Most of us learned about Davy Crockett in school, but I don’t think that most of us really knew very much about him. Davy Crockett was an incredibly “macho” man. He was also an incredibly loyal man. During the War of 1812, the Creek Indian tribe split into factions. I suppose they thought to divide and conquer. One group, the Red Sticks, attacked Fort Mims on August 30, 1830, taking the lives of militiamen, civilians, and Creek allies. The Fort Mims massacre brought national outrage. Many men began to volunteer to fight the Creek Indians. Davy Crockett was among them. Crockett recalled, that he “had none of the dread of dying that I expected to feel,” but his wife, Mary “Polly” Finley did not share his optimism. She was terrified of losing her husband, and begged him not to go. Crockett felt obligated, and he did go. While he was off fighting, Polly became ill and passed away shortly after his return home. Crockett had 3 children with Polly…John Wesley, William, and Margaret.
Losing Polly was very hard, but as often happened in those days, marriage after the loss of a wife came out of necessity. Davy needed someone to care for his children. He met a widow woman, Elizabeth Patton, who had children, and who lived nearby. Circumstances being what they were, Crockett began to visit the woman and after discovering his “company wasn’t at all disagreeable to her,” he decided he “could treat her children with so much friendship as to make her a good stepmother.” They married a short time later.
Crockett decided to move his family to Texas, but Elizabeth, while fine with that, asked that he go first to prepare things, and make sure he liked it there before they moved the family. It was probably a good thing in retrospect. Crockett arrived in East Texas in January 1836. He traveled through Nacogdoches and San Augustine before arriving in San Antonio. By the time he got there, the Texas Revolution was in full swing, and included thousands of Mexican troops led by Antonio López de Santa Anna. Their goal was to stop the Texas independence movement. The battle was fierce, and in the end, approximately 200 Texas militiamen were hunkered in at the Alamo when Santa Anna and his men arrived in February 1836. Crockett and the other men inside gathered supplies and did their best to prepare for the coming siege. Crockett was said to have helped with moral by making jokes and telling stories. The siege of the Alamo lasted 13 days, with the severely outnumbered Texans holding out until the walls of the compound were breached on March 6. As we all know, the men and women inside were all killed. Crockett was also killed, and that left Elizabeth widowed for a second time, but with more children this time. Still, by not taking the family, their lives were spared. Davy Crockett died at the age of 50 years.
We hear many things about the different Indian Wars and battles. We also know that many of these wars were unnecessary, and were largely due to broken treaties that were made between the White Man and the Indians. Because the population of the United States was inevitable, I don’t know how we could have possibly left so much land exclusively for the use if the Indians, but there must have been better ways to work this out. Nevertheless, once a population explosion starts, it is impossible to stop it.
Of further concern to the government were the spiritual beliefs of the Indians. Throughout 1890, the United States government worried about the increasing influence at Pine Ridge of the Ghost Dance spiritual movement. The movement taught that the Indians had been defeated and confined to reservations because they had angered the gods by abandoning their traditional customs. This movement prompted many Sioux Indians to believed that if they practiced the Ghost Dance and rejected the ways of the white man, the gods would create the world anew and destroy all non-believers, including non-Indians.
The situation escalated when on December 15, 1890, reservation police tried to arrest Sitting Bull, the famous Sioux chief, because they mistakenly believed he was a Ghost Dancer. In the process of his arrest, they killed him, thereby increasing the tensions at Pine Ridge. Then, on December 29, the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry surrounded a band of Ghost Dancers under Big Foot, a Lakota Sioux chief, near Wounded Knee Creek. They demanded the Indians surrender their weapons. Immediately, a fight broke out between an Indian and a U.S. soldier. A shot was fired, but it’s unclear who fired first. A brutal massacre followed, in which it’s estimated that between 150 and 300 Indians were killed, nearly half of them women and children. The cavalry lost 25 men. The conflict at Wounded Knee was originally referred to as a battle, but in reality it was a tragic and avoidable massacre. Surrounded by heavily armed troops, it’s unlikely that Big Foot’s band would have intentionally started a fight. Some historians speculate that the soldiers of the 7th Cavalry were deliberately taking revenge for the regiment’s defeat at Little Bighorn in 1876. Whatever the motives, the massacre ended the Ghost Dance movement and was the last major battle in America’s deadly war against the Plains Indians.