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Mike Watson's thoughts on the D. Boon trees' authenticity

Concerning the Daniel Boone Trees of Adair County: Here is my thought on the Boone Tree[s], and the Adair Co News photo of 1961... As an historian, I must be methodical and careful; as an Adair Countian and one who holds a great fondness for local history, I must say, I tend to believe they were both authentic. As Vonnie Kolbenschlag pointed out, Daniel Boone's signatures on documents usually have the 'e', but there are a few instances where they do not. And carving on a tree was work often done in haste, or might be interrupted by bear or the like. -Mike Watson
Click on headline for complete analyis by Adair County Historian Mike Watson

By Mike Watson

There is no reason to believe the two, or three as some sources have suggested, trees in Adair County engraved with the name 'D. Boone' or 'D. Boon', are not authentic renderings of the frontiersman and pioneer of the West. However, there is no way to prove they were cut by his own hand.


The one beech tree section on display at the Trabue-Russell House is from the Tabor area of Adair County. As Richard Phelps very well delineated, this tree was cut when the land was owned by Mr. Estil Ballou and preserved for posterity. This farm was owned in the 1930s by Mr. W.R. Dohoney who in 1936 estimated the tree, one of the largest in the area, was about 200 years old, towered about 100 feet, and was 32 inches in diameter at the base. Mr. Dohoney said at that time there were other carvings in his woods, dating back at least 50 or 60 years to his personal knowledge, and that the Boone carving appeared to be much older and much more growth had taken place around the letters than the later ones.

The Adair County News photo of the 'D Boon 1771' tree that accompanied the beech section was made in October 1961 and appeared inn the October 18th issue. It shows Mr. Morrison Johnson, close neighbor, and Mr. Sam Suddarth, President of the Adair Historical Society, standing beside the tree. The inscription had been highlighted with chalk to aid the photographer. At that time Mr. Johnson, then aged 93 years and a life-long resident, stated he had heard since childhood of the 'Boone Tree' from older men and they declared it had been there, they believed and were taught, from pioneer days.

The second 'Boone Tree' was near the famous Todd's Cave and on the land of Wash Smith. Both Judge Herschel Clay Baker and Judge Rollin T. Hurt spoke of this tree in their respective histories, printed in the newspaper:

"[About 1773] Boone and McGary were here. A beech tree, which until a few years ago stood on the farm of Wash Smith, had carved on it beasts of the forest couchant, a tomahawk, &c, also the names D. Boone, 1773, and McGary, 1773." --Judge H.C. Baker, Adair County News, 23 January 1918.

"Like the Long Hunters and others of their kind, he [Daniel Boone] often times left a record of the places of his wandering through inscriptions cut by him into the trees. Many of the early hunters in the state seem to have had a penchant for inscribing their names upon the trees in the forest at points where they made camps or sojourned for even so much as a night. The Long Hunters left such a record engraven upon the trees all the way from Cumberland Gap to Bowling Green.

"Boone and a companion, whose name was McGary, appear to have made such a record of the fact that they were in Adair County in the year 1773. Upon a beech tree, which stood upon the lands formerly owned by Washington Smith, six miles west of Columbia, forty years ago, and prior thereto, there were pictures which had been cut into the bark of the tree of various beasts of the forest and a tomahawk. The name 'D. Boon 1773' and 'McGary 1773' were also cut into the bark of the tree. The initial of the Christian name of McGary could not be deciphered or read by reason of the growths in the bark, which comes from the great age of the inscriptions in the bark of a beech tree. The inscription had the appearance of being very aged. Of course, such inscription could be the handiwork of persons other than Boone and McGray; and on account of Boone's great notoriety, it would not be improbable that some dreamer may, perchance, have made the inscription for him, but, for the same reason, it is not probable that anyone should have inscribed the name McGray upon the tree with the date 1773. The circumstance is given for what it is worth." --Judge Rollin T. Hurt, Adair County News, 2 April 1919.

As an historian, I must be methodical and careful; as an Adair Countian and one who holds a great fondness for local history, I must say, I tend to believe they were both authentic. As Vonnie Kolbenschlag pointed out, Daniel Boone's signatures on documents usually have the 'e', but there are a few instances where they do not. And carving on a tree was work often done in haste, or might be interrupted by bear or the like. -Mike Watson



This story was posted on 2016-11-15 11:26:32
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D Boon was here - clipping from an old Adair County News



2016-11-15 - Tabor community, Adair County, KY - Photo from the collection of Adair County Historian Mike Watson.
"The Adair County News photo of the 'D Boon 1771' tree that accompanied the beech section was made in October 1961 and appeared in the October 18th issue. It shows Mr. Leslie Johnson, close neighbor, and Mr. Sam Suddarth, President of the Adair Historical Society, standing beside the tree. The inscription had been highlighted with chalk to aid the photographer. At that time Mr. Johnson, then aged 93 years and a life-long resident, stated he had heard since childhood of the 'Boone Tree' from older men and they declared it had been there, they believed and were taught, from pioneer days." - MIKE WATSON

Comments you'll want to read:
  1. J.C. Johnson Letter: Mr. Leslie Johnson in the photo

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