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About Lewis Ludwig Wetzel
Lewis Wetzel (August 1763 – 1808) was a frontiersman and Indian fighter who roamed the hills of what is now the state of West Virginia and Ohio. Wetzel County, West Virginia is named for him. Zane Grey, the great Western novelist, wrote about Wetzel in his books Spirit Of The Border, Betty Zane, and The Last Trail. Wetzel was (and is) regarded as a hero by many Americans, a lesser-known version of Daniel Boone, although some scholars now consider him to be a murderer. 
Lewis was the son of a German emigrant named John Wetzel, who was later killed by Indians, and Mary Bonnet, daughter of Jean Jacques Bonnet of Friedrichstahl, Baden, Germany. The Wetzel and Bonnet families moved to the Wheeling Creek area in what is now the northern panhandle of West Virginia in 1770. The Weztel family settled on a section far upstream from the Ohio River in a fairly isolated location.
In 1777, Lewis, then 13, and his brother Jacob were taken prisoner, but managed to escape. Lewis was shot across the chest during the initial capture. The young man vowed to avenge his family. Lewis and Jacob managed to return to the location of what is now Wheeling, West Virginia, which was then called Fort Henry. Lewis played an active part in the defense of that fort in the first siege of Fort Henry a couple weeks after his escape.
Wetzel later participated in some military campaigns against the Indian tribes in the Ohio region. He preferred to operate alone and was often in disciplinary problems while serving with the militia. Lewis was implicated in the deaths of several peaceful Indians, which lead him to being charged with murder by Colonel Josiah Harmar for the murder of a friendly Indian in the region of Fort Harmar near present day Marietta, Ohio in 1788. Lewis escaped before his trial. He eventually moved to New Orleans, where he spent several years in prison for counterfeiting. According to legend, Lewis and Clark asked Wetzel to join their expedition but he declined.
Accounts vary as to his time after that. Some accounts state he died in 1808 in Mississippi at the residence of his cousin Philip Sykes. Some accounts state he married a Spanish woman and lived to an old age. The 1808 account was probably correct as a skeleton matching the description of Wetzel and which was buried along with a rifle and other equipment as legend stated Lewis was interred with was located at the former farm of Philip Sykes. This skeleton was reinterred in McCreary Cemetery in Marshall County, West Virginia.
His most famous trick was his ability to load his gun while sprinting. His guerilla warfare skills were among the highest of his era and has been argued by some to have been the best ever from an American. He was said to be around six feet tall, striking, and very athletic. He was said to have been a good fiddle player and good with children.
Wetzel had an implacable hatred of Indians. He is known to have scalped the Indians whom he killed. It is said he grew his hair out almost to the ground in order to taunt the Indians with his own scalp. The Indians gave him the nickname "Deathwind" because of his sharpshooting.
- List of books and articles about Wetzel, from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History
- "The Extraordinary Lewis Wetzel", excerpt from History of the Early Settlement and Indian Wars of West Virginia (1851)
- "Lewis Wetzel, Dark Hero of the Ohio" by James B. Pierce [http://www.earlyamerica.com/review/spring97/wetzel.html]
- "Warfare Tactics on the Frontier" by George Carrolliog
- Lewis Wetzel in the West Virginia Biography Project
Lewis Wetzel's older brother, Martin, a friend of Daniel Boone and Erik Dahlstrom, was an indian fighter as well, although he preferred to fight with a tomahawk. Martin Wetzel's direct descendant, Robert Lewis Wetzel, of Clarksburg, West Virginia, was a veteran of the Korean and Vietnam wars, and rose to the rank of Lieutenant General and Corps commander during the Cold War. Obviously, Robert Wetzel's middle name came from his famous ancestor, Lewis.
Often referred to as North-Western Virginia's "Daniel Boone", Lewis Wetzel has long been a subject of controversy. Was he a villain who had lost his sanity or was he a hero and protector of West Virginia's early settlers?
By most accounts, Lewis Wetzel was born in 1764, on the South Branch of the Potomac River in Virginia, the third son and fourth child of John Wetzel and Mary Bonnet. Shortly after his birth, a group of settlers, John Wetzel, Lewis Bonnett, Ebenezer Zane, Silas Zane, Jonathan Zane, Andrew Zane, and the Mercers, moved their families to Ohio County in West Virginia. John Wetzel staked his claim along the Big Wheeling Creek then returned to Rockingham County for his family; his wife Mary and their four children; Martin, Christina, George and Lewis.
This little family continued to grow with the addition of Jacob in 1765, Susanna in 1767, and John about 1770. Knowing the dangers of the area well, John taught his sons and daughters the frontier skills they would need to protect themselves. Lewis learned well and became an expert with a knife and tomahawk, but the skill he was best known for was his ability to load, prime and shoot his long rifle while running at full speed through the woods. This ability is the one that would help keep Lewis alive in his many engagements to come with the Indians.
In 1777, due to the danger of Indian attacks, many of the settlers were staying at nearby Fort Henry, waiting for the season's spate of raids to end. John and Martin, now a young man, had already been involved in the Battle of Point Pleasant and John knew well what could happen if his family stayed on their homestead. So, he had taken them to Fort Henry to join the other families.
John and three of his sons had left the fort and returned to work in their fields. It was about mid-morning when he realized they had forgotten to bring their guns. So, he sent Lewis and Jacob back to the cabin to check on some drying venison and to get his and George's guns. As Lewis opened the door of the cabin to return to the fields, the Indians attacked firing a volley of bullets at them. Lewis was struck in the chest and was in a lot of pain and losing blood when the Indians came in and captured the two boys. They took the guns and some pots and hurried off into the forest, dragging the two boys with them. When all of this was going on, John and George heard the shots and rushed back to the cabin, but they were too late. They knew they couldn't do anything without weapons so they ran to the fort to get more. By the time they returned the trail was cold and they had lost it. Lewis and Jacob were on their own.
The Indians had cared for Lewis' wound, packing it with herbs and leaves and covering it, but he was in considerable pain. He knew that he had to keep up with them or he would be dead so he put on a brave front and managed to keep up with them. By the third night, the Indians had started to trust the boys and the night watch fell asleep. This was the chance Lewis had been waiting for. He woke Jacob and they stole from camp. After going some distance, they realized they couldn't get far with nothing on their feet, so Lewis made Jacob wait quietly while he sneaked back into camp and found two pair of moccasins for their feet. After putting them on, Lewis decided that he had to go back again, so he told his brother to lay low and stay put and he returned to the camp once again and stole back his father's rifle and powder horn.
The Indians came after them, but they managed to elude them three times and finally crossed the Ohio River on a raft they made with logs and strips of bark. Some boys from the Wheeling settlement found the boys and helped them the rest of the way home. They were welcomed by their family and friends with exuberance as if they had returned from the dead. It was this experience that caused both Lewis and Jacob to make a vow to kill every Indian they encountered for the rest of their lives.
1777 was a bad year for the settlement. Martin Wetzel helped defend Fort Henry from attack that year. On September 25, twenty-two men were ambushed and slain while on a scouting expedition. Lewis was there with a group who had taken a different trail, so wasn't injured. Then Martin was assigned the task of helping to bury the dead, which they did by digging one large pit and burying them all in a common grave. When things quieted down, the bodies were eventually moved and given a more decent burial. Somewhere during this time period, three of the Bevans children were killed by Indians also.
The following year didn't prove much better. Lewis went with a friend to see his little farm, but when they arrived they found the cabin burned and his friend's wife missing. They followed the trail which took them across the Ohio River. They were still following them when darkness began to descend so they had decided to give up for the night and pick up the trail again in the morning. But then they smelled smoke and knew they were close by the Indians' camp.
They followed the smell of the smoke and soon found the camp of the Indians. Rose was alive and huddled against a tree, sobbing occasionally. While Lewis' friend, Frazier wanted to fire on them immediately, Lewis was able to convince him to wait until dawn.
They watched and waited all night and formulated a plan to free Rose. They were planning to shoot the first two to get on their feet, with Frazier taking the man on the left and Lewis taking the man on the right. When the first two rose to their feet, one of them being a white renegade, the boys fired their rifles taking both of their victims down. When Lewis and Frazier ran into the camp with their tomahawks raised and yelling loudly, the other two Indians ran, leaving their guns behind. They stopped a short distance away and looked as if they were ready to attack. Lewis then raised his gun and shot one down. The second one immediately charged knowing the gun would be empty, but Lewis had used his skills and while running, reloaded his gun. When the Indian was closing in on him, Lewis turned and fired killing the fourth Indian. Lewis took four scalps, all the weapons, and returned to the river where they used the Indian's raft to re-cross and return to safely.
The attacks continued to escalate and on September 11-13, 1782, Captain John Wetzel, Martin, and Lewis helped defend the second attack on Fort Henry by the British and the Indians. Martin and Lewis had also helped to defend Fort Beeler against the Mohawk and Shawnee Indians in 1782. It was this year also that Lewis' friend, Joseph Mills, was shot by Indians but was able to escape.
Three years later, in 1785, three of the Crow sisters were brutally murdered by Indians on Wheeling Creek. One sister, Lena, escaped, but Susan, Elizabeth, and Katie were bludgeoned to death with tomahawks. A while later, Jacob Crow was shot nine times by the Indians and killed. His two brothers, Martin and Frederick were wounded but managed to escape.
