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Ohio History – Simon Kenton’s Grave.

August 4, 2018

One recent spring I went on a road trip that included a stop in Urbana, Ohio to indulge in some state history.

I enjoy the journey as much as the destination- driving Ohio’s backroads.

Eventually, I reached Urbana.

Urbana is a city in and the county seat of Champaign County, Ohio, United States, 47 miles west of Columbus. Urbana was laid out in 1805, and for a time in 1812 was the headquarters of the Northwestern army during the War of 1812. It is the burial place of the explorer and Indian fighter Simon Kenton. The population was 11,793 at the 2010 census. It is the home of Urbana University.

As usual, I enjoyed sightseeing the old homes.

The main reason I was in Urbana was to see a particular memorial in Oakdale Cemetery.

On the way to the memorial, I saw this interesting sculpture.  It was done by the grandfather of the founder of Urbana, both of whom were buried here.

John Quincy Adams Ward (June 29, 1830 – May 1, 1910) was an American sculptor, who may be most familiar for his larger than lifesize standing statue of George Washington on the steps of Federal Hall National Memorial in New York City…He died at his home in New York City in 1910. A copy of his Indian Hunter stands at his gravesite in Urbana, and his Urbana home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

I always like running into an unexpected piece of history!

Onward to the main event.

And then, what I had been looking for- the grave of Simon Kenton, ‘Ohio’s Daniel Boone’.

Simon Kenton was a legendary frontiersman in Ohio and the Midwest. He was born on April 3, 1755, in Fauquier County, Virginia. He grew up helping his father on the family farm and therefore had little opportunity to go to school. At the age of sixteen, Kenton became involved in a fight involving a woman. Believing he had killed a man, he fled to the Ohio Country where he changed his name to Simon Butler…In 1782, he discovered that the man that he thought he had killed had actually lived. Therefore, he was able to resume his own name once again.

Kenton spent the next two years hunting along the Ohio River. In 1774, he served as a scout during Lord Dunmore’s War. By 1775, Kenton had moved to Boonesborough, Kentucky. For the next few years, he worked as a scout for the settlement, often coming in contact with the local American Indians. At one point, Kenton is said to have saved the life of Daniel Boone.

During the American Revolution, Kenton participated in a number of military engagements against the British and their American Indian allies. In 1778, he joined George Rogers Clark on a difficult but successful expedition into the Illinois Country to attack British outposts as well as American Indian settlements. Returning home, he accompanied Daniel Boone in an attack on the Shawnees’s settlement of Chillicothe near what is now Oldtown, Ohio. That same year, Kenton was captured by American Indians, who tortured him and attempted to burn him at the stake. Simon Girty rescued him and instead of his being killed, Kenton was sent to Fort Detroit as part of a prisoner trade with the British. By mid-1779, Kenton was free and had returned to service under George Rogers Clark.

During the next several years, Kenton lived a relatively quiet life. He settled near Maysville, Kentucky, married Martha Dowden and purchased some large tracts of land. This life continued until 1794, when Kenton served in the militia under General Anthony Wayne and fought at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. After the death of his wife, Kenton remarried in 1798 and the same year moved to Ohio. He first lived near present-day Springfield but a few years later settled in Urbana. By 1805, Kenton had become a brigadier general in the Ohio militia. During the War of 1812, he participated in the Battle of the Thames in Canada.

Kenton moved to the Zanesfield, Ohio, area around 1820. During the last years of his life, Kenton lived in poverty because of land ownership disputes and mismanagement of his money. He survived on a government pension of twenty dollars a month. In 1836, Kenton died in Logan County near Zanesfield and was buried there. In 1865, his remains were moved to Urbana. The state of Ohio constructed a monument to mark his grave in 1884.

It’s hard to imagine today the hardships that frontiersmen like Kenton went through.

A big man in stature and strength, his stamina was often tested as he endured the worst that was known to the frontier. During the late winter of 1773, Simon’s first winter on the frontier, Simon and two companions were attacked around the campfire as they were drying their wet clothes near present day Charleston, WV. One companion was killed, while Simon and the other man barely escaped without food, clothing, or rifles. After a week of wandering down the Great Kanawha River, they finally reached the Ohio. Here they met some mountain men on the banks of the Ohio River after a week of hunger and extreme exposure to the weather.

The Indians also knew him as “The man who’s gun is never empty” for his skill of running and reloading his faithful flintlock at the same time.

Near Kenton’s monument is his original tombstone from 1836.  Suffering the ravages of time, it is difficult to see in this photograph, but the last line is: ‘He was an honest man’.  This is high praise from that era.

