According to legend, Davy Crockett died fighting the Mexicans at the Alamo. Almost immediately, rumors circulated that Crockett surrendered and was executed. In 1955, an account from a Mexican soldier emerged supporting the latter version of events. Jose Enrique de la Pena’s account remains controversial for a number of reasons and has not been corroborated. In the end, Crockett might have been executed or he might have died in the battle. More evidence is needed to support the de la Pena account. As a result, the evidence supports Crockett’s legendary death.
Frontiersman Davy Crockett became a legend before his death. In some respects, he was one of the first American superheroes. He earned a reputation as a backwoodsman and hunter. Crockett’s storytelling ability transformed him into a folk hero. Plays and books made Crockett a legend. He landed in Congress as a Whig opponent of Andrew Jackson. Crockett opposed Jackson’s agenda which led to his electoral defeat. In the ashes of his defeat, he decided to start over in Texas. He arrived in time to take part in the revolution and the Battle of the Alamo. The Mexican army under Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna laid siege to Crockett and the Alamo defenders for 13 days. Texans that survived the battle were executed.
No one disputes Crockett died at the Alamo on March 6, 1836. Traditionally, Crockett died battling the Mexican army as it penetrated the mission’s defenses. Literature, movies, and art reinforce the history books. The most famous representation has Crockett swinging his rifle as the Mexicans overwhelm him. One exception is the 2004 film, The Alamo, which portrayed Crockett’s capture and execution by Santa Anna. The execution scene sparked controversy since historians and enthusiasts question its veracity and the source’s credibility.
Rumors of Crockett’s survival and execution date to the battle itself. Quite frankly, people could not believe Crockett could die. The fact Mexicans were responsible probably increased American incredulity. The modern world has seen similar instances of famous people being resurrected in the popular imagination. For example, Elvis Presley died in 1977, but people have claimed for years he faked his death. On top of this, the Mexicans did execute survivors. Santa Anna wanted to punish “pirates” and set an example to frighten Texans into surrender.
Santa Anna’s terror tactics failed and Texas gained its independence. Meanwhile, rumors persisted that Crockett survived the battle only to die at Santa Anna’s hands. Some believe the story was kept alive to further the narrative of Santa Anna as a bloodthirsty monster. However, most believed Crockett died as tradition holds. He fought bravely before being overwhelmed by a numerically superior force.
By the twentieth century, few questioned how Crockett died. In the mid-fifties, a television series resurrected Davy Crockett. Children across America purchased replica coon skin caps and pretended they were the nineteenth century frontiersman. At the height of the Crockett craze, a book appeared purporting to be the memoirs of Mexican soldier and Alamo veteran Jose Enrique de la Pena. In the book, de la Pena claimed Crockett survived the battle, Mexican officers refused to execute survivors, so staff officers assumed the role as executioners. Investigators question the timing of the release. However, an analysis of the paper used in the original source dates to 1830s Mexico.
While the paper supports de la Pena’s authenticity, no other accounts exist to support Crockett’s execution. No other officers, soldiers, or documents exist to reinforce de la Pena. Perhaps more importantly, a Mexican soldier probably would not know Crockett if they saw him. If Crockett was already dead, identification of a bloodied, and perhaps bloated, body would make identification that much more difficult. Lastly, another portion of the memoir is clearly inaccurate. The author claims William Travis died as the Mexicans swarmed into the Alamo. However, Travis’ slave testified that his former master died early on before the Mexicans breached the Alamo walls. If de la Pena was wrong regarding Travis, then it is possible, or even likely, that his Crockett account was also erroneous.
Davy Crockett died at the Alamo. Tradition holds Crockett died fighting off a horde of Mexican soldiers. Over a century later, an account emerged questioning the legend. The de la Pena diary could be the accurate account, but it is doubtful. There is nothing to corroborate de la Pena and other elements in the memoir are clearly inaccurate. Therefore, at present, the traditional account appears to be the correct version of events.