DANIEL BOONE (1960)

Source

John Bakeless's Daniel Boone, Master of the Wilderness, 1939

Contemporary Reviews of Bakeless's Biography of Boone

John Bakeless

General Comments on Bakeless's Daniel Boone, Master of the Wilderness

Disney's Departures from Bakeless's Biography of Boone



John Bakeless's Daniel Boone, Master of the Wilderness, 1939

[1]    The source for all four volumes of Disney's Daniel Boone series is John Bakeless's biography Daniel Boone, Master of the Wilderness (Morrow, 1939).  The film credits read that the films are "based on" Bakeless's book, but, as we may expect, we must demand little of the words "based on."  The films loosely borrow the basic narrative structure of the biography and change most of the dates, people, and events to the extent that Bakeless's biography seems more like a distant cousin than a parent to the film, so to speak.  Disney writers draw on about
fifty pages, or one-eighth, of the book and anachronistically incorporate a few other isolated events into the production.  The ending of the series clearly demonstrates how Disney writers misconstrue the source.  The films teleologically lead to the moment when the Boone family proudly stands on the Commanding Ridge and gazes at the Kentucky Promised Land, agreeing that their sacrifice and hardship have not been suffered in vain.  This leaves viewers with the sense that the Boones live happily ever after, yes, yet another American Dream is in the making.  Bakeless's biography, however, agrees with numerous other sources that the first attempt to settle Kentucky (1773) was a great failure, leaving the Boones in mourning (son James was killed by the Shawnee), destitute, homeless, and dependent on Captain David Gass for shelter on the Clinch River.  It wasn't until the 1775 migration that a permanent settlement was established.  During this second journey, the Wilderness Road was cut as the settlers widened the Warrior's Path and buffalo traces.  Disney's Volumes Three and Four
combine elements from the 1773 and 1775 migrations, retaining the initiative of the first and the success of the second.  Many other examples are available to show how the Disney films misrepresent the source they claim (see below).  Walt Disney's introductions provide perfect opportunities to inform the audience that the film series does take liberties with the dates, events, and characters, but Disney ignores the opportunity and neglects the responsibility.

[2]    Bakeless's biography of Boone is the first of its kind.  In the introduction, Bakeless states that the innumerable popular sketches of Boone have not been historically faithful.  His work, he says, provides the first "documented biography based on original sources" (xi).  His "Bibliographical Essay" and extensive bibliography of primary sources evidence his substantial and diligent work to this end.  Also, the seventy-eight "Daniel Boone Documents" quoted throughout the biography testify to the veracity of Bakeless's book.  Undoubtedly, the biographer accomplishes much by providing a fresh, historically faithful composite of Boone and his life:  "Much of the material appears in print for the first time; fully half of it has never appeared anywhere except in valuable but obscure local historical journals of strictly limited circulation; and the entire story of Boone's life is here first presented with complete documentation" (xii).

[3]    As the biography goes, Daniel Boone was usually on the move, from his nondescript, humble beginnings in a Pennsylvania Quaker community to his death in Missouri as a national hero.  Boone's parents, Squire Boone and Sarah Morgan, moved their family from Abingdon, Pennsylvania, to Oley (near present day Reading, PA) and then to the Yadkin Valley in North Carolina, arriving sometime in 1751 or 1752.  Daniel was nineteen years of age when his father finally bought land in the Yadkin Valley in 1753.  In 1755 Boone joined British Major-General Braddock on a march from North Carolina to Pennsylvania, a military campaign that ended in a defeat for the British, but, as Bakeless makes clear, this defeat becomes a victory for a nation not yet born.  On this expedition, Boone met John Finley, the man who would inspire him to explore the wilderness and initiate a massive, trans-Appalachian migration.  Returning to the Yadkin Valley, Boone married Rebecca Bryan in 1756 and embarked on many hunting trips, sometimes months and even years in length.

[4]    Coupled with Boone's frequent hunting excursions, his acquaintance with Finley sparked the frontiersman's desire to explore and settle Kaintuck.  In 1764 and 1769, Boone led expeditions into the "empty acres" (36) beyond North Carolina for the purposes of land speculation.  Among others, Judge Richard Henderson reportedly helped to finance both expeditions.  Meanwhile, in the Yadkin Valley increasing tensions between the British government and the settlers erupted when a settler group called the Regulators opposed the government's broadening taxation system and its restrictive measures on landownership and westward expansion (the Royal Proclamation of 1763).  The government crushed the Regulators after the settler group violently protested court proceedings and government strictures.  This made moving west seem all the more attractive.  In the 1769 expedition, Boone traveled with John Finley and others to explore Kentucky via the Warrior's Path.  It is on this trip that Boone first gained a view of Kaintuck from the "Commanding Ridge" and spent a long period in solitude in the wilderness.  During his stay there, Cherokees warned him a few times to leave their sacred hunting grounds.  And as he did throughout his life, Boone defied these warnings (in the film he defies eight warnings).  After his many furs and skins were confiscated, he returned from the trip in 1771 with nothing but visions of Kaintuck.

