“I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks.” — Daniel Boone
I’ve been reading an interesting book by Daniel Immerwahr titled How to Hide an Empire. It’s a book about the history of U.S. holdings outside our 50 geographic states. The introduction provided new insights (for me) into the Pearl Harbor assault that became the basis for this blog post on Pearl Harbor Day.
Published in February of this year, it was named one of this year’s ten best books by the Chicago Tribune. On Amazon it is self-described as a “pathbreaking history of the United States’ overseas possessions and the true meaning of its empire.” The subtitle of this book is A History of the Great United States.
The first chapter of Immerwahr’s book is titled The Fall and Rise of Daniel Boone. For what it’s worth, I am a direct descendant of Daniel Boone, so when I see a full chapter on his life written as an intro to an important book, it catches my interest.
I’m pretty sure I’ve read more books about this pioneer who opened the Wilderness Road than most Americans, and most of my peers. That he has been a personal inspiration goes without saying. The URL for this blog is Pioneer Productions. (pioneerproductions.blogspot.com)
While researching my roots, in order to verify the historical narrative that had been passed down through the family, I discovered that our Newman lineage wasn’t descended from just one, but from two daughters of Daniel Boone. A pair of second generation cousins married to become the progenitor of the Newman line.
All this to say that I know quite a bit about the Boone legacy, and have been continually learning more. For example, it wasn’t until I moved to Northern Minnesota that I learned what he did for a living. He was a long hunter. Or, in the lingo of this region Up North, he was a Voyageur.
Voyageurs were French Canadian trappers and hunters who would go off into the wilderness for months at a time and return with beaver pelts and other game that they had gathered and hauled back to be sold in the markets back East. The Upper Midwest has a more recent history of these kinds of men, by which means I came to understand that Boone was a similar specimen from a much earlier earlier time.
As a long hunter, he learned the best routes to where the most wild game could be found. Through these explorations he learned of the Cumberland Gap which enabled him to gain access to regions West of the Appalachian Mountains. As a result he was commissioned to cut a 200 mile swath through the mountains that would later be tagged the Wilderness Road.
AND SO it was interesting to discover this first chapter of the book dedicated to shining a light on this frontiersman. Though considered a hero today, these long hunters were not all that respected by the powers that be in their day. They lived on society’s fringe and were, to some extent, nonconformists. According to Immerwahl, “The founders viewed frontiersmen like him with open suspicion.”
Immerwahl, though, sheds additional light on another aspect of Daniel Boone’s story: his international fame. He was increasingly well known in Europe.
During his lifetime, he was not respected by the powers that be, Immerwahl says, nor did he have high regard for them. At one time he oversaw a million acres in Kentucky and lived as a surveyor. Unfortunately, because he failed to properly file “deeds” the many friends whose lands he surveyed lost their land and he made right to them by giving them his own land. In the end, he had no land of his own which prompted him to leave the country.
He pretty much came to despise the legal systems that later in life cost him everything he had. In his twilight years he and his surviving sons moved to what is now Missouri which was a Spanish territory that eventually became U.S. territory through the Louisiana Purchase.
His reputation grew after his death. James Fennimore Cooper based his Leatherstocking novels on the exploits of Daniel Boone. Boone also became famous in Europe, as noted in this section of an Amazon account of his life.
The legend of the American frontier is largely the legend of a single individual, Daniel Boone, who looms over our folklore like a giant. Boone figures in other traditions as well: Goethe held him up as the model of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “natural man,” and Lord Byron devoted several stanzas of his epic poem Don Juan to the frontiersman, calling Boone “happiest of mortals any where.”
But folklore is not history, and we are fortunate to have a reliable and factual life of Boone through the considerable efforts of John Mack Faragher. The contradictory admirer of Indians who participated in their destruction, the slaveholder who cherished liberty, the devoted family man who prized solitude and would disappear into the woods for years at a time — the real Boone is far more interesting than the mythical image, and in this book we finally catch sight of him.
What Immerwahr notes is that the people on the fringe, who had once been “banditti” (white savages) and a thorn in the side for the “gentlemen” rulers who attempted to maintain control of the young nation’s development, were later being called pioneers and spoken of as heroes. In other words, historians re-branded Daniel Boone and his ilk.
Boone was a peaceful man whose one regret was that in the defense of Boonesboro and the settlements of Kentucky he was forced three times to take the life of a Native American. He was a man highly respected by the Native tribes and at one time he was adopted into an Ohio tribe where he lived for two years. His was a remarkable story and he was truly a man bigger than life.
Two Paragraphs from Wikipedia
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. Although he also became a businessman, soldier and politician who represented three different counties in the Virginia General Assembly following the American Revolutionary War, Boone is most famous for his exploration and settlement of what is now Kentucky. Although on the western side of the Appalachian Mountains from most European-American settlements, Kentucky remained part of Virginia until it became a state in 1791.
As a young adult, Boone supplemented his farm income by hunting and trapping game, and selling their pelts in the fur market. Through this work, Boone first learned the easy routes westward. Despite some resistance from Native American tribes such as the Shawnee, in 1775, Boone blazed his Wilderness Road from North Carolina and Tennessee through Cumberland Gap in the Cumberland Mountains 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.
As for me, he was and always will be my great-great-great-great-great-great Grandpa.
Originally published at https://pioneerproductions.blogspot.com.