RSM Profile: Davy Crockett

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of Real Southern Men we could profile here. Many of them had more of an impact on history and life in the South and beyond, but only one can boast creating a bona fide pop culture phenomenon more than a century after his death. That one is Davy Crockett.

Born in East Tennessee, David Crockett was a rugged individualist from an early age. According to his autobiography, he ran away from home at 13 and spent three years bouncing from town to town in Tennessee, learning his way as a hunter, trapper and outdoorsman. At 27, he joined the Tennessee militia and fought in present-day Alabama during the Creek Wars. It was then his legend was born, as he was not only a warrior, but also kept the hungry troops fed with his hunting and trapping skills. He was later elected a Lieutenant Colonel in the militia.

A few years later, Davy traded the wild lands of the South for the wilds of Congress, being elected to the House of Representatives from Tennessee. Elected at first for his support of president (and Tennessee native) Andrew Jackson, Crockett lost his bid for a third term after opposing Jackson’s Indian Removal Act. He said of the move,

“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.”

He was elected for a third term in 1832. Two years later, while campaigning for a fourth term, Crockett released his autobiography. While traveling through the East to promote the book, Crockett lost his congressional seat. His response was typical Crockett:

 “I told the people of my district that I would serve them as faithfully as I had done; but if not … you may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas.”

He did exactly that. Recruiting men along the way, Crockett began a tour from Tennessee to Texas. Large crowds met him at every stop. He would speak on issues of politics, especially Texas’ independence. A group of 65 volunteers joined Crockett in committing allegiance to fight for Texas. He would soon find himself fighting alongside the likes of Jim Bowie in the Alamo. Less than a month later, Davy Crockett was dead, slain by Santa Anna’s Mexican troops.

His daughter later recalled that the last time she saw her father he wore a coonskin cap and carried the rifle given him by the people of Philadelphia. If only she knew how indelible her description would become…

By most indications, Crockett had been largely forgotten in the annals of history by the middle of the 20th century. Walt Disney was about to change that. With his five-part Davy Crockett miniseries, aired as part of the Disneyland television series, Walt not only reintroduced Crockett to the American consciousness, but created a genuine pop-culture phenomenon. Taken by surprise at the initial success of the series, Disney was quick to react, merchandising the series and it’s star, Fess Parker, to the hilt. There were trading cards, toys, costumes and, of course, coonskin caps.

It is said that the wholesale price of raccoon tails quadrupled in 1955 because of the craze. In all, Davy Crockett merchandise accounted for more than $2 billion in sales in today’s dollars … and all in only eight months. Any figure who can influence millions of baby boomer children to embrace the role of adventurer-hero is a Real Southern Man in our book.


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