When you think of Davy Crockett, you probably think of either a coonskin cap, a buckskin jacket or the bear he killed when he was only three. The famous frontiersman did probably wear some coonskin and buckskin growing up in the backwoods of Tennessee (where he probably didn’t kill that bear as a toddler). However, the legacy of Davy Crockett reaches far beyond a Hollywood costume and a catchy song.
Fifty years after his birth at the end of the Revolutionary War, David ("Davy") Crockett died a hero’s death at the Battle of the Alamo. His entire life, the majority of which he details in his autobiography Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, of the State of Tennessee, embodied the spirit of the independent American.
“I leave this rule for others when I'm dead, Be always sure you're right — THEN GO AHEAD!” - Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, of the State of Tennessee
“And for the information of young hunters, I will just say, in this place, that whenever a fellow gets bad lost, the way home is just the way he don't think it is.” - Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, of the State of Tennessee
“And so, you see, I determined not to break full handed, but thought it better to keep a good conscience with an empty purse, than to get a bad opinion of myself, with a full one.” - Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, of the State of Tennessee
“I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the sufferings of the living, if suffering there be, as any man in this House, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for a part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living.” - “Not Yours to Give” speech, quoted in Harper’s Magazine, 1867
“I must say as to what I have seen of Texas it is the garden spot of the world. The best land and the best prospects for health I ever saw, and I do believe it is a fortune to any man to come here. There is a world of country here to settle.” - Letter to his family, 1836
“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 by the children of those who have freely shed their blood to establish it, is the sincere wish of David Crockett.” - Journal entry from March 2, 1836, four days before his death
Most American politicians during Davy Crockett’s lifetime were educated, land-owning men. But it was Crockett’s connection to the American public, not his education, that got him elected to represent Tennessee in the House of Representatives in 1827. While he’d never identify as a learned man, Crockett applied the lessons he’d learned from life throughout his time in Congress.
“But it will be a source of astonishment to many, who reflect that I am now a member of the American Congress,—the most enlightened body of men in the world, — that at so advanced an age, the age of fifteen, I did not know the first letter in the book.” - Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, of the State of Tennessee
“In this time I learned to read a little in my primer, to write my own name, and to cypher some in the three first rules in figures. And this was all the schooling I ever had in my life, up to this day. I should have continued longer, if it hadn't been that I concluded I couldn't do any longer without a wife; and so I cut out to hunt me one.” - Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, of the State of Tennessee
“Sorrow, it is said, will make even an oyster feel poetical. I never tried my hand at that sort of writing but on this particular occasion such was my state of feeling, that I began to fancy myself inspired; so I took pen in hand, and as usual I went ahead.” - David Crockett, by John Stevens Cabot Abbott
“And as for grammar, it's pretty much a thing of nothing at last, after all the fuss that's made about it. In some places, I wouldn't suffer either the spelling, or grammar, or any thing else to be touch'd; and therefore it will be found in my own way.” - Preface to Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, of the State of Tennessee
“My judgments were never appealed from, and if they had been they would have stuck like wax, as I gave my decisions on the principles of common justice and honesty between man and man, and relied on natural born sense, and not on law, learning to guide me; for I had never read a page in a law book in all my life.” - Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, of the State of Tennessee
“But after I was appointed by the assembly, they told me, my warrants must be in real writing, and signed; and that I must keep a book, and write my proceedings in it. This was a hard business on me, for I could just barely write my own name; but to do this, and write the warrants too, was at least a huckleberry over my persimmon.” - Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, of the State of Tennessee
Davy Crockett’s time in Congress was short and contentious. After turning against Andrew Jackson and his Indian Removal Bill, Crockett lost re-election in 1831 (and was none too happy about it). He would be elected again in 1833, lose again in 1835, and ultimately leave his home state of Tennessee for Texas.
“I am at liberty to vote as my conscience and judgment dictates to be right, without the yoke of any party on me, or the driver at my heels, with his whip in hand, commanding me to ge-wo-haw, just at his pleasure. Look at my arms, you will find no party hand-cuff on them!” - Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, of the State of Tennessee
“It was nonsense to talk about its being a sacrifice to come there; for if it were, they would not see so many grasping to be members of Congress.” - quoted in David Crockett: The Man and the Legend
“I was willing to go with General Jackson in everything that I believed was honest and right; but further than this, I wouldn't go for him, or any other man in the whole creation.” - Crockett’s remarks on his opposition to the Indian Removal Act, from Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, of the State of Tennessee
“I voted against this Indian bill, and my conscience yet tells me that I gave a good honest vote, and one that I believe will not make me ashamed in the day of judgment.” - Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, of the State of Tennessee
“I am yet a Jackson man in principles, but not in name ... I shall insist upon it that I am still a Jackson man, but General Jackson is not; he has become a Van Buren man.” - quoted in David Crockett: The Man and the Legend
“Money with them is nothing but trash when it is to come out of the people. But it is the one great thing for which most of them are striving, and many of them sacrifice honor, integrity, and justice to obtain it.” - Remarks about the U.S. Congress (quoted in The Life of Colonel David Crockett)
“I told the people of my district that I would serve them as faithfully as I had done; but if not, they might go to hell, and I would go to Texas.” - Remark upon losing his Congressional seat, 1835 (quoted in David Crockett: The Man and the Legend)
“Heaven knows that I have done all that a mortal could do, to save the people, and the failure was not my fault, but the fault of others.” - Remark after losing the election of 1831 (quoted in David Crockett: The Man and the Legend)
“I would rather be beaten and be a man than to be elected and be a little puppy dog. I have always supported measures and principles and not men. I have acted fearless[ly] and independent and I never will regret my course. I would rather be politically buried than to be hypocritically immortalized.” - Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, of the State of Tennessee
Born into a free America, Davy Crockett spent his life preserving its values — up to the very last minutes before his death. For more inspiration from famous Americans, check out: