Urbana and Simon Kenton’s Grave.

One recent spring I went on a road trip that included a stop in Urbana, Ohio to indulge in some state history.

I enjoy the journey as much as the destination- driving Ohio’s backroads.

Eventually, I reached Urbana.

Urbana is a city in and the county seat of Champaign County, Ohio, United States, 47 miles west of Columbus. Urbana was laid out in 1805, and for a time in 1812 was the headquarters of the Northwestern army during the War of 1812. It is the burial place of the explorer and Indian fighter Simon Kenton. The population was 11,793 at the 2010 census. It is the home of Urbana University.

As usual, I enjoyed sightseeing the old homes.

The main reason I was in Urbana was to see a particular memorial in Oakdale Cemetery.

On the way to the memorial, I saw this interesting sculpture.  It was done by the grandfather of the founder of Urbana, both of whom were buried here.

John Quincy Adams Ward (June 29, 1830 – May 1, 1910) was an American sculptor, who may be most familiar for his larger than lifesize standing statue of George Washington on the steps of Federal Hall National Memorial in New York City…He died at his home in New York City in 1910. A copy of his Indian Hunter stands at his gravesite in Urbana, and his Urbana home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

I always like running into an unexpected piece of history!

Onward to the main event.

And then, what I had been looking for- the grave of Simon Kenton, ‘Ohio’s Daniel Boone’.

Simon Kenton was a legendary frontiersman in Ohio and the Midwest. He was born on April 3, 1755, in Fauquier County, Virginia. He grew up helping his father on the family farm and therefore had little 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 to the Ohio Country where he changed his name to Simon Butler…In 1782, he discovered that the man that he thought he had killed had actually lived. Therefore, he was able to resume his own name once again.

Kenton spent the next two years hunting along the Ohio River. In 1774, he served as a scout during Lord Dunmore’s War. By 1775, Kenton had moved to Boonesborough, Kentucky. For the next few years, he worked as a scout for the settlement, often coming in contact with the local American Indians. At one point, Kenton is said to have saved the life of Daniel Boone.

During the American Revolution, Kenton participated in a number of military engagements against the British and their American Indian allies. In 1778, he joined George Rogers Clark on a difficult but successful expedition into the Illinois Country to attack British outposts as well as American Indian settlements. Returning home, he accompanied Daniel Boone in an attack on the Shawnees’s settlement of Chillicothe near what is now Oldtown, Ohio. That same year, Kenton was captured by American Indians, who tortured him and attempted to burn him at the stake. Simon Girty rescued him and instead of his being killed, Kenton was sent to Fort Detroit as part of a prisoner trade with the British. By mid-1779, Kenton was free and had returned to service under George Rogers Clark.

During the next several years, Kenton lived a relatively quiet life. He settled near Maysville, Kentucky, married Martha Dowden and purchased 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. By 1805, Kenton had become a brigadier general in the Ohio militia. During the War of 1812, he participated in the Battle of the Thames in Canada.

Kenton moved to the Zanesfield, Ohio, area around 1820. During the last years of his life, Kenton lived in poverty because of land ownership disputes and mismanagement of his money. He survived on a government pension of twenty dollars a month. In 1836, Kenton died in Logan County near Zanesfield and was buried there. In 1865, his remains were moved to Urbana. The state of Ohio constructed a monument to mark his grave in 1884.

It’s hard to imagine today the hardships that frontiersmen like Kenton went through.

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.

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.

Near Kenton’s monument is his original tombstone from 1836.  Suffering the ravages of time, it is difficult to see in this photograph, but the last line is: ‘He was an honest man’.  This is high praise from that era.

In April 1777, during an Indian attack on Fort Boonesborough in Kentucky, a bullet struck Daniel Boone’s leg and he found himself staring up at a Shawnee’s tomahawk. Kenton charged, shot the scalper and clubbed another attacker, then lifted Boone up in his arms and carried him, dodging and darting, to safety.

“Well, Simon, you have behaved like a man to-day,” Boone told him; “indeed you are a fine fellow.” Effusive praise for frontiersmen.

Although he was an Indian fighter, Kenton dealt fairly with the Shawnee Indians, who respected his skill and stamina, and he knew Techumseh, their great chief.

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.”

Perhaps the most poignant moment of his life came during the War of 1812.

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.

Local people have not forgotten Simon Kenton.

I learned about Simon Kenton by reading local author Allan W. Eckert‘s fantastic book, The Frontiersmen.  If you are at all interested in the colonial frontier era, I highly recommend this book.  It is history that reads like a novel.



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