Before the Legend


The lack of recognition and proper credit for a job well done should not keep a person from fulfilling his or her responsibilities. People want to know their efforts are appreciated, but that appreciation must be second in importance to accomplishing the task itself. In the early nineteenth century, frontier residents of Tennessee gathered together to fight the Creek Indians who had begun attacking settlers. A small group of frontiersmen took it upon themselves to track the Indians. When they returned from the harrowing mission, they were disappointed with the response to their efforts. One of the leaders of the frontiersmen was a man from the backwoods named David Crockett, not yet the legend he would later become. While many know of Crockett’s major exploits, this is the little known story of his first scouting mission and of the cold reception given his crucial report.  

From the beginning, David Crockett demonstrated a willingness to do his part, to use his abilities as best he could. Born to a poor pioneer family three years after the American Revolution ended, David’s early years were spent in and around his family’s tavern. His family’s poverty meant that David was hired out by his father to help earn money for the family. One of his first jobs exposed him to people’s self-serving ambitions when his employer tried to keep him beyond his term of service. Leaving his employer, he enrolled in a local school but quickly clashed with his schoolmaster. In response, he set out on a series of new adventures. After returning home, he married, had several children and moved his family further west from east Tennessee to the middle of the state, in that day a wild and untamed land. It was not long after he arrived though that war with the Creek Indians began.

David and his family had settled into their new life when the Creek Indians went on the warpath against the encroaching white settlers. On August 30, 1813, Creek Indians attacked and killed nearly five hundred settlers at Fort Mimms, Alabama. Word spread all over the western frontier, and like many others, David Crockett signed up to strike back at the Indians. Along with his fellow volunteers, he traveled to the banks of the Tennessee River and the gathering militia. Preparations were already underway for the advance south into Alabama. One of the most critical of those preparations involved finding out the Indians’ exact location. Several days after David arrived, a militia officer named Major Gibson arrived in camp and said that he was about to launch a scouting expedition. He was looking for men to go with him. It would be a hazardous assignment even for the hardy frontiersmen. David and another volunteer were selected and joined the rest of the scouting party. Numbering a total of thirteen men, the group crossed the Tennessee River into Indian country before splitting into two smaller groups.

David was assigned command of one group with instructions to talk to a local resident about the Indians while Major Gibson led the second group on a similar search. Gibson and Crockett agreed on a rendezvous spot, but Gibson failed to show up.   David soon grew impatient and decided to continue scouting ahead rather than return to camp and face ridicule for a fruitless mission. He and the other scouts travelled stealthily through Indian country, always on the lookout for a possible attack. The nights were particularly trying, but the small force pressed on in spite of their fear. As they travelled, they encountered several friendly Creeks. One of the Indians even entered the camp to inform Crockett of a Creek war party moving towards the main body of militia commanded by Andrew Jackson. Hearing the news, David instantly realized the potentially devastating impact such a surprise attack could have and hastily rushed his party back to the main force.

Arriving back at the main camp, David immediately reported to the commanding officer, Colonel Coffee, the facts of what he had discovered. Once he finished the report, he expected the colonel to take the proper defensive measures. To David’s dismay, Coffee dismissed the report as nothing but the imaginings of an over-eager, inexperienced scout. He refused to take action of any kind. Despite his lack of rank, even Crockett recognized the extreme peril and repeatedly tried to convince Coffee of the imminent threat. Coffee continued to ignore him until the next day when Major Gibson finally returned to camp with his own scouting party. Gibson’s report confirmed the story told by David and his scouts. With confirmation in hand, Colonel Coffee sent a message to Andrew Jackson relating the information. He also set about having his soldiers build and strengthen fortifications in anticipation of the Indians’ assault.

The impending attack never came, and Andrew Jackson soon launched his own attack against the Indians. Ultimately, David would be involved in many of the battles and would earn a reputation for courage and dependability. In his later years, he would remember and reflect on his military service, including his first scouting mission and its aftermath. In his autobiography, he described how he interpreted Colonel Coffee’s dismissal of his own report and acceptance of Major Gibson’s. Though unfair, he reasoned it was because he was a mere private whereas Gibson was an officer, a position of authority. He knew he had done his job well even though neither recognition nor appreciation ever came of it. The experience jaded Crockett’s opinion of military officers, but it did not stop him from even greater acts of service to his country.

After his service in the Creek War ended, David returned home to Tennessee. He remained filled with a pioneer spirit and explored throughout southern Tennessee. He became a leader respected among the common people of the state. He served as both a local and state politician before he was elected to the United States House of Representatives. He served several terms in Congress before he went in search of new adventures, this time in the Mexican province of Texas. Leading a band of fellow Tennesseans, David joined the fight for Texas independence. In early 1836, David Crockett became a volunteer in the Texas army and allied with William B. Travis and Jim Bowie in defending the Alamo against the Mexican army under General Santa Anna. He died a hero’s death in the final assault on March 6th.

David Crockett’s life was characterized by his spirit of volunteerism — first, in the military; then later as a local, state and national leader. Unsurprisingly, it is as a volunteer fighting for liberty that he is most remembered. While just a young scout he learned a valuable lesson — that fulfilling your responsibilities, doing your job right, is your real objective — not the recognition, credit or even praise for your efforts. For his final sacrifice in Texas, Crockett did eventually achieve the gratitude and recognition that he had long sought. He served his country faithfully and provided an example for all posterity.


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2 responses to “Before the Legend

  1. Christy

    Great life lesson we all need to be reminded! Excellent Job, Jake!!

    I’m proud of you!!

  2. Yyyyyyyankee

    Nice one again, Jake Man – Well done and well told.
    (And ditto thanks to your editor too 🙂

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