Daniel Boone Is The Iconic Backwoods FrontiersmanI can't say as ever I was lost, but I was bewildered once for three days. —Daniel Boone
A mixture of fact, legend, and mythology, the story of this colonial adventurer and explorer who blazed trails from the coastal plains into the interior makes him the first folk hero of modern America. The popular images of the real-life Davy Crockett and the fictional Hawkeye—their exploits, their fame, even their clothes—are based upon Daniel Boone.
Boone's family was from Devonshire, in the southwest of England. Daniel's father, Squire, and grandfather George were among those who took that adventurous step to start a new life in the colonies. Squire arrived in Philadelphia in early 1713, followed by George in 1717. The family worshipped with the Society of Friends, so it was natural for them to settle in Pennsylvania as did many other Quakers. i Thomas Paine was another, sixty years later.
Quaker William Penn had founded Pennsylvania in 1681. Using a land grant from Charles II, he estab-lished a colony where all religions could worship freely. Very few people then imagined what might be the future of the many British colonies in America, but Penn got it right when he predicted: "Colonies ... are the seedlings of nations."
Squire Boone married a Welsh Quaker, Sarah Morgan, in 1720 and ten years later bought 158 .u res near Reading in Berks County. In the sparsely populated Ok Valley he felled trees and built a simple log cabin—just one rooi above a cellar and spring. The two-story stone addition with a froi porch that remains today was built later. In the original cabin, tl: sixth of their eleven children was born in 1734. They named him Dai iel for the biblical hero. According to the family Bible, when grandpa cuts George and Mary died, they left seventy descendants: eigl children, fifty-two grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren. The; are now many Boones across the United States.
Daniel and his siblings spoke with the broad, soft Devonshire a cent of their father, overlaid by their mother's Welsh lilt. Their chili hood in and around the Oley Valley was peaceful, for the Quake had a treaty of friendship with the Delaware and Susquehannock n tions that lasted into the 1760s. Daniel helped his father with tl farming, fished, trapped, and hunted with a crude spear for food. F received his first squirrel gun when he was twelve. He learned h reading and writing skills from his family and his woodcraft ar hunting skills from Native Americans.
One early story tells of Daniel and other boys hunting in the w: derness when they were attacked by a puma. All the boys exce Daniel scattered. He stood his ground, cocked his gun, and, as tl puma leaped toward him, shot it through the heart.
In 1750, Squire Boone sold his land to relative William Ma gridge and moved south. His eldest son, Israel, had married a "worl ling," a non-Quaker, and as a result had been "read out" of the loc meeting. By refusing to criticize his son's conduct Squire was al: read out. So the family made the long trek down the Owatin Cree through Maryland and Virginia. Plodding oxen hauled the woodi wagons for more than a year until they reached North Carolina. Tl Boone family built their new homes in the Yadkin Valley, a few mil west of Mocksville.
Back in the Oley Valley, Maugridge moved on to the first Boo farm but soon landed in debt. He was forced to mortgage the proper for two hundred pounds to an insurance friend in Philadelphia Benjamin Franklin.
Adventure in the shape of the French and Indian War (interna-tionally, the Seven Years' War) beckoned the young Daniel Boone, and he left home in early 1755 at age twenty. He became a wagon driver in Major General Braddock's unsuccessful campaign to clear the French from the Ohio country. It was here that he first met volunteer Colonel George Washington of the Virginia militia. Having returned home, Boone married neighbor Rebecca Bryan a year later. On his father's farm, like his father before him, they built a log cabin for their home.
Victories at Quebec and Montreal in 1759 turned the war in Brit-ain's favor. However, a pointless conflict arose in the Carolinas be-tween settlers and their Cherokee allies. When Cherokee warriors raided Yadkin Valley in 1759—in retaliation for British executions— the Boone family and others moved north to Culpeper County in Virginia. Boone remained to serve with the North Carolina militia, for which he traveled west across the Appalachian Mountains into Tanasi (Tennessee) country. This journey set the pattern for the rest of his life.
