The Most Thrilling Man Hunt
of Recent Western History
The Hunting of Harry Tracy
by William MacLeod Raine
NO HALO of romance hangs over the head of Harry Tracy.
He does not belong to the old West. He had no Bret Harte
complex. There is no chance that blended fact and fiction
will make of his life a legend. He was a criminal at heart,
a cold-blooded killing machine. But it must be admitted
that in his own line he was preëminent.
The most thrilling man hunt America has ever
known began on the morning of June 9, 1902, at the gates of
the Oregon Penitentiary, and continued with unabated vigour
until August 5th. Early on June 9th Harry Tracy, murderer
and convicted burglar, assisted by his partner, David
Merrill, escaped from prison after killing three guards,
wounding a fourth, and shattering the leg of another
prisoner who attempted to wrest from him the rifle with
which he was armed. For nearly two months this keen-eyed,
resourceful, and desperate outlaw wrote in blood the most
thrilling melodrama ever enacted in real life. No
"penny dreadful" ever bristled with such
fascinating impossibilities; no character in fiction ever
combined with such wonderful nerve and daring so much
shrewdness, dogged determination, deadly skill with weapons,
and knowledge of human nature as was displayed by the outlaw
Tracy. To say that not once, during the months in which he
was hunted by hundreds of armed men and by bloodhounds, did
he show the white feather, or even the slightest excitement,
is to tell but a small part of the truth. Many men on the
Western frontier might have emulated his coolness and nerve,
but not one of them could have paralleled his smiling
audacity, his contempt for fearful odds, the skill with
which he eluded his pursuers, and the unfailing accuracy
with which he executed his carefully planned manuvres.
Whenever the arm of the law was stretched forth to gather
him in, Tracy like a tiger at bay, showed his teeth and bit
so suddenly and so fearfully that brave men stood aghast.
His fight for liberty was the most desperate in the criminal
annals of America. The exploits of the famous Jesse James
gang are not to be compared with the lurid escape and
subsequent pursuit of Harry Tracy across hundreds of miles
of unfriendly country. For daring, fertility of resource,
and cold-blooded nerve his fight for liberty against almost
impossible numbers is without a parallel. Hunted by
thousands of armed men, with a reward of $8,000 on his
head, dead or alive, Tracy for months defied capture,
leaving dead and wounded men behind him whenever he was hard
On June 9, 1902, the foundry gang of
prisoners at the Salem (Oregon) Penitentiary was marched to
its work as usual by Guards Girard and Ferrell. The convicts
were counted in and announced as all present by Girard.
While the words were still on his lips a rifle shot echoed
through the yard, and Ferrell fell forward with a cry of
agony. He had been killed by Harry Tracy, a convict, who had
already murdered two men in Colorado and was serving a
twenty-years' sentence for burglary along with an accomplice
named David Merrill. Tracy, seconded by his partner in
crime, now turned upon the other guards and began shooting.
A life prisoner, Ingram by name, leaped upon Tracy with the
intention of disarming him, but was immediately shot down by
Merrill. In the confusion the two desperate men scaled the
prison walls by means of a ladder which they found near at
hand. Once over they turned their attention to the fence
guards. S. R. Jones, patrolling the northwest corner of the
stockade, fell, pierced by two bullets. Another guard,
Duncan Ross, was wounded. Guard Tiffany emptied his rifle at
the men but failed to hit his mark. He was himself wounded
and fell from the wall to the ground, where he was picked up
by the two escaping prisoners, who calmly used him as a
shield while they retreated to the woods. At the edge of the
forest they shot him, took his rifle, and disappeared into
Tracy and Merrill were well armed with short
Winchesters, which it is thought must have been secretly
supplied to them by sympathizers who visited the prison in
the guise of excursionists. They had already killed three
men in order to escape, and while at liberty were a menace
to the community. So an urgent call was sent for assistance.
Sheriff Durbin, with a heavily armed posse, immediately
answered the telephone message sent him, and appeared at the
prison to assist Superintendent Lee, of the penitentiary, in
recapturing the escaped convicts.
The two criminals, however, managed to elude
pursuit during the whole day, and under cover of night
passed through Salem. Here they held up a man named J. W.
Stewart, made him disrobe, and took his clothing. Later an
expressman named Welch discarded, at their orders, an
overcoat and a pair of overalls; and the stable of one Felix
Labaucher furnished them with two fast horses. One notable
fact in the escape of the desperado Tracy is the fear which
he somehow managed to instil into the minds of the hardy
frontiersmen among whom he lived for the next two months,
and which stood him in good stead on many occasions when he
was hard pressed.
Heavily armed, in citizens' clothing, and
mounted on good horses, the convicts were now prepared to
make a stubborn fight for liberty. No more dangerous
criminal than Tracy, in fact, was ever turned loose upon a
community. He was a dead shot and did not know what fear
Bloodhounds sent down from the Washington
State Penitentiary followed the scent of the fugitives for
some time, but finally lost it. The pair were seen next
morning at Brooks, a station on the Southern Pacific Railway
eight mlles north of Salem. During the night they had found
it necessary to get rid of their horses. On June 11th the
two men were surrounded by a posse of fifty men near
Gervais. They were still on the line of the Southern
Pacific and were headed north for the State of Washington
via Portland. The couple were known to be exceedingly well
armed, for during the night they had had the audacity to
hold up two of the pursuing posse and relieve them of their
weapons! Before noon a hundred men surrounded the woods in
which the men lurked. Every man within a radius of ten
miles who possessed a gun was summoned to join the posse,
and Company F of the Oregon State National Guards also
arrived upon the scene. A complete cordon surrounded the
apparently doomed men, but during the night the two
desperadoes slipped silently through the lines and escaped.
