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In 1782 he was engaged in the memorable and disastrous battle of the Blue Licks, and accompanied Gen. Clark on his expedition to avenge it. In the succeeding year, peace with England being declared, the pioneer saw the liberty and civilization of the country he had known as a wilderness, only inhabited by wild beasts and savages, guaranteed and established. In 1779, baving laid out the chief of his little property in land warrants, on his way from Kentucky to Richmond he was robbed of twenty thousand dollars; wiser claimants, versed in the legal conditions, deprived him of his lands; disappointed and impatient, he left the glorious domain he had originally explored and nobly defended, and became a voluntary subject of the King of Spain, by making a new forest home on the banks of the Missouri. An excursion he undertook, in 1916, to Fort Osage, a hundred miles from his lodge, evidences the unimpaired vigor of his declining years.
So indifferent to gain was Boone that he neglected to secure a fine estate rather than incur the trouble of a visit to New Orleans. An autograph letter, still extant, proves that he was not illiterate; and Governor Dunmore, of Virginia, had such entire confidence in his vigilance and integrity, that he employed him to conduct surveyors eight hundred miles through the forest, to the falls of the Ohio, gave him command of three frontier stations, and sent him to negotiate treaties with the Cherokees. It was a fond boast with him that the first white women that ever stood on the banks of the Kentucky river were his wife and daughter, and that his axe cleft the first tree whose timbers laid the foundation of a permanent settlement in the state. He had the genuine ambition of a pioneer, and the native taste for life in the woods embodied in the foresters of Scott and the Leather-stocking of Cooper. He possessed that restless impulse, — the instinct of adventure,the poetry of action. It has been justly said that "he was seldom taken by surprise, never shrunk from danger, nor cowered beneath exposure and fatigue.” So accurate were his woodland observations and memory, that he recognized an ash-tree which he had notched twenty years before, to identify a locality; and proved the accuracy of his designation by stripping off the new bark, and exposing the marks of his axe beneath. His aim was so certain, that he could with ease bark a squirrel, that is, bring down the animal, when on the top of the loftiest tree, by knocking off the bark immediately beneath, killing him by the concussion.
The union of beauty and terror in the life of a pioneer, of so much natural courage and thoughtfulness as Boone, is one of its most significant features. We have followed his musing steps through the wide, umbrageous solitudes he loved, and marked the contentment he experienced in a log hut, and by a camp-fire; but over this attractive picture there ever impended the shadow of peril, in the form of a stealthy and cruel foe, the wolf, disease, and exposure to the elements. Enraged at the invasion of their ancient hunting grounds, the Indians hovered near; while asleep in the jungle, following the plough, or at his frugal meal, the pioneer was liable to be shot down by an unseen rifle, and surrounded by an ambush ; from the tranquil pursuits of agriculture, at any moment, he might be summoned to the battle-field, to rescue a neighbor's property, or defend a solitary outpost. The senses become acute, the mind vigilant, and the tone of feeling chivalric, under such discipline. That life has a peculiar dignity, even in the midst of privation, and however devoid of refined culture, which is entirely self-dependent both for sustainment and protection. It has, too, a singular freshness and animation, the more genial from being naturally inspired. Compare the spasmodic efforts at hilarity, the forced speech, and hackneyed expression, of the fashionable drawing-room, with the candid mirth and gallant spirit born of the woodland and the chase, - the powerful sinews and well-braced nerves of the pioneer with the languid pulse of the metropolitan exquisite, — and it seems as if the fountain of youth still bubbled up in some deep recess of the forest. Philosophy, too, as well as health, is attainable in the woods, as Shakspeare has illustrated in “ As You Like It," and Boone by his example and habitual sentiments. IIe said to his brother, when they had lived for months in the yet unexplored wilds of Kentucky, “You see how little human nature requires. It is in our own hearts, rather than in the things around us, that we are to seek felicity. A man may be happy in any state.
It only asks a perfect resignation to the will of Providence.” It is
remarkable that the two American characters which chiefly interested Byron were Patrick Henry and Daniel Boone, — the one for his gift of oratory, and the other for his philosophical content, — both so directly springing from the resources of nature.
