Henry Nash Smith: Daniel Boone
Daniel Boone:  Myth and Reality in American Consciousness

Henry Nash Smith, in his 1950 Virgin Land, sought to separate the "real" Daniel Boone from the myth that has been created. While interesting, Smith missed the point in focusing on the historical figure and not the reasons behind the various representations of Boone since John Filson's "autobiography" in 1784. This project will attempt to provide a cross-section of Boone portrayals, and attempt to place their points of view in historical context, based on the idea that a culture's myths and heroes explain who they are, and the true historical personages are less important than the image they become.

Daniel Boone: Empire Builder or Philosopher of Primitivism?

Smith's question is based on Daniel Boone the person, but what is more interesting is why the myths of Empire Builder and Philosopher of Primitivism came to be for later Americans. Smith sees the ideal images of Boone in two lights: as the Natural Man of Enlightenment thinking, and as the hunter and pioneer who opened the wilderness which allowed for colonization. These two images of Boone were not confined to specific historical periods; they are interspersed in popular writings and literature from 1784 to the present. Smith also contends that a third Boone myth was created, that of a recluse hunter, "...a fugitive from civilization who could not endure the encroachment of settlements upon his beloved wilderness." (54) This image is very much in play within Boone lore; however, it is secondary to the main ideas of Natural Man, and on the other hand, Colonizer. As the Natural Man, Boone often yearned for the solitude of his Long Hunts; as the Colonizer, he sought land beyond the frontier for his family to settle.

Smith's question fuels this inquiry: "Which was the real Boone--the standard-bearer of civilization and refinement, or the child of nature who fled into the wilderness before the advance of settlement?" (55). The truth is, both are the "real" Boone, as different writers with specific historic contexts constructed him.



Natural Man

The "Real" Daniel Boone


Back to Henry Nash Smith's Virgin Land

Julie K. Rose
Fall 1995

A project of

American Studies @ UVa

Last updated 4.30.96