Frontiersman: Daniel Boone And The Making Of America, by Meredith Mason Brown
This is the kind of book that I really enjoy reading, and enjoy all the more because Daniel Boone happens to be a surprisingly close relative of mine (a first cousin about ten times removed or so). In understanding Daniel Boone we understand some of the issues that plague early American history and even contemporary American history, where the insecurity of property rights for ordinary people remains an important theme (and one I had to deal with personally, no less). We see the problems between people and religious authorities, the insecurity of land ownership, the questions of reputation, and more. If Daniel Boone is one of the most consequential people in American history, he was by no means a wealthy man and was not the first American explorer or settler in Kentucky. The author seeks to write a history that is both fair-minded as well as laudatory and explanatory of the life of his fascinating subject. This is an example of a case where I wanted to read a book earlier than I did, as it would have helped me realize that my Boones were connected to him in a way that I did not realize before, but the author is certainly not to blame for that.
This book is almost 300 pages long and is divided chronologically into 22 chapters about the life and afterlife (of a sort) of Daniel Boone. The book begins with a preface and chronology and then begins in media res about Boone in old age (1), as well as the Quaker background of the Boones in Pennsylvania (2) and Boone’s early lesson in how not to fight Indians (3) at Braddock’s defeat. There is a discussion of his search for a good wife (4), his going on long hunts (5), and his first hunts in Kentucky (6). After that comes a discussion of Boone’s opening up of the wilderness (7) in Kentucky, the building of the Wilderness road and Boonesborough (8), and an introduction to Kentucky as a contested space during the American Revolution (9). There is a discussion of the capture and rescue of the girls (10), the capture (11) and escape (12) of Boone himself from the Shawnee, the siege of Boonesborough (13), the battle of the Blue Licks (14), as well as relations between whites and Indians in the immediate period after the Revolution (15). The author explores issues of land speculation (16), Boone’s status as a living legend with a shrinking fortune due to legal actions (17), and Boone’s travel to (18), and life in (19) Missouri. The author then discusses Boone’s last days (20) and his historical reputation (21) before ending with a coda (22), acknowledgements, notes, a bibliographical note, and an index.
There is something deeply poignant about Daniel Boone and his life. While he and I spring from different sides of the same family, mine which stayed mostly at home within Pennsylvania for generations (where I was born, actually), Daniel Boone wandered far and wide. He sought a freedom from some of the burdens of authority, but where he went, he blazed trails (literally and figuratively) for others to follow, and they did. By virtue of his ability to hunt, he drew other people who hunted the same animals to local extinction. His abilities to deal with the local native population encouraged others to come as well and lead to the demographic overwhelming of that population, which in turn brought the squabbles over title and property ownership that kept him poor and led him to travel yet again further into the wilderness. He was never able to find the success that his achievements deserved, and even after he died he remains a figure of mystery and complexity.