Through the passes of the Alleghenies, the Cumberlands, and the Shenandoah Valley lay a great unspoiled wilderness of woods and forests, hills and plains, clear streams and broad rivers. In Britain and Europe no one had been able to step through such a door for centuries. It offered both a geographic and a spiritual freedom, though a freedom with its own particular dangers and its own requirements for survival. Boone was enchanted. Still in Tennessee today is a tree bearing the deeply carved inscription: D. BOON CILLED A. BAR ON TREE IN THE YEAR 1760. He didn't return home for two years.
A truce and peace was arranged between the Cherokee and the colonies in 1762; three Cherokee chiefs visited Britain, and the Boones returned to their Carolina homes. The following year, the Peace of Paris saw the end of the French and Indian War, the French being forced to withdraw from most of North America so that Canada, the American colonies, and Florida were all British.
The Carolinas were peaceful, but a northern alliance of Native Americans led by Ottawa chief Pontiac successfully rebelled against further white settlement westward. The British government saw their argument, and George Ill's 1763 Royal Proclamation banned coloni-zation west of the Appalachian Mountains. This proclamation re-mains today the legal baseline for Native American claims in Canada and the United States.
Daniel Boone continued commercial hunting and trapping to feed a family that eventually numbered ten children. In winter he'd travel for many months along the riverbanks, trapping beaver and otter, then returning in the spring with packhorses laden with furs. In summer he'd farm maize and, with a single-shot musket, hunt deer for their meat and skins. The buckskins, simply called bucks, were bartered and sold for cash, so that the question was asked, "How many bucks for a pound?" Buck became slang for the pound and later the dollar. Boone and the other frontiersmen were known as Long Knives and Long 1 lunters.
During these trips from home, Boone repaired and made his own „•>.*. clothes from what was available to him. Sewn moccasins replaced his English leather boots, buckskin leggings replaced threadbare breeches, and a fringed hide top replaced his torn woolen shirts. Al-though only the head of Chester Hard-ing's full-length portrait of Boone survives, an engraving of the original painting shows Boone in these distinctive hunting clothes. He didn't wear a coonskin cap; he wore a beaver hat, as did Davy Crockett later.
Boone's father died in 1765, and Daniel traveled south to investigate the new colony of Florida as a future home. Florida was rejected, so Daniel and Rebecca moved farther up the remote Yadkin Valley. Historical interpretations of him always seeking a life far from villages and towns annoyed him. Years later he said: "Nothing em-bitters my old age as much as the circulation of absurd stories that I retire as civilization advances." In his saddlebags he usually packed his Bible and Gulliver's Travels, and at night he often read to other frontiersmen by the light of the campfire.
Boone and his brother Squire explored farther west into the Ap-palachians, into the borders of the Kentucke country (Kentucky and West Virginia). The land then was abundant with wild game, but preserving the meat was the key to survival. Daniel fortunately had a knack for finding salt pans and brine creeks wherever he hunted—it was said he could smell salt from thirty miles—so that in the winter of 1767 the brothers camped at Salt Springs. Around the fire they talked about the Kentucke country west of the mountains, where the Iroquois and Shawnee hunted.
By the 1768 treaty of Fort Stanwix, the Iroquois allowed British settlers to hunt in Kentucke. Very soon the trader John Findley vis-ited Boone's home. He was arranging a hunting and trading expedi-tion across the Appalachians and asked Boone to join. On May 1, 1769, a five-man expedition left for the Appalachians, intending to explore and hunt for two years. Passing through the 1,665-foot-high Cumberland Gap and into Kentucke proper, they found wild turkey, deer, buffalo, and green pastures ideal for farming. Yet it was also Shawnee land, and their chiefs had not signed the Fort Stanwix treaty.
Boone and another man were captured by Shawnee in December. Their furs were confiscated and they were ordered to leave. Boone, however, doubled back to remain until 1771, exploring and hunting .is far west as the Forks of the Ohio (Louisville). Under a ledge in the (ireat Smoky Mountains there is still a tiny backwoods hut, only four Ict-i high, in which Boone spent one winter. He was so impressed wiili llie Kentucke country that he returned again in 1772. He was iliiiilviii)1, of settlement.
