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Hero's Rest

But now the scene is changed: peace crowns the sylvan shade.

The Adventures of Col. Daniel Boon
(Filson's Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke, Appendix, p61)


[image ALT: Amid a dozen low tombstones under a group of tall trees overlooking a wide valley, a rectangular stone post about 5 meters high, enclosed in a small iron fence. It is the tomb of Daniel Boone in Frankfort, Kentucky.]

Daniel Boone's grave in Frankfort Cemetery, Frankfort, Kentucky.

Every American schoolchild knows the name of Daniel Boone. Not for me then to give you the story of his life: how this Pennsylvanian spent most of his life exploring the new West and blazing trails into it from the old colonies, including the Cumberland Gap which for many years would be the gate to American continental expansion, pushing ever westward. (The details of his story are beautifully and accurately told by Constance Skinner in Pioneers of the Old Southwest, chapters 5 and 11.)

True to himself then, late in life — finding his new home state "crowded", with fewer than two hundred thousand people spread over more than a hundred thousand square kilometers! — he emigrated to Missouri, to die there in 1820 at the age of 85; and so was buried there, on his new farm near Marthasville.

Yet Dan Boone had become identified with Kentucky. Much of his life had been spent there, exploring, fighting Indians during the Revolutionary War, surveying, farming, and publicizing it in one of the most successful pieces of literary boosterism in American history. It was only natural that he should be buried here, in the state capital of Kentucky; and so his remains were brought to Frankfort in 1845, along with those of his wife Rebecca who had died in 1813. Or at least, maybe they were: in the best Old World tradition, where his relics really lie is a matter of doubt and maybe deceit; the studious reader will find the confusing details in the websites linked below.


[image ALT: A rectangular stone post about 5 meters high, enclosed in a small iron fence; in the foreground, a historical marker. It is the tomb of Daniel Boone in Frankfort, Kentucky.]

The four white marble high-relief panels, seen here clockwise starting with the front of the monument on the west side, seem to be more in the nature of generic vignettes than episodes of a specific story; this by way of confessing that if they do tell a story, I don't know what it is:


[image ALT: A vertical rectangular stone panel in high relief, depicting Daniel Boone sitting on a low rock, with a rifle and a dead deer at his feet. It is a relief sculpture on the funerary monument of Daniel Boone in Frankfort Cemetery, Frankfort, Kentucky.] 
[image ALT: A vertical rectangular stone panel in high relief, depicting Daniel Boone talking with another man, also standing, but in a somewhat subservient posture. It is a relief sculpture on the funerary monument of Daniel Boone in Frankfort Cemetery, Frankfort, Kentucky.] 
[image ALT: A vertical rectangular stone panel in high relief, depicting Rebecca Boone, the wife of Daniel Boone, milking a cow. It is a relief sculpture on the funerary monument of Daniel Boone in Frankfort Cemetery, Frankfort, Kentucky.] 
[image ALT: A vertical rectangular stone panel in high relief, depicting Daniel Boone brandishing a rifle over his head in the manner of a club, against an Indian wielding a tomahawk. They are fighting on the corpse of a second Indian. It is a relief sculpture on the funerary monument of Daniel Boone in Frankfort Cemetery, Frankfort, Kentucky.]

(No, you don't need to squint: each panel expands with a click.)

The color differences are an artifact of the lighting at the time I took these pictures; the south and west sides were in the sun, the north and east in the deep shade of approaching sunset. As it turns out though, the vigorously lit sides tell of conflict — the huntsman kills a deer, he fights an Indian — and those in shadow depict peaceful subjects: a conversation, and Rebecca Boone milking a cow.

The monument was erected in 1880, and these reliefs were carved around that time; but the carving has already had time to wear differently depending on its exposure: the contrast between the west panel, which fronts onto the windy cliff, and the much more sheltered east panel, is particularly noticeable in the details of the foliage.

Even more noticeable to some will be the famous coonskin cap, shown three times in these reliefs. Yet historians repeatedly set us on our guard: that cap was the trademark of Davy Crockett, not of Daniel Boone; but by 1880 the confusion had already set in.

Needless to say, if you have good information to fill in my gaps, I'd be happy to hear from you.

Thus we behold Kentucky, lately an howling wilderness, the habitation of savages and wild beasts, become a fruitful field; this region, so favourably distinguished by nature, now become the habitation of civilization.


[image ALT: A wide vista, from a height, of a forested plain with a river flowing toward us, and amid the trees intimations of a largish town. It is the view of Frankfort, Kentucky from the Daniel Boone gravesite above the town in Frankfort Cemetery.]

The view from Daniel Boone's grave on the cliff,
onto the Kentucky River, Frankfort and the barely visible gray dome of her capitol building,
and into the setting sun.


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Page updated: 29 Sep 10