Born on August 17, 1786, backwoods statesman Davy Crockett has often been obscured by myth. Even during his lifetime, imaginative stories about his adventures transformed him into a goat-skinned superhero. And after his death, the stories got bigger and bigger. Here are 10 facts about Crockett that separate reality from fiction.
1. Davy Crockett ran away from home at the age of 13.
When Crockett was 13, his father paid him to attend school. But just four days later, an older, bigger boy bullied him. Crockett was never one to retreat from a fight. One day he was waiting in a bush on his way home until evening. As the bully and his gang were walking up the street, Crockett jumped out of the bush and sat, as he later wrote in his autobiography, “like a wild cat on him.”
His father John was furious when a letter came home after his son’s poor presence. He grabbed a stick and chased after Davy, who had escaped. The teenager traveled to Maryland from his hometown of Tennessee for the next several years, doing odd jobs. When he finally returned home, Crockett’s parents did not even recognize him at first. After an emotional reunion, the family decided he would stay long enough to work off some debt. About a year later everyone was satisfied, and Crockett was soon leaving for good.
2. Davy Crockett almost died in a boating accident.
After serving in the Tennessee Militia under General Andrew Jackson, Crockett entered politics and served two terms as Tennessee legislature between 1821 and 1823. After losing his seat in 1825, he opted for an unlikely new profession: making barrels. The entrepreneur hired a team to cut staves (the boards used to build barrels) that he wanted to sell in New Orleans. After 30,000 were prepared, Crockett and his team loaded the show onto a pair of flat boats and sailed down the Mississippi. There was only one problem: the sloppy ships were impossible to steer. The one carrying Crockett ran into a mass of driftwood and began to capsize, with Crockett trapped below deck. His friends on the other boat pulled him out through a small opening, and a traveling merchant saved them all the next day.
3. Davy Crockett claimed to have killed 105 bears in one year.
If his autobiography is to be believed, Sagittarius and his dogs managed to kill 105 bears in a seven month period from 1825 to 1826. Back then, bear meat and pelts were highly profitable items, as were the oils obtained from their fat – and Crockett’s family often relied on ursid meat to get through the winter.
4. A successful game made Davy Crockett a celebrity.
Crockett ran for Congress in 1827 and won the right to represent West Tennessee. Four years later a new show called The lion of the west enthusiastic New York theatergoers. The production revolved around a fictional Kentucky Congressman named Colonel Nimrod Wildfire, whose folk personality was clearly based on Crockett. It wasn’t long before the public became curious about the real man behind the character, and an unauthorized Crockett biography was published in 1833.
Sketches and eccentricities by Colonel David Crockett of West Tennessee became a bestseller – much to the chagrin of his subject. Feel that Sketches The politician distorted his life story and reciprocated the next year with an even more successful autobiography.
When The lion of the west When Crockett got to Washington, he finally saw the piece that started it all. That night, actor David Hackett played Col. Wildfire. When the curtain rose he looked at Crockett. They bowed solemnly to each other and the crowd went wild.
5. Davy Crockett received some rifles as a political thank you.
Throughout his life, Crockett carried many firearms. Two of the most important were called “Betsy”. Midway through his career as a State Assembly, he was given Old Betsy, a 40-caliber flintlock that was given to him in 1822 by Lawrence County constituents (now in the Alamo Museum in San Antonio). Sometime in the 1830s, the Whig Society of Philadelphia gave Crockett a gold and silver coated weapon. Your name “Fancy Betsy.”
If you’re curious, the mysterious woman these guns were christened after was either his eldest sister or his second wife, Elizabeth Patton.
6. Davy Crockett went to great lengths to maintain his wild image.
For someone who once referred to fashion as “a thing I care deeply about,” Crockett gave the portrait artists really detailed instructions. Most of the similarities, the politician complained, made him look like some sort of cross between a clean shirted Congressman and a Methodist preacher. Before posing for John Gadsby Chapman, Crockett asked the respected artist to portray him as a rally dog on a bear hunt. He bought outdoor props and insisted on being shown how to hold up his hat to “give a scream that picked up the whole neighborhood”.
7. Davy Crockett torpedoed his political career by speaking out against Andrew Jackson’s Native American policies.
Jackson was a popular figure in Tennessee, and Crockett’s vociferous condemnation of his Indian Removal Act of 1830 didn’t make him many friends at home [PDF]. “I believed it was an evil, unjust move,” the congressman later declared, “and that I should take action, let the costs against me be as they could.” Then he narrowly lost his re-election offer from 1831 to William Fitzgerald, whom Jackson supported. In 1833, Crockett secured a term as an anti-Jacksonian in Congress. Then he said goodbye to Tennessee and said, “You can all go to Hell and I’ll go to Texas.”
8. Davy Crockett actually wore a raccoon hat (sometimes).
Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett The television series sparked a national craze for raccoon hats in the 1950s. Suitable for the title role was Fess Parker with angular jaws, who was rarely seen in front of the camera without his trusty raccoon cap. Kids loved the rustic hat, and at the height of the show’s popularity, an average of 5,000 replicas were sold daily.
But did the historical Crockett have one? Yes, although we don’t know how often he actually put it on. Some historians argue that later in life he wore the accessory more often in order to capitalize on it The lion of the west (Col. Wildfire rocked this type of headgear). One fall morning in 1835, the border guard set out for Texas, confident that the entire Crockett clan would soon reunite there. As his daughter Matilda later recalled, he rode off wearing a raccoon cap. She never saw him again.
9. There is some debate about Davy Crockett’s overthrow at the Alamo.
Crockett was killed during or shortly after the Battle of the Alamo in 1836 – but the details surrounding his death are both gloomy and hotly debated. An enslaved man named Joe claimed to have discovered Crockett’s body among a pile of murdered Mexican soldiers. Suzannah Dickinson, whose husband was also killed in hand-to-hand combat, told a story similar to that of San Antonio Mayor Francisco Ruiz.
On the flip side, The New Orleans True American and several other newspapers reported that Crockett was actually captured and executed by General Santa Anna’s men. Further evidence apparently emerged in 1955 when a long-lost diary of Lieutenant Colonel José Enrique de la Peña was published. The author writes that he saw “the naturalist David Crockett” and six other Americans introduced to Santa Anna, who had them killed immediately.
Some historians dismiss the document as a forgery, others claim it is authentic. Since 2000, two separate forensic teams have taken the latter position [PDF].
10. During the University of Tennessee sporting events, a student dressed like Davy Crockett gathers fans.
Smokey the hound may get all the attention, but the school has a different mascot up its sleeve. On matchdays, a student known simply as “the volunteer” storms in Crockett-like regalia wearing buckskin clothes, a raccoon hat and – occasionally – a prop musket.