Dan Boone's reputation - Boy Scout organization


Dan Boone's reputation got first aid from Dan Beard, whose Boy Scout organization became the most important youth movement in our history. Drawing consciously on the popular image, Beard turned millions of young Americans into trail-blazers and Indian fighters. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Beard studied art in New York and instructed there from 1893 to 1900. The outdoors called loud and clear. He went west and met such picturesque characters as Yellowstone Kelly, Buffalo Bill, John Burroughs, Bat Masterson, Buffalo Jones, and Charles Russell. But he admittedly modeled his boy's clubs on the figure Cooper had used for Deerslayer and Leatherstocking:

"I suggested a society of scouts to be identified with the greatest of all Scouts, Daniel Boone, and to be known as the Sons of Daniel Boone. Each 'member' would have to be a tenderfoot before he attained the rank of Scout. Eight members would form a stockade, four stockades a fort . . . I never realized that the Boy Scouts would sweep over much of the world and become my real life's work."

The Boy Scout movement depended on stock Boone symbols: the rifle, the buckskin clothes, and the coonskin cap. Patent nativism and glorification of frontier days explain the movement's rapid growth. At the invitation of that perennial Boy Scout, Theodore Roosevelt, Beard visited the White House in 1907 to explain his plan and win official support for it. The conference ended with Roosevelt shouting "Bully!" and pounding on the table with his fist. It was Boone's greatest victory since Boonesborough.

Beard supervised the publication of the early editions of the American Boys' Handbook. This became the official Boy Scout manual which has been a best-seller ever since. His own American Boy's Handbook ( 1882) was the model on which all later editions were based. Beard claimed that more copies of this publication were distributed in the decade following World War I than any other volume except the Bible.

Boone worship reached its peak in the bicentennial year, 1934. Thousands bf khaki-clad Scouts from all over America met in Covington, Kentucky, for a secular revival meeting. Parades and pageants were staged there, and all over America. The names of Dan Boone and Dan Beard, who had modeled his life, dress, and movement on the earlier Daniel's achievements, were linked together. This was entirely fitting. The two merged into the one lofty, anachronistic figure of the frontier fighter and hunter. Beard adapted the Boone story to suit an America hungry for symbols and scalps. A not unfitting reward came when an Alaskan peak was officially named Mount Beard by the Federal government.

During the Boone Bicentennial, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the American Order of Pioneers, and the Boone Family Association prodded politicians and officials into a frenzy of Boone adulation. S. M. Wilson tapped some of the prevailing clich├ęs to describe Daniel Boone as "this Prince of the Pioneers, this Founder of Boonesborough, this foster-father of Kentucky, this favorite son of all America, this peerless pilot of the Republic, this instrument divinely ordained to settle the wilderness." What could a man add except "Amen"?

The General Assembly of Kentucky set up a commission to "promote and direct a fitting celebration of the two hundredth anniversary of Boone's birth." Shrines were established at Boonesborough, Boone's Station, Bryan's Station, and Big Licks Battlefield. Congress authorized the minting of 600,000 souvenir half dollars. Eulogies of Boone were heard everywhere. His position as pattern-maker for western American heroes was assured.

State pride has also contributed to the adulation. Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri have all claimed Boone as their very own. Consider the contribution of a few local historians of the Old Dominion. The Scott County History of Robert Addington contains extravagant praise for Boone. Its author examines minutely every link in "the chain of cause and effect which connects us with Daniel Boone." William Pendleton's Tazewell County History calls Boone the greatest man who ever set foot there; only his presence enabled Virginians to push westward to Kentucky. Goodrich Wilson, author of Smythe County History and Traditions, credits Boone's vigorous defense of southwest Virginia with that area's emancipation from the Indians. Finally, Oren F. Morton, in his Story of Daniel Boone, proved that Pennsylvania-born Boone was a Virginian at heart.

Abingdon, a cultural center for western Virginia, is the locale of many Boone stories. The town site is said to have been his camping ground, and its creek is named after him. A local citizen still treasures a piece of bark on which is inscribed Boone's legendary trademark: "D. Boon kilt a bar." Although skeptical about this relic, James Taylor Adams, editor of the Cumberland Empire, admits Boone makes an admirable hero: "There are many legends of his bravery and daring adventures. He spent one winter and part of a summer in Russell County and his son was killed in Lee County. Scarcely a creek or hollow in this part of the country but a tree has been reported there bearing his name, initials, or the carved statement that ' D. Boon kilt a bar.' If all these inscriptions were true, Old Daniel must have put in the better part of his time carving on the bark of trees."

Boone's has not been the type of fame to rival that of Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. Unlike these, he bears no relation with governmental or political symbols. Instead, he represents man's protest against the restraints of society and an everencroaching, self-righteous technology. Newsmen sensed this; for during World War II they wrote about Daniel Boone VI who, at his primitive forge in Burnsville, North Carolina, turned out handforged hollow-ground combat knives with deer-horn handles. Though aware of modern methods, the contemporary Daniel would have none of the electric hammers, welding torches, or pneumatic drills. "New ways are quicker," he was quoted as saying, "but old-fashioned ways are best." Thus a major American legend was brought up to date for our times.

William Carlos Williams has summarized Boone's appeal: "Possessing a body at once powerful, compact, and capable of tremendous activity and resistance when roused, a clear eye and a deadly aim, taciturn in his demeanor, symmetrical and instinctive in understanding, Boone stood for his race, the affirmation of that wild logic, which in times past had mastered another wilderness and now, renascent, would master this, to prove it potent."

In this affirmation and this mastery, the reputation of the first major Western hero, the man whom others have closely followed, is preserved as a permanent part of the American heritage.

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