Today in history, on Aug. 17, 1786, David “Davy” Crockett was born.
From the humble beginnings of a poor family, Crockett developed a skill for marksmanship at a young age. As a young child, he was beaten by his father, and was often forced to fend for himself while sent on several long cattle drives as a young child.
By the time he was released from his family at the age of sixteen, he was a completely independent man. At this point, Crockett made money on the frontier and in shooting matches. After finding a wife, he served in the Creek War of 1813-1814, which made him witness to the horrors of war for the first time. After his wife died, leaving him with three children, he married a widow and migrated further west.
Crockett was soon elected justice of the peace in Giles County, without any legal training. At this point, he couldn’t read, as he had never learned to do so. In this era, though, many held scorn against well-educated political aristocrats – such as John Quincy Adams – so Crockett’s simple lifestyle actually propelled his popularity.
By 1819, he was operating multiple businesses and as a high officer in the Tennessee militia. He was elected to Tennessee legislature in 1821.
Crockett then ran and was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1826, where he declared opposition to Henry Clay’s American System – which featured a platform calling for a new national bank, a protective tariff, and costly internal improvements.
During a bright period in his life, hunting bears and serving as a republican servant of Tennessee rather than a master, Crockett supported the state’s most famous figure, Andrew Jackson, in his 1828 bid for president.
Crockett soon began to oppose Jackson, however. Though a Democrat, Crockett came to view Jackson as a dangerous man whose popularity was mostly driven mostly by military exploits and a cult of personality:
“I voted for Andrew Jackson because I believed he possessed certain principles, and not because his name was Andrew Jackson, or the Hero, or Old Hickory. And when he left those principles which induced me to support him, I considered myself justified in opposing him. This thing of man-worship I am a stranger to; I don’t like it; it taints every action of life; it is like a skunk getting into a house —long after he has cleared out, you smell him in every room and closet, from the cellar to the garret.”
After Crockett was elected to Congress, he emerged at the forefront of opposition to the Indian Removal Act of 1830. The bill was immoral and Indian issues should be settled at a state rather than national level, Crockett thought. Cherokee chief John Ross event sent Crockett a letter expressing thanks to Crockett for his stance on the issue in 1831. However, his vote likely caused his defeat in the 1830 election of his district.
After the adoption of the Indian Removal Act, Crockett condemned Jackson for enforcing the law, which led to widespread death, disease, and property losses as a result of the relocations. Crockett soon declared that if the government continued to do so, he would leave for Texans, and “will consider that government a Paridice to what this will be.” At that point, Crockett believed “our Republican Government has dwindled almost into insignificancy,” and that “our boasted land of liberty have almost Bowed to the yoke of Bondage.”
After narrowly losing re-election in 1834, Crockett adhered to his word, and arrived in Texas just as the seeds of revolution were being sown. He travelled there with a group of 65 well-armed volunteers, at this point openly speaking in favor of the Texian independence movement. Fighting alongside Commander William Barret Travis, Crockett gained immense respect among the ranks after taking part in several battles against General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Travis’ depleted forces of about 100 were driven back to the Alamo in early 1836.
Without supplies, the Texians struggled to recruit men and find food. Mexicans began a siege while preparing for an assault on the Alamo. After doing so on March 5-6, almost the entire occupied force of the Alamo had been killed, save five men who surrendered – whom Santa Anna quickly ordered executed.
Although some claim that Crockett was among those that surrendered, this is disputed by several accounts, and historians continue to argue over which version of Crockett’s death is accurate.