Marker #1343, "Boone's Cave"

Historical marker #1343 highlights Boone’s Cave in Mercer County, which is regarded as the only cave in Kentucky historically verified to have been visited by Daniel Boone. This is based on information and directions given in historical documents from the early to mid-nineteenth century and the presence of Boone’s initials, “D. B—1770,” which were carved into an oak tree near the entrance of the cave.

Daniel Boone spent a great deal of time exploring the central Kentucky region. In the summer of 1769, he entered the Palisade region of the Kentucky River Valley accompanied by John Stuart. Boone’s Cave is located near Shawnee Run, a stream that runs through a section of Mercer County. Their exploration continued through 1770, with Squire Boone (Boone’s brother) and Samuel Neeley joining Boone and Stuart at some point during the winter of 1769–1770. From this location on Shawnee Run, Boone would have likely used this cave as a base for exploring the Dix River, a tributary flowing into the greater Kentucky River. Boone and his party hunted and trapped through this area throughout 1770 before returning to North Carolina in 1771.

It is suggested that Boone would have chosen this cave for shelter due to the presence of saltpeter and spring water in the vicinity. The historical uses of saltpeter include its use as an ingredient in gunpowder and as a food preservative. Access to a fresh water source would have been used for drinking water as well as a plethora of other purposes essential to survival.

The people who cut down the oak tree with Boone’s initials in the late nineteenth century saved the portion of the tree with the inscription. The Kentucky Geological Exhibit first housed Boone’s initials. This artifact was later showcased at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904.

Boone’s Cave is not open to the public because it is located on private property. The earliest known photographs of the cave were taken in 1904 as a part of a photograph collection created for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. From the outside, the cave appears as a rock shelter or spring. Although the presence of a spring indicates passageways through the rock formation, whether the term “cave” could be accurately applied based on the internal structure is difficult to confirm.

Prior to establishing the state’s first forts and Anglo-American settlements in Kentucky, colonists often would have used the extensive cave systems throughout the state for various purposes. The cave systems in Kentucky are unique—there are several systems throughout the central and eastern regions, and western Kentucky’s cave system is considered the largest on Earth. Based on this information and the historical verification that Boone spent a significant amount of time exploring the Palisade region, it is likely that Daniel Boone would have used several different caves around the region.

The historical marker for Boone’s cave also references John Stuart, Boone’s companion, as the first white man killed by Native Americans in Kentucky. Relations between Anglo-Americans and Indigenous groups were incredibly volatile during this period. The Palisades region offered an abundance of natural resources sought by everyone. In early 1770, Boone and Stuart began splitting up for independent, short-term expeditions. Stuart never returned from his last solo expedition. It is unclear why Stuart’s death is associated with Native Americans.

The recollections of places Daniel Boone visited during his exploration of Kentucky are heavily intertwined with the romanticized memory of Kentucky’s frontier and post-settlement history. Different methods have been employed to verify whether he visited certain places, especially those where his initials or full name are carved into an accommodating feature. Legends of such places have been perpetuated for centuries, and many caves throughout Kentucky have been at one point or another associated with Daniel Boone.

Caves in other locations, such as Garrard, Jessamine, Clark, and Rockcastle counties for example, have also been remembered as sites visited by Boone. In Jessamine County, a cavern that once served as a tourist attraction in the twentieth century had the initials “D. B. —1773” carved into the cavern walls. It is known that Boone did return to this region of Kentucky in 1773; however, his presence at this cave has not been historically verified.

The marker reads:


~ Not open to public ~

Only cave in Kentucky historically verified as used by Daniel Boone. He spent rest of winter in cave alone after companion, John Stuart, was killed in January, 1770, the first recorded white man killed by Indians in Ky. Boone joined in summer by brother Squire. Together they continued to explore and hunt before returning to North Carolina.