Troxel's Fort

Near the center of the field near Huffman's Bridge is a 4 foot stone wall shaped like a horseshoe around 65 feet across. It was called Troxel's Fort or Troxel's Horseshoe. Some legends say that it was built by a pirate from Jean Lafitte's band around New Orleans around 1815, and had something to do with lead stolen from the mines at Galena, Ill. Other legends feature its importance to horse thieves in the early 1800's in moving horses from eastern Kentucky to west of the Mississippi...

I became interested in researching Troxel's Fort in 1981 after attending the Scott/Huffman Reunion and hearing various people state that they knew nothing about it except the reference in Goodspeed's History of Warrick, Spencer and Perry Counties.

As a child growing up in Oklahoma, I had heard the statement "strong as Troxel's Fort" many times. It was always said with laughter and made in reference to something being strong. I did remember my mother saying that Troxel built the fort in the shape of a horseshoe and was on a hill above a river and was used by "pirates' and was in the area where some of our relatives, the Wrights, lived!

I met my husband, Ephedale McKim, in El Paso, Texas in 1941, while he was in the army during World War II. We came to live for a brief time in Bristow, Indiana. During that time I heard my mother-in-law say one day that something "was strong as Troxel's Fort" and I asked her why she said that, as my mother was always saying that. She explained about the fort being on the farm that had belonged to a McKim and they used to walk up there years ago.

After talking with Riley and Millard Huffman, I thought that I could put the story together, at least good enough for them to know a bit more about the fort. On the way home to California in 1981 I stopped in Oklahoma to visit my relatives and asked about the Troxells. She said that they moved from around there and that one of my cousins had married Roy Troxell. She, too, remembered the old saying, "strong as Troxell's fort"!

I contacted my cousin in Oklahoma City and found out that his cousin Richard Troxel had written a book on the Troxel family family and Richard Troxell sent me a copy.

I talked to everyone that I could think of and find to try to put the story together. Some didn't remember anything except the saying. Others could refer me to someone who knew a little about the family and of course, Richard is regarded as the family historian.

My father, Elihu M. Watkins, was born in Indian Territory in 1881. His father had come out during the Civil War aftermath from Georgia. My great grandfather Eli P. Watkins was an attorney in Atlanta, Georgia and died in England in 1889 while working in the Department of the Secretary of State. My grandmother was a Driskill and her father Alonzo was born in Indiana and she died when my father was born. He was taken by a Potawatomi Indian and raised (wet-nursed) until he was about four years old. His father married again to a Lee of the Virginia Lee family and came and got him. He always spent time with a Mr. Troxel who lived near us and had been born about the same time and place. My great grandfather's brother was J. R. Watkins, the Watkins Products inventor, who had come to East Texas in 1858 from Georgia. This was just across Red River from where I was born and grew up.

After over a hundred and fifty years the story of Troxel's Fort isn't as detailed as I'd like, but maybe enough to add to the history.

The Troxel family is of German origin and in German is spelled "Trachael". In German, the name means "singletree," the kind a horse is hitched to. Family tradition said that all Troxels in America are related. The name is spelled in several variant ways, having been "Americanized" by common usage to Troxel and Troxell.

Between 1733 and 1764, 12 Trachel (Troxel) people emigrated to America. So the relationship of these from various parts of Western Europe would be rather remote in some cases.

The story was that these Troxels in Oklahoma and Texas were descended from two brothers that came to America from Germany. Richard found sufficient documents to prove this true of his family.

The Troxels originated in Asia Minor; that is Hebrew or Jewish. From Berne, Switzerland the Troxel family can be traced back to 1367...a small hamlet named for the family -- Trachel. The records in the Reformed Church in Lenk, Semental, Berne Canton, Switzerland (located on the Italian border) refers to the first founders as Drachsell, the bold, courageous, venturesome, truthful, honest officers holders of that day.

Johannes Troxel came to Philadelphia, Penn. August 30, 1737. Peter Troxel came to Philadelphia on the ship Samuel out of London also bringing his family and promptly proceeded to Egypt, Penn. in Bucks County. From there various lines of the family spread out and pushed westward. The genealogies of these lines are fully documented in Richard's book: Troxel(L) Trails .

Troxel's Fort according to Goodspeed states that John Troxel was a Spanish Pirate. With the various family stories and traditions, we find that John Troxel was with Jean Lafitte. Here we have to perhaps rethink a bit of history to get the story straight.

According to the life of Lafitte printed in the Encyclopedia Americana, Jean Lafitte was pardoned for his support of Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans. The documentary source is given as a book: Jean Lafitte, Gentleman Rover by Stanley Clisby Arthur, Harmanson Publishers, c1952, New Orleans.

This book documents that Jean Lafitte did not die in the Gulf of Mexico as was commonly told. He was pardoned by President Madison February 6, 1815 along with all of his Baratarians who swore loyalty, and he died in Alton, Illinois May 5, 1854. He was a gunpowder manufacturer and lived under the name of Lafflin. One line of Laffins were wealthy bankers from the coast of France. It is believed that these were his mother's people.

His story was: He and his young bride set sail for France from Port-au-Prince, San Domingo. The Lafittes were also French bankers. Their ship was attacked by Spanish pirates and he and his young bride with their infant daughter were put on an island and left to die. He ever hated the Spanish after that. He was found by an American ship and taken to New Orleans where his wife soon died, leaving him with a young daughter and penniless. He was never loyal to the American after this.

