Thursday, March 6, 2008


I am writing this on the morning of March 6. For most of you this date has little special significance. For me it’s almost like a religious holiday. On this date in 1836 a band of less than 200 defenders—which included the famous Davy Crockett— of a broken-down mission turned fort outside of San Antonio, Texas, were overwhelmed by the forces of Mexican dictator Santa Anna. All of them died in the battle. It became immortalized in the battle cry “Remember the Alamo!” when the Texas army defeated that same Mexican army six weeks later at the battle of San Jacinto.

Why would this matter to someone from Sussex County, Delaware? The answer is simple: the power of television and movies to influence an impressionable child.

Like most Baby Boomers I was part of the Walt Disney inspired Davy Crockett craze of the mid-1950’s. I had a coonskin cap and I knew [and still do] all the words to “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.” However, I was only six years old and I didn’t really understand what happened at the end of the final episode as Davy is swinging his rifle “Ol Betsy” as the enemy soldiers surround him.

Five years later, I saw John Wayne’s movie “The Alamo” in the darkened Ball Theater in Millsboro, Delaware. [My parents let me go to the movies alone at 11 years old with no fear that something would happen.] The movie climaxes with the final battle scene where Jim Bowie, Col. Travis, and Davy Crockett [portrayed by John Wayne] all die onscreen. Those images and emotions were seared upon my soul. I can still remember walking out of the theater stunned beyond description that the Good Guys all died! Something happened to me in that experience.

In the years since, I have read everything I could find on the battle and particularly about Davy Crockett. He became an ultimate hero for me. He embodied the courage to stand up for what’s right no matter how great the opposition and of never surrendering or giving up. That is what the Alamo and Davy Crockett came to stand for in my heart. Some years ago I was able to visit San Antonio. I cannot describe what it was like to stand on the actual ground those men defended, to stand on the very place Davy and his men defended and where they died. It felt like what it must feel like for a Muslim to visit Mecca—a pilgrimage.

Reality can be a real intrusion into such deeply held passions like the Alamo. As one who loves history, my reading has caused me to take a fresh look at the Alamo and Davy Crockett. In fact, it is unlikely that Davy died swinging “Old Betsy” or with his last effort blowing up the powder magazine. Historians generally believe he was captured during the battle and then executed on order of Santa Anna. That doesn’t make his death any less brave just less dramatic. This was depicted in the 2004 film “The Alamo” with Billy Bob Thornton portraying a dead-on Davy Crockett. This film was the most historically accurate of any Alamo film yet it bombed at the box office. Myth always makes better drama.

Almost 50 years removed from that night in the Ball Theater, I am still moved to honor this date. Don’t underestimate the power of media upon youngsters. It causes me to still Remember the Alamo.


swampcritter2 said...

Davy Crockett. What American male who grew up in the '50s with a television can't tell you his story? Fess Parker as Crockett on Disney literally launched ABC as a major network. Crockett was already a larger than life character in his own time before he died at the Alamo. He was lampooned as a backwoods hick (he was one) the subject of a comedic play (a character much like Crockett named Nimrod Wildfire) and Crockett himself loved it all. As far as his death at the Alamo went, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. You're right Bruce, he was likely executed (bayonnetted to death) on Santa Anna's orders. I read one account where upon hearing of his fate he fought like a tiger until the last. Not exactly a fine way to go for a larger than life Crockett. Oddly enough years later Santa Ana was feted and honored all over Washington as the local celebrity du jour. This was in the 1860s. The world is still strange eh?

Howard said...

Anyone (male anyway)from the 1950's has to remember Davy Crockett. My brother, Alan, had a Coonskin hat he wore to school for at least a year - I am sure he has it tucked away somewhere - ready to pull out at a moments notice. In 1961 I joined the Air Force and went to Lackland Air Force Base. Toward the end of basic training they gave us an 8 hour leave and myself and 20,000 other shaved head people, dressed in a tan uniform, with $5 in our pocket went to San Antonio. In 1961 I don't remember them having a riverwalk, just whores, Photo shops, and beer joints for the servicemen (all of which cost more than the $5 I had on me). I went to the Alamo and was disappointed. It was small and as I recall in the middle of the city. Reality sucks. I think they have made it more of a tourist spot now than when I was there.

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