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Posts Tagged ‘Daniel Boone’

GC Myers- Elbow Room sm

Elbow Room“- Currently at the West End Gallery



Alone he trod the shadowed trails;
But he was lord of a thousand vales
As he roved Kentucky, far and near,
Hunting the buffalo, elk, and deer.
What joy to see, what joy to win
So fair a land for his kith and kin,
Of streams unstained and woods unhewn!
” Elbow room! ” laughed Daniel Boone.

–Arthur Guiterman, Daniel Boone



“Elbow room!” cried Daniel Boone. 

This phrase always comes to my mind whenever the name of Daniel Boone or the phrase elbow room comes up.

This doesn’t come about often but it happens.

I think I must have read or heard the poem from Arthur Guiterman, whose verse is shown above, as kid. Guiterman (1871-1943) was an American poet who wrote mainly humorous verse that often dealt with those things that are lost in the rush of modern progress.

Things like elbow room.

For example, here’s his On the Vanity of Earthly Greatness:

The tusks that clashed in mighty brawls
Of mastodons, are billiard balls.

The sword of Charlemagne the Just
Is ferric oxide, known as rust.

The grizzly bear whose potent hug
Was feared by all, is now a rug.

Great Caesar’s bust is on my shelf,
And I don’t feel so well myself.

I think knowing the Daniel Boone poem from an early age ingrained the idea of elbow room in me, that desire for wide open spaces or forests free from the encroachment of people. It certainly shows up in my work, even in the title of piece at the top. I know when I was considering a title for this painting after it was completed, that line “Elbow room!” cried Daniel Boone immediately entered my thoughts.

I don’t want to get into the reality or the myth of Daniel Boone this morning. I don’t know or care if he killed a b’ar (that’s bear, for those of you who didn’t know the old TV series and song) when he was just three though I kind of think that this particular claim might be bordering on myth. I just bring him up for his place in this poem and the idea of elbow room.

He and I share an affinity for that.

I will end with the last lines of the final verse of Guiterman’s poem on the man. In the afterlife, this poem has him frolicking among the heavens in what feels like a weird sci-fi scenario, one that made me laugh out loud when I read this poem again for the first time in probably 50 years:

He makes his camp on heights untrod,
The steps of the shrine, alone with God.
Through the woods of the vast, on the plains of space
He hunts the pride of the mammoth race
And the dinosaur of the triple horn,
The manticore and the unicorn,
As once by the broad Missouri’s flow
He followed the elk and the buffalo.
East of the sun and west of the moon,
” Elbow room! ” laughs Daniel Boone.

Old Dan Boone out hunting unicorn on the plains of outer space.

Strange and a little politically incorrect? Yeah. But that’s what you get when you mix together myth, reality and a little elbow room.

” Elbow room! ” laughs Daniel Boone.

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Fess Parker died last month.  He probably isn’t too well known to the younger generations but for anyone who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s, he was a big deal.  Portraying Davy Crockett in the movies and Daniel Boone on television, Parker was one of the biggest stars for kids of that time.  He became the personification of the mythical American frontiersman, the civilization shunning, wise old man of the mountains who lived off the land and gloried in his personal liberty.

Elbow room! cried Daniel Boone.

Popular myth has long glorified the lives of Boone and Crockett.  In the 1780’s, Boone exploits entered popular culture in a book that was more myth than fact.  It became a huge hit here and abroad, creating a legend that took on a life of its own, even influencing Lord Byron to make mention of Boone’s tales in his Don Juan.  He was portrayed as an Indian-fighting man of action who continually fled the reach of an ever impinging civilization.  A man who lived by his own rules without any concern for government.  Davy Crockett, in popular legend, was seen in much the same terms.  This mythic image of both has found its way into our collective psyche where it still dwells today, influencing our very definition of American liberty and the relationship of the common man to our government.  The Tea Party movement is filled with folks who grew up with these myths and surely believe that they can live a life like Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett, if only they could break the shackles of  government.

Unfortunately, many of the myths surrounding both men are unfounded and their real lives run counter to those who hold up their mythic images as a rallying flag.  Both were men were land-owners and served the government, Boone serving as a legislator and sheriff and Crockett as a congressman.  Both were leading citizens of their communities and basically enacted governance wherever they lived, prospering in civilization.  Boone’s biggest gripe with government came when he lost several land claims in a legal dispute about the same time he lost a government bid to another bidder for a contract to widen the Wilderness Road to aid in the westward expansion of the country.

I don’t really know why I’m mentioning this today.  Maybe it’s frustration at the rhetoric of some of the anti-government groups that have been filling the air recently.  Their usurping of American myth to fit their own selfish aims reminds me of evangelists who pull verses from the scriptures and throw them around out of context to prove their own selfish point.  Maybe that’s what I’m looking for here- context.

And an end to living a life based on unfounded myths such as the rugged individualist.

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