I le sold his idea to settlers in the Carolinas, and in September 177.1, lie Ic-d his family and fifty others westward in the first attempt ,il sfiilcniciii of Kentucke. The Shawnee, Delaware, and Cherokee met them in October in the Cumberland Gap. One of Boone's sons and another settler's son were captured and tortured to death. The expedition turned back.
Early the following spring, surveyors who were unaware of the attack entered Kentucke. Boone and a companion traveled some eight hundred miles that summer to warn them of their danger. A brief local war developed during which Boone helped defend settle-ments in Virginia. He was made a captain in the militia. His fame was spreading with colonists as well as with Native Americans, and developer Richard Henderson hired him to travel to the Cherokee villages to arrange a trade meeting. In 1775 Henderson bought from the Cherokee much of modern Kentucky for ten thousand pounds' worth of goods. He then hired Boone to blaze a road for settlers.
Boone and thirty woodsmen marked and built a trail through the Cumberland Gap and onward to the Kentucky River, deep into the heart of Kentucke. It is the famous Wilderness Road, nearly three hundred miles long. By the end of the century, some two hundred thousand settlers had traveled on it across the mountains. On the Kentucky River, Boone established the settlement he named Boones-borough and moved his family there that September.
This movement of settlers west of the Appalachians was in com-plete breach of the 1763 proclamation. Native Americans were not pleased about it. Neither was the British government, but short of garrisoning the long border with soldiers, there was little it could do. The independent-minded colonists simply ignored the law; in those days London was several months away.
Discontent had thus been simmering for several years. Many set-tlers saw the proclamation as an unjustifiable interference in their travel, trade, and search for wealth. In addition, it was argued that if British soldiers garrisoned in North America were not going to pro-tect the settlers in their move westward, there was no point in having them.
In Massachusetts, open rebellion broke out at Lexington and Con-cord on April 19,1775, with a surprise attack on the British garrisons there. A second attack on Boston in June was defeated at Bunker Hill, and the American Revolutionary War was begun.
Named the American War of Independence on the other side of the Atlantic, in fact it was a civil war—Britons fighting Britons, colo-nists fighting colonists. All civil wars create more than usually strong passions, and between 1775 and 1782, each side vented its frustra-tions and anger. Daniel Boone's personal experience is typical of these divisions: he was charged with collaborating with the enemy.
His first daughter, Jemima, and two other teenage girls were cap-tured by Shawnee outside Boonesborough, ten days after the 1776 Declaration of Independence. Like the majority of Native Americans, the Shawnee supported Britain. Boone and two other men set off in pursuit. For two days he tracked the Shawnee warriors westward through the wilderness, until he caught up to them, ambushed them, rescued the girls, and returned safely to Boonesborough. James Feni-more Cooper fictionalized the event in The Last of the Mohicans, Hawkeye taking the part of Daniel Boone.
The next year Boone was shot in the ankle during a Shawnee at-tack on Boonesborough. For almost a year the settlement was under attack and the settlers' crops and cattle destroyed. In February 1778, Boone led out a party of thirty men for desperately needed fresh food and salt. While the others collected salt, Boone was hunting for game when he was sighted by some Shawnee. He ran, but he was now forty-five years old, and he was caught by fleet-footed warriors half his age.
The Shawnee chief, Blackfish, was about to fall on the rest of Boone's party and then assault Boonesborough. Boone persuaded Blackfish not to kill the salt collectors if they surrendered without fighting. They were all escorted to the Shawnee village of Chillicothe. Boone further persuaded Blackfish that Boonesborough was too heavily defended for an assault to succeed. The party was kept prisoner by the Shawnee for many months.
During his imprisonment, Boone was forced to "run the gauntlet"— to run between two lines of warriors facing inward and armed with tomahawks and knives. He ducked, sidestepped, and twisted through i hi- slashing tomahawks in the first half of the gauntlet, handed off the next few warriors, and simply sprinted past the last to survive. Black-lish adopted him into his tribe, giving him the name Sheltowee, "Big Turtle." Yet he still turned him and his party over to the British at Fort Detroit as prisoners.
