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The real Daniel Boone: A real North Carolinian

By D. G. Martin
Posted Thursday, October 25, 2007

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Chapel Hill, NC - The legendary Daniel Boone was a North Carolinian.

It is a fact that is too often overlooked and underappreciated in our state. Although Boone explored Kentucky and later settled there before moving to Missouri, North Carolina was his home longer than any other place. From the time his family moved to North Carolina in 1751 until he led a group of settlers and moved permanently to Kentucky in 1779, North Carolina’s Yadkin Valley was the place he “came home to” from his many hunting, exploring and settlement expeditions.

He learned his hunting and tracking skills here. He became familiar with and learned respect for the ways of American Indians from the Cherokee and Catawba peoples of our state. He married here and maintained his home in the Yadkin Valley for many years. Most of his children were born in North Carolina.

Still some North Carolinians think of Boone, not as a real person, but as a mythological figure like Paul Bunyan or Johnny Appleseed.

However, as a new biography makes very clear, Boone was a very real North Carolinian. North Carolina native Robert Morgan, author of the bestselling novel, “Gap Creek,” has done for biography what literary fiction writer Shelby Foote did for Civil War history. Like Foote, Morgan delivers his facts with the gift of an accomplished storyteller and with descriptive words carefully arranged to deliver the kind of powerful and beautiful imagery that holds an appreciative reader to the page.

Morgan admires the legendary Boone and gives authoritative accounts of his extraordinary accomplishments in hunting, exploring, living with and fighting against the Indians, opening frontiers for settlement, and winning the admiration and affection of his family and many friends. But Morgan does not pass by Boone’s failures in business and as an administrator, characteristics that often kept Boone in debt and sometimes as a defendant in court.

Morgan says that he wanted to present Boone as the man he really was. Along the way he shoots down some of the myths. For instance, Boone never wore a coonskin cap, never mind how the movies and TV have shown him. Actually, the hat information is not new, just not well known. But Morgan’s report that Boone transported to market only 15 kegs of ginseng is a dramatic change to an accepted story that he had carried 15 tons. Morgan said the he knew from his North Carolina mountain experience with ginseng that 15 tons was an impossible amount for Boone to have transported.
Some digging in the records gave Morgan documentation to prove his hunch.

Getting these kinds of facts right is critical in biography. But a biographer has an additional challenge. He has to select from a multitude of the facts those that best show the subject, his character, and his importance. Then the biographer has to find away to put this material in an order that will help the reader put those facts in proper perspective.

Morgan meets these challenges head on.

In dealing with the question of how Boone could be both an Indian fighter and a friend and admirer of them, Morgan recounts incident after incident of Boone’s contact with Indians and his respect for their culture. For instance, a party of Indians ambushed Boone and took from him a hunting season’s production of pelts and hides. Rather than resist, Boone cheerfully participated in a charade in which the Indians “traded” some worthless trinkets for the valuable furs and he entertained them with stories and laughter. His gifts in communication earned him the title “Wide Mouth,” a complimentary term given by Indians, who respected leaders who spoke with charm and power.

Using his skills as a scholar and teacher of literature and writing, Morgan also explains how and why Boone, rather than someone else, became an icon for the rugged, independent American frontiersman. He shows how the stories of Daniel Boone influenced the work of Thoreau, Emerson, Cooper, Whitman, and even Lord Byron.

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill is releasing “Boone: A Biography” this month. I think it will soon become a best seller and is, in my opinion, one of the best books ever written about a North Carolinian.

Note: For D.G. Martin’s interview with Robert Morgan see the November issue of Our State Magazine or check its website at www.OurState.com

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D.G. Martin is the host of UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs Fridays at 9:30 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch/. Check his blog and view prior programs at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch/


This week’s (October 26, 28) guest is Mike Lassiter, author of “Our Vanishing Americana: A North Carolina Portrait.”

Upcoming NC Bookwatch programs on UNC-TV at 9:30pm, Fridays and 5pm, Sundays:

October 26th 9:30pm, encore October 28th 5:00pm Mike Lassiter Our Vanishing Americana: A North Carolina Portrait

November 2nd 9:30pm, encore November 4th 5:00pm
Joe and Terry Graedon Best Choices from the People’s Pharmacy

November 9th 9:30pm, encore November 11th 5:00pm
Fred Hobson Off the Rim: Basketball and Other Religions in a Carolina Childhood,

November 16th 9:30pm, encore November 18th 5:00pm
William Powell Encyclopedia of North Carolina

 
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