According to the legendary Daniel Boone, there are three things essential for a pioneer, “a good gun, a good horse, and a good wife.”
The women who pioneered our country’s backwoods were some of the toughest and smartest you could have met. They were the family’s stability, providing for and protecting their children and husbands. These women also cooked every meal, had many babies, raised children, farmed small areas, cut and split wood, milked cows, fought Indians, and made clothing and shoes. Rebekah Bryan Boone was, like her husband, Daniel, one of the greatest. We know a lot about Rebekah’s husband, Daniel Boone, but little about the woman who was his home touchstone, supporter, and soulmate. Rebekah Boone was the woman who enabled him to forge a way thru the wilderness and become the leader of an early settlement that was instrumental in opening the American west.
Rebekah was born in Virginia in 1739. We do not know for sure, but legend has it that her mother died in childbirth, leaving her to be raised by her stepmother. When she was ten, she moved to the backwoods of the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina along with her paternal grandparents. The remote area was barely populated, so Rebecca received no formal schooling. Like many of her era, she could not read or write. She grew up there and learned the ways and skills of a pioneer woman. Rebekah was tall for a woman of her day. She stood five feet eight inches to Daniel’s reported height of five feet ten. She was dark-haired and graceful and was said to be an attractive woman. She caught the eye of a young Daniel Boone.
Click here for the story of the blue people of Appalachia
One story of the couple’s first encounter centers around a night hunt, where Daniel shot at her thinking her beautiful luminescent eyes were those of a deer or bobcat. It began a long courtship that ended in the marriage of the two; for her at age seventeen, for Daniel at age twenty-one. Upon their marriage, she also inherited the two orphaned children of one of Daniel’s brothers. It was the beginning of the large family she would raise, often alone, while Daniel left on his many excursions. She was on her own for years at a time while Daniel answered the call of the country he longed to explore.
Rebekah and Daniel started married life in the Yadkin Valley in a cabin on the Boone homeplace. Rebekah’s husband, it seemed, was eternally restless. He supported his family with trapping and hunting, trading pelts for the family’s essential goods. He stayed around some of the year and was gone for a few days at a time. As autumn approached, he went on “long hunts” where he was gone weeks or months, leaving Rebecca and their growing family to fend for themselves. It was a dangerous life for him and a lonely and likely a tiresome one for her. As spring returned, so did Daniel. Daniel’s presence brought tales of the hunts and adventures he experienced in the wilderness and pristine wilds of the mountains and valleys to the west.
Life in North Carolina was not without its perils. Indians attacked and retaliated when whites encroached and killed their people. Crops failed, wild animals were ever present, and sickness and childbirth were a part of Rebekah’s life. She became an able midwife and healer, in addition to her other responsibilities. Life was always a little unsettled when Daniel returned home. His stories were thrilling, and his return was a welcome relief from the burdens Rebekah shouldered alone. Daniel’s stories were the highlight of their days and nights, his love and passion for Rebekah, their bed. She would eventually have ten children and raise eight more orphaned youngsters.
Kidnapped and rescued; the heroics of Daniel Boone. Click here.
On one trip, Boone was captured by Indians and, after being gone for two years, returned to a wife and family that had thought he was dead. He survived and thrived in his captivity and was eventually adopted by the tribe that had captured him. Legend says he took an Indian wife. Rebekah was so relieved to see her husband that she left the gossip to others. Daniel had returned from one long absence to find his wife with a young baby girl, Jemima, born more than a year after he left. Rebekah and Jemima endured a lifetime of gossip about Jemima’s parentage. They would be the butt of rumor, making a difficult life even harsher, with the whispers that sought to displace Rebekah’s dignity and morality.
Daniel, ever restless, began to think toward a remote settlement in the lands he explored as a long hunter and trapper. Daniel had decided, along with a few other men with families, to attempt the first settlement in the land west of the Alleghanies (currently called the Appalachians) in what we know as Kentucky. Heretofore this land was uninhabited by whites and was a dangerous Indian hunting ground. It would prove to be a heart-breaking journey of loss and sadness for Rebekah. In an Indian attack on the group while still in Virginia, several were tortured and killed. Among them was Rebekah and Daniel’s oldest son, James. The group heeded the warning of the Indians that settlers were not welcome and returned to North Carolina. Pregnant, with babies and toddlers to care for and roiling in grief, Rebekah and the others in their party made the sad and still dangerous return journey.
