(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.
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,
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.
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.