''When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.'' Scott Eyman
|We have all seen movies of Davy Crockett's time at the Alamo and scenes where he goes down swinging "Old Betsy" at Mexican soldiers. The first real exposure of the life of Davy Crockett was seen in Walt Disney's mini-series in 1954 and 1955. In that series he was depicted as a caring family man, bold frontiersman, honored statesman, brave Indian fighter, and an adventurist. Attend a tour of the Capital Building in Austin, Texas and you will see statues of him in buckskin while his legend is told that most historians claim to be true.
But, how much of that is fact compared to legend? Where do we find all this stuff about Davy Crockett killing a bear when he was 3, fighting Indians, and being a popular frontiersman? It is Davy who tells us all that in a flattering self-written biography called, "A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, Written by Himself." I kid you not, that is the actual title. Putting the 112 page dime novel aside, let's look at what recorded history has to say about this American hero.
The Family Man:
Ignoring his past before marriage, we start with Crockett's first wife, Polly Finley, in 1806. They moved from the Finely plantation to several towns after the marriage and had 3 children until Polly died in 1815. Crockett asked his brother John and his sister-in-law to move in with him to help care for the children. He was too busy to do it himself. That same year he married the widow Elizabeth Patton who had two children from her first marriage. This placed 5 young children under his roof that year and eventually Elizabeth was totally responsible for raising the children because Mr. Crockett was away from home a good part of the year.
In 1817, Crockett moved the family to new acreage in Lawrence County, where he first entered public office as a commissioner helping to configure the new county's boundaries. That same year, the state legislature appointed him county justice of the peace. The next year, he was elected lieutenant colonel of the Fifty-seventh Regiment of Tennessee Militia, defeating candidate Daniel Matthews for the position. By 1819, Crockett was operating multiple businesses in the area and felt his public responsibilities were beginning to consume so much of his time and energy that he had little left for either family or business. He resigned from the office of justice of the peace and from his position with the regiment. Needless to say, Crockett was away from home more than he was there helping to raise a family.
Crockett spent a lot of time traveling throughout Tennessee in 1826 to win a seat in Congress and was defeated in his re-election bid in 1829. He won his re-election in 1833 and was defeated again in his third term in 1835. Many claim he lost that election because, rather than campaign back home, he spent most of his last term in New York promoting his book. Some say he had intentions to run for president and the autobiography would give him the name recognition needed. His last opponent, Adam Huntsman, cited in campaign ads that Crockett had left his wife and children without means of survival and were left to a life of poverty.
Shortly after his last re-election defeat, some historians say that Crockett decided he needed more public exposure if he intended to run for president. He gathered a group of volunteers that included a writer for E. L. Carey and A. Hart and headed to join the Texas Revolution. The writer's purpose was to document the events of Crockett's bold expedition. The party arrived in Nacogdoches, Texas in early January 1836, signed an oath of allegiance to the revolution, and was immediately dispatched to the Alamo in San Antonio. What he and his volunteers did not know at the time was that Santa Anna and his troops were also on their way. Crockett had barely reached the Alamo a day before the Mexican army showed up. We all know what happened next. The sad thing was, history was denied the journals of the writer who accompanied Crockett's party.
In 1955, Jes Schez Garza self-published the memoirs of JosEnrique de la Pe, a Mexican officer present at the Battle of the Alamo. Texas A&M University Press published the English translation in 1975 called, "With Santa Anna in Texas: A Personal Narrative of the Revolution." The English publication caused a scandal within the United States, as it asserted Crockett did not die in battle. Historians disagreed on whether any or the entire book had been falsified. The original book was self-published, and no editor or publisher ever vetted its authenticity. Schez Garza never explained how he gained custody of the documents or where they were stored after de la Pe's death. Walt Disney sued Garza in 1954 - 1956 over the validity of the diary in hopes to squelch the publication and any adverse publicity that would affect his Davy Crockett mini-series.
Finally, in 2001, archivist David Gracy published a detailed analysis of the manuscript, including lab results. He found, among other things, that the paper and ink were of a type used by the Mexican army in the 1830s, and the handwriting matched that on other documents in the Mexican military archives that were written or signed by de la Pe.
In the diary, it details the execution of the Alamo survivors. Up to the exposure of the diary, the recollection of a surviving slave of William Travis was that Crockett's body was surrounded by 20 dead Mexican soldiers he had killed. But, the diary has another rendition. The author says Crockett and a few of his followers were captured more than a mile from the Alamo and were brought back to be executed. Santa Anna signaled Crockett out among the doomed men and said he knew this man as a famous politician. Crockett was allowed to speak before being shot, but the author did not understand English and could not quote his last words.
So, we are left to decide if we should believe the legend over the documented records about Davy Crockett. The legend sounds better than the alternative of Davy Crockett being a coward and self-glorified egotistic politician who forsake his family for his own gain? If left up to Hollywood, the legend will prevail.