There were not half a dozen white men's cabins in the Ohio valley when an honest Dutchman named John Wetzel located with the Zanes, at Wheeling. He was no Indian fighter. He roamed the woods without caution, and in 1787 was murdered by the savages, without a struggle. Peaceful as he was, his cabin was a nest of thunderbolts. Of five boys, every one was a famous Indian fighter.
Martin Wetzel, the oldest son was taken prisoner by Indians. His cheerful adaptation of himself to circumstances disarmed suspicion among his captors. But his mind was full of plans for a tragic revenge and escape. The fall hunt was undertaken by him with three Indians. Their camp was pitched near the headwaters of the Sandusky. One evening, when two miles from the camp, he met one of his Indian companions. When the other's attention was called in another direction, Wetzel brained him with his tomahawk. The body was thrown in a hole, and carefully covered with earth and leaves. Hastening to the camp, Wetzel commenced cooking supper, when the other two Indians came in. He expressed surprise at the absence of their missing companion, but they said he had probably gone on a longer hunt than usual,
That night Wetzel could not sleep. In his heated brain he resolved plans for completing the tragedy. He wavered between attacking them while asleep and waiting for an opportunity to dispatch them separately. Though consumed with the fever of excitement, he chose the latter as the surer plan. When the Indians started out for their day's hunt the next morning, Wetzel resolved to follow one. All day he shadowed him. Towards evening Wetzel walked up to him openly, and commenced a conversation with him about the day's hunt. The Indian, completely off guard, turned to look at a flock of birds. With a lighting stroke of his terrible tomahawk, Wetzel killed him. His body also he buried, and hurried to the camp.
At sunset Wetzel saw the third Indian coming heavily loaded with game. The captive went out to meet him, under pretense of relieving him of part of his load. As the hunter stooped down to allow Wetzel to lift off a part of the pack, the latter for a third time swung his tomahawk, and a third time stretched his foe forever upon the ground. Wetzel, safe from pursuit, began and successfully accomplished the return to his home.
Similar incidents might be related of each of the Wetzels. Their figures, as outlined on the red panorama of border warfare, stand out in striking contrast with those of every other pioneer family. There seemed to run in their veins the blood of banditti. Yet their desperate deeds were all performed in the interest of the settlers. For themselves they cared nothing. They were a tower of defense against Indian invasion.
Of this strange group of brothers, Lewis Wetzel, the youngest of the five, surpassed the rest by his exploits as much as they surpassed all the other settlers of the valley. His first recorded exploit took place in 1776, when he was thirteen years of age. He and his brother Jacob were at a little distance from the house, playing near the barn, when Lewis saw a gun-barrel sticking out from the corner of the barn. He jumped back at the same instant, but received a painful wound in his breast-bone. Escape was impossible.
The Indians having taken the two boys prisoner, began a hasty retreat. They crossed the Ohio, and headed for their wigwams on the Muskingum. Lewis suffered greatly from his wound during the toilsome journey, but refrained from complaint, knowing that the Indian cure for his wound would be the tomahawk. The first night the boys were tied. The second night the captors gorged their stomachs with the single meal of the day, and, thinking the boys too far away from home to attempt an escape, left them untied. When the noble red men were snoring loudly, Lewis arose, and pretending to fix the fire, made sure that all were sleeping heavily. Rousing his brother Jacob, he told him they must go. Jacob was frightened, but Lewis urged him out into the woods. The younger boy then slipped back, secured two pair of moccasins and his father's gun.
The runaways moved on rapidly through the pitchy darkness of the forest for two hours. Then the quick ears of Lewis heard a noise. Drawing his brother into a clump of bushes, they lay still till their pursuers passed them. Shortly they came out of their hiding-place, and pushed on boldly in the rear of the Indians. At last they discovered that the Indians were coming back. Again the boys hid, this time in a hollow tree, and again eluded the enemy. Their journey to the Ohio was not interrupted further. The river the little fellows crossed on a raft of their own construction, and they reached home in safety.
Another story of Wetzel's youth associates him with the famous Lydia Boggs. She was a young girl in Wheeling, and, unlike Elizabeth Zane, of the same place, who had been brought up in the best young ladies' schools of Philadelphia, and was rather aristocratic and reserved, Miss Lydia was a regular daughter of the frontier. She roamed the woods, climbed trees, engaged in jumping and shooting matches, and thought nothing of swimming the Ohio. She was a great favorite in the settlement. She lived until 1867, and furnished much of the information on which the books of border warfare were based.
