Sunday, March 23, 2008

Podcast Appalachia: "Daniel Boone"



Hello, and welcome to Podcast Appalachia. I’m John Norris Brown.

Before we get started, I want to thank everyone who has given me feedback on this podcast. I really appreciate it. This podcast is very much a work in progress, so I’m always interested in what listeners think. If you have any comments about the show, or have any subjects you’d like to hear discussed, please do not hesitate to contact me. You can e-mail me at

With that out of the way, let’s get down to business.

When we last spoke, we looked at some of the early explorers of the Appalachian region. Today, I want to examine one of the most important of these explorers in greater detail. This explorer is Daniel Boone, one of the most famous Americans who ever lived, and a name that is known by virtually everyone, regardless of their knowledge of history. In this episode, I will present a brief biography of Daniel Boone and attempt to separate the facts from the myths.

Daniel Boone became one of the greatest folk heroes in American history. A skilled hunter, frontiersman, and Indian fighter, Boone would become a legend in his own time and was instrumental in encouraging the “pioneer spirit” and an inspiration for countless writers, explorers, and pioneers, including James Fennimore Cooper, whose Hawkeye character from The Last of the Mohicans is largely based on Boone.

Daniel Boone was born in Pennsylvania on November 2, 1734, the son of Squire and Sarah Morgan Boone. His grandfather, George Boone, had immigrated to the New World from England in 1717.

When young Daniel was about 10 years old, his father bought 25 acres of land about six miles from their home. Daniel and his mother went to work tending the cattle on this land. During the summer they lived in a small cabin on the land. During this time, Daniel would spend much time exploring the forest, which probably helped influence him toward his later exploits.

At age 12 Daniel was given his first gun by his father. He immediately began hunting and quickly became a skilled shooter. He often brought home game for his family to eat. As he hunted in the forest, he was also exploring. Not surprisingly, his hunts began taking him further and further into the wilderness.

The Boone family were staunch Quakers, dating back to George Boone’s conversion in England during the early 18th century. However, Squire’s children seemed a bit rebellious, as two of them married outside of the church, which was strictly forbidden. Squire defended his children, telling church leaders they could marry whomever they wished. The dispute escalated as both sides refused to back down. Eventually Squire himself was disowned by the church in 1748. Some historians contend this was a major reason why Squire moved his family out of Pennsylvania; others contend that poor crops were to blame.

Regardless of the reason, Squire and his family left Pennsylvania in 1750. At first they moved into the Great Valley of Virginia. They remained here for about a year until they moved again, this time to the Yadkin Valley in North Carolina, which was then very much the frontier.

As a young man Daniel joined the North Carolina militia and served during the French and Indian War. It was during his service that he met John Findley, who would later accompany him on several of his adventures.

Following his service, Daniel married Rebecca Bryan in 1756. At this time he was 22 years old. The couple would go on to have at least 10 children.

In the early 1760s, Boone began his long hunts. He is first known to have crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1760. In 1767, he first set foot inside what would become Kentucky. Following his return to North Carolina, he and a friend began guiding hunting parties deeper into the frontier.

In 1769 Boone returned to Kentucky, this time with his friend John Findley, and four others. They passed through the Cumberland Gap to enter Kentucky, and remained there hunting and exploring for two years before returning to North Carolina.

The land that would eventually become the Commonwealth of Kentucky must have made a powerful impression on Daniel for he could not remain away for very long. In 1773 he organized yet another expedition to the region, this time with the goal of establishing a permanent settlement there. This effort was doomed to failure, however, when Native Americans opposed to white settlers in the region attacked. Several members of Boone’s party were killed in the attack, including one of Daniel’s sons.

In 1775 Boone returned yet again to Kentucky, this time as a speculator. As he journeyed from the Cumberland Gap to the present location of Boonesborough, Daniel cut through the wilderness, establishing a road to be used by future settlers. This road would become known as the legendary Wilderness Road and became the main route west. It would go on to be used by more than 200,000 people entering the Kentucky frontier.

Boone’s conflicts with Native Americans would become the stuff of legends. In 1776 his 14 year old daughter, Jemima, and two other girls were kidnapped from Boonesborough by a party of three Shawnee and two Cherokee. Settlers had heard the screams, and soon Daniel himself was in hot pursuit. Three days later, he and his party caught up to the kidnappers and rescued the girls. When she first heard the gunshots of the rescuers, Jemima is said to have exclaimed “That’s Daddy!’ A year later the Shawnee attack Boonesborough, wounding Daniel in the process.

While serving in the War for Independence, Daniel himself was captured by the Shawnees. During his time in captivity, he gained the trust of a Shawnee chief, who became almost like a father to him. Daniel was able to use this trust to help himself escape. Ironically, this chief was the father of one of the Shawnee who kidnapped Boone’s daughter and who had been killed during the rescue. While a prisoner, he had learned of a planned attack on Boonesborough by the Shawnee and British and was able to warn the settlement.

