That was in 1776. Why do we in Idaho care? Because his well-documented exploits at that time seem to have placed him some 1,800 miles away from Idaho, not somewhere on the Continental Divide carving his misspelled name into an aspen tree.
In 1976 an Idaho Falls woman named Louise Rutledge became intrigued by an inscription on an aspen tree that said, “D. Boon 1776.” The carving was old. Well, maybe not 1776 old, but certainly not as new as 1976. Rutledge wrote a little book called D. Boon 1776 A Western Bicentennial Mystery. According to the Sunday, August 10, 1976 edition of the Idaho Statesman she “began extensive research to prove—or disprove—that frontiersman Daniel Boone was, in fact, in Idaho 30 years ahead of Lewis and Clark.”
Rutledge became convinced that Boone had carved his initials into the tree, not in spite of, but because of the absence of the “e” at the end of his name. She had grown up in the Cumberland Gap area of Tennessee which was awash in tales about “Boon trees.” She was certain that because of the misspelling, this carving was genuine. There were many “Boon trees” scattered around the south, often with the added information that D. Boon had cilled or kilt or killed a bar, bar being the way a genuine frontiersman would spell bear. We can’t know how many or if any of those carvings are genuine, but we do know that when signing or printing his name, Daniel Boone always knew how to spell it.
Not ready to leave a good story untold, Rutledge and her husband, Gene, and Bonita Pendleton, all of Idaho Falls, wrote a play speculating on Boone’s journey to Idaho, called D. Boone 1776, War Has Two Sides.
Tree experts later determined the carving on the Idaho Aspen had been done in about 1895. Undeterred, Rutledge postulated that someone had seen the original, genuine D. Boon tree, and noticed that it was dead. To preserve the history for posterity, they made a copy.
Well, it’s a theory.
Image: Clipping from the August 3, 1976 Post Register.