(Note: after peace was made with the Indians, these same Indians came begging at the Crow home. They were recognized by Lena, and her brothers went after the Indians and killed them.)
A real tragedy for the Wetzel family came on June 19, 1786 near Bakers Station. They had gone out on a hunting expedition and on their return were ambushed and confronted by Indians. They refused to surrender and paddled their canoes as fast as they could to get away. Captain John Wetzel was critically wounded, George was shot and killed, Martin was slightly wounded and Lewis was unhurt. As soon as they made it to the bank, John Wetzel died from his wounds. He and George are both buried there at Bakers Station.
It was following the deaths of his family members that Lewis really seemed to have lost some of his sanity. He never married, but spent much of his time out in the woods searching for Indians to kill. He roamed the forests across the Ohio country hunting Indians and carrying out one man raids. He would trail small bands of Indians and then would wait until they had made camp and were asleep when he would swoop down on them in the middle of the night with his knife and tomahawk and kill and scalp as many as he could before the others woke up.
He loved his friends, but hated their enemies. He was rude, blunt and a man of few words before company, but when with friends was a good companion. When asked, Lewis claimed he had collected 27 scalps between 1779 and 1788, but others say it was well over a hundred.
He was five feet ten inches tall and stood very erect, broad across the shoulders, had an expansive chest, his limbs denoted great strength. He had raven black hair which was usually kept braided in two braids, but when combed out reached well below his knees. His complexion was dark and pitted by smallpox, and he had eyes of the most intense blackness, wild, rolling, and "piercing as the dagger's point, emitting when excited such fierce and withering glances as to cause the stoutest adversary to quail beneath their power".
Lewis never owned any land or settled down or did any other sort of work. He was a good fiddle player who was always welcome at dances and in taverns. He got along well with dogs and children, but not very well with adults. He was not a good speaker and sometimes seemed strange and unstable. Some people thought he had lost his sanity. He would often appear at competitions of skills when there was one and he always won.
Lewis had been hired to travel with John Madison, brother of the future president James Madison, on a land surveying expedition. Unfortunately, John was killed by Indians on this trip.
Lewis was involved in more skirmishes with the Indians and each time he returned home with his scalps, he was proclaimed a hero. The settlers still felt that anyone who killed the Indians, a savage subhuman race, was doing them a valuable service.
Lewis was accused of murdering two Indians. The first one was a Delaware Chief who was acting as a peace emissary. He had been invited to come to the American's camp under safe conduct and had just gotten out of his canoe when Wetzel tomahawked him from behind. The Militiamen approved so much of his action that nothing was ever done to punish him.
The second Indian he murdered was Tegunteh, a key Seneca leader who had worked hard with Colonel Josiah Harmar to bring about peace between the Indians and the settlers. But Lewis didn't want peace to come because he wanted to kill all of the Indians, not make peace with them. One morning when Tegunteh left his camp alone to travel to the Fort, Wetzel stepped out in front of him and shot him, scalped him and left him for dead. Teguneteh died, but not before he gave a description of Lewis Wetzel.
Colonel Harmar posted Lewis as wanted for murder and he became a fugitive. He was captured and put in leg and hand irons and kept in jail where after three days, he could stand it no more. He called for Colonel Harmar and convinced him that he needed to be allowed to go outside for fresh air. So, he was taken outside. He managed to escape them and made it across the Ohio River where friends cut off his irons and gave him provisions and weapons. He was free for a while, but was then recaptured and taken to Fort Washington where he was locked up to await his trial. The settlers, 200 strong, gathered outside the fort. They demanded that Lewis be set free or they were going to rescue him by force. The Territorial judge John Symmes resolved the dilemma by freeing Wetzel on a Writ of Habeas Corpus. The judge then conveniently forgot to ever call him back for trial.
Peace finally came to Ohio County and with no Indians to kill, Lewis went west and south into Spanish territory. While there he spent several years in prison for being a part of a counterfeit ring. When he was released he returned to Ohio County.
In 1804, he was hired by Clark of the Lewis & Clark Expedition to accompany them as a scout. He went with them for three months, but then refused to go any further and returned home.
He then went to live with his cousin, Phillip Sikes (Sycks) in the vicinity of Natchez, Mississippi. In 1808 he fell ill, probably with yellow fever, and died. He was just forty five years old.
Some say he was nothing more than a psychotic serial killer who enjoyed killing. Others say he was a defender of the settlers and that he was a hero. Perhaps he was a "product of his times". He was a man who had been exposed to much violence at an early age plus the tragedy of the brutal deaths of so many who he loved that maybe it did affect his sanity. He had been able to defeat the Indians when others couldn't. And when he returned with the scalps of his victims, who the settlers believed were nothing more than savages, they treated him like a hero.
Lewis Wetzel had made a vow of vengeance against Indians. When he was successful in carrying out his vow and the settlers reacted the way they did, it may have only urged him on. With all of these things put together, it was almost like his life's path had been laid out before him and he had no choice but to follow that path.
Lewis was buried in the front yard of Sike's cabin. In 1942, Dr. Albert W. Bowser came down from Chicago and found his unmarked grave. He took the remains of Lewis back to Moundsville, West Virginia, where he rests beside his older brother, Martin, in the McCreary Cemetery, just two miles from the old Wetzel homestead.
West Virginia created Wetzel County in 1846 from Tyler County and named it for Lewis Wetzel. There is also a state highway named after Lewis Wetzel and a Wetzel Hunting Ground in Wetzel County.
In June of 1778, Martin Wetzel was out one day hunting and John was on an errand and the rest of the family were at work in a field cultivating corn. Lewis and Jacob were working in a distant part of the field from the others. They were working very quietly and industriously when suddenly the crack of a gun and the yell of Indians broke the stillness of the valley. The bullet struck Lewis in the breast giving him a slight wound. The father, mother and other members of the family in that part of the field hid in a thicket near them and remained there until the Indians had been gone some time. The Indians, with the two boys, started for the river and reached it not far from the mouth of Bogg's Run and crossed to the mouth of McMahon's Creek and camped for the night. The second night they camped at a place called Big Lick in what is now Goshon Township, Belmont County, Ohio. The boys appeared cheerful and the Indians did not take the precaution to tie them or guard them at night. The moon was full and the night was very bright, all lay down and were to all appearances sound asleep. Lewis kept awake and thought that now was their best opportunity to make their escape. He aroused Jacob and they quietly stole away from the camp and sat down on a log a short distance from it to decide what to do. Lewis said, "We can not go home barefooted. You stay and I will go back and get some moccasins." He soon returned with them and said to his brother, "We ought to have a gun. I will go and get one." He soon returned with a gun. When he was at the camp to get the gun one of the Indians raised up on his elbow and muttered, rolled over and lay down. Lewis stood over him with a tomahawk that had dropped from the belt of the Indian, ready to strike if he attempted to arise to his feet, but the Indian lay down and saved his life.
The boys started on the trail back towards the river as rapidly as they could go. The Indians awoke and found that the boys had escaped and started after them. The boys noticed them as they kept a careful wacth on the movement behind them and went into a thicket and remained hid until the Indians had passed. They soon returned and the boys by the same movement hid from them again. The Indians then went back to the camp and got their horses and again started after the boys, and again the boys slipped aside in a thicket and escaped them. The Indians gave up the pursuit and the boys hurried as fast as they could travel and on the next evening reached the Ohio River opposite lane's Island and constructed a raft and crossed it, and to the surprise of their parents reached home the fourth day after they were captured. It is said that Lewis was fourteen and Jacob twelve. It was their first experience with the Indians.
In the summer of 1780 Indians stole some horses from settlers on the upper waters of Wheeling Creek and a party of whites started in pursuit of them. They passed the Wetzel farm and found Lewis at work cultivating corn and asked him to join them in the pursuit but he refused, stating that hios father had gone from home and had requested him to stay at home and cultivate the corn and he did not like to go without his father's permission. They continued their persuasion; he unhitched his father's favorite mare and with his gun joined the party in pursuit of the Indians. The Indians reached the river somewhere near the foot of Boggs Island and crossed it. The whites pursued the trail and soon found them encamped thinking they were out of danger of pursuit. They were lying down near a spring and the horses were hobbled and grazing near them. The Indians, three in number, fled leaving the horses grazing. The whites decided to take the stolen horses and leave the horses they had rode to graze and rest a while and left three men to bring them when rested. The Indians soon made their appearance between the men and the horses and the white men took to their heels and soon joined those who had started to return.
Now Wetzel's troubles commenced. He said that he had left home without the consent of his father and had brought his favorite mare and she had been left for the Indians to take away. Lewis is said to have both loved and feared his father and it might be added that he was an obedient son. He asked the men to return with him and get the horses. None were willing to return and it is said that he used all manner of persuasion and all kinds of argument but none would agree to return and attempt to get the horses and he finally said that he would go by himself if no one would go with him. He said that he would prefer to go home without his scalp and with the mare than to go with his scalp and without the mare. At last two men most to blame for his leaving home without permission agreed to return with him and get the horses if they had to fight it out with the Indians. They started back to the spring where the horses were and arranged their line of operation.
