Debunking Myths: Morgan Comes to The Country Bookshop Today
Award-winning poet and novelist -- and North Carolina native -- Robert Morgan, author of "Gap Creek," has been called a lot of things.
"A genius." "A brilliant storyteller." "One of America's finest writers." "Mythbuster."
"Daniel Boone never wore a coonskin cap," says Morgan, who will present his first major work of nonfiction, "Boone: A Biography," at The Country Bookshop in downtown Southern Pines today (Sunday, Oct. 5) at 2 p.m. "Boone thought coonskin caps uncouth, heavy, and uncomfortable. He always wore a beaver felt hat to protect him from sun and rain."
Don't tell that to the thousands of people who went to the Daniel Boone Days in Boone this September, where they joined in the massive attempt to achieve a world's record for the "Largest Gathering of People Dressed Like Daniel Boone." And don't tell the millions of baby boomers who watched on TV the coonskin-capped Fess Parker play the "Big Man, the rippin'est roarin'est fightin'est man the frontier ever knew."
Morgan has a passion for the truth, and in "Boone" he reveals the "faketales" about America's first superhero.
"Much that the public thinks it knows about Boone is fiction," Morgan says. "Few other Americans have had their lives told so often and in such a wide range of styles, combining truth, insight, myth, hearsay, and outright fabrication. Because he became a figure of American folklore even while alive, Boone has been thought by many to be virtually a fictional character. It is hard to rescue figures like Daniel Boone and Johnny Appleseed from the distortions of television and Walt Disney."
Boone himself sometimes claimed his exaggerated exploits celebrated in poems and biographies of the time were true. But near the end of his life he said, "Nothing embitters my old age more than the circulation of absurd stories. Many heroic actions and chivalrous adventures are related of me which exist only in the regions of fancy. With me the world has taken great liberties, and yet I have been but a common man."
Morgan never wrote the book-length poem about Boone he had planned decades ago. But while researching his novel, "Brave Enemies," set during the American Revolution in the Carolinas, "Boone's name cropped up again and again," the author says. "I began to peel away the myth and found the person behind him. The real story of Daniel Boone is more complicated than the fiction, stranger, and far more interesting."
"Boone," just released in paperback, received rave reviews when it was first published in 2007. The critic for The News & Observer of Raleigh wrote, "Robert Morgan is a genius. He's a poet and novelist and brings his deep understanding of metaphor and his brilliant storytelling to the life of this complicated and fascinating frontiersman."
D. G. Martin says "Boone" is "one of the best books ever written about a North Carolinian." Other critics have called it "stunning," "superb storytelling, riveting," and "a minor masterpiece of the biographer's art." It was named a "Best Book" by a half-dozen publications, and received the 2007 Kentucky Literary Award and 2008 SE Library Association Award for Nonfiction. It was also selected as the 2008 title for "Together We Read," the annual community-based reading project of Western North Carolina.
Daniel Boone was born in 1734, near Philadelphia, and with his family followed the Great Wagon Road to Virginia, and then settled in North Carolina's Buffalo Lick on the Yadkin River in 1751 when he was 16. Five years later he married Rebecca Bryan, 17, near Mocksville. He had, he said, "all the requisites of a good life, a good gun, a good horse, and a good wife." Together they had 10 children (most of them born in North Carolina), and remained married for more than 50 years. Although he lived in Kentucky, West Virginia, and finally Missouri, North Carolina was his home longer than any other place.
In 1769, Boone set off from Salisbury to explore the "sublime isolation of the primeval American wilderness, the mythic, Edenic place called 'Kanta-Ke.'" He was one of the first white men to see the thousands of buffalo in the Blue Grass Country.
Boone and five other men forged Boone's Trace, which became the Wilderness Road, through the Cumberland Gap, helping pave the way for westward expansion. In 1775 Boone led settlers through the Cumberland Gap into uncolonized Shawnee country, where they built a fort named Boonesborough. In 1779, after he led another group that included Abraham Lincoln's grandfather, he and his family permanently moved to Kentucky.
Within three years, a hundred thousand settlers flooded the territory. By 1790 there were plantations, towns, horse farms, courthouses, ballrooms and racetracks, law offices and schools. The last buffalo had been killed. The game were gone. So were the Indians. Two years later Kentucky was admitted to the Union as a slave state.
When Boone and his family left Kentucky for good in 1792, he didn't own a single acre of the state he'd fought to establish and settle. He was old, broke, and irrelevant. They moved to the wilds of what is now West Virginia, but wherever Daniel Boone went, civilization followed. Ultimately they moved to Spain's Alta Luisiana (now Missouri) at the mouth of Femme Osage Creek in 1799, where 'Becca died 14 years later, and Dan'l, virtually penniless, died in 1820.
"Boone in his final years saw clearly the contradictions of his life," Morgan says, "how his 'love of nature' had led not to a future of peaceful hunting with Indians but to the destruction of the hunting grounds the Indians had preserved so long. No man sought and loved the wilderness with more passion and dedication. Yet none did more to lead settlers and developers to destroy that wilderness in a few decades."
Robert Morgan received the 2007 Award for Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the 2007 N.C. Literary and Historical Association award for "significant contributions to the literature of North Carolina." He is the author of 11 books of poetry and eight books of fiction, including "Gap Creek," an Oprah Book Club selection. He was raised on his family's farm in Zirconia, near Hendersonville in the Green River valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He and Nancy Bullock, his wife of 43 years, live in Ithaca, N.Y., where he is Kappa Alpha Professor of English at Cornell University.
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