As the United States came to be settled by Europeans, the earliest colonists honored and venerated a variety of people.
The people of Massachusetts Bay likely were to remember Gov. William Bradford and his quest to build a “city on a hill.” Pennsylvania was “Penn’s Woods” and the project of Quaker William Penn and his friends. And “Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations” was the construct of the rebellious Roger Williams and the even more rebellious Anne Hutchinson.
Yet as Americans moved west, their heroes became something of a different breed.
Instead of people of a governing mind, they became people of a more restless sort.
It took more than a century for the colonies to establish themselves against all challenges and begin to look over the Appalachians to what lay beyond.
What lay there was a green world of almost unimaginable richness. The valley of the Ohio River was a land of immense forests, with trees rising 150 feet or higher. It was a land of prairies teeming with bison and elk, with grasses taller than a man could touch. Even the rivers were so clear one could see their beds.
Into this new land slowly came an extraordinary breed of men called the “long hunters” of the 1760s and 1770s. In time, several of the new states arising from colonial America would claim some of these men as their own.
In Kentucky, that man was Daniel Boone. He led some of the earliest expeditions over the mountains, founded a town and made the new land his home.
The Ohio Country north and west of the Ohio River was a tempting place, as well. The man who made it his own in the years between the French and Indian War (1754-63) and the American Revolution (1775-83) was a man named Simon Kenton.
In time, he became Ohio’s answer to Daniel Boone – and he spent more than a little time in central Ohio.
In a time when men averaged 5 feet, 6 inches in height and typically weighed about 150 pounds, Kenton stood out. He was, according to one observer, “tall and well-proportioned.” He was strong and extraordinarily nimble, too. It was said he could dance well with the ladies. And he was a crack shot with the lightweight Pennsylvania rifles favored by hunters.
Soft-spoken and often polite to a fault, Kenton was not fully literate – but then he lived in a world in which what one had seen and heard was more important than what one had read.
Kenton was born in Virginia in 1755 of recent Scots-Irish and Scottish immigrants.
At age 16, with rudimentary schooling and some training as a hunter, he found himself in trouble. In an altercation with a local man, he had pummeled and, he thought, killed his opponent.
Fleeing from Virginia, he crossed the mountains, changed his name and lived as a long hunter.
He later learned of the survival of the man he had left behind and changed his name back to Simon Kenton. By that time, he had made the Midwest his home.
Kenton helped Daniel Boone settle in Kentucky.
In 1777, Kenton helped Boone defend Boonesborough against a Native American attack. In one encounter, Kenton saved a wounded Boone from opponents, carrying him to safety while killing attackers along the way.
The next year, Kenton was captured by the Shawnees and taken north to the home of the Macacheek Clan of the Shawnee.
Here, he was forced to “run the gauntlet” between two lines of people as they beat him with clubs and worse. In the gauntlet, falling meant death, but Kenton ran the gauntlet nine times.
At the end of the ordeal, he had a 1-inch circular hole in his skull from the pipe end of a brass tomahawk. But Kenton took it all and walked away, saying nothing.
He was called “The Condemned One” and was told he could stay as long as he liked.
But he left soon afterward, exploring the Mad River valley in the years after the Revolution and eventually settling in Springfield, Urbana and Zanesfield. He came to Columbus from time to time and stayed with the family of Franklinton founder Lucas Sullivant.
Over the years, he claimed immense tracts of land but always had trouble filing claims because of his illiteracy. In the end, he died in poverty in Zanesfield in 1836.
He is buried in Urbana, where a statue of the long hunter with his dog marks his grave.
April 3 will mark the 265th anniversary of the birth of Simon Kenton. Services are planned at his grave site at Oak Dale Cemetery.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.