Bill O’Reilly’s Legends & Lies: The Real West by Bill O’Reilly and David Fisher

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INTRODUCTION

Pace High School
Miami, Florida
August 1971

The classroom was filled with bored faces. About forty of them. All staring at a young history teacher fresh out of college who, at age twenty-one, was just a few years older than his students. What had I gotten myself into?

My initial task was to get these teenagers interested in things that had happened in America hundreds of years ago, events they thought had little or no meaning in their current lives.

It wasn’t easy.

While I taught, I learned. There was a way to spread historical information around so that the urchins would not nod off. But it involved energy and thought, not just standing there pontificating. I learned back then that in order for people to enjoy history, you have to make it come alive in a vivid way. My students were taught to put themselves into the historical fray by visualizing themselves in the action. Those who did that learned about America in an unforgettable way.

Enter this book, Legends & Lies. It is based upon my high school teaching techniques that cut through the clutter to tell amazing stories. Want specifics? How about this: Evidence suggests that the real Lone Ranger was a black man! You’ll ride with him through a series of harrowing adventures that few Americans know about.

What you will read in this book is the truth about some very famous people. It’s not always pretty, and it’s definitely not the stuff they taught you in school. No, these pages are filled with facts and personalities, many of them disturbing. But we have made them all real people on the page because they were real people in life. Folks who did extraordinary things. A guy like Kit Carson, traveling thousands of miles through the freezing Rocky Mountains and then over the scorching-hot Arizona desert. At least Carson had a horse—the bandit Black Bart was afraid of horses and actually walked from Illinois to Montana! Don’t believe me? Read the book. Walk alongside him.

America has a tendency to glamorize its past, creating myths instead of reporting truth. Let’s take the Old West, for example. Our image of that time is John Wayne, Marshal Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke, and maybe a squinting, grizzled Clint Eastwood mowing down bad guys in a dusty town. But the truth about the West is far different from Rio Bravo or Stagecoach or The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. This was a place where brutality ruled, and life expectancy was measured in months. If you lived to be forty, you were way ahead. Some famous western men and women were both heroes and villains, split personalities. The dangers they faced were unrelenting.

Did you know that some Indians were more civilized than the settlers they encountered? But other Native Americans would torture in ways that are nearly inconceivable. Some outlaws, such as Butch Cassidy and Black Bart, were almost noble in their outlook. Some lawmen, such as Pat Garrett, were not. It is these stories that we will relate to you in this book, and after reading them, you will know the truth about America’s lively and unique past. You will have also learned about some lies that still circulate today. Debunking falsehoods is a major theme here.

As in my previous history books, Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy, Killing Jesus, and Killing Patton, we will put you on the scene as historical events unfold. You will be in the room and on the trail with Jesse James, Wyatt Earp, Wild Bill Hickok, and many other legendary figures. You will vividly see these men live and sometimes die. While reading this book, you will experience history rather than be numbed by it. Some say that after reading the Killing series, they understand the towering figures in history in a unique way. Each of those books has sold millions of copies.

When I engaged my students all those years ago, I painted a verbal picture for them of times past. Billy the Kid, for example, was a lot like they were, a confused teenager who chose the wrong road and paid the ultimate price. Or did he? There’s always a bit more to the story if you dig deep enough. In Legends & Lies, you will see that the Kid’s fate may have turned out far differently than many believe or the press reported.

And that’s the fun of these pages. We dig deep, uncovering facts that illuminate the legends and debunk the lies that have somehow become folklore. History can be thrilling, and America’s past is full of tremendous characters whose exploits can enrich our own lives today. It took me a while to convince my students of that, but I did it, and my history classes rocked, according to their own reviews (conducted each year at the school’s behest).

Now it’s your turn, and as a plus, there’s no homework! Enjoy the exciting journey, and thanks for reading the book!

Bill O’Reilly
January 2015

DANIEL BOONE

Daniel Boone

Traitor or Patriot?

As Daniel Boone approached his log cabin one October day in 1778, carrying fur and meat to take his family through the winter, he probably guessed something was wrong. Keenly perceptive and attuned to the rhythms of nature, he would have sensed the discord. His family came out to greet him, followed almost immediately by several stern-looking men. As Boone dismounted, one of them handed him a subpoena. Another man stepped forward, unrolled a scroll, and announced, “Daniel Boone, you are hereby formally charged with treason and shall face a court-martial . . .”

