“Daniel Boone was a man, Yes, a big man!
With an eye like an eagle
And as tall as a mountain was he!”
These lyrics from the popular song “Daniel Boone” by Vera Matson and Lionel Newman conjure up the romantic images that most people have of Daniel Boone. The Boone of myth and legend is America’s first folk hero. He is the noble independent frontiersman always on the move looking for new lands to explore.
He was America’s first real life action hero. Boone was even an inspiration for the romantic poetry movement that occurred in Europe in the early 1800’s. Boone was seen as the “Natural Man,” a self-reliant man who lives an uncomplicated virtuous life in the wilderness free from the constraints of society and the influence of politics. A man close to nature and guided by his own sense of conscience.
Lord Byron depicted Boone as such in his epic poem, “Don Juan” published in 1822. A number of the poem’s stanzas are devoted to Boone including the following.
“Of the great names which in our faces stare,
The General Boon, back-woodsman of Kentucky,
Was happiest amongst mortals any where;
For killing nothing but a bear or buck, he
Enjoyed the lonely vigorous, harmless days
Of his old age in wilds of deepest maze.”
How a real life man who always described himself first and last as a woodsman became a legend had as much to do with good press as a heroic life. “The Adventures of Colonel Daniel Boon” published in John Filson’s “The Discovery, Settlement and present State of Kentucky” and “Biographical Memoir of Daniel Boone” by Timothy Flint 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 as legends.
The real Boone actually lived a more complicated life and the man himself was a much more complicated individual than Byron’s poem would suggest. Boone’s own family considered Flint’s book to be absurd. The actual Boone did fight Indians but claimed to have killed only three. He was a probably a little shorter than the average size man during his day, but was considered to be strong and solidly built. Boone himself summed it up by saying, “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.”
On November 19, 2007 the Iredell County Public Library hosted author Robert Morgan who lectured on his book on Boone titled, “Boone, A Biography.”
Joel Reese, Local History Librarian
Iredell County Public Library
This article appeared in the Statesville Record and Landmark as “The reality of Boone more complicated than his legend” on Nov. 7, 2007