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Museum currently occupies the Elephant Hotel.
THE JOURNAL NEWS
The Last Days of David Crockett
“Do not be uneasy about me. I am among friends. I will close with great respects. Your affectionate father. Farewell”
Those are, in a sense, David Crockett’s last words. They are the closing lines of a letter written from the unstable Mexican province of Texas on January 9, 1836, the last remarks attributed to him that are not the product of hearsay or dim recollection. In less than two months Crockett would die at the Battle of the Alamo, but this letter to his daughter and son-in-law back in Tennessee carries an almost ecstatic tone of bright hopes and new prospects. Crockett reports his often-problematical health to be excellent. Everywhere he goes he is received as a celebrity, “with open cerimony of friendship” and “hearty welcome.” Texas is bounteous, filled with plentiful timber and clear water and migrating herds of buffalo. He has joined the insurgent Texas army and has already picked out the land he will claim in exchange for his service in the fight against Mexico. He wants all his friends to settle here, and he fully expects to be elected as a member of the convention that will write a constitution for Texas. “I am,” David Crockett declares, “rejoiced at my fate.”
What was that fate? All that is known for certain is that Crockett was killed at the Alamo, a fortified mission on the outskirts of San Antonio de Bexar (now San Antonio) on March 6, 1836, along with the rest of a small garrison that had been besieged for 13 days by an overwhelming force personally led by the autocratic ruler of Mexico, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. But 175 years later the precise nature of Crockett’s death remains a hauntingly open question. Did he die in the fury of combat, iconically swinging his empty rifle in a hopeless last stand? Or was he one of a group of men captured at the end of the battle and then quickly and coldly executed?
Of course, either way, Crockett was still dead—still, in the overcooked rhetoric of the time, among the “spirits of the mighty” who had fallen at the “Thermopylae of Texas.” So what difference does it make? Well, as the endless and heated argument over the facts of Crockett’s death reveals, it makes the difference between a man who is merely an interesting historical personage and one who is a character of legend, one of those rare names that doesn’t just appear in American history but resides in America’s core idea of itself.
In 2000 I published a novel called The Gates of the Alamo, and I knew when I began research for the book that I was going to have to come to terms with Davy Crockett. Crockett was arguably the most precious intellectual property of my generation. Walt Disney’s 1955 television show (and later movie) Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier sparked a pop-culture flashfire. Davy Crockett was our Star Wars, our Harry Potter. Something about this character seized our collective imagination. His buckskin outfit, his coonskin cap and his prowess with rifle and knife and tomahawk all tapped into a child’s unformed craving for personal power and independence. And the way Fess Parker played him—laconic, unhurried, amiable but unrevealing—made him come across as a favorite uncle, just the sort of patient, quiet-spoken role model children of the atomic age needed to soothe our apocalyptic fears.
So what do we know for sure? We know that David Crockett died at the Alamo. Susanna Dickinson, many years later, recalled that as she was escorted out of the Alamo church as the battle was winding down, “I recognized Col. Crockett lying dead and mutilated between the church and the two story barrack building, and even remember seeing his peculiar cap lying by his side.” But there are problems with Dickinson’s account, too. It comes to us secondhand, having passed through the pen of an author named James M. Morphis, whose purple prose inspires not much more confidence than Peña’s overblown death scene. I much prefer Dickinson’s brief and to-the-point testimony to the adjutant general. Of Crockett’s death, all that is reported is that “He was killed, she believes.”
It took a while for the nation to process Crockett’s death. “Colonel Crockett is not dead,” cheerfully declared a New York newspaper, “but still alive and grinning.” Another paper said he was on a hunting expedition and would be home in the spring, still another that he had received grievous wounds but was recovering nicely from them. As late as 1840, four years after the battle, there was a purported sighting of David Crockett near Guadalajara, where he had been taken after being captured at the Alamo and condemned to slave labor in the silver mines.
But he was dead. That is the one fact visible in the fog of his final days. The former congressman from Tennessee was disposed of with gruesome anonymity. His body was dragged onto a funeral pyre with those of the other Alamo defenders, and for three days the stench of burning flesh horrified the citizens of Bexar and brought in circling clouds of buzzards. It was a graceless end, but the beginning of an uncontainable legend. David Crockett, who had come to Texas in search of a new start, had found immortality instead.
Born in a little white farmhouse near Dana, Indiana, on August 3, 1900, to William C. and Maria Pyle, Earnest (Ernie) Taylor Pyle later wrote in one of his columns: “I wasn’t born in a log cabin, but I did start driving a team in the fields when I was nine years old, if that helps any.” He attended Indiana University for three and a half years, majoring in journalism because his classmates considered it “a breeze.”
