Davy Crockett is an American folk hero of mythic proportions, and was greatly popularised during the ’50s and ’60s thanks to Disney’s TV miniseries and major motion pictures. But Crockett was a very real person in history, and he had a lot of wisdom to share.
The intro to Disney’s Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier (1955)
David “Davy” Crockett was born in 1786 (pre-U.S. Constitution) and lived as a runaway, soldier, frontiersman, and was even elected to Congress in 1825 after serving in the Tennessee state legislature since 1821. He was certainly famous while he lived, but plays, songs and tall tales transformed him into the coonskin-hat-wearing certified folk hero we know him as today.
On Government And Sticking To His Guns
While he was in Congress, Crockett opposed most of President Andrew Jackson’s policies, including the Indian Removal Act, which sought to relocate all Native Americans west of the Mississippi River. But Crockett’s strong opposition and refusal to do the bidding of any political parties eventually led to a troubled political career. He had a lot to say about those who act as political puppets:
“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…”
In a letter following his defeat in the 1830 elections, as quoted in David Crockett: The Man and the Legend (1994)
“I am at liberty to vote as my conscience and judgement 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!”
Letter from 28 January, 1834, reported in A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett
“I am no man’s man. I bark at no man’s bid. I will never come and go, and fetch and carry, at the whistle of the great man in the white house, no matter who he is.”
An Account of Col. Crockett’s Tour to the North and Down East (1835)
When Crockett was defeated again in 1835, he gave up on politics and made way for Texas (then the Mexican state of Tejas). Still, he can at least say that he always stood up for what he thought was right.
On Survival In The Frontier
There’s a reason Davy Crockett is known as the “King of the Wild Frontier.” One of those reasons is the 1955 song “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” by Tom W. Blackburn, but the other reason is because he was one heck of a hunter. When he wasn’t fighting wars or running for office, hunting bears is how he made a living. He claims to have killed 105 bears in a seven-month period during the harsh winter of 1825-26. Whoa. So, whether he was lost in the woods:
"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. This rule will hit nine times out of then."
Or freezing his butt off in the cold:
"I suffered very much that night with cold, as my leather breeches, and every thing else I had on, was wet and frozen. But I managed to get my bear out of this crack after several hard trials, and so I butchered him, and laid down to try to sleep. But my fire was very bad, and I couldn't find any thing that would burn well to make it any better; and I concluded I should freeze, if I didn't warm myself in some way by exercise.
"So I got up, and hollered a while, and then I would just jump up and down with all my might, and throw myself into all sorts of motions. But all this wouldn't do; for my blood was now getting cold, and the chills coming all over me. I was so tired, too, that I could hardly walk; but I thought I would do the best I could to save my life, and then, if I died, nobody would be to blame.
"So I went to a tree about two feet through, and not a limb on it for thirty feet, and I would climb up it to the limbs, and then lock my arms together around it, and slide down to the bottom again. This would make the insides of my legs and arms feel mighty warm and good. I continued this till daylight in the morning, and how often I clomb up my tree and slid down I don't know, but I reckon at least a hundred times."
A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee (1834)
Ah, the warming power of friction. The King of the Wild Frontier always knew what to do.
On Being Humble
Davy Crockett was a pretty big deal even while he was alive, but he never let any of the attention get to his head. In fact, he didn't really understand what the fuss was all about.
"I know, that obscure as I am, my name is making a considerable deal of fuss in the world. I can't tell why it is, nor in what it is to end. Go where I will, everybody seems anxious to get a peep at me … There must therefore be something in me, or about me, that attracts attention, which is even mysterious to myself."
A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett (1834)
He was kind of an early 19th-century version of Chuck Norris jokes. Despite all that, he stayed pretty down to earth.
On Helping People
One of the reasons people liked Davy Crockett so much is because he was always willing to help. Whether they were a neighbour in need of food for the winter:
"I worked on with my hands till the bears got fat, and then I turned out to hunting, to lay in a supply of meat. I soon killed and salted down as many as were necessary for my family; but about this time one of my old neighbours, who had settled down on the lake about twenty-five miles from me, came to my house and told me he wanted me to go down and kill some bears about in his parts. He said they were extremely fat, and very plenty.
"I know'd that when they were fat, they were easily taken, for a fat bear can't run fast or long. But I asked a bear no favours, no way, further than civility, for I now had eight large dogs, and as fierce as painters; so that a bear stood no chance at all to get away from them. So I went home with him, and then went on down towards the Mississippi, and commenced hunting. We were out two weeks, and in that time killed fifteen bears. Having now supplied my friend with plenty of meat, I engaged occasionally again with my hands in our boat building and getting staves."
A NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE OF DAVID CROCKETT OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE (1834)
Or a random poor soul on the street:
"Whenever I had anything, and saw a fellow-being suffering, I was more anxious to relieve him than to benefit myself. And this is one of the true secrets of my being a poor man to this day. But it is my way, and while it has often left me an empty purse, yet it has never left my heart empty of consolations which money couldn't buy, the consolation of having sometimes fed the hungry and covered the naked."
Davy Crockett (1918)
Crockett just wanted to do the right thing, even if it meant he would have less.
On Trying Something New
Crockett eventually tried his hand at poetry because, well, why not? He was sad and wanted to get those feelings out.
"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."
Col. Crockett's Exploits and Adventures in Texas (1836)
Here's one of his poems:
The corn that I planted, the fields that I cleared,
The flocks that I raised, and the cabin I reared;
The wife of my bosom -- Farewell to ye all!
In the land of the stranger I rise or I fall.
Not bad for a guy who went to school for a grand total of about four days before running away to start a life of adventure. Don't let things stand in your way if you want to try something new. Be like Davy and just give it a go!
On Knowing When to Throw In The Towel
After running for Congress for the fourth time and losing for the second time in 1835, Crockett was pretty disheartened. So, he decided it was best to call it quits and move on to greener pastures.
"I also told them of the manner in which I had been knocked down and dragged out, and that I didn't consider it a fair fight any how they could fix it. I put the ingredients in the cup pretty strong I tell you, and I concluded my speech by telling them that I was done with politics for the present, and they might all go to hell, and I would go to Texas."
Col. Crockett's Exploits and Adventures in Texas (1836)
He certainly went out with a bang. Unfortunately for Crockett, he'd only get to spend three months in Texas before he would be killed at the Battle of the Alamo in 1836.
Crockett's exploits were many, and it's hard to tell the difference between fact and tall tale, but he certainly seemed to live well. That was partly thanks to his number one rule:
"I leave this rule for others when I'm dead. Be always sure you're right -- THEN GO AHEAD!"
David Crockett: His Life and Adventures (1874)
Simple but effective, no? Lastly, he knew that he wanted to be known for the way he lived, not how he died:
"I know not whether, in the eyes of the world, a brilliant death is not preferred to an obscure life of rectitude. Most men are remembered as they died, and not as they lived. We gaze with admiration upon the glories of the setting sun, yet scarcely bestow a passing glance upon its noonday splendor."
David Crockett: His Life and Adventures, 1875
It's not a bad way to look at your own life. Will you just be an obituary, a date in someone's mind? Or will you leave behind the things you did while you lived?