This Day in History: Daniel Boone explores the territory in “Kentucke”

On this day in 1769, Daniel Boone gets his first good look at the territory in Kentucky—or “Kentucke,” as it was sometimes called. The Kentucky Historical Society still holds annual celebrations of Boone Day!

Boone had long been curious about “Kentucke,” and he jumped at the chance to explore the area with five other hunter-explorers in May 1769. “I resigned my domestic happiness for a time,” he wrote, “and left my family and peaceable habitation . . . to wander through the wilderness of America, in quest of the country of Kentucky.”

Boone and his team made their way across the Appalachians, using a natural passage known as the Cumberland Gap. “[A]fter a long and fatiguing journey,” he later reported, “through a mountainous wilderness, in a westward direction, on the seventh day of June following, we found ourselves on Red-River . . . and, from the top of an eminence, saw with pleasure the beautiful level of Kentucky.”

Boone didn’t know it, but he’d probably been through a portion of Kentucky on one earlier occasion, during a hunting trip. He thought he was seeing it for the first time.

Would you believe that Boone stayed in Kentucky for two years? During this time, he explored and hunted. He was attacked and captured by Shawnee Indians—twice! One of his fellow explorers went missing and was later discovered dead. The others abandoned the effort and returned home without him. Sometimes, Boone was alone in the Kentucky wilderness for long stretches of time. On other occasions, he was with his brother, who had come looking for him. Finally, in 1771, the two brothers left Kentucky. Boone went home to North Carolina.

That was not the end of his relationship with Kentucky, of course. In 1773, Boone tried to lead a group of settlers through the Cumberland Gap. Unfortunately, an Indian attack ensured that the effort was over, practically before it began.

Boone got another opportunity in 1775. A man named Richard Henderson had formed a company and purchased land from the Cherokee Indians. Henderson hired Boone to cut a path into Kentucky. The path would be known as Wilderness Road, and it provided a route for settlers to follow. Soon, Boone’s family joined the settlers who were following the road to a new settlement by the Kentucky River.

The name of that settlement? Why, it was soon known as Boonesborough, of course. The settlement grew, but life on the frontier was not easy. While the Cherokees had sold their Kentucky land to Henderson, the Shawnees did not recognize the sale.

Did you catch the part about his family moving to Kentucky? Yes! Throughout all these adventures, Boone had a wife and children at home. Can you imagine what it must have been like to be Daniel Boone’s wife?

Rebecca Boone would ultimately be married to Daniel for more than 56 years. During this time, Boone was often gone for long stretches of time. Sometimes, she did not know if he was alive or dead. She gave birth to ten children, including at least one while he was away from home. One of her sons was tortured and killed during Boone’s 1771 attempt to lead settlers through the Cumberland Gap. Her daughter was kidnapped by Indians in 1776. Another son lost his life at the Battle of Blue Licks. She moved around, living in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky, among other places.

Wow. Rebecca Boone truly was a frontier wife, wasn’t she?

Ultimately, both Boones contributed to the growth of Kentucky, which became a state in 1792.

There is much more to the Boones’s story than just their time in Kentucky, of course. But those are stories for another day.