In April 1777, during an Indian attack on Fort Boonesborough in Kentucky, a bullet struck Daniel Boone’s leg and he found himself staring up at a Shawnee’s tomahawk. Kenton charged, shot the scalper and clubbed another attacker, then lifted Boone up in his arms and carried him, dodging and darting, to safety.

“Well, Simon, you have behaved like a man to-day,” Boone told him; “indeed you are a fine fellow.” Effusive praise for frontiersmen.

Although he was an Indian fighter, Kenton dealt fairly with the Shawnee Indians, who respected his skill and stamina, and he knew Techumseh, their great chief.

In September of 1778, Simon was captured by the Shawnee. He was forced to run the infamous quarter mile “gauntlet”, which killed many prisoners, nine times. After the sixth, while attempting escape, had a hole hammered in his skull and was unconscious for two days. With a war club and axe, his arm and collarbone were broken. While recovering from these wounds, Simon was saved by his long time friend Simon Girty who convinced the Shawnee to adopt Simon as one of their own. Finally in June 1779 Simon was sent to Fort Detroit as part of a prisoner trade with the British. Simon escaped and after a 30 day march he made it back to the American settlements in newly formed “Kentucky.”

Perhaps the most poignant moment of his life came during the War of 1812.

During the War of 1812, he participated in the Battle of the Thames. It was in this battle that the mighty leader of the Shawnee, Tecumseh, was killed. Simon was asked to identify the body so the pathetic whites could scalp and ravage every part of his body for souvenirs. Knowing this ahead of time, Simon falsely identified Tecumseh so his body would remain for his people to find and honor his life and people with a proper burial.

Local people have not forgotten Simon Kenton.

I learned about Simon Kenton by reading local author Allan W. Eckert‘s fantastic book, The Frontiersmen.  If you are at all interested in the colonial frontier era, I highly recommend this book.  It is history that reads like a novel.



Summer’s Flowering Vines.

July 7, 2018

Field & Hedge Bindweed

Wild Potato Vine

Virgin’s Bower

Morning Glories

I haven’t talked about plants for a while, so this post is overdue.  In the summer, Ohio has some showy flowering vines- some of them abundant and easy to spot, either in your garden as a commercial variety or sometimes persistently invading your garden.

First of all- what is a vine?

A vine displays a growth form based on long stems. This has two purposes. A vine may use rock exposures, other plants, or other supports for growth rather than investing energy in a lot of supportive tissue, enabling the plant to reach sunlight with a minimum investment of energy. This has been a highly successful growth form for plants such as kudzu and Japanese honeysuckle, both of which are invasive exotics in parts of North America. There are some tropical vines that develop skototropism, and grow away from the light, a type of negative phototropism. Growth away from light allows the vine to reach a tree trunk, which it can then climb to brighter regions.

The vine growth form may also enable plants to colonize large areas quickly, even without climbing high. This is the case with periwinkle and ground ivy. It is also an adaptation to life in areas where small patches of fertile soil are adjacent to exposed areas with more sunlight but little or no soil. A vine can root in the soil but have most of its leaves in the brighter, exposed area, getting the best of both environments.

The evolution of a climbing habit has been implicated as a key innovation associated with the evolutionary success and diversification of a number of taxonomic groups of plants.

I’ve discussed a couple of other vines before; Wild Grape and Poison Ivy, neither of which has spectacular flowers…unlike the vines I’ll point out today.

Now, back to our Ohio summer focus.

Bindweed can be found both out in the country and in the city.  It is quite hardy and very numerous.

Bindweed comes in two basic varieties- Field and Hedge.  It gets started in May, and is abundant throughout the summer months.

Field Bindweed grows in waste areas, especially dry soil.  It is a short vine with small white flowers, often seen along paths or roads.

Hedge Bindweed is a longer vine that typically grows in thickets and upon fences and other plants, and produces a larger white flower.  It can be mistaken for Morning Glory.

The easiest way to identify Bindweed is to look at the leaves- they are narrow and arrowhead-shaped:

These vines are very persistent and are often seen as a pest (though a pretty one).

This is an adaptable vine, preferring full to partial sun and moist to mesic conditions. It tolerates poor soil, often flourishing in areas that are gravelly or sandy. Hedge Bindweed readily climbs a trellis, fences, and neighboring plants, while in open areas it sprawls haphazardly across the ground. The climbing ability is the result of the stems twining tightly about slender objects. This vine can spread aggressively and become a nuisance in some locations. It is known to produce allelopathic chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants.