Because of the political climate of the times, England, France and Spain were always striving for this part of the United States. Piracy was encouraged in some government circles by all three governments. Jean and his brother had a blacksmith shop in New Orleans. They engaged in shipping and trade. Many stories and tales were spun about Jean Lafitte. Some were done deliberately to cover his activities. Well educated and wealthy, he was a spy or secret agent against Spain. He always give information against them because of his hatred for them. He had enough ammunition in his warehouse to enable Jackson and his Kentucky men, to win the Battle of New Orleans.

After his pardon, he married again: Emma Hortense Mortimer of Charleston, South Carolina and settled in St. Louis. They became the parents of sons Jules and Glenn. Glenn died young at St. Louis, August 11, 1848. They moved across the river to Alton, Illinois. He died of pneumonia May 5, 1854.

John Troxel was a member of Lafitte's men and we're told that he was a favorite of Lafitte. He was young. We don't know where he met Lafitte and became a member of his crew. But it is interesting to note that Lafitte also was of Hebrew/Jewish extraction.

So much has been written about Lafitte that it is difficult to sort all of the information available into proper perspective. One book that gave resources and quoted from some journal and available records. Others will take another incident and dwell at length on that.

There are several Perry County surnames quoted in these old records. John Brock, John Troxel, and John Sketo, beside the usual Brown, Jones and Roberts.

Family tradition said that John Troxel was very intelligent and learned quickly. After the pardon, Lafitte dismantled his city and they were supposed to have gone back to various locales. Some of the crew (as usual) thought they had too much of a good thing and refused to leave that life. They frequently disobeyed Lafitte's orders when he was gone.

One family tradition says the story was that on this particular day in Galveston, Jean Lafitte was out to sea in preparation to leaving Galveston. A small party of the men mutinied and tried to take over a small ship. John Troxel was in charge and when he refused to go along with them, they hung him. Lafitte came back and hung them. He was very much upset about young John Troxel's death, especially in this manner. He did not want to have to go back and tell his family what had happened. The family story says that John Troxel was hung by these pirates on his 21st birthday. That would make him born about 1797 when this happened in 1815.

The family story says that Jean Lafitte caught pneumonia in Illinois when a long time friend became ill and he went and chopped wood in a snowstorm and took care of them. Some say that they thought it was an uncle and others thought it was a brother of John Troxel. They all agree it was a member of John Troxel's family.

During the years when England was trying to get control of New Orleans and the river trade after the Revolutionary War, Lafitte and his men tried to prepare for attack. Part of this time he served as a double agent with the Spanish. They went as far as Illinois to get lead. These they secreted in various places so they could make bullets if necessary. One such place was Troxel's Fort in Perry County Indiana.

As usual, many stories were told of buried treasure and piracy. But the Troxel tradition is that it was lead...supposedly in a limestone cave that you could get to from the river.

As a child, I heard them tell how the fort set high on a hill with a command of the river. It was well built and they thought they could defend themselves from any ship that dared come up. The cave (or fort) was supposedly well equipped for a stand-off. As for treasure, most thought not. The treasure being lead and war equipment worth more than gold in these circumstances.

After Jean Lafitte's death, his wife took her son back to the East coast. She sailed down the Mississippi river and up the Ohio. She vowed to never remarry and did not; she died in Philadelphia December 17, 1885 at 76 years old.

Her son Jules cared for his mother until her death. He lived in East St. Louis and married Carmen Ernestina Andrechyne, a native of Carondelet, Missouri. They had one son who left descendants. Son Jules died in 1924 and told his grandson, John Andrechyne about the family and what his father told him. He also had the family Bible with all of the notations and the manuscript of Jean Lafitte. Jean Lafitte was buried in the cemetery about a mile north of Alton, Illinois in the northwest corner.

The Troxels are numerous in Illinois. They were pioneers in that state as well as Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee.

One interesting Troxel history is that a Henry Troxel went from Ohio County, Kentucky to Illinois about the time that the Lincolns did. They settled DeWitte Co., Ill. Later these went to Oklahoma. They claimed to be part Cumberland Indian, with Thomas (born April, 1893, Whitley Co., KY) being Chief of the tribe. He was descended from "Big Jake" who was a trader with the Indians and married the Princess (daughter of the Chief) Cornblossom. Their son "Little Jake" was the Chief when his grandfather became too ill to administer the tribal affairs. Henry H. Troxel was one of the first Scott Countians to attend both American and foreign universities. His mother was the first woman to graduate from Cumberland College and married Burk Troxel, who became an optimist. These records at Pine Knot, KY.

The legend of the lost silver mine is from these Troxels in Scott County.

This story has been documented from numerous sources. The Lafitte pardon is in the National Archives and all other documents are in the places of locale.

John Troxel that built Troxel's Fort is believed to be born November 22, 1794, son of Michael and Susanna of Easton, PA. He appears to have gone to live with his sister in Philadelphia Co. after the death of his father. His father's will names him in 1772. Michael died August 16, 1808 at Easton, PA. Michael was the son of Michael and Margaret Troxel who was the son of Johannes and Anna Maria Troxel. Johannes was born Lenk, Switzerland, 1689 and was the son of Jakob and Margaret Brengel Troxel. Jakob was the son of Hans and Elizabeth Gungael Troxel. Jakob was born in 1652.

"'Horseshoe' Linked to Celtic Explorers,"
from the Evansville Courier