Friday, August 10, 2012

Daniel Boone

by Jame Daugherty

The 1940 Newbery winner, this biography of the Kentucky frontiersman is a mixture of fact and probable legend.  It tells of Boone’s life in bits and pieces, from his birth in Pennsylvania to his trapping and trading and Indian-fighting in the wilderness of Kentucky.  The picture Daugherty paints is of a bluff, honest, uncompromising but friendly figure.  The Boone this book gives us is a family man, patriot, and resourceful hunter, and little else.  He fights against the British and the Indians, is captured by Chief Blackfish and is adopted into the Shawnee tribe, but escapes and returns to his countrymen, of course.  He founds a frontier town in Kentucky, Boonesborough, and works as a pathfinder in the wilderness.  A simple man who can read and write, but not nearly as well as he can shoot and hunt and track, Boone tries his hand at farming, public office, soldiering, even land speculation (though he is far too kindhearted and naïve to make money at it, and loses all the land he fought so hard to claim).  Poor for much of his life, hunting skins to make a living, stoic about the death of his son Israel, he is portrayed here as the consummate early American: tough, proud, self-sufficient, uncomplaining.

Daugherty has a way with words and there are some quite lyrical passages.  It also can be bombastic, reveling in what Daughtery considers natural glory but what the modern reader might consider land-grabbing colonialism. At times the book tries so hard to be home-spun and aw-shucks and evocative of frontier spirit (“they waddled west as soon as they could stagger… they wrassled the wild cats and they romped with wolves”) that it comes of as totally charmless.  But it also has some charm, as when, for example, Daughtery quotes Boone as saying he was never lost, “but I was right bewildered once for three days.”  

three stars

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