A Tale of Four Rifles: All Proudly Owned by David Crockett

For David “Davy” Crockett (1786-1836), “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The folk hero, frontiersman, soldier, storyteller, politician and defender of the Alamo was born near Limestone, Tennessee at the convergence of Limestone Creek and the Nolichucky River in the short-lived State of Franklin. Two counties, Washington and Greene, claim his birthplace.

(Crockett as he appeared while in politics, replica of the pioneer's cabin on the Nolichucky River)

Although Crockett likely possessed countless rifles throughout his 49 years on this earth, four stand out prominently. The first one was an unnamed .48-caliber flintlock that he acquired when he was about eight years old. With it he attained the hunting skills and resulting reputation that would remain with him beyond the grave.

The second weapon honored Crockett’s service in the Tennessee State Assembly in 1822. His Lawrence County constituents presented him with a .40-caliber flintlock crafted by James Graham. Davy affectionately named it “Old Betsy,” after his oldest sister. When he dropped out of politics in 1835 and headed for Texas, he gave the weapon to his son, John Wesley Crockett.  It was later handed down to Bob Crockett, grandson of the pioneer, who reportedly brought down much game with it before retiring it to honor his legendary grandfather.

About 1834, Davy was awarded a third firearm from his friends who were members of the Whig Society of Philadelphia. “Pretty Betsy,” as he called it, cost $250 and was paid for from donors each contributing 50 cents.

The Memphis Commercial Appeal described the unique relic as being of the flintlock type, with a .40-caliber bore. The barrel length was later shortened from 46 inches to 40.5 inches. It was impressively covered with gold and silver. The stock was trimmed in sterling silver with figures of the Goddess of Liberty, a raccoon, a deer's head, an elk’s head and other designs. The guard over the trigger displayed a silver alligator and underneath the stock was the inscription, “Constitution and Laws.”

Along the upper portion of the barrel were gold letters that read, “Presented by the young men of Philadelphia to the Hon. David Crockett of Tennessee.” Similar lettering near the muzzle said, “Go ahead,” referring to the backwoodsman’s famous admonition to “Be sure you are right, then go ahead.” After the presentation, the outdoorsman amused his audience by shooting holes in quarters as they were tossed in the air. Arkansas Secretary of State John M. Crockett, a great-grandson of the famous Tennessee pioneer, inherited “Fancy Betsy” in 1903. Because of its splendor, it never encountered the same exploits as the other three.

None of the aforementioned rifles played a role in the Battle of the Alamo. While it is not known what rifle (or rifles) Davy used to defend the fortress, it was not one of the three previously mentioned. On March 6, 1836, Santa Anna's Mexican army broke down their barricade and massacred the garrison during a 13-day siege, leaving no defender as a witness. Crockett earned even more acclaim for bravery for dying while defending the fortification.

Many stories of courage are related regarding this dreadful battle in which the defenders of the church gave their lives willingly, but in doing so slew or wounded eight of their assailants to one before the last brave soul was overcome. 

In 1898, 70-year-old Bob Crockett visited the Alamo. He drew the attention of local media who depicted him as being a typical southern gentleman, medium height, white hair and beard and standing straight as an arrow. The hallowed ground where his grandfather, David Bowie, William Travis and 169 other determined supporters perished likely moved him. 

Those of us who were captivated by Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett phenomenon in the 1950s will fondly recall Fess Parker, who played the role of Davy Crockett, frequently referring to his rifle as “Old Betsy.” He and his family of rifles left behind a colorful legacy.