By Allen Hamrick
Like most people in West Virginia, we have ancestors who roamed these hills in search of new lands and a place to settle down. Our home in Clay County has been a stepping stone to some of the greatest frontiersmen to ever trap, fish or fight their way to fame. Unfortunately, most of their names have been lost to our generation as we have progressed into the enlightened age. Life is simple for us; we never live on the edge, wondering if we will live past the next day or where our next meal will come from. We will not have to suffer too much in the winter because we do not live outside or in rudimentary shelters.
However, there was a time when people didn’t have it so easy, and West Virginia was one of those places where the land was tough and hard on the family that wanted to plant their stakes and make a home. It was unforgiving, and sometimes families just didn’t make it a year before turning back or perishing in the harsh climates. Natives and settlers went at each other with war in their hearts, with the Natives trying to drive the settlers back and settlers trying to drive the Natives out. It was a tough time for people, no matter their color or culture. Remembering those who have went through such times should be a passion for everybody; forgetting them is a disservice to their undaunted will and determination to make a life for future generations.
I was at a store up north one summer afternoon and got into a conversation about our state’s history. I asked the individual if they had ever heard of Simon Kenton. The individual in their early thirties said they had not. I asked about Daniel Boone, and they thought it was a type of whiskey. I have asked many others and get pretty much the same response. The great state we live in was a home for many historical movers and shakers at one time, and they were here when buffalo roamed by the thousands. Elk, deer and beaver were so plentiful that as Simon Kenton said when he hunted and trapped the Elk River in the late 1700’s, “As far as the eyes could see, the buffalo was so thick I could walk across their backs.” Simon Kenton was born in 1755 in Virginia. When he was young, he fell in love with a woman so much that he knew he would marry her one day, but another man beat him to her. Simon decided he would win her back by beating the man that stole her from him. At the wedding he challenged him to fisticuffs and the man thrashed Simon, so much that and he had to crawl away. It embarrassed him so, that revenge stayed in his heart till he was strong enough to fight back, and when he did he nearly beat the man to death. He was 16 years old when he fled to the mountains for fear of getting hung for murder. He hunted, fished, trapped and scouted for the army in the hills of West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky. One of the places he loved to trap the most was on the Elk River from Charleston up through Elkhurst and beyond.
Simon Kenton has been given hero status because after leaving home he was instrumental in opening up the northeast to the settlements we know today. He was a renowned woodsmen and scout and had great strength and endurance as evidenced by living through seven Shawnee gauntlets. Most didn’t survive one. His story is a great read, there are many fascinating stories associated with his life. If you want to read it in detail and let your mind wander into the past, his story can be found in Allen W. Eckert’s book, The Frontiersmen as well as the book, Simon Kenton unlikely hero by Karen Meyer. With all that’s going on in our country today, we find ourselves wondering if we will be able to survive the fall-out. Pick up this book, and you will see that even though we live in a time not sure of anything, learning about how people survived far worse times gives you a new way to look at the life we live.