Davy Crockett, 1786-1836: King of the Wild Frontier

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I'm Bob Doughty. And I'm Phoebe Zimmermann with PEOPLE IN AMERICA from VOA Special English. Today, we tell the story of Davy Crockett.  He was a hunter, fighter, storyteller and elected official.  For many people, he represented the spirit of the American wilderness.

David Crockett was born in what is now Greene County, Tennessee in seventeen eighty-six. He was the fifth of nine children born to John and Rebecca Hawkins Crockett.

Davy's grandparents were among the first white people to live in eastern Tennessee.  His grandfather had moved there in search of land to settle.  Before Davy was born, his grandparents and other settlers were killed by a group of Native American Indian warriors.

Life in the wilderness was difficult.  John Crockett repeatedly moved his family in an effort to find a good place to live.  In seventeen ninety-six, he opened a tavern, or drinking place.  The tavern was a popular stop for travelers.  Davy probably heard many stories told by the people at his father's tavern.

Davy Crockett started attending a small school when he was about thirteen years old.  A few days later, he fought with another boy at the school.  After that, Davy decided to run away from home to escape his father's punishment.  For more than two years, he worked a number of unskilled jobs to support himself.  When Davy returned home, he was so tall that his family did not recognize him.  When they finally did, they celebrated his return.

Two hundred years ago, a boy either worked for his father or surrendered his pay if he worked for someone else.  To gain his independence, Davy worked for about a year to help pay his father's debts.  He borrowed a gun from one employer and became good at shooting.  Within a short time, Davy was a skilled hunter and trapper of wild animals.  He was able to provide food and clothing for himself and his family.

Davy Crockett married Polly Finley in eighteen-oh-six.  At first they lived in a small place near Davy's parents.  Five years later, Davy, Polly and their two boys moved west into what is now Lincoln County, Tennessee.  Later, they settled in Franklin County, near what was then the territory of Alabama.

About this time, Creek Indian warriors killed many settlers at Fort Mims, Alabama.  When news of the attack reached Crockett, he joined an army force under the command of Andrew Jackson.  Crockett served in the army during the Creek Indian War.  He also explored areas controlled by Indian warriors.

Crockett returned home when his military service ended.  He decided to re-join the army in eighteen-fourteen, just before the Treaty of Ghent officially ended the fighting.  At the time, General Jackson's force was attempting to stop British-trained Indian forces in Florida.

Davy Crockett returned home after the war. His wife Polly died in eighteen fifteen.  Crockett needed a wife to raise his children.  A short time later, he met and married Elizabeth Patton, whose husband had died.

More and more settlers were moving to Tennessee.  Crockett seemed restless and traveled many times into the wilderness.  In Alabama, he became infected with malaria and almost died.  Later, he and his family moved again, this time to what would become Lawrence County, Tennessee.

Crockett was elected to the position of colonel in the local military force.  He also was appointed a local court official.  He became popular with the people and developed an interest in politics.

Davy Crockett loved the wilderness and became famous as a hunter.  He also was a good storyteller.  His stories were based partly on fact and partly on his imagination. For example, he told one story about an unusual experience when he was hunting.  Crockett said the animal he was hunting looked at him once and surrendered immediately, without a single shot being fired.  He also told stories about killing more than one hundred bears in six months.

Crockett was able to remember almost anything that he had heard. He found that his storytelling skills were helpful when he was campaigning for political office.   For example, he once memorized an opponent's campaign speech word for word.  Crockett repeated the speech as his own during a debate. The opponent was so surprised to hear his own words that he was forced to make unprepared statements.

Crockett won a seat in the Tennessee legislature in eighteen twenty-one.  As a lawmaker, he became an expert in land policy, especially in wilderness areas.  Crockett always did what he believed was right. He thought others should do the same.  He was known for these words: "Be always sure you are right, then go ahead."

After his term in office, Crockett decided to move his family further into the wilderness.  They settled in what is now Gibson County, Tennessee.  Crockett was so popular there that he was re-elected to the state legislature.  Two years later, he was chosen as a candidate for a seat in the United States House of Representatives.  This time, however, he was defeated.

Crockett won a seat in the House of Representatives the second time he was nominated in eighteen twenty-seven.  He was re-elected two years later.  During this period, another Tennessee native, General Andrew Jackson, was elected President.  Crockett generally claimed to support President Jackson's programs.

But he opposed the president and other members of Congress from Tennessee on several issues, including land reform.  He also opposed a measure that forced Indian tribes from their native lands.  However, even with Crockett's opposition, the Indian Resettlement Act passed.

President Jackson's supporters prevented Crockett from winning a third term in Congress.  However, he returned to the House of Representatives in eighteen thirty-three.  By this time, his fame as a hunter, Indian fighter and storyteller was spreading.  First, a book about Crockett was published.  Later, he wrote a book about his life.  Several artists made paintings of the famous Tennessee woodsman. Some pictures show him wearing clothing made of animal skins and a hat made of raccoon fur.

Crockett made several trips to speak in cities in the eastern United States.  The Whig political party provided support for the trips.  Some Whig leaders were considering Crockett as the party's candidate for President in eighteen thirty-six.  However, his hopes for a political future ended when he lost his seat in the House of Representatives to a supporter of President Jackson.

After his political defeat, Davy Crockett had a desire to see the wilderness again.  He set out with a number of other men to explore the western area of Texas.  Crockett believed that he could renew his political life there.  At the time, American settlers in Texas were fighting to gain independence from Mexico.

Crockett joined more than one hundred eighty men who had established a fort at the Alamo, an old Roman Catholic mission in San Antonio.  The commander of the Texas Army ordered the men to destroy the Alamo.  He did not believe it could be defended against a strong Mexican attack.  However, the men disobeyed the order.

When Mexican troops attacked the Alamo, the men battled against them for almost two weeks.  But on March sixth, eighteen thirty-six, Mexican forces captured the Alamo.  Some historians believe that all the defenders died in battle.  Others believe that a few men survived the battle, but were executed.  Davy Crockett died with the other heroes at the Alamo.  He was forty-nine years old.

After his death, Davy Crockett became even more famous and popular.  His life has been celebrated in books, plays, movies, television shows and songs, like this one.

(MUSIC: "The Ballad of Davy Crockett")

This program was written by George Grow. It was produced by Lawan Davis.  I'm Bob Doughty. And I'm Phoebe Zimmermann.  Join us again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA from VOA Special English.