Davy Crockett, American frontiersman and politician, became a folk hero during his own lifetime. Crockett grew up on the frontier and later used his knowledge of it in his political campaigns. Although he is known chiefly as a hunter and a soldier, Crockett also worked for land for settlers, relief for people in debt, and an expanded banking system for Tennessee.
David "Davy" Crockett, the son of John and Rebecca Crockett, was born on August 17, 1786, in East Tennessee. He was the fifth of nine children. Crockett's father put him to work driving cattle to Virginia when he was twelve years old. After running away from home to escape a beating from his father, Crockett traveled throughout Virginia. He decided that his lack of education limited his marriage possibilities, so he learned to read, to write a little, and to "cypher," or add and subtract.
In 1806 Crockett married Mary Finely and became a farmer. Frontier farming proved unrewarding, and in 1813 he decided to move his family to Franklin County, Tennessee.
Life on the frontier
In 1813, shortly after Crockett moved to Franklin County, frontiersmen ambushed a band of Creek Indian warriors in southern Alabama. Nearby settlers gathered at Fort Mims. The Native Americans attacked the fort and killed over five hundred people. Crockett then volunteered to serve with the frontier military forces in the fight against the Native Americans. In September and October he served as a scout. He went on leave and then returned to military service from September 1814 to February 1815. During this time Crockett served as a scout and a hunter and apparently encountered little fighting.
In 1815 Crockett's first wife died, and he married Elizabeth Patton. While traveling with neighbors in Alabama, he contracted malaria, a disease that causes chills and fever, and was left along the road to die. He recovered and returned to his family, much to their surprise. He has been quoted as remarking about his reported death, "I know'd this was a whopper of a lie, as soon as I heard it."
Local and state politics
In 1817 Crockett and his family moved to Lawrence County, Tennessee. He worked as a justice of the peace and later served as county commissioner. In 1818 he was elected lieutenant colonel of the local military regiment. In 1821 he campaigned for a seat in the state legislature. During the campaign Crockett realized the frontiersmen's isolation and need for recreation. Therefore, he gave short speeches laced with stories that helped lead to his election. Having grown up among the poor settlers, Crockett served as their spokesman. He proposed bills to reduce taxes, to settle land claim disputes, and to protect their general economic interests. In 1823 Crockett was elected to the Tennessee legislature.
In 1825 Crockett ran for a seat in the U.S. Congress but was defeated. He ran again and won in 1827 and was reelected in 1829. Crockett did not agree with many of the policies of President Andrew Jackson (1787–1845). He took a stand against the president on several issues, including Native American removal and land policy. In 1831 when Crockett ran for a third term, he was defeated. Two years later he regained his seat by a narrow margin. In 1834 he published his autobiography, A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee. Then, another defeat in 1835 marked the end of his congressional career.
Death at the Alamo
In 1835 Crockett and four neighbors headed into Texas looking for new land. By January 1836 he had joined the Texas Volunteers, and within a month he reached San Antonio, Texas. Crockett then joined Texans in their fight to hold the Alamo against a Mexican army. In the first week of March he and the other defenders of the Alamo died during the siege and capture of that fort by Mexican troops. Popular tradition says that Crockett was one of the last defenders who died during the final assault. In reality, Crockett was one of the first defenders to die—alone and unarmed, on March 6, 1836.
Crockett's death at the Alamo made him more famous than his political activities did. Through newspaper accounts and other writings—both fact and fiction—legends concerning Crockett's adventures grew. Descriptions of Crockett are varied, but it is generally thought that he was about 5 feet 8 inches tall, with brown hair, blue eyes, and rosy cheeks. He was noted for his humor, his honesty, and his skill as an entertaining public speaker. Those who knew him realized that he was a man of ability and character.
For More Information
Chemerka, William R. The Davy Crockett Almanac and Book of Lists. Austin, TX: Eakin Press, 1999.
Moseley, Elizabeth R. Davy Crockett, Hero of the Wild Frontier. Champaign, IL: Garrard, 1967. Reprint, New York: Chelsea Juniors, 1991.
Rourke, Constance. Davy Crockett. Rev. ed. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1998.
Davy Crockett was a respected, but unremarkable, frontier politician, who was killed in the struggle for Texas independence from Mexico. Due to tall tales of his heroic feats as a frontiersman, Crockett became a legend in his own time and a central character in American folklore.
David Crockett was born in a cabin in Tennessee in 1786. As a young man, he enlisted twice with the Tennessee militia (an army made up of trained civilians rather than professional soldiers) commanded by General Andrew Jackson (1767–1845). He fought in the Creek War (1813–14).
Later, Crockett began a career in politics. He served as a justice of the peace and a Tennessee state legislator before becoming a Democratic congressman from Tennessee in 1827. He served two terms and lost the election for a third term in 1831. Two years later, he ran again and won, returning to Congress to serve a third term.
After losing his battle for reelection to a fourth term in 1835, Crockett moved to east Texas in search of a new home. At the age of forty-nine, he participated in the defense of the Alamo , a mission converted into a fort by Anglo-American (non-Mexican) soldiers in Texas's war of independence with Mexico. Mexican forces killed Crockett and all of the two hundred other defenders of the Alamo in March 1836.
The folk hero
During his lifetime, Crockett's frontier drawl and his tendency to tell folksy stories always drew the attention of journalists. As a politician, he told exaggerated stories about his feats as an Indian fighter and bear hunter to gain votes. He wrote an autobiography in 1834 full of these tall tales. In the 1830s, publishers released dozens of Davy Crockett books. Filled with coarse language and remarkable (and almost certainly untrue) exploits, the books were popular. The myth of the heroic frontiersman continued to grow even after his death. Hollywood discovered the tall tales, resulting in many popular movies and television shows, keeping the legend of Davy Crockett alive.
Davy Crockett was a frontiersman, Indian scout, and politician who became one of America's first folk heroes. His backwoods philosophy, homespun humor, and image as a rough-edged hunter and Indian fighter made him an extremely popular figure during his lifetime. Crockett's reputation—and the tall tales about him—grew to legendary proportions after his death.
Born in Tennessee in 1786, Crockett had no formal schooling and worked on farms as a child. From 1813 to 1815, he served as a scout under Andrew Jackson (who later became the country's president), fighting the Creek Indians. His wartime record and plainspoken humor made him popular with voters. He was elected to the Tennessee legislature in 1821 and to the U.S. Congress in 1827. He went to Texas to help settlers there overthrow Mexican rule but died defending the Alamo on March 6, 1836.
Crockett was known as the "coonskin congressman" because of his many stories about hunting raccoons and bears. He loved to tell tall tales that showed him as stronger, smarter, braver, and a better shot than anyone else in the land. The stories grew more fantastic after his death, thanks largely to a series of adventure books featuring Crockett as the hero. In these tales, he climbed Niagara Falls on an alligator's back, drank the entire Gulf of Mexico, twisted the tail off a comet, and outsmarted a businessman. He also traveled the world performing marvelous feats of daring and skill. In many ways, Davy Crockett is America's own celebrated hero, whose deeds and adventures compare to those of legendary ancient warriors such as Achilles* and Beowulf*.