Daniel Boone

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Daniel Boone (October 22, 1734 – September 26, 1820) was an American pioneer, explorer, and frontiersman whose frontier exploits made him one of the first folk heroes of the United States. Boone is most famous for his exploration and settlement of what is now the Commonwealth of Kentucky, which was then beyond the western borders of the settled part of Thirteen Colonies (This region legally belonged to both the Commonwealth of Virginia and to the American Indian Tribes.) Despite some resistance from American Indian tribes such as the Shawnee, in 1775 Boone blazed his Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap in the Appalachian Mountains – from North Carolina and Tennessee into Kentucky. There he founded the village of Boonesborough, Kentucky, one of the first English-speaking settlements west of the Appalachians. Before the end of the 18thcentury, more than 200,000 European people migrated to Kentucky/Virginia by following the route marked by Boone.

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Boone was a militia officer during the Revolutionary War (1775 – 82), which in Kentucky was fought primarily between the European settlers and the British-aided Native Americans. Boone was captured by Shawnee warriors in 1778, who after a while adopted him into their tribe. Later, he left the Indians and returned to Boonesborough in order to help defend the European settlements in Kentucky/Virginia.

Boone was elected to the first of his three terms in the Virginia General Assembly during the Revolutionary War, and fought in the Battle of Blue Licks in 1782, which was one of the final battles of the American Revolution. (Lord Cornwallis and all of his army of British troops had surrendered to Washington at Yorktown, Virginia, in mid-October 1781.)

Following the war, Boone worked as a surveyor and merchant but fell deeply into debt through failed Kentucky land speculation. Frustrated with all the legal problems resulting from his land claims, in 1799 Boone emigrated to eastern Missouri, where he spent most of the last two decades of his life (1800–20). Boone remains an iconic figure in American history. He was a legend in his own lifetime, especially after an account of his adventures was published in 1784, making him famous in America and Europe. After his death, he was frequently the subject of heroic tall tales and works of fiction. His adventures—real and legendary—were influential in creating the archetypal Western hero of American folklore. In American popular culture, he is remembered as one of the foremost early frontiersmen. The epic Daniel Boone mythology often overshadows the historical details of his life.

Daniel Boone was of English and Welsh descent. Because the Gregorian calendar was adopted during Boone’s lifetime, his birth date is sometimes given as November 2, 1734, although Boone continued to use the October date. Daniel’s family belonged to the Religious Society of Friends, disparagingly called “Quakers” and persecuted in England for their unorthodox beliefs. His father, Squire (his first name, not a title) Boone (1696–1765) emigrated from the small town of Bradninch, Devon (near Exeter, England) to Pennsylvania in 1713, to join William Penn’s colony of dissenters. Squire Boone’s parents George and Mary Boone followed their son to Pennsylvania in 1717. In 1720, Squire, who worked primarily as a weaver and a blacksmith, married Sarah Morgan (1700 – 77), whose family members were Quakers from Wales, and settled first in Towamencin Township, Pennsylvania in 1708. In 1731, the Boones moved to the Oley Valley, near the modern city of Reading, Pennsylvania. There they built a log cabin, partially preserved today as the Daniel Boone Homestead. Daniel was born there, the sixth of eleven children.

Daniel Boone spent his early years on what was then the western edge of the Pennsylvania frontier. There were a number of American Indian villages nearby. The pacifist Pennsylvania Quakers generally had good relations with the Indians, but the steady growth of the white population compelled many Indians to relocate further west. Boone received his first rifle at the age of 12, and he learned his hunting skills from both local Europeans and American Indians, beginning his lifelong love of hunting. Folk tales often emphasized Boone’s skills as a hunter. In one story, the young Boone was hunting in the woods with some other boys, when the howl of a panther scattered the boys, except for Boone. He calmly cocked his rifle and shot that predator through the heart just as it leaped at him. As with so many tales about Boone, the story may or may not be true, but it was told so often that it became part of the popular image of the man.