No one embodied the spirit of the frontier more than Daniel Boone, who faced and defeated countless natural and man-made dangers to literally hand cut the trail west through the wilderness. He marched with then colonel George Washington in the French and Indian War, established one of the most important trading posts in the West, served three terms in the Virginia Assembly, and fought in the Revolution. His exploits made him world famous; he served as the model for James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales and numerous other pioneer stories. He was so well known and respected that even Lord Byron, in his epic poem Don Juan, wrote, “Of the great names which in our faces stare, The General Boon, back-woodsman of Kentucky, Was happiest amongst mortals anywhere . . .”

And yet he was accused of treason—betraying his country—the most foul of all crimes at the time. What really happened to bring him to that courtroom? And was the verdict reached there correct?

Born in 1734 in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, Daniel Boone was the seventh of twelve children.

Born in 1734 in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, Daniel Boone was the seventh of twelve children.

Daniel Boone was born in Pennsylvania in 1734, the sixth child of Quakers Sarah and Squire Boone. His father had come to America from England in 1713. The Boones were known as thrifty, prosperous people. His cousin, James Boone, had a knack for numbers and eventually became known as “Boone, the Mathematician.” But Daniel Boone did not find comfort in the classroom or with books. He had enough schooling to know how to sign his name, but his real education was learning the skills of survival on the frontier: He became an expert hunter, tracker, trapper, marksman, and trailblazer. It was said that no Indian could aim his rifle, find his way through a pathless forest, or search out game better than young Daniel Boone. He was hard to pin down to any one place; he always loved being on his own, away from the clatter of the cities.

When Squire Boone was “disowned” by the Quaker meeting for allowing his children to “marry out of unity”—meaning to marry non-Quakers—he moved his family to North Carolina. The Boones had only just settled there when the French and Indian War began in 1754. Young Daniel Boone served as a wagoneer in British major Edward Dobb’s North Carolina militia. He marched with Lieutenant Colonel George Washington under the despised General Braddock in his disastrous effort to capture Fort Duquesne. When Braddock was killed in the Battle of the Wilderness, Washington took command and began building his heroic reputation. During the war, Boone first heard tell of a place the Indians called the Dark and Bloody Ground, a paradise that some people called Kentucke. An Indian trader named John Finlay had actually been there and was determined to get back. At that time, very little about the lands south of the Ohio River was known to the British, and Boone listened to these stories with excitement, his heart making the decision that he would go there.

A small group of extraordinarily courageous men risked their lives exploring and settling the American frontier. They were people who felt an urgent pull to see what lay beyond the next mountain and depended on their skills, wits, and sometimes just plain luck to reach the next summit. They were most at home in foreign and wild places, living off God’s bounty. Many of these early American pioneers are forgotten, but through hundreds of years of American history, Daniel Boone has stood for them all.

It took Boone twelve more years to finally get to Kentucke, and by that time he had married his neighbor’s daughter, Rebecca Bryan, and they’d had four children, in addition to taking in several nieces and nephews. He’d also explored the area called Florida (he reportedly bought land near Pensacola but elected not to settle there), as well as the unspoiled wilderness of the Alleghenies, the Cumberlands, and the Shenandoah Valley. In 1851, author Henry Howe described Boone’s arrival in Kentucke, writing that his party, “after a long and fatiguing march, over a mountainous and pathless wilderness, arrived on the Red River. Here, from the top of an eminence, Boone and his companions first beheld a distant view of the beautiful lands of Kentucky. The plains and forests abounded with wild beasts of every kind; deer and elk were common; the buffalo were seen in herds and the plains covered with the richest verdure . . . this newly discovered Paradise of the West.” Daniel Boone was the first settler to set his eyes and bestow a name on many of the now familiar features of Kentucky. Like many frontiersmen of the time, as Boone explored, he carved his name into the trees to show he had been there, and a beech tree on the Watauga River in Tennessee still bears the inscription d. boon cilled a. bar on tree in the year 1760.

