Boone: Truth and the Myth

Article excerpt


Daniel Boone lived an exciting and full life. A fearless Indian fighter, tenacious hunter and intrepid trailblazer, he also became a pivotal figure in the westward migration of the American people as they spilled across the Alleghenies into Kentucky. Then, even in his old age, he would be instrumental in the settling of Missouri.

In this new biography of Boone, author Meredith Mason Brown points out that films and hearsay over the years have led people to visualize him as a cheerful, illiterate patriot wearing a coonskin cap, who discovered Kentucky, built the first settlement there, and killed innumerable Indians.

All these stereotypes, Brown notes, are untrue. However, he writes, If the untruths about Boone are remarkable, the truths about Boone's life and achievements are much more so.

Daniel Boone was born in 1734 near Reading, Pa. He lived a typical frontier boyhood with a little schooling mixed in with hard work. When he was 13, his father, Squire, bought him a short rifle-gun. From then on, his attention turned away from herding cattle to hunting.

In 1750, after a row that saw Squire Boone excommunicated from the local Quaker meetinghouse, the family moved to North Carolina. There, Daniel soon became a long hunter, a man who hunted deer for their pelts, worth about forty cents a pound.

In 1755, Daniel joined British Gen. Edward Braddock's expedition against Fort Duquesne at what is now Pittsburgh. Employed as a teamster, he barely escaped death at the Battle of the Monongahela by cutting one of his horses loose and riding away.

Mr. Brown points out, as other Boone biographers have noted, that during this time, Daniel Boone met John Findley, a wanderer who regaled the young man with tales of the rich hunting land of Kentucke.

A year later, Boone married Rebecca Bryan. Over their 56 years of marriage, she acquired a reputation as a resourceful mate able to endure long separations from her spouse, the tragic deaths of various children, and periods of extreme poverty.

For many years, Boone continued life as a commercial hunter, ranging throughout the Appalachians, but he only ventured into eastern Kentucky once. In 1768, however, Findley showed up at Boone's cabin and rekindled his desire to go.

Mr. Brown's description of Boone's May 1769-May 1771 long hunt into Kentucky is enlightening. His group, which included his brother Squire, Findley and four others, found the ancient Warrior's Path and followed it across the Cumberland Gap into the fertile hunting grounds.

The first December, Shawnee warriors seized the men and took their pelts. Although most of the hunters returned home, Boone and a few others remained behind. Though the hunt proved to be a financial disaster, his subsequent rambles throughout the virgin land gave him an unparalleled knowledge of its geography.

In September 1773, Boone, leading a party of about 40 people, made his first attempt at settling in Kentucky. On the morning of Oct. 10, however, Indians attacked a supply party following the main body. …