In Boone’s youth, his family became a source of controversy in the local Quaker community that existed in what is now present day Lower Gwynedd Township, Pennsylvania. In 1742, Boone’s parents were compelled to publicly apologize after their eldest child, Sarah, married John Willcockson, a “worldling” (non-Quaker). Squire Boone’s apology was warranted in larger part because the couple had “kept company”, and thus were considered “married without benefit of clergy”. When Boone’s oldest brother Israel also married a “worldling” in 1747, Squire Boone stood by his son and was therefore expelled from the Quakers, although his wife continued to attend monthly meetings with her children. Perhaps as a result of this controversy, in 1750 Squire sold his land and moved the family to North Carolina. Daniel Boone did not attend church again, although he considered himself to be a Christian, and he had all of his children baptized. The Boones eventually settled on the Yadkin River, in what is now Davie County, North Carolina, about two miles (3 km) west of Mocksville.

Because he spent so much time hunting in his youth, Boone received little formal education. According to one family tradition, a schoolteacher once expressed concern over Boone’s education, but Boone’s father was unconcerned, saying “let the girls do the spelling and Dan will do the shooting….” Boone received some tutoring from family members, though his spelling remained unorthodox. Historian John Mack Faragher cautions that the folk image of Boone as semiliterate is misleading, however, arguing that Boone “acquired a level of literacy that was the equal of most men of his times.” Boone regularly took reading material with him on his hunting expeditions — the Bible and Gulliver’s Travels were favorites — and he was often the only literate person in groups of frontiersmen. Boone would sometimes entertain his hunting companions by reading to them around the evening campfire.

As a young man, Boone served with the British military during the French and Indian War (1754–1763), a struggle for control of the land beyond the Appalachian Mountains. In 1755, he was a wagon driver in General Edward Braddock’s attempt to drive the French out of the Ohio Country, which ended the Braddock expedition at what is known as the Battle of the Monongahela. Boone returned home after the defeat, and on August 14, 1756, he married Rebecca Bryan, a neighbor in the Yadkin Valley. The couple initially lived in a cabin on his father’s farm. They eventually had ten children.[citation needed]

In 1759, a conflict erupted between European colonists and the Cherokee Indians, their former allies in the French and Indian War. After the Yadkin Valley was raided by Cherokees, many families, including the Boones, fled to Culpeper County, Virginia. Boone served in the North Carolina militia during this “Cherokee Uprising”, and his hunting expeditions deep into Cherokee territory beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains separated him from his wife for about two years.
Boone’s chosen profession also made for long absences from home. He supported his growing family in these years as a market hunter. Almost every autumn, Boone would go on “long hunts”, which were extended expeditions into the wilderness, lasting weeks or months. Boone would go on long hunts alone or with a small group of men, accumulating hundreds of deer skins in the autumn, and then trapping beaver and otter over the winter. The hunt followed along a network of bison migration trails, known as the Medicine Trails. The long hunters would return in the spring and sell their take to commercial fur traders.

Frontiersmen often carved messages on trees or wrote their names on cave walls, and Boone’s name or initials have been found in many places. One of the best-known inscriptions was carved into a tree in present Washington County, Tennessee which reads “D. Boon Cilled a. Bar [killed a bear] on [this] tree in the year 1760”. A similar carving is preserved in the museum of the Filson Historical Society in Louisville, Kentucky, which reads “D. Boon Kilt a Bar, 1803.” However, because Boone spelled his name with the final “e”, and the inconsistency of an 1803 date east of the Mississippi after Boone moved to Missouri in 1799, these particular inscriptions may be forgeries, part of a long tradition of phony Boone relics.

In 1762 Boone and his wife and four children moved back to the Yadkin Valley from Culpeper. By mid-1760s, with peace made with the Cherokees, immigration into the area increased, and Boone began to look for a new place to settle, as competition decreased the amount of game available for hunting. This meant that Boone had difficulty making ends meet; he was often taken to court for nonpayment of debts, and he sold what land he owned to pay off creditors. After his father’s death in 1765, Boone traveled with his brother Squire and a group of men to Florida, which had become British territory after the end of the war, to look into the possibility of settling there. According to a family story, Boone purchased land near Pensacola, but Rebecca refused to move so far away from her friends and family. The Boones instead moved to a more remote area of the Yadkin Valley, and Boone began to hunt westward into the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Boone first reached Kentucky in the fall of 1767 while on a long hunt with his brother Squire Boone, Jr. Boone’s first steps in Kentucky were near present day Elkhorn City.[14] While on the Braddock expedition years earlier, Boone had heard about the fertile land and abundant game of Kentucky from fellow wagoner John Finley, who had visited Kentucky to trade with American Indians. Boone and Finley happened to meet again, and Finley encouraged Boone with more tales of Kentucky. At the same time, news had arrived about the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, in which the Iroquois had ceded their claim to Kentucky to the British. This, as well as the unrest in North Carolina due to the Regulator movement, likely prompted Boone to extend his exploration.

