Lewis Wetzel was a well-known and controversial frontiersman who lived in the Ohio Country in the years of the American Revolution and the early nation.
Wetzel is believed to have been born in 1763 although sources of information about his early and later life do not always agree. His family moved to the Ohio River Valley in the area that is now part of the northern panhandle portion of West Virginia in 1770. At least one member of his family was killed by Native Americans. Wetzel and his brother were captured by Indians in 1777 but managed to escape to Fort Henry (now Wheeling, West Virginia).
Lewis Wetzel became notorious for his dislike and distrust of Native American people. His actions compounded the tensions between the Indians and the white settlers moving into the Ohio Country. He did not care for military discipline and often traveled alone. It is not known how many Native Americans he killed over the years, but his reputation as an Indian fighter spread widely through the region.
Having mastered the technique of reloading a single shot flintlock rifle on a dead run, he was feared as a man whose weapon never seemed to be empty. Some of his Native American opponents came to call him "Deathwind".
Accused by General Josiah Harmar of the murder of several peaceful Indians in 1788, Wetzel was held in Marietta but escaped before trial. It is not known with any certainty how Wetzel spent his last years. He is believed to have died in Mississippi at the home of a relative in 1808.
Wetzel County, West Virginia is named for Lewis Wetzel.
- Allman, Clarence Brent. Lewis Wetzel, Indian Fighter: The Life and Times of a Frontier Hero. New York, NY: Devin-Adair Co., 1961.
- Hurt, R. Douglas. The Ohio Frontier: Crucible of the Old Northwest, 1720-1830. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996.
- Lobdell, Jared C. Further Materials on Lewis Wetzel and the Upper Ohio Frontier. Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, Inc., 1994.