It was arranged that Wetzel should go first and when they passed three trees all were to tree and open the fight. Wetzel reached his tree and looked around to see if the other two men were at their posts ready for action, but instead of being in line as agreed they were out of gunshot and running at the top of their speed. He was now in a critical situation, three Indians and a boy only sixteen years old, very unequal forces. He took in the situation in a moment and decided that as the odds were against him some strategy must be used or both scalp and mare would be lost.
The Indians were treed and had been since they discovered the approach of the whites. After some hesitation he put his hat on the ramrod of his gun and gradually exposed it as if he was quietly attempting to get sight of the Indians. His scheme succeeded and all three Indians fired and the hat fell riddled. He let the hat fall as if it had been on his head and he had been shot dead. All three Indians threw down their guns and with a yell rushed to the fallen hat thinking to tomahawk and scalp him. Young Wetzel jumped from behind the tree and shot the foremost Indian dead. The other two sure of killing him rushed at him and he started to run with a fleetness of a dear and soon had his gun loaded and wheeled around and one more Indian was killed. The other now sure of the scalp of the boy rushed at him with his tomahawk raised but in a short time the boy wheeled around as he was about to throw it and fired a bullet through him that ended his life and the unequal conflict.
Wetzel scalped the Indians, loaded his gun, got the mare and soon overtook the men who were too cowardly to stand by him when they got him into trouble and danger of his life.
This was the first fight he had with Indians and the matter soon brought him into prominence, for his courage and also the fact that he had learned to load a gun while running at full speed, and which proved of great value to him afterwards in many instances when he was pursued by Indians.
The second thrilling encounter Lewis Wetzel had with Indians was in the summer of 1782 when he was eighteen years old. The incident was related by an eye witness, who was himself a participant in the race for life.
Thomas Mills, a straggler from the army of the unfortunate Colonel Crawford, was making his way home near Wheeling, and reached Indian Springs about a mile east of where St. Clairsville, Ohio now stands. His horse was so tired and worn out with the trip from Sandusky Plains that he decided to leave it and make the rest of the way home on foot and after resting he said he would go back and get his horse.
His cousin Joshua Davis, a boy a little past fifteen years old, insisted that he wait till Lewis Wetzel return from a scout and get Wetzel to go with him. To this he consented. Lewis came in that night and when young Davis asked him to go he readily consented to it. Davis now asked permission to go with them but as he had done little scouting, Mills refused to let him go. The boy insisted upon going and finally Wetzel said: "Josh'll make a scout; he's got metal."
All things were arranged to start the following morning. Soon after daylight they crossed the river just below the point of the island and went up the hill and followed the ridges. It was a hot June day ahd near noon they arrived near the spring. Wetzel who was in the lead turned around and said: "If there are any Indians we had better know it. They will be at the spring at this time of the day or near it." They stopped and Wetzel said that he would go first and Mills after him and Davis behind. They moved cautiously till the first two reached a thicket on a bank just above the spring. The crack of guns and yells of Indians and the scream of Mills broke the stillness of the forest.
Wetzel came back on the trail running at full speed, loading his gun. Davis shot at the first Indian he saw and started back as fast as he could run. Wetzel soon overtook him, running in a long dog-trot, which was his usual gait when pursued by Indians. He said to young Davis: "Don't run, Josh, trot, it'll not tire you so much." The Indians, thought to be fifty or more from the noise they made, were jumping as they ran and yelling at the top of their voices.
After running almost a mile, Wetzel looked back and said: "There's only four Indians after us now; I'll try a pop at the foremost one." He did so and the Indian fell to the ground dead.
Wetzel soon had his gun reloaded and as they made a turn an Indian who had cut across came out beside them. As Wetzel attempted to shoot, the Indian caught hold of the barrel of the gun, but Wetzel was too quick for him and jumped to one side and brought the gun to the breast of the Indian and shot him dead in his tracks.
He said to the boy: "Josh, at the next turn there's a thicket just over the bank; hide in it and the Indians will follow me. I'll meet you at the creek." At the turn the boy jumped over the hill and laid down in the thicket and soon the foremost Indian passed and bang went the gun of Wetzel and another Indian was killed. The other stopped on the bank near the boy and took a look at Wetzel and said, "Whew, no catch him, gun always loaded," He started back as fast as his legs could carry him toward the spring.
The two met at the creek and went leisurely home. A few days later some men went to bury Mills and found that the bullet had broken his ankle.
In the summer of 1786 Indians were troublesome about Wheeling, especially in the Short Creek settlement, and some murders were committed by them. The Indians all seemed to escape. At last the settlers concluded to make up a purse and offer a reward for an Indian scalp. A purse of one hundred dollars was made up and a party of twenty men gathered on the fifth of August at Beech Bottom in command of Major McMahon. They went towards the Muskingum Valley. Five men were detailed as scouts and were sent some distance in advance of the main body. Lewis Wetzel was one of the party. The little army proceeded along their way without anything to interrupt their quiet peaceful march in quest of Indians until it reached the valley.
One day the scouts returned to the main body and in- formed the men that they had found a camp of Indians containing a large number. A consultation was held and as the number at the camp was reported too large for this force to attack it was decided to retreat.
While the controversy was in progress Lewis Wetzel sat on a log with his gun laying across his knees. When a retreat was ordered Wetzel was asked if he was not going along, to which he answered "No." He said they were out there in search of Indians and now since they had found them he saw no use in leaving without scalps. He said that he would get a scalp or lose his own.
The party started home; Wetzel started in a contrary direction. He saw no signs of Indians that evening but was determined to find a small number of them before he gave up the hunt. The night was cold and it was necessary to have a fire, and he knew such a thing would invite destruction. He built a hut of bark something like a charcoal pit and covered it with dirt and leaves, leaving an airhole here and there in it. He got into it and with his blanket drawn around him, spent the night quite comfortably and said it was as warm as a stove room.
The next day he saw a smoke and found a camp with two blankets and a small kettle, which he knew belonged to two Indians who were hunting. He hid near the camp and spent the day waiting for the Indians to return. About sundown the two Indians arrived at the camp and built up a fire and prepared their supper, after which they amused themselves for some time telling stories and singing songs.
About nine or ten o'clock one of the Indians took a firebrand and wrapped his blanket around himself and left the camp. He evidently intended to watch a deer lick, as deer are not afraid to approach fire.
Wetzel waited impatiently for the Indian to return, but he remained away until the birds began to give notice of the approach of daylight. He stealthily approached the sleeping Indian and with one thrust of his knife stopped the throbbing of the heart of the Indian forever. He took his scalp and started home and arrived one day later than the others of the party. He claimed and received the reward for the taking of an Indian scalp.
Louis Wetzel would take what he called a fall hunt in the Indian country. It was at the season of the year when he could expect to find small parties of Indians hunting. On one of these hunts for Indians, he went into the Muskingum Valley. He spent some time before he found an Indian camp but finally he discovered a camp of four. He saw that the camp was rather large for one man to attack in daylight but he could not think of leaving and not attacking it, so he awaited until late in the night when the hunters were sound asleep.
Carefully and cautiously he emerged from his hiding place near the camp and with his gun in one hand and tomahawk in the other and his hunting knife between his teeth he approached the sleeping hunters. There they lay in the dim light of the camp fire with their swarthy faces turned up to the sky, some of them sleeping a sleep from which they never awoke.
He set his gun against a tree and with tomahawk in one hand and knife in the other he commenced the work of destruction. One after another sank beneath the hatchet of the infuriated hunter till three lay lifeless near their camp fire. His blows were quick and accompanied with the most furious yells. One jumped to his feet and took to the forest followed by Wetzel. He succeeded in eluding the hunter who scalped the three warriors and returned home with the scalps. When asked what luck he had, he replied. "Not much; I treed four but one got away."
Lewis Wetzel roamed the forest and took many hunts and scouts on the north side of the Ohio River. Returning from one of his trips into the Indian country, he saw an Indian standing with his gun ready to fire. Wetzel jumped behind a tree, the Indian doing the same. They stood there for some time.
Wetzel did not relish the idea of spending the day there awaiting the darkness of night to give him an opportunity to get from behind the tree. He decided to try stratagem, so he placed his bearskin cap on the ramrod of his gun and gently pushed it out from behind the tree as if trying to get sight of the Indian and not expose his body in doing it.
The Indian was caught with the scheme of the hunter and and raised his gun and fired at the cap piercing it with a bullet. He imagined that all he had to do now was to scalp the hunter and make his way home to some of the Indian towns in the interior of what is the State of Ohio. Wetzel, to the surprise of the Indian jumped from behind the tree and shot the Indian. He took his scalp and made his way back to Wheeling Creek.
FORT HARMER was erected by the United States Government in the year 1786 on the point below the mouth of the Muskingum River and garrisoned with regular soldiers; and two years later the first legal settlement was made in what is now the State of Ohio.
Soon after General Harmer took command of the Western Department he sent notice to the Indians that he desired to make peace with them and issued a proclamation warning the whites to cease hostilities so that a peace could be arranged with the Indians. Notwithstanding his efforts to make peace in the West with the Indians, they continued murdering settlers along the Ohio River and also in interior settlements.
