Teaching Digital History

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Davey Crockett at the Alamo - when did he die?

When I was boy, my friends and I were fascinated, thanks in part to Walt Disney and his various mini-series on Daniel Boone, Francis Marion “The Swampfox”, Scarecrow (set in England), and Davey Crockett. We would play all day long in the woods (that are now the Beltline and North Hills, er… excuse me, Midtown), attacking the British, fighting the Japs (no mention of Korea?), and bravely defending the Alamo to our last breath. While an undergrad at State, I learned that Dr. Crisp was exploring the authenticity of the diary of a Mexican soldier who had fought at the Alamo. The soldier’s account had Davey Crockett not dying in the final assault but surviving, only to be executed later that morning. There is still much controversy about the matter, but the movie The Alamo (2004) starring Billy Bob Thornton as Crockett is the first attempt to show this possibility in a major motion picture. I have included the death scene clips from both movies for your viewing pleasure.

That Crockett might have survived might at first glance cause some people to doubt his courage, to think that the only way anyone could have survived the assault was to hide, but the movie does a convincing job of portraying Davey’s courage during the final assault and his bravery (and wit) during his execution.

The problem with all of these films is that they all ignore the facts of the matter of Texas, a land that was offered by Mexico to the Texians if they would abide by some simple but very hard to follow rules, including practice Catholicism and, the deal-breaker, refrain from owning slaves. The whole image of the defenders of the Alamo changes once one realizes the Texians were fighting for their freedom to enslave others. Like many topics in US History, this is another one that white-washes (pun intended) history by ignoring or bending the truth. These occurrences would all be great topics to discuss and teach, but correcting our history books is not covered by the EOC.

The Alamo (1960) starring John Wayne as Davey Crockett – Crockett dies during the final assault, taking out the gunpowder with him.

The Alamo (2004) starring Billy Bob Thornton as Davey Crockett – Crockett survives the final assault, only to be executed later that morning (this follows the account of the alleged diary of a Mexican soldier)
Final Assault: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XxmPAoca58

The Execution: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJ1L_vkzjcc&NR=1

Views: 495

Comment by Jonathan S. List on November 2, 2009 at 4:29pm
How would you be able integrate this into your classroom? Would you be challenging the students to evaluate the historicity of the accounts? Comparing these accounts to each other or an external historical account?
Comment by Lindsey Dowling on November 2, 2009 at 4:46pm
I think you have a great point about correcting our history not being covered by the EOC maybe this deviation from the history books will resonate with some students and that will help them remember the facts as they are covered by the EOC. I think these movies are entertaining and I think students would too and this could be your hook, your interest piece to get them excited about this period in US history.
Comment by John Jackson on November 2, 2009 at 4:50pm
nice job pointing out the white washing and over sanitizing of US history. I have never seen the John Wayne version of the Alamo, but think that it would be a good film to contrast with the 2004 version when examining the changing interpretations of historical figures and evaluating historical accuracy.
Comment by Charley Norkus on November 5, 2009 at 9:07pm
Jonathan, Lindsey, & John - thank you for your feedback! High school students love to watch films; how to utilize them to teach is of course the question. Action scenes - the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Romans battling the Germans in Gladiator, and here the final assault on the Alamo - scenes like these are action-packed and entertaining so they serve (as Lindsey said) as good hooks to initially engage students in the topic at hand. Once content has been explored, "Hollywood vs. History," i.e., comparing the film to what we know of the "facts," is a good way to get students thinking in terms of comparisons and making value judgments on accuracy, or interpreting what approach a particular film might be taking, its biases, and why a director chose to change the facts here, leave something out there, etc. Sometimes a film tells us more about the time period when the film was made than it does about the subject of the film itself. Like Werner's seven ways to read other visual texts, it's not too difficult to take the students with appropriate leading questions from simple narrative to more complex interpretations, considering opposing viewpoints, etc. For me, the challenge is how to accurately assess such discussions and how to evaluate whether or not the students "got it" - are they going to take away from this activity the knowledge and ideas regarding this particular historical situation, and did they acquire and will they use the skills to analyze and critique historical films they see in the future? Marcus & Stoddard had some good ideas on this , but any you might have on how to do that would be appreciated.


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