Ghost Writer To Daniel Boone

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Boone and his companions, John Finlay, John Stewart, Joseph Holden, James Monay, and William Cool, wandered about Kentucky in peace until the twenty-second of December. On that day, he and John Stewart, while on “a pleasing ramble,” were captured by some Indians, who rushed out of a canebrake upon them; and for seven days they were held prisoners. But at the end of that time, in the dead of night “when sleep had locked the senses” of their captors, Boone gently woke his companion and both stole away to their camp. There they found their companions “dispersed and gone home” but in their stead, Daniel’s brother, Squire, who, with another adventurer, had come from North Carolina in search of Daniel. He had arrived at an inauspicious time, for the Indians, who resented the escape of their prisoners, recaptured John Stewart and killed him.

Daniel was pleased to see his brother and to share with him some of the natural and simple joys of the life in the wilderness:

Thus situated, many hundred miles from our families in the howling wilderness, I believe few would have equally enjoyed the happiness we experienced. I have often observed to my brother, you see how little nature requires to be satisfied. Felicity, the companion of content, is rather found in our own breasts than in the enjoyment of external things; And I firmly believe that it requires but a little philosophy to make a man happy in whatsoever state he is.

Here is the natural man, innately good, freed from the tensions of society and from the shackles of convention, finding supreme happiness in the simple life. That these were Boone’s own words, few believed; but that they expressed his philosophy was assumed by the readers who elected Boone the popular hero of the Romantic revolution.

Gilbert Chinard, a student of the American influence on French literature, has marveled at Boone’s philosophical powers and was forced to distinguish him from the French “philosophes en chambre":

Si Boone est un philosophe, il ne faut pas le confondre avec nos philosophes en chambre; l’homme reste singulièrement rude et même barbare àcertains moments. Un peu plus loin, on voit qu’il n’hésite pas à imiter les Indiens, àscalper ses enemis et à rapporter leurs chevelures comme de glorieux trophies.

Squire Boone returned to North Carolina on the first of May, 1770, leaving Daniel alone in Kentucky. Never, confessed Daniel, had he been under any greater necessity of exercising philosophy and fortitude. But the beauties of nature soon “expelled every gloomy and vexatious thought.” After gaining the summit of a commanding ridge—there is considerable doubt that a spot exists in Kentucky from which all the scenery described below is visible—but let him continue—

and looking round with astonishing delight, beheld the ample plains, the beauteous tracts below. On the other hand, I surveyed the famous river Ohio that rolled in silent dignity, marking the western boundary of Kentucke with inconceivable grandeur. At a vast distance I beheld the mountains lift their venerable brows, and penetrate the clouds. All things were still. I kindled a fire near a fountain of sweet water, and feasted on the loin of a buck, which a few hours before I had killed. The sullen shades of night soon overspread the whole hemisphere, and the earth seemed to gaip after the hovering moisture. My roving excursion this day had fatigued my body, and diverted my imagination. I laid me down to sleep, and I awoke not until the sun had chased away the night.

It was not until the twenty-fifth of March of the next year that Boone returned to his family in North Carolina. He sold his farm and, on the twenty-fifth of September, 1773, set out again for Kentucky, accompanied by his own and five other families. The enthusiasm of this hopeful beginning, however, soon subsided, for on the tenth of October they were attacked by Indians. Six men, including Boone’s eldest son, fell. This misfortune overtook them as they were approaching the Cumberland Mountains, which Boone described as follows:

The aspect of these cliffs is so wild and horrid, that it is impossible to behold them without terror. The spectator is apt to imagine that nature had formerly suffered some violent convulsion; and that these are the dismembered remains of the dreadful shock: the ruins, not of Persepolis or Palmyra, but of the world.

How this coonskin hero, entirely innocent of letters, knew that Persepolis and Palmyra were in ruins is a minor mystery; but like the romantic, natural man of his age, he had acquired an incredible store of classical allusions. If Filson’s book was more popular in Versailles than in Boonesborough, it is small wonder.

After this attack by the Indians, Boone stopped with his family on the Clinch River, where he remained until—in June, 1744—Governor Dunmore of Virginia asked him to run an 800-mile errand: to proceed to the Falls of the Ohio and conduct a party of surveyors into the interior of Kentucky. Returning to his family after 62 days, Boone was immediately placed in charge of three garrisons of Dunmore’s troops that were marching against the Shawnees. As soon as this tour of duty was finished, he again undertook the settlement of Kentucky, this time associating himself with Richard Henderson and the famous Transylvania Company.