“In the Footsteps of Daniel Boone” offers reader some startling insight into the life of the historical figure Daniel Boone and draws upon a number of sources to relate another side of American history. Writing a book about a well-known historical figure whose life and deeds have been documented extensively is not necessarily an easy task. The author runs the risk of redundancy, adding just another volume without particular distinction to a massive collection. In his book, “In the Footsteps of Daniel Boone”, author Randell Jones avoids such a pitfall by, like his subject himself, pioneering a new approach to the historical narrative. Part biography, part history, and part travelogue, Jones deftly leverages the conventions of each of these genres to present Daniel Boone as a complex individual who did far more than just explore the wilderness. As the title of his book suggests, Jones traces Boone’s footsteps, taking the reader on a journey to the places where Boone contributed in surprising ways to the life of the fledgling nation. Even the most studied reader of Boone’s history will be likely to find new information in this text.
Jones opens his narrative, just as this summary of “In the Footsteps of Daniel Boone” does, by recounting the Boone family’s history of immigration to the United States, which sets the literal and psychological stage for the birth of Daniel and his pioneering spirit, a spirit which would infuse not just his exploratory journeys, but every activity and post he took on in life. After having introduced the Boone ancestors, Jones regales the reader with a few tales about young Daniel, who appears to have always had a mischievous streak and the powers of curiosity and observation that compelled him to an active, exploring life. While Jones states that “only a handful of the stories about Boone’s childhood survive, the stories that did endure are entertaining. Tired of a parent-imposed quarantine to prevent Daniel and his sister from contracting smallpox, Daniel concocted a scheme to infect himself intentionally so he could “get it [the smallpox] over with.” This kind of reckless impatience and supreme self-confidence would accompany Boone through all of his adolescent and adult adventures.
Although Americans remember Boone for his woodsman’s skills and pioneering spirit, the reader might be surprised to learn just how many formal and unofficial offices Boone occupied during his life. It is to Jones’s credit that he, unlike many authors who have focused on Daniel Boone as a pioneering figure, chooses to look at Boone from a more complex perspective, taking into account all of the facets of his being, both personal and professional. Boone was an elected official, a member of various branches of the justice system (a sheriff and a judge), and perhaps most curiously, a coroner and a tavern owner. In a sense, Boone, like Benjamin Franklin, was an American Renaissance man, interested and competent in a number of areas. As if these adventures in which Boone finds himself are not interesting and engaging enough, Jones skillfully enlivens Boone’s life by making the book fully grounded in historical fact while making it seem as if the reader is on a journey. Jones and the reader are really following in the footsteps of Daniel Boone. That journey is a complex one, taking the reader across 11 states as Boone explored new territory and tried on these different professional roles.
Boone’s journey is also enriched by photographs of the many sites that Boone traversed, expanding the reader’s own powers of imagination with visual evidence. The photographs transport the reader not only into the general geographic areas that Boone visited during the course of his lifetime, but also the intimate spaces where Boone lived and worked. Although these photos are contemporary, mostly taken by the author as he traced Boone’s journey himself, and though the lens is trained on place, not people, the effect is not diminished at all. Whether the reader is gazing upon a photograph of a home in which Boone lived or what is now a national park that he is believed to have once crossed, the photographs complement the text perfectly, their black and white hue giving the reader the impression of age and the sense that Boone himself just escaped the frame.
All of Jones’s own observations of these landscapes and structures are contextualized with evidence from other sources. Jones, whose own sense of the places Boone traveled is inarguably informed by his own history in the South, draws upon the work of biographers—both of Boone and the other important people in his life–, historians, and other social scientists. Perhaps Jones’s greatest contribution, other than the unique and compelling narrative strategy that he employs in In the “Footsteps of Daniel Boone” is his attentiveness to details about Boone’s personal life beyond the dramatic adventures for which he is typically remembered among the pages of school children’s history books. To identify just one of many such examples, Jones sensitively recounts the brutal death of his son during a surprise raid. Jones’s descriptions of the ways in which Boone handled the heinous murder tell more about Boone’s character than any simple personality profile. “Boone,” writes Jones in one of the important quotes from “In the Footsteps of Daniel Boone”, “sent…others to bury the dead [while he] remained with those who thought they would be repelling another attack. This passage from “In the Footsteps of Daniel Boone” is Jones at his story-telling best.
“In the Footsteps of Daniel Boone” is a recommended read for anyone who has even a passing interest in American history. The way in which Jones crafts and delivers his tale is as instructive and entertaining as the history itself, suggesting new possibilities for narrating both history and biography. This text would be useful for both a casual reader and for a student interested in research. I enjoyed the book and would consider it a worthwhile read for many different kinds of audiences. Far from being redundant, “In the Footsteps of Daniel Boone” synthesizes existing works and enlivens them in Jones’s unique style.
Source : Jones, Randell. In the Footsteps of Daniel Boone. New York: John F. Blair Publishers, 2005.