His first time in Kentucke, he stayed only long enough to know that he’d found the open spaces in which he wanted to raise his family. He returned in 1769 with five other men, blazing the first trail from North Carolina into eastern Tennessee. During that expedition, he spent two years there, twice being captured by Indians; the first time, he was set free, the next time, he escaped. As he later wrote, the Indians “had kept us in confinement seven days, treating us with common savage usage . . . in the dead of the night, as we lay in a thick cane-break by a large fire, when sleep had locked up their senses, my situation not disposing me for rest, I touched my companion, and gentle awoke him. We improved this favorable opportunity, and departed, leaving them to take their rest, and speedily directed our course towards our old camp.” His companion was his brother-in-law, John Stewart, who had been captured with him both times, but eventually Stewart’s luck ran out. While out hunting one day, he was shot by an Indian raiding party and took refuge in a hollowed-out tree, where he bled to death; his body was found there almost five years later.

Thomas Cole’s Daniel Boone Sitting at the Door of His Cabin on the Great Osage Lake, Kentucky, 1826

Thomas Cole’s Daniel Boone Sitting at the Door of His Cabin on the Great Osage Lake, Kentucky, 1826

Boone would spend his winters hunting beaver and otter, and in the spring sell or trade the furs he had collected. In the summers he would farm and hunt deer, gathering meat for the winter and deerskins for trade. The value of these deerskins, or buckskins, fluctuated against the British pound and later the American dollar, and eventually buck became an acceptable slang term for “dollar.”

Early American history has been told—and often exaggerated—by the pen and the paintbrush. Daniel Boone’s fame as a bear hunter is depicted by Severino Baraldi .

Early American history has been told—and often exaggerated—by the pen and the paintbrush. Daniel Boone’s fame as a bear hunter is depicted by Severino Baraldi .

This portrait of the lone woodsman was painted by Robert Lindneux.

This portrait of the lone woodsman was painted by Robert Lindneux.

Boone also made his clothes from the skins of the animals, and his buckskin shirt and leggings, moccasins, and beaver cap were the accepted dress of the frontiersmen.

In 1773, Boone decided it was time to move his family to Kentucke. He sold his farm and all his possessions and agreed to lead the first group of about fifty British colonists into the new territory. On the journey west, his son James trailed behind, bringing cattle and supplies to the settlements. On October 9, James Boone’s small group was camped along Wallen Creek when Indians attacked. They had failed to take the necessary precautions and were defenseless. James and several others were brutally tortured and killed. Although Boone urged the rest of the settlers to push forward, this deadly attack frightened them into returning to civilization in Virginia and Carolina. He had no choice but to go back with them.

Boone was not a man who relished a fight, but he never backed away from one, either. In 1774, he led the defense of three forts along Virginia’s Clinch River from Shawnee attacks and, as a result, earned a promotion to captain in the militia—as well as the respect of his men. While Boone proved to be one of the settlers’ most ferocious fighters, he did understand the reason for the Indians’ resistance and perhaps even sympathized with them, admitting that the war against them was intended to “dispossess them of their desirable habitations”— in simpler words, take their land.

Boone blazing the trail west in George Caleb Bingham’s 1851–52 oil painting, Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap

Boone blazing the trail west in George Caleb Bingham’s 1851–52 oil painting, Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap

His reputation was growing, the word spread by his admirers, who never hesitated to tell stories of his courage, even if some were a bit exaggerated. In 1775, the Transylvania Company, which had purchased from the Cherokees all the land lying between the Cumberland Mountains, the Cumberland River, and the Kentucky River, south of the Ohio, hired Boone to lead the expedition of axmen that carved the three-hundred-mile-long Wilderness Road through three states and the Cumberland Gap. It was this trail that opened up the frontier to the many thousands of settlers who would follow.

When Boone’s men finally reached Kentucke, he laid out the town and fort of Boonesborough. During that journey, four men were killed and five were wounded by the increasingly hostile Shawnees. But Boonesborough and Harrodsburg, wrote Henry Howe, “became the nucleus and support of emigration and settlement in Kentucky.” The settlers, including Boone’s wife and their children, raced to erect fortifications strong enough to resist Indian attacks, and on May 23, 1776, the Shawnees attacked Boonesborough. They were repelled, but they would come back, and everybody knew it.

