The “real” Davy Crockett has all but yielded his place to the more striking images of him created by political manipulators and hero worshipers and to the larger-than-life figure presented by the Walt Disney television series based on the Crockett legend. Even while he was living, Crockett was fast becoming a legend as the bear hunter of the Shakes, the deadly marksman with a lethal grin, the droll yarn-spinner, and the coonskin hero of Whiggism. His death at the Alamo made him a demigod. His motto, Go Ahead, expressed the national sentiment of his America, as he himself was the embodiment of the romantic daring and energy of the frontier.
It was not until he became a magistrate that Crockett learned to read and write. After two terms in the Tennessee legislature, he was sent to Congress in 1827 as a partisan of Andrew Jackson, under whose command he had served as scout in the campaign against the Creek tribes. During his first two terms, he broke with the administration, and in his third he vigorously opposed Jackson’s policy concerning the United States Bank. Defeated for reelection in 1835, Crockett led a group of Tennessee volunteers to Texas, where they all were killed the following year, with William Barret Travis and James Bowie, in the defense of the Alamo.
Aside from a few letters, very little of the works sometimes attributed to Crockett can be ascribed with confidence to his sole authorship. His speeches in Congress were probably touched up by a friend before being recorded, and today it is generally assumed that the biography of Martin Van Buren supposedly by Crockett, published in 1835, was largely the work of another. Both Sketches and Eccentricities of Col. David Crockett (1833) and Col. Crockett’s Exploits and Adventures in Texas (1836), whoever wrote or compiled them, make use of Crockett’s stories and belong to the vast body of legend concerning him and to the tall-tale literary tradition of the American frontier. A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett itself, though bearing signs of another helping hand, is substantially Crockett’s work. Valuable as a general picture of the times, it achieves distinction as a realistic account of frontier life, and its language often attains a classic directness and simplicity.