskin hat fad among children that lasted for years while the show's theme song, 'The Ballad of Davy Crockett', had four different versions appear on the Billboard charts at the same time. However, Davy Crockett was a real man whose exploits, though often exaggerated, made him into a household name for generations of Americans. In this lesson we will examine the real Davy Crockett.

Early Life

Davy Crockett was a native of Tennessee, which was then part of the western frontier of the United States. Crockett was born in 1783, a mere three years after the United States had won its independence from Great Britain. He was the fifth child of John and Rebecca Crockett. Crockett grew up on the frontier and, from a very early age, showed an enthusiasm for learning about hunting and trapping in the woods. He was largely self-taught and was said to have attended school for only a few days when he was 16, quitting after an altercation where he beat up the class bully. Rather than return, he ran away from home and spent the next three years building his woodsman skills. He eventually returned home and married, but left again with the outbreak of the War of 1812, when he volunteered to join the state militia.

Entering Politics

Crockett's exploits endeared him to many of the people back home and he was able to launch a political career. He first served in the Tennessee House of Representatives for a single term from 1821 to 1823. Crockett had long eyed a seat in Congress; he ran for Congress in 1825 but lost. He ran again the next year as a supporter of Andrew Jackson and was able to secure the election. At the time, future president Andrew Jackson was considered a folk hero by many in his native Tennessee due to his exploits in the War of 1812 and his time in the United States Senate. Crockett wanted badly to associate himself with the popular man. However, after Crockett won election, he and Jackson had a falling out and the young Congressman became a member of the Anti-Jacksonian Party. Most notably, Crockett became the only Congressman from Tennessee to vote against Jackson's efforts to remove the Cherokee from Georgia.

It was during this time that Crockett's status as a legendary frontiersman began, as he began to campaign on his adventures on the frontier. During his final term in Congress he published an autobiography which became popular throughout the nation. In one colorful account, Crockett claimed to have shot over 105 bear in a single year during his time in the wilderness. Later authors would expand on the accounts that Crockett wrote about, expanding his image as a frontiersman. Here, people read stories of Crockett being able to 'grin the bark off of a tree' or that he killed his first bear at the ripe age of three year old.

Despite his growing legend, Crockett's political career was checkered. He was defeated for reelection, only to run again and regain his seat. He was defeated a final time in 1835. Following his defeat, he was said to have stated 'I told the people of my district that I would serve them as faithfully as I had done; but if not, they might go to hell, and I would go to Texas.'

Davy Crockett
Davy Crockett

The Struggle For Independence in Texas

In the 1830s Texas was in a state of rebellion as American settlers sought to drive the forces of Mexico from the territory. Crockett likely wanted to move to Texas because it would give him the chance to acquire more land, and also win glory should the Texans win the war. He arrived in the region in 1836 and quickly took his oath as a volunteer of the provisional government of the Republic of Texas. Crockett and other volunteers were each promised over four thousand acres of land from the government for their service.

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