Davy Crockett

August 17, 1786–March 6, 1836

David “Davy” Crockett was a legendary American folk hero, nicknamed the “King of the Wild Frontier.” He is most well-known for the “tall tales,” told about his exploits, his real-life opposition to the treatment of Native American Indians, and his untimely, heroic death at the Battle of the Alamo.

Davy Crockett, Portrait, Shegogue

David Crockett by James Hamilton Shegogue. Image Source: National Portrait Gallery.

Who was Davy Crockett?

David “Davy” Crockett was a legendary American folk hero, frontiersman, soldier, and politician. Nicknamed the “King of the Wild Frontier,” he is most well-known for the “tall tales” told about his exploits, his real-life opposition to the treatment of Native American Indians, and his involvement in the Texas Revolution.

Crockett was born in the wilderness of Tennessee in 1786. He learned how to shoot and hunt at a young age, and became a skilled marksman. When he was a teen, he ran away from home and spent over two years traveling through Tennessee, Virginia, and Maryland, honing his survival skills.

When he returned home, he joined the Tennessee Militia and fought under the command of Andrew Jackson during the Creek War. As his reputation grew, he entered politics and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

However, Crockett opposed the Indian Removal Act and broke from the Democratic Party and President Jackson.

His exploits were further embellished when he published his best-selling biography, “A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, Written by Himself.” After leaving politics he went to Texas to help the settlers in their fight for independence from Mexico.

In 1838, Crockett fought in the Battle of the Alamo and was killed by Mexican troops, along with everyone who defended the fort.

Interesting Facts About Davy Crockett

  1. Crockett was born on August 17, 1786, in Greene County, Tennessee.
  2. His parents were John Cockett and Rebecca Hawkins.
  3. His father fought with the Overmountain Men in the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780.
  4. At the time of his birth in 1786, East Tennessee was known as the State of Franklin. The territory established its independence from North Carolina in 1784, and narrowly missed being admitted to the Union as the 14th state. It fell one vote shy of approval by Congress.
  5. Crockett lived in Tennessee for all but the last few months of his life.
  6. He supported westward expansion and the concept of Manifest Destiny, which contributed to his participation in the Texas Revolution.
  7. During his lifetime, he was never referred to as “Davy.” The shortened version of the name was introduced in the 1950s.
  8. During his political career, one of his favorite quotes was, “Be always sure you are right, then go ahead.”
  9. He was the only Congressman from Tennessee who voted against the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
  10. Crockett was killed at the Battle of the Alamo on March 6, 1836.

Davy Crockett History — Early Life and Career

Crockett’s Early Life

David Crockett was born on August 17, 1786, in Greene County, which is in the eastern portion of Tennessee. At the time, the county was part of the independent State of Franklin, which declared independence from North Carolina in 1784.

His parents were John Crockett and Rebecca Hawkins. His father was a local magistrate, unsuccessful land speculator, and tavern owner. He was also a veteran of the American Revolutionary War and served with the militia groups that made up the Overmountain Men at the Battle of Kings Mountain in 1780.

Growing up on the frontier, life for Crockett was difficult — and dangerous. His grandparents were murdered by Creek and Cherokee Indians before he was born. When he was 8 years old, his father taught him how to shoot a rifle. He became an excellent marksman. However, the family moved often — at least three times before he was 12 — which hindered his education. 

When he was 12, his father had him work for a cattle driver, who worked him hard and kept him for longer than he was supposed to. Crockett ran away during a snowstorm and returned home.

At 13, his father sent him to school. Recalling the experience, Crockett said, “I went four days and had just began to learn my letters a little, when I had an unfortunate falling out with one of the scholars—a boy much larger and older than myself.” After school one day, Crockett and the boy fought, and Crockett beat the boy soundly. Knowing he would be in trouble if he went back to school, Crockett simply played hooky. His father soon found out and confronted him. Crockett responded by running away — for more than two years.

Crockett the Frontiersman

He spent the next two years wandering and honing his skills as a woodsman. He traveled around Tennessee, Virginia, and Maryland, working odd jobs and honing his skills as a frontiersman and hunter. Crockett referred to the time as his “strategic withdrawal.”

In 1802, he went back home. He was still 15, almost 16. When he returned, he had grown so much that his family did not recognize him at first. According to Crockett, he had been “been gone so long, and had grown so much, that the family did not at first know me.” After they realized it was him, they forgave him for running off. He repaid their understanding by working to help pay off his father’s debts. He also went back to school for about six months and learned to read and write.

