Daniel Boone

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Daniel Boone
portrait of Daniel Boone by Chester Harding, 1820
This 1820 painting by Chester Harding is the only portrait of Daniel Boone made from life.[1]
Born (1734-11-02)2 November 1734
Daniel Boone Homestead, Oley Valley, Berks County, Pennsylvania Colony
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
Nathan Boone's house, Femme Osage Creek, Missouri
Resting place Frankfort Cemetery, Frankfort, Kentucky
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Spouse(s) Rebecca Bryan Boone
  • James Boone
  • Israel Boone
  • Susannah Boone Hays
  • Jemima Boone Callaway
  • Levina Boone Scholl
  • Rebecca Boone Goe
  • Daniel Morgan Boone
  • Jessie Bryan Boone
  • William Bryan Boone
  • Nathan Boone
Relatives Squire Boone (brother) Daniel Morgan (first cousin)

Daniel Boone (November 2, 1734 [O.S. October 22] – September 26, 1820) was an American pioneer, explorer, woodsman, and frontiersman, whose frontier exploits made him one of the first folk heroes of the United States. Boone is most famous for his exploration and settlement of what is now Kentucky, which was then part of Virginia, but on the other side of the mountains from the settled areas. As a young adult, Boone supplemented his farm income by hunting and trapping game, and selling their pelts in the fur market. Through this occupational interest, Boone first learned the easy routes to the area. Despite some resistance from American Indian tribes such as the Shawnee, in 1775, Boone blazed his Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap in the Appalachian Mountains from North Carolina and Tennessee into Kentucky. There, he founded the village of Boonesborough, Kentucky, one of the first American settlements west of the Appalachians. Before the end of the 18th century, more than 200,000 Americans migrated to Kentucky/Virginia by following the route marked by Boone.[2]

Boone was a militia officer during the Revolutionary War (1775–83), which in Kentucky was fought primarily between the American settlers and the British-aided Indians. Boone was captured by Shawnee warriors in 1778. He escaped and alerted Boonesborough that the Shawnees were planning an attack. Although heavily outnumbered, Americans repulsed the Shawnee warriors in the Siege of Boonesborough.

Boone was elected to the first of his three terms in the Virginia General Assembly during the Revolutionary War, and fought in the Battle of Blue Licks in 1782. Blue Licks, a Shawnee victory over the Patriots, was one of the last battles of the Revolutionary War, coming after the main fighting ended in October 1781.[3]

Following the war, Boone worked as a surveyor and merchant, but fell deeply into debt through failed Kentucky land speculation. Frustrated with the legal problems resulting from his land claims, in 1799, Boone emigrated to eastern Missouri, where he spent most of the last two decades of his life (1800–20).

Boone remains an iconic figure in American history. He was a legend in his own lifetime, especially after an account of his adventures was published in 1784 by John Filson, making him famous across Europe as the typical all-American frontiersman. An American edition made him equally famous across the United States. After his death, he was frequently the subject of heroic tall tales and works of fiction. His adventures—real and legendary—were influential in creating the archetypal Western hero of American folklore. In American popular culture, he is remembered as one of the foremost early frontiersmen. The epic Daniel Boone mythology often overshadows the historical details of his life.[4]


Daniel Boone was of English and Welsh ancestry. Because the Gregorian calendar was adopted during his lifetime, Boone's birth date is sometimes given as November 2, 1734 (the "New Style" date), although Boone used the October date.[5] The Boone family belonged to the Religious Society of Friends, called "Quakers", and were persecuted in England for their dissenting beliefs. Daniel's father, Squire (his first name, not a title) Boone (1696–1765) emigrated from the small town of Bradninch, Devon (near Exeter, England) to Pennsylvania in 1713, to join William Penn's colony of dissenters. Squire Boone's parents, George Boone III and Mary Maugridge, followed their son to Pennsylvania in 1717, and in 1720 built a log cabin at Boonecroft.[6]

In 1720, Squire Boone, who worked primarily as a weaver and a blacksmith, married Sarah Morgan (1700–77). Sarah's family were Quakers from Wales, and had settled in Towamencin Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania in 1708. In 1731, the Boones moved to the Oley Valley, near the modern city of Reading. There they built a log cabin, partially preserved today as the Daniel Boone Homestead. Daniel Boone was born there, the sixth of 11 children.[7]

Daniel Boone spent his early years on what was then the edge of the Pennsylvania frontier. Several Lenape Indian villages were nearby. The pacifist Pennsylvania Quakers had good relations with the Indians, but the steady growth of the white population compelled many Indians to move further west. Boone was given his first rifle at the age of 12, as families depended on hunting for much of their food. He learned to hunt from both local settlers and the Lenape. Folk tales have often emphasized Boone's skills as a hunter. In one story, the young Boone was hunting in the woods with some other boys, when the howl of a panther scattered all but Boone. He calmly cocked his rifle and shot the predator through the heart just as it leaped at him. The validity of this claim is contested, but the story was told so often that it became part of his popular image.[8]

In Boone's youth, his family became a source of controversy in the local Quaker community when two of the oldest children married outside the endogamous community, in present-day Lower Gwynedd Township, Pennsylvania. In 1742, Boone's parents were compelled to publicly apologize after their eldest child, Sarah, married John Willcockson, a "worldling" (non-Quaker). Because the young couple had "kept company", they were considered "married without benefit of clergy". When the Boones' oldest son Israel married a "worldling" in 1747, Squire Boone stood by him. Both men were expelled from the Quakers; Boone's wife continued to attend monthly meetings with their younger children.