In the year 1789 Lewis Wetzel and Veach Dickerson went on a scout on the Ohio side of the river and reached the Muskingum River near Fort Harmer. They watched a path some time and while there an Indian came down the river towards the fort riding a horse in a gallop. They called to the Indian but he did not halt and it was thought that the noise made by the catter of its hoofs on the ground prevented him from hearing them. When he was almost out of range of their guns both fired at him without any apparent effect as he did not change his speed. They returned home and when asked about their scout and seeing Indians they said that they only saw one Indian and shot at him and thought that they had both missed him. They had not missed him as they thought they had but had shot him through the hips and he died that night at the fort.
General Harmer became much enraged and soon after the death of the Indian, a rumor reached him that Lewis Wetzel had shot the Indian. Soon after he heard this he learned that Wetzel was at the cabin of Hamilton Kerr who had made an improvement on an island above the mouth of the Muskingum River. He sent a file of soldiers to the island in the night and arrested Wetzel on the charge of murdering the Indian. He placed Wetzel in chains and in close confinement. Wetzel did not deny shooting the Indian. He proposed to General Harmer that he give him a tomahawk and let him and the Indians fight it out but the General would not listen to any proposition as he was determined to maintain the dignity of his high position.
Soon the close confinement began to seriously effect Wetzel who had been accustomed all his life to freedom in the open air. He told General Harmer that he could not stand such close confinement and an officer was instructed to take the hunter out each day for exercise. His shackels were removed but his handcuffs remained on him. He would run and jump and caper like a young colt that had been confined in a stable for some time and then turned loose in a pasture. He soon regained his usual vigor.
One day he was taken out for exercises as usual. He would run quite a distance, whirl around and return until he felt his usual strength return when he made up his mind to make a run for liberty or death. He got some distance before the guards suspected an attempt to escape. They fired their guns at him but missed him. He had entered the forest and knowing the country, he made for a thicket about two miles from the fort. He reached the thicket and found a tree that had fallen across a log under which he squeezed himself and was concealed from view by underbrush so completely that it would be very difficult to find him without very close inspection.
Soldiers and Indians were started in pursuit of Wetzel and passed through the thicket and two of the Indians stood on the log for some time. Wetzel said that his heart beat so violently that he was afraid that they would hear it. They soon left the thicket and Wetzel was alone in the forest. While he lay under the log he could hear the soldiers and Indians yelling as they searched the forest for him. Late in the afternoon the search was abandoned and the soldiers and Indians returned to the fort. Wetzel crawled from his hinding place when he was satisfied that there were none of his pursuers near him.
The thicket was on the Muskingum River and by a circuitous route he reached the Ohio River about three miles below the fort knowing that they would watch for him wherever they knew of a canoe. He knew a friend by the name of Isaac Wiseman who had made an improvement on the Virginia side and he reached the river opposite it. He saw Wiseman in a canoe fishing on the Virginia shore. He was afraid to make a noise and being handcuffed he could not make a raft nor cold he safely attempt to swim the river, although he was an expert swimmer. He waved his hat but Wiseman did not see him. He made a splash in the water which caused Wiseman to look towards him and he waved his hat and in a short time he was safely landed on the Virginia shore.
With a file and hammer in the hands of his friend the handcuffs were removed and he was again free. He was furnished with a gun, blanket and other equipments by his friends and was ready for other adventures. Wiseman was not in a hurry to tell of his part in the escape of Wetzel until after General Harmer had returned to Philadelphia after an inglorious defeat by Indians.
General Harmer heard that Wetzel was at Mingo Bottom and sent Captain Kingsberry with a squad of soldiers with orders to bring him back dead or alive.
He proceeded to Mingo Bottom but it happened that the day he was due to arrive there most of the settlers of that section were at a shooting match at the bottom, Wetzel among them. When they heard of the intentions of the Captain they decided to waylay him and his soldiers and make targets of them. Major McMahon requested them to do nothing until he could see Kingsberry and return to them. He told the Captain that it was absurd to arrest a man for killing an Indian when they were killing whites almost every day. Further, it would be impossible to take Wetzel from that community and stated that an attempt to take him would result in the death of every man in the squad. The Captain, knowing what was the best course to pursue, quietly withdrew and returned to Fort Harmer without Wetzel.
Wetzel thought now that it was at an end and continued to roam up and down the Ohio River. Soon after this he met Captain Kingsberry at Fort Randolph but they passed and each man went his way. In the meantime General Harmer removed his headquarters from Fort Harmer to Fort Washington where Cincinnati now stands.
He offered a large reward for Wetzel, dead or alive. One day Wetzel was sitting in a tavern door at Maysville, not thinking of any danger. Lieutenant Lawler landed with what was usually called a Kentucky boat, with a load of soldiers for Fort Washington and seeing Wetzel, returned to the boat and with a file of soldiers, returned to the tavern and arrested him and pushed off from the shore and landed him that night at the fort where he was again placed in irons.
It was well for Lieutenant Lawler that he made the speed he did for if the settlers had got word of the act in time there is no doubt that he would have received a different kind of reward than that offered by General Harmer.
The news spread like wild-fire and the anger soon reached a white heat, so indignant were the settlers. Petitions were sent to General Harmer from the settlements along the Ohio River asking for the release of Wetzel. All the leading citizens asked for his release but he paid no attention to their petitions. Seeing that petitions were of no avail they started a different kind of movement. They started to gather a sufficient force of men to release him if they had to kill General Harmer and all the troops at the fort. This decided the case as the General saw that the settlers were all in sympathy with Wetzel and determined that he should be released and very wisely set him at liberty to molest him no further.
About the year 1790, or a year later, Lewis Wetzel arrived from a stroll in Kentucky and was hunting on the waters of Wheeling Creek and met a young man who lived on the branch of Wheeling Creek formerly called Dunkard, but is known at present as Crow's Creek, the south fork of Wheeling Creek. The young man and Wetzel were acquainted and it has been stated that they were cousins. The young friend invited him to go home with him and visit the family, which invitation he accepted. They started up the creek towards the young man's home hunting; they traveled along; being in no hurry, they prolonged the journey some time, not thinking of harm to anyone or need of haste in getting to the end of their journey. When they arrived at the home of his friend Wetzel found, instead of a family ready to greet him kindly, that Indians had been there and murdered the family and burned the house. Wetzel examined the trail and found that the party consisted of three Indians and a white man and further examination revealed the fact that five persons left the cabin and from the tracks it was decided that a young woman the family had reared was one of the number and was a prisoner in the hands of the Indians and white renegade. The rest of the family had been murdered and their bodies burned in the cabin which was now burned to the ground. No time was to be lost if anything was to be done towards the rescue of the young woman. The matter was left to Wetzel to direct and lead a rescuing party. Wetzel said that they would attempt to overtake them before they reached the Ohio River. It was late in the day and movements must be made quickly as they had considerable start of them and were well on their way to the river. Caution had been taken to conceal their trail but the quick eye of the hunter soon detected it.
They followed the trail like a hound follows that of a deer or fox until Wetzel was satisfied at about the point at which the party would reach the river. He then changed his plan and took the most direct route to the river at the point at which he was sure they would reach it to cross. He was sure they would reach the river at the mouth of Big Captina and for that point he directed their course. They followed their course with the object of overtaking them before they reached the river and to that end hurried as rapidly as possible, taking the shortest routes in all cases and avoided long winding paths around knowls by going over them and thus gaining time. They found a deer path in the direction they wished to go and followed it till late in the night, only stopping a short time for supper, after which they resumed their pursuit. About midnight a heavy cloud overcast the sky and they were for the time compelled to give up the pursuit and lay down to await the coming light of day. With the first light of morning they were again in pursuit of the murderers at their utmost speed. The knowledge Wetzel had of the country enabled them to save distance and the desire to avenge the murder of the family animated them and the young man was very anxious to rescue the young woman. In the afternoon they left the ridge and traversed a small valley where it appeared that man had never trod. They crossed a small stream and on the margin of it they detected the impression of a heel of a shoe that was identical with the one they found at the cabin and which had left it with the three Indians and the white man. The freshness of the track was sufficient to satisfy Wetzel that they were gaining on them. Late in the evening they reached the river at Hog Run, nearly opposite the mouth of Big Captina and found that the murderers with their captive had reached the river first and were now on the Ohio side of it. Wetzel was not in the least discouraged but confident of overtaking them and rescuing the captive. They went a short distance down the river and swam it. By the time the pursuers were ready to start in pursuit of the murderers on the west side of the river darkness had settled down over the forest but they were ready for a night's travel. They were not destined to such hardship, as they found them encamped only a short distance from the river.
The Indians and white renegade were lying near the fire and the young woman securely bound and tied to a small tree. She was moaning and bewailing her misfortune, not thinking that friends were close at hand. The young man was in favor of attacking the camp immediately, but Wetzel would not listen to it, but said, "Wait till daylight." All night long they heard the girl moaning, not thinking that daybreak would end her captivity.
The first streaks of gray dawn in the east found Wetzel and the young man ready for action. Wetzel desired daylight that he might the better do the work he so much desired, kill all of the four murderers. He wanted to give no opportunity for any of them to escape. The Indians and white man arose and were standing about the fire when the stillness of the morning was broken by the report of two rifles and the white man and one Indian were shot dead. The two remaining Indians ran into the forest to ascertain the strength of the attacking party, closely followed by Wetzel. He failed to draw their fire so he fired his gun at random and succeeded in getting them after him. They dropped their guns and with their tomahawks took after the hunter. This was their last race, as Wetzel had the game just as he wanted it. He soon had his gun loaded and one of the Indians was shot dead but the other pursued Wetzel vainly thinking to kill him and get his scalp, but soon the mysterious gun was loaded and the last Indian was killed and with the other two, scalped.