On the occasion in question, Miss Lydia had crossed in a canoe to an island in the Ohio. Just as she landed an Indian, plumed and painted, rushed at her with uplifted tomahawk. The girl dropped to her knees, and begged for mercy. But instead of striking her, the savage broke into a loud laugh, and exclaimed in good English: "Why, don't you know me, Lydia?" It was the mischievous Lewis Wetzel, just returning in Indian disguise from a scout. He had stopped to eat some wild raspberries, which were ripening on the island. The two young folks took the canoe, and Lewis went home with the light-hearted girl to supper.
The tragic, however, excluded the romantic element in Wetzel. In 1782, one of Crawford's men, having made his escape after the great defeat, left his horse ten miles below Wheeling, and persuaded Wetzel to go back for it. The trip was made. The horse was found standing tied to a tree. Wetzel at once saw the snare, and tried to hold his companion back. It was too late. The man was shot as he placed his hand on the bridle. Wetzel at once fled, pursued by four fleet Indians.
At the end of a half mile, Wetzel stopped short, wheeled, and shot the foremost Indian, and then ran on. From boyhood he had practiced the art of loading as he ran. Again he turned to shoot, but the pursuer sprang forward and caught the barrel. Wetzel had no time for a prolonged contest. In one minute the other two Indians would be upon him. By a desperate effort he wrenched the gun loose, and shot his opponent through the neck. The third Indian was killed in the same way after a further chase, whereupon the fourth one fled into the forest.
The settlers at Wheeling were justly alarmed by the signs of unusual Indian activity in 1782, before the second siege of Fort Henry actually took place. Some little distance away was a cave, from which had been heard several times one morning, the gobble-gobble-gobble of wild turkeys. This was a favorite decoy sound of the Indians. They could imitate a turkey call so that would deceive the very elect. Wetzel was convinced that there was a redskin in the cavern. Making a long detour in the grass, he reached a point from which he could observe the mouth of the cave. After a patient wait, he saw a red figure slowly emerge from the cavern, straighten itself up, and give forth a gobble as natural as life. Then the figure disappeared. It was but a few moments till the savage again appeared to re-enact the little part, in which he took great satisfaction. He inflated his lungs, and puckered his lips, but just as the first note of that gobble was sounded, the crack of Wetzel's rifle ended it and all other gobbles from that savage forever.
About 1786 the red man became a little too festive in the vicinity of Wheeling. The settlers clubbed together, made up a purse of one hundred dollars, and offered it to the first man who should bring in an Indian scalp. This offer greatly excited the borderers. They justly considered themselves engaged in a constant war with the Indians, and one scalp more or less, one wigwam without its owner, one squaw mourning over the corpse of her lord, what difference could it make? On the other hand, one hundred dollars was a fortune.
To make sure of securing the prize, a company of twenty Indian fighters was raised, each man to receive four dollars of the blood money, and the actual murderer and scalp-taker to receive twenty dollars. Lewis Wetzel joined this party. They moved rapidly and secretly toward the Muskingum. A scout of five men was detailed to hunt up the red man. The chase was discovered, but the numbers of the savages were so overwhelming that, instead of making the attack, the brave scalp-takers determined to retreat to the settlements as rapidly as they came. Wetzel said nothing, but scowled sarcastically at the men. When the word came to march, he coolly sat down and refused to budge. They argued with him, persuaded, and expostulated over his stubborn fool-hardiness. "Go on, you fools. I came out to fight Indians. I'm not going to run home with my finger in my mouth!" jerked out this aesthetic and gentle fellow. His great, rugged nature was incapable of fear.
So his companions marched off, leaving Lewis Wetzel against a tree, utterly indifferent to their movements. The situation which he confronted so calmly was full of sudden and secret dangers. He was near the Indian villages, a long ways from any white settlement. The very forest around him was traversed by red men incessantly in their hunts. Not ten feet from him were the white ashes of an Indian camp-fire which had not been cold a dozen hours.