Occasionally you will run across pink and white Bindweed flowers, such as the one pictured above.  Otherwise, it is mostly a white flower.

Speaking of white flowers, there is another less-common vine seen in the summer that fits that description.

This is Wild Potato Vine, also known as Wild Sweet Potato.  I usually see it along wood edges.  Its vine is very long.

Two ways to identify this vine are evident in the above picture.  It has heart-shaped leaves, and its white flower always has a purple throat.  The name of this plant comes from its tuber-like roots, which Native Americans ate.  Many varieties of insects pollinate its flowers.

Another vine that I don’t see much of is Virgin’s Bower.  It has distinctive small white flowers.  I’ve seen it in woody areas.  I’d like to see it more often.

Lastly, Morning Glories are both abundant and well-known.  They bloom in the last half of summer, and they are hard to miss out in the country.

Common Morning Glory was introduced into North America from South America as an ornamental plant. Plants with purple flowers appear to naturalize most often. Habitats include fields, roadsides, gravelly areas along railroads, fence rows, and waste areas. Relatively open areas with a history of disturbance are preferred. This plant is still widely cultivated in gardens and around yards. Depending on the habitat, a population of naturalized plants can be either fairly persistent or ephemeral.

Perhaps the best-known feature of Morning Glories are their beautiful vibrant colors.  Sure, they come in white like the other vines we’ve seen, but they also have varying shades and combinations of violet, blue, red and pink.

Notice too that the leaves are more rounded.

One of my favorite things to do in late summer is to drive along agricultural fields and see all of the Morning Glories climbing through the corn.  It is an impressive color show.



Two Life List Birds Seen Near an Airfield.

June 2, 2018

Western Kingbird

Upland Sandpiper

During the third week of May, spring migration was on the down side.  Trees were fully leafed out, making it hard to see such spring favorites as Wood Warblers.  But not all migrants are in the forests.

Two notable species of birds were seen near a Columbus airfield- one a very rare visitor, the other a secretive migrant.  I went out to see if I could spot them.

Don Scott Airfield is the property of Ohio State University, and surprisingly is the 3rd busiest airport in the state.  Surrounding it is OSU’s Livestock Facility.  Nature-wise, this means a lot of fields and grassland with a bit of woods off to the side.

Cows are plentiful and wonder what all of this birdwatching fuss is all about.

Unsure of the etiquette involved in being on the property, I wound my way along dirt roads until I finally saw a collection of cars in the middle of nowhere.  Jackpot!

Rule number one when looking for a rare bird- find the other birders at the site.  Chances are they are where the bird is (or has been recently).  They tend to be folks who know what they are doing (OK, there are exceptions but rarely).

I met some familiar faces- local birders tend to turn up a lot at these kinds of things- and sure enough, they were right where I wanted to be.  Michelle, Ed and Sheila were a few birders whom I know, and we all talk shop.  I can imagine novice birders thinking we are talking too much.  But hey, birding is often a solitary hobby and it’s always good to blow off the dust and swap tales of events since we all last met.  I can imagine frontiersmen at their annual gatherings knowing just what I’m talking about 🙂

The cows are interested too.  In perhaps getting a treat…

Along this stretch of fencing (where the birders gathered) was the main bird I came to see.  It was fairly close to us and didn’t seem to worry.

This is a Western Kingbird, fairly common west of the Mississippi River, but rare in Ohio.  This bird is a Flycatcher, and likes perching on fences or trees in grasslands from which it sallies out to catch and eat insects on the wing.  Our bird here was associating with Eastern Kingbirds- fairly common east of the Mississippi River.

This is a handsome bird with its yellow-tinted belly, olive brown wings and gray head.  They aggressively defend their nests from predators and other Flycatchers, but can be found nesting near other birds that are no threat to them.  A nice thing to note is that these birds have apparently flourished due to human activity such as planting trees on the Great Plains, clearing woodlands, and erecting fences and telephone poles which they like to perch on.

Our rare bird fluttered out to catch insects on the wing, returning to the fence afterwards.  After lookinjg for Warblers in the woods it was noce to see a bird out in the open!

