by Jennifer Watts
Have you ever heard of Davy Crockett? I’m sure many of you will say yes. Many of the stories you may have heard today are really legends. Did you know his name wasn’t even Davy? He went by David. His life story has been told many times thru the years. So, who was the real “King of the Wild Frontier"?
David Crockett was born August 17, 1786, in East Tennessee. His family was not rich. David had to help work off his father’s debts as a kid. This was a common thing in the 1700 and 1800s. They also moved around a lot looking for ways to make a living.
Portrait of David Crockett, Tennessee State Museum Collection.
He did not get the chance to go to school like you do today. He was tutored by a neighbor sometimes. It wouldn’t even count as a whole school year today. He spent most of his time working different jobs, exploring, and hunting. Even though he did not go to school, David was able to do great things. What he learned from living on the frontier prepared him for his future.
His knowledge of the land led him to join the local militia as a scout in 1813. He served in the Creek War until 1815. He was popular with other soldiers for his hunting skills. He also became popular for being able to tell a good story. After the war, he moved to Lawrence County. That is where he became interested in government as a way to help people.
In 1821, David was elected to the Tennessee General Assembly. During his campaign, he told crowds of people stories of his frontier adventures. He soon became a spokesman for the frontier people. He was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1827. He fought for the rights of regular people, not the wealthy. As a congressman, David often disagreed with another Tennessean, President Andrew Jackson. One thing he did not agree with was the Indian Removal Act. This forced Native Americans to move off their lands. David’s views did not make him many friends. He decided to leave politics and go west.
In 1835, he left the country and went to Texas. Texas was part of Mexico. He joined a troop of Tennessee volunteers to fight in the Texas war against Mexico. In February of 1836, he went to San Antonio, Texas. He helped over 100 men to defend the Alamo. They fought against General Antonio López de Santa Anna and hundreds of Mexican troops. The Mexican army captured the Alamo. David Crockett was killed during battle. He died on March 6, 1836.
Copy of David Crockett’s Autobiography, Tennessee State Museum Collection.
David is remembered today for his bravery as a soldier and a frontiersman. He wrote an autobiography in 1834. The book helped his legend grow. There was a TV show made about him in the 1950s. Children even began to wear coonskin caps that he wore in the show. There was also a very popular song called “The Ballad of Davy Crockett”. Over 180 years later, we still remember David Crockett as a Tennessee legend.
Poster of Disney TV Show, Tennessee State Museum Collection.
Legend - (NOUN) an old story that is widely known, but cannot be proven as true.
Frontier - (NOUN) part of a country that is being settled (people moving too) by hunters and other pioneers.
Militia - (NOUN) an army or group of fighters who are not soldiers, usually citizens.
Creek War - (NOUN) a series of battles fought with the Creeks (a Native American tribe) during the War of 1812.
Campaign - (NOUN) a series of events to try and convince people to vote for you.
General Assembly - (NOUN) a group of people chosen by the citizens of a state to represent them in government.
Spokesman - (NOUN) a person who speaks for or represents someone or something.
Indian Removal Act - (NOUN) a law passed by the United States government, without Southeastern Indian approval, that gave the Indians new land to the west, but took the land they were living on in the east.
Autobiography - (NOUN) a book where someone writes about their own life.
What year was David Crockett born?
Who did Crockett fight for while in the government?
Was he for or against the Indian Removal Act?
Why do you think Crockett decided to fight at the Alamo?
Why do you think people consider David Crockett a legend?
David Crockett wrote an autobiography so he could tell people about his life. Try writing your own autobiography. What things have happened to you that you thought were exciting or fun? What would other people like to know about you?
To learn more about the life of David Crockett watch the video linked below.
Jennifer Watts is an Educator at the Tennessee State Museum.