By 1782 Boone was a lieutenant colonel in the Fayette County militia. He fought at the Battle of the Blue Licks, one of the last battles of the War for Independence, actually having been fought after Cornwallis’ surrender at Yorktown. This battle occurred in what is now Robertson County, KY. The battle began when about 50 British rangers and 300 Native Americans attacked 182 Kentuckians. Predictably, given these numbers, the battle was a defeat for the Kentuckians. Among those lost was another of Daniel’s sons, Israel.

In 1783 or 1784 Boone met John Filson, an author and former school teacher. In 1784 Filson published a book entitled The Discovery, Settlement And present State of Kentucke which included a section entitled “The Adventures of Daniel Boon,” a highly romantic account of Boone’s life that was largely factual and based on interviews with Boone himself. The book was very popular and was translated into several languages, making Daniel Boone an instant celebrity. Later authors like Timothy Flint would publish more embellished accounts of Boone’s life and help his legend to grow.

Daniel moved his family again, this time to Limestone, a settlement located on the Ohio River, in either 1785 or 1786. He operated a store and tavern in the community, as well as a surveying business. Unfortunately for him, this latter endeavor would prove disastrous, as he was sued by many former clients over disputed land claims.

These legal problems probably contributed to his decision to leave Kentucky, which he did in 1788. This time he relocated to Point Pleasant, VA (now WV). In Point Pleasant, Boone ran a store, and of course, continued to hunt. A few years later he would move again, this time to a remote cabin near present day Charleston, WV.

Daniel would return to Kentucky yet again in 1795, settling on the Brushy Fork of Hinkston Creek. Unfortunately, his stay was not a happy one; he was frequently called into court over land disputes. Boone had acquired many large tracts of land in Kentucky, but he would lose them all due to disputed land claims.

In 1798, Daniel’s son, Daniel Morgan Boone, returned from Missouri with an invitation from Lt. Gov. Trudeau for Daniel to settle in his territory, which was then under the control of Spain. Probably at least partially due to his legal troubles, Daniel accepted and moved to Missouri in 1799.

Sadly, Daniel still could not escape his legal problems. In 1803, Missouri was acquired by the United States through the Louisiana Purchase. Although the U.S. government assured settlers that their land claims would be honored, Boone soon learned that the U.S. might not recognize his land claims in the territory, as he could not prove he had improved the lands, or even lived on them. Even more devastatingly, he had never registered the deeds with officials in New Orleans. Thus, an exasperated Daniel Boone found himself embroiled in yet another land dispute.

In 1809, a land commission ruled against Boone, and he lost most of his lands in Missouri. In poor health by this point, and the ruling almost certainly did not help. Later that year he petitioned Congress for the recovery of his land claims. Finally, five years later in1814, his land was returned to him. Unfortunately, he had to sell most of it in order to pay off his debts in Kentucky.

In 1810 Boone departed on one of his final adventures, joining a hunting expedition to the upper Missouri. No one knows exactly how far this expedition went, but some believe it may have made it all the way to Yellowstone. If this story is accurate, it would be an incredible accomplishment for Boone, who was then 75 years old.

In 1813 Daniel’s wife Rebecca died. Seven years later, Daniel passed away as well, and was laid to rest next to her in Defiance, MO. In 1835 they returned to Kentucky for good, as their remains were moved to Frankfort Cemetery in Frankfort, KY. Thus Daniel at last returned to the state where he had had most of his adventures.

Even in death, legends continued to grow around Daniel Boone. One legend states that the wrong remains were exhumed from Missouri and buried in Kentucky. Although most historians dismiss this legend, it’s interesting to note that two cemeteries—Frankfort Cemetery in Frankfort, KY and Old Bryan Farm cemetery in Missouri—both claim to have his remains.

The sources for this episode are Encyclopedia of Appalachia, edited by Rudy Abramson and Jean Haskell, In the Footsteps of Daniel Boone by Randell Jones, and Boone: A Biography, by Robert Morgan.

That’s it for today. As always, thanks to the 1937 Flood for allowing me to use their music, and thank you for listening. A transcript of this and previous episodes of this podcast is available at If you want to get in touch with me, please do so. My e-mail address is I hope you have a nice day, and we will speak again soon.

1 comment:

Adam said...

I love your podcast. The subject matter is very interesting beacause I was born and raised in Erwin, TN and now live and work in Morristown, TN. I do have one complaint. The volume of your podcast makes it very hard to listen to. The intro music is extremely loud, but then you can hardly hear your voice throughout the podcast. I had the volume turned all the up on my iPod and could just barely hear you. I would love to keep listening to your podcast, but this makes it very hard to do so.