When his friends disappeared from view, Wetzel's whole manner underwent a change. From an air of indifference and scorn, he suddenly changed to one of intense vigilance. Moving noiselessly from tree to tree through the darkest depths of the waving forest, not a decaying log, with its velvet upholstering of emerald mosses, not a shadow which fell across his path darker than the unbroken shades of the place itself escaped his careful and suspicious scrutiny. His piercing eye scanned every clump of bushes, and every hollow tree. Walking on with gun cocked and ready for instant use, now he leaped lightly over gigantic piles of fallen timber, huge trunks of trees, prostrated by some tempest and interlaced in extricable confusion, now he crawled skillfully through thorny underbrush, and now waded, neck deep, up the channel of some stream.
For hours he continued in this way, but not an Indian was discovered. At last the greenish gloom of the forest began to change to a somber yellow. The air became damp and chilly. It was the approach of night. In a sheltered ravine, Wetzel selected a spot behind some fallen trees, and dug a small hole. In the bottom of this he built a little fire, covering it loosely with leaves and earth. He was cold. Seating himself on the ground, and encircling the hole with his legs, he covered himself with his blanket. This arrangement would not discover him to any wandering savages, and yet was, said he, "as warm as a store-room." When thoroughly warm, he took out some dried venison and parched corn, and ate his supper. A drink from a neighboring spring quenched his thirst. Spreading some branches on the ground, he lay down close behind the sheltering log, and amid the twitter and bickerings of innumerable birds, the hum of insects, and howls of invisible animals, he quickly fell asleep.
On the afternoon of the next day Wetzel suddenly came across an empty camp. Two blankets and a kettle taught him that its occupants were two Indians, who would return from their hunt at night. He was patient. He concealed himself near by. At nightfall the two redskins came in. They cooked a savory supper. The odor from the roasting venison was wafted to the hungry Wetzel. He intended to wait till they slept. But these two citizens of the forest were in high humor. Hour after hour they laughed and joked in their unintelligible jargon, and making the forest ring with their merriment. At last one seized a flaming brand and started into the forest.
It was a tableau. Through the black darkness moved with silent tread this strange figure, on which fell the ruddy light from the glowing ember. Was it some deed of vengeance or some act of worship which impelled the torch-bearer on into the night? The red coal danced in and out among the trees, growing fainter and fainter. At last it disappeared from view altogether. Wetzel turned. The calm, regular snore of the remaining savage told plainly of his slumber. It was but a moment's work for the wakeful foe to steal forward, and, with one knife-stroke, plunge the Indian into a sleep which knew no waking, seize the scalp, and quickly commence the homeward trip. In two days Wetzel delivered his trophy at Wheeling, and with untroubled conscience received the blood-money.
If Wetzel needed any further influence to develop him into a professional Indian fighter, it came in the murder of his peaceful old father in 1787. The honest German, while in his canoe on the Ohio, was fired at from the shore and killed. From this time Lewis Wetzel roamed the woods incessantly in quest of savages. To kill Indians became the trade of himself and his brothers. One exploit alone served to render him famous as the most terrible scout in the Ohio valley. He was out on a lone hunt, and came across a camp of four Indians, all asleep. Three of them he dispatched, only the fourth escaping.
On another occasion he was out one night in a terrible storm. He happened to be near a deserted cabin. Toward this he made for shelter. Always cautious, instead of throwing himself down on the floor, he arranged some boards in a sort of loft to sleep. The tempest exerted its utmost fury upon the lonely hovel. The floods of rain beat in at the open door and the shutterless window. A bolt of lighting shivered a tree near by. Yet the uproar of the elements was defied by Wetzel, who felt snug enough on his boards. He had not yet fallen asleep, when he heard rapid footsteps splashing through the rain. They came toward the cabin. He listened.
In a moment some person entered the hut. Presently another dashed in, and another and another. Wetzel at once recognized them from their voices as Indians. The new-comers struck a light and built a fire. Wetzel saw six stalwart savages within arm's length beneath him. If they looked up and discovered the object in the loft, Wetzel determined to jump down in their midst, stab one or two, and try to escape. The new-comers spitted their meat, and prepared and ate a hearty meal without once lifting their eyes to the spot where Wetzel lay, braced for a spring, and holding his glittering knife in hand. Not a movement dared to make. His breath seemed to him like the wind rushing in and out of a mighty cavern.