This grassland habitat hosted other birds-

One of a pair of Northern Mockingbirds that were building a nest in a patch of bushes

A pair of Barn Swallows resting for a bit from their constant flying

An Eastern Meadowlark, a common grassland bird

A Savannah Sparrow (another grassland dweller)  that was singing on territory

A male Bobolink, always fun to see and hear in fields in the summertime

Many of us birders decided to walk around and down along the airfield fence, having heard another grassland bird singing…

…and sure enough, there it was upon the fence surrounded by Eastern Kingbirds…

Notice the bird facing the opposite way

This is a Dickcissel, and they sing like their name- ‘dick-dick-sisisis’

Where would we be without fences for birds to perch upon?  This had been a good day, with sightings of all sorts of grassland birds, including the Western Kingbird.  But it wasn’t over yet.  One of the birders heard a bird that is rather hard to see.  Then, even better, this bird flew directly overhead and he shouted out to the rest of us to look up-

This is an uncommon look at an Upland Sandpiper, a bird that was migrating to Canada to breed in the summer.  Unlike most Sandpipers, it prefers a grassland habitat- often being found at airports.  This bird was considered a delicacy and used to be hunted until the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty.  It’s not as common as it once was, but it is holding its own numbers-wise now.

This sighting capped off a grand birding day indeed.  There are different sets of birds in different habitats, so you’ll often see different birds in the fields than you do in the woods.  I’m so used to concentrating upon woods and wood edges that it was refreshing to get out into a more wide-open setting, with good birders and birds both in abundance.

A Spring Tour of Mid-Southern Ohio.

May 5, 2018

I spent a few days recently at the end of April until the first day of May in southern Ohio, visiting a variety of places.  Spring is in full swing, the cold April weather has finally broken, and at this particular time in Ohio bushes are leafing out and spring ephemeral wildflowers are in bloom but the trees haven’t quite started leafing- so I thought it may be easier to see migrant birds.  Maybe.  🙂

Here’s a selection of what I saw.

Leo Petroglyphs

Perched on a ridge in Southern Ohio on a large relatively flat sandstone rock are the remains of the most remarkable rock art in Ohio.

The rock surface includes between 30 and 40 different figures. Some representing humans, birds, a fish and others.

The 12 acre park tract consists of a beautiful Heavy Timber Shelter house erected in the 1930s as a WPA project. It is built over the Leo Petroglyphs.

Adjacent is a stunning nature trail that, though limited in length is one of the most beautiful in all Ohio.

Serpent Mound

Perhaps the most famous earthworks of the ancient Indian cultures in North America, this 1300-foot-long snake-shaped mound is in Adams county.  I’ve been here before and blogged about it.

Serpent Mound also has a nature trail exploring the surrounding creek bottomlands and hills.

Paint Creek State Park

Located amid the breathtaking scenery of the Paint Creek Valley, 5,652-acre Paint Creek State Park features a large lake with fine fishing, boating and swimming opportunities. A modern campground and meandering trails invite outdoor enthusiasts to explore and enjoy the rolling hills and streams of this scenic area.

Rocky Fork State Park

Rocky Fork State Park is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Unlimited horsepower boating allows for excellent skiing on the 2,080-acre lake which also provides catches of bass, muskellunge and walleye for skilled fishermen. Nearby, a scenic gorge, dolomite caves and natural wetlands add to the popularity of this recreation area.

Also along the way were various towns with interesting architecture and historical sights that I always like to sight-see.

Pike Lake State Park

My base of operations on this trip was a cabin at Pike Lake State Park.  This park is fairly small but is nestled in the middle of the Pike Lake State Forest, and has plenty of trails and sights to see.

587-acre Pike Lake State Park is located in the midst of the scenic wooded hills of southern Ohio. The small 13-acre lake and surrounding state forest contribute to the park’s rustic charm.

It gets really dark out in the country!

Redbud trees were blooming

There was a small park office

The cabins were quite nice with modern fixtures

A funny story about this particular trail that climbed into the hills and looked down upon the lake below.  The path was narrow like a deer track and was sometimes covered with leaves, so you had to follow the red blazes marked on trees to know you were on the right track.  Halfway through the trail, up in the hills with no cell phone service, the red blazes stopped!  It was getting late and after searching through the woods and not finding the red blazes (perhaps they are an ongoing project) I turned back around and backtracked down into the park valley just as it got dark.  I was glad I didn’t have to sleep with the bears in the woods!

April and May are the months that Spring Ephemeral wildflowers can be seen in Ohio’s woodlands.  I’ve blogged about them before, but it’s been a while!

The most spectacular spring ephemeral flower in evidence was undoubtedly the White Trillium.  Whole wooded hillsides of southern Ohio were covered with it.  This plant is easily identified by its large size, 3 petals, and 3 leaves.

Another less showy Trillium was Sessile Trillium, also known as Toadshade.  If you get close enough to its flower, you’ll note its foul smell.

Violets were very common as well, in their varied colors.


Spring Beauties

These Rue Anemones were being visited by a Falcate Orangetip butterfly.

