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[Audio] Frontiersman Daniel Boone's Connection to Western Kentucky

American pioneer and frontiersman Daniel Boone is considered one of the founding fathers of white settlement in Kentucky and though it can be a challenge to find relevance to Boone to the far western part of Kentucky - since there's no evidence he personally spent time in the region, one could argue a connection through his daughter, says Murray State history professor Ted Franklin Belue. He's done significant research on Boone, including consulting with the History Channel and serving on the board of the Filson Historical Society. Todd Hatton speaks with Belue about Boone and his legacy in the Commonwealth.

Ted Belue says he believes Boone's relationship to the western Kentucky region has relation to Calloway County. In 1776, his daughter Jemima Boone and her friends Fanny and Betsy Callaway (daughters of Richard Callaway) were kidnapped by Shawnee Indians on the Kentucky River. After an arduous three-day trek trying to rescue them, with Boone in the lead, they were rescued without serious personal injury, Belue says. This episode was written about by John Filson in 1784 and this story became popular throughout Europe (translated into German and French) where Boone becomes the "ideal natural man."

In the 1820s, James Fenimore Cooper wrote The Pioneers and Last of the Mohicans, a series that featured Natty Bumppo - a re-imagning of Boone's story establishing what becomes the beginning of "western literature." In Calloway County, one could argue that the name comes from Boone's daughter - who married Richard Callway's nephew Flanders Callaway. She went on to become the "godmother of western literature" says Belue, which ties him to Calloway County. Form this story, the genre of westerns in film and literature really takes off, where the protagonist tends to rescue the damsel in distress. Boone even gets a mention in Don Juan by Lord Byron, as the great general backwoodsman of Kentucky, Colonel Boone.

Fenimore Cooper appropriated the story by John Filson for his character Natty Bumppo, changing the Native Americans and the names of the girls. In the 1991 film adaptation of The Last of the Mohicans director Michael Mann changed the name again to Nathaniel Poe since he thought Natty Bumppo would be considered too funny of a name.

Boone had a relationship with the Native Americans, one appropriated by Cooper, representing him as a man one with nature who was raised and lived among Indians, understanding their protocol and dialect. Boone's Quaker grandfather in Pennsylvania had a general store where a large number of Shawnee Indians came to trade. Boone picked up their language as a young boy. By the age of 15, he was a prolific hunter, which was his livelihood until he died at the age of 86 in Missouri. He spend much of his life around American Indians and understood their superiority in the woods and their woodcrafts, hunting, stalking, reading signs, survival skills, etc.

In this time period, Kentucky was thought to be something of a promised land. Belue says it's important to understand what Kentucky was in Boone's day. When we think of it today, we think of the entire Commonwealth, but that's not what it was back then. "Kentucky" was the central bluegrass region. Belue says to draw a triangle from Louisville to Lexington to Maysville.

Kentucky was an island in the wilderness, he says. In order to get to this Kentucky, one had to traverse past the infertile areas. While we have no real visual of what this region looked like, there were large deciduous trees, it was park like - due to controlled burns by the Native Americans, large spaced-out trees, rich topsoil easy to plow, numerous waterways, abundant salt licks which attracted hordes of game (white-tailed deer, elk, bears, beavers). Deerskin was the commerce of the day, Belue says, where one large male deer skin was the equivalent of a Spanish dollar. Boone saw opportunity for money, game and land.

Though Boone was a Quaker, he later became "unchurched" but kept a naturalist view and was philosophically inclined. What separates him from a lot of people in his time, Belue says, is that this is a time when men, both red and white skinned, hunted each other for sport and collected scalp bounties - and Boone never did this. Though his first son was 'tomahawked' to death, his second son shot in the throat, and his brother killed, Boone never bears ill will towards the Indians. He hunted alone and once left for two years on a long hunt. He had a deep philosophical love for the land, Belue says.

There is still controversy over his resting place. He was buried in the Frankfort cemetery, but Missourians have a different opinion - that he is still where he was first interred when he died in 1820. His precise location is questionable, but we know his remains were exhumed in 1845 and rumors abound after that. There is only one official forensic report. Belue says he is likely in both cemeteries. He believes his larger bones and most of Rebecca were exhumed, but that parts of him remain on both sides of the Mississippi. It was his last great trek, he adds.

Matt Markgraf joined the WKMS team as a student in January 2007. He's served in a variety of roles over the years: as News Director March 2016-September 2019 and previously as the New Media & Promotions Coordinator beginning in 2011. Prior to that, he was a graduate and undergraduate assistant. He is currently the host of the international music show Imported on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
Todd Hatton hails from Paducah, Kentucky, where he got into radio under the auspices of the late, great John Stewart of WKYX while a student at Paducah Community College. He also worked at WKMS in the reel-to-reel tape days of the early 1990s before running off first to San Francisco, then Orlando in search of something to do when he grew up. He received his MFA in Creative Writing at Murray State University. He vigorously resists adulthood and watches his wife, Angela Hatton, save the world one plastic bottle at a time.
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