Yadkin River Valley, North Carolina

In 1750, Squire Boone sold his land and moved the family to North Carolina. Daniel Boone did not attend church again. He identified as a Christian and had all of his children baptized. The Boones eventually settled on the Yadkin River, in what is now Davie County,[9] about two miles (3 km) west of Mocksville. This was in the western backwoods area.[10]

Because he grew up on the frontier, Boone had little formal education, but deep knowledge of the woods. According to one family tradition, a schoolteacher once expressed concern over Boone's education, but Boone's father said, "Let the girls do the spelling and Dan will do the shooting…." Boone received some tutoring from family members, though his spelling remained unorthodox. The historian John Mack Faragher cautions that the folk image of Boone as semiliterate is misleading, and argues that he "acquired a level of literacy that was the equal of most men of his times." Boone regularly took reading material with him on his hunting expeditions—the Bible and Gulliver's Travels were favorites. He was often the only literate person in groups of frontiersmen. Boone would sometimes entertain his hunting companions by reading to them around the evening campfire.[11]

French and Indian War

After the French and Indian War (1754–1763) broke out between the French and British, and their respective Indian allies, North Carolina Governor Matthew Rowan called up a militia, into whose service Daniel volunteered. He served under Captain Hugh Waddell on the North Carolina frontier. Waddell's unit was assigned to serve in the command of General Edward Braddock in 1755, and Boone acted as a wagoner, along with his cousin Daniel Morgan, who would later be a key general in the American Revolution.[12] In the Battle of the Monongahela, the denouement of the campaign and a bitter defeat for the British, Boone narrowly escaped death when the baggage wagons were assaulted by Indian troops. Boone remained critical of Braddock's blunders for the rest of his life.

While on the campaign, Boone met John Finley, a packer who worked for George Croghan in the trans-Appalachian fur trade. Finley first interested Boone in the abundance of game and other natural wonders of the Ohio Valley. Finley took Boone on his first fateful hunting trip to Kentucky 12 years later.[13]

Marriage and family

Boone returned home and on August 14, 1756, he married Rebecca Bryan, a neighbor in the Yadkin River Valley whose brother married one of Boone's sisters. The couple initially lived in a cabin on his father's farm. They eventually had 10 children.[14] His son, Nathan Boone, was the first white man born in Kentucky.[15]

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I can't say as ever I was lost, but I was bewildered once for three days.

Daniel Boone[16]

Boone supported his growing family in these years as a market hunter and trapper, collecting pelts for the fur trade. Almost every autumn, Boone would go on "long hunts", extended expeditions into the wilderness lasting weeks or months. Boone went alone or with a small group of men, accumulating hundreds of deer skins in the autumn, and trapping beaver and otter over the winter. The hunt followed a network of bison migration trails, known as the Medicine Trails. When the long hunters returned in the spring, they sold their take to commercial fur traders.[17]

Such frontiersmen often carved messages on trees or wrote their names on cave walls, and Boone's name or initials have been found in many places. One on a tree in present Washington County, Tennessee reads "D. Boon Cilled a. Bar [killed a bear] on [this] tree in the year 1760". A similar carving, preserved in the museum of the Filson Historical Society in Louisville, Kentucky, reads "D. Boon Kilt a Bar, 1803." The inscriptions may also be among numerous forgeries of the famous trapper, part of a long tradition of phony Boone relics.[18]

Cherokee conflict, temporary move to Virginia

In 1758, a conflict erupted between the British forces and the Cherokee, their allies in the French and Indian War (which continued in other parts of the continent). After the Yadkin River Valley was raided by Cherokee, the Boones and many other families fled north to Culpeper County, Virginia. Boone served in the North Carolina militia during this "Cherokee Uprising". His militia expeditions deep into Cherokee territory beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains separated him from his wife for about two years.

In 1762, Boone, his wife and four children moved back to the Yadkin River Valley from Culpeper. By the mid-1760s, with peace made with the Cherokee, colonial immigration into the area increased. The competition of new settlers decreased the amount of game available. Boone had difficulty making ends meet; he was often taken to court for nonpayment of debts. He sold his land to pay off creditors. After his father's death in 1765, Boone traveled with his brother Squire and a group of men to Florida, which had become British territory after the end of the war, to look into the possibility of settling there. According to a family story, Boone purchased land near Pensacola, but Rebecca refused to move so far away from her friends and family. The Boones moved to a more remote area of the Yadkin River Valley, and Boone began to hunt westward into the Blue Ridge Mountains.[19]


"Capture of Boone and Stuart" from Life and Times of Col. Daniel Boone by Cecil B. Hartley (1859)

Boone first reached Kentucky in the fall of 1767 while on a long hunt with his brother Squire Boone, Jr. Boone's first steps in Kentucky were near present-day Elkhorn City.[20] While on the Braddock expedition years earlier, Boone had heard about the fertile land and abundant game of Kentucky from fellow wagoner John Findley, who had visited Kentucky to trade with American Indians. Boone and Findley happened to meet again, and Findley encouraged Boone with more tales of Kentucky. At the same time, news had arrived about the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, in which the Iroquois had ceded their claim to Kentucky to the British. This, as well as the unrest in North Carolina due to the Regulator Movement, likely prompted Boone to extend his exploration.[21]

On May 11, 1769, Boone began a two-year hunting expedition in Kentucky. On December 22, 1769, a fellow hunter and he were captured by a party of Shawnees, who confiscated all of their skins and told them to leave and never return. The Shawnees had not signed the Stanwix treaty, and since they regarded Kentucky as their hunting ground, they considered white hunters there to be poachers. Boone, however, continued hunting and exploring Kentucky until his return to North Carolina in 1771, and returned to hunt there again in the autumn of 1772.

