One of the first images of Daniel Boone we find in the cultural arena is that of the Civilizer, or as Smith would term it, the Empire Builder. This vision is based on the concept of subjugating the savage, of wresting the wilderness from the hands of the Indians and creating a place for civilized people to live. The first of these accounts can be found in the 1784 "autobiography" included in John Filson's Kentucke, which will be discussed further in relation to the Natural Man. Filson's work is essentially a land speculator's brochure, and the ghostwritten appendix of Boone's life was used to bolster the credibility of the venture. It is useful here to first explain the concept of Civilizer, in "Boone's" own words.
"Curiosity is natural to the soul of man, and interesting objects have a powerful influence over our affections. Let these influencing powers actuate, by the permission or disposal of Providence, from selfish or social views, yet in time the mysterious will of Heaven is unfolded, and we behold our conduct, from whatsoever motives excited, operating to answer the important designs of heaven. Thus we behold Kentucke, lately an howling wilderness, the habitation of savages and wild beasts, become a fruitful field; this region, so favourably distinguished by nature, now become the habitation of civilization, at a period unparalleled in history, in the midst of a raging war, an under all the disadvantages of emigration to a country so remote from the inhabited parts of the continent. Here; where the hand of violence shed the blood of the innocent; where the horrid yells of savages, and the groans of the distressed, sounded in our ears, we now hear the praises and adorations of our Creator; where wretched wigwams stood, the miserable abodes of savages, we behold the foundations of cities laid, that, in all probability, will rival the glory of the greatest upon earth. And we view Kentucke situated on the fertile banks of the great Ohio, rising from obscurity to shine with splendor, equal to any other of the stars of the American hemisphere.
"The settling of this region well deserves a place in history. Most of the memorable events I have myself been exercised in; and, for the satisfaction of the public, will briefly relate the circumstances of my adventures, and scenes of life, from my first movement to this country until this day."
Filson's Boone, who brought civilization to the wilds of Kentucke, became the subject of a number of laudatory works.
Harrisonburg, VA: 1813
This work is essentially an heroic epic on the subject of Bryan's distant cousin Boone. It is Miltonic in style and scope, with the Great Civilizer Boone bringing the fruits of Enlightenment thought and refinement to the wilderness. The irony is, of course, that while Boone was literate and held government and military positions, he was hardly the refined civilizer Bryan portrays him to be. When Boone was read this poem, it embarrassed him; the only written work with which he agreed is ironically the land speculation pamphlet John Filson wrote in 1784.
"When nought but Beasts and bloody Indians dwelt Throughout the mighty waste, and cruelty And Death and Superstition triple-leagued, Held there their horrid reign, and impious sway; The Guardian Seraphs of benign Reform With keen prophetic glance the worth beheld Of the immense expanse, its future fame, Its ponderous moment in the golden scales Of Freedom, Science, and Religious Truth, When by Refinement's civilizing hand Its roughness should all be smooth'd away. With zeal the animating prospect fir'd The Glowing Guardians, fill'd with views sublime Their lofty minds, their enterprising powers awak'd, And urged them to this laudable resolve-- That o'er Columbia's Western Wilderness, Politic Wisdom should her reign extend And Emigration pour her splendid swarms."
(Book 1,197-214) (p.22-23)
Boone was the bearer of all that was good in society. Of course, many believe he was attempting to escape society, with its tax-collectors and overly refined ways. Acting the trailblazer for civilization, however, is not easy work. Bryan provides a brief interlude, in an almost Homeric mode.
"Oft from our Hero's eye, the tears of Love Translucent drop'd, as sleepless Memory glanced On his dear wife and babes and distant home."(Book 4, 233-35) (p.119)
Of course, Boone did not choose to be the Great Civilizer; nature and Providence chose that role for him.
"For in his lofty countenance she mark'd A nameless play of mind, a mingled glow Of sensibilities and mental strength, Resembling strongly what she oft had seen In Daniel Boone's fine intellectual face!"(Book 4, 292-96) (p. 121)
New York: Miller, Orton & Company, 1857
Forty-four years later, and 37 after the death of Boone, W.H. Bogart undertook the mission of rescuing the image of Boone from one of merely a natural man or the prototype for the Leatherstocking tales. It was Bogart's desire to show Boone for what he believed he really was: the first man to bring civilization to the untamed West.
"Interwoven with the history of the entrance of the Great West into the family of civilized nations, is the career of Daniel Boone. It has been the object of the compiler of this volume to present the narrative of that career in fidelity, and in such light as would rescue the memory of this great man from the common judgment upon him, of being only an Indian fighter and a bold hunter.
"If it be fame, that in the progress of a great empire, one name above all others shall be associated with its deliverance from the dominion of the savage...then this inheritance is that of the subject of this memoir--Daniel Boone. It was his to lead a nation to its place of power..." (13)
According to Bogart, and others as we shall later see, Boone did not set out to "lead a nation to its place of power" of his own choosing; echoing the Providential strain of the Bryan epic, Bogart believes Boone was chosen.
"To Daniel Boone, the Great Pioneer of the West--having ever a purpose and destiny before him--this volume invites the reader." (iii)
In a time when the settlement of the West was a great divider in the nation, and the stirrings of Manifest Destiny were rumbling under the surface, the need for a pioneer hero with a civilizing purpose and destiny was needed; Boone became just that man.
By Edward S. Ellis, author of 'The Life of Colonel David Crockett', 'Ned in the Block-House', 'Ned in the Woods', etc.
Porter & Coates: Philadelphia, 1884.
In the midst of the Gilded Age, 64 years after Boone had died, America was looking again for a pioneer hero as the frontier began to close. Daniel Boone became the civilizer who wrested the God-given lands of America from the savage Indians. As America's frontiers closed, they began looking outward for new lands to conquer (which they eventually accomplished in the late 1890s); they resurrected Daniel Boone as the righteous pioneer hero.
"He had already become known as a hunter and explorer possessing great daring and shrewdness, and those were the days when such men were needed in wresting the Western wilderness from the grasp of the wild Indian, who was sure to fight the advancing hosts of civilization..." (51)
Boone, again, was seen as chosen by Providence to complete the Plan for America. "Yet through it all, he preserved his honest simplicity, his unswerving integrity, his prudence, and self-possession, and his unfaltering faith in himself, in the future of his country, and in God." (iv)
The increasing belief in Manifest Destiny, which could extend beyond the borders of America, called for a resurrection of the Boone hero, altered, as we will see later, to fit political and cultural mores.
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Last updated 11/10/95