Biographies Book

Book review THE LIFE OF DANIEL BOONE by Lyman C. Draper, edited by Ted Franklin Belue

THE LIFE OF DANIEL BOONE, published by Stackpole Books, 1998, is a unique book about an 18th century explorer, written by a 19th century biographer and edited by a 20th century author. How does it come off? Not bad! In fact, it’s probably the most authoritative account of the renowned trailblazer we’ll ever see.

I have a particular interest in the subject. Daniel Boone is my great, great, great, great grandfather. No, I’m not going to bore you with my own genealogy. Suffice it to say that I am descended by Jesse Bryan Boone, Daniel’s eighth child, who died the same year as Daniel – 1820.

Including notes and index, THE LIFE OF DANIEL BOONE is a large volume totaling 596 pages. And those pages are filled with fine print, as well as drawings and maps. But don’t let that put you off taking a look at this one-of-a-kind work.

If you want a quick summary of the book, read the preface. In eighteen pages, Belue appreciates the character of Daniel Boone, what he did and what he thought of his own fame. We find that Boone was a skilled lumberjack, hunter, trapper, explorer, scout, militia commander, judge, and county representative. And he was a natural leader.

In his introduction, Ted Belue describes him as: “charismatic, calm, even-tempered and rarely willing to criticize even those who opposed him. Boone’s genteel manner was one to command respect and universal appeal. ” This, coupled with his lack of cunning and his sense of honor, earned Daniel Boone a solid reputation.

But what did he think of himself? Belue quotes Boone’s own words: “Many heroic exploits and chivalrous adventures are reported to me that only exist in the regions of fantasy. With me, the world took great liberties, and yet I was just an ordinary man. It is true that I have suffered many trials and miraculously escaped many perils, but others of my companions have experienced the same.”

Daniel Boone was modest. He appears to be a good man, the one we would like to have on our side in a crisis.

Next, we turn to the news columnist about Boone and his times. Self-proclaimed biographer Dr. Lyman C. Draper, born September 4, 1815, displayed exceptional insight for his time. Nineteenth-century storytellers had no qualms about mixing fantasy with truth. If it spiced up the story, a good myth even seemed preferred to mundane facts.

Against this concoction of history and legend stood Draper with his grand vision of rescuing facts from oblivion. While the evidence was still available and the people who remembered the events were still alive, he wanted to separate fact from myth, correct misconceptions, and get as close to the truth about the history of the frontiers as possible.

In his youth, Draper selected twenty subjects to save from mythology. Besides Daniel Boone, other subjects worthy of Draper’s attention included George Clark, Anthony Wayne, Daniel Morgan, and Dunmore’s War.

From 1843 to 1852, Draper walked the trails Boone had trodden, seeking interviews and gathering data on the pioneer. But the project never turned into a book. He died in 1891 lamenting that he had not completed the “Life of Daniel Boone”. Since 1854, Draper’s manuscript has remained in the archives of the State National Society of Wisconsin.

In 1990, historian Ted Franklin Belue decided that Draper’s massive manuscript, rich in detail about Boone and frontier life, should be made available to the public. So began the book.

Belue presents Draper’s work as it was left by the biographer almost a century and a half earlier. Belue’s edits to Draper’s transcription were minor. He eliminated excess commas and brought military titles and abbreviations into line with modern usage.

Belue wrote the introduction and provided us with a series of notes at the end of each chapter following Draper’s original notes. The publisher concluded his introduction by recalling that what we hold in our hands has been hidden since 1854. “Read it. Savor it. Take the time to get to know Lyman Draper, his methods, his point of view, the tenor of his time, and his man, Daniel Boone.”

Good advice. But to that, I might add, there are three men in this book who are best understood in the context of their time: Boone, Draper, and Belue. Of the three, Boone is by far the simplest. Simply put, he was an adventurer who couldn’t rest until he saw what lay beyond the next hill. His life was a constant search for Eden, an unspoiled paradise for hunters.

In Kentucky, he found much of what he was looking for. But civilization, which he himself helped to establish, quickly ruined what he considered most attractive. So he went in search of a new spotless desert.

The real Daniel Boone was a man of courage, skill and good fortune who nevertheless suffered greatly in his 85 years. It wasn’t Fess Parker. He was not a big man. He killed few Indians and despised those who tried to portray him as a fearless killer of Indians.

From time to time, we are struck by the charm of the era. Sentimentality, not “cool”, was the predominant mood of the 18th century. Here is a great example. When Boone led a group of men from Boonesborough, they managed to rescue his own daughter, Jemima, and two other daughters from a combined force of Shawanoes and Cherokees.

How did Boone propose to celebrate the event? He said: “Thank you almighty Providence, boys, we have the girls safe – let’s all sit down and weep with all our hearts.” And they did! This direct quote never made the Daniel Boone TV series.

Now consider the information compiler, Dr. Draper. What should I say about this mother lode of facts and opinions, and what should I let you discover for yourself? I will limit myself to three observations.

Draper’s style will definitely catch your eye. Some pages of Draper come across as quaint and charming. Again, several hundred pages of him are downright tedious. For modern tastes, it’s a bit too much: too wordy, too flowery and too sentimental. But wasn’t that typical of the time? Yes, I believe it was.

Draper also reflected his era in other ways. The mood of the mid-19th century was positive. They were as sure of themselves, their culture and their values ​​as we are uncertain of ours at the beginning of the 21st century.

Dr. Draper championed Manifest Destiny. The Anglo-Americans marched west with their civilization in tow. At times, Draper appears to be more of a cheerleader than a historian. But, as Belue points out, Draper never had a historian’s point of view. He couldn’t tell the trivial from the significant. His notes are therefore teeming with minute details of no particular interest.

For all his faults, Draper has retained much of the historical interest that would be lost without his efforts. This is his real contribution. Unfortunately, he never explored the later years of Daniel Boone. This entire volume is devoted to the first half of Boone’s life.

Belue, unlike Draper, is a historian. Overall, it displays the objectivity and impartiality that Draper lacked in his manuscript. But it is a major respect that Belue reveals that he is also a man of his time.

The term “American Indians” has now been replaced by the politically correct term “Native Americans”. Belue is among those who think what Caucasians did to Native Americans was morally wrong. What Belue espouses is, in fact, a moralistic view of history.

Our question for Mr. Belue is: how did these Indian tribes get their land? Well, they acquired them by driving out, killing or assimilating other tribes who had the land before them, as they in turn had done with those who had gone before them.

Britain’s story was no different. The Picts lost their lands to the Celts, who in turn were driven out by the Anglo-Saxons, who in turn were conquered by the Normans. Larger tribes, more aggressive people displaced others and took their territory. What Anglo-Americans did to Native Americans is what mankind has done to each other throughout recorded history – no more, no less.

Draper’s manuscript details the deceptions and atrocities committed by both sides, as well as the acts of friendship and goodwill offered by both. Here, Draper seems objective. Belue agrees.

A few centuries after the events, it is easy for us to criticize the frontier settlers. After all, they won, didn’t they? But what did these 18th century settlers really look like? What did 18th century Indians look like? This book, the most authoritative document we have for this period, opens our eyes to the stamp of the time. Before condemning the settlers, perhaps we should ask ourselves: if you and I were in constant danger, how selfless would we be?

The LIFE OF DANIEL BOONE is a book worth reading. This volume is our passport to eighteenth-century frontier America. It is a time of great beauty and danger, of incredible opportunity and difficulty, and of many acts of courage, savagery and cowardice. It’s an exciting time. See for yourself.

Leave A Reply