Simon Kenton

Simon Kenton was born April 3, 1755, in Fauquier County, Virginia. He grew up helping his father on their family farm and therefore had no opportunity to go to school. At the age of sixteen, Kenton became involved in a fight involving a woman. Believing he had killed a man, he fled west through the wilderness. He remembered his rambling uncle Tom’s tales of a fertile western land beside the Ohio River. There were so many buffalo, Tom had said, that they shook the ground and rattled your teeth. The woods were thick with deer and elk; birds were so plentiful they blacked out the sky when they flew over. In this wonderful place, wolves, coons, beavers, mink, otters, bears and wildcats abounded. Squirrels were as thick as mites on a hen, turkeys were everywhere, and the creeks were clogged with fish. Kenton determined to find this western paradise and bury his identity forever.

Kenton reached Warm Springs, Pennsylvania sixteen days into his flight. Having heard of a rich miller there named Jacob Butler, he presented himself at the mill as Simon Butler. Like Kenton’s family, the miller has come to the colonies from Ireland. Kenton soon convinced Butler that they were probably kin. Butler hired him, paid him well for two months, and gave him a fine flintlock rifle. Kenton named it “Jacob” and carried it every waking hour until he lost it escaping an Indian ambush during his first winter on the frontier. Simon Butler had begun his life on the frontier.

A big man in stature and strength, his stamina was often tested as he endured the worst that was known to the frontier. During the late winter of 1773, Simon’s first winter on the frontier, Simon and two companions were attacked around the campfire as they were drying their wet clothes near present day Charleston, WV. One companion was killed, while Simon and the other man barely escaped without food, clothing, or rifles. After a week of wandering down the Great Kanawha River, they finally reached the Ohio. Here they met some mountain men on the banks of the Ohio River after a week of hunger and extreme exposure to the weather.

Kenton spent the next two years hunting along the Ohio River and searching for the legendary Canelands along the Ohio that he had heard so much about; the Shawnee called this land “Can-tuc-ee”. In 1774, he served as a scout during Lord Dunmore's War. By 1775, Kenton had moved to Boonesboro, Kentucky. For the next few years he was employed as a scout for the settlement, often coming in contact with the local Shawnee and at one point saving the life of Daniel Boone. The Indians also knew him as "The man who's gun is never empty" for his skill of running and reloading his faithful flintlock at the same time.

In September of 1778, Simon was captured by the Shawnee. He was forced to run the infamous quarter mile "gauntlet", which killed many prisoners, nine times. After the sixth, while attempting escape, had a hole hammered in his skull and was unconscious for two days. With a war club and axe, his arm and collarbone were broken. While recovering from these wounds, Simon was saved by his long time friend Simon Girty who convinced the Shawnee to adopt Simon as one of their own. Finally in June 1779 Simon was sent to Fort Detroit as part of a prisoner trade with the British. Simon escaped and after a 30 day march he made it back to the American settlements in newly formed “Kentucky.”

Joel Collins, who was a young boy in 1782, has left a vivid description of the young captain as he looked when marching through Lexington(Returning from Blue Licks). "He was tall and well-proportioned," says Collins, "a countenance pleasant but dignified. There was nothing uncommon in his dress; his hunting shirt hung carelessly but gracefully on his shoulders; his other apparel was in common backwoods style." In 1782, Simon discovered that the man that he thought he had killed had actually lived, and therefore Simon Kenton was able to resume his own name once again.

During the next several years Kenton lived a relatively quiet life. He settled near Maysville, Kentucky, marrying Martha Dowden and purchasing some large tracts of land. This life continued until 1794, when Kenton served in the militia under General Anthony Wayne and fought at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. After the death of his wife, Kenton remarried in 1798 and, the same year, moved to Ohio. He first lived near present-day Springfield but a few years later settled in Urbana. Kenton's military career continued, and by 1805 he had become a brigadier general in the Ohio militia. During the War of 1812, he participated in the Battle of the Thames. It was in this battle that the mighty leader of the Shawnee, Tecumseh, was killed. Simon was asked to identify the body so the pathetic whites could scalp and ravage every part of his body for souvenirs. Knowing this ahead of time, Simon falsely identified Tecumseh so his body would remain for his people to find and honor his life and people with a proper burial.

During the last years of his life, Simon continued to live in his cabin near present Urbana, Ohio; however, he lived out his days in poverty and sorrow. Land ownership disputes had cause Simon to lose all the land he had staked claims on over his years in Ohio and Kentucky. The government retracted its previous laws that Simon followed to stake claims on land in the Northwest Territory and left him without anything he thought he had owned. He survived on a government pension of twenty dollars a month. Simon Kenton died in 1836 and is now buried in an iron-gated cemetery in downtown Urbana, Ohio.

The grave of the great frontiersman and mountain man Simon Kenton is marked buy a huge memorial, ironically given to honor him by the government that did not give him any respect when he stood before them in old age. Simon Kenton, a true, brave and honorable pioneer who served his country and fellow man so well for so many years.

***For More information on Simon Kenton’s life, please check out this book:

The Frontiersmen by Allan W. Eckert