Reel American HistoryHistory on trial Main Page

AboutFilmsFor StudentsFor TeachersBibliographyResources

Films >> With Daniel Boone Through the Wilderness (1926) >>

See the extensive bibliography (divided into print, video/audio, and online resources) below the essay.

The Life and Legend of Daniel Boone

[1] The legend of Daniel Boone was so glorified and manipulated throughout the 18th and 19th centuries that it is somewhat difficult to identify where the facts end and the myths begin. Boone's story was discovered and totally rewritten by the numerous "autobiographies" supposedly written and endorsed by Boone himself. In fact, Daniel Boone never wrote an autobiography. He was barely literate and was infuriated by the manipulation of the facts of his life by these hagiographers. Boone actually wanted to sue his own nephew for publishing one of these hagiographies. Through much belabored and careful research, historians have been able to separate fact from fancy and deduce the events that most probably composed the life of Daniel Boone.

[2] Daniel Boone was born in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in 1735, though the actual date and year is often disputed. He was the son of an English immigrant, Squire Boone, and lived in a frontier settlement in Pennsylvania until age 18, at which point he and his family moved to the Yadkin River Valley in North Carolina. It was here that Boone married Rebecca Bryant and started a family. In 1769 Boone and a few companions set out to explore the Kentucky frontier. During this excursion, Boone was twice captured by the Indians, with whom the settlers were in constant conflict. He escaped both times but did not return home yet. He eventually met up with his brother, Squire Boone, Jr. who was later killed by Indians, and they explored the Kentucky wilderness until 1771. A couple years later he returned with his entire family to live, Rebecca being one of the first white women to live in Kentucky (Faragher Daniel...).

[3] Boone was soon exploring the frontier again, as he was commissioned to survey the Kentucky wilderness and was also put in charge of several frontier forts. Boone, now an army officer, established Boonesborough, a fort on the Kentucky river. Much of this time Boone was in charge of a number of soldiers employed to keep the Indians at bay. Boone claimed to have only killed one Indian in his life, but many historians doubt that figure tremendously. Many of the film representations of Boone's life contain a villain named Simon Gerty. Gerty is usually depicted as an evil white man who leads groups of Indians to attack Boone and other whites. This character is based on an actual person, although not much is known about the specifics of Simon Gerty's actual life (

[4] In 1778, in a mission to obtain a supply of salt, Boone and a small party were captured by Indians. This time Boone did not escape so quickly, and he was forced to live as an adopted member of an Indian family for awhile. While he was with the Indians, he uncovered a plot by the British to get the Indians to attack Boonesborough. Boone finally escaped and returned to Boonesborough only to find that Rebecca had taken their children to North Carolina, fearing that he had been killed by the Indians. Boone and his garrison repelled the Indians, but Boone was not immediately rewarded for his actions. He had to defend himself against some ridiculous court-martials, was acquitted, and was finally promoted to major. (Filson The Discovery...)

[5] Boone's family returned to live in Boonesborough. They lived there for another fifteen years or so until Boone and many of the other original Kentucky settlers lost most of their possessions in a legal battle over land rights. Boone and his family, with the exception of two sons who had been killed by Indians, headed for Missouri. He was appointed magistrate of the district -- Missouri was Spanish territory at the time -- but he promptly lost all the new land he personally acquired in a similar title dispute. Boone was awarded one last tract of land and lived out the rest of his days in Missouri. Legend has it that he made a last return visit to Kentucky to pay off his debts, leaving only fifty cents to his name. Daniel Boone died in 1820, seven years after his wife (Filson The Discovery...).

[6] John Filson's hagiographic narrative was the first of many pieces that turned the events of Daniel Boone's life into a legend of tall-tale proportions. That narrative detailed Boone's explorations of Kentucky from approximately 1769 to 1780. Several others were soon to follow. Before long, the legend of Daniel Boone overshadowed the life of the actual man. He was rumored to have "kilt a bar" and commemorated the event by carving it into a nearby tree. "D. Boon kilt a bar" was soon carved on trees all over Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Missouri, and practically everywhere else Boone was rumored to have passed through at one point or another.

[7] Several other myths were perpetuated by Boone's "biographers." The Boone of myth was physically superior to all men, whites and Indians alike. He was charismatic, cunning, and a great leader. Like Robin Hood, he could shoot straighter than was humanly possible. He supposedly spoke with an eloquence far beyond the capabilities of learned men, much less uneducated like himself. More than anything, though, he became the embodiment of all that was considered good and just. In short, Daniel Boone represented the ideal man to 19th century Americans. Men and boys everywhere began wearing deerskins and coonskin caps, even though Boone probably never wore a coonskin cap in reality (Fishwick).

