It pleases me no end to be able to say a few words about my childhood hero; David Crockett. Crockett is one of the few people in my view, whose real character and personality actually is greater than his considerable legend. Much has been written about his life, but in my comments, I want to focus on two situations where I feel his star shone brightest.
One of the toughest things is to take a position in contradiction to your friends,or in the case of politicians:your constituents. Or to go against your party ,or a political benefactor. Crockett did all of these things when he opposed the Indian Removal Acts of the 1830’s. His passionate opposition to these acts deeply antagonized his previous ally and benefactor; Andrew Jackson.
The Indian removal act’s of the 1830s were strongly promoted by Andrew Jackson and pushed by white settlers. The essence of these congressional acts were to push the South Eastern Indian tribes West across the Mississippi. The principal was expressed that the only way to eliminate white, and Indian conflict, was to separate the populations. The actual reason was white settlers coveted the Indian lands. Both Washington and Jefferson sought to culturally absorb the Indians,and then respect their land rights..Jackson,,and often the courts, did not see it that way. A number of tribes were well along with the conversion; with farms,and towns of their own, when these acts were implemented.
The southeastern tribes, the civilized Tribes,(Cherokee,Creek,Seminole,Chocktaw,Chickasaw) resisted the Indian Removal acts,but were under relentless pressure to sign treaties and move. The most well known of these “moves” was the Trail of Tears.
Davy Crockett spoke forcefully and eloquently against the Indian removal act on multiple occasions. He spoke of the duty of a congressman, and of his own duty to be true to what is proper and right, and most importantly, what’s lays easy on his conscience. He refused to be influenced by party or politics, only being influenced by what he thought was right. It would do many of our congressman and political leaders well to read his comments in the house on the Indian removal act. It would make “tough votes”, a lot easier; if the parameters were not party and politics, but conscience and justice. I’ve included some of Crockett’s quotes pertinent to the Removal Acts..
I would rather be beaten and be a man than to be elected and be a little puppy dog. I have always supported measures and principles and not men. I have acted fearless and independent and I never will regret my course. I would rather be politically buried than to be hypocritically immortalized.
I am no man’s man. I bark at no man’s bid. I will never come and go, and fetch and carry, at the whistle of the great man in the White House, no matter who he is.
It was expected of me that I was to bow to the name of Andrew Jackson, and follow him in all his motions, and windings, and turnings, even at the expense of my conscience and judgment. Such a thing was new to me, and a total stranger to my principles… His famous, or rather I should say infamous, Indian bill was brought forward and, I opposed it from the purest motives in the world. Several of my colleagues got around me, and told me how well they love me, and I was ruining myself. They said it was a favorite measure of the president and I ought to go for it. I told them I believed it was a wicked unjust measure and that I should go against it, let the cost to myself be what it might; that I was willing to go with General Jackson in everything that I believed was honest and right; but further than this, I wouldn’t go for him, or any other man in the whole creation.
Crockett’s opposition to the Indian removal act led to his congressional defeat in 1830. He was subsequently reelected to Congress in 1832, but again in 1834, was narrowly defeated with his opponent receiving strong support from Jackson forces.
When the final results were known in 1835 Crockett resolved to go to Texas. Before leaving, however, he gave a now famous quote,”you may go to hell and I shall go to Texas”. He left for Texas in the fall of 1835, and stopped in several towns along the way to Texas. In each town he was greeted by large numbers of people anxious to get a view of the famous man. There had already been books and plays about Crockett’s frontier life, and just a few years before he had published his well regarded autobiography. In the East and in New England, he was in demand for his fame and his public speaking. So when he arrived, on his way to Texas, in the small frontier towns, it was a major event.
In January 1836, he signed an oath to the provisional government of Texas for six months. He was a volunteer for Texas in the expected coming conflict. He arrived at the Alamo on February 8 and on February 23, 1836,the Mexican army arrived under Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. The Alamo was under constant bombardment from Mexican artillery from then on. There were several skirmishes and raids, before the Alamo ultimately fell on March 6, 1836. The battle is said to have lasted 90 min, and for most of that time, the Alamo defenders were engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the vastly superior numbers of the Mexican army. The swinging of the muskets, knives, and bayonets were necessary because there was simply no time for reloading of muskets.
There is not insignificant controversy about the way, Crockett, died. Suzanne Dickinson, one of the very few Alamo defenders who survived, reported his body seen in the Southeast courtyard. A Negro servant,Ben, who was with one of the Mexican officers reported Crockett’s body surrounded by no less than 18 men, one of whom had Crockett’s knife in him.
However, at the time, it was also reported that between five and seven Alamo defenders had been captured, and summarily executed. There is good historical evidence to support this fact.
There were several descriptions of the execution that occurred very close to the actual event. In the immediate reports of of officer Caro, and the boasting comments of Santa Anna ,Crockett is not described as one of the executed. In the months after the fall of the Alamo, neither Crockett ,Bowie, Travis,or any of the famous Texans were mentioned in the press as among the executed. Eventually as the war progressed,and Texas remained in danger ,reports of and various combinations of Crockett,Bowie being executed started to appear; possibly in attempt to further demonize Santa Anna,and the Mexicans.
In 1955 at the height of the Disney/Crockett craze a Mexican antiquarian published La Rebellion de Texas,a manuscript purported to be from Mexican officer Jose Enrique de la Pena. It was not translated into English until 1974. In any event he states that Crockett was among the executed.” Though tortured before they were killed, these unfortunates died without complaining, and without humiliating themselves before their torturers.”
There are many questions regarding this manuscript, there is significant doubts about authenticity, and if it is in fact authentic, controversy about truth and accuracy. For example, Dde la Pena, describes witnessing the fighting and death of Travis ,in the northern side of the Alamo defenses, and yet makes it all the way to the other side of the Alamo in a brief period of time to witness the execution of Crockett.. Furthermore, there is doubt as to how he could recognize Travis and describe in such detail his death-in the dim morning light and the smoke of the battlefield.
The English translation of this manuscript appeared in the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War, and Watergate. As historian Michael Lind points out, in spite of all the doubts surrounding this manuscript, it was seized upon by historians and media pundits to debunk a major hero to the baby boom generation.”The emotions that the subject arouses clearly has less to do with Crockett or the distant Texas Revolution, then with attitudes toward American history, patriotism, and the military at the and of the 20th century.
I detailed this subject because while it is true that history influences and reverberates in modern politics; it’s equally true that politics can influence and change history.
What is clear is that Crockett, died at the Alamo and died heroically, surrounded and swinging his musket to the end, or surrounded at the end, and surrendering ,with the execution as described by de la Pena . Either way-same thing-heroic.
Finally, although he died a heroic death, he should be remembered, and studied for his humor, perseverance in the face of many life obstacles, for his enthusiasm and love of country, and for his integrity as a congressman.
He should be remembered for living a principled life.