Less than two weeks later, the Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, signed the Declaration of Independence. It would take more than a month for the settlers to learn of it. The coming war for independence did not really affect or concern them; they were already too busy fighting a war for their own survival. Boone was not a political man and did not strongly support either the Revolutionaries or the British. That was not a luxury he had time for. Life on the frontier was always a daily life-or-death struggle. Just about a week after the noble document was signed, for example, Boone’s daughter, Jemima, and two other young girls were kidnapped by a Shawnee-Cherokee raiding party. He immediately gathered nine men and set off after them.

On April 1, 1775, Boone and thirty axmen began construction of Fort Boonesborough, choosing a location in a defensible field “about 60 yards from the river, and a little over 200 yards from a salt lick.”

On April 1, 1775, Boone and thirty axmen began construction of Fort Boonesborough, choosing a location in a defensible field “about 60 yards from the river, and a little over 200 yards from a salt lick.”

From all accounts, Daniel Boone was not a man of exuberant emotions. He kept his feelings contained and was respected for his cunning and his steadfast leadership. He was not a man who ever asked another to take a risk in his place. When a task needed to be done, he took the lead. The rescuers pursued the Indians for three days, finally sneaking up on them as they sat by a breakfast fire. Their first shot wounded a guard and alerted the others to escape. Two of the Indians were killed, and the three girls were freed without harm. This kidnapping and rescue later served as an inspiration for James Fenimore Cooper, who included a similar incident in The Last of the Mohicans, with the character Hawkeye modeled after Boone.

The Revolutionary War just brushed the frontier, and rather than facing the redcoats, the pioneers fought Native Americans supplied and supported by British forces headquartered in Detroit. It was questionable whether the Indians were actually fighting to protect the Empire or to maintain their own rights to live and hunt on the land. By 1777, Indians were focusing their attacks on Boonesborough, forcing the settlers to stay close to the fort. One afternoon, Boone was outside the perimeter when the Shawnees attacked. As Boone took up his long gun to return fire, a bullet smashed into his ankle and sent him to the ground. He was carried through the closing gate as Indian bullets ripped into the wooden walls.

As this G. W. Fasel lithograph depicts, when Boone’s daughter and two friends were kidnapped by Indians in 1776, he tracked them down and rescued them—an episode that served as an inspiration for James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans.

As this G. W. Fasel lithograph depicts, when Boone’s daughter and two friends were kidnapped by Indians in 1776, he tracked them down and rescued them—an episode that served as an inspiration for James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans.

Boone was reputed to be the young nation’s greatest Indian fighter, as shown in this Baraldi painting of an attack on Boonesborough.

Boone was reputed to be the young nation’s greatest Indian fighter, as shown in this Baraldi painting of an attack on Boonesborough.

The constant pressure of attacks kept the settlers confined, and by the end of the year, supplies were running low. In early February, Boone was asked to lead a twenty-seven-man expedition to the Blue Licks, a salt lick located several miles away. It was a very risky mission: Several weeks earlier, three Shawnee chiefs in captivity at Fort Randolph had been killed, and the tribe was seeking revenge. As Boone’s men were gathering vital salt, he was alone, hunting for provisions—and he was surprised and captured by a Shawnee war party. More than one hundred warriors were led by Chief Blackfish, a man Boone had met decades earlier while serving in Braddock’s campaign. Blackfish apparently respected Boone as the chief of his people and told him he intended to avenge the murders of the three Indian chiefs by killing everyone in the salt-gathering party, then destroying Boonesborough. Boone negotiated with him, finally offering to arrange the peaceful surrender of his men, who would then go north with the tribe. Chief Blackfish agreed.

Boone led the Shawnees to his hunting party—and when his men saw him with the Indians, they suspected that he had betrayed them and prepared to fight for their lives. “Don’t fire!” Boone warned them. “If you do they will massacre all of us.” He put his reputation on the line, ordering his men to stack their arms and surrender. In the confusion, some men escaped and hurried back to warn the settlers.

Daniel Boone and the remaining members of the expedition went north with the Shawnees to the village of Chillicothe, where there was great debate on how to treat the prisoners: Some of the braves wanted to kill them, but apparently Boone convinced them otherwise. As the weeks went by, he actually was adopted into the tribe and given the Indian name Sheltowee, or “Big Turtle.” He was known to hunt and fish and play sports with the tribe, and there were even some stories that he took a bride. The Shawnees trusted him enough to take him to Detroit, where he met with the British governor Hamilton. But when he returned to Chillicothe, he found more than four hundred fifty armed and painted braves preparing to attack Boonesborough. He feared that the unprepared settlers would be slaughtered. Boone waited for the right opportunity, and in the confusion of a wild-turkey hunt, he managed to slip away.

