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  • Crockett's Grandson
    Died a Bully

    Mike Cox

    While anyone with even a passing knowledge of Texas history knows Davy Crockett died at the Alamo in 1836, what happened to his grandson and namesake four decades later has largely been forgotten.

    First some Crockett family genealogy: The colorful former Congressman from Tennessee left behind a widow and five children, two from wife Elizabeth’s first marriage and three kids of their own. One of those offspring, a son named Robert, by 1850 had married and fathered a boy he and his wife christened David in honor of his famous grandfather.

    Four years later, Robert moved his family from the Volunteer State to Texas. They settled in Ellis County, but in 1856 relocated to Hood County, where Elizabeth Crockett lived on land awarded by the state for her late husband’s service to Texas during the fight for independence from Mexico.

    Young David grew up on his family’s place along the upper Brazos River near Granbury, where his father operated a toll bridge. As he got older, David started cowboying. In 1870, he sold a small herd of cattle and with a friend named Gus Heffron rode west to the village of Cimarron in the northeastern corner of New Mexico Territory.

    Squatting on land owned by the Maxwell Land Grant and Railroad Co., David started ranching with Heffron as his foreman. Despite his friendship with gunslinger Robert Clay Allison, a fellow Tennessean who figured in a bloody land fight known as the Colfax County War, David seems to have played it fairly straight.

    Unfortunately, the Alamo hero’s grandson -- normally a mild-mannered sort -- had a weakness for strong drink. And one night in the spring of 1876, alcohol contributed to an incident that changed David’s life much for the worse.

    As the Santa Fe Daily New Mexican reported on March 25 that year: "Last night after taps, about nine o'clock, as three of the colored soldiers belonging to the detachment under Capt. Moore stationed at this place, were entering Lambert's saloon, they were fired upon by a party of cow-boys, names unknown, and killed instantly. From what we can gather from the bartender there was no provocation whatever. No arrests have been made, but the guilty parties are being searched for."

    Everyone in Cimarron, of course, knew that the shooters were Crockett and Heffron. Soon both men sat cooling their heels in the county jail.

    Back then, justice often proceeded at a horse-and-buckboard pace. Not until August did the legal system take any definitive action regarding the two men. In what today would be called an examining trial, a justice of the peace found insufficient evidence to proceed against either man and they went free.

    Regrettably, Crockett did not reform his ways.

    A letter published in The Daily New Mexican of Oct. 4, 1876 tells what happened next:

    “Two noted desperadoes, Crockett and Heffron, who have…been a terror to this community, and who were implicated in the killing of three colored soldiers at the St. James Hotel last spring, have been ‘running the town,’…poking six-shooters and shotguns in the faces of whom they met.”

    The two cowboys had been on a drunken spree for at least a couple of days. As another newspaper reported, they “defied arrest, threatening to kill any one who should attempt it; …rode their horses into saloons, stores and offices, and with their double-barreled shotguns cocked have compelled persons to comply with their demands no matter what they were.”

    Worse yet, as the story continued, “On Saturday they baited the sheriff, and with their shotguns loaded, cocked and aimed at his breast told him he only lived at their pleasure, and politely informed him that when he made any attempt to arrest them to be sure to have ‘the drop,’ or his time on earth would be short.”

    Turns out, they had it backwards about who shouldn’t be buying green bananas.

    “Last evening,” The Daily New Mexican continued, “Sheriff [Isaac] Rinehart and two others started to arrest these fellows…. The Sheriff's posse went out in the western part of town in the neighborhood of Sebwenk's barn…found Crockett and [Heffron] on horseback…and …told [them] to surrender.”

    Instead, as the letter writer put it, the two wanted men “placed themselves on the defensive” (presumably this meant they drew guns and pointed them toward the posse members) and the officers opened fire. At that, Crockett and his pal wheeled their horses toward the nearby Cimarron River.

    The lawmen gave chase and found Crockett dead on the other side of the streambed. A few hundred yards farther, they took Heffron into custody. He had been wounded, but not mortally.

    “Things will now take a change for the better, as there are plenty here now who say they will stand up for Sheriff Rinehart in enforcing the law against all evil-doers," the writer concluded.

    The residents of Cimarron did not mourn his passing, but David got a decent funeral, his grave marked with a wooden plank. A family member came to New Mexico intending to put up a more permanent tombstone, but for unknown reasons, that never happened.

    Interestingly, none of the newspaper coverage of his exploits and subsequent violent demise mentioned that the dead cowboy from
    Texas was Davy Crockett’s grandson.

    © Mike Cox - December 19, 2012 column
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