The Daniel Boone story is my personal ur-myth.
I imbibed that classic American frontier tale so early that it seeped into my bones. I can’t remember ever not-knowing every single beat of Boone’s tale: the youngster who preferred the forest to the classroom; the young teamster listening avidly to trader John Finley’s stories of fabled Caintuck; the Long Hunter finding his way through the Cumberland Gap to that rich and dangerous land; the settlement-builder leading his beloved Rebecca and family into the wilderness to stake his claim; the military leader fighting the Shawnee — yet strangely lacking bloodthirsty rancor; the first-generation pioneer ripped off by the sly progeny of the civilization he made possible.
The restless hunter moving ever further West, escaping what grew up in the land he won at the cost of blood, toil, tears and sweat. Oh, yes, I absorbed early the paradox of the frontiersman: the man of the wilderness who brings with him what will destroy that which he loves. “Call someplace paradise/Kiss it good-bye…”*
Other stories and other heroes have captured my heart since. My passions have taken me to other frontiers — the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade; Africa; the Mexican Revolution; the Apache Wars. But the ur-myth is not something you leave behind. It’s something you circle back to and touch, like a beloved book you read and re-read, long after it’s bereft of surprises, simply for the company it provides, the grounding, the recognition. It orients you in a world of constant change.
So when Witnessing History announced a lavishly-produced new documentary titled “Daniel Boone and the Opening of the American West,” I immediately put in my pre-order. A long wait ensued. The good folks at Witnessing History were very pleasant during my several phone calls to check on the status of the project. I feigned mere journalistic interest (pretty well, I think). I owe it to my readers to keep them abreast of the repeatedly amended release schedule, right? Despite my cool, professional demeanor, I’m sure they snapped to the fact that I’m just a kid who can’t wait to unwrap his Christmas present.
For after these many decades, the Daniel Boone ur-myth still sings its chant of heroes in my ears. I long to plunge back into that familiar and beloved story, to relive the wonder and the horror of those harrowing years on that dark and bloody ground.
“Daniel Boone and the Opening of the American West” is in hand. A detailed review will follow in a separate piece.
* Apologies to Don Henley