Blind Boone was born in Miami, Saline County, Missouri, in the Federal Camp of the Seventh Militia in 1864. His mother was a contraband,* cooking for the soldiers, and his father was a bugler in the army. Boone lost his sight from brain fever when six months old.
His talent for music was discovered as soon as he could sit alone. He would sit on the stone hearth and play tunes with two sticks. His first instrument was a tin whistle with which he could play any ordinary tune after once hearing it. Next, he was presented with a mouth organ with which he charmed the whole neighborhood, the children from far and near coming to hear him. He soon became a favorite with all and visited the best families in Warrensburg, where he lived. With these two instruments he could imitate any instrument he heard, and even the birds and farm-yard animals, and could entertain one for hours.
People formed such an attachment for Boone that he was sent to the St. Louis School for the Blind to be educated and to learn a trade. This might have succeeded but for an incident: Once hearing a pupil of the institution practicing on the piano, he quit his work and stole up to the piano, and nothing could prevent his hands from going to the keys. He was soon able to finger out several pieces and it was impossible to keep his mind on anything else, so he was dismissed from the school. He wandered around St. Louis, making his living playing the mouth organ and such other instrument as he could get his hands on.
Conductor A. J. Kerry, seeing the pitiable condition of the boy, put him on the train and sent him to his mother. He soon organized a company of three, and, with tambourine, triangle and mouth organ, they took the road, tramping and beating their way from town to town, where they gave concerts. He was not successful, however, and endured many hardships.
In his boyhood days around Warrensburg he was always to be found where the most boys were. He was always a favorite among them, and would never allow the boys to fight nor the girls to quarrel in his presence. With his mouth organ he would imitate a dog or cat or some other animal, and the children would have to laugh and give him their attention.
A colored gentleman, Mr. John Lange of Columbia, his first and only manager up to this time,** took a liking to Boone and carried him to Sunday school to play for the children. He also made a contract with Boone’s mother to educate him in music and put him on the road.
He has been very successful in pleasing the people, since this is his thirty-third unbroken season on the road. Boone has four brothers living and his wife is the youngest sister of Mr. Lange, his manager. Boone’s greatest and almost only diversion from music is his love for Secret Societies. He is a thirty-second degree Scottish Rite Mason, Past Royal Patron of the Eastern Star, Venerable Patriarch of the Odd Fellows. Past Grand Prelate of the Knights of Pythias, Past Grand Chaplain of the United Brethren of Friendship.
* During the Civil War, Union forces could confiscate the slaves of Confederate collaborators as “contraband of war.”
** That is, through the current season. Lange managed Boone’s career 1880-1916.