DANIEL BOONE (1960)

Synopsis

Volume One:  The Warrior’s Path                        Volume Two:  And Chase the Buffalo

         Volume Three:  The Wilderness Road      Volume Four:  The Promised Land
 

Volume One:  The Warrior’s Path

[1]    Walt Disney himself introduces the Daniel Boone series, invoking images of “trailblazers” such as the Vikings, Columbus, Hudson, Cortes, La Salle, Lewis and Clark, and astronauts.  Disney places Boone in this great pantheon of explorers, some of whom have recently been reevaluated for their cultural imperialism, exploitation of natives and resources, and, in some cases,  genocide.

[2]    The film begins in 1760.  Daniel Boone is a recently married, common farmer in the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina.  On a short hunting excursion he meets a wandering salesman, John Finley, who rekindles the young farmer’s irrepressible yearning for idyllic, expansive space in which to hunt, roam, and settle.  Rebecca, Boone’s wife, reminds Daniel of the home that needs him.  After Boone is unlawfully granted funding from Judge Henderson, Finley and Boone lead a small expedition to find “The Warrior’s Path,” a path used by Indians to cross the mountains into their sacred hunting ground, Kaintuck.*  The group gains the famous “Commanding Ridge” that overlooks the great Kentucky River valley below, “a strange new earth, a new sky.”

[3]    After some time has passed and the travelers have filled their packs with furs, they are engaged in a skirmish with some Shawnee braves who kill Finley in response to the white man’s presence in Kaintuck.  Finley’s ambivalent dying words warn Boone about the “dark, blood ground” called Kaintuck.  Boone and John Stuart are captured by the Shawnee, and after Boone purposely loses a shooting match to Crow Feather, a surly Shawnee, a tribunal votes to free the men.  Chief Blackfish, casts the deciding vote and warns Boone that he must return home.  But instead of doing so, Boone andJohn Stuart hide out and continue trapping so Boone can repay his debt to Henderson.  Hunting alone, Boone’s companion is killed, but Boone is soon joined by his brother Squire, who journeyed into Kaintuck to find his long absent brother.  Crow Feather and his men, however, discover the men, and another contest ensues.  Another shooting contest between Crow Feather and Boone ends in a tie, and then, to determine a winner, Blackfish orders a fight-to-the-death.  Boone wins but spares Crow Feather’s life.  He only wants the right to the furs he has gathered and the freedom to return home.  Again, Blackfish warns Boone to never return to Kaintuck.  Upon returning to the Yadkin Valley, Boone faces his wife, and as they embrace after Boone’s long absence, a baby’s cry is heard.  With his young wife and his newborn babe, Boone commits himself to staying home, to “make the farm pay” rather than traveling the dark and bloody ground of Kaintuck.  Rebecca doubts that Boone’s wanderlust and desire to go beyond the mountains will remain domesticated for long.

*I use the “Kaintuck” spelling because that is what the film’s source uses as a contemporary spelling.  Another popular variant was “Kentucke,” which was used by John Filson in his 1784 ghost-written autobiography of Boone, The Adventures of Col. Daniel Boone.

Volume Two:  And Chase the Buffalo

[4]    This volume opens with the song that will continue to frame the rest of the series, ending with “I guess no man’l ever Dan’l, ever be Dan’l Boone.”  Holding a Pennsylvania rifle (a.k.a. Kentucky rifle), Disney introduces this volume with stories about Boone’s rifle “Ticklicker” and his sharpshooting (click to see film clip).  He tells how Boone killed two Indians with one shot, “a kind of billiard shot, you might call it.”  After a quick review of last week’s episode, Disney leads into the second volume by telling us that five or six years and two children later, Daniel Boone restlessly yearns to fulfill his “big dream”:  “We’ll see how his dream came to fruition, how Daniel gave up almost everything, including his own family, almost, to satisfy his dream.”

[5]    The story resumes with Boone chopping wood and singing his song that will serve as a theme for the rest of the saga, “And Chase the Buffalo.”  After the Boone children join in and thereby imitate their father’s restlessness, Rebecca assertively argues that Daniel’s long hunting trips and their financial debt have put the family in a difficult situation that requires his sustained attention. Daniel promises that he will stay home.  Boone’s dreaming persists, however, as he teaches his oldest child, James, to sing, to communicate with animals, to hunt, and to “think Indian” if he wants to survive in the wilderness.  The land rights conflicts between the British and the local Rebellionists (historically called the Regulators) soon brings trouble when the locals accuse Daniel of serving the British and Judge Henderson.  Daniel is suspicious of the grubbing, greedy land agents.  Squire Boone, Daniel’s brother, expresses his disdain for Daniel’s neutral position in the matter between the British and the locals.  As tension mounts, the British burn a farmer’s barn and sentence a local to hang.  When a mob of locals storm the scaffold, they threaten to hang a British officer and burn the courthouse.  Boone acts as a peace keeper and defeats Mordecai, a local rebel, in a fight.  Standing atop the high scaffold, Boone delivers a fine speech highlighted with poetic images of Kaintuck and rallies the men to abandon the Yadkin Valley for the land beyond the Cumberland mountains, the “big land just running over with the good things of life.”

[6]    As Daniel plans to lead a wagon train to Kaintuck, Rebecca states her case against such action, saying it is foolhardy and dangerous.  She declares that she and the children will not go.  On the morning of departure, a train forms at the Boone house, the train consisting of many locals, including Mordecai, who have sold their property for the big dream.  Without Rebecca and the Boone children, the train leaves.  A few miles or so up the road, Daniel is alarmed by the fact that Rebecca has changed her mind.  Using Finley’s old wagon, she and the children hurry to catch up to the train.  When Daniel asks why Rebecca has changed her mind, she quotes the Book of Ruth, “Whither thou goest, I go, Daniel.”