On May 1, 1769, Boone began a two-year hunting expedition in Kentucky. On December 22, 1769, he and a fellow hunter were captured by a party of Shawnees, who confiscated all of their skins and told them to leave and never return. The Shawnees had not signed the Stanwix treaty, and since they regarded Kentucky as their hunting ground, they considered white hunters there to be poachers. Boone, however, continued hunting and exploring Kentucky until his return to North Carolina in 1771, and returned to hunt there again in the autumn of 1772.

On September 25, 1773, Boone packed up his family and, with a group of about 50 emigrants, began the first attempt by British colonists to establish a settlement in Kentucky. Boone was still an obscure hunter and trapper at the time; the most prominent member of the expedition was William Russell, a well-known Virginian and future brother-in-law of Patrick Henry. On October 9, Boone’s eldest son James and a small group of men and boys who had left the main party to retrieve supplies were attacked by a band of Delawares, Shawnees, and Cherokees. Following the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, American Indians in the region had been debating what to do about the influx of settlers. This group had decided, in the words of historian John Mack Faragher, “to send a message of their opposition to settlement….” James Boone and William Russell’s son Henry were captured and gruesomely tortured to death. The brutality of the killings sent shock waves along the frontier, and Boone’s party abandoned its expedition.
The massacre was one of the first events in what became known as Dunmore’s War, a struggle between Virginia and, primarily, Shawnees of the Ohio Country for control of what is now West Virginia and Kentucky. In the summer of 1774, Boone volunteered to travel with a companion to Kentucky to notify surveyors there about the outbreak of war. The two men journeyed more than 800 miles (1,300 km) in two months in order to warn those who had not already fled the region. Upon his return to Virginia, Boone helped defend colonial settlements along the Clinch River, earning a promotion to captain in the militia as well as acclaim from fellow citizens. After the brief war, which ended soon after Virginia’s victory in the Battle of Point Pleasant in October 1774, Shawnees relinquished their claims to Kentucky.

Following Dunmore’s War, Richard Henderson, a prominent judge from North Carolina, hired Boone to travel to the Cherokee towns in present North Carolina and Tennessee and inform them of an upcoming meeting. In the 1775 treaty, Henderson purchased the Cherokee claim to Kentucky in order to establish a colony called Transylvania. Afterwards, Henderson hired Boone to blaze what became known as the Wilderness Road, which went through the Cumberland Gap and into central Kentucky. Along with a party of about thirty workers, Boone marked a path to the Kentucky River, where he founded Boonesborough. Other settlements, notably Harrodsburg, were also established at this time. Despite occasional Indian attacks, Boone returned to the Clinch Valley and brought his family and other settlers to Boonesborough on September 8, 1775.

Violence in Kentucky increased with the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War (1775 – 82). Native Americans who were unhappy about the loss of Kentucky in treaties saw the war as a chance to drive out the colonists. Isolated settlers and hunters became the frequent target of attacks, convincing many to abandon Kentucky. By late spring of 1776, fewer than 200 colonists remained in Kentucky, primarily at the fortified settlements of Boonesborough, Harrodsburg, and Logan’s Station.
Boone’s daughter Jemima and two other teenage girls were captured outside Boonesborough by an Indian war party, who carried the girls north towards the Shawnee towns in the Ohio country. Boone and a group of men from Boonesborough followed in pursuit, finally catching up with them two days later. Boone and his men ambushed the Indians while they were stopped for a meal, rescuing the girls and driving off their captors. The incident became the most celebrated event of Boone’s life. James Fenimore Cooper created a fictionalized version of the episode in his classic book The Last of the Mohicans (1826).

