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LEWIS WETZEL (spouse of Ann Keller), INDIAN FIGHTER, WHEELING CREEK, VA

LEWIS WETZEL (spouse of Ann Keller), INDIAN FIGHTER, WHEELING CREEK, VA

Posted: 8 Feb 1999 12:00PM GMT
Classification: Biography
Edited: 9 Aug 2001 4:23AM GMT
Surnames: WENTZEL, CRAWFORD, MCMECHEN, MILLS, DEERING
CENTENNIAL HISTORY OF BELMONT COUNTY, OHIO, AND REPRESENTATIVE CITIZENS, Compiled by Hon. A.T. McKelvey, Biographical Publishing Company, Chicago, IL, 1903: pp. 29-33. (all punctuation in the original)

ANECDOTES OF LEWIS WETZEL

On the farm of J.B. McMechen, two miles east of St. Clairsville, on the National Road, better known in the early days as the "Zane Trail," there is a celebrated spring known as the "Indian Springy," where in, 1782, a short time before the siege of Fort Henry, occurred one of the most stirring events in our history. In the interval after Crawford's defeat and before the attack on Fort Henry in September of this year, occurred an incident of local interest, which shows the dexterity and skill of the famous Indian scout, Louis Wetzel. Thomas Mills who lived on Wheeling Creek, had accompanied Crawford on his campaign, and on his return had left his horse on the west side of the Ohio River near the spot where St. Clairsville now stands, and distant 12 miles from Wheeling. One day, securing the services of Wetzel, Mills and his companion left Fort Henry to get his horse and bring the animal home. When within a mile or two of St. Clairsville they were met by a band numbering 40 or 50 Indians, who were roaming around in search of stragglers on the return from the army of Crawford. The Indians and white men discovered each other about the same time. Wetzel fired first and killed one of the savages, which shot was promptly returned by one of the Indians. The Indian's fire had wounded Mills in the foot, which prevented him from eluding the savages who soon succeeded in overtaking and killing him. Four of the Indians then dropped their guns, and pursued after Wetzel, who at first succeeded in keeping a respectable distance between him and his pursuers, and loaded his rifle as he ran.

But after running some distance one of the Indians rapidly gained upon him until he approached within a few steps of Wetzel, who wheeled around, shot him down and ran on loading as he ran. After running some distance farther a second Indian came so close to him that, as he turned to fire, the Indian clinched the muzzle of the gun and he and the Indian had quite a tussle for the possession of it. He, however, succeeded in killing the savage. The pursuit was continued by the two remaining Indians, who now exhibited signs of caution, for when Wetzel would wheel to fire on them they would seek cover behind trees. After running some distance Wetzel thought he would practice a little piece of strategy, and so made for a small piece of comparatively open ground. The Indians were not far behind him, and as he was passing over this he suddenly wheeled and stopped with a view of shooting the foremost one, who as promptly jumped behind a small tree, which failed to cover his body. [sic] Wetzel shot and wounded him, in the thigh, which put a stop to further pursuit on his part.

The last of the Indians then gave a little yell and exclaimed, "No catch dat man---gun always loaded!" and gave up the chase.

Of this noted hunter it may be said that while his home was on Big Wheeling Creek east of Wheeling, the most of his exploits took place on the Ohio side of the river and in what is now Belmont County. Lewis Wetzel was a son of John Wetzel, a German emigrant, and his education, like that of all the frontiersmen, was that of the hunter and Indian fighter. Attaining manhood, he was courageous, manly, yet cunning as an Indian in warfare.

In stature he was tall, with jet black hair, broad shoulders and deep chest; though his face was slightly pock-marked, his countenance was pleasing.

Of this noted hunter a writer in the history of Belmont and Jefferson Counties says: "In early youth Lewis Wetzel acquired the habit of loading his gun while at full run, which gave him a great advantage as an Indian fighter, and was of immense consequence in the next important event of his life. This incident in his career occurred when he was but 16 years old, and was a most remarkable event, an exploit rarely equaled for courage and daring in any age. Some time during the summer of 1780 a party of Indians had crossed the Ohio and stolen several horses from settlers on Wheeling Creek and were making their way back through Belmont County.