[8] Boone may not have lived up to his legend, but that is somewhat irrelevant. Perhaps more important is what Americans actually believed then and now. The implications inherent within the Daniel Boone legend are far-reaching and not exactly beneficial. Great power lies within mass consciousness. When millions of people all believe one idea, they will move mountains-- or as in this case-- wipe out an indigenous people and populate an entire continent.

Print Resources

Aron, Stephen Anthony. How the West Was Lost: The Transformation of Kentucky from Daniel Boone to Henry Clay. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1986.
By orthodox understanding, the transformation of Kentucky from Daniel Boone to Henry Clay encapsulates the familiar saga of the winning of the West. What Boone, the hunter of game and Indians, helped initiate, Clay, the apostle of political compromise and economic development, helped culminate: the conversion of Kentucky and the trans-Appalachian West from "untamed" wilderness to "civilized" emporium. For generations of hagiographers and historians, the lives of Boone and Clay, and the times in which the two most famous Kentuckians played such a prominent part, illustrated the exceptional course of American history. In reconstructing the passage of Kentucky from the world of Daniel Boone to that of Henry Clay, this dissertation reprises and revises the conventional history of frontier progress. This interpretation of times in the lives of Boone and Clay attempts to explain how the way of life associated with Daniel Boone was lost and how it was that Henry Clay and his backers -- merchants, lawyers, land speculators, and slave-owners -- achieved economic and political dominance. The thesis explores what the hegemony of these men of competitive and acquisitive inclinations entailed for those still wedded to subsistent ways of living and thinking. Annotation taken from the dissertation abstract by Stephen Anthony Aron.
Faragher, John Mack. "But a Common Man." American History Illustrated. Nov./Dec. 1992: 28-37, 66-73.
A short, informative account of Boone's life from childhood to death, this article explains the parental and social factors that turned Boone into a well-known pioneer.  The purportedly true events concerning Boone's life are presented here in a clear prose style.  The article also gives Boone's opinions of the exaggerated stories told of him.  Boone almost invariably hated the yarn-like stories, excepting only Filson's.  Faragher's article is a bit pro-Boone but leaves the reader with a good feel for Boone's personality based on probable deductions made by Faragher and other historians.
Faragher, John Mack. Daniel Boone: The Life and Legend of an American Pioneer. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1992.
This is the best modern biography of the American pioneer hero, Daniel Boone.  This book details every period of Boone's life, giving the reader a good understanding of the context of the Boone legend and its cultural effects.  Faragher acknowledges the reality that even the most solid "facts" concerning the life of Daniel Boone may be nothing more than lore and treats them as such.  Nonetheless, Faragher's careful diligence as a historian and his skill in critical interpretation have made him an authority on Daniel Boone.
Lawlor, Mary. "The Fictions of Daniel Boone." Desert, Garden, Margin, Range: Literature on the American Frontier. Ed. Eric Heyne. New York: Twayne Publishers and Maxwell Macmillan International, 1992.
Desert, Garden, Mountain, Range is an anthology of analyses of historical frontier heroes. The Daniel Boone story, not to be omitted from this list, is examined by Mary Lawlor. Borrowing from theories postulated by previous frontier scholars such as Richard Slotkin, Henry Nash Smith, John Cawelti, Lucy Lockwood Hazard, and Stephen Raillton, Lawlor presents some advanced theories and interpretations concerning various Boone literature. She analyzes Filson's and Cooper's work extensively and has lots of interesting, valid points to make. This might be a good resource for the advanced Boone student, but much of it will be over the heads of everyone else.
Shecter, Harold, and Jonna G. Semeiks. " Leatherstocking in 'Nam." Journal of Popular Culture 21.4 (1991): 177-85.
Shecter and Semeiks make an interesting comparison in this essay. They take great care to show the subtle, but important, similarities between Richard Slotkin's interpretation of Boone in Regeneration Through Violence and the mega-success of the movies Rambo: First Blood, Part II (1985) and Platoon (1986). These movies both employ the familiar Boone motif that "involves a respectable, law-abiding individual -- a solid citizen -- who, in Slotkin's words, "embarks on a quest that takes him figuratively or literally, back in time into a primitive world and downward into his own consciousness, until the basic or primitive core of the psyche is revealed" (Shecter 20). Somehow, extreme hardship and separation from the known world are linked in these stories to growth and renewal. Not until one can shed all remnants of civilization and enter an environment filled with the evil "other" (i.e. the Vietcong or the Indians). Only by working only with the tools provided by nature and conquering the indigenous enemy can this sort of hero truly become whole. The heroes in these two movies clearly seem to fall into many of the same patterns set by the glorified legend of Daniel Boone.
Slotkin, Richard. Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860. Middleton: Wesleyan UP, 1973.
The premise of this authoritative book is that the American frontier served to allow Americans to redefine their cultural identity, but that in order to do this, a violent purging of the wild from the wilderness, which ultimately meant defeating the Indians, had to occur. The rise of the frontier hero, the earliest and arguably most notable being Daniel Boone, was an inevitable and necessary part of this process. Slotkin gives critical analyses of the reasons Boone became the legend that he did and also of the myriad of ways that myth subsequently affected the course of American history. Slotkin's indispensable book is, in this reader's opinion, the last word on Daniel Boone.
Smith, Henry Nash. "Daniel Boone: Empire Builder or Philosopher of Primitivism?" Virgin Land; the American West as Symbol and Myth. New York: Vintage Books, 1957 (c1950).
The title of Chapter V pretty much sums up Smith's perception of Boone. Smith's well-documented and well-researched point is that Boone was seen by 19th century Americans as "the harbinger of civilization and refinement," but at the same time thought of as a "cultural primitivist." Oddly, these historical representations of Boone stand in seeming opposition to one another. The next chapter also bears relevance in that it identifies the ways in which James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans is based, in part, on Boone and events from his life.
Sweeney, J. Gray. The Columbus of the Woods: Daniel Boone and the Typology of Manifest Destiny. St. Louis: Washington University Gallery of Art, 1992.
The Columbus of the Woods is a well-researched book that examines the symbiotic relationship of art and history in relation to the myths connected with Daniel Boone. Identifying the ways in which art influences history and history influences art is a slippery task. In 1992, Sweeney, in conjunction with the Washington University Gallery of Art in St. Louis, compiled an extensive exhibit composed of many of the most notable works of art concerning westward expansion and/or Daniel Boone. This book details the history of every piece in the exhibit, examining both the surface and subterranean meanings implicit in the images. As precursor to the image of the cowboy, the painted image of Boone symbolized America's fantasy with exploration and a new, better world, in short: Manifest Destiny. Sweeney follows the life of Boone-related art from it's beginnings to its sudden disappearance in the 1850's. Laser-quality reproductions of paintings, engravings, and sculptures grace many of this book's pages, including the famous works of William Ranney, George Caleb Bingham, Carl Wimar, and many others.

