Marking Pennsylvania History

Sorting Our Heroes

Interesting, how we put history to work for us.

Once upon a time, there was a real Daniel Boone. We know for a fact that he was born to Quaker parents in Pennsylvania four decades before the American Revolution; that he led the way to what later became Kentucky; and that he wrote up his adventures around his fiftieth birthday.

And then there is the legendary Daniel Boone. He entered the popular imagination in the 19th century as an American hero and has been shaped, narrated and scripted ever since.

Both the real and the legendary Daniel Boones were (or are) reflective, nurturing pioneers, creators of an ideal American wilderness. Boone once commented: "I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks." He was understated, warm, and found comfort in society.

On the other end of the spectrum is a stark contrast with Davy Crockett, also a real man and a time-tested legend. Crockett was a gun-slinging frontiersman, an aggressor who operated in absolutes. Crockett is known for saying: "I leave this rule for others when I'm dead, Be always sure you're right -- then go ahead." He was overstated, distant, and unmoved by society.

History and legend have given us two American models: a hero who collected allies and a yahoo who collected pelts.

Question is: Which one do we consider as our hero?

- Kenneth FInkel, Executive Director of WHYY's Arts & Culture Service

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