[5]    The Bakeless biography summarily covers the frontiersman's entire life but concentrates on the two decades in which Boone explored, settled, and battled in Kentucky.  Of the biography's 416 pages, about 300 recount those twenty years.  Surely there is a plethora of source material on the last thirty years of Boone's life, for his reputation had spread to the point that it preceded his every move.  But Bakeless skims over the last thirty years of Boone's life presumably because he anticipates that his audience is most interested in those daring and bold frontier days.  What Boone did between the years 1769 and 1789 is central to his legendary place in American history, and, for the most part, Bakeless covers the years with frequent and assiduously catalogued source references.  Chapters include details and events involving the following:  the 1769 expedition, the first attempt to settle Kentucky (1773), Lord Dunmore's War (1774), the rise and fall of Henderson's Transylvania Company (1774-79?), the purchase of Cherokee lands (1775), cutting the Wilderness Road (1775), the founding of Boonesborough (1775), numerous Indian attacks, the conjoined forces of British soldiers and Indians attacking American forts (1775-82), Boone's two Shawnee captivities (1769, 1778), his adoption into the Shawnee tribe (1778), Blackfish's unsuccessful siege on Boonesborough (1778), Boone's court-martial and acquittal of collaborating with the British (1778), ongoing conflicts about the validity of land claims, Boone's founding of Boone's Station (1779), Boone's British captivity (1781), the siege on Bryan's Station (1782), the Native Americans' victory at the Battle of Blue Licks (1782), the Boone family's move to Limestone, Kentucky (1789), and Boone's many travels, business ventures, and public positions in different states (Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Missouri).  The final chapter treats the retired frontiersman's final years and death in 1820.

Contemporary Reviews of Bakeless's Biography of Boone

[6]    Bakeless's book was well-received by his contemporaries in 1939.  All seven reviews included in the 1939 volume of Book Review Digest are complimentary, though for different reasons.  They variously refer to Bakeless's accomplishment in compiling, reconstructing, and/or dramatizing the life and times of Boone.  Following are excerpts from those reviews, only two of which include negative comments:

1.  "Too much credit can hardly be given the author for the careful, painstaking, and scholarly way in which he has sought out, checked, and rechecked all the material available, some of it hitherto unpublished. "
Reviewer:  R. E. Danielson.  Atlantic Bookshelf of the Atlantic Monthly, Nov. 1939, 750w; Booklist, 36:6 Sept. 1939.

2.   "Mr. Bakeless has given us a capital biography of Boone, but his book is more than a biography . . . [T]he central figure by no means obscures others who explored and hunted and fought and speculated with him.  Some of the chapters are as thrilling as a Beadle Dime Novel, some of the anecdotes as improbable as Mike Fink stories; all are vouched for by sober documents."
Reviewer:  H. S. Commanger. New York Herald Tribune Books, Sept. 10, 1939. p3. 1150w.

3.  "Freshness of data and of interpretation is one of the great merits of the book.  Mr. Bakeless, in fact, writes less as the biographer than as the social historian . . . [T]he quality of a culture, the characteristics of the land, of social intercourse, of custom, of day-to-day life are richly and interestingly portrayed."
Reviewer:  H. M. Jones. Boston Evening Transcript, Sept. 9, 1939. p1. 900w.

4.  "It is a dramatic narrative.  This reviewer read it the first time at one sitting for the pleasure of seeing what happened next.  At a second reading one is impressed by Mr. Bakeless' grasp of the period, by the scholarship and by the amount of information he has managed to convey in four hundred pages."
Reviewer:  Caroline Gordon.  New Republic. 101:25. Nov. 8, 1939.  600w.

5.  "The Kentucky years are the most dramatic and eventful of Boone's life . . . I have nothing but praise for Mr. Bakeless's reconstruction of that period . . . My principal adverse criticism of his book is its disparity of scale, the narrative fullness of a dozen years, the almost annals-like quality of some of the rest."
Reviewer:  Horace Reynolds.  New York Times Book Review.  p1. Sept. 10, 1939. 1600w.; New Yorker. 15:79. Sept. 9, 1939. 200w.; Pratt Institute Quarterly. p21. Winter, 1940.

6.  "This book accomplishes a much-needed task; exhausting the sources on Boone's career, it corrects and amplifies all previous records, and offers as nearly definitive a life of the wilderness hero as can be produced in 1939.  Mr. Bakeless's story freshens and amplifies even Reuben Gold Thwaites's book on Boone."
Reviewer:  Allan Nevins.  Saturday Review of Literature.  20:6. Sept. 9, 1939. 750w.; Time. 34:89.  September 11, 1939. 750w.; Wisconsin Library Bulletin. 35:165. October 1939.

7.   "There are matters which are neglected for no apparent reason; what of the previous explorers of Kentucky . . . What was the date of Boone's passing?  Just who were his children, what were their birth dates and what became of them? . . . But these are minor matters, which do not at all affect the essential validity of a grand and readable tale, the most complete and reliable so far of the beau ideal of the older America, the model of buckskin knight-errantry."
Reviewer:  K. C. K.  Christian Science Monitor.  51:6.  December 1939.

John Bakeless

[7]    John Edwin Bakeless (1894-1978) was an accomplished historiographer and biographer who specialized in American history. Daniel Boone, Master of the Wilderness was published in 1939 (Morrow), re-printed in 1965 under the title Daniel Boone (Stackpole).  The 1939 biography was the fifth of Bakeless's nineteen books spanning the years 1921 to 1989, the last of which was published posthumously.  Of those nineteen, he and his wife co-authored four.  The third of his five reprinted books and his second of three biographies, Daniel Boone was well received and welcomed as an authoritative biography of the legendary American frontiersman.

