Folk heroes sometimes put us in compromising positions. We appreciate their importance for where we are and yet we recognize that where we are came at a tremendous cost for those who lived here first. Still, I was somewhat surprised to learn that Daniel Boone was born right here in Pennsylvania. Like most people my age, I learned of Boone primarily through the television series that aired in the 1960s. In other words, I learned the commercial Boone. In reality he was a fascinating individual who preferred outdoors living to the comforts of home. His prominence meant that he would meet and know such figures as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. He was largely responsible for US westward expansion, leading the first Europeans into the territory of Kentucky. His association with the south is so pronounced that I was surprised to learn he was born in a homestead, that is today, less than an hour north of Philadelphia.
Of course, the land settled by the Boone family was stolen from American Indians. The story might be somewhat easier to appreciate if we treated Indians better today, but our culture still insists on repressing them. Racism runs deep, it seems. Boone himself seems mainly to have gotten along with the Indians he knew. The fact is his story is exciting to hear. He was an able negotiator and both Indians and other settlers respected his position. When tales of his adventures were written down he became famous, if not wealthy. What seems to have really struck those who heard his story is that he continued his outdoor existence into his eighties. At an age when many have become frail, he continued to spend months of the year living outdoors in the wilderness.
Being there where he was born felt like a revelation. Of course the docent was a gifted storyteller, and she told his story with humor and an obvious pride in the man who’s responsible for her living. I reflected how television once again had shaped my childhood. Fess Parker’s portrayal of Boone was among the most popular prime-time shows of the mid-sixties to 1970. I had no idea that I was consuming pop culture in such quantities as I watched it, along with other staples such as Dark Shadows, Gilligan’s Island, Scooby-Doo, and the Brady Bunch. Some people worry that the rising generation “learns” its narratives from the internet, but my generation learned them from television. Daniel Boone would have, and indeed did, learned from the outdoors.