David Crockett is one of the most famous people to ever come from Tennessee.
The answer is not obvious. Here are ten things about him you might find interesting:
1) In spite of his fame, Crockett was never the president, the governor or a general.
The highest political rank he achieved was as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, where he represented West Tennessee.
2) Today, people refer to Crockett as "Davy."
There is even a Davy Crockett State Park in Lawrence County and a Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park in Greene County.
But David Crockett never went by that name!
The name "Davy" Crockett was made famous by a movie and song about him that came out more than a century after he died.
3) Crockett's childhood was pretty rough by today's standards. In fact, Crockett's own father twice "leased" him out to others in an attempt to pay his debts.
At the time, this was not uncommon. But if a father tried to do this to a son today, they would probably put him in jail.
4) David Crockett was not always successful with the girls.
In his autobiography he describes two instances where he fell in love, only to end up with a broken heart.
One of them was with a girl named Margaret Elder, who married someone else even after Crockett had obtained a marriage license.
"My heart was bruised, and my spirits were broken down," he wrote. "So I bid her farewell, and turned my lonesome and miserable steps back again homeward, concluding that I was only born for hardships, misery and disappointment."
5) Crockett was restless, to say the least.
He was born along the Nolichucky River (in present day Greene County) and his father moved his family to a tavern (in Hamblen County). He spent about three years as a teenager roaming and living alone in various parts of Virginia.
As an adult, David Crockett lived in what is now Jefferson, Lincoln, Franklin, Lawrence and Gibson counties of Tennessee.
Because he moved so much, people from East, Middle and West Tennessee all have connections to Crockett.
6) Crockett was a failure as a businessman.
One of his schemes was a mill, distillery and gunpowder factory in Lawrence County. That venture failed when Shoal Creek flooded.
A few years later, in Gibson County, Crockett went into the timber business. The plan was to chop down hundreds of trees, cut them into staves, float them down the Obion and Mississippi rivers and sell them in New Orleans. Unfortunately, the flatboats on which Crockett he was delivering his timber harvest capsized in the Mississippi, and he nearly drowned.
(Read more about Crockett's Mississippi River fiasco in the story "David Crockett loses his pants," which you can find in the booklet The legend of Big Foot Spencer and other stories.)
7) When he was first elected to Congress, Crockett was an ally of Andrew Jackson.
But Crockett broke with Jackson, and was the only Tennessee Congressman who voted against the Indian Removal Act in 1830. From this point onward, Jackson and Crockett were political enemies.
"It was expected of me that I was to bow to the name of Andrew Jackson," Crockett wrote in his autobiography, "even at the expense of my conscience and judgment. Such a thing was new to me, and a total stranger to my principles."
8) Crockett’s favorite thing to do was hunt bears.
Assuming his autobiography is accurate, he killed more than 100 bears in a seven-month span in West Tennessee!
9) Crockett became famous because of stories he would tell to other Congressmen and reporters about hunting for bears, fighting in the Creek War, floating down the Mississippi and other things.
Reporters wrote articles about him, and he became one of the best known personalities in what was then known as the west.
Then, in 1831, a play called “The Lion of the West” became a hit in New York. Its main character was a storyteller wearing a buckskin shirt and coonskin cap, clearly based on David Crockett. This play made Crockett even more famous and resulted in the publication of a biography of him that he didn’t write and made no money from.
10) So why did Crockett leave Tennessee?
In 1834, after a successful book tour, David Crockett lost his bid for re-election to Congress.
Having heard his friend Sam Houston talk about all the opportunities opening up in Texas, Crockett decided to go there himself.
He was somewhat bitter at the time, and blamed his political downfall on this break with Jackson. “Since you have chosen to elect a man with a timber toe to succeed me, you may all go to hell and I will go to Texas,” he reportedly said (in reference to his political opponent’s wooden leg).
Once in Texas, Crockett immediately enlisted in the army. We are not certain whether he died fighting, or whether he was taken prisoner and executed. We do know that he died on March 6, 1845, and that he was 49 years old at the time.
You can read more about Crockett's Alamo experience by taking a Tennessee History for Kids virtual tour of the place.
Perhaps it has to do with the manner in which he died and the fame he experienced before his death.
There are very few people in American history who were famous before they were killed in battle. Crockett was. He was a well known U.S. Congressman, the basis of a well known play and the subject of several books.
Here are two recommended books on this subject:
- David Crockett: The Lion of the West by Michael Wallis
- A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, of the State of Tennessee by David Crockett (his autobiography)