| Community Columnist
John William “Blind” Boone was born in 1864 during the Civil War. His mother was Rachel Boone, a slave owned by descendants of Daniel Boone.
Rachel escaped from her owners in Kentucky and made her way to the Union Army camp in Miami, Missouri. In 1861, Abraham Lincoln and the U.S. Congress determined they would not return escaped slaves to their owners. Rachel was considered captured enemy property or “contraband of war.” She was classified as a “contraband cook.”
At the Army base, Rachel met Boone’s father, the company bugler, who disappeared from their lives shortly afterward. Rachel left the army and raised Boone by herself in Warrenton, Missouri, where she cleaned, cooked and cared for the children of wealthy families.
When Boone was 6 months old, he was diagnosed with “brain fever,” probably meningitis. The swelling in his brain was so extensive, doctors performed an unorthodox operation to relieve the pressure. Surgically removing his eyes, they saved his life, but left him blind.
His incredible talent in music surfaced very early. At 5 years old, he got a tin whistle, a crude sort of flute. He could play any sort of tune on it and imitate birds with shocking precision. The 5-year-old organized his own neighborhood street band with older boys playing drum, tin whistle and tambourine. He began his professional career at age 7 when he got a French harp, or harmonica. He played at parties and public events for money.
He and his mother lived in a cabin behind the big house of the white family where she worked. He grew up with the white children. According to Mrs. Sam M. Davis, friends of the family, Boone had an extraordinary sense of hearing. “He knew the voices and could detect the footsteps of everyone with whom he came in contact. Often when he was very young, his playmates would try to slip up on him, always unsuccessfully. He was never deceived as to their identity. … His memory through all of the 47 years of concert life never failed him when called upon to recognize old friends he had known in his boyhood.”
Living in poverty, working as a maid, Rachel wanted the best education for …….