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Greater St. Charles Convention and Visitors Bureau
A Civilized FortressDaniel Boone lived in his son Nathan's home.
A Civilized Fortress
Defining Daniel Boone
American folklorist Henry Glassie wrote, “The American landscape speaks, incessantly babbling myth.” I certainly found Glassie’s saying quite true about the Boone Home Historic Site in Defiance. The Boone Home is literally Ground Zero for the American frontier experience in Missouri. Here you can visit Daniel Boone’s home that wasn’t exactly his home, overlooking an early Missouri pioneer village that never really existed, close to his gravestone where he may or may not actually be buried. In short, the Boone Home Historic Site owned and operated by Lindenwood University is the perfect venue to reflect upon the challenges of interpreting our special places.
The Daniel Boone Home, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a four-story Georgian structure built by hand over a period of seven years between 1803 and 1810. The home, which was actually owned by Daniel’s youngest son, Nathan, resembled Daniel Boone’s Pennsylvania birthplace and the family’s ancestral residence in Devon, England. Its two-and-one-half-foot thick limestone walls, seven walnut fireplace mantels, and scattered gun ports look like a civilized fortress.
Inside the Boone Home, an impressive collection of artifacts and antiques, some original to the Boones, help bring the site to life. A separate, summer kitchen of brick and stone reminds us of stifling Missouri heat and humidity in a river valley. An old, framed Boone family lineage chart reminds us that Daniel and his wife, Rebecca, were patriarch and matriarch of the clan and entitled to a separate room in this crowded citadel. Expert guide Caroline Lott explains that the Boones favored pewter for dining because it could be melted down for bullets in the event of a surprise Indian attack. The hand-hewn timbers of the unfinished top floor room where slaves dwelt remind us of the differences that bound people together on the Missouri frontier.
Perhaps equally important as the home is its commanding view of the hilly, well-watered, and heavily wooded Femme Osage Creek valley, in its day a navigable waterway within the North American system of streams and rivers. As Daniel Boone observed, “I had gained the summit of a commanding ridge, and, looking around with astonishing delight, beheld the ample plains, the beauteous tracts below.”
The Boone Home was likely the westernmost American village in the early 1800s; Lewis and Clark noted it in their journals. Daniel Boone considered the valley the finest hunting ground he had ever seen. It was also literally the high point of a commercial enterprise that blazed the path for Missouri statehood. Nathan, the actual owner of the Boone Home, and Daniel Morgan Boone, Daniel’s oldest son, discovered a major salt lick near today’s Boonville. Salt was essential to preserve food on the frontier, so the footpath evolved into the famous Boone’s Lick Trail that encouraged new settlements from Missouri’s original capital at St. Charles west to Arrow Rock and paved the way for Highway 40 and eventually Interstate 70.
In another twist of fate, Nathan Boone provided salt from what is now the Boonslick State Historic Site to the new settlement near Kansas City called Fort Osage. Fort Osage was founded by George Sibley, who with his wife, Mary, later founded the Lindenwood School for Girls. Many years later, Lindenwood School for Girls became Lindenwood College and later Lindenwood University. Lindenwood University now owns and maintains the historic Boone Home and the adjacent Boonesfield Village.
Daniel Boone would also be astonished to stand on the porch of the Boone Home and see Boonesfield Village there in the valley. Like Henry Ford’s controversial Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan, Boonesfield Village is a collection of historic American buildings from other settings reconstructed on-site. However, while Ford went all across America buying up buildings that appealed to his imagination, Boonesfield Village provides a sanctuary for early Missouri buildings within fifty miles facing demolition from new development. The village uses the year of Missouri statehood (1821), just after the death of Daniel Boone, as an organizing
principle to better understand and communicate Missouri frontier life. Chief of Interpretation Grady Manus emphasizes Boonesfield Village’s value for placing the people and events that shaped Missouri life into meaningful contexts because, for most of us, pioneer Missouri is a foreign country that requires visible landmarks and an expert guide.
So is Boonesfield Village real? Perhaps not historically true like an old plat map, but the babbling landscape may reveal a deeper truth. The Boone Home and adjacent Boonesfield Village transport us back to the beginning of Missouri life and allow us to reflect on the meaning of our journey. Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin wrote, “Now the American assignment seemed to come no longer from the conscious choices of individual citizens, but from the scale and velocity of the national projects themselves. Growth, ever more and faster, seemed to have become the nation’s whole purpose.” Like Daniel Boone, we still try to escape into the wilderness and find other settlers following us to the Promised Land.
There’s also the matter of Daniel Boone’s grave site. His grave marker is in an old family cemetery down the road from the Boone Home. Everyone agrees that Daniel Boone died approximately ten years after his wife, Rebecca, and was buried in this cemetery, but then the story gets complicated. Years later, citizens of Frankfort, Kentucky, Boone’s former home, dug up what they thought were Boone’s bones and interred them in a grave site there. However, Missourians argued that Daniel had been buried in the crowded family cemetery at the foot of Rebecca rather than by her side and that the disinterred skeletal remains were not actually those of Daniel Boone. A forensic anthropologist who analyzed the skull in 1984 concluded that it most likely belonged to an African-American man at least six feet tall; Daniel Boone was approximately five feet eight inches tall. So the matter simply will not rest.
I think we should leave the last word to the babbling American landscape. Multiple grave sites and an uncertain land title convey a truth about the restless spirit.