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Thursday, November 04, 2010

GETTING LOST

"I can't say as ever I was lost, but I was bewildered once for three days.” The words were written by Daniel Boone. And if Daniel were to wake up from his current sleep, he would be bewildered again. And when he found out that most of him was back in Kentucky, he would be very angry. Because once he was dead, this man who kept moving his entire life to avoid “people” finally fell into the clutches of the "people" he hated the most - politicians and their close kin in the real estate business.
Daniel Boone was not who you think he was. He never wore a coonskin cap. He was born in Pennsylvania, the sixth child of Quaker parents. As an infant he was a victim of religious intolerance. His parents were forced to sell their land and leave their faith after two of their elder children married outside the “Society of Friends”. Daniel reached adulthood in North Carolina. There he showed such natural talent as a hunter, he  dropped out of school to take it up professionally. Most of what he killed was sold in public markets. A sister-in-law to taught him to read and write, and other men would later follow him because he could regal them with readings from the “Bible” and “Gulliver’s Travels”. When he was 21 years old he married 16 year old Rebecca Bryan. They had ten children - although when they found the time I have no idea, Daniel was away from home so much.
Daniel was a short and shy man, and taciturn except when surrounded by his family. He was not the first white man in Kentucky. He was however one of the first Europeans who managed to walk out of Kentucky alive. He was not a great Indian fighter, and in his old age insisted, “I never killed but three”, adding, “I am very sorry to say that I ever killed any, for they have always been kinder to me than the whites.” And when he walked back into Kentucky it was as the supervisor of forty lumbermen, hired to cut a trail through the forest. Boonsboro was named after him because he was in charge of the crew who built the fort. It was not his fort.
In 1799, after being cheated out of his property by Kentucky lawyers and politicians, he took his family completely out of the United States, settling in what was then the Spanish territory of Missouri. He returned to Kentucky only once, in 1810. Missouri had changed hands twice by then, once to the French and again to the Americans. To placate the Kentucky lawyers who could now harass him, Daniel returned only long enough to pay off his debts. He then immediately returned to Missouri. It was there, surrounded by their children, grandchildren and great-grand children that Rebecca died, in 1813. And it was there that Daniel Boone died in September of 1820, after eating too many sweet potatoes and suffering indigestion. He was 85.
The funeral service was preached by a son-in-law of Daniel’s son, and was held in a barn because so many extended family members wanted to pay homage to a man who had never been wealthy but had always been loved. He was buried in a coffin he built for himself, next to his beloved Rebecca, in a family graveyard on Teuque Creek. The Missouri statehood convention in St. Louis adjourned for the day out of respect for the old man. But as was common with frontiersmen and women, the graves (above) were unmarked until the 1830’s.
Then, in the mid-1840’s, as the Boone legend was created by novelists (and with hundreds of trees baring marks supposedly carved by Daniel, which increased the property value) investors in Frankfort, the capital of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, decided that the late Daniel was just the draw they needed to attract new customers (and investors) in their new municipal cemetery. One booster wrote that it was “…fitting that the soil of Kentucky should afford the final resting place for his remains, ….that the generation which was reaping the fruits of his toils (should)…have in their midst…the sepulcher of this Primeval Patriarch whose stout heart would be watched by the cradle of this now powerful Commonwealth.”
Kentucky appealed to Daniel’s only surviving son, Nathaniel, describing their offer of the “Most beautiful cemetery in the west…” and assuring him that “$10,000 will be expended on the grounds and improvements”. But the answer from Nathaniel, who knew how his father felt about Kentucky, was a firm and short“no”.
So Frankfort officials dispatched an aging nephew of Daniel's, who still lived in Kentucky, William Linville Boone, along with two more animated representatives to speak to the family. Jacob Swigert was a longtime country court Judge in Frankfort, and Clerk for the Kentucky Court of Appeals for the last twenty years. Thomas L. Crittenden (above) was the 26 year old son of the American Secretary of State, and was being groomed to join the power structure in Kentucky. In fact, Swigert sold his home in Frankfort to young Crittenden, but through an intermediary, to disguise the transfer.
