Lewis Wetzel

  By Hope, 2006; Revised
  Category: North America

In 1781, Colonel Daniel Brodhead launched a penal campaign against the Delawares because of their alliance with the British. The attack was a disastrous affair. The Delawares surrendered, but frontiersmen killed fifteen of them deliberately. The Delawares responded by burning one captive per day for nine days. Later, peace negotiations began and a chief was invited to a military camp to discuss a treaty. When the Delaware had stepped out of his canoe, Wetzel chopped him dead from behind with his tomahawk. The militiamen of the frontier applauded this heinous act, and Wetzel was free to go.

Lewis Wetzel
Lewis Wetzel
Later, his psyche became more and more questioned. He was very eccentric and never cut his hair. His reason for doing so was that the enemy who managed to kill him deserved a great scalp. In 1788, peace negotiations between the Iroquois and the Americans started. Chief Tegunteh, a Seneca, spent his entire days arranging the treaty together with the Americans. Wetzel disapproved any kind of peace because that would leave him and his equals with no enemies to fight. One morning, when Tegunteh was on his way to the military camp, Wetzel stepped in front of him, shot him and scalped him. Though the shot was mortal, it did not kill instantaneously. When he was found, he was still able to describe his assassin. Wetzel was pointed out because of his very distinguished hallmarks. He was caught after a long chase and brought to Fort Washington for trial. The reaction to his capture was beyond imagination for the military. Over 200 frontiersmen, including the famous Simon Kenton, demanded his release. With the risk of a minor uprising, the judge at Fort Washington did not dare keep him, so again, Wetzel got away.

Despite this, peace was made the following year and a disappointed Wetzel and other Indian haters moved down south to the Spanish colonies. Where he stayed from 1789 to 1805 is unknown, but, from 1805, he lived together with his cousin, Philip Sycks, and his wife in Natchez, Mississippi. He died three years later, but from what no one is really sure. Yellow fever seems the most likely. He was buried near the cabin along with his rifle. The latter was the wish of Sycks’ wife. She wanted this because she feared that his gun – which had countless lives on its conscience – would haunt every house it was kept in. In 1942, his remains were dug up and moved to West Virginia, close to where he lived most of his childhood.

Lewis Wetzel was a complex personality. His psychotic hatred made him a hero of his time; a time when killing Indians was considered a brave and good act. His fellow frontiersmen considered him the bravest man in the Woodland. But despite his courage, the fact is he was a notorious serial killer who would had been executed right away if his victims were white. In my opinion, there is no reason to cherish him at all.

Lewis Wetzel was born in Pennsylvania, 1763, as the fourth of seven children. The family moved southward to modern West Virginia, where they built a farm. One day, when Lewis and his brothers, Jacob and George, assisted his father in the fields, farmer John Wetzel remembered he had left his rifles at the cabin. In those days, land had been given to the settlers by the mighty Iroquois, regardless of whose hunting ground it really was. Mostly, the land where the whites settled was the hunting area for other tribes who, because of this, turned hostile. John realized the risk of being unarmed, so he sent his youngest sons, Lewis and Jacob, to go and fetch them. What none of them had expected was that some Wyandot Indians ambushed them in the cabin, and kidnapped them. This was not unusual and happened quite often. After a kidnapping, the natives would test their captives – no matter if it was a white person or another Native – and if they found them brave, the captives were adopted. Lewis Wetzel was shot at, and a bullet smashed part of his breast bone. Then, the Indians forced the two brothers into the forest. They walked for days, and though in great pain, Lewis refused to give up. The third day, the brothers managed to escape. They made it to Fort Henry, where Lewis got medical treatment for his wound.

When this happened, Lewis Wetzel was only thirteen and this experience made a great impact on him. From that moment on he hated Indians, and spent his entire life perfecting himself in killing. He developed great skills, and managed to load his rifle while running. Because of his shooting and fierce behavior, the Indians named him Atelang – Deathwind. His hatred for Indians was terrible, and he fought them by any means possible. When he was sixteen he participated in his first Indian hunt. Three Indians and a white man had kidnapped a neighboring farmer’s wife, and Wetzel and the farmer set out to track them down. They found them, killed them and scalped them, which was a usual habit for both whites and Indians. In fact, it was the Europeans who brought this nasty practice to America.

Wetzel was no unique example of the frontiersmen. What made him special was his psychotic hatred and behavior. He never settled anywhere, but stayed where he could be sheltered from Indian attack during the night. Wetzel rarely accompanied other people. It is said he got along well with dogs and children, but not so much with grown-ups. Perhaps, this was because of the mental blow he had as a thirteen-year-old, which had made his sanity unstable. The only time Wetzel sought company was when he attended shooting competitions – which he won – or when he infrequently played the fiddle in taverns. What made him so popular was his doubtless courage and gruesome acts against Indians. He was a hero for the settlers along the Ohio River.