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Whetzel Family, The


Fifty years ago, I suppose, there was no family so well known through the entire west as that of the Whetzel family, consisting of five brothers, Martin, George, Lewis, Jacob and John.  They, or most of them, were born in the Shenandoah valley, but with their father, John Whetzel, emigrated to Ohio County, Virginia, in the year 1769, and settled about twelve miles from Wheeling, and near where the Clay monument, which was erected by their cousin, Moses Shepherd, now stands.  It was here the Whetzels called home (although their home proper was the woods, or on the track of marauding bands of Indians); this, at least was the residence of their families, and their place of meeting and rendezvous, where were planned their expeditions against the hostile savage.  The different expeditions of Lewis, the third brother, and Jacob, the fourth, are pretty generally known to the reading world.

It is with Jacob, who settled on White Water River in the year 1811, and his son Cyrus, now living near this city, I shall confine what I have to say.  During the time the white inhabitants of that part of Virginia, now known as Ohio County, were living in a fort, near Wheeling, a turkey was heard to call every morning, about daylight, across a ravine, and about two hundred yards from the fort, near Wheeling, a turkey was herd to call every morning, about daylight, across a ravine, and about two hundred yards from the fort.  One of the men went out one morning and never returned, which created a suspicion in the mind of Mr. Whetzel that the turkey might be something else.  He knew of a fissure in the rocks near where the sound of the turkey-call proceeded, and the next night informed his comrades that he was going to solve the turkey mystery.  Accordingly in the night he secreted himself in this place, and awaited patiently the coming of day, as well as the call of the turkey.  Just about daylight he heard the call, which proceeded from a tree-top just above where he was concealed, and within shooting distance.  He patiently awaited the time when it should be sufficiently light for him to make no mistake of the kind of game he was seeking.  After waiting about half an hour he plainly saw the form of a tall, well-proportioned Indian raise from his seat in the fork of the tree, and watching closely the path that led from the fort.  Just at this time Mr. Whetzel took a sure and deadly aim, and down came the turkey in the shape of a large and athletic Indian, which he scalped as quickly as possible, and returned to the fort, lest the rack of his trusty rifle might bring the comrades of said turkey.  Although this was not the last turkey in the woods, it had the effect to stop their gobbling for a while. 

After Ohio County was organized he was elected a magistrate, and then, in turn, as was the custom and law that the oldest magistrate should be sheriff and collector of the revenue, he became sheriff, and, through dishonest deputies and other causes, became involved, and, eventually, quite poor.  He resolved, in the year 1808, to emigrated farther west, and settled in Boone County, Kentucky, where he resided until 1811, when he settled near where Laurel, Franklin County, now is, living until he settled near the Bluffs of White River.

In the year 1818 he visited the old Delaware chief, Anderson, at his village on White River, where Andersontown, Madison County, now stands, for the purpose of obtaining permission to cut a trace from his residence on White Water to the Bluffs of White River, which was granted.  Accordingly he and his son Cyrus, with some hired hands, cut the trace that summer.  The next spring 1819, he and his son came out and raised a crop, moving his family in the fall to the farm his son now lives on.  This trace commenced, as I said before, at his residence in Franklin County, crossed Flat Rock about seven miles below Rushville, Blue River about four miles above Shelbyville, and where a village called Marion now stands; and Sugar Creek near Boggstown; thence near where Greenwood now stands, to the Bluffs.  This was the main thoroughfare for some time, to and from the settlement. 

On this trace and near where it crossed Flat Rock, an Indian, named "Big Buffalo," was butchered by his comrades, in the summer of 1819.  "Buffalo" had, twelve moons before, killed an Indian called "Old Solomon."  The usual time of twelve moons was given him, to either pay one hundred dollars, one hundred buckskins, or forfeit his life.  The band were encamped at this place when the time expired, and he was accordingly butchered and left lying in the trace, and was buried by some whites who found him.

In the fall of 1819 a party of Indians visited Mr. W. at his house, one of whom was a very large and powerful man, named "Nosey," from the fact he had lost a part of his nose.  This Indian proposed shooting at a mark with Mr. W.'s son, Cyrus.  The young man beat him very bad; but soon discovering that the Indian was very angry, and disposed to be quarrelsome about it, young Whetzel proposed to shoot again, letting the Indian beat him badly as he had previously beaten the Indian, which had the effect of pacifying him, at least for a while.  The Indians then left Mr. W's cabin, and had gone only about two miles, when "Nosey" killed one of his comrades.  It was supposed the anger engendered by being beaten by Mr. W.'s son had not yet cooled.  "Nosey" was also given the usual twelve moons to pay the price of life, which he filed to do, and in the fall of 1820 (about the time the writer of this came to Indianapolis, for I remember that the cruel manner of the butchery was talked about), "Nosey" was killed by the friends of the man he had murdered.  At the expiration of the twelve moons he gave himself up.  He was taken to a tree, his arms drawn up to a limb, his legs were parted, and ankles fastened to stakes driven in the ground, and then he was stabbed under the arms and in the groin with a butcher-knife, and tortured in other ways until life was extinct.