The young man sprang to the captive and cut the cords binding her as soon as the first two fatal shots were fired, leaving Wetzel to deal with the two Indians much to the delight of the hunter who had taken the choice of the Indians leaving the young man to shoot the white renegade.
Once when Lewis Wetzel was scouting near Fort Henry a stormy night overtook him near a deserted cabin. He concluded to spend the night in the cabin, and gathered some clapboards and made a place on the joist to sleep and had not been there long until six Indians entered it and prepared to spend the night. They built a fire, cooked their supper and lay down and went to sleep.
When they entered Wetzel grasped his hunting knife and determined that if he was found by them that he would attempt to escape by jumping into their midst and fighting his way to the outside of the cabin to freedom.
The Indians were soon sound asleep, not even dreaming that a white man was so near them. Wetzel quietly descended and left the cabin and hid behind a log to await developments. Morning came and one of the Indians arose and walked to the door and stretched himself and gave a hearty yawn, taking in a full breath of inspiring air, not thinking it would be the last for him. Bang, went the gun of the hunter and the Indian fell dead at the door. Wetzel started in a run and was soon out of the reach of the Indians in the cabin.
A turkey was often heard on the side of the hill across the creek from the village of Wheeling and it finally attracted the attention of Lewis Wetzel. One morning he started out and reached a point near a cave concealed by vines and bushes, suspecting that an Indian was concealed in it, as the gobbling had been heard at that place on several occasions. He awaited the appearance of day thinking that he would at least see what was there. Soon after daylight, when birds of all kinds were greeting the morning with songs, the turkey commenced gobbling. Wetzel saw the head of a warrior as he gradually arose from the cave and gobbled, thinking to attract the attention of some one from the village, whom he would shoot and scalp. Wetzel prepared to greet him when again he appeared. Soon the head appeared and the usual gobbling sound was made, the last for him. He would look around to see if anyone was approaching, gobble and drop back into the cave. This time when his head appeared Wetzel fired his never-failing rifle and down dropped the head with a bullet hole in it that forever put a quietus on that Indian. Wetzel added one more scalp to the number that he had already taken.
Lewis Wetzel was born in Old Town, Rockingham County, Virginia, in 1764, and brought by his parents to the wilderness in the district of West Augusta when about six years of age. He grew up to manhood in what is now Marshall County, where the howl of the wolf, the scream of the panther and blood-curdling yell of the Indian became familiar sounds to him.
The surroundings and necessities of the day made him one of the greatest scouts and hunters of the day. He could travel the forest and no Indian could long follow his trail. He was of a mild disposition and was kind-hearted except for his hatred for Indians, which was said to have been caused by the death of members of the family and friends by the hands of the Indians.
He had long black hair and it has been stated that when combed out to its full length it reached almost to his heels. It has been stated that he cut a notch in his gun stock each time he killed an Indian and that seventy-eight notches were cut in the stock, indicating that he had killed that number of Indians.
He died in the summer of 1808 at the home of a cousin by the name of Goodrich about eight miles back from Natchez, Mississippi, at the age of forty-four.
The Extraordinary Lewis Wetzel
I am originally from Zanesville Ohio and a descendant of the Zanes. I named my son Lewis after Lewis Wetzel. We do a lot of hiking and maybe Lewis will become an adept backwoodsman like his namesake.
Huntingdon Co., PA
(Reprinted from History of the Early Settlement and Indian Wars of West Virginia (DeHass), 1851, available from McClain Printing Company, 212 Main Street, Parsons, West Virginia 26287. Lewis Wetzel is one of America's greatest forgotten indian fighting heros, now brought to light for the first time in over 100 years.)
Who in the west, has not heard of Lewis Wetzel - the daring borderer, the brave and successful Indian hunter; the Boone of North-Western Virginia? Within the recollection of many of our readers, Lewis Wetzel was regarded by many of the settlers in the neighborhood of Wheeling, as the right arm of their defence. His presence was considered as a tower of strength to the infant settlements, and an object of terror to the fierce and restless savages who prowled about and depredated upon our frontier homes. The memory of Wetzel should be embalmed in the hearts of the people of Western Virginia; for his efforts in defence of their forefathers, were without a parallel in border warfare. Among the foremost and most devoted, he plunged into the fearful strife which a bloody and relentless foe waged against the feeble colonists. He threw into the common treasury a soul as heroic, as adventurous, as full of energy, and exhaustless of resources, as ever animated the human breast. Bold, wary and active, he stood without an equal in the pursuit to which he had committed himself, mind and body. No man on the western frontier was more dreaded by the enemy, and none did more to beat him back into the heart of the forest, and reclaim the expanseless domain which we now enjoy.
Unfortunately for the memory of Wetzel, no reliable account of him has ever been published. The present generation know little of his personal history, save as gathered from the exaggerated pages of romance, or the scarcely less painted traditions of the day. With many, he is regarded as having been very little better than a semi-savage; a man whose disposition was that of the enraged tiger, and whose only propensity was for blood. Our information warrants us in stating that these conceptions are all false. Lewis Wetzel was never known to inflict unwonted cruelty upon women and children, as has been charged upon him; and he never was found to torture or mutilate his victim, as many of the traditions would indicate. He was revengeful, because he had suffered deep injury at the hands of that race, and woe to the Indian warrior who crossed his path. Lewis Wetzel was literally a man without fear. He was brave as a lion, cunning as a fox, "daring where daring was the wiser part,-prudent when discretion was valor's better self." He seemed to possess, in a remarkable degree, that intuitive knowledge, which can alone constitute a good and efficient hunter, added to which, he was sagacious, prompt to act, and always aiming to render his actions efficient. Such was Lewis Wetzel, the celebrated Indian hunter of Western Virginia.
John Wetzel, the father of Lewis, was one of the first settlers on Wheeling creek. He had five sons and two daughters, whose names were respectively, Martin, Lewis, Jacob, John, George, Susan, and Christina. The elder Wetzel spent much of his time in locating lands, hunting and fishing. His neighbors frequently admonished him against exposing himself thus to the enemy; but disregarding their advice, and laughing at their fears, he continued to widen the range of his excursions, until finally he fell a victim to the active vigilance of the tawny foe. He was killed near Captina, in 1787, on his return from Middle Island creek, under the following circumstances Himself and companion were in a canoe, paddling slowly near the shore, when they were hailed by a party of Indians, and to land. This, they of course, refused when immediately they were fired upon, and Wetzel shot through the body.
Feeling himself mortally wounded, he directed his companion to lie down in the canoe, while he (Wetzel) so long as strength remained, would paddle the frail vessel beyond reach of the savages. In this way, he saved the life of his friend while his own was ebbing fast. He died soon after reaching the shore, at Baker's station, and his humble grave can still be seen near the site of that primitive fortress. The author, anxious to ascertain with undoubted certainty, the date of Wetzel's death, and learning from a reliable source that the place of his burial was indicated by a stone inscribed with the initials and year, visited the spot in the summer of 1849. With great difficulty he found the place, and identified the grave of the elder Wetzel. A rough stone marks the spot, bearing in rude, but perfectly distinct characters " I. W., 1787."
At the time of his father's death, Lewis was about twenty-three years of age, and in common with his brothers, or those who were old enough, swore sleepless vengeance against the whole Indian race. Terribly did he and they carry that resolution into effect. From that time forward, they were devoted to the wood; and an Indian, whether in peace or war, at night or by day, was a doomed man in the presence of either. The name of Wetzel sent a thrill of horror through the heart of the stoutest savage, before whom a more terrible image could not be conjured up than one of these relentless "long-knives." But to the personal history of Lewis.
The first event worthy of record in the life of our hero, occurred when he was about fourteen years of age. The Indians had not been very troublesome in the immediate vicinity of his father's, and no great apprehensions were felt, as it was during a season of comparative quietude. On the occasion referred to, Lewis had just stepped from his father's door, and was looking at his brother Jacob playing, when suddenly turning toward the corn-crib he saw a gun pointing around the corner. Quick as thought he jumped back, but not in time to escape the ball: it took effect upon the breast-bone, carrying away a small portion, and cutting a fearful wound athwart the chest. In an instant, two athletic warriors sprang from behind the crib, and quietly making prisoners of the lads, bore them off without being discovered.
On the second day they reached the Ohio, and crossing near the mouth of McMahon's creek, gained the big lick, about twenty miles from the river. During the whole of this painful march, Lewis suffered severely from his wound, but bore up with true courage, knowing, if he complained, the tomahawk would be his doom. That night, on lying down, the Indians, contrary to their custom, failed to tie their prisoners. Lewis now resolved to escape; and in the course of an hour or two, satisfying himself that the Indians were asleep, touched Jacob, and both arose without disturbing their captors. Lewis, leading the way, pushed into the woods.
Finding, however, that he could not travel without moccasins he returned to camp, and soon came back with two pair, which, having fitted on, Lewis said, "Now I must go back for father's gun." Securing this, the two boys started in the direction of home. Finding the path, they travelled on briskly for some time; but hearing a noise, listened, and ascertained the Indians were in pursuit. The lads stepped aside, as the pursuers came up, and then again moved on. Soon they heard the Indians return, and by the same plan effectually eluded them. Before day-light, they were again followed by two on horseback, but resorting to a similar expedient, readily escaped detection.
