Difference between Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone

Daniel Boone versus Davy Crockett

When it it comes to famous American pioneers and frontiersmen, there are really only a hand full of historical figures that the average person can identify, usually Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett. And unless you are a baby boomer or a history buff they are one and the same -- that tall rifleman with broad shoulders dressed in light brown buckskin clothes, an overcoat with leather tassels and a cap made out of raccoon pelts. 

For better or for worse Boone and Crockett have come to represent American expansion into The Wild Frontier -- The Wild West before there were cowboys.

Davy Crockett

However, It is unfortunate that Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett are so often paired together.

Not only were their personas and legacies entirely distinct, but the spirits of the ages they come from are perhaps as different as the Greeks and Romans. Ok, maybe I went a little over the top with that comparison. But I have to make the point that blending these two figures together prevents us from understanding the real men and the cultures that they belonged to.

Simply put,

Daniel Boone (1734-1820) was a pioneer.

Davy Crockett (1786 -1836) was a frontiersman.

Allow me to define what I mean when I draw this distinction. Indeed these words are often used interchangeably possibly because you can't have one without the other. But they are two different categories of people.

Pioneers were men and women who left regions of relatively high population density to establish communities often times on the other side of the mountain or a river. Daniel Boone, the quintessential pioneer, was born into a Quaker community who certainly saw the value of having "the town" so to speak. He is known for founding "Boonesborough," one of first English Speaking settlements west of the Appalachians. Ultimately, Daniel Boone's legacy as a scout and land speculator is bound up in the movement of tight-knit communities who sought to settle some place new, but also wanted to maintain a link with their family and friends back east. 

 Daniel Boone, the actual guy

Daniel Boone, the actual guy

 Davy Crockett, the actual guy

Davy Crockett, the actual guy

Frontiersmen and women; in contrast, were people born and/or enculturated on the frontier. On the one hand "The Frontier" represents the fringes or borders of a civilization. But more than that, a frontier is a culture that has its own unique social norms and customs. Davy Crockett may not have been born on a mountain top in Tennessee, but he was a part of "The West" in a way that Daniel Boone was not. For Crockett "The West" was simply home. For Boone the west was his occupation, with his paycheck coming from the thirteen colonies. Davy Crockett's relationship with the thirteen colonies was as a tourist and resident alien. He became the political representative, a congressman, of a people whose way of life did not revolve around "The Town," but their own somewhat autonomous cabin estates.

Again, I make this distinction between pioneers and frontiersman not to over generalize, but to put Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett in their proper historical and cultural contexts.


Note from Brian :

As I prepare the third episode of "Davy and Me" entitled "The Frontiersman" I had to step back a little and think about the legacy of certain historical figures. It is way too easy to blend them together into monoliths when we should be seeing them as interconnected free agents.