Per Scriptum E. Wesley – Mackinac Center Intern
For generations, young boys have loved the American frontier; a symbol of determination and the highest American ideals. The Wild West has served as a field of context within the American imagination for all those ready to test their independence. If this imaginary world of youthful ambition is challenging, the reality of the American wilderness was far more so. Unlike the myths of the Classical world, American legends tie back to the real struggles and hardships of purpose driven men who made the Protestant work ethic famous. Men brave enough to traverse these wildernesses rapture our attention because of their unexpected feats. Daniel Boone is one of those legendary men. Even though plagued with hunger, Indian attacks and debt, he kept moving west.
Boone was born the son of Quaker parents on Nov. 2, (Gregorian Calendar) or Oct. 22, (Julian Calendar) 1734. (See here for an explanation of this dating discrepancy.) Growing up in Berks County, Pennsylvania, Daniel’s job was to take the cattle for grazing in the woods. There, the stunning beauty of God’s creation attracted his attention, not only aesthetically, but also scientifically. Through firsthand observation, he studied the habits of birds in their natural habitats. Applying his knowledge usefully, he successfully managed to hunt this game with a whittle spear. At 12,, Boone’s father gave him his first rifle, and by thirteen, Boone was bringing a steady supply of meat into the family home. His father encouraged the hunting and outdoor life, and didn’t bother to supply Boone with an education. However, Boone’s oldest brother’s wife tough him to read and write. Boone’s ability to sign his name would set him apart from the majority of frontier men. In 1750, Boone’s father sold the land in Pennsylvania, and moved to the Yadkin River valley in North Carolina. There, Indian attacks on the settlements were frequent, and Boone learned to defend his family at an early age in the county militia.
In 1755, Boone fought in the French and Indian War. While on his march under British Gen. Edward Branddock to attack the French Fort Duquesne, Boone became friends with John Finley, who had been to Kentucky and who told Boone all about the plentiful hunting ground. The army suffered great losses, but Boone escaped and returned the North Carolina with the dream to reach Kentucky. Upon coming home, like a knight returning to his lady, he began courting Rebecca Bryan, the daughter of his neighbor. Boone and Rebecca were married on Aug. 14, 1756, and started out in a cabin on Boone’s father’s farm. They enjoyed the blessing of having six sons and four daughters together. During these years, Boone spent much time away from home hunting deer in the Appalachian Mountains; the border to his dream world, Kentucky.
Finally in 1767, Finley told Boone that he was going to Kentucky, and along with four others, Finley and Boone set out on May 1. On June 7, they passed through the Cumberland Gap. For two years, Boone could be seen hunting in his buckskins, bullet pouch, powder horn, hunting knife and wide-brimmed hat of beaver felt. His adventure eventually took him to the Falls of the Ohio. The journey ended in an unexpected failure when the Shawnee tribe captured the entire hunting party and stole all their deerskins and provisions. Boone managed to heroically escape, and returned to the family home with nothing in March of 1771. In 1775, Boone was hired along with 30 other axmen to clear a trail to Kentucky (now called the Wilderness Trail) for a settlement on the newly purchased Cherokee land. The finishing touch to this expedition was Boonesborough, a fort constructed by Boone and his men. Boone eventually moved his family here. Much like Boone’s youth, the family was often molested by Indian attacks. On one occasion in 1776, the Shawnee and Cherokee captured Boone’s daughter Jemima with some of her friends while on a canoeing trip. With cunning strategy, Boone chivalrously led a rescue mission and saved them all from death or other barbaric cruelty. In 1778, the Shawnee eventually captured Boone, but being most fascinated with his hunting skills they adopted him. After four months, Boone escaped and returned home.
Due to debt, Boone was forced to sell his land in 1798. He moved west again with two of his daughters’ families, his son Daniel, and his wife on a six-foot poplar canoe to what is now Missouri in 1799. Boone’s son Nathan soon came along with other Kentuckians. Granted 850 acres by the Spanish in present day St. Charles County, Boone became a local syndic, which meant he settled disputes among settlers. Often, he would sit under the “Judgment Tree” on Nathan’s plot and make judicial decisions. Because of political transfer of land, Boone in 1804 lost his grant of land, but by this time he was old enough for his children to take care of him. His wife passed on in 1813, and living with his children, Boone died on Sept. 26, 1820. An unforgettable legacy, Daniel Boone goes down in history for his selfless homebuilding and settlement of the American West. Others would pick up where he left off.
P.S. Although probably biographically inaccurate, I’d highly recommend the 1956 film “Daniel Boone, The Trailblazer.” This movie successfully conveys the sense of Christian faith, hard work, and adventure of the American frontier.
Image of Boone by Chappel from Wikipedia