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This Day in History: Davy Crockett

On this day in 1786, frontiersman Davy Crockett is born. Crockett is known for his escapades as a hunter, scout, storyteller, and militia man. He was a legend, of course, with plays and books written about his adventures even during his own lifetime.

“I’m that same David Crockett,” he once said of himself, “fresh from the backwoods, half-horse, half-alligator, a little touched with the snapping-turtle; can wade the Mississippi, leap the Ohio, ride upon a streak of lightning, and slip without a scratch down a honey locust; can whip my weight in wildcats . . . .”

Would he have lived longer if he and Andrew Jackson had not been at odds with each other? Crockett scouted for Jackson during the Creek War, but he did not share Jackson’s ruthless style. Tension between the two came to a head after Crockett was persuaded to run for political office.

Crockett later remembered that his first opponent “thought my being a candidate was a mere matter of sport” and didn’t think “he was in any danger from an ignorant back-woods bear hunter.” But Crockett could entertain a crowd, and he sometimes wrapped up a stump speech by inviting the crowd to join him for a drink—leaving his opponent behind without an audience.

Obviously, he won.

Crockett was serving in Congress when Jackson was elected to the White House. The two clashed, perhaps most notably over the Indian Removal Act. Crockett voted against the measure, calling it “a good honest vote, and one that I believe will not make me ashamed in the day of judgment.”

But Jackson was getting tired of the popular frontiersman who too often opposed him, and he personally recruited someone to challenge Crockett in 1831. The campaigns that followed were messy. Crockett lost in 1831, won in 1833, then lost again in 1835.

You’ve likely heard how Crockett responded? “Since you have chosen to elect a man with a timber toe to succeed me,” he stormed, “you may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas.”

Many have speculated about his reasons for going to Texas. He was then separated from his wife and deep in debt. He was interested in good land and a chance to start over. He wasn’t trying to join the fight for Texas independence—at least not at first.

Perhaps the adventurous frontiersman couldn’t help himself once he arrived?

By January 1836, he’d joined a volunteer corps. He signed an oath to “bear true allegiance to the Provisional Government of Texas, or any future republican Government that hereafter may be declared . . . .”

He wouldn’t take the oath until the word “republican” had been inserted. He had no intention of serving a tyrannical government.

“I must say as to what I have seen of Texas it is the garden spot of the world,” he wrote his family, “the best land and the best prospect for health I have ever saw . . . . I am rejoiced in my fate.”

Did Crockett’s old animosity for Jackson seal his fate at this juncture? Or was he just itching for a fight? Crockett joined Colonel William B. Travis at the Alamo during those weeks, even though Sam Houston, a Jackson supporter, wanted the Alamo destroyed.

Travis and Crockett would stay and fight. They would be among those killed at the Alamo on March 6, 1836.

No one knows exactly how Crockett died. Some survivors recalled seeing his body, surrounded by enemy corpses. Some say he was clubbing his attackers with a rifle, even as he was being stabbed. Others say he was summarily executed after surrendering.

Regardless, the horrific treatment of Alamo defenders gave Texans a new rallying cry: “Remember the Alamo!”—and it solidified Davy Crockett’s reputation as one of the most memorable frontiersmen of his day.

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