William Leachman was set to marry the red-haired angel called Ellen Cummins. This angered Simon Kenton, then fifteen-years-old, who had been wholly stricken with the hardship of first love due to Miss Cummins cordiality and her unwillingness to berate him for rejecting formal education.
Simon was wont to read more into her admiration of his appearance, size, and strength than it deserved, easily imagining each compliment as evidence of some pact between the two to marry. This mental narrative is what made the news of her wedding so devastating, so enraging. William Leachman, an older neighbor Simon had little contact with, was stealing away his woman and he simply would not have it.
Weddings were a rare occurrence in the town of Hopewell. The whole community turned out for the standing-room only event, bearing witness to the exchanging of the vows and the two united for the first time, not as Ellen and William, but as the Leachmans. And just as the ceremony was wrapping up and the happy couple were heading toward the door, they saw a shirtless, wild-eyed Simon Kenton, fists clenched tight in front of his chest.
"You’re a damned thief and a damned coward, William Leachman," he shouted, "Come outside and take your reward."
And, unfortunately for Simon, that’s exactly what he did. There, as every living soul from the surrounding countryside looked on, William Leachman—older, stronger, more experienced—thrashed the living daylights out of Simon Kenton.
After that beating, Simon seemed wholly reformed. Perhaps it had knocked some sense into him. He appeared more submissive and was far more eager to do those tasks he used to religiously avoid, like chopping firewood, splitting rails, and other menial labor. For the beating, the community first pitied Simon, and then admired him for this change in behavior.
But Simon Kenton was only changed profoundly in one sense: he was now driven solely by his inflamed desire to exact swift, violent vengeance on William Leachman. The work he was so eager to do was not mere chores or some pious pursuit of virtue, but a grueling, self-imposed bootcamp to prepare him for an inevitable showdown.
No how-to books were required. No workout DVDs or elaborate dietary guidelines or FitBits. Just the blind hatred that accompanies the deadly sin of Anger. In the year following his fight with Leachman, Simon made the fields his gymnasium, the hills his weight room. Not only was he making his body doing the everyday work prescribed by his father, he disappeared into the mountains for hours at a time to do any activity that would enhance his strength and fighting ability: running, throwing stones, hauling logs, climbing trees, carrying massive boulders.
And nature transformed him into a behemoth. By sixteen, he had landed firmly in the realm of manhood. His muscles were heavily worked and bulging around his arms, legs and chest. Not only that, but Simon now stood over six feet tall. If he wasn’t ready for an encounter with Leachman now, he reckoned, then he’d never be.
One day when his father decided to make planting stakes from some lumber, he sent Simon to fetch the community saw, which, as it so happened, was last used by Sam Leachman, William’s father. Walking through the woods, Simon heard in the distance the sawing of cedar trees. He walked some ways farther until, at last, he caught a glimpse of the man using it.
Simon exploded head first out of the trees, landing his thick skull into William Leachman’s midsection, causing him to drop the saw and stumble backwards. Simon threw his arms around Leachman hoping to squeeze the life out of him but Leachman reacted quickly, twisting sharply so that it was Simon who had to absorb their painful fall. Fists were thrown furiously as the two rolled in the clearing, Simon easily collecting the brunt of the blows. After a while, Simon found himself again on the bottom, clenching tightly to William Leachman’s fists and unable to move. And however savage the move may have been, he did what he had to. He pulled Leachman’s hands toward him while throwing his thick skull forward, busting William in his face. Leachman, nose likely broken and now stunned, fell to the ground. Simon quickly dragged him to a sapling and tied a long braid of his hair to it.
Then he let his temper transform him. Every bit of raging fury and built up burning hatred was unleashed in a heavy, merciless storm of flying fists. One after another after another, on and on for minutes that felt like hours that felt like days until, finally, every last drop of Simon’s contempt and envy had been poured out onto the bloodied, broken disfigurement that used to be William Leachman’s face.
Simon’s rage faded, replaced first by revulsion at his own cold-hearted savagery—the absolute monstrous potential of his being—and then fear. He untied Leachman’s hair and propped him up against the tree attempting to revive him, but his body slid limp back to the earth. Leachman did not move. He did not make a sound.
Nothing. Nothing at all. Silence.
Simon hid in a crevice worrying over his parents’ reaction to learning their already disgraced son was now a murderer. He thought of the authorities hanging him, or if not the authorities, certainly the Leachmans.
At the age of sixteen, gunless, knifeless, and moneyless, Simon Kenton began his journey through the wilderness, across the Appalachian Mountains, and into the history books.
You can learn more about Simon Kenton in Allan W. Eckert’s, The Frontiersmen, where I first read this story. I highly recommend it.