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June 19, 1786: Indian Ambush Changes Lewis Wetzel's Life

e-wv, The West Virginia Encyclopedia

On June 19, 1786, a tragic hunting trip changed pioneer Lewis Wetzel’s life forever. Wetzel, his father, and two brothers ventured out from their home near Wheeling and were ambushed by Indians. The attackers killed his father and one brother and badly wounded the other brother.

For a while, early settlers considered Wetzel a hero, but one incident turned matters against him. In 1788, he murdered Tegunteh, a well-respected Seneca chief who was on his way to negotiate a treaty near present Marietta, Ohio. Wetzel was arrested on two different occasions for the murder but never punished.

He spent the rest of his life on the run, winding up in New Orleans, where he served prison time for counterfeiting. He died at age 45 in the Mississippi Territory. Wetzel County was named for Lewis Wetzel. He’s also remembered from the novels of Zane Grey, who romanticized the Indian fighter’s life.

The 23-year-old Lewis already held a deep hatred of Indians. But the death of his father and brother brought out a darker side. From this point on, he dedicated his life to hunting down and killing Indians.

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