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Seventy-five years after Davy Crockett and scores of Texans fell at the Battle of the Alamo, a new book jumps into the controversy over just how the legendary frontiersman died.

Crockett aficionados have chewed on this question almost from the moment Mexican soldiers breached the Alamo. One camp says Crockett went down fighting, emptying his rifle into the Mexican ranks, then swinging the gun like a club at attackers. This is how Hollywood portrayed his final moments in the 1950s TV show about the frontiersman and in the 1960 John Wayne movie The Alamo.

In David Crockett: The Lion of the West (W. W. Norton, 2011), David Wallis joins the heretics who suggest that Crockett was among seven Alamo survivors who surrendered, only to be executed. The notion of the bear-fighting Crockett waving a white flag doesn’t square with the legend, but it fits the facts, Wallis says. Exhibit A: A dispatch from Sam Houston, commander of the Texas forces, describing how a handful of men surrendered to Mexican general Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and “were murdered by his order.” An account of the Texas Revolution by Mexican officer José Enrique de la Peña maintains Crockett was among the seven, and “overwhelming evidence supports the Peña narrative,” Wallis writes.

This won’t end the feud. Next year the University of Oklahoma Press will publish a collection of essays about Crockett edited by the Western historian Paul Andrew Hutton. In the book, Texas writer Stephen Harrigan argues that Peña’s narrative is badly flawed. Author of the novel The Gates of the Alamo, Harrigan puts his faith in the testimony of Susanna Dickinson, an Alamo survivor, who told officials after the battle that Crockett died before the fighting ended.

And so the battle continues.


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