Daniel Boone



Daniel Boone

written and illustrated by James Daugherty

Age: 10+

Interests: American history, history, pioneer life, biography, war, violence, adventure, First Nations

The Viking Press: 1939

95 pages

Next: The Matchlock Gun, Abraham Lincoln, They Were Strong and Good

Also by this author: Of Courage Undaunted (Lewis & Clark), Poor Richard (Benjamin Franklin), Abraham Lincoln

A rhapsodic, boisterous version of the life of the American frontier legend Daniel Boone.

There is no denying that James Daugherty had an intense love of history, but this is a very uneven book for modern readers. The overly florid style certainly bogs things down, and the narrative includes the usual references to “Indian savages” and “demons” typical of the time when this book was published. (Which is probably why it is no longer in print.) In one chapter Daugherty shows some sympathy for the plight of the indigenous tribes as the Europeans deceived them and took over their land, but he doesn’t dwell on the injustice: the march of history has relegated the First Nations to the dustbin of history and there’s nothing to be done about it. Daugherty goes on to regale us with stories of how Boone and his compatriots rose to fame fightin’ Injuns. The tone ranges from poetic musings on the heroic nature of the early settlers to rollicking yarns about narrow escapes from marauding savages. There is also a definite preference for bold, brash men doing whatever they like over pencil-wielding bureaucrats and lawyers. Boone time and time again neglected to secure legal ownership to his lands, with the result that he kept losing his homesteads. His lack of ‘book-larning’ and general carelessness is presented by Daugherty as further proof of his heroic nature.

The anecdotes are somewhat compelling, but historical details are left sketchy – Daugherty apparently believed his young audience would already be pretty familiar with Boone and the major events of his time, which may have been the case in 1939. Today anyone not as familiar with this era will find the text extremely confusing, as it jumps about from place to place, not stopping to explain issues or context. (For example he refers in passing to “the little Corsican dictator” – how many kids are going to know he’s talking about Napoleon?!)

This is history written through a very particular lens: that of the romantic American patriot of yesteryear who loves a story with lots of fighting in it. Daugherty is enamored of the rough characters who ‘opened’ the West, and he tells a good yarn, though he fails to breathe life into the cardboard cutout figure of Daniel Boone. This could be a good start to a study of Boone and his time, but should really be contrasted with other, more historically solid sources. In fact, I think the only reason I might recommend it would be as part of a study of bias in historical writing and the changing views of race and violence over time.

(out of print; secondhand copies available via amazon.com)

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. booksformks
    Sep 24, 2014 @ 18:57:44

    Excellent review! You carefully outlined what was wrong in the book, and gave me a clear picture of the style and content. I have a similar old Daniel Boone book that I have been meaning to read. I wonder how the two would measure up.


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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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