edsanders.com - Lewis Whetzel"

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The Whetzel family is remembered in the west for the courage, resolution, and skill in border warfare displayed by four of its members. The names were Martin, Lewis, Jacob, and John. Of these, Lewis won the highest renown, and it is doubtful whether Boone, Brady, or Kenton equaled him in boldness of enterprise. In the hottest part of the Indian war, old Mr. Whetzel, who was a German, built his cabin some distance from the fort at Wheeling. One day, during the abscence of the two oldest sons, Martin and John, a numerous party of Indians surrounded the house, killed, tomahawked and scalped old Mr. Whetzel, his wife, and the small children, and carried off Lewis, who was then about thirteen yearsold, and Jacob who was about eleven. Before the young captives had been carried far, Lewis contrived their escape. When these boys grew to be men, they took a solemn oath never to make peace with the Indians as long as they had strength to wield a tomahawk or sight to draw a bead, and they kept their oath.

The appearance of Lewis Whetzel was enough to strike terror into commen men. He was about five feet ten inches high, having broad shoulders, a full breast, muscular limbs, a dark skin, somewhat pitted by the small pox, hair which, when combed out, reached to the calves of his legs, and black eyes, whose excited and vindictive glance would curdle the blood. He excelled in all exercises of strength and activity, could load his rifle while running with almost the swiftness of a deer, and was so habituated to constant action, that an imprisonment of three days, as ordered by General Harmar, was nearly fatal to him. He had the most thorough self-reliance as his long, solitary and perilous expeditions into the Indian country prove.

In the year of 1782, Lewis Whetzel went with Thomas Mills, who had been in the campaign, to get a horse, which he had left near the place where St. Clairsville now stands. At the Indian Spring, two miles above St. Clairsville, on the Wheeling road, they were met by about forty Indians, who were in pursuit of the stragglers from the campaign. The Indians and the white men discovered each other about the same time. Lewis fired first, andkilled an Indian; the fire from the Indians wounded Mr. Mills, and he was soon overtaken and killed. Four of the Indians then singled out, dropped their guns, and pursued Whetzel. Whetzel loaded his rifle as he ran. After running about half a mile, one of the Indians having got within eight or ten steps of him, Whetzel wheeled round and shot him down, ran on, and loaded as before. After going about three- quarters of a mile further, a second Indian came so close to him, that when he turned to fire, the Indian caught the muzzle of his gun, and as he expressed it, he and the Indian had a severe wring for it; he succeeded, however, in bringing the gun the gun to the Indian's breast, and killed him on the spot. By this time, he, as well as the Indians, were pretty well tired; the pursuit was continued by the remaining two Indians. Whetzel, as before, loaded his gun, and stopped several times during the chase. When he did so the Indians treed themselves. After going something more than a mile, Whetzel took advantage of a little open piece of ground, over which the Indians were passing, a short distance behind him, to make a sudden stop for the purpose of shooting the foremost, who got behind a little sapling, which was too small to cover his body. Whetzel shot, and broke his thigh; the wound in the issue, proved fatal. The last of the Indians then gave a little yell, and said, "No catch dat man -- gun always loaded," and gave up the chase; glad, no doubt, to get off with his life.

Another of the daring warrior's exploits is worthy of a place beside the most remarkable achievements of individual valor. In the year 1787, a party of Indians crossed the Ohio, killed a family, and scalped with impunity. This murder spread great alarm through the sparse settlements and revenge was not only resolved upon, but a handsome reward was offered for scalps. Major McMahon, who often led the borderers in their hardy expeditions, soon raised a company of twenty men, among whom was Lewis Whetzel. They crossed the Ohio and pursued the Indian trail until they came to the Muskingum river. There the spies discovered a large party of Indians encamped. Major McMahan fell back a short distance, and held a conference when a hasty retreat was resolved upon as most prudent course, Lewis Whetzel refused to take part in the council, or join in the retreat. He said he came out to hunt Indians; they were now found and he would either lose his own scalp or take that of a "red skin." All arguments were thrown away upon this iron-willed man; he never submitted to the advice or control of others. His friends were compelled to leave him a solitary being surrounded by vigilant enemies

