Daniel Boone was released in 1936 and was brought to the screen by David Howard, a director best known for his Westerns. Indeed, Daniel Boone,is a Western in every way except its locale. Set in the Appalachian Mountains, the story focuses on its titular character and his interactions with both local Indian tribes and the white men who oppose him and the increasing colonial settlement.
Daniel Boone is a widely recognized Appalachian folk hero and has been from the time he was alive. As with all folk heroes, the details of his life are often exaggerated and misconstrued. The film follows the classic Western trope of “cowboys versus Indians,” only substituting mountains and tiny settlements for the typical desert towns and open plains. The role of the larger than life antagonist is filled by the malicious Simon Girty, who is also based on a real colonial American.
The real Daniel Boone was known for leading settlers across the mountains of Tennessee, Kentucky, and eastern Ohio and for helping to create the Wilderness Road from Virginia to Kentucky. As one would expect, he had frequent run-ins with local American Indian tribes and even went on to play a considerable part in the American Indian Wars and the Revolutionary War (Hartley). Simon Girty, on the other hand, was known for being sympathetic to the Indian cause, even going so far as to turn his back on the Revolutionary army in favor of the Loyalists and their Indian allies. After the war, the British crown granted the Loyalists and their Native allies land in Canada, allowing them to escape punishment at the hands of the newly independent American states. Girty took this opportunity and spent the remainder of his life in Canada (Ranck, 292). Similar to Daniel Boone, albeit not as well known, Girty lives on in legend.
Daniel Boone and Simon Girty did actually meet on the battlefield, although their conflict was much briefer than in the film. During the Battle of Blue Licks, Girty and a group of Loyalists ambushed Boone and his group of Revolutionary soldiers (Graves). This was, however, the only documented contact the two men ever had.
Daniel Boone plays out as an Appalachian Western, pitting two local cultural figures against each other. The plot highlights the struggle between early American settlers who sympathized with the Natives and were willing to live alongside them and those who saw the land as their birthright and were already pushing for westward expansion. Much of this conflict first began in the mountains and foothills of Appalachia so it lends itself to a Western approach. Although the plot is somewhat distorted through the lens of Hollywood, the film represents a sort of idealized view of early America and of the origins of Appalachia as it’s known today.
Graves, James. “The Battle of Blue Lick.” Historynet. http://www.historynet.com/battle-of-blue-licks.htm.
Hartley, Cecil B., et al. Life & Times of Col. Daniel Boone. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved November 7, 2019, from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/14023/14023-h/14023-h.htm.
Ranck, George. W. “Girty, the White Indian: A Study in Early Western History.” Watson’s Magazine, v. 15, no. 4. Jeffersonian Pub. Co., 1912, pp. 280-296.