Davy Crockett, Full Length Portrait, Huddle
This portrait of Crockett was painted by William Henry Huddle in 1889. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Marriage to Polly Finley

On August 14, 1806, Crockett married Molly “Polly” Finley. They lived in Jefferson County and had two sons — John Wesley and William. In 1811, the family moved to Lincoln County. Two years later, they moved to Franklin County, where they settled along the banks of Beans Creek.

Tennesse Militia in the Creek War and War of 1812

In 1813, a faction of the Creek Nation, known as the “Red Sticks,” attacked settlers at Fort Mims in Alabama. Crockett and many other young men from Tennessee enlisted in the Tennesse Militia. Crockett was in the Second Regiment of the Volunteer Mounted Riflemen for the Creek War.

For the most part, Crockett operated as a scout and game hunter for the militia, but he was at the Battle of Talluwshatchee. During that battle, General John Coffee led Tennessee forces in an attack on the Red Stick village of Tallushatchee, which led to the deaths of around 200 villagers, including women and children. Crockett left the militia soon after.

Crockett rejoined the militia in 1814 and served briefly during the War of 1812. He had little involvement before his enlistment ended in 1815.

Second Marriage

After the war, he returned home and Polly gave birth to Margaret, their third child. Unfortunately, Polly died that summer. Crockett then married Elizabeth Patton, a widow, in 1815, and they had three children together — Robert, Rebecca, and Matilda. The family moved to Lawrence County in the fall of 1817.

Davy Crockett Enters Politics

Politics and Business

After moving to Lawrence County, he ran various businesses and started his political career. In 1817, he was elected as the Justice of the Peace in Lawrence County, Tennessee. The following year, he was elected to the office of Town Commissioner of Lawrenceburg and as the Colonel in charge of the 57th Militia Regiment.

Tennessee House of Representatives

Crockett gained a reputation as a skilled storyteller and public speaker, which made him popular with his neighbors. For example, he told a story about how he was once hunting a bear, and when it saw him, it just gave up and surrendered. In another story, he told people he killed more than 100 bears in a stretch of six months.

In 1821, he ran a campaign to represent Lawrence and Hickman counties in the Tennessee legislature and won. Soon after the campaign, a flood devastated his business ventures in Lawrence County and he was forced to sell off land in order to pay his debts.

For the next two years, he spent the next two years working in the Tennessee State House of Representatives to improve living conditions for the poor in his district, with a focus on reducing their tax burden. He was popular and elected for a second term in 1823 as the representative for Carroll, Humphreys, Perry, Henderson, and Madison counties.

United States House of Representatives

In 1825, he ran for a seat in the U.S. of Representatives but lost. He spent the next year operating a business making and selling barrels, which he would transport down the Mississippi River to New Orleans.

He ran again in 1826, won the seat in the House, representing Tennessee, and went to Washington, D.C. In 1828, Andrew Jackson, who many people believed Crockett was aligned with due to their political, military, and geographical ties, was elected President. A year later, Crockett was reelected to a second term in Congress and split with his party over several key issues, including Indian Removal.

Opposition to Indian Removal

In his autobiography, Crockett called it “a wicked, unjust measure.” Despite his opposition, the Indian Removal Act was passed and went into law in 1830. The new law was intended to “trade” land in present-day Oklahoma to the Native American Indians in the southwest for their ancestral lands. Once the Indians were relocated, the government would sell the land to Americans. In Tennessee, it meant a significant amount of land would become available. As a result, Crockett was the only congressman from Tennessee who voted against the act. 

Crockett received a letter of gratitude from the leader of the Cherokee Nation, John Ross, but Crockett paid the price in 1831 when he lost his bid for reelection.

David Crockett — Rise of the King of the Wild Frontier

By 1831, Crockett’s status as a folk hero of larger-than-life proportions was cemented. He was the inspiration for “Nimrod Wildfire,” the hero of a play by James Kirke Paulding called “The Lion of the West.” Inspired by the play, various books and articles were written about him — all unauthorized — that exaggerated his exploits — including “Sketches and Eccentricities of Col. Crockett, of West Tennessee”.

His renewed popularity contributed to his being reelected to Congress in 1833, for another two years. Crockett was at the height of his popularity, and he wanted to address some of the outrageous stories about his life — and cash in on it. While serving his term, he collaborated with another member of the House of Representatives, Thomas Chilton from Kentucky, to write his autobiography “A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, Written by Himself.” 

This was followed by a series of anonymous books known as the “Crockett Almanacs.” They were filled with outrageous stories of life and adventures on the frontier.

