30 July 2011

"You May All Go To Hell,

And I Will Go To Texas.”

David Crockett 
17 August 1786 – 6 March 1836

A Brief Essay

Crockett’s narrative autobiography of his childhood, early adult life, courtships and marriages, his part in the Indian War, homesteading, hunting bears and politics read somewhat tediously, but I will summarize a time line and highlight parts I found most interesting.

David Crockett was born in what is now Greene County, Tennessee near Limestone; at the time of his birth known as the State of Franklin.  A replica of his birthplace cabin stands in Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park on the Nolichucky River.

David Crockett was the fifth of nine children of John and Rebecca (Hawkins) Crockett, named after his paternal grandfather, who was killed in 1777 by Indians led by Dragging Canoe.  Crockett's father was one of the Overmountain Men who fought in American Revolutionary War.  The Crockett’s moved to Morristown, Tennessee in the 1790s and built a tavern there, a museum stands on the site.

At 8 years old, he told his father he wanted to hunt with a rifle.  His father said he could not afford to waste ammunition on "a boy's missed shots".  Crockett promised to make every shot count and began hunting with his older brothers.  After being sent to school, he dropped out to run away from home to avoid a beating at the hands of his father when he was 13.  Crockett said he had "whupped the tar" out of a school bully on his first day in school.  Crockett decided not to return to school for a few days, fearing the bully and friends, and the teacher's punishment.  The teacher eventually wrote Crockett's father asking why his son did not attend class.  Crockett told his father the truth.  Angry that family trade goods exchanged for education had gone to waste, he refused to listen.  Crockett ran away from home and spent three years working and roaming, visiting most of the towns and villages in Tennessee and learning his skills as a backwoodsman, hunter and trapper.

Near his 16th birthday Crockett returned home.  Before he had left, his father had opened a tavern on the road between Knoxville, Tennessee and Abingdon, Virginia.  Crockett stopped in for a meal unannounced.  First to recognize him was his older sister Betsy who cried, "Here is my lost brother!  Look!  He is home!"  The family was delighted and he was welcomed back.  His father was in debt, so he hired Davy out to Abraham Wilson to settle a debt of $36.  Later, Crockett generously worked off a $40 debt to John Kennedy.  In return, John Crockett told his son he was free to leave.  Davy went to work again for Kennedy, this time working for himself and returning to school.

Shortly afterwards, Crockett became engaged to Margaret Elder and, although the marriage never took place, the contract of marriage dated October 21, 1805 has been preserved by the Dandridge, Tennessee, courthouse.  It is well documented that Crockett's bride-to-be changed her mind and married someone else.  Heartbroken at age 19, Crockett decided he was "only born for hardships, misery, and disappointment".

On August 16, 1806, one day before his 20th birthday, Crockett married Mary (Polly) Finley in Jefferson County, Tennessee.  They had two sons: John Wesley Crockett was born July 10, 1807, followed by William Finley Crockett (born 1809).  They also had a daughter, Margaret Finley (Polly) Crockett in 1812.  As wild game ran scarce they moved to Franklin County, Tennessee in 1813.  He named the new settlement on Beans Creek "Kentuck”.  After his wife Polly's death, Crockett married a widow named Elizabeth Patton in 1815; they had three children: Robert, Rebecca and Matilda.

On September 24, 1813, Crockett joined the Second Regiment of Tennessee Volunteer Mounted Riflemen for an initial term of 60 days and served under Colonel John Coffee in the Creek War, marching south into present day Alabama and taking an active part in the fighting.  Made a scout because of his abilities as a hunter, trapper, and woodsman, Crockett was known to have supported the starving troops during the Creek War with the game he hunted.  He was discharged from service on March 27, 1814.  He was elected Lieutenant Colonel of the Fifty-seventh Regiment of Tennessee Militia on March 27, 1818.

On September 17, 1821, Crockett was elected to the Committee of Propositions and Grievances.  He lost his first run for Congress in 1824, but ran again.  In 1826 he was elected to the House of Representatives as a Jacksonian.  As a Congressman, Crockett supported the rights of squatters, who were barred from buying land in the West without already owning property.  He opposed President Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act, and his opposition to Jackson caused his defeat when he ran for re-election in 1830; however, he won when he ran again in 1832.  As he explained, "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.”

