Tennessee State Library and Archives
Tennessee Myths and Legends
The Heroine of Kaintuck, 1840, Illustration from The Crockett Almanac
Intro | Native Americans | Daniel Boone | Davy Crockett | Bell Witch | Ghosts | Myth-cellaneous | Casey Jones

Daniel Boone

“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.”

Daniel Boone (1734-1820) was already a legend long before Fess Parker portrayed him in the television show Daniel Boone, which aired from 1964-1970.  While Parker’s portrayal of Boone was essentially a reprise of his portrayal of Davy Crockett, the mythologizing of Boone’s life and exploits had begun during Boone’s own lifetime.  In 1784 John Filson’s highly fictionalized and sensationalized “autobiography” made Boone into an international celebrity.  In 1813 Daniel Bryan (Boone’s nephew) wrote a book-length, epic poem about him entitled “The Mountain Muse” (although Boone himself thought it “a disaster of inaccuracy”).  It is also highly probable that James Fenimore Cooper based his character Nathaniel “Natty” Bumppo on the life and adventures of Daniel Boone.  Later, his life as a frontiersman and explorer would serve as the inspiration for the founding of the Boy Scouts of America.

Life & Times of Daniel Boone Daniel Boone Daniel Boone Daniel Boone  

Title page of The Life & Times of Col. Daniel Boone, 1860, Library Collection

Daniel Boone, 1861,Library Photograph Collection

Daniel Boone, 1774, Reprint of a portrait by Thomas Sully from the Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society, Library Photograph Collection

Daniel Boone, 1855, Library Photograph Collection


Daniel Boone Sketch

Sketch of Daniel Boone for the

Sevier State Office Building, 1940,

Library Photograph Collection

'Tis true he shrank from men even of his nation,
       When they built up unto his darling trees,--
     He moved some hundred miles off, for a station
       Where there were fewer houses and more ease;
     The inconvenience of civilisation
       Is, that you neither can be pleased nor please

Lord Byron wrote these lines about Boone in his poem Don Juan.  They epitomize the way in which Boone, as a hunter, explorer, and frontiersman, came to represent a version of the Enlightenment’s “natural man,” someone who was in tune with nature and who shunned civilization.  Ironically, this idealized vision of Boone as simple and authentic led to a caricature of him as uncultured, unsophisticated, and “[t]he rippin'est, roarin'est, fightin'est man / [t]he frontier ever knew!”

Daniel Boone Theme Song on danielboonetv.com

Boone himself flatly denied he ever shunned civilization: “Nothing embitters my old age [like] the circulation of absurd stories that I retire as civilization advances…”  Although he received no formal education, he did enjoy trappings of “civilization” such as books and reading.  He often brought books along with him on his travels, reading aloud to his companions around the campfire.  One of his favorite books to read was Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.

Daniel Boone's First View of Kentucky Daniel Boone's First Glimpse of Kentucky Relics of Daniel Boone  

Daniel Boone’s first view of Kentucky depicted in The Life & Times of Col. Daniel Boone, 1860, Library Collection

Daniel Boone’s first glimpse of Kentucky, 1909, From Daniel Boone & the Wilderness Road

Relics of Daniel Boone, 1910, From Daniel Boone & the Wilderness Road  

Boone was a hunter and, although he was a devoted family man, he was often away from home for many months at a time on “long hunts.”  These hunts took him into Tennessee on numerous occasions and at least two trees have been discovered on which he carved his name.  One was located near Jonesboro, but it fell in 1920.  Another was discovered near Jackson.

One of the many folktales that sprang up about Boone tells of how he “hunted” his wife Rebecca. While hunting deer at night, he mistook her for a deer and nearly shot her.  The moonlight showed him that the “prey” he was tracking was not a deer, but a young woman.  He followed her to her house, where he was welcomed in by the father and subsequently introduced to the daughter.

Daniel Boone Tree Daniel Boone Tree Site of Daniel Boone Tree  

Daniel Boone Tree, near Jonesboro, Washington County, Tennessee, ca. 1860s, Tennessee Historical Society Photograph Collection

Daniel Boone Tree, near Jonesboro, Washington County, Tennessee, ca. 1860s, Inscription reads: “D Boon cilled a bar on tree in the year 1760,” Tennessee Historical Society Photograph Collection

Site of Daniel Boone Tree and historic marker for Daniel Boone Trail, near Jonesboro, Washington County, Tennessee, 1953, Tennessee Historical Society Photograph Collection
The tree fell in 1920 and the marker was placed there in 1924 by John Sevier D.A.R. chapter.

Boone Creek

Waterfall on Boone Creek,

Washington County, Tennessee, 1941,

Department of Conservation Photograph Collection
Daniel Boone is said to have escaped from

some Native Americans by hiding under the waterfall.

Like many frontiersmen during the Colonial period in American history, Boone had numerous clashes with Native Americans.  Perhaps the most famous occurred in 1776 when his daughter Jemima and two other girls were captured by a band of Shawnee.  Boone, leading a group of men from Boonesborough, Kentucky, tracked them for two days before catching up with them.  Boone and his men ambushed the Shawnee’s camp at night and rescued the three girls.  This event is most likely the basis for a similar scene in Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans.  

The Netherland Inn near Kingsport marks the start of the Wilderness Road.  In 1775, Boone set out with 30 men to cut a 200-mile road (although it was actually more of a trail) through the wilderness to the Cumberland Gap and into Kentucky.  While not a legend per se, this feat is legendary both for its difficulty and because, up to that point, the Appalachians had blocked westward expansion.  The road opened up new territory beyond the mountains for settlement.  As such, it became an integral part of the American mythos of “Manifest Destiny” and national narrative of westward expansion.

Map of the Wilderness Road Netherland Inn Cumberland Gap  

Map of the Wilderness Road from Daniel Boone & the Wilderness Road, 1910, Library Collection

Netherland Inn, Kingsport, Sullivan County, Tennessee, 1977, Library Photograph Collection

Cumberland Gap and the Wilderness Road, 1910, From Daniel Boone & the Wilderness Road, Library Collection