Daniel Boone Didn't Wear a Coonskin Cap!

Daniel Boone Didn't Wear a Coonskin Cap!
AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
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I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks. – Daniel Boone

Daniel Boone was an explorer, a hunter, a participant in The French and Indian War, a surveyor, an elected official, and one of America's first folk heroes. He was also a Pennsylvanian for the first 16 years of his life.

Boone was born in a log cabin in what is now Exeter Township on Nov. 2, 1734, the sixth of 11 children of Squire and Sarah Boone. During his formative years, he developed the traits that led to an exceptional life (which has been exaggerated by tall tales, movies and TV shows). The state purchased the property in the 1930s, and expanded it in the 1970s to its present 577 square yards. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on March 24, 1972.

In his biography of Boone, author Robert Morgan wrote:

“From the very beginning, the family sensed that Daniel was different from the other children. Lively, apparently tireless, curious, when young, he helped out in the family trades of blacksmithing, milling and farming. But family lore has it that from the very first, Daniel liked to roam in the woods.”

From an early age, 'ways of the wild' intrigued Boone

Boone's home area “was mostly forest then, a green world of rolling hills and small streams, and from his childhood Daniel preferred to wander and study the ways of the wild.” From local Native Americans, he learned how to track game and negotiate the wilderness. Boone was given his first rifle when he was 13, and often brought game home to supplement meals.

What put Boone on the map (pun intended) was creating a path through the Cumberland Gap, which enabled Americans and immigrants to move inland from the East Coast. The Appalachian Mountains were a natural barrier to westward expansion. Boone is credited with forging a trail that led to an opening between the mountains into Kentucky, then a wide-open region with rich soil and abundant game and fish. Word of the region's vast resources and farmland enticed settlers to journey through the Cumberland Gap and make new lives.

Boone would spend months in the wilderness, observing the trees, rivers, animals and even caves (where he carved his initials).

Another adventurer, John Filson, wrote a book called "The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke in 1784." One of its appendices was "The Adventures of Col. Daniel Boon; containing a Narrative of the Wars of Kentucke," which might have fictionalized some of Boone's exploits. The first edition of the book sold out, and was popular in England and translated into several languages. According to Morgan, “The book's vision of the 'natural man' had taken hold in advanced circles in Europe and helped present for the romantic legend of Daniel Boone, and the image of the wilderness, as the new Eden.” This image of Boone influenced writers from James Fenimore Cooper to William Wordsworth. Lord Byron referred to “Gen. Boone” in a passage from his 1822 epic poem, Don Juan.

Daniel Boone was a lousy businessman

Boone was an expert hunter and tracker, but he was far less successful in the “civilized” world: Businesses he started did poorly; many of his numerous surveys of Kentucky were challenged in court. He would finance his excursions by borrowing funds to obtain food, guns, etc., thinking when he returned with many animal skins he would then sell for a high amount, pay off his debts and procure a handsome profit.

However, many of his skins were stolen by Indians. Boone was sued several times for being in debt. He died on Sept. 26, 1820, in Missouri, while living with one of his sons. Boone had to sell many acres of land he owned to pay off debts. There have been several films and TV shows featuring Boone, most famously the series starring Fess Parker (who also played Davy Crockett), that ran from 1964-70. Incidentally, Parker donned a coonskin cap, which Boone never wore.

The cabin built by Squire Boone was a one room-edifice that had a loft and spring cellar. At one time, it housed the Boone family, relatives and apprentices, a total 17 people!

When Daniel Boone was 16, his father sold the property to William Maugridge, a relative who was a shipwright and carpenter. He completed the two-story stone home that Squire Boone had started to build in the 1740s.

Boone's parents had seven sons, and relatives had bought the land surrounding his farm; so Squire couldn't leave all his sons a substantial amount of land.  In 1750, he moved the family to North Carolina to purchase sizable acreage to leave to his children. Daniel Boone returned to his boyhood home in 1781 and 1788. Boone met his wife, Rebecca Bryan, in North Carolina. They married in 1756. Even though Boone would spend months in the wilderness, he and Rebecca had 10 children.

Boone's childhood home is now owned by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. (It is closed because of the pandemic.) For a time, it was operated by the Friends of the Daniel Boone Homestead, a nonprofit group. Tammy Schaeffer, a one-time president of the Friends' board of directors, said attendance usually increased when the History Channel aired a documentary on Boone. Many people who came to the site learned Boone was a native Pennsylvanian, she said.

“Kids don't know about him (when local schools visited),” said Schaeffer, “but the TV show from the 1960s still resonates with people who grew up watching it.”


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