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Constance Alexander: Boone’s bones come home to Kentucky in Ted Franklin Belue’s new book

Even if you didn’t know Daniel Boone was lost, you will be relieved to discover that historian Ted Franklin Belue has tracked him down. To be more precise, he has located Boone’s bones. Or has he?

In his new book, Finding Daniel Boone: His Last Days in Missouri & the Strange Fate of His Remains, Belue blazes a path between Boone’s final years in Missouri and his years in Kentucky, both before and after his passing.

The book begins near Marthasville, Missouri, with Boone’s death at first light on Tuesday, September 26, 1820. The first words of the preface are Boone’s last: “I am going. Do not grieve over me — my time has come.”

Interred beside his wife, Rebecca, who predeceased him by seven years, the couple shared a grassy rise above Tuque Creek in David Bryan’s family cemetery. They rested there until 1845, when they were exhumed, transported to Kentucky on the steamboat Daniel Boone, and reburied in the state capitol by the Frankfort Cemetery Company.

The plan to move Daniel and Rebecca was inspired by a memo from Tuesday, April 12, 1842, to Orlando Brown, editor of the weekly Franklin Commonwealth. “Our city is without burying grounds,” it declared.

As a result, the Frankfort Cemetery Company courted proposals, acquired land, and hired a famous Scottish landscaper to design a gardenlike cemetery.

At about the same time, the St. Louis New Era reported that the David Bryan Cemetery, where the Boones were laid to rest, was overgrown. A year later, the Missouri legislature voted down a bill that would have paid $500 for a Boone monument.

In Kentucky, Frankfort was lurching toward modernity, according to Belue, with “a yearning for culture” built on the prosperity generated by slavery.

“In Frankfort’s bustling manufacturing center, chattel revenues outstripped sales of horses and land, hemp and bourbon. By 1840,” Belue declared, “the capital city had 2846 enslaved. By 1850, there were nearly 3500.”

With the academic precision of a historian and the passionate soul of a poet, Belue described the beginnings of the modern world in Kentucky. Pre-Civil War, the populace of Frankfort included, “Aging Revolutionary War and War of 1812 veterans, slaves, paupers, drunks, salacious sporting ladies from bawdy houses, coarse rivermen and buckskinned woodsmen,” alongside “doctors, ministers, lawyers, governors, sharp-dressed women and a thriving bourgeoisie.”

“Everyone, somehow, in this motley parade of humanity fit in,” he concluded, “except for the dead.”

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

Key to the marketing plan that promoted Frankfort’s official garden cemetery was a dead celebrity or two whose postmortem presence would attract tourists to visit the space and buy plots. After a flurry of diplomatic activity between Missouri and Kentucky, the bones of Daniel and Rebecca Boone were laid to rest in Frankfort on September 13, 1845, amidst appropriate pomp that featured admiring throngs from every state in the Union and every county in Kentucky.

“A bustling human sea nearly twenty thousand strong flooded Frankfort,” Belue said, “filling inns, homes, and taverns…Never again would any event be so replicated in the commonwealth’s capital city.”

Over time back in Missouri, rumors emerged that an African-American slave was buried in Boone’s place, and it was his leavings that were actually relocated to Kentucky. A contingent of believers that Boone was still dead in Missouri launched a controversy over his true resting place that spanned two centuries and inspired Belue to investigate the assertions.

Persistent Missourians still insist Boone is in the same place he inhabited since he died in 1820. While they admit the precise location is uncertain, there is ample documentation his supposed remains were exhumed in 1845, yet some of his bones may still be buried deep in the Show Me state.

Although Finding Daniel Boone is organized in two sections – Missouri, 1820-1844 and Kentucky, 1842-2020 – Belue moves back and forward in time as he tells the story and weaves in relevant details another historian might overlook. On his journey from Murray, Ky., to the Historic Daniel Boone Home in Missouri, for instance, he travels Highway F and describes how it corkscrews and overlaps with parts of Boone’s Trace.

“Leafless red maple, white oak and black walnut closed in along F’s curvy two-lane,” he says, “along with invasive sugar maples and cedar understories. Old surveys and hand-sketched plats refer to white oak, hickory. Mulberry, elm, ash and dogwood stands.”

With vivid writing, and ample historic documentation, Ted Franklin Belue invites readers on an incredible journey that introduces them to a new slant on an old story about one of the greatest American frontier heroes. Belue tirelessly re-creates Boone’s lost world and follows his last trail in the year of his death’s bicentennial, teasing us with a provocative question: Where does Daniel Boone rest, in Missouri or Kentucky?

You will have to read the book to find out.

Ted Franklin Belue is the author of two historical non-fiction works, The Long Hunt and The Hunters of Kentucky, and has edited two Daniel Boone biographies. He has been heavily published in the trade and academic press, and served as a consultant and commentator for the History Channel and advisor for A&E, BBC and NBC. He was a Hollywood extra in The Last of the Mohicans. He lives in Murray.

Finding Daniel Boone is published by The History Press, Charleston, SC. It available at Walgreens and Books-a-Million, and online from Amazon, Barned & Noble or Walmart. For more information, go to www.historypress.com.

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One Comment

  1. Anne Adams says:

    Wonderful article…….now I’ll have to read the book!

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