Simon Kenton, certain he had killed another boy in a fight over a girl, fled west from Virginia at the age of sixteen. He was wrong, but the incident launched him on a life of high adventure as one of Kentucky’s greatest frontiersmen.As a young man in Fauquier County, Virginia, Simon Kenton didn’t like school or farm work, but he loved Ellen Cummings. He was so upset when she married Willie Leachman that he called Leachman out at their wedding. Leachman whipped him soundly. Kenton’s chance for revenge came soon, and he beat Leachman unconscious. Believing Leachman was dead, Kenton fled west in a panic without telling a soul. He had no plan until 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, which Tom called the “middle ground,” 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. But getting there would prove to be quite a trip.
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. He never had another rifle he liked as well. He also made good use of Butler’s name - for nine years he called himself Simon Butler, going back to Kenton only after learning that he hadn’t killed Willie Leachman after all. In fact, Leachman had been accused, but not convicted, of killing him.
After Warm Springs, Kenton began looking to join a party that was going down the Ohio to the middle ground, which he now heard people calling “Kaintuckee.” The first party he joined turned back before getting near Kentucky. The second time he traveled with George Yeager (The Long Dutchman), who taught him how to survive in the wild and told him exciting stories of the canebrakes of Kentucky. But they paddled right past their target - Limestone Creek in what is now Mason County. With winter approaching, they gave up and retreated back upstream. Kenton was beginning to doubt the great canebrakes he had heard about really existed, but in 1775, four years after leaving Virginia, he finally found the mouth of Limestone Creek. He and Thomas Williams paddled four miles up the creek and found fields and fields of cane. They cleared an acre and planted a patch of corn.
Farming was still not Kenton’s cup of tea, so he began to travel through Kentucky meeting such fellow pioneers as Daniel Boone and George Rogers Clark. He was active in the defense of the frontier - he is credited with saving Boone’s life during and Indian attack at Boonesburough. In 1784, back in Mason County nine years after first landing there, he built a station where he presided as welcomer-in-chief to new arrivals on the frontier. The widow Dowden and her four daughters got an especially warm welcome - Kenton married one of the daughters, Martha, in February 1787. After Martha, pregnant with their fifth child, died in a fire in 1796, Kenton married her first cousin, Elizabeth Jarboe. Altogether, he fathered 11 children, 5 with Martha, 5 with Elizabeth and an illegitimate son with Ruth.
In 1798, Simon Kenton moved to Ohio. He visited Daniel Boone in Missouri and even bought some land there, but never made the move. He lived out his life in Ohio. Unable to read or write, he managed his finances poorly and was often in poverty. In 1820 during a visit to Mason County, Kenton was imprisoned for debt. Despite a public outcry, he was not released until the Kentucky legislature repealed the debtors law in 1821.
Kenton died on April 29th, 1836 near Zanesfield, Ohio and was buried there. In 1865 his remains were moved to Urbana, Ohio.