Davy Crockett, Shooting a Bear, Crockett Almanac, 1836
This illustration is from an 1836 Crockett Almanac and depicts Crockett shooting a bear. Image Source: Archive.org.

Crockett and the Attempted Assassination of Andrew Jackson

On January 30, 1835, political leaders in Washington gathered for the funeral of Warren Davis, a member of the House of Representatives from South Carolina. Jackson and Crockett were part of a crowd leaving the U.S. Capitol after the funeral.

As President Jackson walked out, Richard Lawrence, an unemployed painter, ran out of the crowd, firing at Jackson with a pistol — which misfired. It spared Jackson and gave Crockett and Lieutenant Thomas Gedney time to grab Lawrence. Crockett and Gedney disarmed Lawrence and wrestled him to the ground, where Jackson proceeded to beat him with his cane.

Lawrence pulled out a second pistol and fired — and it also misfired. It was the first attempted assassination of a sitting United States President, but Jackson blamed his political opponents for scheming to have him killed.

Andrew Jackson, Portrait, Painting
Andrew Jackson. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Crockett Leaves Tennessee

In 1835, Crockett lost his reelection bid to Adam Huntsman, in part because Jackson and Tennessee Governor William Carroll campaigned against him. Fed up with politics, Crockett reportedly told the people in his district, “Since you have chosen to elect a man with a timber toe to succeed me, you may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.” 

Crockett Goes to Texas and Joins the Revolution

On November 1, 1835, Crockett took 30 men and went to Texas. It took them three months to make the journey, and Crockett drew a crowd at every stop along the way. It was January 1836 by the time he arrived in Nacogdoches, Texas.

Crockett signed up as a volunteer for the army on January 14, serving the Provisional Government of Texas. Per the agreement, Crockett and the 65 other men who signed up would serve for six months in return for 4,600 acres of land. On February 6, he rode with five other men to San Antonio de Bexar. Two days later, he arrived at the old mission which was called “The Alamo.”

How Did Davy Crockett Die? — Davy Crockett Fights at the Alamo

On February 23, the Mexican Army, under the command of General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna arrived and laid siege to the Alamo. For 13 days, the Texian forces, led by William B. Travis and Jim Bowie, skirmished with the Mexicans around the Alamo. Travis sent letters to political leaders in Texas and the United States, begging for reinforcements, however, none came. 

On the morning of March 6, the Mexicans launched an assault that overwhelmed the Texians. Nearly everyone who defended the Alamo was killed in the attack — including Crockett.

One of the survivors, Susannah Dickinson, said that Crockett stopped in the chapel to say a brief prayer before he went to his post to defend the Alamo against the attack. There are various accounts of how Crockett and his men met their end during the battle. The one thing those accounts have in common is that they fought to the end, and fought bravely, in the face of overwhelming odds.

Lieutenant Jose Enrique de la Peña wrote in his diary that Crockett and five or six others were captured. De la Peña said that some of the officers wanted to spare Crockett’s life, but Santa Anna gave the order to have them bayoneted and shot.

Regardless of how he met his end, his demise at the Alamo made him a martyr and a symbol of the Texas Revolution.

Fall of the Alamo, Davy Crockett Fighting, Painting, Onderdonk
This painting depicts Crockett using his rifle as a club in the fight at the Alamo. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Why was Davy Crockett Important? — The Significance of David “Davy” Crockett

David “Davy” Crockett is important to United States history for his efforts to support the common man against government policies that he believed were unfair and put people at a disadvantage. He also fought against the government’s Indian Removal Policy, even though it eventually cost him his political career. A celebrated Long Hunter and frontiersman, Crockett’s life and legend continue to be celebrated in American folklore and popular culture. He is remembered as a rugged individualist and a champion of the common man. Despite his relatively short life, Crockett has had a lasting impact on American history.

Davy Crockett AP US History (APUSH) Study Guide

Use the following links and videos to study Davy Crockett, the Age of Jackson, the Texas Revolution, and Westward Expansion for the AP US History Exam. Also, be sure to look at our Guide to the AP US History Exam.

Davy Crockett APUSH Definition

The definition of Davy Crockett for the AP US History exam is a legendary frontiersman, folk hero, and politician who was a champion for the “common man” and lost his life in the Texas Revolution at the Battle of the Alamo. Crockett is remembered as the “King of the Wild Frontier” thanks to the 1950s television series starring Fess Parker and produced by Walt Disney Productions.

The Legend of Davy Crockett

This video from Captivating History provides an overview of the true life — and legend — of David “Davy” Crockett.

Learn More on American History Central