The meal ended, the dusky company stretched themselves out on the floor and slept. With a skill attained only by the most expert scouts, the white hunter climbed down from his rickety boards, without making a sound, stept swiftly to the door and away. The rain had ceased. Pattering drops fell from the wind-shaken branches of the trees, but the floods no longer descended. Wetzel suddenly stopped short in his flight. A hundred feet from the cabin was a thicket. In that he hid himself. At sunrise there was a stir in the cabin. A huge Indian rose and came to the door. He was yet half-asleep, and rubbing his eyes with his fingers. He was in full view of Wetzel. The latter fired with fatal effect, and then fled.
The qualities of the imaginary hero which excite the admiration of the American school-boy as he furtively reads some wretched border romance, and which exists in reality in Lewis Wetzel, also excited the love and admiration of the pioneers of the Ohio valley. Judging by our standards, Wetzel was a murderer. But this is by no means the rule of judgement. It is the cheapest sort of moralizing for a pert historian to erect for himself a throne of judgement, and measuring men, customs, and institutions of the remote past, condemn them as wicked and criminal. Conscience has only two monitions to men. "Do right," and "avoid wrong." But the great problem of what particular things are right, and what particular things are wrong, is one which conscience does not solve. It is a matter of reason, intelligence, civilization, and progress. It is a question to which every age has given different answers. What was yesterday the highest virtue, to-day is regarded as the blackest crime. What the last age considered an unpardonable sin, to-day is considered to be harmless and innocent.
Judging him as an individual, in the light, or rather the darkness, of his age, country, religion, and institutions-- in short, by his civilization-- there is every reason to think that there may have been as much virtue in the Hindoo holding his outstretched arm upward for twenty years, until it became a rigid and fleshless bone, as in the more enlightened Christian customs of to-day. The Bible itself is the best of all illustrations of the change which takes place in the notion of what is right and what is wrong. The Old Testament repeatedly asserts that burnt offerings of animals were pleasing to the Lord and atoned for sin. The New Testament explicitly denies that the Almighty delights is such offerings. An eye for an eye, is the morality of Moses. Render unto me no man evil for evil, is the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth.
Clearly, then, we have no business to judge Lewis Wetzel, or any other border hero, or even the Indian himself, by any other standard of morality than that which existed in the time and place in which he lived. The pioneers loved Wetzel. He was their favorite friend and hero. They regarded him as both great and good. That verdict we must accept. Judged by that standard to which he is justly entitled, he was a hero. To call him a murderer, or a desperado, is unfair and untruthful.
General Harmar was the commander of the troops in the Ohio valley. His head-quarters were Fort Harmar, at the mouth of the Muskingum, where Marietta now stands. The Indian question gave the United States Government great anxiety. Washington and his contemporaries gave it great thought.
As a part of their policy, efforts were made in 1787 and 1788 to make treaties of peace with the Indians. These efforts were looked on by settlers with great chagrin. They had been bearing the brunt of a bloody war for fourteen years. Every treaty of peace which had been negotiated in all that time had proved to be a delusion and a snare. It had served simply to disarm the frontier, and prepare the way for Indian surprises and massacres. For their part, the settlers wanted the government to destroy the war-power of the Indians. However, the flags of truce, the belts of wampum, and the pipes of peace which messengers had carried among the tribes of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, resulted on January 9, 1789, in a very large assemblage of Indians in a camp at Fort Harmar, to meet General Harmar and arrange for a treaty.
Wetzel, sharing the contempt of the settlers for such proceeding, took a companion and repaired to the neighborhood of Fort Harmar. To him, of course, the killing of an Indian was as the killing of a wolf. The red men had occasion to pass and repass from their camp to the fort. Wetzel hid himself near this path. A large and powerful Indian appeared on horseback. The white man fired. The savage kept his seat and rode rapidly to his camp. But the wound had been fatal. In attempting to dismount, he fell dead in the arms of his dusky friends.
Wetzel and his companion at once made a rapid retreat, before the swarms of Indians were alarmed into pursuit. When the incident was told at the fort, General Harmar was hot with indignation. Such an outrage, committed just when a treaty of peace was being made, and upon Indians who had assembled under guaranties of good faith, was a wicked crime. Protesting his indignation to the reproachful chieftains, he ordered Lewis Wetzel, who, for some reason was at once suspected to be the murderer, to be taken alive or dead.