Volume Three:  The Wilderness Road

[7]    Disney introduces this volume by reporting that in 1773 Boone and twenty of his neighbors headed west for “an earthly paradise.”  In a romantic panegyric, Disney invokes a mythological American spirit, saying “if not for people like this, [the West] would have remained wild and primitive and unexplored and our country couldn’t have grown like it did.”

[8]    This episode opens with Daniel and his son James leading the train and singing “And aChase the Buffalo.”  A group of Shawnee suddenly approaches, chasing a young couple wishing to join the Boone train.  A few shots from settler guns scare the Indians off, and the train meets Bud and Maybelle Yancey, a young couple claiming to be married but three days.  Marriage and male-female relationships dominate the film for a while: young Israel Boone asks about marriage and courtship, the Yanceys engage in what Rebecca thinks is a newlywed quarrel, Rebecca and Daniel dispute about what Daniel should or shouldn’t do to help the young couple, and Daniel learns that the couple is not married but wants to be.  When the train arrives at Gas’s Trading Post, Daniel marries the couple in a Quaker ceremony.  A celebration follows, and eventually the settlers stage a noisy serenade for the young couple.  The next morning a band of Shawnee under the direction of Crow Feather attacks the trading post.  Fatalities result on both sides.  Maybelle Yancey is injured.  During the fray, young James Boone kills two Indians but is taken captive by Crow Feather.  Captain Gas, a man familiar with the Shawnee, leads Boone to the Indian camp, on the outskirts of which Boone kidnaps Crow Feather’s son, Little Bird.  Boone devises a trade, “eye for an eye, boy for a boy.”  A conversation between Chief Blackfish and Boone reveals that Crow Feather’s attack was not arranged by the chief nor the tribe but was instigated by Crow Feather’s vengeance and pride.  When James is finally released, he is dressed like an Indian and enjoying his stay in the village.  He has an Indian name and waves to his new young friends.  As Boone and James make their way back to the trading post, Crow Feather attacks.  Another fight between them ensues, with Boone winning again.  Crow Feather advises Boone, “Better kill me, Long Knife.  I will try again.”  Boone takes Crow Feather back to the Shawnee village and speaks with Chief Blackfish. The chief says that Crow Feather acted on his own again and that he will be severely punished.  Blackfish suggests that the settlers go home and extends his hand to pledge peace; Boone responds, “I can’t shake with you, chief ‘cause I’m not going back.  There’s a big, new land out there called Kaintuck.  It’s big enough for you and me and a million others to live on in peace, if you want it that way.”  Boone returns to the trading post, and the wagons continue their trek westward.

Volume Four:  The Promised Land

[9]    This last Disney introduction is a comprehensive narrative of the first three volumes, delivered in Disney’s characteristic easeful, idiomatic speech.  The narrative is complemented by corresponding changes of visual images ranging from the scenic commanding ridge to herds of buffalo and from resilient settlers to Indian attacks.  The fourth volume begins with Boone leading the train and singing “And Chase the Buffalo.”  As some settlers are anxious about their direction and safety, Boone informs the train that they can only take horses through a rocky part of Wilderness Road.  Many settlers express disdain about leaving their wagons and many of their belongings behind.  Injured and weary, Maybelle Yancey delivers a Boonian eulogy to the “new land” of Kaintuck.  As Rebecca challenges Daniel’s leadership and idealism, a settler is shot by an arrow.  Settlers circle the wagons, make camp, and guard the camp.  Boone scouts the area, spies Crow Feather, now an outcast from the tribe, and affirms his intention to settle Kaintuck.  Strengthened by his renegade band, Crow Feather swears vengeance.  The Indians finally attack in the morning, and the settlers manage to scatter them.  Blackfish arrives with his peaceful group and once again tells Boone that he must leave Kaintuck. Although some settlers decide to return home and despite Blackfish’s warning, Boone refuses. At Rebecca’s impassioned importunities for Daniel to abandon his dream because of its great expense and sacrifice, Daniel finally agrees to return.  As Daniel bids adieu to Kaintuck with one last poetic invocation of a land that “made a man feel like a king,” Rebecca changes her mind and says the family will go on.  A very small party moves on, singing “And Chase the Buffalo.”  Crow Feather’s renegades abandon him, saying they wish to rejoin the tribe.  As the Boones cross a river, Crow Feather attacks and sends the Boones into hiding.  While in hiding, Boone discovers the avaricious treachery of one of his traveling companions.  That night James sneaks out to retrieve his lost rifle, and Crow Feather injures him.  Boone hears a scream and ventures out after Crow Feather.  They meet again, and as Crow Feather is about to bury his tomahawk into Boone, Blackfish appears and shoots Crow Feather.  Blackfish says, “I did not kill him to save your life, Boone.  But because he deserved to die.  If you are wise, you will turn around and forget Kaintuck.”  Boone refuses to leave and goes at his own risk.  The film ends with Daniel and his family at the Commanding Ridge.  Gazing out in awe at Kaintuck:

Daniel:  She’ll take a thousand men with a thousand dreams and still be hardly touched. (To Rebecca) Ain’t it everything I said it was?

Rebecca:  Everything, Daniel, everything.


 

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

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