In 1777, Henry Hamilton, the British Lieutenant Governor of Canada, began to recruit American Indian war parties to raid the settlements in Kentucky. On April 24, Shawnee Indians led by Chief Blackfish attacked Boonesborough. A bullet struck Boone’s leg, shattering his kneecap, but he was carried back inside the fort amid a flurry of bullets by Simon Kenton, a recent arrival at Boonesborough. Kenton became Boone’s close friend as well as a legendary frontiersman in his own right.

While Boone recovered, the Shawnees kept up their attacks outside Boonesborough, destroying the surrounding cattle and crops. With the food supply running low, the settlers needed salt to preserve what meat they had, and so in January 1778 Boone led a party of thirty men to the salt springs on the Licking River. On February 7, 1778, when Boone was hunting meat for the expedition, he was surprised and captured by warriors led by Chief Blackfish of the Chilicothe Shawnee. Because Boone’s party was greatly outnumbered, he persuaded his men to surrender rather than put up a fight.

Blackfish wanted to continue to Boonesborough and capture it, since it was now poorly defended, but Boone convinced him that the women and children were not hardy enough to survive a winter trek. Instead, Boone promised that Boonesborough would surrender willingly to the Shawnees the following spring. Boone did not have an opportunity to tell his men that he was bluffing in order to prevent an immediate attack on Boonesborough, however. Boone pursued this strategy so convincingly that many of his men concluded that he had switched his loyalty to the British.
Boone and his men were taken to Blackfish’s town of Chillicothe where they were made to run the gauntlet. As was their custom, the Shawnees adopted some of the prisoners into the tribe to replace fallen warriors; the remainder were taken to Hamilton in Detroit. Boone was adopted into a Shawnee family at Chillicothe, perhaps into the family of Chief Blackfish himself, and given the name Sheltowee (“Big Turtle”). On June 16, 1778, when he learned that Blackfish was about to return to Boonesborough with a large force, Boone eluded his captors and raced home, covering the 160 miles (260 km) to Boonesborough in five days on horseback and, after his horse gave out, on foot.

During Boone’s absence, his wife and children (except for Jemima) had returned to North Carolina, assuming that he was dead. Upon his return to Boonesborough, some of the men expressed doubts about Boone’s loyalty, since after surrendering the salt making party he had apparently lived quite happily among the Shawnees for months. Boone responded by leading a preemptive raid against the Shawnees across the Ohio River, and then by helping to successfully defend Boonesborough against a ten-day siege led by Blackfish, which began on September 7, 1778.

After the siege, Captain Benjamin Logan and Colonel Richard Callaway—both of whom had nephews who were still captives surrendered by Boone—brought charges against Boone for his recent activities. In the court-martial that followed, Boone was found “not guilty” and was even promoted after the court heard his testimony. Despite this vindication, Boone was humiliated by the court-martial, and he rarely spoke of it.
After the trial, Boone returned to North Carolina in order to bring his family back to Kentucky. In the autumn of 1779, a large party of immigrants came with him, including (according to tradition) the family of Abraham Lincoln’s grandfather. Rather than remain in Boonesborough, Boone founded the nearby settlement of Boone’s Station. Boone began earning money at this time by locating good land for other settlers. Transylvania land claims had been invalidated after Virginia created Kentucky County, and so settlers needed to file new land claims with Virginia. In 1780, Boone collected about $20,000 in cash from various settlers and traveled to Williamsburg to purchase their land warrants. While he was sleeping in a tavern during the trip, the cash was stolen from his room. Some of the settlers forgave Boone the loss; others insisted that he repay the stolen money, which took him several years to do.

A popular image of Boone which emerged in later years is that of the backwoodsman who had little affinity for “civilized” society, moving away from places like Boonesborough when they became “too crowded”. In reality, however, Boone was a leading citizen of Kentucky at this time. When Kentucky was divided into three Virginia counties in November 1780, Boone was promoted to lieutenant colonel in the Fayette County militia. In April 1781, Boone was elected as a representative to the Virginia General Assembly, which was held in Richmond. In 1782, he was elected sheriff of Fayette County.
Meanwhile, the American Revolutionary War continued. Boone joined General George Rogers Clark’s invasion of the Ohio country in 1780, fighting in the Battle of Piqua on August 7. In October, when Boone was hunting with his brother Ned, Shawnees shot and killed Ned. Apparently thinking that they had killed Daniel Boone, the Shawnees beheaded Ned and took the head home as a trophy. In 1781, Boone traveled to Richmond to take his seat in the legislature, but British dragoons under Banastre Tarleton captured Boone and several other legislators near Charlottesville. The British released Boone on parole several days later. During Boone’s term, Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown in October 1781, but the fighting continued in Kentucky unabated. Boone returned to Kentucky and in August 1782 fought in the Battle of Blue Licks, in which his son Israel was killed. In November 1782, Boone took part in another Clark expedition into Ohio, the last major campaign of the war.

