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.
—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.