Daniel Boone didn’t wear a coonskin cap. He liked to read. He wasn’t particularly murderous. So much for American myths.
Morgan (Brave Enemies, 2003, etc.) risks being overshadowed by John Mack Faragher’s Daniel Boone: The Life and Legend of an American Pioneer (1992), which is much stronger, especially on Boone’s significance as a Rousseauvian man of nature. Yet Morgan is an able storyteller with a fine appreciation for Boone as a man of action—and a man of his times. Boone entered history as one of the teamsters accompanying General Edward Braddock’s ill-fated campaign to attack the French in Ohio, which ended in a battle that catapulted another American on the scene, George Washington, to fame. The British were routed. “To save himself,” writes Morgan, “young Boone cut his horses loose and rode after the fleeing troops.” It would not be the last time that Boone would decide that withdrawal was the better part of valor, a strategic sensibility that saved his neck on the Kentucky frontier, where he became a skilled diplomat working among many Indian nations while earning a fair income gathering ginseng. Boone had solid leadership skills, as commemorated in George Caleb Bingham’s iconic portrait of Boone leading wary settlers through the Cumberland Gap. Though a frontiersman suspicious of customary authority, he also commanded respect among the military. Court-martialed after a disastrous battle against the British and their Shawnee allies during the Revolutionary War, Boone emerged both exonerated and promoted. (To spite his accuser, though, he moved out of the town named for him, Boonesborough.) He would later be accused of dishonest surveying and other misdemeanors, charges that, Morgan writes, had some basis in carelessness but not in malice. Such dealings with his fellow Americans, however, inclined Boone not to have much to do with them—and thus he pressed ever onward, away from their smoking chimneys over a long lifetime.
A welcome re-evaluation of an American legend.