Monday, April 30, 2012

Davy Crockett

San Antonio,  Texas. Visited May 2011

Davy Crockett was born in east Tennessee in August 1786. His father fought in the American Revolution, most notably in the Battle of Kings Mountain. We know a good bit about Davy Crockett’s early years because he had the foresight to write his autobiography; though the details are certainly open to question on a number of fronts. It would seem that his version of his life story is much of the basis for the common epithet, ‘King of the Wild Frontier’. What is reliably known is that in his teens Crockett found himself largely on his own and forced to develop survival skills on the frontier of the new state of Tennessee. He was married at 20 and eventually moved his wife and three children farther into the frontier of West Tennessee. His wife died on the frontier and Crockett remarried at 29, a union that resulted in three more children added to the family.

Davy Crockett built his reputation as a soldier as a militia commander in regional Indian wars, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. A natural leader with a burgeoning reputation, he was elected to Congress at the age of 40 in 1826. While initially a supporter of the policies of Andrew Jackson, he proved to be a man of his own mind in Congress. Opposing Jackson on some key issues, Crockett lost his seat in 1830 but was re-elected in 1832. Davy Crocket can probably be credited with publishing the first candidate biography, releasing A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett - Written by Himself just prior to the congressional campaign of 1834. What politician Crockett seemed to lack was the people's touch, as evidenced by the following comment,

"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.”

Your blogger in front of the Alamo circa 1986
Not surprisingly Davy Crockett soon found himself no longer in Congress and on his way to Texas. It appears that he went west intending to eventually resettle his family there, but his more immediate interest seemed the battle for Texas independence. He arrived in January 1836, quickly enlisted in the Texas militia and headed to San Antonio, arriving in early February at a little Spanish mission called the Alamo. Seeking to put down the Texas rebellion, Mexican General Santa Anna marched 1,500 troops to lay siege to the Alamo and its approximately 200 defenders. The siege at the Alamo lasted less than two weeks. Realizing that the makeshift fort was vastly outmanned, the commander William Travis sent Crockett and two others on a secret mission through the enemy lines to get reinforcements. The squad was able to locate some Texians and fight back through the lines to the Alamo, but it was a futile effort. On March 6, 1836 Mexican Troops stormed the mission and overran the Texians, killing all the soldiers in the fort, including Davy Crockett.  A short perspective on the battle produced by HISTORY can be viewed here.

Famous 'Crockett-centric' painting of the Battle of the Alamo

The defenders of the Alamo were reportedly burned and buried at the mission by Santa Anna’s troops. A few years later the reputed remains of Crockett, Colonel Travis and Jim Bowie were gathered and buried together at the Roman Catholic San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio. In the 1930's the remains were dug up in a reconstruction project and placed in a sarcophagus box in an antechamber of the new cathedral, where they remain to this day.

Marble plaque at San Fernando Cathedral. The panel
on the right is one of those things that makes grave
searching so much fun

My son Grant sporting a
classic coonskin cap -
appropriate attire for all
The legend of Davy Crockett grew out of his own self-promotion as well as his true heroic service in the cause of Texas Independence. The Davy Crockett coonskin cap was requisite haberdashery for any boy growing up in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s as Davy Crockett became an iconic figure in TV and movies.

Choose your favorite Crockett....

Fess Parker...


John Wayne

The Davy Crockett atomic bomb

A less well known appropriation of Crockett’s legacy occurred in the 1960’s as the U. S. military developed an infantry-operated atomic bomb launcher that was intended to be carried into battle for tactical nuclear warfare. I saw one of these on a visit to West Point a few years ago. It had a launch range of 2000 yards, though the blast circumference of the bomb it could launch would be several times that distance. This made it essentially a suicide weapon for any unlucky soldiers assigned to fire it.  Fortunately it was never fired on enemy troops or even tested with a real atomic bomb. The plaque on the launcher in the museum said it was discontinued in the late sixties because it was ‘considered impractical’. 

Another quircky modern reference to Davy Crockett that I’ve come across is the following video of They Might Be Giants - The Ballad of Davy Crockett in Outer Space

Your Blogger at San Fernando Cathedral
in San Antonio

I visited the San Fernando Cathedral with my friend Jay Walker on our way to the airport from an arts retreat at Laity Lodge in the Hill Country outside San Antonio. It was a Sunday when we arrived and the church was filled with worshippers at a Spanish Mass. Undaunted, and possibly rude, Jay and I squeezed our way through the crowd and snapped a few pictures during gaps in the liturgy. Not the preferred method of gathering material for this blog.  But I think the King of the Wild Frontier would approve.

Having parted the crowd  to get this picture I think my 
face reveals just a bit of awkward guilt.  At least I took 
my hat off.