On September 25, 1773, Boone packed up his family and, with a group of about 50 immigrants, began the first attempt by British colonists to establish a settlement in Kentucky. Boone was still an obscure hunter and trapper at the time; the most prominent member of the expedition was William Russell, a well-known Virginian and future brother-in-law of Patrick Henry. On October 9, Boone's eldest son James and a small group of men and boys who had left the main party to retrieve supplies were attacked by a band of Delawares, Shawnees, and Cherokees. Following the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, American Indians in the region had been debating what to do about the influx of settlers. This group had decided, in the words of historian John Mack Faragher, "to send a message of their opposition to settlement…." James Boone and William Russell's son Henry were captured and gruesomely tortured to death. The brutality of the killings sent shock waves along the frontier, and Boone's party abandoned its expedition.[22]

George Caleb Bingham's Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap (1851–52) is a famous depiction of Boone.

The massacre was one of the first events in what became known as Dunmore's War, a struggle between Virginia and, primarily, Shawnees of the Ohio Country for control of what is now West Virginia and Kentucky. In the summer of 1774, Boone volunteered to travel with a companion to Kentucky to notify surveyors there about the outbreak of war. The two men journeyed more than 800 miles (1,300 km) in two months to warn those who had not already fled the region. Upon his return to Virginia, Boone helped defend colonial settlements along the Clinch River, earning a promotion to captain in the militia, as well as acclaim from fellow citizens. After the brief war, which ended soon after Virginia's victory in the Battle of Point Pleasant in October 1774, the Shawnees relinquished their claims to Kentucky.[23]

Following Dunmore's War, Richard Henderson, a prominent judge from North Carolina, hired Boone to travel to the Cherokee towns in present North Carolina and Tennessee and inform them of an upcoming meeting. In the 1775 treaty, Henderson purchased the Cherokee claim to Kentucky to establish a colony called Transylvania. Afterwards, Henderson hired Boone to blaze what became known as the Wilderness Road, which went through the Cumberland Gap and into central Kentucky. Along with a party of about 30 workers, Boone marked a path to the Kentucky River, where he founded Boonesborough. Other settlements, notably Harrodsburg, were also established at this time. Despite occasional Indian attacks, Boone returned to the Clinch Valley and brought his family and other settlers to Boonesborough on September 8, 1775.[24]

American Revolution

Abduction of Boone's Daughter, painting by Karl Ferdinand Wimar, 1855/56, Amon Carter Museum of American Art

Violence in Kentucky increased with the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783). Native Americans who were unhappy about the loss of Kentucky in treaties saw the war as a chance to drive out the colonists. Isolated settlers and hunters became the frequent target of attacks, convincing many to abandon Kentucky. By late spring of 1776, fewer than 200 colonists remained in Kentucky, primarily at the fortified settlements of Boonesborough, Harrodsburg, and Logan's Station.[25]

On July 14, 1776, Boone's daughter Jemima and two other teenaged girls were captured outside Boonesborough by an Indian war party, who carried the girls north towards the Shawnee towns in the Ohio country. Boone and a group of men from Boonesborough followed in pursuit, finally catching up with them two days later. Boone and his men ambushed the Indians while they were stopped for a meal, rescuing the girls and driving off their captors. The incident became the most celebrated event of Boone's life. James Fenimore Cooper created a fictionalized version of the episode in his classic novel The Last of the Mohicans (1826).[26]

In 1777, Henry Hamilton, a British Lieutenant Governor of Canada, began to recruit American Indian war parties to raid the Kentucky settlements. On April 24, Shawnee Indians led by Chief Blackfish attacked Boonesborough. Boone was shot in the ankle while outside the fort, but he was carried back inside amid a flurry of bullets by Simon Kenton, a recent arrival at Boonesborough.[27] Kenton became Boone's close friend, as well as a legendary frontiersman in his own right.[28]

While Boone recovered, Shawnees kept up their attacks outside Boonesborough, destroying the surrounding cattle and crops. With the food supply running low, the settlers needed salt to preserve what meat they had, so in January 1778, Boone led a party of 30 men to the salt springs on the Licking River.[29] On February 7, 1778, when Boone was hunting meat for the expedition, he was surprised and captured by warriors led by Blackfish. Because Boone's party was greatly outnumbered, Boone returned the next day with Blackfish and persuaded his men to surrender rather than put up a fight.[30]

Blackfish wanted to continue to Boonesborough and capture it, since it was now poorly defended, but Boone convinced him that the women and children were not hardy enough to survive a winter trek. Instead, Boone promised that Boonesborough would surrender willingly to the Shawnees the following spring. Boone did not have an opportunity to tell his men that he was bluffing to prevent an immediate attack on Boonesborough, however. Boone pursued this strategy so convincingly that many of his men concluded that he had switched his loyalty to the British.[31]

