David Crockett, a legend in his time and since, was born on August 17, 1786, in East Tennessee. He knew first-hand the brutalities of frontier life. His grandparents were murdered by Creek and Cherokee Indians before he was born. By twelve years old he was conscripted to a cattle drover from whom he had to escape through a snowstorm when the drover forcefully kept Davy past the term of his contract. Crockett ran away from home at the age of thirteen in 1799.
Between 1811 and 1813 Crockett fought under General Andrew Jackson in the Creek War. It was his reputation as an Indian fighter and frontiersman that first established his popularity. He used rough, exaggerated images of himself as soldier and hunter to rise to political positions.
Although he was admired for being a strong, hard and heroic frontiersman, the obsessive admiration of Davy Crockett was due in large part to his humor. He was charismatic and possessed the mastery of vernacular coupled with common sense that made him a natural storyteller with the power to enthrall his audience and parody his opponents.
He served two terms in the Tennessee legislature and was elected to Congress three times. After years as a Democratic Jacksonian, Crockett broke ties with Jackson in 1828 and became a Whig for the remainder of his political career. He was opposed to Jackson's Indian Removal Act.
A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett (1834) is the autobiography most likely to be the actual work of Crockett; edited by Thomas Chilton. I've got a copy of this book and found it fascinating, yet a bit hard to read. Since it is written by a man with very little formal education, most of the words are written phonetically and not even consisitently wrong.
One remarkable chapter in the book gives Crockett's account of the earthquake that formed Reelfoot Lake in northwestern Tennessee. Between mid-December 1811 and mid-March 1812 a series of catastrophic earthquakes shook West Tennessee and surrounding areas. Judging from reports and eyewitness accounts, the quakes would have measured among the highest ever recorded on the modern Richter scale. Some reports said that the quakes were strong enough to awaken sleepers in Washington, D.C., and allegedly some tremors were felt twelve hundred miles away in Quebec City, Canada. The last of these three quakes is estimated to be the strongest ever recorded on the North American continent.
The quakes caused much destruction along the Mississippi River. Many boats capsized, and cargoes and crews were never seen again. Seasoned riverboat pilots had to deal with whole new rivers. Cracks and fissures, downed trees, and other obstacles made roads and trails impassable. Massive landslides occurred along the Mississippi and Ohio River bluffs from Memphis to Indiana. Some ground areas rose or fell as much as twenty feet relative to the surrounding landscape. An eighteen- to twenty-acre area near Piney River in Tennessee sank so low that the tops of the trees were at the same level as the surrounding ground. Whole forests sank below their original level and filled with water to form swamps and shallow lakes. The eighteen-thousand-acre Reelfoot Lake was formed.
It is said the Mississippi River ran backwards for several hours (some accounts say "days") and several waterfalls were created, but didn't last in the soft silt of the river bottom.
Other chapters in the book are devoted to Crockett's bear hunting. I had no idea how many bears lived in west Tennessee. One winter alone, 1834, he killed more than 100.
I would like to report that David Crockett lived a long life enjoying his children and grandchildren, but that is not how our story ends. Ever the adventurer, he headed west to fight in the Texas Revolution and was one of the defenders of the Alamo. Conflicting reports state that he was killed in battle where other reports say he was one of about a dozen men who surrendered and were executed by Santa Ana's men.
The outcome remains the same. One of Tennessee's most beloved sons fought bravely and was killed at the Alamo.