"A party of the whites were soon gathered and en route to recapture the horses and punish the savages. In the pursuit, the party passed the farm of the elder Wetzel, who was then absent. Lewis was engaged in cultivating a crop of corn. They urged him to join their party, but he had been forbidden by his father to leave home, but the adventure was too great a temptation for the spirit of young Wetzel and he was easily persuaded to join them. He accordingly took from the plow a favorite horse of his father and started along in pursuit. They had not proceeded far until they came upon the enemy, who were carelessly loitering about their camp, apparently off their guard. The stolen horses were spanicled and grazing at a short distance. The Indians were easily surprised and fled, leaving the horses which where recovered. The party of settlers, having accomplished their purpose, prepared to return, but their horses were jaded and hungry and they agreed that they should be turned out to grass, and three of their number left to bring them, after they had refreshed for a short time. [sic]

"They had not proceeded many miles until they were overtaken by three of their number they had left behind to bring their horses, who informed them that soon after their departure they were surprised by the savages, leaving them no alternative in saving their lives but to abandon everything and escape by flight. [sic]

"A parley was called and the hasty determination was soon formed to continue their way homeward and leave their horses with the Indians. [sic]

"To this determination Wetzel earnestly remonstrated. He protested he would never return alive to his father without the favorite horse--swore he preferred the mare without his scalp to his scalp without the mare, and urged the company to return and retake the horses. In this he was over-ruled. He then swore he would go alone; that the mare he must and would have, when two others who had been active in persuading him to go agreed to accompany him. The three left their companions and soon reached the camp, and found the Indians engaged at their meals, with the horses safely secured at a safe distance. The plan of attack was soon agreed upon. They were to advance in single file, Wetzel in front until they passed two trees, behind which his companions were to ambush. When he reached the third it was a signal for attack. Wetzel reached his tree and discovered that the Indians had also treed; but in looking around for his companions he found they had retreated at the top of their speed. [sic]

"His condition was really critical; to come out in an open field was almost certain death. His only hope was in strategy. He therefore placed his hat on the end of his ramrod and gently pushed it partly from behind the tree. This was no sooner done than all the Indians fired at it. [sic]

"The hat was literally riddled, and Wetzel still secure behind the tree, quick, but cautiously, dropped the hat to the ground. At this the Indians, believing they had killed their adversary, all sprung from their ambush and rushed towards him. Wetzel, taking advantage of the enemy, whose guns were empty, left his tree and firing on the foremost, brought him to the ground, and then with the fleetness of the wind ran from the scene, followed by the survivors. Wetzel loaded as he ran and, wheeling quickly, fired into the breast of the foremost savage, again ran, loaded and fired on the last of the Indians just as he was in the act of hurling his tomahawk at the head of Wetzel. His fire was successful, and all three were dead on the plain. Wetzel secured the evidence of his victory, obtained the horses and overtook his companions before they had stopped for the night. The news of this daring adventure soon made him the man of the frontier."

"HUNTING THE COWS"

It was during the summer of 1792 that two boys belonging to Wheeling were sent out for the purpose of driving back some stray cows which had wandered away. They concluded that they had swam the river and crossed to the Ohio side, so jumping into a canoe they paddled across, and commenced their search for them. While so engaged, they were surprised by three Indians, who were watching them, and by them taken prisoners. Cranmer says: "At once the Indians set out on their journey, compelling each of the boys to carry a large bag, of which they had several in their possession. [sic]

"From the weight of the bags the boys concluded that they must be filled with gold. Urged as they were to their utmost speed, one of them when he could do so unperceived would break off twigs from the branches of trees, to mark the direction in which they had traveled. When night came on, the Indians selected a camping place, and prepared to retire, before doing which, however, they tied the hands of the boys, as well as their feet, with strips of bark. They were then compelled to lie down between two of the Indians, while the third Indian seated himself upon a fallen log in front to keep watch. Deering, the elder of the two boys, who was about 15 years of age, managed to disengage his hands from the thongs which bound them, and slyly drew a knife from the belt of one of the sleeping Indians, with which he succeeded in loosing his feet. Overcome with fatigue, the third Indian had braced his back against the trunk of a friendly tree, with his legs astraddle of the log upon which he sat. Whispering to his companion to lie perfectly quiet, Deering sundered the thongs which bound him. With great caution so as not to disturb the sleeping Indians, they quietly arose, and the elder of the two took the loaded rifle of one of their captors, placing it upon a log for a rest in a line with the head of one of the sleeping savages, and gave it in charge of the younger brother, and instructed him not to fire, until he gave the signal. [sic]