After the Revolution, Boone resettled in Limestone (renamed Maysville, Kentucky in 1786), then a booming Ohio River port. In 1787, he was elected to the Virginia state assembly as a representative from Bourbon County. In Maysville, he kept a tavern and worked as a surveyor, horse trader, and land speculator. He was initially prosperous, owning seven slaves by 1787, a relatively large number for Kentucky at the time, which was dominated by small farms rather than large plantations. Boone became something of a celebrity while living in Maysville: in 1784, on Boone’s 50th birthday, historian John Filson published The Discovery, Settlement And present State of Kentucke, a book which included a chronicle of Boone’s adventures.

Although the Revolutionary War had ended, the border war with American Indians north of the Ohio River soon resumed. In September 1786, Boone took part in a military expedition into the Ohio Country led by Benjamin Logan. Back in Limestone, Boone housed and fed Shawnees who were captured during the raid and helped to negotiate a truce and prisoner exchange. Although the Northwest Indian War escalated and would not end until the American victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, the 1786 expedition was the last time Boone saw military action.

Boone began to have financial troubles while living in Maysville. According to the later folk image, Boone the trailblazer was too unsophisticated for the civilization which followed him and which eventually defrauded him of his land. Boone was not the simple frontiersman of legend, however: he engaged in land speculation on a large scale, buying and selling claims to tens of thousands of acres. The land market in frontier Kentucky was chaotic, and Boone’s ventures ultimately failed because his investment strategy was faulty and because his sense of honor made him reluctant to profit at someone else’s expense. According to Faragher, “Boone lacked the ruthless instincts that speculation demanded.”

Frustrated with the legal hassles that went with land speculation, in 1788 Boone moved upriver to Point Pleasant, Virginia (now West Virginia). There he operated a trading post and occasionally worked as a surveyor’s assistant. When Virginia created Kanawha County in 1789, Boone was appointed lieutenant colonel of the county militia. In 1791, he was elected to the Virginia legislature for the third time. He contracted to provide supplies for the Kanawha militia, but his debts prevented him from buying goods on credit, and so he closed his store and returned to hunting and trapping.

In 1795, he and Rebecca moved back to Kentucky, living in present Nicholas County on land owned by their son Daniel Morgan Boone. The next year, Boone applied to Isaac Shelby, the first governor of the new state of Kentucky, for a contract to widen the Wilderness Road into a wagon route, but the governor did not respond, and the contract was awarded to someone else. Meanwhile, lawsuits over conflicting land claims continued to make their way through the Kentucky courts. Boone’s remaining land claims were sold off to pay legal fees and taxes, but he no longer paid attention to the process. In 1798, a warrant was issued for Boone’s arrest after he ignored a summons to testify in a court case, although the sheriff never found him. That same year Kentucky named Boone County in his honor.

In 1799, Boone moved out of the United States to a frontier area, at that time part of Spanish Louisiana, that eventually became the state of Missouri. The Spanish, eager to promote settlement in the sparsely populated region, did not enforce the legal requirement that all immigrants had to be Catholics. Boone, looking to make a fresh start, emigrated with much of his extended family to what is now St. Charles County. The Spanish governor appointed Boone “syndic” (judge and jury) and commandant (military leader) of the Femme Osage district. The many anecdotes of Boone’s tenure as syndic suggest that he sought to render fair judgments rather than to strictly observe the letter of the law.