A few months before graduation in 1923 he quit college to take a job as a cub reporter on the La Porte (Indiana) Herald-Argus. Soon after, he was hired as a copy editor by the Washington Daily News. There he met Geraldine Siebolds of Stillwater, Minnesota. In 1926 they were married. Pyle quit his job, drew out his savings to purchase a Model-T Ford roadster, and the young couple began the first of their many driving trips together around the United States. Ending their vacation in New York City, Pyle went to work as a copyreader on the Evening World and on the Evening Post. In 1928 he returned to the Daily Newsas telegraph editor, then aviation columnist, and from 1932 to 1935 as managing editor.
Wearied of desk work, Pyle started writing pieces as a roving reporter for the Scripps-Howard chain of newspapers in 1935. In the next six years he and his wife, known to millions of readers as “that girl who rides with me,” travelled over 200,000 miles “by practically all forms of locomotion, including piggyback,” Pyle wrote in one of his columns in 1940. Visiting every country in the Western Hemisphere but two and crossing the United States some 30 times, “we have stayed in more than eight hundred hotels … flown in sixty-six different airplanes, ridden on twenty-nine different boats, walked two hundred miles, gone through five sets of tires and put out approximately $2,500 in tips.” Each day’s experience became material for a column: a Nebraska town on relief, old men with wooden legs, a leper colony, Devil’s Island, zipper-pants difficulties. Written simply and sensitively, like a letter to a friend back home, they revealed the world to millions of farm-bound and pavement bound Americans who could never make such journeys.
In the fall of 1940 Pyle flew to London to report the Battle of Britain. His vivid, grim accounts of England under Nazi German bombings tore at his readers’ hearts, and the “little fellow”–I weigh 108 pounds, eat left-handed, am 28 inches around the waist, and still have a little hair left”–previously content to write about little things soon eclipsed the seasoned war correspondents in his cables back home. When American troops arrived in Europe, Pyle lived with them in Ireland; when they went into combat in Africa, his columns communicated all the hurt, horror, and homesickness the soldiers felt. Then Pyle marched with American troops in Sicily and Italy and landed with them in Normandy, France.
His warm, human stories about the Gls became a daily link between the fighting men and millions of American newspaper readers. His writings were read in some 300 newspapers in the United States like personal letters from the front. Throughout the war Pyle championed the common soldier; he spoke the ordinary Gl’s language and made it a permanent part of American folklore. His published collections of columns, Here Is Your War and Brave Men, quickly became best-sellers and were purchased by Hollywood as the basis for a motionpicture on Pyle’s wartime career entitled “Gl Joe.” Although his dispatches never glorified war, Pyle, more than any other correspondent, helped Americans to understand the true heroism and sacrifices of the Gls in battle.
In January 1945 Pyle went to report on the war in the Pacific. He did not relish going. He had already achieved fame and wealth. He had frequent premonitions of death–“I feel that I’ve used up all my chances, and I hate it. I don’t want to be killed.” But he journeyed across the Pacific to begin writing from foxholes again “because there’s a war on and I’m part of it…. I’ve got to go, and I hate it.” He landed in Okinawa with the Marines and trudged along the trails with the foot soldiers. On April 18, 1945, while riding a jeeptoward a forward command post on the island of le Shima to cover the front-line combat, Ernie Pyle was hit by a Japanese machine-gun bullet in his left temple. He died instantly. Secretary of the Navy James V. Forrestal announced Pyle’s death the next day, saddening the many Americans who eagerly read his column each day and all those servicemen who thought of him as their friend and spokesman. President Harry Truman best summed up Pyle’s meaning to the World War II generation of Americans: “No man in this war has so well told the story of the American fighting man as American fighting men wanted it told…. He deserves the gratitude of all his countrymen.”
Pyle was memorialized as a G.I. Joe action figure in June 2002, as part of Hasbro’s “G.I. Joe D-Day collection.” The collection marked the 58th anniversary of the Allied Invasion of Nazi-occupied France. There is some debate as to whether Pyle would appreciate the memorial, but according to, Hasbro’s marketing director, Derryl DePriest, believes “He really considered the heros to be those men he wrote about, but in doing what he was doing,
“Ernie Pyle was just as much a hero.”
Your American Cancer Society
THIS IS SOBERING, BUT VERY INTERESTING TO
ANY HISTORY BUFFS OUT THERE……..
Thank you Carol for this information
February 19, 1945
A small request….. Just one line
Dear God, I pray that You will guide someone to find a cure for M.S. Amen
a man called Gareth Malone takes a group of people and turns them into a
choir. This time he’s taken a group of military wives whose husbands are all
away in Afghanistan and turned them into a choir. Gareth looks about 16yrs
old but is actually in his mid-30s and a Choir master for the London
Symphony Orchestra, among other things. They wrote a song based on excerpts
from letters written by the couples whilst apart and this is the beautiful result.