New Biography of Legendary Hero Daniel Boone
I’m a Kentuckian at heart. That’s where I grew up and went to school, but I haven’t lived in Kentucky for over fifty years. When March Madness rolls around each year, though, I’m still rooting for the Wildcats.
That’s why I was especially interested in a new biography of legendary Kentucky hero Daniel Boone, which is about not just the life of Boone but also the exploration and settling of Kentucky. It’s called simply Boone, by Robert Morgan, acclaimed poet and novelist, whose most well-known book is the acclaimed novel Gap Creek.
Daniel Boone was born in 1734 in the Oley Valley near what is now Reading, Pennsylvania. His parents, who were Quakers, had immigrated from England and Wales because of religious persecution.
Even as a child, Daniel Boone liked to go wandering. He spent much of his time hunting and exploring in the woods around his home. In fact, he spent so much time wandering that he never had much time for schooling. His parents were very relaxed about his attending school; so much of his education was outside of formal schooling.
In 1750, Daniel Boone’s family moved to the Yadkin Valley of North Caroline. There, in 1756, he met and married Rebecca Bryan. They eventually had eleven children.
As a child, Boone, in lieu of school, spent much of his time in the woods, learning about the wilderness from the natural world he was exploring and from the Indians he met in the woods. The longer he spent in the woods the more skilled he became as a hunter and trapper. As he matured, he gradually began wandering farther and farther from home, eventually exploring the land that was known as Kentucky.
In 1775 Boone led a group of men who blazed a trail across the Appalachian Mountains into Kentucky. He then led a group of settlers across this trail to settle at what is now Boonesborough, Kentucky, the first permanent white settlement west of the Appalachians.
Kentucky was a pristine wilderness at the time Boone began exploring. It was the hunting grounds of the Indian nations. Boone shared this love of hunting with the Indians and when he first began exploring he learned much from his Indian friends. But as he began leading other settlers into this unspoiled wilderness, the settlers began destroying the very things Boone treasured. As a result, conflicts with the Indians developed, leading to years of battles between the settlers and the Indians, with Boone fighting against these Indians that had formerly been his friends.
Boone had fallen in love with the Kentucky wilderness and wanted to share it with other people. But eventually so many people came to this beautiful land he loved that the wilderness was spoiled for him. One might say he was too successful at this endeavor. As people moved in, he moved on; so he eventually lost both his Indian friends and the land he loved.
Legends and Legacy
In 1777, the British Lieutenant Governor of Canada began to recruit American Indian war parties to raid the settlements in Kentucky. In April of that year, Shawnee Indians attacked Boonesborough, and, during the melee, Daniel Boone was shot in the kneecap.
While Boone recovered, the Shawnees kept up their attacks, destroying the surrounding food supply. During this attack Boone led a group from the fort to the salt licks to obtain salt for preserving food. At the salt springs in February, 1778 Boone was kidnapped by the Shawnee Indians and held for several months.
Because of his adaptability Boone was able to adjust to his captivity so well that he was adopted by the Shawnee chief and accepted and admired by the tribe. Later that year, after overhearing the Shawnee’s plan to attack the fort at Boonesborough, he managed to escape and raced back to the fort to help defeat the Shawnees during their attack.
This event and many others in Boone’s life contributed to his legendary status. This status was further enhanced in 1784 with the publication of John Filson’s The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke . . . to Which is Added an Appendix, Containing the Adventures of Col. Daniel Boon. The book made him famous in both America and Europe and established him as one of the first popular heroes of the United States.
The Good and the Bad
Though Boone was legendary as an explorer and excelled at the ways of the woods, there were some areas of his life that were not exemplary. One of these areas was his financial situation. He could never seem to get a handle on his finances and was constantly in debt. After he settled in Kentucky, he became a businessman, but was never very successful at any of his business endeavors, mostly because of his careless attitude regarding money.
From early in his adult life, Boone was constantly in debt. Even when he would go on hunting and trapping expeditions, he would have to borrow to purchase his supplies. He would then have difficulty meeting his obligations. This was a pattern that he developed early in his life and continued to have the same difficulty for years, even having warrants issued for his arrest. He stated late in his life, though, that he was eventually able to pay back everything he owed.
When Kentucky became too crowded, especially with those he owed money to, Boone decided to move with his family further west, this time settling in Missouri, where he lived for the rest of his life, surrounded by his large, loving family.
When I was in school in Kentucky, we always studied Daniel Boone as a Kentucky hero. And so he was. But through the years, Boone has always had his detractors. In this extremely well researched biography, Morgan does an excellent job of presenting a balanced portrait of our Kentucky hero.
This is an excellent historical biography to be enjoyed by all lovers of history, even those not fortunate enough to hail from Kentucky.