In 1834, his autobiography, A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett Written by Himself was published.  Crockett went east to promote the book and was narrowly defeated for re-election.    He said, "I told the people of my district that I would serve them as faithfully as I had done; but if not ... you may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas.”  Following his defeat, he did just that.

Much of the above timeline was summarized and paraphrased from Wikipedia.

Of interest to me in Crockett’s description of preparation to leave for Texas he says, “I took my fox skin cap and headed of Texas”, notably not a coon skin cap.

By December, 1834, Crockett was writing to friends about moving to Texas if Van Buren were elected President.  The next year he discussed with his friend Benjamin McCulloch raising a company of volunteers to take to Texas in the expectation that a revolution was imminent.  After the election results became known in August, his departure to Texas was delayed by a court appearance in October as co-executor of his father-in-law’s estate, and finally left his home near Rutherford, West Tennessee on Nov. 1, 1835, with three other men to explore Texas.

From his home he traveled to Jackson, arriving with 30 well-armed men, where he gave a speech from the steps of the Madison County courthouse, and then rode southwest to Bolivar, where he spent the night at the residence of Dr. Calvin Jones, once again drawing crowds who sent them off the next morning.  He arrived in Memphis in the second week of November with a much-diminished company, and ferried over the Mississippi River, and continued his journey on horseback through Arkansas.

Below a quote from his account of his journey to Texas:

   “Some, men it seems, take a pride in saying a great deal about nothing — like windmills, their tongues must be going whether they have any grist to grind or not.  This is all very well in Congress,”

During his journey to Texas, he stopped in Little Rock.  A commotion at a tavern caught his attention and he joined in.  Soon he was recognized and invited to a community dinner in his honor.  First a shooting match was purposed with their best marksman.  The challenger shot first and hit near the bull’s-eye.  Crockett shot “Old Betsey” next and hit the bull’s-eye dead center at 100 yards.  The challenger begged a second try.  Crockett was reluctant, but eventually gave in.  Their marksman shot and hit the bull’s-eye; Crockett fired and missed the entire target.  Begging for a closer inspection Crockett secretly inserted a second ball in the original hole and called their attention claiming to have hit the same dead center hole.  After disassembling the target the second shot in the same hole was discovered and Crockett was proclaimed the winner.  At the dinner that followed Crockett repeated his famous quote to his former political cronies stated slightly differently saying, “They might go to hell, and I would go to Texas”. 

Continuing on his journey to Texas, he encountered and enlisted a couple companions.  First a flimflam artist he called “Thimblerig”, who was bilking boat travelers on the Red River out of Fulton with the thimble and pea game, and later while in Nacogdoches a frontiersman poet who he called “Bee Hunter”.  They journeyed together on horseback toward San Antonio along with the “Old Pirate” and the “Indian Hunter”; acquaintances made along the way. 
He arrived in Nacogdoches, Texas, in early January 1836.  On January 14, 1836, Crockett and 65 other men signed an oath before Judge John Forbes to the Provisional Government of Texas for six months: "I have taken the oath of government and have enrolled my name as a volunteer and will set out for the Rio Grande in a few days with the volunteers from the United States”.  Each man was promised about 4,600 acres of land as payment.  He also sold two rifles to Colonel O'Neal for $60.  After his death there was a claim from his heirs for $57.50.  In 1854 his widow received a payment certificate for $24.00 from Texas

Separated from his companions while hunting buffalo and lost, his mustang faked exhaustion and escaped him; Crockett chose to sleep in a tree belonging to a cougar which he killed in close combat with his knife.  In the morning he shot a goose to cook and his camp was discovered by a band of Comanche.  They befriended him, provided a new mustang, and agreed to escort him to the Canada River at the trail to Bexar (San Antonio).  He was reunited there with Thimblerig. 

On February 6, Crockett and five men rode into San Antonio de Bexar and camped outside the town.  They were later greeted by James Bowie and Antonio Menchaca, and taken to the home of Don Erasmo Seguin.

Crockett writes in his journal:

   “I write this on the nineteenth of February, 1836 at San Antonio.  We are all in high spirits, though we are rather short of provisions, for men who have appetites that could digest any thing but oppression; but no matter, we have prospect of soon getting our bellies full of fighting, and that is victuals and drink to a true patriot any day.”