In the spring of 1820, the body of a man was found about one and a half miles above the Bluffs, and a man by the name of Ladd was suspected of the murder.  He was arrested by a set of desperate men, who had banded together, styling themselves regulators; but he was soon released, as there was not a shadow of evidence against him.  He then sued the men for false imprisonment, and they were taken to Connersville for trial.  This was the first case of litigation in the New Purchase, and a very expensive one it proved, as the case occupied some time, resulting finally in the plaintiff getting nominal damages.  This man, no doubt, was murdered by a desperate and notorious Delaware, named Hiram Lewis, as the Indian was in possession of his horse, saddle and bridle, pistol, and a red morocco pocket book, containing some money on the Vincennes Steam-Mill Company.

In the Indianapolis "Journal," of the third of Jul, 1827, I find the death of Jacob Whetzel announced as taking place on the second instant.  The "Journal" says:

"Captain Whetzel emigrated to the western part of Virginia when but a very small boy, and took a very active part in all the Indian wars in the west of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and what is now the State of Ohio, and carried many testimonials of his bravery, in the numerous wounds he received in the various combats with the savage foe.

"While in the army, under General Harrison and St. Clair, and several other commanders, he performed very laborious duties, and rendered signal service as a spy, which duties he preferred, and for which he was most admirably adapted by his former life."

He left a numerous and respectable family to mourn their loss.  The writer, although young at the time of Mr. Whitezel's death, remembers him very distinctly as a square-built, broad-shouldered, muscular and powerful man, five feet eleven inches in height, about two hundred and fifty pounds in weight, without any surplus flesh, but a fair proportion for such a frame.  He died at the age of sixty-three. 

Of his seven children, five daughters and two sons, but two are living; his eldest son, Cyrus, and youngest daughter, Emily, now the wife of one of our most respected citizens, William H. Pinny, Esq.  Cyrus Whetzel was born on the first day of December, 1800 in Ohio County, Virginia, and is now one of the few living that belonged to the eighteenth century.  Before age began to tell on him he was as straight as an arrow, full six feet in height, hair as black as the raven, with an eye equally black and as keen as a hawk.  As has been said before, he came to where he now resides (near Waverly, in Morgan County) with his father, in the spring of 1819, and has resided there, on his father's old farm, ever since.  He has been very prosperous and has accumulated a fortune, not by speculation of any kind, but by industry and economy; in fact he literally dug it out of the ground, and now owns several of the finest cultivated as well as largest farms in the White River Valley.

I visited him a few days since at his farm, as has been my wont to do for near fifty years, and was shown in one pasture about fifty bullocks ready for the butcher's block, the lightest of which would weight at least twelve hundred pounds; indeed, I do not think there is a better stocked farm, for its number of acres (about five hundred), in the State of Indiana, if in the entire great West.

He is a man of very general information, warm and devoted in his friendship, has represented his county in the lower branch of the legislature, was a good and efficient member, was an old line whig, and most sincerely devoted to the party and its measures, and, with the most of his associates in politics, when that party was disbanded, went into the Republican ranks, and during the rebellion was a strong Union man, and advocated the prosecution of the war with great warmth and zeal.  The only one of his household capable of bearing arms was his son-in-law, the husband of his only daughter, Wm. N. McKenzie, who volunteered the first year, and served three years; was taken prisoner, and a portion of the time served in Libby Prison, at Richmond, Virginia.  There is not man more respected among his numerous friends and acquaintances than Cyrus Whetzel.  He is well known in this city, which has been his principal trading-place since the first log cabin trading-house was established here, in the winter of 1821.  He is a man of great firmness and determination and, no person can mistake the ground he occupies on any subject, after conversing with him five minutes.  He advocates his opinions with great earnestness and fervor, and is never t a loss for language to make himself distinctly understood.

His hospitality is as generally and favorably known as that of any man in the State; his house has been the topping-place for public men and politicians of all parties, in their electioneering tours, for near fifty years, all of whom have received kind and courteous treatment at his hands, and from his estimable lady, now deceased.  From his door no weary traveler was ever turned away hungry, no beggar empty-handed, no friend without an invitation to "call again."

As he is one of the links that connect the past with the present generation, so is he of many pleasing reminiscences connecting the past with the present.  And when he shall be taken from among the living the country will have lost one of its best men, this city one of its most liberal patrons, his children a kind and indulgent father, and the writer, if living, a warm personal friend.


Nowland, John H. B., “Early Reminiscences of Indianapolis, with Short Biographical Sketches of Its Early Citizens, and of a Few of the Prominent Business Men of the Present Day,” 1870, pp. 54-60
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