14 Surprising Facts About Daniel Boone
Daniel Boone was a frontiersman who helped introduce the United States to a little place we like to call Kentucky. He was famous for his extraordinarily long hunts and his navigation skills. (“I can’t say as ever I was lost, but I was bewildered once for three days,” he reportedly said.) The myth of him as a rugged gun-toting pioneer, however, doesn’t match history. Get to know the real Daniel Boone, who was born on November 2, 1734.
1. Daniel Boone wasn’t Southern.
Boone was born and raised in eastern Pennsylvania, about 10 miles from the modern city of Reading. Granted, in the 1730s, this was close to the frontier, and Boone—who was raised by Quakers—was given his first gun at the age of 12 to hunt. But, after two of Boone’s siblings married non-Quakers, their father was expelled from the church. A few years later the family moved to North Carolina.
2. Just like many young people, Daniel Boone blew his entire first paycheck.
When he was a teenager, Boone took his first long hunting trip. Animal furs and hides were in high demand in east coast and European cities, and Boone took his spoils to Philadelphia—and promptly, over the next three weeks, spent all of the money he earned on “a general jamboree or frolick.” He was hooked. Boone would be a professional hunter for the rest of his life, and he soon acquired a reputation as an able navigator who could remember every trail he walked.
3. As a soldier, Daniel Boone wasn’t afraid … to flee.
The French and Indian War began as a border dispute over who got to claim land along the Ohio River. In 1755, Boone joined the side of the British colonies and served as a teamster in General Edward Braddock’s expedition. While marching toward what is now Pittsburgh, Braddock’s men experienced a deadly and embarrassing defeat at the Battle of the Monongahela. One out of three soldiers died. Boone survived by running away as fast as he could.
4. Daniel Boone was a trailblazer who opened up a portal to Kentucky.
By the 1770s, Boone was known for his geographical know-how. In 1775, a land speculation company hired him to lead a large crew and open a path through the Cumberland Gap, a narrow mountain pass near the modern borders of Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Their successful trek led to the construction of the Wilderness Road, which would allow more than 200,000 settlers to pour into Kentucky.
5. Daniel Boone’s settlements helped extend the English language westward.
When Boone got to the other side of the Cumberland Gap, he established Fort Boonesborough. With 15-foot-high walls and 26 log cabins, it was one of the first English-speaking communities west of the Appalachians (and it’s now a state park). While Boone was relatively chummy with Cherokee Indians, his move across the gap created palpable resentment among other native populations, who claimed Boone violated the Proclamation Line of 1763, which guaranteed Native Americans land west of the Appalachians.
6. Daniel Boone essentially lived the plot of Taken.
In July 1776, Boone’s daughter Jemima, along with two other teenagers, were abducted by Cherokee and Shawnee Indians while they were out canoeing. With help from the girls—who were breaking twigs and leaving markings whenever they could—Boone managed to find them in just three days (just like Liam Neeson, he had a very particular set of skills). At least two of their captors were killed. The incident later inspired a scene in James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans.
7. Daniel Boone was a Shawnee chief’s adopted son.
In February 1778, Boone and a party of men were captured by Shawnee Indians. Boone made an impassioned case to Chief Blackfish, asking the natives to spare their lives. In exchange, come spring he would ensure that Boonesborough would surrender peacefully. Boone’s plea worked. Not only did Chief Blackfish adopt Boone into the tribe, he made the frontiersman his son. “During our travels, the Indians entertained me well; and their affection for me was so great, that they utterly refused to leave me there with the others,” Boone said. He was given the name Big Turtle.
8. When Danielle Boone had somewhere to go, he could really cover some ground.
While living with the Shawnee, Boone learned that the tribe was planning to attack Boonesborough. (It was the middle of the Revolutionary War, and the Shawnee were allied with the British.) To warn his friends and family, Boone escaped the tribe and traveled 160 miles over rough terrain, returning to Boonesborough in just four days. They successfully withstood a 10-day siege.
9. Daniel Boone was a surveyor (but not a very good one).
Because he had such a deep knowledge of the local terrain, land surveyors often asked Boone to be their assistant whenever they explored the woods around Boonesborough. By the 1780s, Boone had picked up enough knowledge to become a surveyor himself. He surveyed at least 150 patches of new terrain. (Some say he went as far west as Texas.) The problem? He wasn’t very good. His maps were rarely accurate.
10. Daniel Boone was a politician, and he held an eclectic mix of other public offices.
Just look at this resume: Deputy Surveyor of Lincoln County, Sheriff of Fayette County, Lieutenant Colonel of the militia, Coroner of Fayette County, Justice of Femm Osage, and—most notably—a three-time representative in the Virginia General Assembly. (As a legislator, Boone served on committees for religion and was present for debates over the formation of the state of Kentucky.)
11. Daniel Boone was a slave owner.
Boone’s legacy is inextricably linked with slavery—mainly because enslaved people saved his life on more than one occasion. Slaves helped defend Boonesborough during the siege, and a slave named London was one of the few American fatalities. It was also the smarts of an ex-slave (who joined the Shawnee) that helped Boone vouch for his life to Chief Blackfish in 1778. This man, named Pompey, helped translate Boone’s desperate pleas. And yet, despite his Quaker background, Boone would buy seven slaves in the 1780s, mostly women, who worked in a tavern he owned.
12. Daniel Boone’s grandson proved that it’s never a good idea to bring a book manuscript on a canoe trip.
In 1809, Daniel Boone dictated his autobiography to his grandson John Boone Calloway. Unfortunately, five years later, Calloway was canoeing down the Missouri River with the manuscript in hand when his boat tipped over. What might have been the most accurate account of Boone’s life was swept down the Missouri.
13. Fame annoyed Daniel Boone.
John Filson’s 1784 book The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke made Boone famous. Soon, stories about Boone’s life were detaching from reality. He hated it: “Nothing embitters my old age [more than] the circulation of absurd stories … 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.”
14. No, Daniel Boone did not wear a coonskin cap.
Boone might have been a professional hunter, but he was no bumpkin. He was often carefully groomed. “My father, Daniel Boone, always despised the raccoon fur caps and did not wear one himself, as he always had a hat,” his son Nathan said. Boone usually opted for a classic flat, broad-brimmed hat.
This story has been updated for 2020.