Golden Nuggets from U. S. History

The Blue Quill Series
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Daniel Boone Explores Kentucky

[NOTE: Spelling in quoted text is from original documents.]

Teddy Roosevelt was an admirer of Daniel Boone and wrote:

". . .He was born in Pennsylvania in 1734, but when only a boy had been brought with the rest of his family to the banks of the Yadkin in North Carolina. Here he grew up, and as soon as he came of age he married, built a log hut, and made a clearing, whereon to farm like the rest of his backwoods neighbors. . ."

That passage does not reveal the true nature of Boone because it fails to point out his incessant roving. Boone tended the small farm only in season. After planting or harvesting he was off on another sojourn to see "what was there" in the mountains of North Carolina, East Tennessee, Western Virginia, or Kentucky.

His most famous trek was an extended trip into Kentucky and Boone wrote about his adventure.

"It was on the first of May, in the year 1769, that I resigned my domestic happiness for a time, and left my family and peaceable habitation on the Yadkin River, in North Carolina, to wander through the wilderness of America, in quest of the country of Kentucky, in company with John Finley, John Stewart, Joseph Holden, James Monay, and William Cool.

"We proceeded successfully, and after a long and fatiguing journey through a mountainous wilderness, in a westward direction, on the seventh day of June following we found ourselves on Red-River, where John Finley had formerly been trading with the Indians, and, from the top of an eminence, saw with pleasure the beautiful level of Kentucky.

"Here let me observe, that for some time we had experienced the most uncomfortable weather as a prelibation of our future sufferings. At this place we encamped, and made a shelter to defend us from the inclement season, and began to hunt and reconnoitre the country. We found every where abundance of wild beasts of all sorts, through this vast forest. The buffalo were more frequent than I have seen cattle in the settlements, browzing on the leaves of the cane, or cropping the herbage on those extensive plains, fearless, because ignorant, of the violence of man. Sometimes we saw hundreds in a drove, and the numbers about the salt springs were amazing. In this forest, the habitation of beasts of every kind natural to America, we practiced hunting with great success, until the twenty-second day of December following."

On this day, as Boone describes it, he and John Stewart were hunting together near the Kentucky River when "a number of Indians rushed out of a thick cane-brake upon us, and made us prisoners." Boone and Stewart were held prisoners for seven days until they escaped "in the dead of night."

They made their way back to their old camp but found it plundered. Later, looking for the others in their party they ran into Boone's brother "Squire [Richard Henderson] Boon" and another man who had come looking for them. Boone relates that:

"Soon after this, my companion in captivity, John Stewart, was killed by the savages, and the man that came with my brother returned home by himself. We were then in a dangerous, helpless situation, exposed daily to perils and death amongst savages and wild beasts, not a white man in the country but ourselves."

The other four members of Boone's party had returned to North Carolina during the captivity of Boone and Stewart.

The perils notwithstanding, Daniel and Richard built a cabin and remained in Kentucky through the winter. On May 1, 1770, his brother returned to North Carolina "for a new recruit of horses and ammunition, leaving me by myself, without bread, salt or sugar, without company of my fellow creatures, or even a horse or dog."

While his brother was away, Boone experienced loneliness for his family and after a few days went West to explore the Ohio River and the western boundaries of Kentucky. His writings reveal feelings common to anyone in such circumstances. He states in his account,

"...In this situation I was constantly exposed to danger and death. How unhappy such a situation for a man tormented with fear, which is vain if no danger comes, and if it does, only augments the pain. It was my happiness to be destitute of this afflicting passion, with which I had the greatest reason to be affected."

Reality, however, would indicate that the "passion of fear" must have been present because he thought and wrote about it.

On July 27, 1770, his brother returned for their rendezvous. Boone then writes,

"Shortly after, we left this place, not thinking it safe to stay there longer, and proceeded to Cumberland River, reconnoitring that part of the country until March, 1771, and giving names to the different waters.

"Soon after, I returned home to my family, with a determination to bring them as soon as possible to live in Kentucky, which I esteemed a second paradise, at the risk of my life and fortune."

Two years later, in 1773, Boone sold his farm and other possessions and on September 25, with five other families, left for Kentucky. They made excellent progress until they reached Powell Valley, which is within 150 miles of their destination. There, forty men joined them and on the October 10, they were attacked from the rear by Indians and lost six men including Boone's oldest son. Boone describes the aftermath,

"Though we defended ourselves, and repulsed the enemy, yet this unhappy affair scattered our cattle, brought us into extreme difficulty, and so discouraged the whole company, that we retreated forty miles, to the settlement on Clinch River."

Boone reveals his impression of the Appalachian Mountains,

"Over these, nature hath formed passes that are less difficult than might be expected from a view of such huge piles. The aspect of these cliffs is so wild and horrid, that it is impossible to behold them without terror. The spectator is apt to imagine that nature had formerly suffered some violent convulsion; and that there are the dismembered remains of the dreadful shock; the ruins, not of Persepolis or Palmyra, but of the world!"

Now we know that Boone was exactly right. They were formed by "violent convulsions" and are in fact "the dismembered remains of the dreadful shock."

After their terrible experience and sad winter, the party moved on into Kentucky and Boone soon became famous. He was recruited by Governor Dunmore of Virginia to provide protection for surveyors and "by a number of North Carolina gentlemen ... to negociate" with the Indians on their behalf for land investments and to mark out roads into Kentucky. One of these investors was Daniel's brother, Squire Richard Henderson Boone.

Boone arrived at his destination when he was forty years old. Having reached his paradise he was free to live the life he so passionately desired, pausing only occasionally to earn enough to provide for his family.

Teddy Roosevelt best summarizes the remainder of Boone's life.

"With Boone hunting and exploration were passions, and the lonely life of the wilderness, with its bold, wild freedom, the only existence for which he really cared. He was a tall, spare, sinewy man, with eyes like an eagle's, and muscles that never tired; the toil and hardship of his life made no impress on his iron frame, unhurt by intemperance of any kind, and he lived for eighty-six years, a backwoods hunter to the end of his days."

Philosophos Historia

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