There is an affinity between man and nature, which conventional habits keep in abeyance, but do not extinguish. It is manifested in the prevalent taste for scenery, and the favor so readily bestowed upon its graphic delineation in art or literature; but, in addition to the poetic love of nature, as addressed to the sense of beauty, or that ardent curiosity to explore its laws and phenomena which finds expression in natural science, there is an instinct that leads to a keen relish of nature in her primeval state, and a facility in embracing the life she offers in her wild and solitary haunts; a feeling that seems to have survived the influences of civilization, and develops, when encouraged, by the inevitable law of animal instinct. It is not uncommon to meet with this passion for nature among those whose lives have been devoted to objects apparently alien to its existence. Sportsmen, pedestrians, and citizens of rural propensities, indicate its modified action, while it is more emphatically exhibited by the volunteers who join in the caravans to the Rocky Mountains, the deserts of the East, and the forests of Central and South America, with no ostensible purpose but the gratification arising from intimate contact with nature in her luxuriant or barren solitudes.
To one having but an inkling of this sympathy, with a nervous organization and an observant mind, there is, indeed, no restorative of the frame, or sweet diversion to the mind, like a day in the woods. The effect of roaming a treeless plain, or riding over a cultivated region, is entirely different. There is a certain tranquillity and balm in the forest, that heals and calms the fevered spirit, and quickens the languid pulses of the weary and the disheartened with the breath of hope. Its influence on the animal spirits is remarkable; and the senses, released from the din and monotonous limits of streets and houses, luxuriate in the breadth of vision, and the rich variety of form, hue, and odor, which only scenes like these afford. As we walk in the shadow of lofty trees, the repose and awe of heart that breathes from a sacred temple
gradually lulls the tide of care, and exalts despondency into worship. As the eye tracks the flickering light glancing upon herbage, 'it brightens to recognize the wild flowers that are associated with the innocent enjoyments of childhood ; to note the delicate blossom of the wild hyacinth, see the purple asters wave in the breeze, and the scarlet berries of the winter-green glow among the dead leaves, or mark the circling flight of the startled crow, and the sudden leap of the squirrel.
We pause unconsciously to feel the springy velvet of the mossclump, pluck up the bulb of the broad-leaved sanguinaria, or examine the star-like flower of the liverwort; and then, lifting our gaze to the canopy beneath which we lovingly stroll, greet, as old and endeared acquaintances, the noble trees in their autumn splendor, the crimson dogwood, yellow hickory, or scarlet maple, whose brilliant hues mingle and glow in the sunshine like the stained windows of an old gothic cathedral; and we feel that it is as true to fact as to poetry that “the groves were God's first temples.” Every fern at our feet is as daintily carved as the frieze of a Grecian column; every vista down which we look wears more than Egyptian solemnity; the withered leaves rustle like the sighs of penitents, and the lofty tree-tops send forth a voice like that of prayer. Fresh vines encumber aged trunks, solitary leaves quiver slowly to the earth, a twilight hue chastens the brightness of noon, and all around is the charm of a mysterious quietude and seclusion that induces a dreamy and reverential mood; while health seems wafted from the balsamic pine and the elastic turf, and over all broods the serene blue firmament.
If such refreshment and inspiration are obtainable from a casual and temporary visit to the woods, we may imagine the effect of a lengthened sojourn in the primeval forest upon a nature alive to its beauty, wildness, and solitude; and when we add to these the zest of adventure, the pride of discovery, and that feeling of sublimity which arises from a consciousness of danger always impending, it is easy to realize in the experience of a pioneer at once the most romantic and practical elements of life. In American history, rich as it is in this species of adventure, no individual is so attractive and prominent as Daniel Boone. The singular union in his character of benevolence and hardihood, bold activity and a meditative disposition, the hazardous enterprises and narrow escapes recorded of him, and the resolute tact he displayed in all emergencies, are materials quite adequate to a thrilling narrative; but when we add to the external phases of interest that absolute passion for forest life which distinguished bim, and the identity of his name with the early fortunes of the West, he seems to combine the essential features of a genuine historical and thoroughly individual character.