He raced 160 miles in less than five days, on foot and horseback. He paused only one time for a meal. He reached Boonesborough still dressed in Indian garb, and his warning was met with great suspicion. The men who had escaped the original attack cautioned that he was cooperating with the Shawnees, pointing out that he had lived safely among the tribe for months and that he had returned while many of their relations remained captives. Finally Boone was able to convince the settlers to strengthen their wooden fortifications and, in an effort to prove his loyalty, suggested that instead of waiting for the attack, they take the offensive.

He and his friend John Logan led a thirty-man raiding party to the Shawnee village of Paint Creek on the Scioto River. After a trek of several days, they found it abandoned—meaning the main Indian force, then under the command of the Canadian captain Duquesne, was already on its way to the settlement. The raiding party made it back safely, and the cattle and horses were brought into the fort, which was made as secure as possible. Soon Boonesborough was surrounded by as many as five hundred Shawnee braves. British colors were displayed, and the settlers were told to either surrender, with a promise of good treatment, or fight and face the hatchet. Rather than fighting, Boone asked Captain Duquesne for a parley.

Boone and eight other men met with the Indians in a meadow beyond the settlement’s walls. Eventually they reached an agreement: The Ohio River would be the boundary between the settlers and the tribes. As they shook hands, the Indians tried to grab Boonesborough’s leaders and drag them away, but carefully hidden sharpshooters opened fire. Boone and his men retreated, and an eleven-day siege began. The enemy made several efforts to break into the fort, but riflemen inside the garrison released a steady stream of accurate fire on anyone who came within range. When the Indian force broke off the attack, thirty-seven braves had been killed and many more wounded, while inside the walls only two settlers had died and two were wounded. The resistance, led by Daniel Boone, had saved the settlement.

But within weeks, Boone was accused of treason. Two militia officers—whose kin had been taken on the salt-lick expedition and were still being held captive in Detroit—claimed he had been collaborating with the Indians and the British. He was accused of surrendering the original expedition at the salt flats, consorting with the British in Detroit in their plan to capture the settlement, intentionally weakening Boonesborough’s defense by taking thirty men on the “foolish raid” on Paint Creek, and leaving the fort vulnerable by bringing its leadership outside to negotiate with Blackfish. The penalty for treason was death by hanging.

Boone’s trial was held at another settlement, Logan’s Station. With few records available, it is difficult to reconstruct events. His accusers were Richard Callaway and Benjamin Logan. Callaway testified, “Boone was in favor of the British government and all his conduct proved it.”

Boone insisted on representing himself rather than retaining a lawyer. He testified that both his salt expedition and the settlement were outmanned and outgunned, and neither of them was strong enough to survive a surprise attack. To prevent a massacre, he had been forced to “use some stratagem,” telling the Indians “tales to fool them.” After hearing his testimony, and perhaps taking into account his good name, the judges found him not guilty—then promoted him to the rank of major.

Boone accepted the acquittal but could not forgive the insult, so he left Boonesborough and founded a new settlement in an area known as Upper Louisiana, which actually was in present-day Missouri. When asked why he’d left Kentucke, he replied, “I want more elbow room.” In recognition of his accomplishments, the Spanish governor of that region granted him 850 acres and appointed him commandant. He settled there with his family but couldn’t stay settled long.

Perhaps still angry about the false accusations, in 1780 he finally joined the Revolution, acting as a guide for George Rogers Clark’s militia as they attacked and defeated a joint British and Indian force in Ohio. In that attack, his brother Ned was shot and killed. Apparently believing they had killed the great Daniel Boone, the Shawnees beheaded Ned Boone and took his head home as a trophy.

This Currier and Ives hand-colored lithograph by Fannie Flora Palmer, The Rocky Mountains—Emigrants Crossing the Plains, 1866, illustrates the barren beauty of the frontier—although Palmer never left New York.

This Currier and Ives hand-colored lithograph by Fannie Flora Palmer, The Rocky Mountains—Emigrants Crossing the Plains, 1866, illustrates the barren beauty of the frontier—although Palmer never left New York.

