Discover Vintage America April 2014
Daniel Boone's home brings visitors to tiny Defiance
A few generations ago, most American folk heroes wore buckskin, fought wild animals and wrested the frontier away from Indians. To many youngsters such a hero was Daniel Boone.
Bingham print shows Daniel Boone escorting settlers through the Cumberland Gap. (All photos courtesy Historic Daniel Boone Home and Heritage Center)
Born near what became Reading, PA, in 1734, Daniel Boone was given a rifle at an early age, and soon became a proficient hunter. He was 15 when the family moved to North Carolina. As settlers moved in and game became scarce, Daniel moved farther west, blazing his "Wilderness Road" trail to Kentucky, where he would establish a reputation as its most famous settler.
Boone served Kentucky in several government positions, from sheriff to state representative, and fought in the Revolutionary War. By 1784 his reputation grew when a book of his life was published in America and abroad.
But during the last decade of the 1700s, Boone became involved in land speculation in Kentucky and lost most of his fortune. In 1799, hoping to make a fresh start, Boone moved his family to Missouri, acquiring 850 acres in Spanish land grants about 40 miles west of St. Louis.
Boone spent his final years in Missouri, selling much of his land to pay off his Kentucky debts. He remained physically active, and was said to be a good woodsman and hunter well into his 80s.
Many legends grew up around Daniel Boone, making him "larger than life," and an Indian-killer, a trait he strongly denied, despite the fact that two of his sons had been killed in Indian wars. Boone is said to have gone hunting with Shawnees, members of the tribe that had captured and later adopted him many years earlier.
A springtime view of the Daniel Boone home shows its solid construction.
Daniel Boone died at the home of his son, Nathan, on Sept. 26, 1820, at the age of 85. The home, where he spent much of his later life, is now the centerpiece of the Historic Daniel Boone Home and Heritage Center, owned and operated by Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO.
In many ways the area is similar to the way it was in 1799 when Boone brought his family to the area. Rolling hills surround lush river valleys. Although much of the wild game and timber is gone, the restored buildings stand as memorials to the craftsman-ship and hard work of the pioneers who built them. And the scenic area lies in one of the most beautiful parts of the state, just off Route 94. The region is known for its numerous wineries. Nearby towns boast several antique shops.
The Daniel Boone Home had passed through several owners by the time the Andre family donated it to Lindenwood University in 1998. In addition to the house, the Andre's had begun to assemble a village, using historic buildings from the surrounding area.
Although not in place when the Boone family lived there, the village – now with a dozen buildings–helps visitors visualize and understand the way pioneer settlers lived in the early century. Lindenwood students serve as guides and interpreters.
When I stopped by in early March, the ground was snow-covered, and the trees were still gray and bare. But even then, the beauty of the site was obvious. It was easy to imagine the smoke wafting from the old chimneys as the Boone family cooked their meals and gathered by the warm fireplaces.
Dr. David Knotts, dean and professor of the School of American Studies, met me at the entrance building, along with Kristine Madras, the curator and interpreter, and Patricia Fulhorst, marketing coordinator. Kristine showed me around the restored home, and Patricia gave me a tour of the village.
Built for protection
Built between 1803 and 1810, the four-level house has walls 2 ½ feet thick, designed as protection against Indian attacks. Filled with classical antique furnishings, the home reflects the lifestyle of Daniel's son, Nathan, and his wife, Olivia.
Entering the house, I noticed a framed plat plan, showing the locations of the earliest properties, including Daniel Boone's parcel of 850 acres. "Notice that all the settlers located near the rivers," Kristin said. "Water and good land were essential."
After viewing the upstairs living areas, Kristine showed me the lower level, where the family ate their meals. Great hearths and heavy overhead timbers emphasize the sturdiness of the old house. One of the walls is visibly bowed, and the ceiling beams are slightly askew. "The damage was caused by the New Madrid earthquake of 1811," she said. In the kitchen area, Kristine showed me a dark-colored slab. It was Chinese tea. "You would take a knife and scrape off shavings to brew your tea," she said.
The village buildings include a chapel, dress-maker's shop, cabinetmaker's shop, carpenter's shop, print shop, and several houses once owned by Boone family members. They surround a large "village green" used for special programs.
Youngsters learn 19th century skills at a day camp.
Upcoming events include "Journey West" on April 26. Visitors will learn firsthand what settlers would pack for the trip. A day camp, "How to Survive on Missouri's Frontier," for youngsters age 10-18, is set for June 9-13. A Sept. 20-21 event features old-time games, music, and dancing. Daniel Boone will be a special guest. One-hour guided tours of the house and village are offered, along with self-guided tours. Groups are welcome.
The Daniel Boone Home & Heritage Center is located at 1868 Highway F, Defiance, MO. Hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. through May 31, and until 6 p.m. June 1 through Sept. 30. For more nformation, call 636-798-2005, or visit www.danielboonehome.com.
Ken Weyand can be contacted at email@example.com