Illustration of Boone's ritual adoption by the Shawnees, from Life & Times of Col. Daniel Boone, by Cecil B. Hartley (1859)

Boone and his men were taken to Blackfish's town of Chillicothe, where they were made to run the gauntlet. As was their custom, the Shawnees adopted some of the prisoners into the tribe to replace fallen warriors; the remainder were taken to Hamilton in Detroit. Boone was adopted into a Shawnee family at Chillicothe, perhaps into the family of Chief Blackfish himself, and given the name Sheltowee (Big Turtle). On June 16, 1778, when he learned Blackfish was about to return to Boonesborough with a large force, Boone eluded his captors and raced home, covering the 160 miles (260 km) to Boonesborough in five days on horseback and, after his horse gave out, on foot.[32]

During Boone's absence, his wife and children (except for Jemima) had returned to North Carolina, assuming he was dead. Upon his return to Boonesborough, some of the men expressed doubts about Boone's loyalty, since after surrendering the salt-making party, he had apparently lived quite happily among the Shawnees for months. Boone responded by leading a preemptive raid against the Shawnees across the Ohio River, and then by helping to successfully defend Boonesborough against a 10-day siege led by Blackfish, which began on September 7, 1778.

After the siege, Captain Benjamin Logan and Colonel Richard Callaway—both of whom had nephews who were still captives surrendered by Boone—brought charges against Boone for his recent activities. In the court martial that followed, Boone was found "not guilty", and was even promoted after the court heard his testimony. Despite this vindication, Boone was humiliated by the court martial, and he rarely spoke of it.[33]

After the trial, Boone returned to North Carolina to bring his family back to Kentucky. In the autumn of 1779, a large party of emigrants came with him, including (according to tradition) the family of Abraham Lincoln's grandfather.[34] Rather than remain in Boonesborough, Boone founded the nearby settlement of Boone's Station. He began earning money at this time by locating good land for other settlers. Transylvania land claims had been invalidated after Virginia created Kentucky County, so settlers needed to file new land claims with Virginia. In 1780, Boone collected about $20,000 in cash from various settlers and traveled to Williamsburg to purchase their land warrants. While he was sleeping in a tavern during the trip, the cash was stolen from his room. Some of the settlers forgave Boone the loss; others insisted he repay the stolen money, which took him several years to do.

A popular image of Boone which emerged in later years is that of the backwoodsman who had little affinity for "civilized" society, moving away from places like Boonesborough when they became "too crowded". In reality, however, Boone was a leading citizen of Kentucky at this time. When Kentucky was divided into three Virginia counties in November 1780, Boone was promoted to lieutenant colonel in the Fayette County militia. In April 1781, he was elected as a representative to the Virginia General Assembly, which was held in Richmond. In 1782, he was elected sheriff of Fayette County.[35]

Jury finding from Kentucky County, Virginia, confiscating lands of two men adjudged to be British citizens – Daniel Boone was listed as member of jury. (July 1780)

Meanwhile, the American Revolutionary War continued. Boone joined General George Rogers Clark's invasion of the Ohio country in 1780, fighting in the Battle of Piqua on August 7. In October, when Boone was hunting with his brother Ned, Shawnees shot and killed Ned. Apparently thinking that they had killed Daniel Boone, the Shawnees beheaded Ned and took the head home as a trophy. In 1781, Boone traveled to Richmond to take his seat in the legislature, but British dragoons under Banastre Tarleton captured Boone and several other legislators near Charlottesville. The British released Boone on parole several days later. During Boone's term, Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown in October 1781, but the fighting continued in Kentucky unabated. Boone returned to Kentucky and in August 1782 fought in the Battle of Blue Licks, in which his son Israel was killed. In November 1782, Boone took part in another Clark expedition into Ohio, the last major campaign of the war.

Businessman on the Ohio

After the Revolution, Boone resettled in Limestone (renamed Maysville, Kentucky in 1786), then a booming Ohio River port. In 1787, he was elected to the Virginia state assembly as a representative from Bourbon County. In Maysville, he kept a tavern and worked as a surveyor, horse trader, and land speculator. He was initially prosperous, owning seven slaves by 1787, a relatively large number for Kentucky at the time.[36] Boone became a celebrity while living in Maysville. In 1784, on his 50th birthday, historian John Filson published The Discovery, Settlement And present State of Kentucke, a book which included a chronicle of Boone's adventures.[36]

The Revolutionary War had ended, but the border war with American Indians north of the Ohio River resumed with the Northwest Indian War. In September 1786, Boone took part in a military expedition into the Ohio Country led by Benjamin Logan. Back in Limestone, Boone housed and fed Shawnees who were captured during the raid, and helped to negotiate a truce and prisoner exchange. Although the war escalated and would not end until the American victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, the 1786 expedition was the last time Boone saw military action.[37]

Boone began to have financial troubles while living in Maysville. According to the later folk image, Boone the trailblazer was too unsophisticated for the civilization which followed him and which eventually defrauded him of his land. Boone was not the simple frontiersman of legend, however: he engaged in land speculation on a large scale, buying and selling claims to tens of thousands of acres. The land market in frontier Kentucky was chaotic, and Boone's ventures ultimately failed because his investment strategy was faulty and because his sense of honor made him reluctant to profit at someone else's expense. According to Faragher, "Boone lacked the ruthless instincts that speculation demanded."[38]

