Opens Up the West, 1769-71
The life of Daniel Boone has become legend; his name intertwined with the lore of the western expansion of America. Born in eastern Pennsylvania in 1734, Boone moved with his family to North Carolina in 1753. It was from there that he made his first excursion across the Appalachian Mountains into neighboring Kentucky in 1769. He found a lush country teeming with game that immediately beckoned him to explore and to settle in. He devoted the next two years to roaming the region before returning to his family in North Carolina.
He again ventured into Bluegrass Country in 1775 as a leader of a team clearing a road through the wilderness from Virginia to central Kentucky. This "Wilderness Road" pierced the barrier of the Appalachian Mountains through the Cumberland Gap. With the end of the American Revolution, this route became a major avenue for the westward migration of the early pioneers. In the same year, Boone moved his family to Kentucky and founded the settlement of Boonesborough.
In the following years, tales of his exploits magnified his image, blurring the line separating fact from fiction and transforming Boone into a symbol of America's self reliance and independent spirit.
The description of Boone's exploits comes to us through the pen of a young author named John Filson. Filson made his way to Kentucky in 1783 to seek his fortune and soon came into contact with Daniel Boone who hand spent the previous 15 years attempting to tame America's early frontier. Filson was immediately captivated and devoted himself to chronicling Boone's adventures. Over a period of months, the author spent hours listening to Boone describe his adventures. The resulting book was first published in 1784 and later republished in England and Europe establishing Boone as a genuine folk hero. We join Boone's story as he makes his first trek beyond the Appalachians and into Kentucky:
"It was on the 1st of May in the year 1769, that I resigned my domestic happiness for a time, and left my family and peaceable habitation on the Yadkin river, in North Carolina, to wander through the wilderness of America, in quest of the country of Kentucky, in company with John Finley, John Stewart, Joseph Holden, James Monay, and William Cool. We proceeded successfully; and after a long and fatiguing journey, through a mountainous wilderness, in a westward direction, on the seventh day of June following we found ourselves on Red river, where John Finley had formerly been trading with the Indians, and, from the top of an eminence, saw with pleasure the beautiful level of Kentucky.
...At this place we encamped, and made a shelter to defend us from the inclement season, and began to hunt and to reconnoiter the country. We found everywhere abundance of wild beasts of all sorts, through this vast forest. The buffalo were more frequent than I have seen cattle in the settlements, browsing on the leaves of the cane, or cropping the herbage on those extensive plains, fearless, because ignorant, of the violence of man. Sometimes we saw hundreds in a drove, and the numbers about the salt springs were amazing. In this forest, the habitation of beasts of every kind natural to America, we practiced hunting with great success, until the 22d day of December following.
This day John Stewart and I had a pleasing ramble, but fortune changed the scene in the close of it. ...In the decline of the day, near Kentucky river, as we ascended the brow of a small hill, a number of Indians rushed out of a thick cane-brake upon us, and made us prisoners...The Indians plundered us of what we had, and kept us in confinement 7 days, treating us with common savage usage. During this time we discovered no uneasiness or desire to escape, which made them less suspicious of us; but in the dead of the night, as we lay in a thick cane-brake by a large fire, when sleep had locked up their senses, my situation not disposing me for rest, I touched my companion, and gently awoke him. We improved this favorable opportunity, and departed, leaving them to take their rest, and speedily directed our course towards our old camp, but found it plundered, and the company dispersed and gone home.
About this time, my brother, Squire Boon, with another adventurer, who came to explore the country shortly after us, was wandering through the forest, determined to find me if possible, and accidentally found our camp. Notwithstanding the unfortunate circumstances of our company, and our dangerous situation, as surrounded with hostile savages, our meeting so fortunately in the wilderness, made us reciprocally sensible of the utmost satisfaction.
...Soon after this, my companion in captivity, John Stewart, was killed by the savages, and the man that came with my brother returned home by himself. We were then in a dangerous, helpless situation, exposed daily to perils and death, amongst savages and wild beasts, not a white man in the country but ourselves.
|  George Bingham 1851-2||Boone leads settlers through|
the Cumberland Gap
...We continued not in a state of indolence, but hunted every day, and prepared a little cottage to defend us from the winter storms. We remained there undisturbed during the winter; and on the first day of May 1770, my brother returned home to the settlement by himself, for a new recruit of horses and ammunition, leaving me by myself, without bread, salt, or sugar, without company of my fellow-creatures, or even a horse or dog.
...One day I undertook a tour through the country, and the diversity and beauties of nature I met with in this charming season, expelled every gloomy and vexatious thought. Just at the close of day the gentle gales retired, and left the place to the disposal of a profound calm. Not a breeze shook the most tremulous leaf. I had gained the summit of a commanding ridge, 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 Kentucky 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 gasp after the hovering moisture.
...Thus, through an uninterrupted scene of sylvan pleasures, I spent the time until the 27th day of July following, when my brother, to my great felicity, met me, according to appointment, at our old camp.
Shortly after, we left this place, not thinking it safe to stay there longer, and proceeded to Cumberland River, reconnoitering that part of the country until March I77I, and giving names to the different waters.
Soon after, I returned home to my family, with a determination to bring them as soon as possible to live in Kentucky, which I esteemed a second paradise, at the risk of my life and fortune."
Daniel Boone's account appears in Imlay, Gilbert A Topographical Description of the Western Territory of North America (1797); Faragher, John M. Daniel Boone: the life and legend of an American pioneer (1992).
How To Cite This Article:
"Daniel Boone Opens Up the West, 1769-71," EyeWitness to History, www.eyewitnesstohistory.com