A detachment of men under Captain Kingsbury, was ordered to execute the command. They marched at once to Mingo Bottoms, where Wetzel was known to live. The rough borderers, however, were ugly customers. Great shaggy fellows, thoroughly used to fighting, caring nothing for discipline, and believing only in that crude and irregular thing known as border justice, they were the last men in the world from whom their leader could be taken peaceably. When they learned of Kingsbury's approach, their rage and fury knew no bounds.
They prepared an ambuscade for the massacre of Kingsbury's entire party. Among them, however, was a Major McMahan. Thoroughly understanding their temper, he persuaded the infuriated border-men to let him first try the effect of an interview with Kingsbury. This was sullenly agreed to. McMahan hastened to meet the commander. He warned him that the notions of the frontiersmen concerning the killing of Indians were vastly different from those of General Harmar; that the settlers approved of Wetzel's act, and that any further attempt to arrest Wetzel would bring the entire country upon him, and result in the certain destruction of himself and his command. Kingsbury listened. He saw the point. In five minutes he commenced a retreat.
Wetzel was a restless fellow. He determined on a lone hunt in Kentucky. Packing his canoe with provision, the great borderer started down the Ohio, supposing the little affair with Harmar was fully adjusted. Near Fort Harmar, on an island, lived one of Wetzel's friends, named Carr. The custom of the lonely frontier made it a matter of great importance that Wetzel should stop over with his friend. Such visits broke the monotonous solitude of the life. They were looked forward to, as well as remembered, for months by host and guest alike.
The joy of meeting on such occasions might well put to shame the hollow ceremonies of welcome with which we of a later day receive our friends. The husband, wife, and children in one of these lonely cabins knew no higher pleasure than to receive and entertain a friend. The best cheer the cabin afforded was furnished with lavish hand. Rare liquor, carefully hoarded for such occasions, coffee, sugar, and all those, to us, common articles, which constituted the dainties and delicacies of the pioneer cabin, were brought forth from the bottom of mighty chests. A few pieces of porcelain ware, a silver spoon or two, an old china sugar-bowl, a linen table-cloth, all these treasures, relics of other days, were carefully set out in gay parade in honor of the guest.
Wetzel remained over night with his friend Carr. About midnight, however, a force of men might have been seen silently putting out from Fort Harmar in a fleet of canoes. They directed their course to Carr's island. They landed at a point farthest from the cabin. With still and stealthy step they stole towards the cabin. By some means they effected an entrance. Wetzel was made a prisoner before he could leave his bed. He was bound hand and foot, swiftly carried to a boat, transported to the fort, heavily manacled with iron fetters, and thrown into a guard room.
Picture to yourself a caged eagle. Now, maddened with fury at his restraint, he dashed himself in frantic frenzy against the imprisoning bars. Now, beaten back, bruised and bleeding, he sinks in exhaustion upon the floor, still quivering with the violence of his passion. Now he stands and looks out with unutterable melancholy into the expanse, whither his soaring spirit burns to mount on majestic pinion. As he gazes upward he presses toward the bars. His wings expand; he has forgotten his narrow prison. He is about to fly. Just then the prison wall catches his attention. The wings droop. His imperious eye blazes with the fires of rage and scorn. His unconquerable spirit, baffled in its infinite yearnings for freedom, yet lifts him far above his captors. He spurns their kindness. He refuses their attentions. Imprisoned, broken-hearted, to all outward appearances crushed, he yet maintains his lofty pride, and from his lowly prison looks down with indescribable scorn upon his brutal keepers. As Napoleon on the lonely rock of St. Helena, as Mary, Queen of Scots, in the English jail, the monarch, though dethroned, is monarch still.
Such was Wetzel in captivity, the man, who of all men, prompted by the tremendous bent of his own wild nature, had led a life of the most unrestrained liberty and the wildest freedom. "Let me not live longer, strangled and suffocated by these choking prison walls," he said to General Harmar. "I have lived like a man, let me die like one. Let the Indians form a circle. Place me in the center, with no weapon but my knife, and let us fight it out till I am gone." There in the cell of that frontier fort the brave but illiterate borderer, who had devoted his life to rescuing the beautiful valley of the Ohio from the hands of barbarous savages, unwittingly re-echoed the sentiment of the great Virginia orator before the senate, "Give me liberty, or give me death."
