The Many Deaths of Davy Crockett

(Yes I know he preferred to be called David.)

If you were around and paying attention in 1975, you might remember the uproar that accompanied the publication of the English translation of the diary of Jose Enrique de la Peña. 

Peña, who was with Santa Anna during the siege and storming of the Alamo, gave a vivid account of the battle and it’s aftermath. What caused the uproar was his depiction of Davy Crockett taken prisoner and executed on Santa Anna’s orders.

“Some seven men had survived the general carnage and, under the protection of General Castrillon, they were brought before Santa Anna. Among them was one of great stature, well proportioned, with regular features, in whose face there was the imprint of adversity, but in whom one also noticed a degree of resignation and nobility that did him honor. He was the naturalist David Crockett, well known in North America for his unusual adventures…Santa Anna answered Castrillon’s intervention in Crockett’s behalf with a gesture of indignation and, addressing himself to the sappers, the troops closest to him, ordered his execution.” 

1834 Portrait of Crockett by Samuel Osgood

That’s a tough pill to swallow for any red-blooded Texan raised knowing that Davy went down fighting, swinging “Old Betsy” over his head as a war club.

But it wasn’t the first time that story had been heard. Not by far.

Less than three weeks after the battle, the New Orleans Post-Union reported that passengers arriving on the schooner Comanche brought news of the Alamo’s fall, and that:

“Crockett and the others tried to surrender, but were told there was no mercy for them.”

Then these is this account which appeared as appendix to the 1837 book Col. Crockett’s Exploits and Adventures in Texas, (this book was sold as being Crockett’s diary of his time in Texas, found among the belongings of a Mexican officer at San Jacinto. It was actually written by a Philadelphia newspaper editor):

“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. Colonel Crockett was of the number…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…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?”

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 a smile of scorn and defiance on his lips.”

The source of that account was probably a letter written July 19, 1836 by Texian soldier George M. Dolson to his brother in Michigan.

The letter was printed in a Detroit newspaper in September of that year. In it Dolson relates how he was asked to translate the statement of a Mexican officer who had been at the Alamo: 

“He states that on the morning the Alamo was captured, between the hours of five and six o’clock, General Castrillon, who fell at the battle of St. Jacinto, entered the back room of the Alamo, and there found Crockett and five other Americans, who had defended it until defense was useless; they appeared very much agitated when the Mexican soldiers overtook to rush in after their General, but the humane General ordered his men to keep out, and, placing his hand on his breast, said,”Here is a hand and a heart to protect you. Come with me to the General-in-Chief, and you shall be saved.”

The brave but unfortunate men were marched to the tent of Santa Anna…Santa Anna’s interpreter knew Colonel Crockett and said to my informant, “the one behind is the famous Crockett.” When brought in the presence of Santa Anna, Castrillon said to him, “Santa Anna, the august, I deliver up to you six brave prisoners of war.”

Santa Anna replied, “Who has given you orders to take prisoners? I do not want to see those men living – shoot them.” As the monster uttered these words each officer turned his face the other way, and the hell-hounds of the tyrant dispatched the six in his presence, and within six feet of his person.”

But not all eyewitness accounts agree that Crockett was captured.

In an 1890 interview, Madame Candelaria (who may or may not have been at the Alamo) gave this account:

“Returning to the subject of David Crockett, the old Señora said he was one of the first to fall; that he advanced from the Church building towards the wall or rampart running from the end of the stockade, slowly and with great deliberation, without arms, when suddenly a volley was fired by the Mexicans causing him to fall forward on his face, dead.”

Davy Crockett without arms? That one don’t ring true.

From the 1837 edition of Davy Crockett’s Almanack

Then there is this account given to the San Antonio Express in 1889 by by Felix Nuñez, who claimed to have been a veteran of the battle:

“He was a tall American of rather dark complexion and had on a long cuera (buck skin coat) and a round cap without any bill, and made of fox skin, with the long tail hanging down his back. This man apparently had a charmed life. Of the many soldiers who took deliberate aim at him and fired, not one ever hit him. On the contrary he never missed a shot. He killed at least eight of our men, besides wounding several others. This fact being observed by a lieutenant who had come in over the wall he sprung at him and dealt him a deadly blow with his sword, just above the right eye, which felled him to the ground and in an instant he was pierced by not less than twenty bayonets. This lieutenant said that if all Americans had killed as many of our men as this one had, our army would have been annihilated before the Alamo could have been taken. He was a bout the last man that was killed.”

Finally there is the account of Captain Rafael Soldana of the Tampico Battalion:

“A tall man, with flowing hair, was seen firing from the same place on the parapet during the entire siege. He wore a buckskin suit and a cape all of a pattern entirely different from those worn by his comrades. This man would kneel or lie down behind the low parapet, rest his long gun and fire, and we all learned to keep at a good distance when he was seen to make ready to shoot. He rarely missed his mark, and when he fired he always rose to his feet and calmly reloaded his gun seemingly indifferent to the shots fired at him by our own men. He had a strong, resonant voice and often railed at us, but as we did not understand English, we could not comprehend the import of his words further than they were defiant. This man I later learned was called, “Kwockey.”

“When the final assault was made upon the walls these men fought like devils. ‘Kwockey’ was killed in a room of the mission. He stood on the inside to the left of the door and plunged his long knife into the bosom of every soldier that tried to enter. They were powerless to fire upon him because of the fact that he was backed up against the wall and, the doorway being narrow, they could not bring their guns to bear upon him. And, moreover, the pressure from the rear was so great that many near the doorway were forced into the room only to receive a deadly thrust from that long knife.”

“Finally a well directed shot broke the man’s right arm and his hand fell useless at his side. He then seized his long gun with his left hand and leaped toward the center of the room where he could wield the weapon without obstruction, felling every man that came through the doorway. A corporal ordered the passage cleared of those who were being pressed forward, a volley was fired almost point blank and the last defender of the Alamo fell dead.”

RIP Col. Crockett, no matter how you fell.