   February 22.  The Mexicans, about sixteen hundred strong, with their President Santa Anna at their head, aided by Generals Almonte, Cos, Sesma, and Castrillon, are within two leagues of Bexar.

   February 23.  Early this morning the enemy came in sight, marching in regular order, and displaying their strength to the greatest advantage, in order to strike us with terror.  But that was no go; they’ll find that they have to do with men who will never lay down their arms as long as they can stand on their legs.  We held a short council of war, and, finding that we should be completely surrounded, and overwhelmed by numbers, if we remained in the town, we concluded to withdraw to the fortress of Alamo, and defend it to the last extremity.  We accordingly filed off, in good order.

   February 24.  The enemy began firing from about 350 yards.  An Indian scout arrived in the evening with 30 reinforcements from Gonzales.

   February 25.  The Mexican’s began firing early morning.  They continue to take positions to surround the Alamo.

   February 26.  Colonel Bowie has taken sick remaining in bed until noon.  Crockett indicates that Bowie is worth a dozen common men in a situation like theirs.

   February 27.  The cannonading began early this morning, and ten bombs were thrown into the fort, but fortunately exploded without doing any mischief.  So far it has been a sort of tempest in a teapot; not unlike a pitched battle in the Hall of Congress where the parties array their forces, make fearful demonstrations on both sides, then fire away with loud sounding speeches, which contain about as much meaning as the report of a howitzer charged with a blank cartridge.

   February 28.  Last night our hunters brought in some corn and hogs, and had a brush with a scout from the enemy beyond gun-shot of the fort.  They put the scout to flight and got in without injury.  They bring accounts that the settlers are flying in all quarters, in dismay, leaving their possessions to the mercy of the ruthless invader,

   February 29.  Before daybreak we saw General Sesma leave his camp with a large body of cavalry and infantry, and move off in the direction of Goliad.  We think that he must have received news of Colonel Fanning’s coming to our relief.

   March 1.  The enemy’s forces have been increasing in numbers daily, notwithstanding they have already lost about three hundred in the several assaults they have made upon us…..  we had but three bushels of corn in the garrison, but have since found eighty bushels in a deserted house…..  Colonel Bowie’s illness still continues, but he manages to crawl from his bed every day, that his comrades may see him.  His presence alone is a tower of strength.— The enemy becomes more daring as his numbers increase.

   March 2.  This day the delegates meet in general convention, at the town of Washington, to frame our Declaration of Independence.  That the sacred instrument may never be trampled on the by the children of those who have freely shed their blood to establish it, is the sincere wish of David Crockett.

A very interesting comment to me, given the events of recent times.

   March 3.  We have given over all hopes of receiving assistance from Goliad or Refugio.  Colonel Travis harangued the garrison, and concluded by exhorting them, in case the enemy should carry the fort, to fight to the last gasp, and render their victory even more serious to them than to us.

   March 4.  Shells have been falling into the fort like hail during the day, but without effect.  About dusk, in the evening, we observed a man running toward the fort, pursued by about a dozen Mexican cavalry.  The Bee Hunter immediately knew him to be the Old Pirate who had gone to Goliad, and, calling to the two hunters, he sallied out of the fort to the relief of the old man, who was hard pressed.  I followed close after—  

The Old Pirate turned and stood his ground killing one and engaging the others in hand to hand combat.  By the time the Bee Hunter (who Col. Travis called Honest Ned) Crockett and the scouts reached him, the enemy had “fled like sparrows.”  The party finds themselves cut off from retreat by a party of cavalry. 

—We are all of the same mind.  “Go ahead!” cried I, and they shouted, “Go ahead, Colonel!”  We dashed among them, and a bloody conflict ensued.  They were about twenty in number, and they stood their ground.  After the fight had continued about five minutes, a detachment was seen issuing from the fort to our relief, and the Mexicans scampered off, leaving eight of their comrades dead upon the field.  But we did not escape unscathed, for both the Pirate and the Bee Hunter were mortally wounded, and I received a sabre cut across the forehead. 

   March 5.  Pop, pop, pop!  Bom, bom, bom!  throughout the day.—No time for memorandums now.—Go ahead!—Liberty and independence for ever!
[Here ends Col. Crockett’s manuscript.]

The following excerpts were written and included at publishing with Crockett’s journal by a supposed, but unnamed, eyewitness.