Daniel continued to yearn for the lush ground in Kentucky. He fought with other militia against the Indians, determined to settle more of their territory. The Indians now knew of Daniel’s intentions to occupy their land. While gone on long excursions, he had many dangerous encounters with the disgruntled indigenous tribes. Rebekah, again at home alone, struggled with the daily life of raising a one-room cabin full of kids. Feeding them and tending to the basics of life would have taken all her energies. Rebekah knew Daniel was an able frontiersman. However, there was an ever-present worry during his absences.
Two years after the perilous failed journey, Daniel was hired by the Transylvania Company to blaze a trail through the Cumberland Gap. It would be known as “Boone’s Trace” and would open the wilderness to settlement and begin the growth of the American frontier.
Boone led his family and other brave pioneering families thru the trace, establishing the first permanent settlement west of the mountains. Rebekah was by his side, tromping hundreds of miles thru mountainous Indian territory in treacherous terrain. So narrow were most passages they could only be traveled on foot or horseback. The weary travelers finally made it to a suitable place. We know it today as Boonesboro, Kentucky.
Many of the morays and customs of the time hampered the women’s lives. During their long travels and at home, Rebekah would have been dressed in a long skirt that would have become, at times, heavy and wet. Her feet would have been encased in thin moccasins. Her warmth against the wind and rain would have been a shawl. As a young mother with a constant brood of infants, a child would have suckled at her breast as she traveled. She would have led the toddlers by hand or carried them. It was simply the life of the women.
Ever in dangerous situations, Daniel continued to be gone. Indian attacks were part of the life of these trailblazers. His family moved back to more civilized areas during particularly grave times. Life was often uncertain. Rebekah and Daniel continued exploring a growing nation’s backcountry and frontier. In their lifetime, they left their footprints in many places as Daniel continued to explore the frontier. They also continued to love and grow their family.
Rebekah passed away in Missouri in 1813 at 74. She and Daniel had been married for 57 years. Daniel, it is said, went into a deep depression, passing away in 1820 at age 85. They were both buried in the Bryan Cemetery in Marthasville, Missouri, and later were reinterred in Kentucky.
Like most women of her day, Rebekah Boone’s real-life was cast as merely a supporting character in her husband’s historical drama. While Daniel was interviewed and written about, Rebekah is portrayed as but a shadow following in her husband’s path. Daniel was depicted in portraits and drawings of the time. Only a line drawing exists of Rebekah. Rebekah was not a shadow. She stands firmly in place alongside her husband, Daniel, as a trailblazer and heroine in her own right. Rebekah Boone should be remembered as independent of spirit, a loyal and devoted wife and mother. She was intelligent and highly capable. Rebekah Bryan Boone was an extraordinary woman.
As a book reviewer, I was pleased to be granted an early read of Patricia Hudson’s first novel of historical fiction, “Traces.” It was just published by Fireside Industries, an imprint of the University Press of Kentucky. It inspired me to write about Rebekah Boone and to encourage others to read about her life and that of our early explorers thru the eyes of the women. They were the workhorses that enabled their families to survive under the harshest conditions.
Rebekah Boone, the wife of Daniel Boone, stands center stage in Patricia Hudson’s novel. She tells of her life thru the eyes of a woman who loved a man with a restless spirit and love for the frontier. Daughters Jemima and Suzannah tell their stories too. The terror of being kidnapped by Indians. The stories of courtship in the backcountry. The frustrations of growing up as a woman in a world dominated by men.
My ideal book educates me, entertains me, and gets me emotionally involved in the characters and the plot. Patricia Hudson does all that and more in “Traces.” Her storytelling is so good that I was saddened when the book ended. That is the hallmark of good writing.
This book caused me to reflect on how different my life has been compared to my mother’s and her mother’s before her. For me, it is a generational journey. It took me back to my own family’s settlement years and those tough and smart women whose DNA I share, whose names and struggles are often forgotten.
I encourage all who love history, courageous characters, and entertaining stories to read “Traces.” You will see the life and times of Rebekah and Daniel Boone in a whole new light. The book is based on historical research, so you will learn from it, but you will also feel the frustration, loneliness, joys, and sorrows of life on the American frontier from the woman who stood side by side with Daniel Boone as a trailblazer. You may even reflect, as I did, on the journey of the women in your own family who came before you.
You can read more about the book’s creation, the author’s thoughts, and what inspired her to write it at Patricia-Hudson.com.