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Happy Birthday, Daniel Boone!

Daniel Boone
The above 1820 portrait is the only known portrait of him created during his lifetime.

American explorer and frontiersman Daniel Boone was born on November 2, 1734, in a log cabin in Exeter Township, near Reading, Pennsylvania. His father, Squire Boone, Sr., was a blacksmith and a weaver who met his wife, Sarah Morgan, in Pennsylvania after emigrating from England. They were Quakers. Daniel Morgan, famous for his win at the Battle of Cowpens, was a first cousin to this Daniel.

Daniel, the couple’s sixth child, received little formal education. Boone learned how to read and write from his mother, and his father taught him wilderness survival skills. Boone was given his first rifle when he was 12 years old. He quickly proved himself a talented woodsman and hunter, boldly shooting his first bear when most children his age were too frightened.

Boone Home in Pennsylvania

At age 15, Boone moved with his family to Rowan County, North Carolina, on the Yadkin River, where he started his own hunting business.

Daniel Boone did not attend school. His older brother’s wife taught him to read and write. Though he mastered the basics, Boone’s grammar and spelling remained poor. Boone could sign his name, though, which set him apart from most frontiersmen, who used an “X” for their signature.

Boone traveled the frontier wearing buckskin leggings and a loose-fitting shirt made of animal skin. On his leather belt he attached ahunting knife a hatchet, a powder horn, and a bullet pouch. Many images portray Boone wearing a coonskin cap, which was popular with trappers. Boone preferred wide-brimmed beaver felt hats to keep the sun out of his eyes.

In August 1756, Boone wed Rebecca Bryan, and the couple set up stakes in the Yadkin Valley. Over a 24-year period, the couple would have 10 children together. At first Boone found himself content with what he described as the perfect ingredients to a happy life: “A good gun, a good horse and a good wife.” But adventure stories Boone had heard from a teamster while on march ignited Boone’s interest in exploring the American frontier.

1778 depiction of Boonesboro

Boone’s fame stems from his exploits during the exploration and settlement of Kentucky. One time he said, “I can’t say as ever I was lost, but I was bewildered once for three days.” He first arrived in the future state in 1767 and spent the better part of the next 30 years exploring and settling the lands of Kentucky, including carving out the Wilderness Road and building the settlement station of Boonesboro.  His son, Nathan Boone, was the first white man born in Kentucky.

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

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.

Walt Disney hired Fess Parker to bring Daniel Boone to life in a series by the hero’s name. It ran for six seasons, and my brother and I enjoyed each episode. The theme song described this hero as the “the rippin’est, roarin’est, fightin’est man the frontier ever knew,” and we believed it.

As Daniel Boone said, “I was happy in the midst of dangers and inconveniences.”

On September 26, 1820, Daniel Boone died of natural causes at his home in Femme Osage Creek, Missouri. He was 85 years old.

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