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The Second Pioneer

The Second Pioneer

It was April 24, 1777, and Daniel Boone was in big trouble.

About 100 Indians ambushed him outside Boonesborough. A gunshot wound broke his leg. As a Shawnee raised his tomahawk to strike the final blow, it appeared to be all but over for Daniel Boone. Fortunately, Simon Kenton was there – and quicker.

After charging from the fort and dispatching the Indian with his musket, Kenton picked up Boone, slung him over his shoulder, and carried him to safety. According to legend, Boone, eternally grateful, said: “Well, Simon, you have behaved yourself like a man today.”

Simon Kenton had behaved like a man for a long time.

At 17, he left his native Virginia after losing his true love to another man. He learned to live off the land, explored the Ohio Valley, earned enough money to buy musket and powder, and fought Indians as both a soldier and spy.

Once, in midwinter, while drying his only set of clothes, he was ambushed and forced to flee naked. He survived for a week with no food or clothing in frigid conditions. Kenton, it seemed, almost always knew when to flee and when to fight.

He “settled down” briefly in 1775, building a cabin and planting a corn field in modern-day Maysville, KY. According to Edna Kenton, who wrote “Simon Kenton: His Life and Times,” he became friends with many of the earliest settlers. He could always be counted on to come to their assistance whenever possible. Kenton, by most accounts, was a good-natured and helpful gentleman (under peaceful conditions).

In 1778, Boone and Kenton led a raid on the Shawnee. When they were discovered, Boone retreated. Kenton kept on, laid in wait, and captured four horses. The Shawnee, in turn, captured Kenton and subjected him to the worst possible tortures.

He was tied behind a horse and dragged through the forest. He was made to “run the gauntlet” – which involved passing through a long line of warriors who beat him with “clubs, hoe handles, tomahawks, and butcher knives.” Many men died after running the gauntlet just once. The Shawnee forced Kenton to run it nine times. Kenton’s ability to survive the worst physical tortures seems impossible – and superhuman. Yet there’s not a whiff of fable about them.

Between gauntlet runs, the Shawnee tied Kenton to a stake. Three times he was spared. The first time, his savior was the most unlikely of men: Simon Girty. By most accounts, Girty was a savage white man who had joined the Indian cause. But he had explored with Kenton years earlier, and considered him a friend.

The next time, Kenton was saved by a tribal chief who intervened on his behalf and won the day. Finally, a British trader coaxed the Shawnee to untie Kenton and turn him over for questioning by the British in Detroit. Kenton escaped, returned to fighting the Shawnee, and eventually became a major in the Kentucky militia.

When all was said and done, Kenton had been saved many times – from death and poverty – by men who he had either saved or shown great friendship and generosity.

He went on to father 12 children, settled a 1,000-acre farm near Springfield, Ohio, and lived to the age of 81. He was called, in his time, the “second pioneer of Kentucky.”

Today, Daniel Boone is a legend, thanks mostly to John Filson’s 1784 biography, The Adventures of Daniel Boone. Kenton’s story isn’t told in most schoolbooks. But if not for him, there would be no legend of Daniel Boone.

I think that’s what they call irony.

“A Daring and Intensely Wild Life.”

—C. Burdett, Life of Kit Carson (1869).

Mountain man. Trapper. Indian agent. Scout.

Christopher “Kit”Carson led the expeditions that got the wagon trains rolling west in the 1840s; “the most remarkable of American frontiersmen,” they called him.

He was fluent in Navajo, Apache, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Shoshone, Paiute, and Plains Indian sign language, as wellas English and Spanish.

On one occasion, unexpectedly attacked by a pair of large, angry grizzly bears, he unsheathed his knife, hacked off a tree branch, and beat their noses with it until they re-treated.

The old steel engravings show a fierce-eyed young man, quite handsome, dressed in a fringe jacket. This fringe jacket. Why fringes? They tended to drain off the rain, it’s said.

