By R Lawson Gamble
Whidbey Island is located in northern Puget Sound, about fifty miles south of the Canadian Border. The early pioneer settlers here were attracted to open lowlands on the island, and applied the word “prairie” to them as they reminded them of the huge expanses of tall- and short-grass prairies they had crossed in the Midwest. This pastoral landscape around Penn Cove on Whidbey Island became the final destination of numerous emigrants who traveled there, among them the Ebey and Crockett families, notably, for our story, that of Colonel Isaac Ebey.
As one of the earliest settlers, Isaac grew in importance within the community, assuming judicial responsibilities on the island and in a wider portion of the territory. During what became known as Governor Isaac Steven’s “Indian Wars”, a tit for tat series of isolated back and forth raids between settlers and Indians ( and the infighting described in part one of this article), the ship Massachusetts discovered an encampment of “northern Indians” at Port Gamble and ordered them out. When the Indians declined, the crew opened fire with a howitzer, killing, among others, one of the tribe’s important chiefs.
Lucretia Judson’s Vermillion wagon train had encountered Ebey’s train on the way west, and they had become friends. So it was that Lucretia and her new husband, George W. Corliss, came to visit the Ebey’s at “the cabins”, his home on Whidbey Island. U.S. Marshal Corliss often had business with the judge as well. At home that night on August 11, 1857, were Ebey, his wife, his two sons (aged thirteen and eleven), his daughter (aged eight), and their two guests, George and Lucretia.
The day before, a group of northern Indians had come to Whidbey, reportedly seeking to take their revenge by killing John Coe Kellogg, the “Canoe Doctor,” well-known in Port Gamble, whom they viewed as a sort of white Tyee, or chief. But as Kellogg was away at the time, the Indians proceeded to question local residents about Ebey and whether he was a Tyee of the white population. When told that he was a leader, they determined to take their revenge on Ebey instead.
The following night, they went to The Cabins and fired a gun outside the residence. When Ebey came outside to assess the trouble, they killed him. His headless body was later found outside the door of his house.
According to George Corliss, he and his wife, along with Ebey’s wife and children, were gathered in a room toward the rear of the house. Shortly after hearing the shots, they saw Isaac Ebey through a window with an apparent head wound. More shots were heard. George, Lucretia, Mrs. Ebey, and her children all escaped through a rear window. It was Lucretia who jumped a high picket fence, injuring her leg in the process, and ran down the road to a neighbor’s house where she summoned help while the others hid in the wood. When the neighbors returned, Ebey’s body was found near the house, with his head removed, as was the custom of Northwest Indian tribes..
Lucretia, despite her gallant run for help, never quite recovered emotionally from this terrorizing event. Her leg did eventually heal, but her nerves did not. When George learned of the availability of land in Las Cruces, California, he sold off his property and invested in a sheep farm there, hoping to find the peace that Lucretia so desperately required.
(Next Article) PART THREE: The Las Cruces Triple Murder