Unfortunately (or fortunately) the trio arrived in Missouri while Nathaniel was away on militia duty. So the trio descended upon Harriet Boone Barber and Panthea Boone Boggs, granddaughters of Daniel, through his deceased son Jesse. Whatever the two women told the Kentuckians, the trio decided it meant they had agreed to the Daniel’s removal to the Commonwealth.
The next morning, July 17, 1845, the determined delegation appeared at the front door of Harvey Griswold, who now owned the graveyard. Harvey argued, but the lawyers from Kentucky answered every protest, promising to erect a monument to replace the missing relics of Daniel and Rebecca. And with the approval of the two grandaughters, it appeared the law was on the Kentucky side. Three local men had been hired to disinter the graves; King Bryan, Henry Augbert, and Jeff Callaway. Jeff had been a slave for the Callaway family, and now as a free man he was digging up the father of his one time owner, Mrs. Flander Boone Callaway.
The work attracted a crowd of thirty to forty people, most of them related to Daniel and Rebecca. As the three men worked, Thomas Crittenden addressed the crowd, assuring them that all was being done legally and properly (it was not) and that Kentucky was going to erect a memorial to the great man on this spot. They never did. Meanwhile the three black men continued to dig. The coffins had long since rotted into the soil, but the workers did not realize this until they had reached the graves and struck bone and shrouds.
Wrote a St. Louis newspaper, “Some bones crumbled when hands tried to lift them, but the three black men put what they could in pine boxes.” Another observer noted that the bones were handled “as carelessly as if they belonged to an ordinary mortal.” The St. Louis reporter observed that “A number of local people picked up teeth and bits of bone…” and kept them as personal mementoes, along with the silver cufflinks from Daniel’s best shirt. The next day landowner Harvey Griswold found either Daniel’s or Rebecca's jaw bone laying on the ground. It is hard not to describe what the officials from Kentucky achieved as less of a removal, and more than a desecration.
On Friday, September 12, 1845, the “remains” of Daniel and Rebecca Boone laid in state in the (old) State House. That night, the skeletons were arrainged on a table to be examined as if they were paleontology exhibits. Daniel’s skull, minus his jaw, was passed around, examined even by eight year old John Mason Brown. When the skull had finally been examined by a phrenologist, all the bones were reloaded into two elaborate coffins and finally allowed a measure of peace.
On Saturday, September 13, a grand procession of bands and marchers followed the hearses, each pulled by four white horses up the hill to the cemetery on a bluff overlooking the Kentucky River. Speeches were made, and prayers were said, and then a brisk business was made selling burial plots near the now sacred site where Daniel Boone’s bones now rested.
But the cemetery never allotted money to build the promised monument, and it was not until 1860 that the state of Kentucky approved $2,000 to build one. And it was not until after years of damage by souvenir hunters that the Daughters of the American Revolution convinced the state legislature to repair the monument and erect a fence around it. What a shock; the politicians had lied to Daniel, even after he'd been dead for 25 years.
Needless to say, Kentucky never allotted money to erect the promised monument on the original grave site in Missouri. And in July of 2008, a thief stole the bronze plaque bolted to a boulder which had been placed there in 1915 (again by the D.A.R.) to mark the humble spot where Daniel had wanted to rest in peace. It is estimated it would cost the state of Missouri $10,000 to replace it that plaque. It does not seem likely any modern politicians, who see no advantage in investing in America’s future, will be willing to invest that amount of cash in our past.
It puts a lie to one of the most insightful things that the self educated hunter Daniel Boone ever said, “Curiosity," he wrote, "is natural to the soul of man, and interesting objects have a powerful influence on our affections”.  Evidentially, Daniel, that is true only if there is money to be made out of those objects, and then, everything is for sale, even the soil feed by our earthly remains.
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