In mid-June, Boone discovered that the Shawnee were planning a major attack against Boonesborough. He escaped from Detroit and in five days made the 160-mile journey to the settlement by horse and foot to alert the settlers. The fortifications of the wooden village were quickly improved. In September, Shawnee surrounded Boonesborough, but Boone again delayed the assault by arranging a parley with Blackfish. During the negotiations in a meadow, fighting broke out. Boone and the settlers retreated inside, and the siege of Boonesborough began. It lasted ten days before the Shawnee withdrew, a siege not being their type of warfare.
Daniel Boone was charged by two officers of the patriot Kentucke militia of collaborating with the Loyalist Shawnee during his time with them. He was court-martialed in Boonesborough itself.
It is possible Boone collaborated with the British—although all his other actions belie it and there is no British record of it—but almost certainly he was trying to stop needless bloodshed at Boonesborough. He was brought up with Native Americans, he liked them, and in their turn they admired him. A Shawnee victory over Boonesborough was not going to decide the outcome of the war.
Boone was acquitted and promoted to major, but he left to gather his family in North Carolina and never returned to Boonesborough. Instead, he established a new settlement, called Boone's Station, nearby. His court-martial had left a bitter taste, and he rarely spoke of it.
He joined General Clark's 1780 invasion of the Ohio country as its guide, taking part in the fighting at Pickaway (Piqua). In the di-vision of the Kentucke territory that November, he was made lieu-tenant colonel in the Fayette militia and the following year was elected representative to the Virginia assembly. On his way to attend the assembly, he was captured by British dragoons near Charlot-tcsvillc. Assumed to be a civilian legislator, he was given parole after only a few days.
If Boone had been a Loyalist, he would by then have been known as a traitor to Britain. For he'd left Fort Detroit to warn Boonesbor-ough of a Loyalist attack, campaigned with Clark, and fought at Pickaway. It's very unlikely he would have been released from Char-lottesville.
In 1782 he fought the Shawnee in almost the last skirmish of the war, the battle of Blue Licks, where his son Israel was killed. He served once again as guide to Clark's second expedition into the Ohio country at the end of the year. By September 1783, when the United States of America was formally recognized as an independent nation, Daniel Boone was already a famous American.
The following year, at age fifty, he became a legend with the publication of The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke by John Filson. This history includes a large appendix titled "The Adventures of Colonel Daniel Boone." It sold successfully on both sides of the Atlantic, so that Boone became famous in the land of his father as well as his own. Filson interviewed Boone for the facts of his life but invented most of his speech. Filson, like later Hollywood portrayers of Boone, did not let truth stop him from embellishing a good story. He also omitted Boone's court-martial.
In 1785 a condensed version of Filson's account, The Adventures of Colonel Boone, was published. That, too, sold well. Through no desire of his own, Daniel Boone had become the world's archetypal frontiersman. He was the backwoodsman able to survive in the wil-derness, living in harmony with nature and with the mutual respect of Native Americans.
After the Revolutionary War, Boone resettled his family at the river port of Limestone (Maysville) while he worked as a surveyor along the Ohio River. He bought a tavern, speculated unsuccessfully in land, and was again elected to the Virginia state assembly. In the northwest, though, war continued as Native American nations fought on until 1794 against U.S. expansion across the proclamation border. Boone took part in one 1786 expedition, his last military action. Af-ter it he negotiated a Shawnee-American prisoner exchange.
He moved farther upriver to Point Pleasant in 1788, opened a trading post, and returned to hunting and trapping. After being ap-pointed lieutenant colonel of the Kanawha militia, he was elected for a third time to the Virginia assembly in 1791. Still he couldn't settle, and he moved his large family back to son Daniel's land in Kentucke.
By then, his small wealth had disappeared, for he'd lost the colo-nial lands he'd cleared and claimed from lack of title in the new United States. In 1798 a warrant was issued for his arrest when he forgot, or ignored, a summons in a court case. Yet his fame had not died. The newly created state of Kentucky named Boone County for him the same year. Fittingly, the county contained a very large salt lake.