On the following day, about eleven o'clock the boys reached the Ohio, at a point opposite Zane's island. Lashing together two logs, they crossed over, and were once more with their friends. As this sketch will not allow US to notice in full his various youthful exploits, we will pass over a series of years, and take up the thread of narrative at such points in our hero's perilous career, as we may deem most interesting to the reader at large. Reaching the years of manhood, this remarkable person spent most of his time in the woods. He was truly a genuine child of the forest, and seemed to worship the grand old trees with more than Pagan devotion. To him the wilderness was full of charms, but the enjoyment of these was not without great personal danger. A dark, insidious foe prowled upon his track, and closely watched every opportunity to waylay and destroy him. Wetzel roamed abroad, delighted with every fresh grove, hill, dale, and rippling stream. To him the swelling of the breeze, "the repose of the leaf, the mysterious quiet of the shade, the chant of birds, the whoop of the savage, and the long melancholy howl of the wolf," were sights and sounds which stirred his most lively sensibilities. Rising from his couch of leaves, by the side of some moss-covered log, the lone hunter made his hurried meal, and then moved on, careless of fatigue, until night again closed around him. Such was the woodman's life; such the fascinations which bound him to the wilderness.
Shortly after Crawford's defeat, a man named Thomas Mills, in escaping from that unfortunate expedition, reached the Indian Spring about nine miles from Wheeling, on the present National road, where he was compelled to leave his horse, and proceed to Wheeling on foot. Thence he went to Van Metre's fort, and after a day or two's rest, induced Lewis Wetzel to go with him to the spring for his horse. Lewis cautioned him against the danger, but Mills was determined, and the two started. Approaching the spring, they discovered the horse tied to a tree, and Wetzel at once comprehended their danger. Mills walked up to unfasten the animal, when instantly a discharge of rifles followed and the unfortunate man fell, mortally wounded. Wetzel now turned, and knowing his only escape was in flight, plunged through the enemy and bounded off at the very extent of his speed. Four fleet Indians followed in rapid pursuit, whooping in proud exultation of soon overhauling their intended victim.
After a chase of half a mile, one of the most active savages approached so close that Wetzel was afraid he might throw his tomahawk, and instantly wheeling, shot the fellow dead in his tracks. In early youth, Lewis had acquired the habit of loading his gun while at a full run, and now he felt the great advantage of it.
Keeping in advance of his pursuers during another half mile, a second Indian came up, and turning to fire, the savage caught the end of his gun, and for a time, the contest was doubtful. At one moment the Indian, by his great strength and dexterity, brought Wetzel to his knee, and had nearly wrenched the rifle from the hands of his antagonist, when Lewis, by a renewed effort, drew the weapon from the grasp of the savage, and thrusting the muzzle against the side of his neck, pulled the trigger, killing him instantly.
The two other Indians by this time had nearly overtaken him, but leaping forward, he kept ahead, until his unerring rifle was a third time loaded. Anxious to have done with that kind of sport, he slackened his pace, and even stopped once or twice, to give his pursuers an opportunity to face him. Every time, however, he looked round, the Indians treed, unwilling any longer to encounter his destructive weapon.
After running a mile or two further in this manner, he reached an open piece of ground, and wheeling suddenly, the foremost Indian jumped behind a tree, but which not screening his body, Wetzel fired, and dangerously wounded him. The remaining Indian made an immediate retreat, yelling, as he went, "No catch dat man - him gun always loaded." Our artist has happily caught the spirit of the incident, and very well shown it in the accompanying illustration.
In the summer of 1786 the Indians having become trouble some in the neighborhood of Wheeling, particularly in the Short creek settlement, and a party having killed a man near Mingo bottom, it was determined to send an expedition after the retreating enemy of sufficient force to chastise them most effectually. One hundred dollars were offered to the man who should bring in the first Indian scalp. Major McMahon living at Beech bottom, headed the expedition, and Lewis Wetzel was one of his men. They crossed the river on the 5th of August, and proceeded by a rapid march to the Muskingum. The expedition numbered about twenty men, and an advance of five were detailed to reconnoiter. This party reported to the commander that they had discovered the camp of the enemy, but that it was far too numerous to think of making an attack. A consultation was thereupon held, and an immediate retreat determined on. During the conference our hero sat upon a log, with his gun carelessly resting across his knees. The moment it was resolved to retreat, most of the party started in disordered haste, but the commander observing Wetzel still sitting on the log, turned to inquire if he was not going along. " No," was his sullen reply; " I came out to hunt Indians, and now that they are found, I am not going home, like a fool, with my fingers in my mouth. I am determined to take an Indian scalp, or lose my own." All arguments were unavailing, and there they were compelled to leave him a lone man, in a desolate wilderness, surrounded by an enemy vigilant, cruel, blood-thirsty and of horrid barbarity, with no friend but his rifle, and no guide but the sure index which an all-wise Providence has deep set in the heavens above.
Once by himself and looking around to feel satisfied that they were all gone, he gathered his blanket about him, adjusted his tomahawk and scalping knife, shouldered his rifle, and moved off in an opposite direction, hoping that a small party of Indians might be met with. Keeping away from the larger streams, he strolled on cautiously, peering into every dell and suspicious covert, and keenly sensitive to the least sound of a suspicious character. Nothing, however, crossed his path that day.
The night being dark and chilly, it was necessary to have a fire; but to show a light in the midst of his enemy would be to invite to certain destruction. To avoid this, he constructed a small coal-pit out of bark, dried leaves, etc. and covering these with loose earth, leaving an occasional air-hole, he seated himself, encircling the pit with his legs, and then completed the whole by covering his head with the blanket. In this manner he would produce a temperature equal, as he expressed it, to that of a "stove room." This was, certainly, an original and ingenious mode of getting up a fire, without, at the same time, endangering himself by a light.
During most of the following day, he roamed through the forest without noticing any "signs" of Indians. At length, smoke was discovered, and going in the direction of it, found a camp, but tenantless. It contained two blankets and a small kettle, which Wetzel at once knew belonged to two Indians, who were doubtless out hunting. Concealing himself in the matted undergrowth, he patiently awaited the return of the appoints.
About sunset, one of the Indians came in and made up the fire, and went to cooking his supper. Shortly after, the other came in; they then ate their supper, and began to sing and amuse themselves by telling comic stories, at which they would burst into roars of laughter. Singing, and telling amusing stories, was the common practice of the white and red men, when lying in their hunting camps. These poor fellows, when enjoying themselves in the utmost glee, little dreamed that Lewis Wetzel was so close.
About nine or ten o'clock one of the Indians wrapped his blanket around him, shouldered his rifle, took a chunk of fire in his hand, and left the camp, doubtless, with the intention of going to watch a deer-lick. The fire and smoke would serve to keep off the gnats and musquitoes. It is a remarkable fact, that deer are not alarmed at seeing fire, from the circumstance of meeting it so frequently in the fall and winter seasons, when the leaves and grass are dry, and the woods on fire. The absence of the Indian was a cause of vexation and disappointment to our hero, whose trap was so happily set, that he considered his game secure. He still indulged the hope, that the Indian would return to camp before day, but in this he was disappointed. There are birds in the woods which commence chirping just before break of day; and like the cock give notice to the woodman that light will soon appear. Lewis heard the wooded songsters begin to chatter, and determined to delay no longer the work of death, for the return of the other Indian. He walked to the camp with a noiseless step, and found his victim buried in profound sleep, Lying upon one side. He drew his butcher-knife and with the utmost force, impelled by revenge, sent the blade through his heart. He said the Indian gave a short quiver, a convulsive motion, and then laid still in the sleep of death. Lewis scalped him, and set out for home. He arrived at the Mingo bottom only one day after his unsuccessful companions. He claimed, and as he should, received his reward.
A most fatal decoy on the frontier, was the turkey-call. On several different occasions men from the fort at Wheeling had gone across the hill in quest of a turkey, whose plaintive cries had elicited their attention, and on more than one occasion the men never returned. Wetzel suspected the cause, and determined to satisfy himself. On the east side of the creek hill, and at a point elevated at least sixty feet above the water, there is a capacious cavern, the entrance to which at that time was almost obscured by a heavy growth of vines and foliage. Into this the alluring savage would crawl, and could there have an extensive view of the hill front on the opposite side. From that cavern issued the decoy of death to more than one incautious soldier and settler. Wetzel knew of the existence and exact locality of the cave, and accordingly started out before day, and by a circuitous route, reached the spot from the rear. Posting himself so as to command a view of the opening, he waited patiently for the expected cry. Directly the twisted tuft of an Indian warrior slowly rose in the mouth of the cave, and looking cautiously about, sent forth the long, shrill, peculiar "cry," and immediately sunk back out of view. Lewis screened himself in his position, cocked his gun, and anxiously awaited for a re-appearance of the head. In a few minutes up rose the tuft, Lewis drew a fine aim at the polished head, and the next instant the brains of the savage were scattered about the cave. That turkey troubled the inhabitants no longer, and tradition does not say whether the place was ever after similarly occupied.
