Did Davy Crockett Die in Battle at the Alamo?:
On March 6, 1836, Mexican forces stormed the Alamo, a fortress-like old mission in San Antonio where some 200 rebellious Texans had been holed up for weeks. The battle was over in less than two hours, leaving great Texas heroes like Jim Bowie, James Butler Bonham and William Travis dead. Among the defenders that day was Davy Crockett, former Congressman and legendary hunter, scout and teller of tall-tales. According to some accounts, Crockett died in battle and according to others, he was one of a handful of men captured and later executed. What really happened?
(1786-1836) was born in Tennessee, then a frontier territory. He was a hard working young man who distinguished himself as a scout in the Creek War and provided food for his whole regiment by hunting. Initially a supporter of Andrew Jackson
, he was elected to Congress in 1827. He fell out with Jackson, however, and in 1835 lost his seat in Congress. By this time, Crockett was famous for his tall tales and folksy speeches. Although he was out of Congress, Jackson's opponents had their eye on him: he may have even been nominated to run for President. Meanwhile, he decided to visit Texas.
Crockett Arrives at the Alamo:
Crockett made his way slowly to Texas. Along the way, he learned that there was much sympathy for the Texans in the USA. Many men were heading there to fight and people assumed Crockett was, too: he didn't contradict them. He crossed into Texas in early 1836. Learning that the fighting was taking place near San Antonio
, he headed there. He arrived at the Alamo in February. By then, Rebel leaders such as Jim Bowie
and William Travis
were preparing a defense. Bowie and Travis did not get along: Crockett, ever the skilled politician, defused the tension between them.
Crockett at the Battle of the Alamo:
Crockett had arrived with a handful of volunteers from Tennessee. These frontiersmen were lethal with their long rifles and they were a welcome addition to the defenders. The Mexican army arrived in late February and laid siege to the Alamo. Mexican General Santa Anna
did not immediately seal the exits from San Antonio and the defenders could have escaped had they wished: they chose to remain. The Mexicans attacked at dawn on March 6 and within two hours the Alamo was overrun
Was Crockett taken Prisoner?:
Here’s where things get unclear. Historians agree on a few basic facts: some 600 Mexicans and 200 Texans died that day. A handful – most say seven – of Texan defenders were taken alive. These men were swiftly put to death by orders of Mexican General Santa Anna. According to some sources, Crockett was among them, and according to others, he was not. What’s the truth? There are several sources that should be considered.
The Mexicans were crushed at the Battle of San Jacinto
about six weeks later. One of the prisoners was a young officer named Fernando Urissa. Urissa was wounded, and treated by Dr. Nicholas Labadie, who kept a journal. Labadie asked about the Battle of the Alamo, and Urissa mentioned the capture of a "venerable-looking man" with a red face: he believed the others called him "Coket." The prisoner was brought to Santa Anna and then executed, shot by several soldiers at once.
Francisco Antonio Ruiz:
Francisco Antonio Ruiz, the mayor of San Antonio, was safely behind the Mexican lines when the battle began and had a good vantage point to witness what happened. Before the arrival of the Mexican army, he had met Crockett, as the civilians of San Antonio and the defenders of the Alamo mingled freely. He said that after the battle Santa Anna ordered him to point out the bodies of Crockett, Travis and Bowie. Crockett, he said, had fallen in battle on the west side of the Alamo grounds near “a little fort.”
Jose Enrique de la Peña:
De la Peña was a mid-level officer in Santa Anna’s army. He later allegedly wrote a diary, not found and published until 1955, about his experiences at the Alamo. In it, he claims that the “well-known” David Crockett was one of seven men taken prisoner. They were brought to Santa Anna, who ordered them executed. The rank-and-file soldiers who had stormed the Alamo, sick of death, did nothing, but officers close to Santa Anna, who had seen no fighting, were eager to impress him and fell upon the prisoners with swords. According to de la Peña, the prisoners “…died without complaining and without humiliating themselves before their torturers.”
Women, children and slaves who were captured at the Alamo were spared. Susanna Dickinson, wife of one of the slain Texans, was among them. She never wrote down her eyewitness account, but was interviewed many times over the course of her life. She said that after the battle, she saw Crockett’s body between the chapel and the barracks (which roughly corroborates Ruiz’ account). Santa Anna’s silence on the subject is also relevant: he never claimed to have captured and executed Crockett.
Did Crockett die in Battle?:
Unless other documents come to light, we'll never know the details of Crockett's fate. The accounts do not agree, and there are several problems with each of them. Urissa called the prisoner "venerable," which seems a little harsh to describe the energetic, 49 year old Crockett. It's also hearsay, as it was written down by Labadie. Ruiz' account comes from an English translation of something he may or may not have written: the original has never been found. De la Peña hated Santa Anna and may have invented or embellished the story to make his former commander look bad: also, some historians think the document might be a fake. Dickinson never personally wrote anything down and other parts of her story have been proven questionable.
In the end, it's not really important. Crockett was a hero because he knowingly remained at the Alamo as the Mexican army advanced, boosting the spirits of the forlorn defenders with his fiddle and his tall tales. When the time came, Crockett and all of the others fought bravely and sold their lives dearly. Their sacrifice inspired others to join the cause, and within two months the Texans would win the decisive Battle of San Jacinto.
Brands, H.W. Lone Star Nation: the Epic Story of the Battle for Texas Independence. New York: Anchor Books, 2004.
Henderson, Timothy J. A Glorious Defeat: Mexico and its War with the United States.New York: Hill and Wang, 2007.