During Daniel Boone Festival week, people pause from the business of daily life to
focus their attention on their Kentucky ancestors who settled along the Wilderness
Road and on the long-hunt who preceded them. Best know of all the heroes of the first
American western frontier, Daniel Boone became famous all over the world for the
adventures he experienced in this region of southeastern Kentucky.
Daniel Boone Festival is the oldest continuous celebration in the state honoring
the man who embodied the pioneer spirit of Kentucky. The festival was made a Kentucky
Corporation with the aim of ensuring that no other community could lay claim to the
idea which annually brings thousands of visitors and participants into the city of
The festival was created in 1948 by Union College professor Karl Bleyl
as a deliberate attempt to challenge mass media’s demeaning images of Kentuckians
by replacing negative stereotypes with an heroic model of frontier adventure. Dr.
Bleyl intended the festival educate young people about their ancestors’ crossing
the Cumberland Gap into an untamed beautiful land and about the Native American tribes
who were here before them.
Although the main purpose of the festival was educating
and inspiring children, the impetus was to provide Cherokee Indians with cane for
use in making baskets, chairs and other Native American crafts. Members of the Eastern
Band of Cherokee Nation, located in Cherokee, North Carolina, have been honored guests
at the festival from the beginning.
Dr. Karl Bleyl wrote the text of the Cane Treaty,
often called the first treaty in history of America to be drawn up solely in the
interest of the Indians. It has been signed at every Daniel Boone Festival since
the first signing on May 21, 1948. The text the treaty appears elsewhere in this
book. During the summer of 1949, leaders of the Cherokee Reservation invited Knox
Countians to attend a “Barbourville Day” celebration and a performance of their historical
pageant, “Unto These Hills” as a gesture of continued friendship.
Within a very limited
time span, Professor Karl Bleyl, Union College and citizens of Knox County not only
staged the first Boone festival but at the same time created virtually every essential
event that is still used today. The modifications of the festival have been small,
such as introduction of the long-rifle shootout in 1949, the dropping of an annual
Union College historical pageant play, and the addition of antique car shows and
other events which followed in succeeding years. Yet while the festival was gradually
extended from less than two full days to a week in length and moved from the month
of May to October, the essential play that you see in this book’s program, or “Almanac,”
was established at the very beginning