[8]    Beyond numerous encyclopedia and periodical contributions, Bakeless's place in American historiography is secured in studies of war, expedition, traitors, heroes, espionage, and America's first explorers.  In what is rather typical of historians, Bakeless's work does not chronologically progress from a fixed point in the distant past to more recent times but moves in a pendular fashion, while gradually receding further into the past.  In general, his writing is quite readable for its clarity, its occasional conversational tone, its fundamental scholarly assurance, and its dramatic and humorous touches, yet his style does not compromise or unsteady the integrity of his work.  His scholarly books are generally suited for university and living room readings alike.

[9]    Bakeless's life reads like that of a successful American, full, rich, and varied.  Born in Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, in 1894, he was the son of college professor Oscar Hugh Bakeless and Sara May (Harvey) Bakeless.  In 1916, he married Katherine Little, a writer and musician.  He took a B.A. from Williams College in 1918 and then completed an M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1920 and 1936 respectively.  In the 1920's he edited the periodicals Living Age, Independent, and Forum.  Bakeless taught journalism at New York University from 1927 to 1954.  From 1927 to 1968 he delivered lectures at a variety Sarah Lawrence College, Harvard University, the University of Colorado, Yale, the University of Michigan, and Dickinson.   Additionally, he served in the U.S. Army from 1918 to 1953, was made colonel, and received a bronze star.  He was also competent in several foreign languages, French, Old French, German, Russian, Latin, Greek, Gothic, Olde English (Anglo-Saxon), and Middle English.  Beyond these things, he was interested in entomology and the outdoors (Contemporary Authors Online).  His biography of Boone is dedicated to the conservationist Ernest C. Oberholtzer (1884?-1977), who was described as a "defender of the wild places" (Olson 11).

[10]    It is appropriate to consider what interests are at work in Bakeless's scholarship. Here, I will briefly comment on two of Bakeless's books that may bear on our understanding of the Boone biography.  One of these books precedes the biography, and the other follows it.  The Origin of the Next War (1926) declares that the war to end all wars did not end war.  The book posits that those conditions and conflicts that had sparked the Great War were not resolved by war but persist in contemporary Europe (5).  "[W]ithout presuming to don the prophetic mantle" (46), he says that his book is not fatalistic nor does it assert that another world war is imminent.  Rather, the purpose of the book is "to study the underlying causes of modern war, spread a knowledge of them among the people who must do the fighting . . . and suppress the peace-at-any-price folk, whose emotionalism interferes with the strenuous intellectual endeavor such a task requires" (296).  His chapter on "Why Wars Happen" highlights a variety of interdependent factors that lead to war, chief among them are increasing populations, industrialization, economic expansion, imperialism, and colonization.  He sums these up in economic terms:  "The War itself was fought for the sake of economic prizes--colonies, access to the sea, sea lanes, markets, food, and raw materials" (46).  Subsequent chapters detail these potential causes and elucidate the threat of current tensions in the modern world where national interests and nationalism fuel the politics of the competition for economic prizes.

[11]    Overall, in the midst of this large project, Bakeless does not interrogate contemporary politics as much as he outlines how general post-war conditions may perpetuate the clash of national interests and military mobilization.  Keeping all matters on a national level, Bakeless rarely speaks of individual statesmen, politicians, leaders, or political groups.  In one way, writing national politics suits Bakeless's aims to inform "the people who must do the fighting" and to combat the emotionalism that a more personalized politics may incite.  In another way, writing anonymous nations, so to speak, implies that discord erupts between nations rather than within them.  Certainly this is appropriate to the subject of war, for it is generally fought on the national level. Similarly, Boone and his undertakings are nationalized in Daniel Boone, Master of the Wilderness.  While the biography concentrates on arduously constructing Boone as an individual, it also writes him as a man with national interests.  In Boone's case, however, these interests are teleological; for Bakeless, Boone is a precursor for an American nation even before the Revolution.  This is intimated in the book title itself, which suggests that the frontiersman led a campaign of domination in the interest of a budding colony and nation.  The nation will follow Boone westward.

[12]    As an early 21st century reader, I also find it noteworthy that Bakeless's 1926 book on war does engage cultural and racial issues, though these issues play a very small part in the study.  At one point, he mentions that one of the many potential causes of war is the "ostensibly altruistic endeavor to impose a 'superior' culture upon unwilling and 'inferior' beneficiaries" (23).  And while our current pluralistic histories may ask Bakeless to continue his pursuit of these cultural impositions, we cannot expect him to meet our demands.  He does engage the idea of cultural displacement in a chapter on Irridentism, the etymology of which refers to the Italian Irridenta, a section of northern Italy under Hapsburg rule "where the people, in spite of their Italian blood and speech, were denied union with their brothers in Italian Ridenta" (107).  In this chapter he cites how irridentism figures in the history of many European nations.  And although irridentism, per se, does not exactly define what happened in Boone's time, it is certainly not a far cry from the unrest and expropriation that pervaded the cultural and political landscape in colonial America.

[13]    Elsewhere, Bakeless theorizes how "the doctrine of racial superiority" ( 133) has evolved from the ethnocentric assumptions and racial prejudices of the everyman, a.k.a. John Jones.  The historian notes that this doctrine is being entertained in different forms on our "distracted planet" (134), most notably in regard to John Jones's African and Asian counterparts.  Bakeless's chapter on the Pacific briefly discusses these racial hostilities as contributors to tensions in that hotspot.  With this in mind, I wonder why Bakeless's biography of Boone does not do more in engaging matters like this as colonization steadily moves westward.  An acceptable response to this question would probably cite the Boone book as a biography more than a cultural history.

