The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 98, July 1994 - April, 1995

The Little Book That Wasn't There: The Myth and
Mystery of the de la Penia Diary
JAMES E. CRISP*
FOR MORE THAN A CENTURY AND A HALF, THE DEATH OF DAVY CROCK-
ett at the Alamo has fascinated and inspired countless Americans. In
recent years, it has also become the subject of a sometimes heated his-
torical debate, in which the participants have often revealed more about
their own values and agendas than about the actual evidence and its im-
plications.
Contemporary published reports varied wildly as to the circumstances
of Crockett's death, ranging from glowing reports of his fighting like a
tiger to the bitter end, to descriptions of his summary execution along
with a handful of other prisoners on the express orders of General Santa
Anna. These inconsistencies notwithstanding, Crockett, who was already
a national celebrity at the time of his demise in 1836, instantly became
both a "martyr on the altar of manifest destiny" and a powerful symbol
of the exuberant innocence at the core of mid-nineteenth-century
America's self-image.1
Though his fame had dimmed considerably by the middle of the
twentieth century, folklorists had already begun to take a new interest in
the Crockett legend when the Cold War provided a splendid backdrop
for the reemergence of a hero who seemed to embody the cardinal
virtues of postwar America: physical strength, confident innocence ("Be
always sure you're right, THEN GO AHEAD!"), and a readiness to sacri-
fice life itself in defense of liberty against the assaults of a despotic foe.2
Of course, the pivotal moment in the rebirth of the legend came with
the television broadcast of the "Disney version" of Crockett's life and
* This article was completed with the assistance of a grant from the Research Fund of the Col-
lege of Humanities and Social Sciences at North Carolina State University, where James E. Crisp
is an associate professor of history.
' Paul Andrew Hutton, "Introduction," in A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of
Tennessee, Wntten by Himself (1834, reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987), xxxv
(quotation), xxxvil, Bill Groneman, Defense of a Legend: Crockett and the de la Peria Diary (Plano- Re-
public of Texas Press, 1994), 78-84, 155-
2 Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, [iil] (quotation); Hutton, "Introduction," in ibid.,
xxxix-xli.

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 98, July 1994 - April, 1995. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101216/. Accessed October 20, 2014.