A year later, Daniel Boone stood for election to the Virginia Assembly. He would be elected to that body three times.

Two years later, at the Battle of Blue Licks, the then lieutenant colonel Daniel Boone warned his commanding officer that the militia was being led into an Indian trap. He explained that the Indians had left a broad and obvious trail, which was contrary to their custom and “manifested a willingness to be pursued.” Boone believed that “an ambuscade was formed at the distance of a mile in advance” and urged him not to cross the Licking River until the area could be properly scouted or reinforcements known to be marching toward them arrived. But as the commanders debated their strategy, a headstrong young Major McGary ignored Boone’s advice and instead mounted and charged the enemy. When he was in the middle of the stream, he paused, waved his hat over his head, and shouted, “Let all who are not cowards follow me!” As the rest of the men cheered and followed, Boone supposedly said, “We are all slaughtered men,” but still joined the attack. As pioneer historian Howe described it, “The action became warm and bloody . . . the slaughter was great in the river.” When the trap was sprung, as Boone had warned, he fought courageously and helped organize the militia’s retreat. Boone himself was in desperate trouble: Several hundred Indians were between him and the main force. Howe wrote, “Being intimately acquainted with the ground, he, together with a few friends, dashed into the ravine which the Indians had occupied, but which most of them had now left to join the pursuit. After sustaining one or two heavy fires, and baffling one or two small parties, who pursued him for a short distance, he crossed the river below the ford, by swimming, and entering the wood at a point where there was no pursuit, returned by a circuitous route. . . .”

Unfortunately, as he made this miraculous escape, Boone’s twenty-three-year-old son, Israel, was shot and became one of sixty men killed in the battle. It was the worst defeat the Kentuckians were to suffer in the long war against the Indians—and it came weeks after the Revolution had ended in the East.

After the war, Boone settled in Limestone, Kentucky, a booming town on the Ohio River. He worked there as the deputy surveyor of Lincoln County, a horse trader, and a land speculator—as well as owning a small trading house.

By the time America became an independent nation in 1783, Daniel Boone was one of its most famous citizens. That fame was magnified a year later during the celebration of his fiftieth birthday, with the publication of historian John Filson’s book, The Discovery, Settlement, and Present State of Kentucke, with an appendix entitled “The Adventures of Col. Daniel Boon, One of the First Settlers.” The book, published both in the United States and England, was a great success and guaranteed Boone’s place in history. A year later, The Adventures of Colonel Boone was published by itself, further spreading Boone’s fame. The image of Boone exploring the frontier, dressed in deerskin, fighting Indians, stood for all of the men—and women—who settled the West. Although the book supposedly included words that came “out of his own mouth,” the sometimes exaggerated tales caused Boone to admit later, “Many heroic actions and chivalrous adventures are related of me which exist only in the regions of fancy. With me the world has taken great liberties, and yet I have been but a common man.”

This fanciful hand-colored lithograph by Henry Schile (c. 1874), Daniel Boone Protects His Family, probably best captures the enduring image of the legendary frontiersman.

This fanciful hand-colored lithograph by Henry Schile (c. 1874), Daniel Boone Protects His Family, probably best captures the enduring image of the legendary frontiersman.

Boone’s battles were not yet completely done. The Revolution was over, but the Indians north of the Ohio River had not given up fighting for their land. Battle hardened and desperate, they continued to raid settlements, killing and kidnapping people or stealing their livestock. In 1786, a war party of more than four hundred fifty braves had come into the Cumberland region and announced their intention to kill all the Americans. Mingo, Chickamauga, and Shawnee warriors had raided several settlements and murdered a number of people. In response, Benjamin Logan put together an army of 888 men and rode into the Mad River Valley to find and punish the tribes. Boone served as one of the commanders of the raiding party. Unfortunately, it proved far easier to find innocent Indians than those who had staged the attacks, and Logan’s men burned seven villages and destroyed the food supply of mostly peaceful natives. Among those taken prisoner were the Shawnee chief Moluntha, who believed he had made peace with the Americans. When he was brought to see Colonel Logan, he carried with him an American flag and a copy of the treaty he had signed at Fort Finney declaring he would fight no longer. He had proudly honored that agreement. However, while he was there he was accosted by the now colonel McGary—the same officer who had ignored Boone’s advice about riding into the Indian trap—who demanded to know if he had been present at the Battle of the Blue Licks. Although Moluntha had not fought in that battle, McGary did not believe his claim and clubbed him to death with a tomahawk. In an incredible twist, Logan adopted the chief’s son and raised him to become an honored American soldier.

