Who was Daniel Boone? If people think of him at all it is usually as the second guy in the coonskin hat, right behind Davy Crockett. The truth is, he came before him, but like Crockett, became an embodiment of the American frontiersman, as much for his ability to tell a tall tale, as for his exploits.
Boone is known for helping blaze a trail through the Cumberland Gap and settle the territory that became Kentucky. At one point he may have been adopted by the Shawnee Indians. Although he had the reputation for being a backwoods man, he went on to serve three terms in the General Assembly of Virgina. He became famous when an account of his adventures, published in 1784, found him shooting a panther through the heart as a child and later swinging on vines, like Tarzan, to escape from Indians.
I’d seen that Daniel Boone’s grave was just an hour away, in Frankfurt, so of course I was going to head straight there in the morning. It had been a rough night at My Old Kentucky Home Campground, camped on a patch of grass, my tent behind a tree, trying not to draw any attention. At the first light of dawn, I was up and on the road.
I took the 9002, the Bluegrass Parkway, to the 127. Karen, from Google Maps, got me right up to the cemetery gates, but I needed a caretaker to point me in the right direction once I got there. The grave was on a hilltop, looking down on the Kentucky River and the capital. As I pulled up a few white-tailed deer went skipping through the headstones. His wife, Rebecca, is said to have been buried next to Boone. Someone had left a pencil drawing of the man there as a tribute.
It was a calm, serene morning. The view of the river, trees, and capitol building below could not have been better scripted. I decided to sit beside the grave and do my meditation for the day. There was the faint barking of a dog. Then a bird began screeching. Now came the high peeping of another bird. Cars passed on the freeway. The screeching bird became a nagging bird, with a high, piercing cry.
Down below the valley began to come to life. I hadn’t shut my eyes yet but was measuring my breathing. Right behind me lay the remains of an American legend. What had been real about him and what hadn’t? At one point he’d been reinterred from an earlier burial site. Was that even him and his wife beneath the marker? What matters more, what we know or what we think we know? A little bird zipped across the sky. The barking of the dog became louder. The streets below began to fill up with cars.
A few years earlier, I’d taken a Greyhound Bus from Laredo, Texas to Bangor, Maine. Somewhere along the way, I’d had to make a midnight transfer in Cincinnati. It had seemed like a mysterious destination at the time, full of bridges, strange lights, and dark shadows. Although I’d resolved to largely avoid cities on this trip, I decided to drive through it on my way to the Serpent Mound in southern Ohio. It was an hour and a half away. I took the 127 north to the 71 heading east. The city looked different during the day. The bridges were still there. I drove through downtown and past the stadium where the Bengals play. Then it was the 275 to the 32.
The Serpent Mound represents a snake with a curled tail. It is more than 1,300 feet long. Of all the destinations on my trip, this was one I was possibly the most excited to see. When I pulled up in the parking lot and tried to jump out, however, I found that I was stuck fast to my seat. I tried getting up again, and was pulled back down. I pried one hand under an ass-cheek and it felt like I was reaching into tar. I yanked it back out, and realized I’d sat in Juicy Fruit gum that someone had smeared on a ledge in front of Daniel Boone’s grave.
The gum was easier to get off the seat, thank God, than it was my pants. The pants would never recover, but what I really wanted to know is who would defile the grave of such a patriot with a mouthful of Juicy Fruit gum? Was it anarchy or just plain ignorance at work here?
After cleaning out the car and the seat of my pants the best I could, I proceeded to go investigate the Serpent Mound. There were three burial mounds in front of the visitor center, attributed to the Adena Culture. The serpent mound may have been used in ceremonies designed to placate a spirit. There was an observation tower that I needed to climb to the top of to get an overview of it. It did seem to go on forever, both literally, and figuratively, snaking through the trees.