More than 30 years ago, historian Dan Kilgore and Texas A&M University Press ignited international controversy with the book How Did Davy Die? -- asserting that Davy Crockett did not die on the ramparts of the Alamo swinging the shattered remains of his rifle “Old Betsy.”
Instead, Kilgore pointed to historical sources, stating Mexican forces took Crockett captive and then executed him on Santa Anna’s order.
Intense debate followed. The London Daily Mail associated Kilgore with “ the murder of a myth,” and he became the subject of articles in Texas Monthly and the Wall Street Journal. Some who considered his historical argument an affront to a treasured American icon delivered personal insults and threats of violence.
In the 1955 Disney movie Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier, Fess Parker famously depicts Crockett as a hero of the Alamo. Check out the song here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QAVN_n0PljQ
Now a new book lauded by True West Magazine as “the most comprehensive account” of events leading up to the Alamo siege as well as what likely happened during the battle has revived debate over the details surrounding Crockett’s death -- this time in the pages of Texas Monthly.
In the main narrative of his book, Blood of Heroes: The 13-Day Struggle for the Alamo -- and the Sacrifice That Forged a Nation Donovan writes that Crockett died “in the open air, as he wished,” but in his notes he concludes that the frontiersman “may have been executed after the battle, but until stronger evidence is presented, let history show that he died fighting with his comrades.”
In this month's issue of Texas Monthly, James E. Crisp, co-author of the commemorative edition of Kilgore’s original book, entitled How Did Davy Die? And Why Do We Care So Much? (TAMU Press, 2010), responded in a letter to the magazine’s May 2012 article on Donovan and his book.
“ . . . Donovan, who dismisses José Enrique de la Peña’s account of the death of David Crockett while still praising the Mexican officer as ‘an astute observer’ of the Texas Revolution, might have taken de la Peña’s account more seriously had he read the revised 1997 English-language edition of the officer’s memoir instead of the rather flawed and incomplete 1975 first edition (both editions are from Texas A&M University Press),” Crisp writes. Crisp -- who wrote the more recent edition’s introduction -- and the late Kilgore point to the Mexican officer’s accounting of the events surrounding Crockett’s death as supporting the assertion that Crockett was executed by Mexican forces.
In his letter Crisp also refutes Donovan’s statement in the article that the description of Crockett’s death appears “in a different hand -- on a slip of paper that was inserted into the original manuscript.”
“In fact,” says Crisp, “the entire de la Pena memoir is written in a different hand -- four or five different hands -- at a time when correspondence between de la Pena and Mexican government officials shows us that the imprisoned officer was so ill that he could not even write his own name.”
Crisp goes on to suggest as further evidence a letter published in a Detroit newspaper in 1836 and unearthed by a Rice University grad student in 1960. The letter was the subject of an article Crisp published on the subject of Crockett’s death in an issue of the Journal of the West, a respected historical publication.
In an editorial note, Donovan responds that he is aware of the letter, which is “only marginally more convincing than the other alleged sources supporting Crockett’s execution.”
Donovan writes that he consulted the 1975 translation of the de la Peña memoir as well as the Spanish-language original.
“The method of Crockett’s death is the subject of the longest endnote in my book, in which I analyze the sources used to support the execution theory. I stand by my opinion -- that Crockett may have been executed after the battle, but it’s doubtful, and there is certainly not enough reliable evidence to write it as history," says Donovan.
Who do you think is right?