Golden Nuggets from U. S. History

The Blue Quill Series
Concord Learning Systems


Davy Crockett

"Davy Crockett, kilt hisself a ba'ar at this here tree" is a total distortion of fact. Davy Crockett, like Daniel Boone fifty years earlier, was articulate and well read. Although he had little formal education, he was no illiterate backwoods bumpkin.

Crockett, a pioneer, patriot, trapper, explorer, state legislator, congressman, soldier, and martyr, was born August 17, 1786, in a small cabin near the junction of Limestone Creek and the Nolichucky River in upper East Tennessee. He was the fifth son of nine children born to John and Rebecca Hawkins Crockett.

His father, John, was born in Maryland in 1754, and some historians consider him a descendant of Huguenots who had immigrated from France to Ireland and to America. However, many believe that his ancestors were Vikings from the Norman conquest of northern France which began c.843. The Norsemen had sailed up the French rivers, attacking, looting, and burning such cities as Rouen and Paris and ruining commerce and navigation. In 911 one of their leaders, Rollo, was given the duchy of NORMANDY by CHARLES III. Rollo's successors expanded their lands and were only nominal vassals of the French kings. The Norsemen accepted Christianity, adopted French law and speech, and continued in history as Normans.

In America the Crockett's migration continued from Maryland to Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. John's father, David Crockett, Sr., married Elizabeth Hedge in Maryland. Their sons were John, William, Robert, Joseph, and James. The Crocketts settled in Greene County, East Tennessee, which was then part of North Carolina.

John, William, and Robert Crockett fought in the Battle of King's Mountain during the Revolutionary War. During their absence from home, their parents were killed by an Indian attack. Their siblings were killed, except for two brothers, Joseph and James, and one sister, who was scalped but survived. Joseph and James were taken captive.

John had married Rebecca Hawkins in Maryland and moved South with the rest of the family. He served under Colonel Isaac Shelby in the Battle of King's Mountain, and was presiding magistrate when Andrew Jackson received his license to practice law. He was a commissioner for building roads and, in 1783, a Frontier Ranger. His name appears on the 1783 tax list of Greene County. John with his wife lived on Limestone Creek in Greene County when Davy was born, and a few years later moved to a place in the same county ten miles north of Greenville. The next move was to Cove Creek, where he built a mill in partnership with Thomas Galbraith. In 1794, his mill and house were destroyed by a flood. John then moved his family to Jefferson County (now Hamblen County), built a log cabin-tavern on the road from Abingdon, Virginia to Knoxville, Tennessee, and continued to live there until his death.

Davy temporarily left his family at the age of twelve. By this time he had grown in size and he was given a job driving cattle to Front Royal, Virginia. After arriving there he worked for farmers, wagoners, and a hatmaker. He was offered a job driving cattle to Baltimore, and he lived there until he reached the age of fifteen. Whether remnants of the Crockett and Hawkins family were still living in the area has not been documented, but we can assume that he had relatives there.

Davy returned home to find his father in debt. Now six feet tall, he was well able to do the work of a man and he obligated himself for a year to Col. Daniel Kennedy, his father's creditor. Davy often borrowed the rifle of his employer and became an excellent marksman. From wages earned he bought new clothes, a rifle of his own, and a horse. He began to take part in the local shooting contests where the prize was often quarters of beef. Contestants paid twenty cents for a single shot at a target for a prize quarter of beef. Davy's aim was so good that often he won all four prizes.

The son of his employer conducted a school nearby, and an arrangement was worked out for a period of six months for David to attend school for four days and work for two days. Except for four days when he was twelve years old, this was the only formal schooling Davy ever had.

On August 12, 1806, Davy married Mary Polly Finley. He and his new wife moved into the Duck and Elk River area of Lincoln County, Tennessee. They located near the head of Mulberry Fork, where he began to distinguish himself as a hunter. They lived there during the years of 1809-1810. His two sons, John Wesley and William Finley, were born there.

In 1811 Davy moved his family to he south side of Mulberry Creek near Lynchburg, TN, where he built a log house and lived till 1813. He hunted and cleared a field three miles northwest of his homestead on Hungry Hill. When bear and other game became scarce, he moved to better hunting grounds in Franklin County where he settled on Beans Creek and built a homestead which he called "Kentuck." This was the Crockett home until the close of the War of 1812 (January 1815).

When the Creek Indians opened hostilities and attacked Fort Mimms on August 30, 1812, the militia was called to raise volunteers. Davy signed on to Captain Jones' Mounted Vols and later served with Major Gibson and Gibson's son as a spy in Creek territory. During one campaign Crockett, with 800 others, crossed the Tennessee River through Huntsville, Alabama. While hunting for food Davy killed a bear on the river to Muscle Shoals and Melton's Bluff.