[14]    In his book published eleven years after the Boone biography and five years after World War II, Bakeless writes about early exploration of what would become the continental United States.  In The Eyes of Discovery:  The Pageant of North America as Seen by the First Explorers (1950), the historian chronicles how sixteen European explorers routed expeditions into the American wilderness.  The history fulfills what the title suggests:  the book sees America through European eyes, devoting much more time to European discourse than Native American discourse.  Even on a small scale, this imbalance presides in statements as simple as "The Petun Indians were friendly, as were the Ottawa, whom [Champlain] next visited" (135-36).  This statement subtly depicts the natives as "Other" and Champlain as a protagonist; should conflict arise, the natives are more responsible than the Frenchman.  The statement writes the natives as either friendly or hostile, while the European innocently expects hospitality while he goes about making "visits."  Certainly, Bakeless's history does not depict Native Americans as violent savages nor as empty vessels ready-made for European acculturation, but it is Eurocentric.  Again, I don't mean to be unfair to Bakeless by imposing on him postmodern conceptions of pluralism and multiple histories, but I simply wish to show that his history generally resists this reading, while inviting it in a few places.

[15]    There are isolated places where Bakeless does gesture toward a native discourse.  Despite the fact that the historian seems to privilege "The White Discovers" chapter by anachronistically placing it before the "Red Discovers" chapter, he does provide a rather sympathetic summary history of the pre-colombian land and people.  At one point he declares that Europe wrought havoc on the unspoiled land:  "There were no Indians, and it would be many thousand years before the white man would arrive, bringing trouble with him" (19).  In the same chapter,
however, he inverts this, explaining how the Indians invaded the land as they pushed east from the Bering Strait:  "Slowly the red invaders of this empty land crept south and then east . . . Of these some remained in savagery, others--Toltec, Maya, Aztec, Inca--created great civilizations" (20).  Here he implies that no one is a native of this land but all are "invaders," and in the same breath, he credits some of these invaders as creators of great
civilizations.  Bakeless also mentions various theories on the origin of Native Americans, such as the Ten Tribes of Israel theory, then shifts his attention to more credible, recent theories on how these people had moved from the Far East to our west coast.

[16]    This study, however, largely writes over the natives.  Two quick examples will serve here.  First, in his account of Cabeza de Vaca's eight-year stay in the New World, Bakeless fails to mention that de Vaca gradually embraces native culture and sympathizes with the natives. Overlooking the fact that de Vaca syncretizes Spanish medicine and native healing arts, Bakeless writes instead that the Spaniard fools the natives with his medicine:  "The redskins were instantly cured--or thought they were" (44).  Nor does Bakeless mention that Cabeza de Vaca undergoes a fundamental paradigm shift in regard to the land.  Once inhospitable, wild, and savage, the natural world becomes inviting, beautiful, and mystical. The humility that de Vaca admittedly learns is also dismissed.  Second is a more famous story involving the French explorer Robert Cavalier Sieur de La Salle.  Along the Ohio in 1679, La Salle and his men encounter a temporarily deserted Illinois village as the tribe is out hunting.  La Salle's hungry men commit "one of the high crimes of the wilderness" (296) by stealing from the Illinois cache of corn.   Bakeless, like La Salle, justifies the theft by saying that La Salle hoped to pay it back later with gifts, but Bakeless neglects to mention that these so-called deals were grand manipulations devised to get what La Salle wanted.  He played on Illinois fears of the Iroquois by threatening to befriend the enemy and supply them with better weapons and commodities.  The La Salle story continues with another incident months later when the French swept downriver at great speed and terrified some Indians "who were carelessly bivouacked on both sides of the stream, so that they could not combine their divided forces quickly" (296).  According to this account, the Indians should have known that armed strangers would suddenly appear and surprise them.  In contrast, the historian does offset some of this when he writes how the Indians were often victims of unprovoked injury:  "there was always some reckless soul who was sure to be offered his itchy finger sooner or later" (290).

[17]    Bakeless's most pronounced attempt at a native discourse comes in the Epilogue, where he asserts that native culture still exists in North America.  Here he refers to "the destructive white man" (408), balancing it with an image of "war-bonneted Sioux [who] will never again, except in moving pictures, . . . ride hell-for-leather upon the casual traveler" (408-9).  He then reassures readers that the Indians are not really gone, though he qualifies this assurance with politically muddled terms: "in 1950 [there] are just as many individuals with the blood of tribes in their veins as there were when Columbus landed--though it is true that much of the red blood is mixed with white by this time" (408).  Continuing on the same line of thought is the fact that some red men still roam in the American woods, but are left with just two options:  "the Indian is on his reservation or is embracing the citizenship of a country that belongs to him at least as much as it can ever belong to the white man" (409).  Presumably the better choice for the American Indian is made when "[h]e enters the white man's life" (409). Although I think Bakeless means well here, his conciliation maladroitly stumbles.  He refers to the "stubborn conservatism about the red man" (408) and to "the terror of an Indian raid [that is now] faint and far-off, a tale from story-books" (409).  The Mohawks "reveal a strange gift" for making certain crafts, and Indians are better structural steelworkers than most white men because for "some strange reason" they are unaffected by heights.  Reassurance is again offered to native sympathizers when Bakeless notes how the red fox, hawk, eagles, possum, moose, deer, wolf, and cougar are still alive.  Heck, even the otter and buffalo have been saved from extinction!

