|Although the stereotype exists in some
characterizations even to this day; Daniel Boone did not wear a coonskin cap! Like many other long-hunters of his day, Daniel
wore a wide-brimmed felt or beaver hat, much like the Quaker style hats worn by men in
Pennsylvania where he was born and spent his early years.
Applying only a modicum of logic, one can easily understand why he would not
have chosen a fur cap of any kind. As a
hunter Daniel spent months in the woods, in all manner of weather. When you think of aiming and firing a .50 caliber
long-rifle with either the sun in your eyes or rain running down your face, the image of a
coonskin cap on ones head should dim considerably.
|Daniel Boone Was a Man, a Big Man
. But He Never Wore a Coonskin Cap!
Gene Ray, Dan & Beckys ggggg-grandson
So, how did
such an image originate and what has kept it alive for the past 150 years? As famous as Daniel Boone was in his lifetime and
continues today, he wasnt that much different in exploits from several other early
explorers of what was then the western frontier. Men such as James and Robert McAfee, James Harrod,
Simon Kenton, Thomas Bullitt, Hancock Taylor, James Douglas and James Smith all explored
what would become Kentucky, many of them before Daniel ever set foot in the state. What Daniel Boone had that none of the others had
(to anywhere near the same degree) was a good public relations agent a roll that
continues by others even to this day.
In 1783, John
Filson was a 30-year-old schoolteacher from Pennsylvania, with a romantic notion of the
West. Leaving Pittsburgh on a barge, he
struck out down the Ohio River to Kentucky. Theres fairly solid evidence that one of
his objectives was land speculation in the new territory, a profession that
was widely held by those early settlers fortunate enough to have the necessary cash.
In his book Daniel Boone John Mack Faragher describes
an unlikely pioneer, and he comes down to us a folk stereotype, the
pedantic schoolmaster, a character perfected in Washington Irvings portrayal of
Ichabod Crane. The stories people told about
him made him seem the fool --- tumbling clumsily off his wagon, being swindled in trade by
an old trapper who passed off muskrats as beaver, the butt of crude frontier jokes and
pranks. Nevertheless, Filson persevered
in his quest to seek out prominent men and interview them for his book about Kentucky.
The cover of Daniel Boone, A Little
Golden Book (1956) by Irwin Shapiro, probably reflects a much more accurate image of
Filson met and spent
considerable time with Daniel Boone and his family. No
doubt Daniel took the opportunity to regale Filson with stories of his rich adventures
over the previous 15 years in the Kentucky wilderness.
One can almost imagine the wide-eyed Filson frantically scribbling notes as Daniel
described the early settlement of Boonesborough, the capture of Jemima Boone, Elizabeth
and Frances Callaway by Indians or his own capture and short lived existence with the
In May of 1784 Filson left Kentucky
to arrange the publication of his book. Printing
of The Discovery, Settlement and Present State
of Kentucke to which is added An Appendix, Containing The Adventures of Col. Daniel
Boon was announced on October 22, 1784 Daniels fiftieth birthday. The first edition of some 1,500 copies was only
moderately successful in America; however, when the book was translated into French and
German, Daniel became an overnight sensation, celebrated in Europe as a true natural
man. Later editions in England and
Ireland led to an even larger image of Daniel Boone.
Although there were many critics of
Filsons work, Daniel is reported to have described events in the book as All
true! Every word true! Not a lie in it! Regardless, by the late 1780s Daniel Boone
was an international celebrity. A more
serious biography of Daniel came in 1833, 13 years after his death, with the publication
of Biographical Memoir of Daniel Boone, the
First Settler of Kentucky by Timothy Flint. This
work was also laced with wild exaggeration of Daniels life and adventures. One such story had Daniel swinging on vines
through the woods in a Tarzan-like maneuver to escape the Indians who had just killed his
brother Edward. However the book served to
further propel his legendary status.
The television series Daniel Boone starring Fess Parker, Patricia
Blair and Dallas McKennon (who attended the Oregon reunion last summer) aired on NBC on
Thursday nights at 7:30 and ran from 1964 to 1970. Parker
and Blair are pictured here on the August 21-27, 1965 issue of TV Guide.
pen and ink illustration of Daniel Boone is from Daniel Boone and the Hunters of
Kentucky (1854) by W. H. Bogart. The
impression he wore a coonskin cap probably originated with such an early depiction.
may have been pen and ink illustrations in Flints book, I do not have a first
edition copy and can not share what they may have been.
However, I do have a first edition of Daniel
Boone and the Hunters of Kentucky by W. H. Bogart (1854) and in keeping with the
natural man image Daniel is illustrated with a fur cap. Possibly this is where the coonskin cap image
first originated. Countless books (many
written for children) have been published about Daniel Boone since Filsons early
effort; regrettably some continue to portray him wearing such headdress. Currently I have nearly 50 books relating to
Daniel and continue adding to my collection.
Surprisingly, a more accurate image of what
Daniel probably looked like is illustrated on the cover of the 1956 Little Golden Book Daniel Boone, by Irwin Shapiro. Of course many people still remember the
television series Daniel Boone that aired from 1964 to 1970 starting Fess
Parker. Parker, who earlier portrayed Davy
Crockett in another television series, kept the coonskin cap image alive. He also helped confuse many regarding these two
historic people. Ive told more than one
person that, No. Daniel Boone did not die at the Alamo.
The television series theme song entitled
Daniel Boone was written by Vera Matson and Lionel Newman. Can you remember the tune? Sing along
Daniel Boone was a man. Yes
a big man.
With an eye like
and eagle and as tall as a mountain was he.
Daniel Boone was a man. Yes a
He was brave, he was fearless and as tough as a mighty oak tree.
From the coonskin cap on the top of ol Dan to the heel of his
The rippinest roarinest fightenest man the frontier ever
Daniel Boone was a man. Yes a
And he fought for America to make all Americans free.
What a Boone. What a wonder. What a dream comer truer was he.
Few people in American history have enjoyed the
legacy that Daniel Boone has, and there is no doubt he deserves much of the honor and awe
hes received. He was, after all, a true
frontiersman and an explorer who exhibited a degree of courage, intelligence and tenacity
few men possessed. But we must remember that
a good deal of whats perceived as accurate history is not. For a century and a half hyperbole, rumor and
Hollywood make-believe have all contributed to this amalgamation of how we perceive Daniel
But please, as you think of him, dont
envision a coonskin cap!