The Hero in America: A Chronicle of Hero-Worship by Dixon Wecter

An execerpt from the book The Hero in America: A Chronicle of Hero-Worship by Dixon Wecter, a look at how heros developed in the United States.

THE HERO IN AMERICA: A CHRONICLE OF HERO-WORSHIP. By Dixon Wecter. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1972.

About the book: What made Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Abe Lincoln, Buffalo Bill, and General Grant household words? Dixon Wecter tells all about the lives (and, moreover, the myths surrounding those lives) of America's "great men." The style of this thick volume is at the same time one of warmth and irony.

From the book: The ageing Boone--so crippled by rheumatism that his wife had to go hunting with him to hold his gun--fared less well at home. Bankrupt in Kentucky, he moved on to Missouri, impelled by hope and restlessness, rather than by the legendary sense of claustrophobia. To the last, he protested that he loved friends and neighbors. Congress was slow in confirming his title to a Spanish land grant, and even his countrymen began to forget the man whose fame overseas grew mightily. Chester Harding, who traveled 100 mi. to paint the old man shortly before Boone's death in 1820, reported: "I found that the nearer I got to his dwelling, the less was known of him. When within 2 mi. of his house, I asked a man to tell me where Colonel Boone lived. He said he did not know any such man. 'Why, yes, you do,' said his wife. 'It is that white-headed old man who lives on the bottom, near the river. . . .' I found the object of my search engaged in cooking his dinner. He was laying in his bunk near the fire, and had a long strip of venison wound around his ramrod, and was busy turning it before a brisk blaze, and using salt and pepper to season his meat. I at once told him the object of my visit. I found that he hardly knew what I meant. I explained the matter to him, and he agreed to sit. He was 90 years old, and rather infirm."

When it was broadcast that Daniel Boone had died, the world remembered. In his honor the legislature of Missouri adjourned, and his funeral was the largest the West had ever known. Boone was buried in the cherrywood coffin which he had kept under his bed for many years, in the manner of John Donne.

Meanwhile the lore of Boone was built by the passing years. Stories were told of how he nearly shot his future wife, by mistake, on a panther hunt at night; how he owned a cow, Old Spot, who learned to give Indian alarms, and was wounded in the siege of Boonesborough, where the good Lord had miraculously sent a heavy rain to put out the burning stockade; how Boone ran backwards in his tracks and swung on grapevines for intervals of many yards, to baffle the redskins; how he led a party to rescue young Jemima Boone and her playmates from Indian kidnappers. In 1818 Boone was amused by the story, published in the East and abroad, that he had been found dead, kneeling by a stump, rifle in hand, and a deer dead some hundred yards away.

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