[18]    Even though The Eyes of Discovery does not give the natives long and loud voices, it does begin to open discourse.  In fact, Bakeless's 1950 book does this more than his Boone biography and more than the Disney Daniel Boone films.  Generally, the 1950s continue to open this native discourse which approaches the mainstream in the 1970s and continues today.

General Comments on Bakeless's Daniel Boone, Master of the Wilderness

[19]    Bakeless reports many of the same facts reported in other Boone biographies and history textbooks.  So what is special about Bakeless's treatment of these facts?  Bakeless is indeed a great compiler of original source material, and the biography is certainly very readable.  But despite his introductory claim that he reports only the facts, the biography is in itself a narrative, something that, simply by being told, reveals a tone that colors it beyond the  basic facts.  Bakeless's biography conveys the reverence and subtle mystique that characterize most accounts of Boone in folklore, biography, and history.  In short, the Bakeless biography continues the heroic and sometimes mythic portrait of the famous frontiersman who is credited with having opened the wilderness and prompted many settlers to move westward.

[20]    Here, I would like to comment briefly on a few ways that Bakeless's biography writes Boone.  As mentioned above, the introduction claims faithulness to original sources.  The biographer also goes on to say that he will ignore "mere rumor, except where it is so widespread as to deserve at least passing mention, plainly labelled for what it is" (xi). Here, Bakeless expresses his wish to separate and delineate ostensible fact from ostensible fiction, but, in doing so, he must rely on the reader's memory to maintain this line, something that most readers, I think, will have great difficulty doing.  A certain potential danger lurks here because it is doubtful that after closing the book, readers' memories will probably fail to maintain the distinctive line that Bakeless tries to draw.  The result is most likely a muddled view of Daniel Boone and American history.  Likewise, the credibility of sources remains in question.  Certainly, the folk legends and stories about Boone may be more entertaining than those so-called factual accounts, but we can't dismiss the likelihood that what may seem like the most believable firsthand accounts were at least a little fogged by time, politics, Boone's contemporary reputation, and other matters.  Bakeless's "Bibliographical Essay" does much to trace and establish his line of sources that include the monumental works of Dr. Lyman C. Draper, John Shane, and Colonel R.T. Durrett, each of whom he
repeatedly cites in his notes.  I do not mean to dispute the accuracy of what these historians have arduously reviewed and compiled but rather to say that they, like their sources and like Bakeless, were writing Boone rather than simply recording him.  Where history ends and the historian begins is not always clear, for the historian also creates history simply by telling it as a narrative.

[21]    Bakeless's biography employs a certain narrative discipline, a discipline that is maintained and sometimes extended in the Disney film series as well.  In his introductory remarks on veracity, the biography makes a point to discount two particular "rumors" about Boone:  Boone's supposed Shawnee wife (or perhaps "wives") and Rebecca's supposed illegitimate child, Jemima, to Boone's brother Ned (John Mack Faragher's 1992 biography convincingly argues these "rumors" as facts).  Bakeless says that there is not enough evidence to suggest either one is true, in effect taking a side and defending Boone.  He then goes on to say that all of these rumors are supported only by folk stories that he admits are "usually in conflict with the known facts" (xi) (my italics).  He also cites Boone's devotion to his wife as a sufficient reason to discount such rumors.  In the case of Rebecca's affair, he says the dates of the child's birth and Boone's presence at home agree as they should to ensure Boone's paternity.  Obviously, as a biographer of Boone, Bakeless admires his subject at least to some degree and doesn't want to see Boone's reputation smeared by unfounded folk tales.  The Disney films don't mention the affairs either, as we may expect from a family film; instead, they go to great length to establish a strong relationship between Rebecca and Daniel, one that can endure even the most divisive problems.  But, in establishing this, the films depart from the Bakeless source and invent their own events and circumstances. Minding the biographer's denunciation of rumors, Bakeless's readers may wonder what other things Bakeless may have withheld to preserve Boone as he likes him.  Questions about credibility also arise when we consider Boone himself.  Many accounts related in Bakeless's biography could have only originated from Boone himself, as he was the only white man involved in the incident.  On several occasions he explores alone, traps alone, kills Indians alone, or scouts alone.  Boone, we must remember, was a noted fabricator and enjoyed heroic caricatures of himself, approving stories such as those published in John Filson's ghost-written autobiography (1784).  Can we believe Boone's stories, especially those that are twice told by relatives, friends, and acquaintenances?

[22]    One page after his introduction, Bakeless begins the biography with a bit of his own creating.  He observes how Boone family members moved from place to place and wildly concludes that the Boone genes are constitutively programmed to seek new land.  He avers that Boone wanderlust is genetic, "They were an adventurous breed, the Boones" (3).  Later he adds a mystical touch to this assertion:  "There was always a branch of the Boone family that never stayed.  The Boones were wanderers born.  They had the itching foot.  Something called. Something beyond the mountains always whispered.  They heard of distant lands and knew that they must go there" (5).  Boone spirituality is not rooted in the Quaker community or in human institutions at all; instead, Boones hear nature's silent voices calling them.  Hearing what others cannot, Boones are genetically determined to move beyond the safety of conventional boundaries.  The only way to explain why a Boone acts the way he does is simply to say that he is a Boone.  And what Boones do is acquire land:  "They went because they wanted land--the Boones always wanted land" (5).  Throughout the biography, Bakeless employs this discourse of acquisition, especially in reference to land.  But a rather awkward imposition occurs here.  In effect, Daniel's own urge to acquire new land is written onto his ancestors.  Bakeless allows the future to act upon and shape the past.  In this way, what Bakeless knows will happen later in the Boone narrative teleologically determines how it begins and how it develops.  This is virtually unavoidable, even for an accomplished scholar like Bakeless. Equally interesting is the way that Bakeless writes the weird moment when "Fate came plodding down the Yadkin Valley
Road one day, leading a pack-horse.  Fate had for the moment assumed the guise of a backwoods peddler, and his name was John Finley" (44).  And from here, Bakeless goes into a long, Finleyesque, hyperbolic description of the "settler's paradise" (45).  This fated re-meeting between Boone and Finley teologically prompts Boone toward his genetically prescribed destiny.  His urge to acquire land is part of a larger design that employs other people and moves a nation toward its destiny.  A mythic, national hero rumbles in the heart of Boone, in this "Master of the Wilderness."

