Attractive Statesville

Local History Notes

Notes about the history of Iredell County by Joel Reese, Local History Librarian.

View All Posts

Dec 30

Daniel Boone and Randell Jones

Posted on December 30, 2019 at 8:59 AM by Jenny Levins

If you went into a toy department back around Christmas you probably saw a number of action figure toys. Action figures usually represent real life heroes such as sports stars Peyton Manning, Kobe Bryant, and Jeff Gordon. Wrestling stars are big as well, along with fictional heroes like Captain America, Superman, and Spiderman.  Our country’s first live action hero though appeared in 1784. His name was Daniel Boone.

On Saturday, January 25th at 1 p.m. award-winning author and storyteller Randell Jones will be at the Iredell County Public Library to talk about the Boone of folklore and the real life man on whom the legends are based. Jones, who received his MBA from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1985, is the author of several award-winning books about America’s first frontier. Mr. Jones is a member of the Road Scholars Speakers Bureau of the North Carolina Humanities Council which is providing the grant funding for his lecture.

Among the books authored by Jones are “Daniel Boone Wagon Train: A Journey through the Sixties,” “Trailing Daniel Boone,” and “In the Footsteps of Daniel Boone.” Jones says Boone lived one of the fullest and most eventful lives in American history and lived 21 years in North Carolina before moving on to Kentucky. Boone was not a simple woodsman, but rather a more complex man who was hunter, frontier guide, wilderness scout, master woodsman, expert marksman, Indian fighter, militia leader, surveyor, land speculator, judge, sheriff, coroner, elected legislator, merchant, tavern keeper, prisoner of war, Spanish syndic, husband, and father.

The image we have of Boone today has been largely shaped by the “Daniel Boone” television series starring Fess Parker that ran from 1964 to 1970. The series depicted Boone as a tall man with a coonskin cap. The real Boone never wore a coonskin cap and was probably a little shorter than the average size man in his day, though he was considered to be strong and solidly built.  When he was captured by the Shawnee he was adopted into the tribe and given the name Sheltowee (Big Turtle) by Chief Blackfish observing Boone’s frame.

Boone became America’s first action hero with the publication of John Filson’s “The Adventures of Colonel Daniel Boon” in his book “The Discovery, Settlement And present State of Kentucke” in 1784. The book was soon translated into French and German and made Boone famous in America and Europe. In 1833 Timothy Flint released his, “Biographical Memoir of Daniel Boone, the First Settler of Kentucky” which became one of the best-selling biographies of the 19th century.  Flint’s book in particular embellished Boone’s life and adventures. Flint has Boone wrestling with bears, swinging on vines to escape Indians, and performing most of the tall tales that came down to us as legends.

Boone’s own family considered Flint’s book to be absurd. While Boone did fight Indians he claimed to have killed only three. Boone himself said, “Many heroic actions and chivalrous adventures are related of me which exist only in the regions of fancy. With me the world has taken great liberties, and yet I have been but a common man.” Boone became a symbol of the “Natural Man,” a self-reliant man who lives an uncomplicated virtuous life in the wilderness free from society and politics - a man close to nature and guided by his own sense of conscience. Even Lord Byron depicted Boone as a romantic hero of nature in his epic poem, “Don Juan” published in 1822.

Boone wasn’t just a legend. On July 14, 1776, Boone and Rebecca’s daughter Jemima with Elizabeth and Frances, the daughter of Colonel Richard Callaway were floating in a canoe on the Kentucky River near Boonesborough. Suddenly two Cherokee and three Shawnee warriors leaped into the water and grabbed the canoe pulling it to the bank as the girls screamed. The Indians led by Hanging Maw quickly moved the girls north toward the Shawnee towns across the Ohio River. Here the Boone of legend and Boone the man become one. Daniel quickly gathers a rescue party and sets out in chase. Using his forest and tracking skills Boone finds the Indians on the third morning as they are building a fire. As Boone and his men attack Jemima cries, “That’s Father’s gun!” 

The Indians escape leaving two dead and the girls unharmed. Jemima later married Flanders Callaway who was among her rescuers and would recall, "The Indians were kind to us, as much so as they well could have been, or their circumstances permitted." To learn more about Boone the man and legend come to the library this Saturday at 1 p.m.

Joel Reese, Local History Librarian

Iredell County Public Library

This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “Daniel Boone expert to speak”

Jan. 24, 2014