Like many of the men who fought at the Alamo in 1836, David "Davy" Crockett was a recent arrival in Texas. Received as a celebrity, he had represented Tennessee in the U.S. Congress. He was renowned as an adventurer, Indian fighter, and bear hunter. In private and political circles, he championed the cause of the "common man" -- and occasionally dressed the part. As the subject of so many legends, "The Lion of the West" was something of an enigma. Nevertheless, accounts from Alamo eyewitnesses shed some light on Crockett's character and his role in the famous San Antonio battle.
Born in Tennessee in 1786, Crockett exhibited his adventurous spirit early when he ran away from home to escape school. He married Mary (Polly) Finley in 1806 and had two sons, John Wesley and William, and a daughter, Margaret. Crockett volunteered as a scout in the local militia and later served in the Creek Indian War under future president Andrew Jackson.
In 1821, Crockett ran for a seat in the Tennessee legislature and won. Six years later, he won election to the U.S. House of Representatives. Throughout his political career Crockett had created an image of himself as a homespun, "common" man. He advertised the fact that he had never read a law book and possessed only a rudimentary education. Crockett served two terms, but when he argued against Andrew Jackson's Indian removal bill, his supporters deserted him and he lost a close bid for a third term.
The Raccoon Cap
By the early 1830s, Crockett was nationally known. His hunting and fighting exploits, recounted in a book and in a play, "The Lion of the West," contributed to his mystique. Not a few outrageous stories circulated about "Davy's" frontier adventures. Crockett returned to Congress in 1833 and published his autobiography, A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee, partly to correct the growing popular legend of his life. After losing his campaign for a fourth term, Crockett gave up on politics and uttered the now famous statement, "You may all go to Hell, and I will go to Texas." Sporting a hunting shirt and a raccoon cap -- for the first time, historians say -- Crockett left Tennessee with several men in November of 1835, and headed for Texas.
During the siege of the Alamo, Crockett was reportedly vital to the defenders' morale. According to Alamo survivor Susanna Dickenson, Crockett often played his fiddle to rouse the troops. Another Alamo survivor, Enrique Esparza, recalled that Crockett was the "leading spirit" in the camp and provided support and advice to military commanders William Travis and Jim Bowie. "Don Benito," as the Mexicans called him, went "to every exposed point and personally directed the fighting."
Death in the Alamo
Crockett was one of the last men standing after the fall of the Alamo. He and six of his men continued to fight until they were surrounded. As Mexican general Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna entered the compound, he ordered the men executed. According to the diary of Mexican soldier José Enrique de la Peña, several Mexican officers hacked the prisoners to death with their swords.
Davy Crockett's name and reputation -- along with the tall tales of his life -- have not faded much over time. Over a hundred years after his death, Davy Crockett tales thrilled Americans tuning in to a new storytelling medium -- television -- when Walt Disney premiered "Davy Crockett Indian Fighter" in December 1954. The show's theme song sold ten million copies, and Crockett quickly became a Fifties icon.