Boone served as syndic and commandant until 1804, when the area became part of the Louisiana Territory of the United States following the Louisiana Purchase. Because Boone’s land grants from the Spanish government had been largely based on verbal agreements, he once again lost his land claims. In 1809, he petitioned Congress to restore his Spanish land claims, which was finally done in 1814. Boone sold most of this land to repay old Kentucky debts. When the War of 1812 came to the Missouri Territory, Boone’s sons Daniel Morgan Boone and Nathan Boone took part, but by that time Boone was too old for militia duty.
Boone spent his final years in Missouri, often in the company of children and grandchildren. He hunted and trapped as often as his failing health allowed. According to one story, in 1810 or later Boone went with a group on a long hunt as far west as the Yellowstone River, a remarkable journey at his age, if true. His obituary, printed in the Missouri Gazette, October 3, 1820, says, “At the age of eighty, in company with one white man and a black man, whom he laid under strict injunction to return him to his family dead or alive, he made a hunting trip to the head waters of the Great Osage, where he was successful in trapping of beaver, and in taking other game.” Other stories of Boone around this time have him making one last visit to Kentucky in order to pay off his creditors, although some or all of these tales may be folklore. American painter John James Audubon claimed to have gone hunting with Boone in the woods of Kentucky around 1810. Years later, Audubon painted a portrait of Boone, supposedly from memory, although skeptics have noted the similarity of this painting to the well-known portraits by Chester Harding. Boone’s family insisted that he never returned to Kentucky after 1799, although some historians believe that Boone visited his brother Squire near Kentucky in 1810 and have therefore reported Audubon’s story as factual.

Daniel Boone died of natural causes on September 26, 1820, at Nathan Boone’s home on Femme Osage Creek at age 85, just a few weeks short of his 86th birthday. His last words were, “I’m going now. My time has come.” He was buried next to Rebecca, who had died on March 18, 1813. The graves, which were unmarked until the mid-1830s, were near Jemima (Boone) Callaway’s home on Tuque Creek, about two miles (3 km) from the present-day Marthasville, Missouri. In 1845, the Boones’ remains were supposedly disinterred and reburied in a new cemetery in Frankfort, Kentucky. Resentment in Missouri about the disinterment grew over the years, and a legend arose that Boone’s remains never left Missouri. According to this story, Boone’s tombstone in Missouri had been inadvertently placed over the wrong grave, but no one had ever corrected the error. Boone’s relatives in Missouri, displeased with the Kentuckians who came to exhume Boone, kept quiet about the mistake, and they allowed the Kentuckians to dig up the wrong remains. There is no contemporary evidence that this actually happened, but in 1983, a forensic anthropologist examined a crude plaster cast of Boone’s skull made before the Kentucky reburial and announced that it might be the skull of an African American. Negro slaves had also been buried at Tuque Creek, so it is possible that the wrong remains were mistakenly removed from the crowded graveyard. Both the Frankfort Cemetery in Kentucky and the Old Bryan Farm graveyard in Missouri claim to have Boone’s remains.[29] According to “The Boone Family” book by Hazel Atterbury Spraker (1982), “[Daniel] was buried near the body of his wife, in a cemetery established in 1803 by David Bryan, upon the bank of a small stream called Teuque Creek about one and one-half miles southeast of the present site of the town of Marthasville in Warren County, Missouri, it being at that time the only Protestant cemetery North of the Missouri River.”

Daniel Boone remains an iconic figure in American history, although his status as an early American folk hero and later as a subject of fiction has tended to obscure the actual details of his life. The general public remembers him as a hunter, pioneer, and “Indian-fighter”, even if they are uncertain when he lived or exactly what he did. Many places in the United States are named for him, including the Daniel Boone National Forest, the Sheltowee Trace Trail, the town of Boone, North Carolina, and seven counties: Boone County,Ill., Boone County, Ind., Boone County, Neb., Boone County, W.Va., Boone County, Mo., Boone County, Ky., and Boone County, Arkansas. Today, there are schools named for Daniel Boone in many different places, including Birdsboro, Pa., Douglassville, Penn., Gray, Tenn., and Chicago.

The U.S. Navy’s George Washington-class Polaris submarine, USS Daniel Boone, was named for Boone. This nuclear submarine was decommissioned in 1994, and she has been scrapped. She was a member of a class of 41 submarines, all of which were named for Great Americans from history, including the USS Lewis and Clark, to mention two other frontiersmen of the Great West.

Boone’s name has long been synonymous with the American outdoors. For example, the Boone and Crockett Club was a conservationist organization founded by Theodore Roosevelt in 1887, and the Sons of Daniel Boone was the precursor of the Boy Scouts of America.

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