David Crockett
The "Lion of the West,"
Crockett was a former U.S.
Congressman who fought as
a volunteer at the Alamo.
The Death of David Crockett at the Alamo
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Death of David Crockett at the Alamo, Texas
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Death of David Crockett at the Alamo, Texas
Was an American Hero's Death Tainted by a Typographical Error?
by Dale Cox

The death of one of the most famous defenders of the Alamo is also the most controversial.

Former U.S. Congressman and famed frontiersman David Crockett and a small group of
followers from Tennessee joined the garrison on the crumbling mission on the approach of
Santa Anna's army to San Antonio. All died when the Alamo fell to the Mexican forces.

David Crockett - or Davy Crockett, as he is more commonly known today - was for more than a
century a hero who was larger than life. Generations of Americans grew up on the story of his
courageous last stand at the Alamo, where he went down fighting rather than surrendering to
overwhelming forces.

Revisionist historians, however, have played havoc with the life and death of David Crockett.
Many of these "new school" researchers now believe that he surrendered to Santa Anna's
forces, giving up his arms and allowing himself to be taken prisoner rather than going down
fighting with his friends. The current story holds that his surrender was of no consequence
and he was executed after the battle had ended.

The tale of Crockett giving up at the Alamo is actually an old one and first appeared in
American newspapers a few months after the battle. In fact, there is surprising evidence that it
probably originated from a punctuation error in a newspaper account.

In the 19th century, newspapers simply repeated articles from other papers as a way of
bringing regional and national news to their readers. This clipping or repeating of articles
served basically the same function as today's wire services.

The original version of the fall of the Alamo appeared in newspapers in New Orleans,
Louisiana, where it was obtained via boat directly from Texas. The first printing of the account
mentions 1) that several men did surrender and were executed after the battle and that 2)
David Crockett was among the men slain in the defense of the Alamo.

As the article was reprinted by a newspaper in Little Rock, Arkansas, however, a punctuation
change gave the sentence an entirely different meaning. The account then passed on to other
newspapers that several men surrendered and were executed and that Crockett was among
the men slain (in the executions).

Was this typographical error by an Arkansas newspaper responsible for the whole modern
theory that David Crockett surrendered?

It certainly seems possible. Survivors of the battle reported only that they had seen Crockett's
body lying on the ground in the open area in front of the Alamo chapel. In fact, Col. Travis'
servant Joe reported that he had been required by the Mexican officers to point out the bodies
of Travis, Crockett and other key defenders to them. This provides strong evidence that Santa
Anna and his commanders did not know who Crockett was until after his death, a fact that
flies in the face of the claim that Crockett surrendered and tried to rely on his status as a
former U.S. Congressman to save his life.

Believers in the revisionist story take their foundation from the account of a Mexican army
officer, Jose Enrique de la Pena. A lieutenant in Santa Anna's army, he kept a diary during his
days in Texas and then later wrote a history of the Texas Revolution while imprisoned in
Mexico after falling out of favor with the government.

In his history of the Texas war, often called Pena's "diary," he told the story of Crockett
surrendering and being executed by order of General Santa Anna.

The problem, however, is whether de la Pena actually saw this. His published account, which
was prepared in part from a diary he kept during the campaign,  includes not only his own
memories, but a great deal of information from other sources as well. Among the sources he
consulted in writing his history, which was penned years after the campaign, were American
newspapers of the time.

The de la Pena account is an important historical document and includes much personal
information about the Texas campaign, but the Crockett account included in it is highly
suspect. It is virtually identical to the incorrectly punctuated stories that appeared in American
newspapers during the year after the fall of the Alamo. So much is the account like the
incorrectly copied ones that it likely is not an original source, but rather was repeated from
accounts he read in the newspapers that he was able to find.

Revisionist historians, of course, point to Jose Enrique de la Pena's diary as conclusive
"proof" that Crockett surrender. There is a major problem with this logic. The lieutenant did not
mention the execution incident in his original diary, the one he actually kept while in the field
with Santa Anna. The execution story only appears in his later history of the war, a manuscript
he prepared from numerous sources - including American newspapers and his own original
diary.

If he had actually seen David Crockett executed at the Alamo, it seems that de la Pena would
have made note of this in his diary. He did not. Therefore, the obvious conclusion is that he
obtained it from another source while writing his history in later years. That source was likely
an incorrectly copied American newspaper article, in which misplaced punctuation changed
the meaning of a reference to Crockett's death. Perhaps the pen truly is mightier than the
sword?
Crockett's Death
Several of the survivors of the
Alamo described seeing
Crockett's body lying in front of
the chapel after the battle.
Photo Courtesy of Christina Martin
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San Fernando Cathedral
The ashes and bones of men
who died at the Alamo are
entombed at the beautiful old
cathedral in San Antonio.
Photo Courtesy of Christina Martin
The Alamo Coffin
This small coffin inside San
Fernando Cathedral contains
remains of the defenders of
the Alamo.
Photo Courtesy of Christina Martin
Copyright 2011, 2012 & 2014 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.

Last Update: April 23, 2014
Heroes & Leaders of the South