How Did Colonel Davy Crockett Die?
Everyone knows that Davy Crockett died at the Battle of the Alamo, but the question that scholars have been debating for years is how.
For over one hundred and seventy years, scholars have been debating exactly Davy Crockett died at the Battle of the Alamo. Popular legend says he died swinging his riffle, Ole’ Betsy, like a club. Some scholars have suggested that he was one of the first to be killed. Others, that he was one of a handful of survivors who were ultimately shot after being captured. Still others say that he was one of the first to fall. Which of these versions are correct?
The body of evidence seems to support the notion that Crockett was one of a handful of defenders that the Mexican army captured. Santa Anna had ordered that no prisoners be taken, however, so he ordered that they be shot and bayonetted. While several eye witnesses reported that this was how Crockett had died, this theory was not confirmed until the diary of Lt. Jose Enrique de la Pena was first published in 1975. As a Mexican officer, we can expect that he had a better knowledge of Crockett’s fate than most, so it seems likely that his version is accurate.
Interestingly, one of the very first books written about the Battle of the Alamo says that this is how Crockett died. The same year that the Alamo fell, Richard Penn Smith wrote a book called “Col. Crockett’s Exploits and Adventures in Texas….Written by Himself.” While much of the book is fictitious and/or plagiarized, it does give an accurate narration of how Crockett was captured and eventually executed.
The idea that Davy had “gone down swinging “ole Betsy” arose out of dissatisfaction with the idea that Crockett would allow himself to be captured. Crockett had been such a legendary figure in life, that many expected to remain legendary in death. Despite being inaccurate and based on no evidence of any kind, this is what has passed for history for many years. Since 1975, however, the true account of what happened has caught with the myth. The last movie about the Alamo ended with the execution of Crockett. Even it embellishes slightly, however, by making it seem that he was the only survivor. Indeed, there were probably four or five others.
While most scholars are pretty well convinced that Crockett was executed after being captured, we cannot be sure if that is really what happened. Colonel Travis” slave, Joe, said that he saw Crockett dead surrounded by the bodies of Mexican soldiers. Susanna Dickinson, the wife of one of the defenders, said that Crockett died outside the fort, early in the battle. The majority of the evidence, however, seems to support Pena’s claim. Some in Crockett’s day might have considered being executed somehow less admirable than dying in battle, but Pena indicates that they died with honor and did their duty to the last.