Davy fought in the Battles of Fort Strother and Talledega, took part in the Florida Expedition, and rejoined General Russell to do battle with the British. Upon his return home to Franklin County, in 1815, he found his wife, Polly, dying. Polly Finley Crockett is buried in an old cemetery overlooking Bean's Creek.

In 1816, Davy married Elizabeth Patton, widow of George Patton, with two small children. David and Elizabeth Patton lived in "Kentuck" till 1817, when he moved to Lawrence County the same year the county was created from Indian Territory as a result of a Treaty with the Chickasaw Indians in 1816. In 1819 Davy was instrumental in helping to lay out the county and in selecting the county seat of Lawrenceburg.

Davy was one of the first commissioners and justices of the peace in Lawrence County. He ran a water-powered grist mill, powder mill, and distillery in the area that is now David Crockett State Park. He was elected Colonel of a regiment and, from that time, was known as Colonel Crockett. He was elected to the Legislature in 1821. After his term in office, he returned home and shortly thereafter a flood destroyed his installation and bankrupted him. He decided to move further west and left for Gibson County, Tennessee, leaving the remains of his property to his creditors.

In the spring of 1822 he arrived in Gibson County (named for Major Gibson) and built what was to be his last home. He chose land about 4 miles east of Rutherford. Using some of the logs from that cabin, a replica has been constructed in the town of Rutherford that houses a museum. Davy's mother, Rebecca Hawkins Crockett, is buried on the grounds.

Davy ran for the Legislature in 1823 and his keen and quick wit earned him the respect of the frontiersmen in the area. He used his backwoodsman persona to entertain his audiences wherever he spoke. His opponent was Dr. W. E. Butler who was married to the niece of Mrs. Andrew Jackson. However, the new settlers liked the man that they called their own and elected him. It was David Crockett who introduced the bill to form Gibson County, in 1823.

During a trip to Philadelphia, in 1823, David Crockett was presented his famous long rifle "Betsy" which contained the following inscription; "Presented to the Honorable David Crockett of Tennessee by the young men of Philadelphia." This inscription is on the barrel in gold, and in silver letters near the sight is the motto, "Go Ahead."

In 1826, David Crockett ran for Congress against Colonel Adam Rankin Alexander and Major General William Arnold, both of Jackson. His opponents ran a joint campaign and chose not to mention Crockett in their speeches. The people did not ignore him, but elected him by a majority of 2,748. He was their advocate for their "squatters rights" in the district but Davy preferred to call them settlers.

In 1829 Davy's popularity was at such a peak that his opposition looked hard for a man that they thought could beat him. Captain Joel Estes, of Haywood County and Colonel Adam Alexander were his opponents. The heated races received much publicity over a wide region. The results -- Crockett, 8525; Alexander, 5000; and Estes, 132. Crockett now felt that he was in position to promote some of his preferences. He broke with the administration on the Bank question, and the Cherokee relocation (Trail of Tears). His dislike of Andrew Jackson probably dated back to the Creek War and Jackson's rigorous treatment of his Tennessee troops. However, the break was not received well back in his frontier country. The people of the area had a strong liking for Jackson. When Crockett returned home, he found that some strong feelings had developed against him.

Crockett lost by a narrow majority to William Fitzgerald of Dresden and called the election a campaign of trickery. His opponents had announced that Davy was to speak at several places and not knowing of the arrangement he did not appear. This left the settlers displeased and, it is believed, was the reason for his defeat.

When the 1833 elections came supporters of Andrew Jackson passed legislation that reconstructed the district in such a way as to give advantage to his opponent, William Fitzgerald. This gerrymandering was called by Crockett, "the most unreasonable every laid off in the nation, or even to-total creation." The battle was hard fought, but Davy won the election. Back in Congress, he boasted, "Look at my neck, and you will not find any collar with a label, 'My Dog, Andrew Jackson.' "

When the tallied results of the 1836 election were announced Crockett had lost by a narrow majority and he retired to his frontier home to contemplate his future. The "people's friend" decided to answer the call for volunteers to help with the Texas fight for independence.

After David Crockett left for Texas, John Wesley Crockett won two terms in Congress, the seat once held by his father.

THE ALAMO

During the winter of 1835-1836, the people of Texas decided to sever their relations with Mexico because of dissatisfaction with the Mexican government. To prevent the success of this independence movement, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, in command of the Mexican Army, approached San Antonio with his troops. Lieutenant Colonel William Barret Travis and a force of about 150 Texans sought to defend the city. The company included the famous frontiersmen James Bowie and Davy Crockett.

By 1830 more than 20,000 Americans had migrated to Texas seeking a place to settle and David Crockett, ever looking for new frontiers to conquer, was a prime candidate to assist in the settlement. "As the country no longer requires my services, I have made up my mind to go to Texas. I start anew upon my own hook, and God grant that it may be strong enough to support the weight that may be hung upon it." He left behind wife, children, mother and siblings to take his place in American history.