It proved to be liberty. General Harmar, strongly impressed by the rugged courage of Wetzel, and his fierce love of freedom, ordered his guards to remove the fetters from his limbs, leaving on the handcuffs, and take him out each day for a walk in the open air. Once outside the fort, Wetzel began to run, jump, and caper around his guards, as if overjoyed at his freedom. When they would turn to pursue him, he would stop, and laughingly return. Each time he ran a little farther, but returned quietly, until his guards, refusing to be teased longer, quit pursuing him. At this moment Wetzel summoned all his strength, and with a single bound, disappeared in the forest.
Four days they searched for him. Once two of his pursuers sat upon the very log in which he lay concealed. His object was to cross the Ohio. With the fetters still on his wrists he could neither build a raft nor swim. Every point on the river, where he could have procured a canoe, was guarded. Making his way to a spot opposite the cabin of a settler named Wiseman, with whom he was acquainted, he succeeded in attracting his friend's attention. The latter brought him across under cover of night. A file removed the handcuffs.
Once on the Virginia side Wetzel felt safe. Every cabin contained warm and true-hearted friends, who would willingly shed their blood in his defense. Borrowing a gun and a blanket, Wetzel again set out for his Kentucky hunt. At Point Pleasant Wetzel went ashore. He was here some day's among his friends, when one day he met Captain Kingsbury on the street. This gentleman had been stationed there without Wetzel's knowing it. Both men were startled at the meeting. After a moment's gaze, Wetzel slowly and cautiously backed away without being molested.
Lewis again embarked on the Ohio for his trip to Kentucky, this time accomplishing the undertaking. Here he passed his life in the wild, free manner which he had chosen for his own. Long huts, Indian scouts, shooting matches, fiddle playing, foot-racing, wrestling--these were his occupations. His head-quarters were at Washington, now Mason County, Kentucky.
General Harmar, meanwhile, had moved his head-quarters to Fort Washington, on the site of which is now Cincinnati. Learning that Wetzel was in Kentucky, he offered a large reward for his capture. No one, however, seemed willing to attempt it. Wetzel, meanwhile, took no pains to conceal himself. One evening a detachment of soldiers, who were descending the Ohio, landed at Maysville for rest and refreshment. One or two of the company strolled into a tavern, and discovered Wetzel sitting on a bench in the bar-room. At this time he was about twenty-six years old. He was somewhat less than six feet in height, but of immense breadth across the shoulders, and possessing arms and limbs of immense size and prodigious muscular development. His skin was dark, his face deeply marked by small-pox. His jet-black eyes were as piercing as dagger-points. The most remarkable thing, however, about the appearance of this modern Samson was his hair. It was coal-black, and when combed out reached to the calves of his legs. He was exceedingly careful of his hair, and wore it braided and knotted about his shoulders.
Wetzel apprehended no danger. The soldiers left the tavern carelessly. Once outside, they hurried to rally the entire company for his capture. One by one they sauntered into the bar-room. Still Wetzel sat unconcernedly playing on a fiddle. Suddenly, at a preconcerted signal, twenty men jumped on him. Again he was a prisoner.
When the news spread through the valley that Wetzel was a prisoner at Cincinnati, and was to be tried for his life for the murder of the Indian at Fort Harmar, the frontiersmen from far and near cursed the government which so little understood Indian warfare. They did more. A conspiracy was laid for the rescue of Wetzel and the massacre of the garrison at Cincinnati. Petitions poured in upon General Harmar for his release. A scout who had just been through Kentucky, reported to Harmar that the frontiersmen would wipe out the settlement, fort, and troops from the face of the earth unless Wetzel was liberated. At this point Wetzel's friends procured a writ of habeas corpus, to be issued from the bench of the young court of Ohio. Through this great defender of personal liberty Wetzel's release was procured.
The grounds of the release are not before us. We can easily see what they may or must have been. The murder of the Indian was a civil offense, and it is more than doubtful whether a military court could lawfully exercise any jurisdiction in the matter. There was no indictment or information against Wetzel, and no warrant for his arrest other than the order of General Harmar. There was no evidence at hand to prove that he had committed the murder, for the deed was without witnesses, and it was unlawful to force Wetzel to criminate himself. So he went free. His rough companions celebrated his liberation with a supper and jollification.