Boone, too, was greatly chagrined by the vengeance taken on innocent Indians. He brought several Shawnees back with him to Limestone, where he fed and cared for them until a truce could be negotiated and a prisoner exchange arranged. Although he was already in his fifties, quite an old age at that time, he still had one more fight left in him. During a 1787 Indian raid in Kanawha Valley, a settler named John Flinn and his wife were killed, and their young daughter, Chloe, was kidnapped. Boone happened to be nearby and quickly organized a party to pursue the Indians. Boone’s men caught up with them and killed them, rescuing the child—who was watched over by Boone for the remainder of his years.

The only portrait of Daniel Boone painted from life, Chester Harding’s oil painting was done in 1820, only a few months before Boone’s death.

The only portrait of Daniel Boone painted from life, Chester Harding’s oil painting was done in 1820, only a few months before Boone’s death.

Like many other men of action, Daniel Boone was not especially successful when it came to business, and most of his enterprises eventually failed. He made and lost large amounts of money speculating in Kentucke land, buying and selling claims to vast tracts. For a brief time, he was rich and owned seven slaves, which some believed to be the most of any one master in the entire territory of Kentucke. His common decency was his greatest business flaw, as he was too often reluctant to enforce a claim to the detriment of others. He said he just didn’t like the feeling of profiting from another man’s loss. The respect he gained was paid for in the dollars he forfeited. Ironically, in 1798, a court in Mason County issued a warrant for his arrest for his failure to testify in a court case, while later that same year, Kentucke honored him by naming a large region of the state Boone County.

But what pressed on him most was a large debt he spent much of his later life repaying: While sleeping in a Richmond tavern on his way to Williamsburg in 1780, he was robbed of twenty thousand dollars in depreciated scrip and land certificates that had been entrusted to him by settlers to purchase supplies and buy land claims from the Virginia government. Although some of the settlers forgave him, he vowed to pay all of them back completely. It took him more than thirty years to do so, which he finally did by selling off most of the lands he had been awarded in 1815 by President James Monroe. After making the final repayment, it was said he was left with fifty cents.

His wife, Rebecca, died in 1813 after nearly fifty-seven years of marriage. She was buried on a knoll along Tuque Creek in Missouri, in the shade of large apple trees that had been grown from seeds Daniel had brought with him from Kentucke.

In spirit, as well as body, Daniel Boone never really left the wilderness, continuing to hunt and fish well into his older years. There is some evidence that he went hunting up the Missouri all the way to the Yellowstone River in his eighty-first year. He spent the last years of his life living in the large stone house his son Nathan had built on the land originally given to Boone by the Spanish in the town of Booneslick, Missouri, where Kit Carson would grow up years later. In 1820, secure in his status as an American hero, he said simply, “My time has come,” and died. He was two and a half months short of his eighty-sixth birthday.

In all those years after he had left Kentucke, Boone had rarely, if ever, spoken about the court-martial. Certainly any question about his allegiance had been answered decades earlier when he fought for the patriot cause. That the state of Kentucky had chosen to honor him by naming a county after him and President Monroe publicly recognized his service to the new country by awarding him a large tract of land settled any doubts about his loyalty. In The Adventures of Colonel Boone, the accusations were dismissed without being directly addressed: “My footsteps have often been marked with blood, and therefore I can truly subscribe to its original name [The Dark and Bloody Ground]. Two darling sons, and a brother, have I lost by savage hands, which have also taken from me forty valuable horses, and abundance of cattle.”

Near the end of his life, he was able to look back on the many sacrifices he had made to help settle the nation. He said, “Many dark and sleepless nights have I been a companion for owls, separated from the cheerful society of men, scorched by the summer’s sun, and pinched by the winter’s cold, an instrument ordained to settle the wilderness. But now the scene is changed: peace crowns the sylvan shade.”


Copyright © 2015 by Bill O'Reilly and David Fisher

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