A singular custom with this daring borderer was to take a fall hunt into the Indian country. Equipping himself, he set out and penetrated to the Muskingum, and fell upon a camp of four Indians. Hesitating a moment whether to attack a party so much his superior in numerical strength, he determined to make the attempt. At the hour of midnight, when naught was heard, but the long dismal howl of the wolf,
" Cruel as death and hungry as the grave,
Burning for blood, bony, gaunt and grim,"
he moved cautiously from his covert, and gliding through the darkness, stealthily approached the camp, supporting his rifle in one hand and a tomahawk in the other. A dim flicker from the camp-fire faintly revealed the forms of the sleepers, wrapped in that profound slumber, which, to part of them, was to know no waking. There they lay, with their dark faces turned up to the night-sky, in the deep solitude of their own wilderness, little dreaming that their most relentless enemy was hovering over them. Quietly resting his gun against a tree, he unsheathed his knife, and with an intrepidity that could never be surpassed, stepped boldly forward, like the minister of Death, and quick as thought cleft the skull of one of his sleeping victims. In an instant, a second one was similarly served; and as a third attempted to rise, confused by the horrid yells with which Wetzel accompanied his blows, he, too, shared the fate of his companions, and sunk dead at the feet of this ruthless slayer. The fourth darted into the darkness of the wood and escaped, although Wetzel pursued him some distance. Returning to camp, he scalped his victims, and then left for home. When asked on his return, what luck, "Not much," he replied. "I tree'd four Indians, but one got away." This unexampled achievement stamped him as one of the most daring and, at the same time, successful hunters of his day. The distance to and from the scene of this adventure could not have been less than one hundred and seventy miles.
During one of his scouts, in the neighborhood of Wheeling, our hero took shelter on a stormy evening, in a deserted cabin on the bottom, not far from the present residence of Mr. Hamilton Woods. Gathering a few broken boards he prepared a place on the loft to sleep. Scarcely had he got himself adjusted for a nap, when six Indians entered, and striking a fire, commenced preparing their homely meal. Wetzel watched their movements closely, with drawn knife, determined, the moment he was discovered, to leap into their midst, and in the confusion endeavor to escape. Fortunately, they did not see him, and soon after supper the whole six fell asleep. Wetzel now crawled noiselessly down, and hid himself behind a log, at a convenient distance from the door of the cabin. At early dawn, a tall savage stepped from the door, and stretching up both hands in a long, hearty yawn, seemed to draw in new life from the pure, invigorating atmosphere. In an instant, Wetzel had his finger upon the trigger, and the next moment the Indian fell heavily to the ground, his life's blood gushing upon the young grass brilliant with the morning dew drops. The report of his rifle had not ceased echoing through the valley ere the daring borderer was far away, secure from all pursuit.
When about twenty-five years of age, Lewis entered the service of Gen. Harmar, commanding at Marietta. His new duties growing distasteful, he took leave of absence, and visited his friends in the neighborhood of Wheeling. Shortly afterwards, however, he returned to duty, and was chiefly employed in the capacity of scout. It was whilst thus engaged that an affair occurred, which changed the whole current of his life. Of the Indians who visited Marietta, was one of some celebrity, known by the name of George Washington. He was a large, fine-looking savage, and of much influence in his tribe. The time we write of was one of comparative peace, and Gen. Harmar was particularly anxious to preserve the good feeling then subsisting. Wetzel, during one of his scouts, met this Indian and shot him. The act was justly regarded as an outrage, and he was accordingly arrested and placed in close confinement at the fort.
"Wetzel admitted, without hesitation, 'that he had shot the Indian.' As he did not wish to be hung like a dog, he requested the general to give him up to the Indians, as there were a large number of them present. 'He might place them all in a circle, with their scalping knives and tomahawks-and give him a tomahawk, and place him in the midst of the circle and then let him and the Indians fight it out in the best way they could.' The general told him, 'That he was an officer appointed by the law, by which he must be governed. As the law did not authorize him to make such a compromise, he could not grant his request.' After a few days longer confinement, he again sent for the general to come and see him; and ho did so. Wetzel said 'he had never been confined, and could not live much longer if he was not permitted some room to walk about.' The general ordered the officer on guard to knock off his iron fetters, but to leave on his handcuffs, and permit him to walk about on the point at the mouth of the Muskingum; but to be sure to keep a close watch upon him. As soon as they were outside of the fort gate, Lewis began to caper about like a wild colt broken loose from the stall. He would start and run a few yards, as if he were about making an escape, then turn round and join the guard. The next start he would run farther, and then stop. In this way he amused the guard for some time, at every start running a little farther. At length he called forth all his strength, resolution, and activity, and determined on freedom or an early grave. He gave a sudden spring forward, and bounded off at the top of his speed for the shelter of his beloved woods. His movement was so quick, and so unexpected, that the guard were taken by surprise, and he got nearly a hundred yards before they recovered from their astonishment. They fired, but all missed; they followed in pursuit, but he soon left them out of sight. As he was well acquainted with the country, he made for a dense thicket, about two or three miles from the fort. In the midst of this thicket he found a tree which had fallen across a log, where the brush were very close. Under this tree he squeezed his body. The brush were so thick, that he could not be discovered unless his pursuers examined very closely. As soon as his escape was announced, General Harmar started the soldiers and Indians in pursuit. After he had lain about two hours in his place of concealment, two Indians came into the thicket, and stood on the same log under which he lay concealed; his heart beat so violently he was afraid they would hear it thumping. He could hear them hallooing in every direction, as they hunted through the brush. At length, as the day wore away, Lewis found himself alone in the friendly thicket. But what should he do? His hands were fastened with iron cuffs and bolts, and he knew of no friend on the same side of the Ohio to whom he could apply for assistance. He had a friend who had recently put up a cabin on the Virginia side of the Ohio, who, he had no doubt, would lend him any assistance in his power. With the most gloomy foreboding of the future, a little after night-fall, he left the thicket and made his way to the Ohio. He came to the river about three or four miles below the fort. He took this circuit as he expected guards would be set at every point where he could find a canoe. How to get across the river was the all-important question. He could not make a raft with his hands bound. He was an excellent swimmer, but was fearful he could not swim the Ohio with his heavy iron handcuffs. After pausing some time, he determined to make the attempt. Nothing worse than death could happen; and he would prefer drowning than again falling into the hands of Harmar and his Indians. Like the illustrious Cesar in the storm, he would trust the event to fortune; and he plunged into the river. He swam the greater part of the distance on his back, and reached the Virginia shore in safety; but so much exhausted that he had to lay on the beach some time before he was able to rise. He went to the cabin of his friend, where he was received with rapture. A file and hammer soon released him from his iron handcuffs."
Information having reached General Harmar of Wetzel's whereabouts, he sent a party of men in a canoe to take him. As the boat neared the Virginia shore, Wetzel, with his friend, and several other men, posted themselves on the bank and threatened to shoot the first man who landed. Unwilling to venture farther, the party returned, and Lewis made his way homeward, having been furnished by his kind friend with gun, ammunition, tomahawk, blanket, etc.
Exasperated at the escape of Wetzel, General Harmar offered a large reward for his apprehension, and at the same time despatched a file of men to the neighborhood of Wheeling, with orders to take him dead or alive. The detachment was under the command of a Captain Kingsbury, who, hearing that Wetzel was to be at Mingo Bottom on a certain day, marched thither to execute his orders. We will let an eye-witness finish the story:
"A company of men could as easily have drawn old Horny out of the bottomless pit, as take Lewis Wetzel by force from the neighborhood of the Mingo Bottom. On the day that Captain Kingsbury arrived, there was a shooting match at my father's, and Lewis was there. As soon as the object of Captain Kingsbury was ascertained, it was resolved to ambush the captain's barge, and kill him and his company. Happily, Major McMahon was present, to prevent this catastrophe, and prevailed on Wetzel and his friends to suspend the attack till he would pay Captain Kingsbury a visit, and perhaps he would prevail with him to return without making an attempt to take Wetzel. With a great deal of reluctance they agreed to suspend the attack till Major McMahon should return. The resentment and fury of Wetzel and his friends were boiling and blowing, like the steam from a scape-pipe of a steamboat. 'A pretty affair, this,' said they, 'to hang a man for killing an Indian, when they are killing some of our people almost every day.' Major McMahon informed Captain Kingsbury of the force and fury of the people, and assured him that if he persisted in the attempt to seize Wetzel, he would have all the settlers in the country upon him; that nothing could save him and his company from a massacre, but a speedy return. The captain took his advice, and forthwith returned to Fort Harmar. Wetzel considered the affair now as finally adjusted."
In this, however, he was mistaken. His roving disposition never permitted him to remain long in one place. Soon after the transactions just recorded, he descended the river to Limestone (Maysville); and while there, engaged in his harmless frolicking, an avaricious fellow, named Loller, a lieutenant in the army, going down the river with a company of soldiers for Fort Washington, landed at Maysville, and found Wetzel sitting in a tavern. Loller returned to his boat procured some soldiers, seized Wetzel, and dragged him aboard of the boat, and without a moment's delay pushed off, and that night delivered him to General Harmar at Fort Washington, where he again had to undergo the ignominy of having his hands and feet bound with irons. "The noise of Wetzel's capture - and captured, too, for only killing an Indian-spread through the country like wild-fire. The passions of the frontiermen were roused up to the highest pitch of fury. Petitions for his release were sent from the most influential men to the general, from every quarter where the story had been heard. The general at first paid but little attention to these; at length, however, the settlements along the Ohio, and some of the back counties, were preparing to embody in military array, to release him by force of arms. General Harmar, seeing the storm that was approaching, had Wetzel's irons knocked off, and set him at liberty.