At every step Wetzel met with adventures. Returning to West Virginia, he accepted an invitation to visit a young man residing on Dunkard's Creek. When he and his friend reached the spot where should have stood a cabin home of the host, they found only a heap of smoking embers. Wetzel made a hurried examination of the ground, and reported that the depredation had been committed by three savages and what seemed to be a white companion; that they had a prisoner, a young woman, with them, and that they had retreated toward the Ohio. The captive was none other than the young man's sweetheart and betrothed. Love lent wings to the stricken man, and Wetzel was the comrade, of all others, to render his friend invaluable assistance in such a crises.
Instant pursuit was begun. The trail had been carefully concealed, but Wetzel confidently pushed on to the Ohio. Resting only a few hours in the middle of the night, they galloped on for two days. They were in a quiet valley, surrounded by velvety hills. Wetzel's keen eye caught sight of something which caused him to rein in sharply. It was the print of the heel of a little shoe. Traveling thirty-six hours, without sight of the trail, he had here recovered the clue. Pressing on eagerly they at last discovered the savages lolling about their camp-fire. In their midst sat the girl, her eyes swollen with weeping and her face filled with unutterable distress. At the sight the frantic lover well-nigh ruined all by his impulsiveness. Controlling him with difficulty, Wetzel instructed his friend to take careful aim at one savage while fired at another. At the fire the two savages were killed. While the lover leaped in to rescue the girl, the other of her captives took to the forest with Wetzel in pursuit, nor did he relinquish it until both Indians fell, mortally wounded.
As the Indian wars of the Ohio valley gradually approached their end. Wetzel, unfitted for any settled mode of life, and, perhaps, tired at the prospect of a monotonous peace, planned for himself an expedition to the far South. Once in New Orleans, our brave Indian fighter, like many another child of the backwoods, seems to have succeeded, without loss of time, in forming intimate associations with the worst kind of ruffians, which formed a large part of the population of the Crescent City. He managed, in short order to get himself thrown into a Spanish prison, on the charge of making counterfeit money. Another charge made against him was an amour with the wife of some Spaniard.
For two years he occupied a dark stone dungeon, loaded with heavy irons. Through the intervention of the United States, he was at last set at liberty and sent back to his old home at Wheeling. He remained only a few days. Then with darkened brow and fearful imprecations, this long-haired son of thunder, started back to the South to avenge himself, as he said, on a Spaniard named Anelota. His trip was made. Months afterwards he again appeared in Wheeling. What bloody deed of vengeance he had wrought, no one knew.
These meager fragments of the tale of this imprisonment in a Spanish dungeon, of the story of a Spanish amour, of hoards of ill-gotten and unlawful money, of an enemy who had thrown his toil about him and involved him in a fearful confinement, of the journey for revenge to the passionate South, of the dark curtain of mystery and impenetrable reserve with which Wetzel covered the past, are all that have come down to us. Yet they would furnish some American Dumas the clue to a romance which would rival those of the illustrious French writer.
Though changed in personal appearance by his long imprisonment in the slimy Bastile of the South, Wetzel retained his old appetite for hunting, and, on his return to Wheeling, seemed for awhile to enjoy as in bygone years his tramps, gun in hand, through the forests. He was employed by surveyors and land speculators to aid them in their explorations, and, it is said, even went with one party across the Rocky Mountains.
But the "valley" was no longer what it had been. The wedding procession, making its way in joyous freedom through the darkling woods that skirted the stream, was no more startled from its loud hilarity by the sudden burst of the ambuscade by the river. Very rarely was a straggling Indian to be met with. The game was rapidly disappearing. Settled farms and pleasant cottages were taking the place of the decaying stockades and dismantled block-houses. Sick at heart, Wetzel went south for the last time, taking up his abode near Natchez. He lived without work, and died in the summer of 1808, being then forty-eight years old. He never married. Being questioned on the subject by the wife of a friend of whom he visited, he said, "I never intend to marry. There is no woman on this earth for me, but I expect there is one for me in heaven." Lewis Wetzel, on a larger scale, is but the representative of a host of brave scouts and Indian fighters who took part with himself in the long struggles of the Ohio valley. To us, he is a desperado. To the settlers of that day--he was a hero.
Retyped and reformatted by Ray and Kathy Leigh