Frustrated with the legal hassles that went with land speculation, in 1788, Boone moved upriver to Point Pleasant, Virginia (now West Virginia). There he operated a trading post and occasionally worked as a surveyor's assistant. When Virginia created Kanawha County in 1789, Boone was appointed lieutenant colonel of the county militia.[39] In 1791, he was elected to the Virginia legislature for the third time.[40] He contracted to provide supplies for the Kanawha militia, but his debts prevented him from buying goods on credit, so he closed his store and returned to hunting and trapping.[41]

In 1795, Rebecca and he moved back to Kentucky, living in present Nicholas County on land owned by their son Daniel Morgan Boone. The next year, Boone applied to Isaac Shelby, the first governor of the new state of Kentucky, for a contract to widen the Wilderness Road into a wagon route, but the contract was awarded to someone else.[42] Meanwhile, lawsuits over conflicting land claims continued to make their way through the Kentucky courts. Boone's remaining land claims were sold off to pay legal fees and taxes, but he no longer paid attention to the process. In 1798, a warrant was issued for Boone's arrest after he ignored a summons to testify in a court case, although the sheriff never found him.[43] That same year, the Kentucky assembly named Boone County in his honor.[44]


Boone lived much of the last part of his life with the family of his son Nathan in this home near present-day Defiance.
This engraving by Alonzo Chappel (circa 1861) depicts an elderly Boone hunting in Missouri.
A portrait of Boone
by John James Audubon

Having endured legal and financial setbacks, Boone sought to make a fresh start by leaving the United States.[44] In 1799, he moved his extended family to what is now St. Charles County, Missouri, but was then part of Spanish Louisiana.[45] The Spanish, eager to promote settlement in the sparsely populated region, did not enforce the official requirement that all immigrants had to be Roman Catholic. The Spanish governor appointed Boone "syndic" (judge and jury) and commandant (military leader) of the Femme Osage district,[46] The many anecdotes of Boone's tenure as syndic suggest he sought to render fair judgments rather than to strictly observe the letter of the law.[47]

Boone served as syndic and commandant until 1804, when Missouri became part of the United States following the Louisiana Purchase. Because Boone's land grants from the Spanish government had been largely based on verbal agreements, he once again lost his land claims. In 1809, he petitioned Congress to restore his Spanish land claims, which was finally done in 1814. Boone sold most of this land to repay old Kentucky debts. When the War of 1812 came to Missouri, Boone's sons Daniel Morgan Boone and Nathan Boone took part, but by that time Boone was much too old for militia duty.[48]

Boone spent his final years in Missouri, often in the company of children and grandchildren, where he continued to hunt and trap as much as his health and energy levels permitted. According to one story, in 1810 or later, Boone went with a group on a long hunt as far west as the Yellowstone River, a remarkable journey at his age, if true. In 1816, a United States officer at Fort Osage, on the Missouri, wrote:

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We have been honored by a visit from Colonel Boon, the first settler of Kentucky; he lately spent two weeks with us.... He left this for the river Platt, some distance above. Col Boon is eighty-five years of age, five feet seven inches high, stoutly made, and active for one of his years; is still of vigorous mind, and is pretty well informed. He has taken part in all the wars of America, from before Braddock's war to the present hour.[49]

Stories were told of Boone making one last visit to Kentucky to pay off his creditors, although some or all of these tales may be folklore. American painter John James Audubon claimed to have gone hunting with Boone in the woods of Kentucky around 1810. Years later, Audubon painted a portrait of Boone, supposedly from memory, although skeptics have noted the similarity of this painting to the well-known portraits by Chester Harding. Boone's family insisted he never returned to Kentucky after 1799, although some historians believe Boone visited his brother Squire near Kentucky in 1810 and have therefore reported Audubon's story as factual.[50]


Resting place for Rebecca and Daniel Boone, Frankfort, Kentucky

Daniel Boone died of natural causes on September 26, 1820, at Nathan Boone's home on Femme Osage Creek, 2-1/2 months short of his 86th birthday. His last words were, "I'm going now. My time has come." He was buried next to Rebecca, who had died on March 18, 1813. The graves, which were unmarked until the mid-1830s, were near Jemima (Boone) Callaway's home on Tuque Creek, about two miles (3 km) from the present-day Marthasville, Missouri. In 1845, the Boones' remains were supposedly disinterred and reburied in a new cemetery Frankfort Cemetery in Frankfort, Kentucky. Resentment in Missouri about the disinterment grew over the years, and a legend arose that Boone's remains never left Missouri. According to this story, Boone's tombstone in Missouri had been inadvertently placed over the wrong grave, but no one had ever corrected the error. Boone's relatives in Missouri, displeased with the Kentuckians who came to exhume Boone, kept quiet about the mistake, and they allowed the Kentuckians to dig up the wrong remains. No contemporary evidence indicates this actually happened, but in 1983, a forensic anthropologist examined a crude plaster cast of Boone's skull made before the Kentucky reburial and announced it might be the skull of an African American. Black slaves had also been buried at Tuque Creek, so it is possible the wrong remains were mistakenly removed from the crowded graveyard. Both the Frankfort Cemetery in Kentucky and the Old Bryan Farm graveyard in Missouri claim to have Boone's remains.[51]

Cultural legacy

The Daniel Boone half dollar was a U.S. commemorative coin issued from 1934 to 1938 in honor of the bicentennial of Boone's birth

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Many heroic actions and chivalrous adventures are related of me which exist only in the regions of fancy. With me the world has taken great liberties, and yet I have been but a common man.