[23]    In another section of the narrative, the biographer simultaneously defines the discourse of acquisition and his defense of Boone's frontier settlement.  At the center of the Boone legend is the land, "the new sky and strange earth" (qtd. from Felix Walker 90), "the forbidden land" (15), "the promised land" (111), "the dark and bloody ground" of Kentucky.  The narrative moves and turns on the prospect of claiming and defending land.   Despite the fact that Indians had lived on this land for thousands of years before the white man, the white ideology couldn't see the Indians; all the white man could see were "empty acres" (36).  Intentionally or unintentionally, Bakeless gives much more time to the settler's discourse of land acquisition than to an Indian discourse of land retention.  On the rare occasion that he does gesture toward a native discourse, he does so with a wry twist:  "The Indians?  Well, these were really the King's lands which merely happened to be claimed by 'the Indian nations.'  It ought to be easy to prove in a white man's court that the Indian had no title.  The only parchments that the red men had were deerskins" (36).  The white man's agent for land acquisition is Daniel Boone, whose eye quickly appraises the land, whose prowess and hardiness are matchless:

Successful land speculation meant finding the best lands first.  To find them you needed a farmer who knew land when he saw it, a woodsman who could find his way in the wilderness, a scout skillful enough to stay alive with death about him everywhere.  You need somebody tough, brave, honest--and poor enough to risk his life for the chance of landed wealth.  Well, there was Daniel Boone! (36)
Boone is the likely choice for the job as he is naturally cut out for it, genetically, spiritually, and pragmatically.  As he relates Boone's escapades, Bakeless anticipates how his narrative may be read and criticized as a sort of capitalist heroic story, so he must define his discourse carefully:
The kind of writer who enjoys denigration of heroic figures, frequently endeavors to represent the whole Kentucky epic, and Daniel Boone's role in particular, as nothing but greedy speculation and land grabbing of heroic extent. It is certainly true that Boone wanted land and laid claim to land on a gigantic scale, as did most of the pioneers.  To all these sturdy, independent souls, land that a man could call his own and walk over was the summum bonum of human existence . . . But land was something more than a material possession, something greater than mere wealth.  It was a symbol of a man's independence, something uniquely his own, carved by his own effort from the wilderness. . . . Freehold, land, estates a man could see and walk on, raise his crops on, use to endow the children that he got--that was what the pioneer wanted. (115-16)
But Bakeless can't avoid what is central to the American myth.  His own discourse is charged with individualistic and acquisitive terms such as "independent," "pioneer," "freehold," "wealth," and "estates."  These words and others like it conjure the American ideal of making one's way to better his own station and to ensure the same for his posterity.  Always with an end in sight, the American pioneer carves his niche into time. Again, teleology seems at the heart of this American biography.

[24]    Predictably, Bakeless's biography of Boone tells us about both Boone and the biographer.  Where history ends and where the historian begins is often indistinguishable.  In 1939, Bakeless called for a certain portrait of Boone, a portrait intimated in the title alone.  The Master of the Wilderness is a leader of a budding nation bursting at the seams, one that must acquire more land if civilization will continue to progress.  To be master is to dominate and appropriate whatever lies in the path of progress and can be consumed for its purposes.  Be they mountains, forests, rivers, or peoples, they can be dominated by the master with a vision of an end.  Likewise, as we shall see, Disney's Daniel Boone series also writes the present onto the past.  For reasons that I hope to demonstrate later, the Bakeless 1939 biography, as-it-was, couldn't possibly serve the Disney audience, the Disney venture, or the contemporary politics in 1960; Boone had to be rewritten by and for Disney productions in 1960.  I want to mention here as well that five years after the Disney series, Bakeless's biography was reprinted but this time the subtitle was conspicuously dropped, presumably by Bakeless and his publisher.  Evidently, 1965 called for a Boone who was no longer Master of the Wilderness.  The caution that I hope to maintain for myself throughout this study is how I too may be calling for my own version of Daniel Boone and not even realize it.

Disney's Departures from Bakeless's Boone Biography

[25]    Below is an incomplete list of the ways in which the Disney films depart from and misrepresent the source they claim:

1.  The film opens in the spring of 1760 and says that Boone was married three weeks early. The book and other sources say Daniel and Rebecca married four years earlier in 1756.

2.  The film puts Finley, Boone, and others on a 1760 expedition.  The book agrees with other sources that this expedition is properly dated as 1769.  The Bakeless biography does include a solitary hunting trip for Boone in 1760, but this was in Tennessee, not Kentucky.  Volume I's opening scenes show Boone and Finley talking over a freshly killed bear.  The tree carving that Boone makes during this scene also occurs in the Bakeless biography, although it too is carved in Tennessee.

