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David Crockett

Tennessee politician who became a fighter for Texas

Davy Crockett

David Crockett was born on August 17, 1786, in what is now Greene County, Tennessee (in the northeast corner of the state), the fifth of nine children born to John and Rebecca Hawkins Crockett. Taught to shoot by his father from a very early age, he was hunting on his own by the time he was eight years old. Sent to school at age thirteen, he spent more time playing hooky than in classes. Then, after only a couple of weeks at school, he beat up the local bully. Fearing punishment from his father and/or retribution from the boy he beat up, he chose to run away from home.

After three years of wandering the wilderness and working various jobs, Crockett decided to return home and face whatever consequences awaited him. By this time, however, he had become a full-grown man and both his father and the school bully had all but forgotten about the fight and Crockett was welcomed with open arms. On August 16, 1806, he married Mary Finley. Sometime after September 11, 1811, Crockett moved his family, which by then included sons John Wesley and William, to Lincoln County (near the Alabama border in the central part of the state). He moved the family again in 1813, this time to Franklin County (one county to the east).

Soon after his second move, Crockett joined the Tennessee Militia as a scout. On November 3, 1813, while serving under General Andrew Jackson, he participated in the massacre of Creek Indians at Tallussahatchee, Alabama, which was carried out to avenge an attack on Fort Mimms, Alabama. He returned home on December 24 of that year, re-enlisted on September 28 of the following year, and subsequently participated in skirmishes against British-trained Indians in Florida, again serving under General Jackson.

Soon after returning home in early 1815, Crockett found himself again a father. Mary Crockett died soon after giving birth to Margaret, however, despite having been in good health prior. On May 21, 1815, Crockett was elected a Lieutenant in the 32nd Militia Regiment of Franklin County. Later that summer, he married Elizabeth Patton, a widow with two children. By September of 1817 he had moved his family west to Lawrence County, and he began his political career soon after.

On November 17, 1817, Crockett became a Justice of the Peace for Lawrence County, a post he held until resigning in 1819. By April 1, 1818 he had been elected to the Lawrenceburg Town Commission, and he was elected Colonel of the 57th Militia Regiment of Lawrence County that same year. On January 1, 1821, Crockett resigned his commission seat to run for a seat in the Tennessee Legislature as a representative of Lawrence and Hickman counties. He won the general election that August and, after taking his seat, took an active interest in public land policy regarding the West. After his term ended in 1823, he moved his family west to Gibson County, from which he was elected to another term in the Tennessee Legislature. By 1825 he was ready to move up the political ladder, but he lost his bid for the U.S. House of Representatives that year and returned to "civilian life." In 1827, Crockett was encouraged to make another bid for the U.S. House of Representatives. This bid proved successful, as was his campaign for a second term in 1829. During his second term, Crockett found himself in conflict with the Jacksonians on several issues, including land reform and the Indian Removal Act. He was defeated for re-election in 1931 by a close margin, but was returned to the House again in 1833. After losing his 1835 bid for another term in the House, Crockett decided to leave Tennessee and head for Texas.

Soon after arriving in Texas in the fall of 1835, Crockett joined in the fight for independence from Mexico, primarily as a means of jump-starting his entry into Texas politics. On March 6, 1836, he was one of the defenders who lost their lives during the Battle of the Alamo. Despite some popular accounts and illustrations showing him defending the Alamo to the very end using his empty rifle as a club, Crockett was actually killed fairly early in the conflict after being captured outside the walls and then executed by Santa Anna, who had ordered that no prisoners be taken.


Despite having virtually no formal education, Crockett was a strong speaker and natural storyteller. He particularly enjoyed telling stories about himself, and was prone to exaggerating his image as an Indian fighter and frontiersman, especially when doing so could earn him "political points." Those stories began spreading out of Tennessee after Crockett became the model for Nimrod Wildfire, the hero of James Kirke Paulding's play The Lion of the West, which opened in New York City on April 25, 1831. Life and Adventures of Colonel David Crockett of West Tennessee was published in 1833, and reprinted the same year under the more accurate title of Sketches and Eccentricities of Colonel David Crockett of West Tennessee. The stories told in those two books were retold, along with newly-written ones, in a series of comic almanacs that were published under his name between 1835 and 1856, and it is from these almanacs that many of the still-popular "Davy Crockett tales" were derived. In 1834, he wrote (with help from Thomas Chilton) and published his autobiography, A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee, which was publicized as a correction of the previous "unauthorized" biographies. That same year, the Whigs began touting Crockett as an anti-Jackson candidate for the presidency in 1836. In 1835, they published two books under his name -- An Account of Colonel Crockett's Tour to the North and Down East, a record of his 1835 three-week tour of the eastern states, and the negative Life of Martin Van Buren. While Crockett likely thought of himself as a very viable presidential candidate, the Whigs were primarily looking to capitalize on his image as a frontiersman-turned-politician who could easily stand against the Jacksonians on key issues, and they lost interest in him after he lost his 1835 bid for Congress.


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Texas State Historical Association

See Also

Andrew Jackson
Santa Anna

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This page was last updated on August 28, 2018.