This reality is a stark contrast to the way the incident is portrayed in movies. There, Crockett is shown riding into Texas with an entourage of Tennesseans ready to assist in saving Texas. The truth is he was simply looking for a new place to live.

In 1718, at a native American village in a pleasant wooded area of spring fed streams at the southern edge of Texas Hill country, Spain established the Mission San Antonio de Verlero (later called "The Alamo"). Barracks, called San Antonio de Bexar, were built to protect the mission. This was more than half a century before the founding of the United States.

In December, 1835, San Antonio de Bexar was under the control of Mexican General Perfecto de Cos with about 1200 soldiers from Mexico. At daybreak, on the 5th, Texans who had been camped outside the fort, began a siege. Against heavy odds both men and artillery skirmished for the next two days. On the 7th, the Texan leader, Ben Milam, was killed and the Texans, inspired to avenge his death, engaged in house to house combat that continued for two more days. At daybreak, on the 9th, General Cos signaled a Mexican truce. The Texans gained all the public property, guns and ammunition.

Mexican General Santa Anna determined to retake San Antonio and impress upon the settlers the futility of further resistance to Mexican rule. The vanguard of his army arrived in San Antonio, February 23, 1836. The 145 Texans in the area took refuge in the fortified grounds of the old mission known as "The Alamo." Their leaders were William B. Travis for the regulars, and Jim Bowie for the volunteers.

General Santa Anna's army continued to grow over the following two weeks to about 2,000. Travis made an appeal for aid from other Texans but few reinforcements arrived and the final total was only 189 men. Davy Crockett was among these last recruits.

The siege of the Alamo lasted 13 days. By March 5, the garrison could not return Mexican fire because ammunition was low. This convinced Santa Anna that the fort could be assaulted. Early the next morning, the Mexicans succeeded in scaling the walls. At the end, the Texans fought using their rifles as clubs. Some historians believe that a few defenders, perhaps including Crockett, survived the battle only to be executed at Santa Anna's orders. Other historians accept the more familiar story that all the Texans who fought died in the battle. At 8 a.m., the Mexican general reported his victory to his government. Survivors of the battle included Susanna Dickinson, the wife of an officer; her baby; her Mexican nurse; and Colonel Travis' black slave Joe. At 6:30 a.m., March 6, 1836, The Alamo was taken. Losses in the battle have been placed at 189 Texans and 1600 Mexicans.

"Remember the Alamo" became a battle cry. The determined defense of the Alamo gave General Sam Houston time to gather the forces he needed to save the independence movement of Texas. He retreated eastward, pursued by Santa Anna. Forty six days after the siege of the Alamo, April 21, 1836, at the Battle of San Jacinto at Goliad, 783 men led by General Sam Houston defeated General Santa Anna's 1,500 Mexican troops. The battle lasted only eighteen minutes. Nine Texans lost their lives. The loss for the Mexicans were 630 dead, and 730 prisoners. Houston's army captured General Santa Anna, disguised as a peasant, the following day and forced him to sign a treaty granting Texas its independence.

Several conflicting stories recount the final hours of the storming of The Alamo, but it is generally agreed that the remains of the defenders were piled in a pier and burned in the square. In November, 1836, Colonel Juan Sequin of the army of the Republic of Texas re-occupied San Antonio and in February, 1837, he held a funeral for the defenders. He reported finding two small heaps and one large heap of ashes. Ashes from the small heaps were put in a coffin and used in a funeral procession to the church and back, salutes were fired over each heap and a service was read at the large heap. A specific burial place has not been determined. Some cremated remains unearthed on the grounds of San Fernando Cathedral are entombed near the front entrance of the church.

The Battle of San Jacinto won the independence for Texas and the settlement of the new republic began. All who had fought for independence were granted 640 acres by the new government. In 1853 Elizabeth Patton Crockett arrived in Texas to claim her grant. She was accompanied by Robert Patton Crockett and his family; George Patton and his family; and Rebecca Halford and her family. After the cost of the survey, the land grant had shrunk to 320 acres. Their grant was located about four miles north of a trading post, now called Acton, in what is now Hood County. Elizabeth Crockett was sixty five years old, but continued to do her share of the frontier work. She died at the age of seventy two and her remains, with several members of her family, are in Acton State Park and Monument, the smallest state park in Texas. The monument shows her with shaded eyes looking to the west.

Children of David Crockett and Polly Finley Crockett are: John Wesley Crockett, b. 1808; William Finley Crockett, b. 1809; and Margaret Finley (Polly) Crockett, b. 1812. Children of David Crockett and Elizabeth Patton Crockett are: Rebecca Elvira Crockett, b. 1815; Robert Patton Crockett, b. 1816; and Matilda Crockett, b. 1821.

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