K is for Kentucky – Kentucky you say to yourself. I thought this blog was about the West.
Well – it is. No real understanding of the American West and Western Myth and Lore can ignore – yep I said it – Kentucky. In so very many ways it was the settling of that state and the precedents and folkways established there which set the pattern for what would become the story of the Wild West.
It begins in geography. Did you know Kentucky was admitted to the Union in 1792 as the first state west of the Allegany Mountains? The Frontiersman Daniel Boone first wandered through the Cumberland Gap into the state over twenty years prior to that. Boone set the mold for explorers like Lewis and Clark, Kit Carson and John Fremont, who would push across the lands west of the Mississippi and over the Rocky Mountains in generations to come. He was also a businessman, land speculator, politician and self promoter who has come down to us through history largely because of his popularity and fame during his own lifetime. In that sense he has much in common with men like Davy Crockett and Stephen Austin of Texas or Buffalo Bill Cody, the showman, and Bat Masterson of Dodge City, Kansas.
And at the same time the Earps and the Clantons were waging blood feud in the Arizona Territory, the Hatfield and McCoy families were slaughtering one another in the hills of Kentucky. The preceding century was not time enough to change the fierce independence of these rural families, and break them of the habit of righting the wrongs they believed they suffered, by taking up arms. This theme is repeated often in the West of fact and fiction. Settlers in Kentucky, like the rest of the West, fought, killed and died in an ongoing series of wars with local Indian people too.
Buffalo in abundance roamed Kentucky just like the Great Plains. Early settlers made extensive use of the herds and in fact the settlement of Boonesborough (left)would have starved the winter of 1780-81 if not for the bison. And this leads to another interesting similarity with the traditional Old West, the prairie. Kentucky has vast fertile grassland capable of supporting the roaming herds. The only real difference between Kentucky and the lands west of the Mississippi was in size.
Kentucky was not so big as the whole West. It soon filled with settlers. Boone pushed on across the Mississippi (because dealings with “civilized” folks left him a debtor, as much as for his love of open spaces). He became Alcalde in Spanish Louisiana. As an old man, he moved freely from his home in what would become Missouri to as far away as the Yellowstone and Platt River country, remaining ever restless.
Boone was buried in Missouri but supposedly was removed to Kentucky in 1845. The removal was controversial and Missourians always claimed they gave the Kentucky men the wrong body. Forensic evidence examined in 1983 suggests the man moved to Kentucky may not have been Boone at all.
And so this mystery of who is in the grave (Boone has two, one in each state) is a familiar one to anyone who knows those Western tales of Jesse James’ cheating death or who believe Billy the Kid lived well into the 20th century. It seems, be it Daniel Boone or William Bonnie, we just cannot let those larger than life figures of the West go quietly into the night. Maybe now you’ll agree – Kentucky is the first state in the Wild West.
Is Boone in Missouri or Kentucky? Tell us what you think.
Kentucky Grave Missouri Grave
Shout Out to Commentors:
Sophie – sophiesthoughtsandfunmbles.blogspotco.uk and fantasyboysxxx.blogspotco.uk
Tui – mentalmosaic.com/blog
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