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History of Whetzel's Trace

Early Indiana Trails and Surveys

By George R. Wilson, C.E., L.L.B.

x-County Surveyor of Dubois County; and Author of History of Dubois County

The Society of Indiana Pioneers

Reprint with permission of The Indiana Historical Society


The systematic and military tact of General Harrison is apparent. The four main north and south routes were Blue river, Yellow Banks (two branches), Red Banks and the Salt route. The Rome trace also may have been considered in this group.




A trace that at once sprung into use was the Whetzel trace through the New Purchase. It appears that in 1817, Jacob Whetzel selected a tract of land in the Harrison Purchase, about Worthington, at the mouth of Eel river (before the treaty of Saint Mary’s, October 2-6, 1818), and that his home was near Laurel, on the Whitewater river, in Franklin county. To go from his home to his Eel river location by water would require a long voyage, part of it up stream. To avoid this he resolved to cut a trace across the Indian lands then about to become the New Purchase. In doing so his trace covered a distance of over sixty miles through a pro- meval forest. He struck the west fork of White river at the site of Waverly five miles north of a point sixty miles west of Laurel, thus he traveled west on an angle of only 4° 45’ 48" from Laurel - a remarkable achievement for a woodsman in his day - provided he really intended to travel due west of Laurel. The location attracted his fancy to such an extent that he resolved to make it a habitation and a home, thus his settlement and the New Purchase treaty bear almost the same date. The Waverly settlement took the place of his Eel river enterprise. Had he floated down White river he would not have reached the Harrison Purchase until he passed under the Ten-0’clock Line at Gosport. Before Jacob Whetzel undertook to cut a trace to the west



fork of White river he took the precaution to get permission from the Indians. In the summer of 1818, Jacob Whetzel visited Chief Anderson, of the Delaware Indians, whose home was near the site of Anderson, Indiana, and obtained permission to cut the trace. In Whetzel’s party were his son Cyrus, a youth of eighteen; Thomas Howe, Thomas Rush, Richard Rush and Walter Banks. Jacob Whetzel and Thomas Rush selected the route, per- haps guided by a hand compass, and occasionally by an Indian trail. The other mep cut out the route wide enough for the passage of a team. The trace ran about seven miles below the present site of Rushville, four miles above Shelbyville, and a little north of Boggstown. The road soon became known as "Whetzel’s Trace." These pioneers gave names to many creeks as they cut out the trace. The trace proved to be of great importance in the settlement of Marion, Johnson, Morgan and Shelby counties. The boy Cyrus became a pioneer surveyor and surveyed the "bluff road" from Waverly to Franklin. The road was cut out in 1824. The name "blu8s" was given to the White river hills in Morgan county by Jacob Whetzel. In cutting out their trace the Whetzel party had no thought of making a road for subsequent travel. It was intended only for the Whetzel teams, on their way to White river, but it soon became a line of general travel. The son, Cyrus Whetzel, is recorded as probably the first settler of Morgan county, though his land entry bears date of July 17, 1821. He could not purchase it until the surveys of his range were completed and the land opened for entry. The surveys were made in September, 1820, by John Mc Donald, who surveyed the "Ten O’Clock Line," and B. Bently, both government deputy surveyors. Cyrus Whetzel was born in Ohio county, Virginia, December 1, 1800, and entered his land before he was twenty-one. He was elected to the house of representatives in 1858, and was probably the foremost



backwoodsman of the general assembly of Indiana. From 1827 to 1862 he operated a ferry across White river, near his home. He died December 16, 1871. Jacob Whetzel, the father, found delight in hunting and trapping about Waverly until the end of his days. The prominence that came to Whetzel’s trace was due to the fact that it was the earliest east and west road through the New Purchase. There was an old Indian trail from the south. These two traces soon became main lines of travel. Many pioneers from Ohio and Kentucky entered land in the same township, the same day Cyrus Whetzel did, which was upon the opening of the public sale of land in his range, for his land district, Brookville, afterward known as the Indianapolis Land Office District. Cyrus Whetzel first bought 137.14 acres, on the south side of White river in section 23, near what is now Waverly. White river ran almost due west past his land. Later he made other entries.126 In all these traces, trails, routes, pioneer roads etc., the making of a state became possible, and for that reason they are worthy of study and consideration. When General Har rison came to Vincennes his principal work was to establish roads and houses of accommodation between the settlements, fix the boundaries of the old Vincennes Tract and Kaskaskia Grant, make provision for the security of traders in the Indian country,127 etc. He did so, created a state, and found his way to the White House.


126 Brown’s "Western Gazetteer" (1817), p. 71 (p. 358, Eel River); Indiana Historical Society’s Publications, Vol. 2, page 34, Vol. 4, p. 3I3. Vol. 5, pp. 240, 242, 423 and 454; Esarey’s Indiana p. 243; Banta’s History of Johson County, pp. g-i4, i7 and 117 Brant and Fuller’s History of Johnson County, pp. 293-297; Plat Book 3, p. 4, Vol, 12, pp. 337-35I
N. & E.; Tract Book I, pp. 261-267, Indianapolis District (at office of Auditor of State).

127 Indiana Historical Society’s Publications, Vol. 4,p. 253; Early Travels i.e. Indiana, p. 232.




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