However, it seems the new nation was not for him. Perhaps the continuing war against Native Americans, increasing federal interfer-i-nce in the states, new taxes, and escalating violence and riots persuaded him to move on. He was also in debt. In 1799 he left the United States.
The silver-haired Daniel Boone led his family on an amazing journey, downriver along more than a thousand miles of the Ohio and i lie broad Mississippi all the way to Saint Louis—by canoe. He hunted and trapped along the riverbank while the family paddled slowly downstream. In the afternoon they'd choose a site for their camp, light a fire, and prepare for the evening meal. It was idyllic. Legend says that on the wooden landing stage at Cincinnati some-body asked him why he was leaving. "I want more elbow room," Boone replied laconically.
Louisiana was then a large Spanish colony, its borders spreading indeterminately north toward Canada. Within a year of his arrival in the Femme Osage district (Saint Charles County) of what is now Missouri, Boone was appointed syndic, a Spanish type of magistrate. He received land for his services and later was made military commandant of the district by the Spanish governor. He continued to hunt and trap for food—a lot of families in the world did in those days—and had one brief skirmish with the Osage tribe in the spring hunt of 1802. He discovered some Shawnee who had also escaped from Kentucky to Saint Louis, and they became friends.
In 1803 the U.S. government purchased Louisiana—although purchasing foreign territory contravened the new Constitution. However, under military threat from Napoleon Bonaparte in Europe, Spain had transferred her Louisiana colony to France and the trans-fer immediately rang loud alarm bells in Washington. The last thing English-speaking North America wanted was a return of French militarism.
President Jefferson wrote: "The day that France takes possession of New Orleans, we must marry ourselves to the British fleet and na-tion." Bonaparte, despite his looting of various European nations, was short of currency with which to pay for his wars. For fifteen million dollars cash down he sold Louisiana—and Daniel Boone once again lived in the United States.
Almost immediately the new Louisiana Territory confiscated Boone's land, and he and Rebecca were forced to move to son Na-than's farm. After he petitioned Congress, his land was finally returned in 1814. He sold most of it to clear his outstanding Kentucky debts.
Rebecca, his wife of fifty-seven years, died in March 1813. She was buried near daughter Jemima's home on Tuque Creek. That same year, the third account of Daniel Boone was published, a long poem by Rebecca's nephew Daniel Bryan. It was called The Moun-tain Muse, and Boone considered it embarrassingly inaccurate. He said: "Many heroic actions and chivalrous adventures are related of me which exist only in the regions of fancy." It sold well, neverthe-less.
Boone remained on his son's land and continued to hunt and trap into old age. It's probable he made one last, long hunt up the Missouri to the Yellowstone River around 1815, a remarkable journey for a man aged eighty-one. When Daniel Boone, toward the end of his 86th year, died peacefully in bed in his son Nathan's elegant stone Missouri farmhouse on September 26, 1820, the surge of emigrants along the Oregon Trail was still a generation away. But Boone already exemplified the pioneer at his best. He was buried beside Rebecca. Although the man was dead, the legend continued, and increased, with various colorful accounts over the years.
James Fenimore Cooper published the first Hawkeye tales in 1823, and a romantic account of Boone's life by Timothy Flint, Biographical Memoir of Daniel Boone, the First Settler of Kentucky, was released in 1833. Many more fiction and factual accounts followed, while Theodore Roosevelt founded the conservationist Boone and Crockett Club in 1887. A half-dollar coin was minted in 1934 to commemorate the bicentenary of his birth.
The remains of Daniel and Rebecca Boone were moved from Tuque Creek, Missouri, to Frankfort Cemetery, Kentucky, in 1845. This has caused some resentment in Missouri, giving rise to another story—that the wrong bodies were removed, a mistake caused by the graves being left unmarked for some fifteen years. Daniel Boone's own words make a suitable comment: "With me the world has taken great liberties, and yet I have been but a common man."
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