As soon as the major's party had retired beyond the reach of danger, Whetzel shouldered his rifle, and marched off into a different part of the country, hoping that fortune would place a lone Indian in his way. He prowled through the woods like a panther, eager for prey, until the next evening, when he discovered a smoke curling up among the bushes. Creeping softly to the fire, he found two blankets and a small copper kettle, and concluded that it was the camp of two Indians. He concealed himself in the thick brush, in such a position that he could see the motions of the enemy. About sunset the two Indians came in, cooked and ate their supper, and then sat by the fire and engaged in conversation. About nine o'clock one of them arose, shouldered his rifle, took a chunk of fire in his hand, and left the camp, doubtless in search of a deer-lick. The absence of this Indian was a source of vexation and disappointment to Whetzel, who had been so sure of his prey. He waited until near break of day, and still the expected one did not return. The concealed warrier could delay no longer. He walked cautiously to the camp, found his victim asleep, and drawing a knife buried it in the red man's heart. He then secured the scalp, and headed for home, where he arrived only one day after his companions. For the scalp, he claimed and received the reward.

Here is another of Lewis Whetzel's remarkable exploits. Returning home from a hunt, north of the Ohio, he was walking along in that reckless manner, which is a consequence of fatigue, when his quick eye suddenly caught sight of an Indian in the act of raising his gun to fire. Both sprung like lightning to the woodman's forts, large trees, and there they stood for an hour, each afraid of the other. This quiet mode of warfare did not suit the restless Whetzel, and he set his invention to work to terminate it. Placing his bear-skin cap on the end of his ramrod, he protruded it slightly and cautiously as if he was putting his head to reconnoitre, and yet was hesitating in the venture. The simple savage was completely deceived. As soon as he saw the cap, he fired and it fell. Whetzel then sprang forward to the astonished red man, and with a shot from the uneering rifle brought him to the ground quite dead. The triumphant ranger then pursued his march homeward.

But it was in a deliberate attack upon a party of four Indians that our hero displayed the climax of daring and resolution. While on a fall hunt, on the Muskingum, he came upon a camp of four savages, and with but little hesitation resolved to attempt their destruction. He concealed himself till midnight, and then stole cautiously upon the sleepers. As quick as thought, he cleft the skull of one of them. A second met the same fate, and as a third attempted to rise, confused by the horrid yells, which Whetzel gave with his blows, the tomahawk stretched him to death. The fourth Indian darted into the darkness of the wood and escaped, although Whetzel pursued him for some distance. Returning to camp, the ranger scalped his victims and then left for home. When asked on his return, "What luck?" he replied,"Not much. I treed four Indians, and one got away." Where shall we look for deeds of equal daring and hardihood? Martin, Jacob, and John Whetzel were bold warriers; and in the course of the Indian war, they secured many scalps; but they never obtained the reputation possessed by their brother, Lewis. All must condemn cruelty wherever displayed, but it is equally our duty to render just admiration to courage, daring, and indomitable energy, qualities in which the Whetzel brothers have rarely if ever been excelled.

General Clark, the companion of Lewis in the celebrated tour across the Rocky Mountains, having heard much of Lewis Whetzel, in Kentucky, determined to secure his services for the exploring expedition. After considerable hesitation, Whetzel consented to go, and accompanied the party during the first three month's travel, but then declined going any further, and returned home. Shortly after this, he left again on a flat-boat, and never returned. He visited a relation, named Sikes, living about twenty miles in the interior, from Natchez, and there made his home, until the summer of 1808, when he died, leaving a fame for valor and skill on border warfare, which will not be allowed to perish.


History comes alive! Following is from a Wetzel descendant!

>Ed,
>   I read with great interest your pages on Lewis
>Whetzel. My father was quite into genealogy and
>traced our family tree back to Lewis Whetzel and
>his brothers.  Ironically, most of the stories
>and accounts we have read of him have listed his
>name as Lewis Wetzel. I was curious which sources
>you used for the article you had in your pages.
>Did it list the name as 'Whetzel' or 'Wetzel'?
>Any references you might have would really be
>appreciated!