3.  The film says the expedition had great difficulty locating the Warrior's Path.  The book says "finding the way proved easier than they had expected . . . the path was plainly marked" (48).

4.  The film states Finley had traveled this route before 1760.  The book says Finley was familiar with a northern route into the Kentucky wilderness but "knew nothing of trails over land," i.e. the Warrior's Path through the Cumberland Gap.

5.  The film shows that Boone alone discovered the Warrior's Path by following an Indian party. At a mountain crest, he is accosted by a Shawnee brave.  A fight ensues and Daniel is the victor.  The biography doesn't credit Boone alone for having found the Warrior's Path.  Also, no report of an Indian fight is given.

6.  The film kills Finley on the 1760 expedition, and his dying words both warn and inspire Boone.  The book says Finley did become ill on the 1769 trip but recovered and then joined Boone to the Commanding Ridge.  Boone last saw Finley when he and three others returned home:  "Finley led them back, and as he disappears among trees, he disappears also from history.  It is said that he went north to Pennsylvania" (Finley was reportedly from Lancaster, PA.).  With this said, he had no dying words for Boone.

7.  The film says Daniel Boone and John Stuart were captured by Shawnee and then released after a war club tribunal spared their lives and Boone defeated the Shawnee brave Crow Feather in a fight.  The book says Boone and Stuart were captured under similar circumstances but released after a few days, receiving the warning that they must go home (even the bit about wasps and yellow  jackets).  As in the film, the book says that Boone and Stuart didn't heed the warning but hid and continued hunting.

8.  The film includes a war club tribunal in which Blackfish's vote breaks a six to six tie and saves the lives of Boone and Stuart.  The biography reports the vote was fifty-nine for execution and sixty-one for release but this incident didn't include Stuart and occurred many years later.

9.  The film shows that Stuart was scalped by the Shawnee after refusing to leave Kentucky. The book says Stuart disappeared after he and Boone agreed to split up during the hunt.  Five years later when Boone and his 1775 expedition cut the Wilderness Road, a skeleton believed to be Stuart's was found stuffed in the hollow of a tree.

10.  The film includes a conversation in which Boone agrees to let Stuart stay in the wilderness after Stuart firmly argues that he should stay.  In effect, this removes from Boone any responsibility for Stuart's death.  The book includes no disagreement like this, nor any attempt to acquit Boone in this way.

11.  The film has Squire find Boone after Boone discovered Stuart scalped.  The book says that Squire Boone and Alexander Neely showed up together.  And because Stuart did not disappear until later, there was a period when all four men hunted and hid on the natives' sacred hunting ground.  In this way, the film seems determined to have only two scouts return from Kentucky, imitating the two Jewish spies in Numbers.

12.  The film does not provide Boone with an extended period of solitude in the wilderness, a pivotal period in his life and an integral part of his legend.  The book says that after Stuart had disappeared, Neely had returned to North Carolina, and Squire had gone back to get supplies, Boone had spent a long period of solitude in the wilderness.  Lasting nearly a year, this period transformed Boone.  This period also bred a few stories in which
Boone kills solitary Indians.  Boone usually casts a haze over such incidents, however.  For example, there is one story where Boone comes upon an old, solitary Shawnee fishing.  His account of the events implies that he shot the native, though Boone doesn't clearly admit it: "'as I was looking at the fellow, he tumbled into the river, and I saw him no more'" (59).  In other similar accounts, Boone says he heard a noise that "'sounded very much like Tick-Licker'"and then saw the Indian fall into the river.

13.  The film depicts Blackfish as the chief of the Shawnee tribe.  The book says the chief with whom Boone had contact in his early expeditions was Captain Will, a man who doesn't appear nor is mentioned in the films. Blackfish does not enter the book until 1777 when he leads a series of attacks against Boonesborough and Harrodsburg.

14.  The film paints Crow Feather as Boone's archenemy (Walt Disney even says so).  The book doesn't mention Crow Feather nor does it give Boone an archenemy.  I searched for Crow Feather in other sources as well and came up empty each time.Crow Feather seems to be a Disney invention; thus,  the events that include Crow Feather are also fictional and thus open to political scrutiny.

15.  The film says Crow Feather warned Boone and Stuart that the Shawnees, like wasps and yellow jackets, would attack the Wide Mouths if they would dare return to the Shawnee hunting grounds.  The book reports that Captain Will issued this warning.  I find it interesting that the film doesn't attribute these nasty words to Chief Blackfish but gives them to Crow Feather, the "bad" Indian who, with every appearance, grows more and more threatening, vile, and despicable.

16.  The film includes a scene where Daniel and Squire find an abandoned, dying Indian and nurse him back to health.  Bakeless doesn't mention this.  History says that Boone killed a solitary old Indian (see #12).

17.  The film shows Daniel in hand-to-hand combat with Crow Feather three times.  Given the chance to kill Crow Feather on two of those occasions, Daniel spares his life.  The book reports no such contests between Boone and a Native American, and although Boone may have been merciful on occasion, the biography does not report events like this.

18.  The film says that upon his return from the first expedition, Boone learned that Rebecca had given birth to their first child, James, while Boone was away.  The book reports that the 1769 journey was two years in length and a child was not born during this absence.  Faragher's biography reports that Daniel Morgan Boone was born seven months after Boone departed in May of 1769.  In the case of James's birth, the film may be rewriting the circumstances of Jemima's birth (October 4, 1762) and her supposed illegitimacy.  Bakeless discounts the rumors of illegitimacy, while Faragher speculates that Jemima was conceived when Boone was off hunting and participating in a campaign against the Cherokees (1760-1762).

