Elizabeth Raum, the author of Cutting a Path: Daniel Boone and the Cumberland Gap (Capstone Press, 2016, nonfiction), is joining us this week.
Welcome, Elizabeth. What is your book about?
Cutting a Path tells the story of the early settlement of Kentucky under the guidance of Daniel Boone. It includes biographical information on Boone, as well as details about the building of the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap, and the role of the road in westward expansion.
What drew you to writing this book? How did you narrow the focus to The Cumberland Gap?
I consider Daniel Boone a fascinating American character. It’s stunning to realize that he was settling Kentucky at the same time that Thomas Jefferson was writing the Declaration of Independence. We tend to think of the American Revolution as the only thing happening during the 1770s, but settlers like Daniel Boone and his family had already begun to move westward, and they opened the way for others. The Wilderness Road made mass migration west possible. Between 1775 and 1800 nearly 300,000 settlers traveled west along the Wilderness Road.
I narrowed the topic to the Cumberland Gap because this became the primary route west used by explorers, hunters, and settlers in the mid-to-late 1700s.
What was your research/writing process?
I began my research by reading several acclaimed biographies of Daniel Boone: Daniel Boone: The Life and Legend of an American Pioneer by John Mac Faragher, Boone: A Biography by Robert Morgan, and Frontiersman: Daniel Boone and the Making of America by Meredith Mason Brown. I also found the 1784 “autobiography” of Daniel Boone, written by John Filson online at Project Gutenberg. I especially enjoy finding autobiographies, diaries, or letters when I do historical research.
Once I had enough basic information, I was able to start organizing and writing. When I needed more information, I contacted numerous other sources. National park rangers are incredibly helpful, so I spoke with park rangers at Fort Boonesborough and the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.
I was surprised by several things in the book: the potential 14th colony, Transylvania; the fame awarded Boone because of one book; and the huge number of people who traveled on the Wilderness Road between 1775-1800. What was something you discovered in your research that surprised you?
I was surprised to discover how many people began the trek west and turned back because of severe hardships along the trail. Mud, river crossings, illness, and lack of adequate food and shelter forced many settlers to give up. Fear of Indian attack, as well as the constant presence of wild animals, made life unbearable for many pioneers in the late 1700s.
Another fun surprise came when I got my copy of the published book. The publisher, Capstone Press, often hires expert consultants to verify the information. I was delighted to find that the consultant for this book was Robert Morgan, professor of English at Cornell University. I had used his biography of Boone in my initial research.
Thank you, Elizabeth!
Elizabeth Raum has written dozens of books for young readers including biographies, history books, novels, and picture books. She taught English and social studies to students in grades 7-12 and worked as a librarian in both elementary schools and colleges. She particularly enjoys researching and writing about historical subjects. For more information, visit her website at: www.elizabethraum.net.
What questions do you have for Elizabeth?