— Daniel Boone[52]

Daniel Boone remains an iconic figure in American history, although his status as an early American folk hero and later as a subject of fiction have tended to obscure the actual details of his life. Boone is commonly remembered as a hunter, pioneer, and "Indian-fighter", though most people are uncertain when he lived or exactly what he did. Several places in the United States are named for him, including the Daniel Boone National Forest, the Sheltowee Trace Trail, the town of Boone, North Carolina, various settlements carrying the name of "Boonville", and seven counties: Boone County, Illinois, Boone County, Indiana, Boone County, Nebraska, Boone County, West Virginia, Boone County, Missouri, Boone County, Arkansas, and Boone County, Kentucky. Schools across the United States are named for Daniel Boone, including schools in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, Douglassville, Pennsylvania, Richmond, Kentucky, Wentzville, Missouri, Warrenton, Missouri, Gray, Tennessee, and Chicago.

Boone's name has long been synonymous with the American outdoors. For example, the Boone and Crockett Club was a conservationist organization founded by Theodore Roosevelt in 1887, and the Sons of Daniel Boone was the precursor of the Boy Scouts of America.

Daniel Boone, 1968 issue

Daniel Boone was honored with a 6-cent stamp in the American Folklore Series on September 26, 1968, at Frankfort, Kentucky, where he was buried. He was a famous frontiersman in the development of Virginia, Kentucky and the trans-Appalachian west. A wall of roughly-hewn boards displays the tools of Boone's trade—a Pennsylvania rifle, a powder horn, and a knife. The pipe tomahawk represents that the Shawnees had adopted Boone. His name and birth date were carved on the wall.[53]

The U.S. Navy's James Madison-class Polaris submarine USS Daniel Boone (SSBN-629), was named for Boone. This nuclear submarine was decommissioned in 1994, and has since been scrapped. She was a member of a class of 41 submarines, all of which were named for great Americans from history, including the USS Lewis and Clark, two other noteworthy frontiersmen of the Great West.

Emergence as a legend

Boone emerged as a legend in large part because of land speculator John Filson's "The Adventures of Colonel Daniel Boon", part of his book The Discovery, Settlement And present State of Kentucke. First published in 1784, Filson's book was a pamphlet primarily intended to popularize Kentucky to immigrants.[54] It was soon translated into French and German, and made Boone famous in America and Europe. Based on interviews with Boone, Filson's book contained a mostly factual account of Boone's adventures from the exploration of Kentucky through the American Revolution. However, because the real Boone was a man of few words, Filson invented florid, philosophical dialogue for this "autobiography". Subsequent editors cut some of these passages and replaced them with more plausible—but still spurious—ones. Often reprinted, Filson's book established Boone as one of the first popular heroes of the United States.[55]

Like John Filson, Timothy Flint also interviewed Boone, and his Biographical Memoir of Daniel Boone, the First Settler of Kentucky (1833) became one of the best-selling biographies of the 19th century. Flint greatly embellished Boone's adventures, doing for Boone what Parson Weems did for George Washington. In Flint's book, Boone fought hand-to-paw with a bear, escaped from Indians by swinging on vines (as Tarzan would later do), and so on. Although Boone's family thought the book was absurd, Flint greatly influenced the popular conception of Boone, since these tall tales were recycled in countless dime novels and books aimed at young boys.[56]

Symbol and stereotype

This 1874 lithograph entitled "Daniel Boone protects his family" is a representative image of Boone as an Indian fighter.

Thanks to Filson's book, in Europe, Boone became a symbol of the "natural man" who lives a virtuous, uncomplicated existence in the wilderness. This was most famously expressed in Lord Byron's epic poem Don Juan (1822), which devoted a number of stanzas to Boone, including this one:

Of the great names which in our faces stare,
The General Boon, back-woodsman of Kentucky,
Was happiest amongst mortals any where;
For killing nothing but a bear or buck, he
Enjoyed the lonely vigorous, harmless days
Of his old age in wilds of deepest maze.[57]

Byron's poem celebrated Boone as someone who found happiness by turning his back on civilization. In a similar vein, many folk tales depicted Boone as a man who migrated to more remote areas whenever civilization crowded in on him. In a typical anecdote, when asked why he was moving to Missouri, Boone supposedly replied, "I want more elbow room!" Boone rejected such an interpretation of his life, however. "Nothing embitters my old age," he said late in life, like "the circulation of absurd stories that I retire as civilization advances…."[58]

Existing simultaneously with the image of Boone as a refugee from society was, paradoxically, the popular portrayal of him as civilization's trailblazer. Boone was celebrated as an agent of Manifest Destiny, a pathfinder who tamed the wilderness, paving the way for the extension of American civilization. In 1852, critic Henry Tuckerman dubbed Boone "the Columbus of the woods", comparing Boone's passage through the Cumberland Gap to Christopher Columbus's voyage to the New World. In popular mythology, Boone became the first to explore and settle Kentucky, opening the way for countless others to follow. In fact, other Americans had explored and settled Kentucky before Boone, as debunkers in the 20th century often pointed out, but Boone came to symbolize them all, making him what historian Michael Lofaro called "the founding father of westward expansion".[59]