  The hand is cold that wrote the foregoing pages, and it devolves upon another to record the subsequent events.  Before daybreak, on the 6th of March, the Alamo was assaulted by the whole force of the Mexican army, commanded by Santa Anna in person.  The battle was desperate until daylight, when only six men belonging to the Texian garrison were found alive.  They were instantly surrounded, and ordered, by General Castrillon, to surrender, which they did under a promise of his protection, finding that resistance any longer would be madness.  Colonel Crockett was of the number.  He stood alone in an angle of the fort, the barrel of his shattered rifle in his right hand, in his left his huge Bowie knife dripping blood.  There was a frightful gash across his forehead, while around him there was a complete barrier of about twenty Mexicans, lying pell mell,—

   General Castrillon was brave and not cruel, and disposed to save the prisoners.  He marched them up to that part of the fort where stood Santa Anna and his murderous crew.  The steady, fearless step, and undaunted tread of Colonel Crockett on this occasion, together with the bold demeanour of the hardy veteran, had a powerful effect on all present.  Nothing daunted, he marched up boldly in front of Santa Anna, and looked him sternly in the face, while Castrillon addressed “his excellency,”—“Sir, here are six prisoners I have taken alive; how shall I dispose of them?”  Santa Anna looked at Castrillon fiercely, flew into a violent rage, and replied, “Have I not told you before how to dispose of them?  Why do you bring them to me?”  At the same time his brave soldiers plunged their swords into the bosoms of the defenceless prisoners.  Colonel Crockett, seeing the act of treachery, instantly sprang like a tiger at the ruffian chief, but before he could reach him a dozen swords were sheathed in his indomitable heart; and he fell and died without a groan, a frown on his brow and smile of scorn and defiance on his lips.

Crockett was brutally murdered 5 months before his 50th birthday.

   The conduct of Colonel Bowie was characteristic to the last.  When the fort was carried he was sick in bed.  He had also one of the murderous butcher knives which bears his name.  Lying in bed he discharged his pistols and gun, and with each discharge brought down an enemy.  So intimidated were the Mexicans by this act of desperate and cool bravery, that they dared not approach him, but shot him from the door; and as the cowards approached his bed, over the dead bodies of there companions, the dying Bowie, nerving himself for a last blow, plunged his knife into the heart of his nearest foe at the same instant that he expired.

The gallant Colonel Travis fought as if determined to verify his prediction, that he make a victory more serious than defeat to the enemy.  He fell from the rampart, mortally wounded, into the fort; and his musket fell forward among the foe, who were scaling the wall.  After a few minutes he recovered sufficiently to sit up, when the Mexican officer who led that party attempted to cut his head off with his saber.  The dying hero, with a death grasp, drew his sword and plunged it into the body of his antagonist, and both together sank into the arms of death.

Only two survivors are mentioned in this account.

One woman, Mrs. Dickinson, and a negro of Col. Travis, were the only persons whose lives were spared.  The bodies of the slain were then thrown into a mass in the centre of the Alamo, and burned.  The loss of the Mexicans in storming the place was not less than eight hundred killed and mortally wounded, making their losses since the first assault more than fifteen hundred.  This immense slaughter, by so small a number, can only be accounted for by the fact of the Texians having five or six guns to each man in the fort.  Immediately after the capture Santa Anna sent Mrs. Dickinson and the servant to General Houston, accompanied by a Mexican with a flag, offering the Texians peace and general amnesty, if they would lay down their arms and submit to his government.  General Houston’s reply was, “True sir, you have succeeded in killing some of our brave men, but the Texians are not yet conquered.”  He sent him a copy of the Declaration of Independence recently agreed on. 

David Crockett was a remarkable man, patriot, frontiersman, marksman, hunter, and congressman; an honest and fair man who spoke only the truth as he saw it, and a man widely respected by Native Americans and most all who knew him; even if they did not agreed with him. 

"Make sure your are right, then go ahead."

Honorable deaths by very brave Americans.

Works Cited

Crockett, David. Col. Crockett’s Exploits and Adventures in Texas. Philadelphia: T.K. and P.G. Collins, 1837 

Crockett, David. A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett. Philadelphia:
E.L. Carey and A. Hart, Boston: Allen and Ticknor, 1834