The curious case of Boone’s bones

American folk hero Daniel Boone is known primarily for the adventurous life that he led while settling modern-day Kentucky. He was captured by the Chillicothe Shawnee, adopted into their family only to escape and make a 160-mile trek home in five days on horseback and foot. He was a land speculator in the highly volatile Kentucky frontier. He blazed a trail through the Cumberland Gap.

But Boone’s adventures may not have ended with his death.

After his investment endeavors in the Kentucky real estate market led him into legal trouble and the wilderness became overcrowded, Boone and his wife Rebecca travelled to Missouri to live with their son Daniel Morgan Boone in 1799. The frontiersman resided near Defiance, Mo. for the rest of his life, continuing to trap and hunt, until he followed his wife in death in 1820.

Rebecca had been buried in a cemetery in Marthasville, Mo. and so it was intended that Boone would be buried next to her. The plan hit a snag when grave diggers found the skeleton of another man resting alongside Boone’s wife. It is believed that the folk hero was then buried at the foot of his wife’s grave. A headstone marking their graves mistakenly implies that they lie side-by-side.

As Boone’s folk hero status rose throughout the years proceeding his death, the state with which he is most often associated—Kentucky—became interested in his body. In the summer of 1845, Missouri granted Kentucky permission to exhume the bodies of Daniel and Rebecca Boone and reinter them at a memorial site in Frankfort.

This is where the adventure picks up. Though reliable information is difficult to obtain, there is a story that the Boone family was still angry with Kentucky officials about the legal hassles their forefather experienced and so did not inform them that the body that lay beside Rebecca Boone was not, in fact, her famous husband.

Much of this was disregarded by Kentucky until 1983, when forensic anthropologist David Wolf examined a plaster cast made of the skull by Rev. Philip Slater Fall the night before the reburial. While the cast was not large enough for him to conduct a conclusive analysis, he stated that the skull appeared to be that of an African-American, possibly a slave. The Missouri resting place of Daniel Boone had been known to be the burial site of slaves. Additionally, Wolf stated that the skull appeared to belong to a large man, and first-person accounts report that Boone was somewhere around 5’8”.

So Kentucky officials state that Boone’s body rests at their memorial site in Frankfort, while people in Missouri claim they’ve pulled a fast one on the Bluegrass State. Where does the truth lie (no pun intended)? Well in this case, it appears that it may be both.

A St. Louis New Era newspaper which documented the events on the day Boone was exhumed in Missouri states that grave-diggers found Boone’s wooden casket no longer existed. This caused many of Boone’s organs to disintegrate and his smaller bones turned to dust when touched. Only the larger bones could be moved. The Friends of Daniel Boone’s Burial Site in Missouri also seem to agree that only the larger bones were transferred to Frankfort.

Considering the legends that surround his life, maybe it should come as no surprise that Daniel Boone’s body would have such an adventurous afterlife.

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