See Also

Amyx, Clifford. "The Authentic Image of Daniel Boone." Missouri Historical Review 82.2 (1988): 153-64.

Faragher, John Mack. "They May Say What They Please: Daniel Boone and the Evidence." Register of the Kentucky Historical Society. 1990.

Faragher, John Mack. Well in Halth But Deep in Markury: The Autumn Years of Daniel Boone. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1992.

Fishwick, Marshall William. American Heroes: Myth and Reality. Washington: Public Affairs Press, 1954.

Herman, Daniel J. "The Other Daniel Boone: The Nascence of a Middle-Class Hunter Hero 1784-1860." Journal of the Early Republic18.3 (Fall 1998): 429-57.

Houston, Peter. A Sketch of the Life and Character of Daniel Boone. Ed. Ted Franklin. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books, 1997.

Lofaro, Michael, A. The Life and Adventures of Daniel Boone. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 1978.

Miner, William Henry. Daniel Boone; A Contribution Toward a Bibliography of Writings Concerning Daniel Boone. New York: B. Franklin, 1970.

Moize, Elizabeth A., and William Strode. "Daniel Boone, First Hero of the Frontier." National Geographic 168 (Dec 1985): 812-50.

Seelye, John. "Captives, Captains, Cowboys, Indians: Frames of Reference and the American West." American Literary History 1995. New York, Oxford UP, 1995.

Smith, Carolyn. The Literary Image of Daniel Boone: a Changing Heroic Ideal in Nineteenth-Century and Twentieth-Century Popular Literature. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International, 1994.