Wetzel was once more a free man. He returned to his friends, and was caressed by young and old, with undiminished respect. The vast number of scalps which he had taken, proved his invincible courage, as well as his prowess in war; the sufferings and persecutions by which he had been pursued by General Harmar, secured for him the sympathy of the frontiermen. The higher he was esteemed, the lower sank the character of General Harmar with the fiery spirits on the frontier.
Had Harmer possessed a tithe of the courage, skill, and indomitable energy of Wetzel, the gallant soldiers under his command, in the memorable and disastrous campaign against the Miamis might have shared a very different fate.
Shortly after his return from Kentucky a relative from Dunkard Creek invited Lewis home with him. The invitation was accepted, and the two leisurely wended their way along, hunting and sporting as they travelled. On reaching the home of the young man, what should they see, instead of the hospitable roof, a pile of smoking ruins. Wetzel instantly examined the trail, and found that the marauders were three Indians and one white man, and that they had taken one prisoner. That captive proved to be the betrothed of the young man, whom nothing could restrain from pushing on in immediate pursuit. Placing himself under the direction of Wetzel, the two strode on, hoping to overhaul the enemy before they had crossed the Ohio. It was found, after proceeding a a short distance, that the savages had taken great care to obliterate their trail; but the keen discernment of Wetzel, once on the track, and there need not be much difficulty. He knew they would make for the river by the most expeditious route, and therefore, disregarding their trail, he pushed on, so as to head them at the crossing-place. After an hour's hard travel, they struck a path, which the deer had made, and which their sagacity had taught them to carry over knolls in order to avoid the great curves of ravines. Wetzel followed the path because he knew it was in almost a direct line to the point at which he was aiming. Night coming on, the tireless and determined hunters partook of a hurried meal, then again pushed forward, guided by the lamps hung in the heavens above them, until, towards midnight, a heavy cloud shut out their light and obscured the path. Early on the following morning, they resumed the chase, and descending from the elevated ridge, along which they had been passing for an hour or two, found themselves in a deep and quiet valley, which looked as though human steps had never before pressed its virgin soil. Travelling a short distance, they discovered fresh footsteps in the soft sand, and upon close examination, the eye of Wetzel's companion detected the impress of a small shoe with nail-heads around the heel, which he at once recognized as belonging to his affianced. Hour after hour the pursuit was kept up; now tracing the trail across hills, over alluvion, and often detecting it where the wily captors had taken to the beds of streams. Late in the afternoon, they found themselves approaching the Ohio, and shortly after dark, discovered, as they struck the river, the camp of the enemy on the opposite side, and just below the mouth of Captina. Swimming the river, the two reconnoitered the position of the camp, and discovered the locality of the captive. Wetzel proposed waiting until day-light before making the attack, but the almost frantic lover was for immediate action. Wetzel, however, would listen to no suggestion, and thus they awaited the break of day. At early dawn, the savages were up and preparing to leave, when Wetzel directed his companion to take good aim at the white renegade, while he would make sure work of one of the Indians. They fired at the same moment, and with fatal effect. Instantly the young man rushed forward to release the captive; and Wetzel reloading, pursued the two Indians, who had taken to the woods, to ascertain the strength of the attacking party. Wetzel pursued a short distance, and then fired his rifle at random, to draw the Indians from their retreat. The trick succeeded, and they made after him with uplifted tomahawks, yelling at the height of their voices. The adroit hunter soon had his rifle loaded, and wheeling suddenly, discharged its contents through the body of his nearest pursuer. The other Indian now rushed impetuously forward, thinking to dispatch his enemy in a moment. Wetzel, however kept dodging from tree to tree, and, being more fleet than the Indian, managed to keep ahead until his unerring gun was again loaded, when turning, he fired, and the last of the party lay dead before him.
Soon after the occurrence just narrated, our hero determined to visit the extreme south, and for that purpose engaged on a flat-boat about leaving for New Orleans. Many months elapsed before his friends heard anything of his whereabouts, and then it was to learn that he was in close confinement at New Orleans, under some weighty charge. What the exact nature of this charge was, has never been fully ascertained, but it is very certain he was imprisoned and treated like a felon for nearly two years. The charge is supposed to have been of some trivial character and has been justly regarded as a great outrage. It was alleged at the time of his arrest, to have been for uttering counterfeit coin; but this being disproved, it was then charged that he had been guilty of illicit connection with the wife of a Spaniard. Of the nature of these charges, however, we know but little, and it may therefore be unsafe to say more. He was finally released by the intervention of our government, and reached home by way of Philadelphia, to which city he had been sent from New Orleans. Mr. Rodefer says he saw him immediately after his return, and that his personal appearance had undergone great change from his long confinement. He remained but two days on Wheeling creek after his return - one at his mother's, and the other at Captain Bonnett' s, (the father of Mrs. Rodefer). Many of the older citizens have told us that they saw him during this brief visit, and conversed freely with him about the infamous manner he had been treated. Our venerable friend, Jacob Keller, Esqr., who now owns the old Bonnett farm, says he saw him and gathered many particulars of his imprisonment.
From the settlement he went to Wheeling, where he remained a few days, and then left again for the south, vowing vengeance against the person whom he believed to have been accessory to his imprisonment, and in degrading his person with the vile rust of a felon's chain. During his visit to Wheeling, he remained with George Cookis, a relative. Our informant says she met him there, and heard Mrs. Cookis plague him about getting married, and jocularly asked whether he ever intended to take a wife. "No," he replied, "there is no woman in this world for me, but I expect there is one in heaven."
After an absence of many months, he again returned to the neighborhood of Wheeling; but whether he avenged his real or imaginary wrongs upon the person of the Spaniard alluded to, the biographer, at this time, has not the means of saying. His propensity to roam the woods was still as great as ever, and soon after his return an incident occurred which showed that he had lost none of his cunning while undergoing incarceration at New Orleans. Returning home from a hunt, north of the Ohio, somewhat fatigued and a little careless of his movements, he suddenly espied an Indian in the very act of raising his gun to fire. Both immediately sprung to trees, and there they stood for an hour, each afraid of the other. What was to be done ? To remain there during the whole day, for it was then early in the morning, was out of the question. Now it was that the sagacity of Wetzel displayed itself over the child-like simplicity of the savage.
Cautiously adjusting his bear-skin cap to the end of his ram-rod, with the slightest, most dubious and hesitating motion, as though afraid to venture a glance, the cap protruded. An instant, a crack, and off was torn the fatal cap by the sure ball of the ever vigilant savage. Leaping from his retreat, our hero rapidly advanced upon the astonished Indian, and ere the tomahawk could be brought to its work of death, the tawny foe sprang convulsively into the air, and straightening as he descended, fell upon his face quite dead.
Wetzel was universally regarded as one of the most efficient scouts and most practised woodmen of his day. He was frequently engaged by parties who desired to hunt up and locate lands, but were afraid of the Indians. Under the protection of Lewis Wetzel, however, they felt safe, and thus he was often engaged for months at a time. Of those who became largely interested in western lands was John Madison, brother of James, afterwards President Madison. He employed Lewis Wetzel to go with him through the Kanawha region. During their expedition they came upon a deserted hunter's camp, in which were concealed some goods. Each of them helped himself to a blanket, and that day in crossing little Kanawha they were fired upon by a concealed party of Indians, and Madison killed.
General Clark, the companion of Lewis in the celebrated tour across the Rocky Mountains, had heard much of Lewis Wetzel in Kentucky, and determined to secure his services in the perilous enterprise. A messenger was accordingly sent for him, but he was reluctant to go. However, he finally consented, and accompanied the party during the first three months travel, but then declined going any further, and returned home. Shortly after this, he left again on a flatboat, and never returned. He visited a relative named Phillip Sikes, living about twenty miles in the interior from Natchez and there made his home until the summer of 1808, when he died.
The personal appearance of this distinguished borderer was very remarkable. He was five feet ten inches in height, very erect, broad across the shoulders, an expansive chest, and limbs denoting great muscular strength. His complexion was very dark, and eyes of the most intense blackness, wild, rolling, and "piercing as the dagger's point; "emitting, when excited, such fierce and withering glances, as to cause the stoutest adversary to quail beneath their power." His hair was of raven jetness, and very luxuriant, reaching, when combed out, below his knees. This would have been a rare scalp for the savages, and one for which they would at any time have given a dozen of their best warriors.
When Lewis Wetzel professed friendship, he was as true as the needle to the pole. He loved his friends and hated their enemies. He was a rude, blunt man, of few words before company, but with his friends, not only sociable, but an agreeable companion. Such was Lewis Wetzel; his name and fame will long survive, when the achievements of men vastly his superior in rank and intellect, will slumber with the forgotten past.
Lewis Ludwig Wetzel's Timeline
Rockingham , Virginia, USA
Natchez, Adams, Mississippi, United States
Moundsville, West Virginia, USA
Indian fighter; Scout for (surveying) new land, to be safe from Indians
Scout: participated in beginning of Lewis & Clark Wxpedition