In the 19th century, when Native Americans were being displaced from their lands and confined on reservations, Boone's image was often reshaped into the stereotype of the belligerent, Indian-hating frontiersman which was then popular. In John A. McClung's Sketches of Western Adventure (1832), for example, Boone was portrayed as longing for the "thrilling excitement of savage warfare." Boone was transformed in the popular imagination into someone who regarded Indians with contempt and had killed scores of the "savages". The real Boone disliked bloodshed, however. According to historian John Bakeless, there is no record that Boone ever scalped Indians, unlike other frontiersmen of the era. Boone once told his son Nathan that he was certain of having killed only one Indian, during the battle at Blue Licks, although he believed others might have died from his bullets in other battles. Even though Boone had lost two sons in wars with Indians, he respected Indians and was respected by them. In Missouri, Boone often went hunting with the very Shawnees who had captured and adopted him decades earlier. Some 19th-century writers regarded Boone's sympathy for Indians as a character flaw and therefore altered his words to conform to contemporary attitudes.[60]

In fiction

Boone's adventures, real and mythical, formed the basis of the archetypal hero of the American West, popular in 19th-century novels and 20th-century films. The main character of James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales, the first of which was published in 1823, bore striking similarities to Boone; even his name, Nathaniel Bumppo, echoed Daniel Boone's name. As mentioned above, The Last of the Mohicans (1826), Cooper's second Leatherstocking novel, featured a fictionalized version of Boone's rescue of his daughter. After Cooper, other writers developed the Western hero, an iconic figure which began as a variation of Daniel Boone.[61]

In the 20th century, Boone was featured in numerous comic strips, radio programs, and films, where the emphasis was usually on action and melodrama rather than historical accuracy. These are little remembered today; probably the most noteworthy is the 1936 film Daniel Boone, with George O'Brien playing the title role. Horn in the West, an outdoor drama performed annually in Boone, North Carolina since 1952, is a fictional account of the lives of settlers whom Daniel Boone had led into the Appalachian Mountains.

Daniel Boone was the subject of a TV series that ran on NBC from 1964 to 1970. In the popular theme song for the series, Boone was described as a "big man" in a "coonskin cap", and the "rippin'est, roarin'est, fightin'est man the frontier ever knew!"[62] This did not describe the real Daniel Boone, who was not a big man and did not wear a coonskin cap. Boone was portrayed this way because Fess Parker, the tall actor who played Boone, was essentially reprising his role as Davy Crockett from an earlier TV series. That Boone could be portrayed the same way as Crockett, another American frontiersman with a very different persona, was another example of how Boone's image could be reshaped to suit popular tastes.[63]

In music

In his 1958 hit song Adventures on the Wild Frontier, Johnny Horton sings:

Daniel Boone was a man.
A big man.
But a bear was bigger.
And he ran like a [ stereotypical african american ].
Up a tree.
Up a tree.