"He himself took a tomahawk, and stealing on the sleeping Indian who had been placed on watch instantly buried his tomahawk in his brains, and then rushed to the Indians lying on the ground, at the same time giving the signal to his companion to fire and struck deep into the skull of his sleeping victim. The Indian at which the younger of the two boys had fired, sprang to his feet howling with rage and pain. The boys not stopping to ascertain the result at once took to their heels and following the trail over which they had passed the preceding day,
late in the afternoon of the day following reached the fort in safety, to the surprise of their friends who had given them up as lost. A hunter who was present, and heard the recital given by the boys, who stated in the course of their narration that they believed the bags contained gold, was shortly afterward missing. [sic]

"This individual, whose conduct in the past justified the belief (which was general among the settlers), was looked upon as dishonest. The scouting party set out, and found the bodies of two Indians who, had been tomahawked, just as the boys had stated, but no signs of the bags were visible. On their return to the fort they found the suspected hunter still absent, which confirmed the common belief that he had anticipated the visits of the scouts, and secured the bags of gold; for afterwards he became one of the wealthiest settlers in all the section of country in which be resided."

THE GOBBLER INDIAN

The gobbler Indian incident is so familiar to the youth of the past generation that its repetition scarcely seems necessary today. But for the benefit of future generations we give Joshua Davis' account of it, as related to R. H. Tannyhill 50 years ago: "Well in January, 1783, on the twelfth day, or old Christmas which was always punctually kept at the fort, we had two large turkeys roasted and a lot of twelfth-day cake baked. Twelfth-day cake is made of unleavened dough slightly sweetened with spice, cloves and cinnamon bark worked in it and then baked in a Dutch oven. It was baked a day or two before and eaten cold. When we were killing the turkeys, Wetzel had the feet of one cut off up where the feathers come on and the wings at the first joint, before it was scalded. [sic]

"These he put away in his hunting bag very carefully. Now for several winters in turkey time, we had been plagued by an Indian, who could call so much like a turkey that no one could tell the difference. He would secrete [sic] himself, and when our men would be creeping along expecting every minute to shoot a turkey he would shoot them. His operations were carried on usually on the ridges north or south of Wheeling Creek in Belmont County. The next morning, an hour or two before day, Wetzel got up, took his riflle down, flung his hunting bag over his shoulder, and took with him the turkey's feet. The rest I will tell you as he told me. [sic]

" 'I crossed over the river, went up the north side of Wheeling Creek about a mile, then made to the top of the ridge. [sic]

" 'It was now good daylight. I went as carefully as I could down to where the snow was still on and made some tracks along its edge with my turkey feet. I then came on down the ridge within a hundred yards of the place where I intended to hide myself. And wherever there was snow on that line I made turkey tracks, but kept clear of the snow with my own feet. When I got within about 20 steps of my place to hide, I made tracks as near as I could like a turkey does when it is about to fly to roost. I then fixed the wings and flapped them in the snow. I then went up the point of the ridge to my hiding place and took my drumsticks and began to call like a turkey. In a little while my call was answered, and presently a large Indian came in sight, leaning down, and going to and fro as if hunting a trail. I kept on calling; he answered. After a little, he came to my line of turkey tracks, and examined them closely, looked up into the trees and began making long, cautious steps. I still called; he answered, and came on towards me. I now examined my priming and rubbed the flint with a piece of punk to be sure of my shot. By this time he had got to the little raise, then looked about in the trees, then down at the tracks again. He kept moving, so I was afraid to shoot. He now lifted gun in his left hand and turned it sideways, and struck it with his right. [sic]

" 'He then stood still and looked right towards me. I pulled on him. He threw up his hands, trembled, and fell backwards. He didnÂ’t get his turkey this time. We were no longer plagued with the gobbler Indian.' "
Posted: 15 Feb 1999 12:00PM GMT
Classification: Biography
Edited: 9 Aug 2001 4:23AM GMT
Surnames: Keller, Wetzel
I think this Lewis, the Indian Fighter, is most likely an uncle of the Lewis Wetzel who married Ann Keller on March 29, 1823 in Belmont Co., OH. The "Indian fighter" is reported to have died in MS in 1808, but the stories still give us an insight into the life and times of those living in the Wheeling Creek area during the Revolutionary Period where some of our Kellers were living. More information is available on the queries board about L. Wetzel.
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