OPINION

As it Were: Simon Kenton made quite a name for himself in Ohio's early days

Ed Lentz
Guest Columnist

Simon Kenton was a genuinely extraordinary figure in the early history of Ohio.  

A frontiersman, Kenton was Ohio’s answer to Kentucky’s Daniel Boone. In fact, he knew Boone quite well and had saved Boone’s life in an early battle against British and Native American warriors.  

Simon Kenton

And he was a man who knew central Ohio quite well and often traveled back and forth across the great Darby and Pickaway plains.  

Kenton was born in Virginia in 1755 and grew up farming with his family at what was then the edge of the frontier.  

Self-reliant and a skilled marksman, Kenton believed he unintentionally had killed a rival for the affections of a young lady. Fearing an arrest for murder, he fled to the far country over the mountains in the land called Kan-tuck-kee.  

Ed Lentz

Changing his name to Simon Butler, he became a “long hunter” spending his days seeking the skins of beaver and buffalo while dodging war parties of local Native Americans. 

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He became well known as a marksman and hunter and helped recent settlers from the east in their efforts to establish communities. In 1774, Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, marched an army into the Ohio Country to suppress a revolt by Native Americans. Kenton accompanied the expedition as a scout and teamster and observed the treaty negotiations ending the conflict.  

He later remembered the memorable sight of more than 500 warriors arriving in single file on horseback with their faces painted half-red and half-black. Red was for life; black was for death. Dunmore could choose. Dunmore chose life, promising the Native Americans forever would by free of colonial settlers.  

It was a promise he could not keep as the American Revolution began a few months later. Dunmore left America behind, and the Ohio Country continued to attract settlers. Kenton was one of them. 

Kenton roamed constantly through central Ohio, and it was only a matter of time before he would be caught by his Native American opponents. Marched to the large encampment called Mac-a-Cheek near what is now West Liberty, Kenton ran through a gauntlet of attacking people no less than nine times.  

On one of the runs, he was hit in the head by the hammer rather than blade end of a tomahawk. It left a permanent circular dent in his skull. He sustained a foot injury that left him with a limp for life.  

But he was tough and strong and survived all this punishment. Condemned to die by his captors, Kenton was marched north to Native American encampments. On separate occasions, he was saved from death and liberated by his old friends, Simon Girty, a future traitor, and Pierre Drouillard, the French trapper and trader.  

It was during this enforced visit that he saw the Mad River Valley in some detail and came to admire it as a place to live.  

During the American Revolution, Kenton accompanied George Rogers Clark on his epic winter raid against Fort Sackville and Vincennes in 1778.  

After the war, Kenton settled for a time in Kentucky. He took back his real name when he learned the man he had injured had not died. 

He fought in the wars to finally take the Ohio Country for the new United States. Kenton accompanied Gen. Anthony Wayne to the Battle of Fallen Timbers and fought again in the War of 1812. He fought with the army of Gen. William Henry Harrison at the Battle of the Thames, defeating the British and killing the charismatic Shawnee leader, Tecumseh.  

After the war, Kenton retired to a quieter life. He led a party of settlers in 1799 near what is now Urbana and lived there for a time.  

Illiterate and aging, Kenton had a difficult time financially. Over the years, he tried unsuccessfully to establish land claims in central Ohio. 

At one point, he was so poor he was committed to jail for debt. But local residents, respectful of the frontiersman, permitted him to be his own jailor. So he sat in front of the jail, smoking a pipe and ruminating about a long career. 

In time, he left Urbana with his family. He had had four children with his first wife.  

After her death, he married again and had six more children. With many of his relatives, Kenton arrived in the village of Zanesfield in the heart of the Mad River Valley. It was the site of a former Wyandot encampment and the home of Isaac Zane and his wife, Myeerah, the daughter of Tarhe the Crane.  

It was here that Kenton spent his remaining years dying in 1836 at the age of 81. He was buried in Zanesfield until 1869, when nearby residents removed his remains to the cemetery in Urbana. A statue of him marks the grave. 

Even with the change of sites, he remains in the Ohio Country he had made his own. 

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.