Daniel Boone was an early American frontiersman who gained fame for his hunting and trailblazing expeditions through the Cumberland Gap, a natural pass through the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky. Boone achieved folk hero status during his lifetime, but much of his celebrated image is a mixture of fact, exaggerations and outright fabrications.
Boone was born on November 2, 1734, in Berks County, Pennsylvania, the sixth child of eleven born to immigrant Quaker parents, Squire and Sarah. He spent much of his childhood tending his family’s cattle and wandering the woods near his home.
Boone had no proper education but could read and write and often took reading material with him on his backwoods trips. He received his first rifle at age 12, learned to hunt and became a skilled marksman, often providing his family with fresh game. According to legend, he once shot a panther through the heart as it charged.
In 1748, Squire Boone sold his land and moved the family to the North Carolina frontier in the Yadkin Valley. After the French and Indian War broke out 1754, Daniel Boone joined the North Carolina militia and served as a wagoner — and narrowly escaped being killed by Indians during the Battle of Monongahela (one of several American Indian wars in which Boone would fight against Native Americans).
He survived another Indian attack during the Battle of Fort Duquesne by snatching a horse and dashing away on horseback.
During the war, Boone worked with John Findley, a trader who told him about the wilderness west of the Appalachian Mountains called “Kentucke,” a place rich with wild game and opportunity. Findley later accompanied Boone on his first trip to Kentucky.
On August 14, 1756, Boone married Rebecca Bryan and they settled in the Yadkin Valley and had ten children. Boone supported his large family by hunting and trapping. He often disappeared for months at a time during the fall and winter and returned in the spring to sell his pelts to traders.
In 1759, Cherokee Indians raided the Yadkin Valley and forced many of its inhabitants, including the Boone family, to flee to Culpeper County, Virginia. As part of the North Carolina militia, Boone took many long trips through Cherokee land in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
One story holds that during one of his extended journeys, Rebecca thought Boone was dead and had a relationship with his brother, which produced a daughter whom Boone claimed as his own.
One of Boone's six sons, Israel, was killed at the Battle of Blue Licks in 1782, one of the last skirmishes of the Revolutionary War (Boone was also at the battle and saw his son die).
Boone in Kentucky
In the fall of 1767, Boone took a short excursion through the Cumberland Gap to Kentucky. On May 1, 1769, he headed back to Kentucky on a longer trip, helping to open a trail for future pioneers.
Shawnee Indians captured him and one of his companions on December 22, stole their pelts and warned them never to return. Boone returned home but had no intention of heeding the warning.
Boone returned to Kentucky with his family and a group of immigrants in July 1773. In October, disgruntled Indians attacked members of the party, including Boone's son James. The Indians brutally tortured and killed them, forcing the shaken immigrants back to North Carolina.
Lord Dunmore's War
After the Indian attack, Boone was sent to notify surveyors in Kentucky that war with the Indians was imminent, and armed conflict did indeed break out the following year in Lord Dunmore's War of 1774.
After the settlers' victory in Lord Dunmore's War, the Indians ceded their Kentucky lands, and Richard Henderson’s Transylvania Company hired Boone to blaze the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap into central Kentucky.
Once in Kentucky, Boone founded the colony of Boonsborough and sent for his family to join him.
Indian attacks were common in Boonsborough and many settlers eventually left Kentucky.
On July 5, 1776, Indians captured Boone’s daughter Jemima and two of her companions. Boone quickly staged an ambush and rescued the girls, inspiring the historical novel, The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper.
In February 1778, Shawnee Chief Blackfish captured Boone and adopted him as his own son. Boone, however, escaped four months later and helped Boonsborough defeat the Shawnee at the Siege of Boonsborough.
Boone established the settlement of Boone Station in December 1779. Over the next several years, he relocated to present-day West Virginia and served in the Virginia legislature.
Land Speculator and Slave Owner
Although he was famous as a militia leader, hunter and surveyor, Boone was not adept in business. By most reports he was an aggressive land speculator who often went heavily into debt to acquire property.
Boone was also a slave owner, who at one point in his life owned as many as seven slaves.
After returning to Kentucky in 1795 — in plenty of time to see the opening of the Wilderness Road in October 1796 — Boone refused to testify in a lawsuit against him. A warrant was issued for his arrest and most of his lands were sold.
Because he wasn’t a skilled negotiator — his ability to read legal documents was marginal at best — and after numerous lawsuits, losses and the outstanding warrant for his arrest, Boone lost all of his land in Kentucky by 1798.
Daniel Boone’s Final Years
Anxious to avoid arrest, Boone and his family moved to Spanish-owned Femme Osage, Missouri. After Missouri became part of the United States, Boone lost his lands again, though he later regained and sold most of them.
He was a respected leader in Missouri and in 1807 was appointed a justice of Femme Osage township by Meriwether Lewis, famed leader of the Lewis and Clark expedition who at the time was serving as governor of the region.
At the age of 78, Boone volunteered for the War of 1812 but was denied admission into the armed forces. In 1817, the lifelong outdoorsman went on a final hunt into his beloved wilderness.
Boone lived the last years of his life in Missouri, where he died of natural causes on September 26, 1820, at the age of 85.
Legacy of Daniel Boone
Daniel Boone’s legacy is based on verified facts and on the many tall tales of his adventures in the wilderness, killing bears and fighting Indians.
Boone was a dedicated outdoorsman, passionate explorer and gifted hunter; however, he was also a poor businessman, a slave owner and an inveterate risk-taker who lost much of what he earned.
Nonetheless, author John Filson helped make Boone a living legend when he published The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke, which included an appendix entitled “The Adventures of Col. Daniel Boon [sic].”
Americans and Europeans alike devoured romantic tales by Filson and other authors about Boone traversing dangerous wilderness, fending off attacks by wild animals and savages while pushing forth to unknown land, despite the fanciful nature of these stories.
Boone’s name and legacy are remembered today in places like the Daniel Boone Home in St. Charles County, Missouri, and in Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky.
Boone's story has inspired books, movies and television shows including the television series Daniel Boone (1964-1970) featuring Fess Parker, the same actor who starred in the Disney miniseries Davy Crockett.
Daniel Boone. The State Historical Society of Missouri.
Who Was Daniel Boone? Daniel Boone Homestead.
The Reader’s Companion to American History. Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, Editors. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.