The life of frontiersman Simon Kenton

By Joan Baxter

Well known in this area as a frontiersman, Simon Kenton was born in Virginia in 1755, though the majority of his life was spent in Kentucky and Ohio. He died May 12, 1836.

At the age of 15, he fell in love with a girl. Unfortunately, she married another suiter. Simon attended the wedding, and being very impetuous, he challenged the new groom to a fight which he promptly lost. After this embarrassment, he vowed to make himself stronger and so once again, challenged William Leachman. Again, Kenton was losing the fight, but this time he grabbed the man’s long hair and attached it to a tree stump and then beat William until he was not moving. Thinking he had killed his opponent, Kenton ran away. He learned many years later that he had not killed Leachman. In order to put distance between his presumed crime he avoided contacting anyone during his flight.

He was forced to work for food and clothing. As he got further from his home, he became more confident that he was not being pursued.

His first experience with the military was on the McDonald campaign against the Muskingum Indians where he acted as a spy. This was his first trip into the Ohio Territory. His courage and ability were well-noted. At the age of 19, he was asked to join the militia as a spy. He became part of the British Army, having enlisted as Simon Butler. He received his discharge in 1775.

Having heard rumors of the cane-lands of Kentucky, he set out with Thomas Williams, traveling on the Ohio River to seek this land; they traveled more than 200 miles to no avail. It was later that a French trader told him that he must go inland to find the area he was seeking.

He stayed in Kentucky for several years, moving from place to place. When Shawnee leader Black Fish came to Boonsborough with one hundred warriors to attack, he was credited with saving Daniel Boone’s life. One of the Indians was about to shoot Boone, but Kenton shot the Indian before he could pull the trigger. Boone was then shot in the leg, unable to run. An Indian was attempting to scalp Boone when Kenton picked him up and ran, carrying his friend into the shelter of the fortress.

When George Rogers Clark assembled an army, Kenton was one of the first to take the oath of allegiance – this time for the United States.

Kenton crossed the river and proceeded north to Old Chillicothe in September of 1776 on a spying mission. While there, he and his associates captured seven of the Shawnee’s finest horses and then headed for the Ohio River.

They did not anticipate the Shawnee following so quickly behind. They traveled riding their horses and leading the others all night and the next day and night. In the morning the second day, they reached the river and the horses refused to enter the rushing water.

Anticipating that the river would calm later, the hobbled the horses and waited. The rough water continued throughout the night. They moved further downstream, but then the Indians caught up with the party. One of the men with him was shot while trying to escape; the second grabbed a chunk of wood, dove into the river and though he couldn’t swim, made it to safety across. Kenton was surrounded and captured.

The party camped for the night with Kenton “stretched out” flat on his back, hand and legs tied. The next morning, they started toward Old Chillicothe. Kenton was tied on the back of a wild colt, which was encouraged to run through the trees and low-hanging branches to dislodge its passenger. This went on for some time, but Kenton was a strong man by this time and finally the horse tired. Many years later, a painting was made of this wild ride titled “Mazeppa Ride.”

The party continued northward until they reached the Shawnee village of Old Chillicothe (now Oldtown). Here he was first tied to a post while the Indians surrounded him jeering and chanting.

Then he was forced to run through a gauntlet of well-armed men and women. Two parallel lines of Indians stood five or six feet apart, leaving a narrow path for the prisoner to run through. He was instructed that he must run to the council house. If he could get there, he would be freed. Running was not a challenge, since he was strong and able, but his feet were bare and every time he would pass by an Indian, he would be beaten with sticks, clubs or other means of torture.

He ran as fast as he could, but was struck down by a squaw at the council house. Again, he attempted to run for his freedom, with the sticks and stone pelting his bare back. This time, he leaped outside the parallel line only to be knocked down by the drummer’s club and severely beaten by those present.

Finally, he was given food and water and his garments were returned to him.

The Shawnee council decided that he should be burned at the stake. As the party headed north toward Detroit the natives of every village wanted to have him run a gauntlet at that site. Finally, his old friend Simon Girty managed to have him released to his custody. Eventually, he escaped and went back to Kentucky, but his later years were spent in Ohio, some in Greene County, and at the time of his death in Urbana where he is buried with a suitable monument in Oak Dale Cemetery.

By Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is a resident and long-time historical columnist.

Joan Baxter is a resident and long-time historical columnist.