Video/Audio Resources

Daniel Boone: The Life and Legend of an American Pioneer. Video. A & E.
In his struggles to open Kentucky to settlement, [Boone] blazed a trail that many American pioneers would follow. But in the countless tales of his exploits it is tough to separate fact from fiction. Daniel Boone's life embodied the rough-and-tumble world of the early American frontier. He fought in the French and IndianWar and was captured by Indians during the Revolution. In between he spent years exploring the wilds of Kentucky and built the first road into the virgin territory through the Cumberland Gap. [This film] explores the life of the fabled frontiersman through interviews with experts and period art and accounts. John Mack Faragher, author of Daniel Boone: The Life and Legend of an American Pioneer, explains why Boone became identified with the image of the pioneer, and separates fact from fiction in the countless tales of Boone's exploits. 50 minutes. (Unseen. Annotation taken from
How the West Was Lost. Video. Chris Wheeler, dir. and Jim Berger. Prod. Discovery Communications, Inc., 1993.
The film series is a documentary for the epic struggle for the West. It tells the story of five Native American nations: the Navajo, Nez Perce, Apache, Cheyenne, and Lakota. The film states that the Native Americans were not only fighting for their territory, but also their way of life. These films contain rare historical documents, recollections from Indian's descendants, and archival photographs. (Annotation by Jessica Baker Roche)
The Native Americans. Video. John Borden, dir. and Pat Mitchell prod. TBS Productions, Inc., 1994.
These portrayals of Native American life come in a six-part series. Native Americans tell their own stories against the backgrounds of five geographic regions. The series takes a journey through the history and culture of the North American lands the Native Americans call home. The series moves to tribes and their existences throughout various regions of the country starting from the southeast and working its way around the country. (Annotation by Jessica Baker Roche.)
The West. Video. Ken Burns, dir. and prod. PBS Video, 1996.
This film series deals with the original Native American inhabitants. It discusses the stories of the land and the environment that the people lived in. The West also discusses the coming of Europeans and the toll that it took on the Native Americans and their lifestyle. The series dates back to 100 years before the American Revolution to the present. (Annotation by Jessica Baker Roche)

Online Resources

The Adventures of Colonel Daniel Boon
The John Filson 1784 version.
The Adventures of Colonel Daniel Boon
The Gilbert Imlay 1793 version.
The Adventures of Colonel Daniel Boone [Archived]
The John Filson 1784 version.
Boone Ancestors and Descendants Homepage.
Quite a large study has been done regarding the geneology of Daniel Boone.  Descendants of Boone have formed a society or sort of cult following.  I was once told by relatives that even I am a descendant of Daniel Boone, although this fact is not so important to me or my family as it seems to be to many others.  This page gives a complete geneology of the entire Boone line, which apparently includes most of the population of Kentucky.
Daniel Boone Biography by Theodore Roosevelt. [Archived]
This site contains the text of an essay concerning Daniel Boone written by Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was a huge supporter of Boone and often wrote letters and essays relating to this frontier hero. Nothing earth-shattering is written here. The importance of these essays stem from the fact that one of America's best loved presidents often publicly extolled the merits of Daniel Boone. The effects that such endorsements can have on a country should be obvious.
The Daniel Boone Homestead Homepage.
Anyone interested in visiting the Daniel Boone homestead should check out this site. It has lots of recent photographs, some historical information, and a couple related links.
Daniel Boone Web Directory,_Daniel/
The Daniel Boone Web Directory is actually a page that someone created for the sole purpose of listing several links to different Boone-related sites.  This is a good starting point for further online research.
Historical Information on Daniel Boone. [Archived]
This site contains a great biography of Boone's life plus lots of random stuff that may or may not be of any help.
Rose, Julie K. Daniel Boone: Myth and Reality in American Consciousness. University of Virginia, 1995.
Although this is a project by a fellow undergraduate, do not underestimate the quality of work done by this UVA student. As Rose so eloquently states, "this project (attempts) to provide a cross-section of Boone portrayals, and. . . to place their points of view in historical context, based on the idea that a culture's myths and heroes explain who they are, and the true historical personages are less important than the image they become." She analyzes many contemporary and historical works of literature and art concerning the Daniel Boone myths, as well as giving an excellent chronology of Boone's life. The site itself is interesting, for not only has she included many important historical images throughout her essays and analyses, her page contains a link to similar UVA projects concerning other historical subjects.