Earlier this year, there was a national celebration of the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln, the most famous of all Kentuckians.
But this is also a landmark year for perhaps the second-most famous Kentuckian — Daniel Boone, who was born 275 years ago this month.
Like many Kentuckians, I've always been fascinated by Daniel Boone.
When I got too old for Captain Kangaroo, my favorite TV show was Daniel Boone, where coonskin cap-wearing Fess Parker was always blazing trails and fighting Indians. I could only imagine how his Kentucky was so much different than mine. When I started first grade, I proudly carried a new Daniel Boone lunch box.
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Of course, most of what we all think we know about Daniel Boone is wrong.
A celebration is planned next weekend at Fort Boonesborough State Park to mark Boone's birth. Perhaps some of the reenactments, pioneer crafts, performances and talks by Boone authors will dispel the myths.
Unlike the tall, handsome TV actor, Boone was a rather ordinary-looking man who stood 5 feet, 8 inches. He hated coonskin caps and never wore one.
Boone fought Indians, but only when necessary. He once said he knew of only three Indians he killed, and he regretted that because Indians had often been nicer to him than white people, even though they killed his brother and two of his sons.
Some of Boone's best friends were Indians. Once, while a prisoner of the Shawnee, Boone was adopted as the son of Chief Blackfish.
Boone was a hunter and explorer at heart. But at various times in his life, he also was a military leader, a surveyor, a tavern keeper, a land speculator, a farmer, a slave owner, a Virginia legislator and a Spanish government bureaucrat in Missouri. Unlike many frontiersmen, he could read and write. His favorite books were the Bible and Gulliver's Travels.
Boone was also America's first celebrity, thanks to John Filson, whose 1784 book, The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke, contained a long appendix said to be the autobiographical adventures of Daniel Boone.
Filson, who would have been a great choice for Kentucky's first commissioner of tourism or economic development, was a colorful writer. His account of Boone's exploits created a sensation across the young nation and throughout Europe.
"Boone became a legend in his own time because he had a good PR man," state historian James Klotter, a history professor at Georgetown College, said of Filson. "But Boone was important in his own right, and his story is worth telling."
Boone was born in Pennsylvania on Oct. 22 or Nov. 2 (calendars changed in 1752) and raised in North Carolina. He was a loner who also could be a leader when needed.
Boone first came to Kentucky in 1769 and, four years later, led his first group of settlers here. The next year, he was hired to blaze the Wilderness Road through Cumberland Gap for the Transylvania Co., which hoped to make a killing on Kentucky land speculation.
He built Fort Boonesborough from 1775-78 as a way station for settlers. He later moved several places in Kentucky — including Maysville and Fayette and Greenup counties — but lost all of his land in legal disputes and went into debt. He moved to Missouri in 1799 and died there in 1820, a month short of his 86th birthday.
Boone was a wanderer who, from his teenage years until well into his 80s, would disappear into the wilderness for monthslong hunting expeditions. "That wanderlust was part of him, just like it has been part of the American spirit," Klotter said.
"In one sense, he represented the common people who settled Kentucky," he said. "He's an everyday man often thrust into difficult circumstances and responding in mostly honorable ways. He's kind of what we want our heroes to be."
While Boone has been the subject of endless fascination, Klotter would like to know more about his wife of 57 years, Rebecca Bryan Boone.
She had 10 children of her own, took in six more to raise and kept the family together despite her husband's long absences. No images of her exist, and there are only a few written descriptions.
"She was a heroine in her own right," Klotter said. "The story that hasn't been told is the story of the women on the frontier."
A good place to begin separating the real Daniel Boone from his myth is at Ft. Boonesborough State Park, where a generally accurate fort was built in 1974, up the hill from the flood-prone original site that historians hope someday to fully excavate.
About 40,000 people visit the fort each year to see costumed craftsmen make soap, pottery, fabric and firearms using authentic frontier tools.
Bill Farmer has been coming to work at the fort for a decade in homespun clothing and period steel-framed spectacles. Besides being the fort's manager, he is an accomplished blacksmith.
"The truth about Boone is even better than the fiction ... if people would take the time to find out the person he really was," Farmer said.
Not far from the fort's small museum is a surveyor's office, where performer Scott New, 45, has portrayed Boone for a decade.
"This man is one of our founders, but his life is drowned in myth and fiction and nonsense," said New, who will be performing next weekend along with Michael Fields as Chief Blackfish. "We need to make the road straight, as it were."
Still, Daniel Boone can never fully escape his myth. Even in his own fort, the gift shop is well-stocked with coonskin caps.
"That's one of those things that goes to the bottom line," Farmer said with a sigh. "I couldn't tell you how many hundreds of those we sell in a season."