Legends of Daniel Boone in North Carolina
The first publications describing Daniel Boone’s experiences appeared during his lifetime. Tales of his Kentucky exploits spread far and wide. By the time Boone reached sixty, he had an international, national, and local following. But few people knew much about his experiences in North Carolina. Most of the North Carolina stories have been passed down orally in the extended Boone and Bryan families and in Yadkin River Valley communities.
Daniel and Rebecca
First Meeting at a Fire Hunt
Daniel Boone and a young Bryan friend went fire hunting one summer night. Now, fire hunting they learned from the Indians. One person holds up a firebrand (wooden torch) as hunters stalk a deer feeding by a creek. The deer looks up at the light and becomes hypnotized—a kind of eighteenth-century deer-in-the-headlights effect. The glow from the animal’s eyes gives the hunters a perfect target.
So, on this particular night, Rebecca went out looking for some cows she was tending. She got lost in the dark, though, and started following a creek to find her way home. Her eyes got caught in the hunters’ light, and she saw a rifle aimed right at her. Now, Daniel was holding that rifle, but he felt something was not right about the situation, so he held his fire. Rebecca screamed in terror and hightailed it home.
Boone followed her home and fell in love as soon as he saw her. He felt awful that he had nearly killed her, so he gave up fire hunting for good.
Fact or fiction?
Boone’s relatives denied the truth of this story. They recalled that Daniel and Rebecca said that they had first met at a family wedding. But the legend persisted on the frontier and made its way into several publications in the 1800s and 1900s. In one version, Boone shot a kitten that Rebecca held in her arms.
The theme of a woman transformed into a deer has roots in Native American legendry. It surfaced occasionally on the frontier and has been creatively adapted to explain the fate of Virginia Dare.
Courtship: The Cutting Edge
Early in their courtship, Daniel and Rebecca sat next to each other at a cherry picking. He wore his usual hunting gear, and she had on a snowy white apron. Daniel felt pretty awkward, and he began picking up and throwing down his hunting knife, playing a kind of mumblety-peg while they talked. Suddenly, they both realized that Rebecca’s apron had several large gashes in it. Daniel didn’t apologize, and she never said a word.
Fact or fiction?
The Boones’ children said their father told them that he cut Rebecca’s apron on purpose. He wanted to “try her temper,” he said, “thinking that if it was fiery, she would fly into a passion.” When she remained calm, he knew she was the woman for him.
Tit for Tat
Daniel showed off his hunting skills by bringing Rebecca a deer and dressing it in the yard while she cooked him a first dinner. He came in to dine still wearing his hunting shirt, bloodied from the butchering. Rebecca and her sisters snickered at his appearance. Embarrassed, he sat down and lifted his cup to drink. Then he put it down abruptly, saying to it, “You, like my hunting shirt, have missed many a good washing.”
Fact or fiction?
Daniel got the last word in this eighteenth-century battle between the sexes. The Bryans, Rebecca’s family, were quite well off for a frontier family and may have been accustomed to more refined dining than the Boones.
Rebecca the Hunter
Daniel Boone left home for months, even years, at a time. Rebecca had to supply her young family with meat herself. One time she rode north to a salt lick on Deep Creek, her gun loaded with buckshot. She “fired a gun from nearly the top of a tree and killed seven deer and her mare that she rode there.”
Fact or fiction?
This legend, told by men along the Yadkin River in the 1800s, qualifies as a tall tale, a story full of exaggeration. It shows the kind of self-sufficiency frontier women relied on. Rebecca Boone was an excellent small-game hunter. She had to be, with Daniel gone so much. Rebecca also farmed, gardened, chopped wood, tended farm animals, and performed the other chores necessary to keep a farmstead going. By the time the Boones left North Carolina, she also had nine children. The ending of the story tells more about men’s stereotypes of women’s competence than it does about Rebecca Boone herself.
Daniel Boone, the Hunter
Many of the North Carolina Boone legends consist of short, pithy statements about Boone’s character or remarkable hunting skills. Many claim to quote his very words. Such abbreviated tales contribute greatly to Boone’s reputation. They are easy to remember and invite listeners to add similar tales from their own recollections.
Bear Creek got its name from the season that Boone killed ninety-nine bears along its water.
Bears were numerous on the North Carolina frontier and considered good eating, much better than deer, which backwoods culture valued mainly for their hides.
Boone used to say that when he could not fell the top of a tree near enough to his door for firewood, it was time to move to a new place.
Or he said this:
It was time to abandon a place when he could no longer brush his cabin with the laps, or tops, of falling trees.
Boone heard that someone was starting a farm about twelve miles to the west of him. “The place is getting entirely too thickly settled,” declared Boone, “when a man can come and cut down trees without permission in your backyard!”
Daniel Boone, Tree Carver?
In the 1770s, before Boone became an international celebrity, someone discovered a message on the bark of a beech tree that stood on the banks of a small tributary of the Watauga River in Tennessee. It read: “D. Boon Cilled a Bar on tree in the Year 1760.”
Over the centuries, many other versions of this carving have appeared on trees in North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Missouri. Hunters did often leave such graffiti. But did Daniel Boone carve these words?
Maybe. But Boone, a fairly literate man, always spelled his name with an e on the end. The mystery remains.
Hillsborough’s Claim to Daniel Boone Fame
Lore handed down in Hillsborough, Orange County, places Daniel Boone walking down King Street on March 18, 1778, leading a group of settlers west to Kentucky. An early-twentieth-century map traces his path, and a 1930s marker commemorates his deed.
However, the Shawnee held Boone captive from February through June 1778. He did return to North Carolina and lead a large party of pioneers to Kentucky in September 1779, but historians have not placed him as far east as Hillsborough on that trip.
The thread of legend was enough for an enterprising businessman to build Daniel Boone Village on the edge of Hillsborough. The shopping complex opened in the 1950s, a time when frontier themes enjoyed great popularity in the media.