Blue Phlox (also known as Wood Phlox) added its pleasant color to the hills.

This Wild Geranium was a bit early.  It’s one of the late spring ephemerals to show up.

Other spring wildflowers of note included:



Kidney-Leaved Buttercup

Golden Ragwort




Dandelions, homeowner’s foe but beloved by many insects

And now, for the birds.  I’ll start off with 4 Warblers freshly-migrated up from South America that live in the deep woods that are hard to spot when there are leaves on the trees- I was happy to get photos of them!

Kentucky Warbler


Worm-Eating Warbler

Louisiana Waterthrush

Other migrants were showing up, getting ready to start their own nests.

Eastern Phoebe (one of our earliest nesters)

Baltimore Oriole

Rufous-Sided Towhee (actually a year-round resident)

Wood Thrush- a beautiful woodland singer

House Wren

Eastern Kingbird (a flycatcher like the Phoebe)

Canada Geese goslings

A mother Killdeer fakes having an injured wing to lure people away from her young

I had a great time exploring natural areas in the mid-southern Ohio region for a few days.  Now, as the leaves grow upon the trees, spring migration goes into high gear.  I’m off to eastern Ohio soon for another cabin trip- hopefully the weather will cooperate!

A Winter’s Day in the Treetops.

April 7, 2018

American Goldfinch

Pine Siskin

Common Redpoll

I saw a life-list bird last January.  Not the season you think of when seeing new birds, but this visitor is usually in Canada for the winter.  And that makes even Ohio in January look reasonable!

The bird was reported seen in Delaware State Park, north of Columbus.  This park surrounds Delaware Lake- a reservoir constructed in 1951 to provide drinking water and recreation to the area’s residents.  This is a park with lots of different habitats and is a good birding spot.

The Sweet Gum Area contains (you guessed it) mature Sweet Gum trees spaced out in grassy fields.  This is where the bird had been seen, associating with a flock of American Goldfinches.

I was not the only birder looking for this particular bird.  It’s good to get outdoors on a sunny winter’s day and move around.  Cabin fever begone!

I did a blog post on American Sweet Gums some time ago.   These particular trees were quite tall, and full of their spiny seed pods.

Sure enough, a flock of a couple of dozen American Goldfinches flew into the area.  They set about attacking the Sweet Gum balls to get at the seeds inside.

The Goldfinches were in their modest winter plumage.  In the spring, the males will become bright yellow to attract mates.

Like a decent amount of bird species, Goldfinches flock together in the cold winter months.  There’s safety in numbers with all of the extra eyes looking out for threats- and food.  Spring will see the birds start to pair off in anticipation of nesting and raising the next generation of Goldfinches.  These birds nest later than many species- you can often see them nesting in the early autumn, after Thistles have matured.  They use Thistle down to weave their nests, which are often watertight.

It’s not uncommon for different species of birds to flock together.  This bird stands out from the Goldfinches by its streaked breast, pointed beak and yellow-tinged wingbars.  What bird is this?

This is not our uncommon winter visitor I was searching for.  This is a Pine Siskin, and actually it is fairly erratic in its winter presence in Ohio as well.  This bird loves foraging in the trees.  It will occasionally be seen at feeders as well.  Its name indicates that it often is seen in evergreen trees, but this one liked the Sweet Gums as much as its Goldfinch buddies.

As time went by, my fellow birders and I started developing sore necks from looking nearly straight up at the treetops.  This condition is often called ‘warbler neck’ (Warblers love treetops too).  So many Goldfinches roamed the treetops that it was difficult to sort out other birds.

Wait!  What was that bird with a streaked breast and a bit of black around its yellow bill?  Seeing it from underneath made it harder.  Not to mention trying to tell others where it was- ‘this tree, the left fork, the third branch up 2/3 of the way out from the trunk’…

There’s the red spot on its forehead- it’s definitely a Common Redpoll.

These finches are hardy residents of the Arctic tundra and northern boreal forests.  They are used to far colder weather than Ohio can throw at them.  These birds sometimes tunnel into the snow to keep warm!


This bird may have traveled far to get here.  As Cornell University’s All About Birds webpage devoted to them says:

A few banding records have shown that some Common Redpolls are incredibly wide ranging. Among them, a bird banded in Michigan was recovered in Siberia; others in Alaska have been recovered in the eastern U.S., and a redpoll banded in Belgium was found 2 years later in China.

After a bit, I lost the bird in the trees among the Goldfinches.  Then most of the Goldfinches flew off.  But I had seen another life-list bird.  That warmed up the chilly day indeed.