See also


  1. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 317.
  2. For number of people, see Faragher, Daniel Boone, 351.
  3. Michael C. C. Adams, "An Appraisal of the Blue Licks Battle," Filson Club History Quarterly (2001) 75#2 181–203.
  4. For overview of Boone as early folk hero and American icon, as well as his enduring fame and the confusion of myth and history, see Lofaro, American Life, 180–83.
  5. Bakeless, Master of the Wilderness, 7.
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  7. Brown, Meredith Mason. Frontiersman, 4
  8. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 9.
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  10. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 25–27; Bakeless, Master of the Wilderness, 16–17. For baptizing children, see Faragher, Daniel Boone, 311.
  11. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 16–17, 55–6, 83.
  12. Daniel Boone in Pennsylvania
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  16. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 65.
  17. For market hunting, see Bakeless, Master of the Wilderness, 38–39.
  18. For doubts about tree carvings, see Faragher, Daniel Boone, 57–58; Belue's notes in Draper, Life of Daniel Boone,163, 286; Elliott, Long Hunter, 12. For historians who do not doubt the tree carvings, see Lofaro, American Life, 18; Bakeless, Master of the Wilderness, 33. Faragher and Belue generally question traditional stories more than Bakeless, Elliott, and Lofaro.
  19. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 62–66.
  20. historicmarkers.com
  21. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 69–74. According to some versions of the story, Findley specifically sought out Boone in 1768, but Faragher believes it more likely that their second meeting was by chance.
  22. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 89–96, quote on 93.
  23. For Boone in Dunmore's War, see Lofaro, American Life, 44–49; Faragher, Daniel Boone, 98–106.
  24. When, exactly, Henderson hired Boone has been a matter of speculation by historians. Some have argued that Boone's first expeditions into Kentucky might have been financed by Henderson in exchange for information about potential places for settlement, while Boone's descendants believed Henderson did not hire Boone until 1774. For doubts that Henderson hired Boone before 1774, see Faragher, Daniel Boone, 74–76, 348.
  25. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 130.
  26. For Boone's influence on James Fenimore Cooper, see Faragher, Daniel Boone, 331; Bakeless, Master of the Wilderness, 139.
  27. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 147–47.
  28. Jean Backs, "Simon Kenton-Frontier Hero" at the Wayback Machine (archived March 4, 2006), Explore, Fall-Winter 2003
  29. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 154.
  30. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 155–59.
  31. Bakeless, Master of the Wilderness, 167.
  32. Boone biographers write that Boone was adopted by the chief, but see Chief Blackfish for doubts.
  33. For court martial, see Faragher, Daniel Boone, 199–202; Lofaro, American Life, 105–106.
  34. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 203, writes without qualification that the Lincolns joined Boone on this trip, while Lofaro calls it a tradition. Other sources give a later date for the Lincoln migration; see Captain Abraham Lincoln.
  35. For Boone as a leading citizen, see Faragher, Daniel Boone, 206.
  36. 36.0 36.1 Faragher, Daniel Boone, 235–37.
  37. For border war and prisoner exchanges, see Faragher, Daniel Boone, 249–58. Most Boone biographers tell a story of Blue Jacket, the Shawnee chief, escaping while in Boone's custody in Maysville, and suggest that Boone intentionally let the chief escape because the two men were friends. According to the scholarly biography of Blue Jacket, however, the chief escaped at a later time: see John Sugden, Blue Jacket: Warrior of the Shawnees (University of Nebraska Press, 2000), 82.
  38. For analysis of Boone's land speculation failures, see Faragher, Daniel Boone, 245–48.
  39. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 266.
  40. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 267.
  41. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 268–70.
  42. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 272–73.
  43. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 273.
  44. 44.0 44.1 Faragher, Daniel Boone, 274.
  45. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 274–78.
  46. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 279.
  47. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 285–86.
  48. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 304–05.
  49. Boston Recorder, July 3, 1816
  50. For Yellowstone, see Faragher, Daniel Boone, 295. For doubts about Audubon's tale, see Faragher, Daniel Boone, 308–10; Randell Jones, In the Footsteps of Daniel Boone, 222. For historians who report Audubon's story without doubts, see Lofaro, American Life, 161–66; Bakeless, Master of the Wilderness, 398–99.
  51. For burial controversy, see Faragher, Daniel Boone, 354–62; Jones, Footsteps, 227–30.
  52. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 302.
  53. "1968 American Folklore Issue", Arago: people, postage & the post, National Postal Museum online, viewed March 16, 2014.
  54. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  55. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 4–7; Lofaro, American Life, 180.
  56. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 323–24.
  57. Faragher, " Daniel Boone" , 328.
  58. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 302, 325–26.
  59. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 321–22, 350–52; Lofaro, American Life, 181–82.
  60. Bakeless, Master of the Wilderness, 162–62; Faragher, Daniel Boone, 39, 86, 219, 313, 320, 333.
  61. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 330–33.
  62. The complete lyrics of the song can be found online.
  63. Faragher, Daniel Boone, 338–39, 362; Lofaro, American Life, 180.


  • Bakeless, John. Daniel Boone: Master of the Wilderness. Originally published 1939, reprinted University of Nebraska Press, 1989. ISBN 0-8032-6090-3. The definitive Boone biography of its era, it was the first to make full use of the massive amount of material collected by Lyman Draper; online edition
  • Brown, Meredith Mason. Frontiersman: Daniel Boone and the Making of America. Baton Rouge, LA. Louisiana State University Press, 2007. ISBN 978-0-8071-3356-9.
  • Draper, Lyman. The Life of Daniel Boone, edited by Ted Franklin Belue. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1998. ISBN 0-8117-0979-5. Belue's notes provide a modern scholarly perspective to Draper's unfinished 19th century biography, which follows Boone's life up to the siege of Boonesborough.
  • Elliott, Lawrence. The Long Hunter: A New Life of Daniel Boone. New York: Reader's Digest Press, 1976. ISBN 0-88349-066-8.
  • Faragher, John Mack. Daniel Boone: The Life and Legend of an American Pioneer. New York: Holt, 1992. ISBN 0-8050-1603-1. The standard scholarly biography, examines both the history and the folklore.
  • Jones, Randell. In the Footsteps of Daniel Boone. Blair: North Carolina, 2005. ISBN 0-89587-308-7. Guide to historical sites associated with Boone.
  • Lofaro, Michael. Daniel Boone: An American Life. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2003. ISBN 0-8131-2278-3. A brief biography, previously published (in 1978 and 1986) as The Life and Adventures of Daniel Boone. online review; online edition
  • Slotkin, Richard. Regeneration through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600–1860. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1973. ISBN 0-8195-4055-2.

Further reading

  • Aron, Stephen. How the West Was Lost: The Transformation of Kentucky from Daniel Boone to Henry Clay. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. ISBN 0-8018-5296-X.
  • Hammon, Neal O., ed. My Father, Daniel Boone: The Draper Interviews with Nathan Boone. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1999. ISBN 0-8131-2103-5.
  • Morgan, Robert. Boone: A Biography. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2007. ISBN 978-1-56512-455-4.
  • Reid, Darren R., ed. Daniel Boone and Others on the Kentucky Frontier: Autobiographies and Narratives, 1769–1795. Jefferson: McFarland and Company, 2009. ISBN 978-0-7864-4377-2.
  • Smith, Henry Nash. Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950.
  • Sweeney, J. Gray. The Columbus of the Woods: Daniel Boone and the Typology of Manifest Destiny. St. Louis, Mo.: Washington University Gallery of Art, 1992. ISBN 0-936316-14-4.
  • Thwaites, Reuben Gold. Daniel Boone. The first modern biography, originally published in 1902 and often reprinted.

External links

Primary material
Other material