I got that story from "Heros and Hunters of the West",
am looking for the book, it's in my stuff here somewhere.
There was no date on that book.

I have another here in my lap that the Moravian Indian Massacre
came from.

From an inner page in the front:

Our WESTERN BORDER in EARLY PIONEER DAYS
containing the true account of Western Frontier Life and
Struggle in the Most Heroic Age of America.

By Charles McKnight 1875, copyright 1902

Page 319

I quote below:

The Wetzel Family - Father and Five Sons
Lewis, the Right Arm of the Wheeling Border

In the year 1772, there came with the four Zane brothers, who settled at the mouth of Wheeling Creek, in the West Virginia panhandle, a rough but brave and honest old German by the name of John Wetzel - not Whetzell or Whitzell as the old Border books have it. He was the father of five sons - Martin, George, John, Jacob and Lewis, and two daughters - Susan and Christina. End of quote.

The stories about the Wetzels go on to page 345. By the end of next winter I should get it all scanned in and on the page. Maybe this summer if I have time.

Do you have other info that could be added to what I have so far?

This is what really makes history and genealogy come alive! Do you mind if I put your input and a link to you for e-mail at the Wetzel story?

Maybe you'll get further info that way.

Well, I've only just started to look into some of this stuff. My father was quite interested in genealogy for several years, and even went so far as to input most of the family tree into a computer program. Unfortunately, he was a victim of technology, and all we have to show for his work are several 5 1/4" Commodore 64 disks. :) I do have a hard-copy of his output,

It may be no problem. I have a Commodore 64 I recently got at a yard sale for free. If what he did is saved in ASCII form or a gedcom file, it can probably be transferred to IBM compatible.

Gedcom files are the way genealogy programs "talk" to each other.

though, which I will try to retrieve over the weekend. I've been looking for an acceptable format to translate this information so that I won't suffer the same fate as the Commodore incident. Any recommendations?

I highly recommend Parsons Technology - Family Origins. It's $29 or less. I've been using it for several years. Very easy to use and extremely powerful. If you look around my genealogy page you'll find a link to them somewhere.

your page prompted me to do other web searches, and I found a URL http://www.wvlc.wvnet.edu/history/journal_wvh/50-50001.html Thanks, I'll link to it. I just read it all. Fascinating!

which references Lewis Wetzel, as well as other historical books about him (including the Allman book). Ironically, I've seen several references to the fact that Zane Grey mentions Lewis in a couple of his books. My father is an avid western fan, so I'm sure he'll find these references quite exciting.

My father-in-law is a Zane Grey fan, I'll mention this to him.

>I thought the quote about the Wetzel vs Whetzel/Whitzell/Whetzell referenced above to be quite interesting. My father has grappled with the fact that our last name has mutated over the years, making searches difficult. He

Most surnames mutated a LOT before the 1900's. One of mine (Doty) is spelled 22 different ways I've found so far. Another, (Coutermanche) was spelled several different ways, as well as first names spelled differently by the SAME town clerk as he recorded births. The more you dig, the more spellings you'll find. Which is really right? Who knows? Who cares? I find the many different spellings interesting.

did, at one point, come close to identifying about the time the name pseudo-officially changed, though he was never able to confirm a reason.

They're "officially" changed every time a town clerk or other bureaucrat blunders!

He currently attributes the change to a spelling error made during a census during times which, as you've noted on your pages, spelling was at best creative. :)

If they were, in fact, German, then the last name would have to have been Wetzel. The 'wh' combination does not

Perhaps Swiss-German.

This is what really makes history and genealogy come alive! Do you mind if I put your input and a link to you for e-mail at the Wetzel story? Maybe you'll get further info that way.

I don't mind at all! I'm starting to get more and more interested in tracking this information, and this would be a good start!

E-Mail: whetzel@grok82.ColumbiaSC.NCR.COM

Never know, you might hear from a bunch of cousins. I've met a 9th cousin and three 7th cousins so far. I sense the beginning of something here... E-mail links among relatives in online genealogies. Could be fun.


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Copyright 1997 by Ed Sanders.