Gateway to the Classics: Four American Pioneers by Francis M. Perry and Katherine Beebe
 
Four American Pioneers by  Francis M. Perry and Katherine Beebe

Childhood

W HEN Daniel Boone was a child the land west of the Alleghanies was a wilderness inhabited only by Indians. But in Virginia, and other places east of the mountains, there were fine houses with broad porches and large, richly-furnished rooms There stately men in powdered wigs and knee-breeches, and queenly dames in stiff brocades and high-heeled shoes, lived and brought up little American boys and girls after the fashion of their English cousins.

However, it was not in such a house nor among such people that Daniel Boone learned to walk, and talk, and think. His father was a poor man who lived in a rude log cabin on the outskirts of a dark forest in Pennsylvania. There Daniel spent his happy childhood.

The cabin was small, but that made it very snug in winter when the snow was blowing outside and the logs were blazing in the great stone fireplace. And in summer, if there was not room enough for the large family in the small house, there was plenty of space out of doors. The little folks in that humble home were not fed on pies and cakes, but they had an abundance of plain food which makes strong muscles; and sharp appetites gave it flavor. The beds were hard, but all slept too soundly to think of that.

The rough hunter loved his children fondly. When he came home from a day's hunt and Daniel toddled down the path to meet him, he tossed the sturdy little fellow upon his shoulder and let him examine the heavy flint-lock with eager baby fingers. Or perhaps he had brought a shy rabbit or cunning squirrel to his boy, just as your father sometimes brings a ball or a toy to your younger brother.

Daniel loved animals and had no fear of them. These tiny creatures of the woods were his playfellows, and his father's hunting-dogs were his comrades.

As soon as he was old enough he went with his brothers and sisters to the log schoolhouse to learn to read and write. The schoolroom was small, dark, and comfortless. The master was cross and unjust. The place seemed like a prison to Daniel.

He was glad to shun such a place and plunge into the forest with his gun on his shoulder and his dog at his heels. There he felt free and happy. Long, solitary tramps through the woods in quest of game were his greatest pleasure. He was usually so successful in hunting that his father made no objection to his staying away from school.

The youthful hunter might have been hurt or lost while on these lonely rambles, but he rarely had a mishap; for he was as cautious as he was brave. His habit of hunting alone made him observing and self-reliant, for there was no one to whom he could go for advice when in trouble.

When exploring new regions in fair weather he was guided by the sun; and when the day was dark and cloudy the thick moss on the north side of the tree-trunks told him which way to go. He rarely needed such guides, however, for, like the wild animals, he seemed to know his way by instinct.

He soon knew the forest for miles around. He could name the trees at a distance from the color of their leaves. In the winter he knew them by their bark, their manner of branching, and their forms. He could find the finest nuts and the most luscious berries. He knew the tiniest wild flowers, and where and when to look for them. He was very much interested in animals, and studied their haunts and habits. He became a good marksman, for he could keep a cool head and a steady hand at the most exciting moment.


[Illustration]

A Hunter's Equipment

He knew many Indians; he visited their tents; ate their food; hunted with them; traveled with them; and learned their customs, their tricks, and their character.

Thus, while other American boys were being schooled in English manners and were being prepared to meet the British on equal terms and defeat them, Daniel Boone was taking the lessons in forest lore and Indian craft that were to fit him to subdue the wilderness and vanquish the red man.


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