Frontiersman Jacket (No. 1922). Soft, strong goat suede, body lined in cotton twill, sleeves lined in poly taffeta. Roomy, so it can be worn over heavier clothing. Two welted pockets, one interior pocket. Three marbled buttons. 6” fringe across the chest, across the back, down the sleeves, and across the bottom; it moves when you move.

A necessary, comfortable, and hard-wearing jacket for the independent individual who doesn’t just go along with everybody else. Didn’t then, doesn’t now.


This Post Has 8 Comments
  1. Hi, I enjoy reading your posts here on Peterman’s Eye. I appreciate your willingness to tell the stories of the Frontier as I live on the West Coast and the expansion West has a great deal to do with our history. Out of curiosity do you think you could also write a piece on one of the Native American heroes too? Did they also wear fringe to keep off the rain? What made a hero for them? Just curious, Kari

  2. Kit Carson was one of the most interesting and active men in U.S. History. He was a saddler, teamster, mountain man, scout, guide, interpreter, rancher, soldier, and Indian agent. His adventures carried him from Missouri to Mexico, to California and Oregon, and from the Rio Grande to the Yellowstone and Upper Missouri as well as Washington, D.C. He was able not only to survive, but thrive in the perilous conflict zone where three cultures, Anglo-American, Spanish-Mexican, and Ameri-Indian clashed in the Frontier Wilderness. His first wife was an Arapaho. Following her death he was briefly married to a Cheyenne woman. His third and final wife was the daughter of one of the leading Hispanic families of Taos, New Mexico. With very little formal education Carson learned to communicate in Spanish, French, and several Amer-Indian languages as well as his native English. He trapped the Southwest with pioneering explorer and entrepreneur Ewing Young, trapped the Northern Rockies with Jim Bridger, and was a hunter and trader for the Bent brothers of Bent’s Fort fame. Carson served as a guide for Fremont on his expeditions, led General Kearny and the U.S. dragoons from New Mexico to California to defeat Mexico during the Mexican War, and drove 3000 head of sheep from New Mexico to California during the Gold Rush. With no formal military training Carson skillfully led New Mexican volunteer troops in battle against Texas Confederate forces invading New Mexico in the Civil War and rose to the brevet rank of brigadier general. After the defeat of the Confederate invasion, Carson led U.S. troops in successful campaigns against the Mescalero Apache and Navajo in New Mexico and Arizona, and fought the Comanche and Kiowa tribes at the First Battle of Adobe Walls in the Texas Panhandle. Carson was sympathetic to the plight of the Native Tribes and worked as Indian agent to improve their lot. In failing health and near death he made the the long trip to Washington, D.C. on behalf of the Ute tribe to represent their interests and secure a reservation in Colorado for them. He died soon after returning to his home in Colorado. Carson played an active role in just about every major event that shaped the American West during his lifetime which spanned the years 1809-1868.

  3. Regarding your story on Simon Kenton, “The Second Pioneer.” My 6th Great Uncle, Jesse Copher, along with a Mr. Robert Bullock, escaped from Ft. Detroit with Simon Kenton. It took them 30 days to return to Fort Boonesborough. The day after they returned the event described in your article took place. Thank you for highlighting Simon Kenton who, by the way, entered “Kan-tuck-ee” before D. Boone. Finally, a very nice rendering of Mr. Kenton.

  4. Simon Kenton is buried in Urbana, Ohio. Not far from Urbana is a tiny church called Mt. Nebo and is where Kenton was converted to Christianity. Inside the church are murals of the westward expansion painted by his contemporaries.


  6. The true and amazing history of America is no longer taught in public schools for the mistaken reasons of shame for the accomplishments of the frontiersmen to explore and tame the land of America all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Coming from the Baltic States and a German refugee camp with my mom I’m appalled at the short sighted and shameful approach of the public schools toward facts of events and the people who performed them. Without history nations and its people disappear as time and generations march on. Even the primitive carved their stories on cave walls for us to learn and appreciate the struggles of existence through harsh circumstances and the advancements made in their midst.

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