19.  The film says James Boone was born in late 1760 or early 1761 while Daniel was off in the mountains.  The book says that James was born May 3, 1757.

20.  The film shows Rebecca tending flowers when Daniel returns from his 1760 expedition.  The book does not allow Rebecca much time to tend flowers.  Because Daniel was often absent from home, Rebecca bore the burden of all the chores and responsibilities of farming, cleaning, cooking, splitting wood, managing the money, maintaining the cabin, and tending the children.  Disney makes Rebecca's life quite nice.

21.  The film includes a character named Mortecai who was a leader of the so-called Rebellionists.  Eventually, Mortecai was converted to Boone's peaceful ways.  The book never mentions such a person.

22.  The film pits a violent group of backwoodsmen called the Rebellionists against the British government.  The book also includes this group but indicates that they were called Regulators, a term much less seditious and less revolutionary than the Disney term. (See scene analysis)

23.   The film says that Boone quelled the rebellion by beating Mortecai and delivering an inspirational speech that convinced a congregation of Rebellionists to abandon their protest and head west.  Bakeless doesn't report a fight nor a compelling speech like this.  Boone remained neutral throughout the strife.

24.  The film depicts the 1773 expedition as a success for the Boone family, with James being merely injured.  The book says the 1773 expedition failed miserably and that James was killed at the Cumberland Gap.

25.  The film calls the 1773 expedition the Wilderness Road journey (Volume Three).  The book says that the Wilderness Road was cut during the 1775 migration.

26.  The film includes Bud and Maybelle Yancey, young lovers who run away from home to accompany Boone into Kentucky.  At first, they masquerade as a married couple but then are discovered and eventually married by Boone himself.  Bakeless neither mentions these people nor Boone marrying anyone.  The invention of this couple accomplishes a few things in the film, one of which is to establish a strong and playful relationship between Daniel and Rebecca.  In a disagreement fueled by their perceptions of gender roles, they disagree on what Daniel should
or shouldn't do to reconcile a lover's quarrel between the masquerading youngsters.

27.  The film includes Captain Gass's Trading Post and a stealthy Indian attack there.  The book reports that Captain Gass didn't own a trading post but did own a farm near the Clinch River where the Boones sought shelter after the 1773 expedition had failed.  The book doesn't mention a trading post raid either.

28.  The film says that James was captured and almost adopted by the Shawnee (James likes the idea of adoption).  The biography says that Daniel was captured and adopted by the Shawnee in1778.  Given the name "Sheltowee" (Big Turtle), he was presumably adopted to replace Blackfish's son who had been killed during a conflict with the settlers.  Eventually Boone escaped from the Shawnee.  The historical James Boone did not enjoy captivity the way that the film James does, for he was brutally tortured and then killed in captivity.

29.  The film indicates that Boone's life was in danger each time he ran into the Shawnee.  In each case, Blackfish shows his mercy either by trusting that Boone will heed his warnings or, in the last case, by killing Crow Feather.  The biography says that the Shawnee "admired him, were invariably pleased on the rare occasions when they outwitted him, were delighted to have caught him [in 1778], and later obstinately refused to give him up, even for cash" (162-63).

30.  The film says that Boone had kidnapped a Shawnee boy to trade for his own captured son. The biography doesn't report anything like this.  Instead, Boone loses two sons to Indian attacks (James in 1773 and Israel at the Battle of Blue Licks on August 19, 1782).  Boone did negotiate prisoner exchanges in  the spring and summer of 1787 when the Shawnee and the American settlers were working up peace treaties.  None of these exchanges, however, included a Boone.

31.  The film includes a climatic point in which Blackfish kills the "bad" Indian (Crow Feather) when he is about to tomahawk Boone.  No related incident is reported in Bakeless's book.

32.  The film, on three occasions, shows Rebecca's concession to Daniel's indefatigable dream.  As the scenes go, Rebecca is adamantly opposed to Daniel's dream of migration into the wilderness, but, after hearing Boone hyperbolize about the Kentucky land, she suddenly changes her mind.  On two of these occasions, she references a Biblical passage to account for her sudden turnabout:  “Whither thou goest, I go, Daniel.”  The book doesn't mention Rebecca's mercurial concessions nor does it refer to heated disputes that turn in this way.

33.  Each film ends with Boone fighting an adversary.  In one case this adversary is Mortecai, and in the other three cases, Boone's opponent is his archenemy Crow Feather.  The biography does not report any fight like these or fights under similar circumstances.

34.  In the film, a Boone son is captured by the Shawnee in 1773.  History says that in 1776 a Boone daughter, Jemima, was kidnapped along with two Callaway daughters.  After a long chase, Boone's men killed some Shawnee and Cherokee warriors to save the girls.

As I say above, this is an incomplete list, but it suffices to evidence numerous discrepancies between the Bakeless biography and the films that ostensibly claim historical verity.  These discrepancies reveal a political privileging of Daniel Boone as a ideal American:  his heroism, his reputation, his family values, his social conscience, his national vision, his acculturative social theory, his capitalist and acquisitive enterprises, and the budding American nation are privileged over a Native American discourse in general and a Shawnee discourse in particular.  Later, I will consider how these political interests are relevant to the Disney project and the year 1960 also.  In short, the viewer of the Disney films receives and is expected to believe a misconstrued history.
 
 

Copyright (c) 2001 by Keat Murray, Graduate student at Lehigh University.

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