They were next seen at the house of Mrs.
Akers, where they forced the farmer's wife to prepare them a
good breakfast. After they had gone the farmer telephoned
to Sheriff Durbin, who came on at once with his posse and
The escaped prisoners pressed forward to
Clackamas County, where Sheriff Cook with a posse and three
companies of militia took up the chase. As they continued
north the desperadoes lived on the country, holding up farms
for food and horses as they travelled. They always boldly
announced who they were. A dozen times they were shot at,
several times they were surrounded, and once Tracy fired and
winged one of his pursuers. The reward for the capture of
the convicts was doubled, and doubled again, and public
excitement grew intense. For five days the sheriff and his
posse continued the chase, and then gave up, weary and
Meanwhile, Tracy had forced a farmer at the
muzzle of his revolver to row him and his companion across
the Columbia River into Washington. They dined at the house
of a farmer named Peedy, whom they tied and gagged before
leaving. Sheriff Marsh, of Clarke County, with a very large
force, took up the chase with energy. A four-cornered duel
took place between the fugitives and two of the posse who
came in touch with them, but the convicts again escaped
unhurt. For some days after this episode their trail was
It was on July 2d that Tracy reappeared to
enact the most stirring scenes of his melodramatic career.
He had been heading for the Puget Sound country, and after
holding up a farmer or two for practice he modestly decided
to honour the city of Seattle with a visit. It was early
morning, and the sun was just breaking through the mist and
fog that hung over South Bay, near Olympia, the state
capital, when a man entered the tent of an oyster fishery
company and ordered Mr. Horatio Alling, the manager, and his
two men to furnish him a meal.
"I'm Tracy, the convict," said the
stranger. "I want something to eat right away. Be
quiet, raise no fuss, and I won't harm you."
A launch lay at anchor near the tent, and
Tracy ordered one of the men to call her captain to
breakfast. The convict waited coolly till Captain Clark and
his son had finished breakfast and then ordered Clark to get
up steam at once, as he desired to go to Seattle. Before
leaving he tied Mr. Alling and the cook hand and foot and
helped himself to any clothes that took his fancy.
From 1894 till 1898 I had lived near Seattle
and at this time I was back there visiting my parents.
Alling had been a very close friend of mine, and his
adventure with Tracy stimulated my already keen interest in
the chase. Later, in the capacity of a newspaper
correspondent, I saw a good deal of the men who had charge
of the capture of the out- law and was at one time with the
posse (entirely as a pacifist) which operated near Bothell.
During the launch ride to Seattle Tracy
remained at one end of the little cabin, his gun resting in
his lap ready for use in case any of the actions of his crew
appeared to him suspicious. For twelve hours the bandit was
complete master of the situation. He was easy, unconcerned,
and debonair, ready to joke and to laugh with his unwilling
servants, but his steely eyes never relaxed their vigilance
for a moment. Someone asked him where his partner Merrill
Tracy's face set hard.
"I killed him," he answered
"Killed him?" reiterated his
questioner, in surprise.
"Yes, I killed him. He had no nerve and
he was a traitor. I read in the Portland papers after our
escape that it was due to information from Merrill that I
was caught in the first place--that time I stole the engine
and was knocked senseless by a glancing shot. Merrill had
told them where they could find me. Then, too, he was a
coward, always ready to bolt. He was no good. The man was
frightened to death all the time. It made me angry when the
papers gave him half the credit for our escape. I told him
he was a coward, and he got huffy. Then we decided to fight
a duel when we were near Chehalis. We were to start, back to
back, and walk ten paces each, then wheel round and begin
firing. He haggled so in arranging the terms that I knew he
meant to play false. I couldn't trust him, so when I had
taken eight steps I fired over my shoulder. I hit him in the
back. The first shot did not finish him, so I shot again. He
only got what he deserved. The fellow meant to kill me
treacherously and steal out of the country through the big
timber, leaving my dead body among the leaves."
The finding of Merrill's body two weeks later
proved the truth of Tracy's treachery toward his companion.
He had evidently found that the other man was losing his
nerve, and had got rid of him to save further trouble.
All day Tracy displayed the greatest
carelessness in regard to human life. At one time he desired
the captain of the launch to run in close to McNeil's
Island, where a government military prison is located, in
order that he might get a pot shot at one of the guards.
During the day he dozed slightly once or twice, but, as his
rifle was across his lap and the slightest movement awakened
him, the crew dared not interfere with him. At Meadow Point,
near the city of Seattle, Tracy finished his yachting trip,
tied the captain and crew up, and went ashore, forcing one
of the terrified men to accompany him as a guide. The
ascendancy this man acquired over everybody he met is
The outlaw headed toward the north end of
Lake Washington and was recognized more than once before he
reached Bothell. Here he lay hidden till morning in the
dense brush and secured some much-needed sleep. It was
raining hard, but there is no doubt that the escaped convict
found shelter from the storm under some big logs Meanwhile,
Seattle was full of wild rumours about Tracy Every stray
tramp was an object of suspicion, and the greatest
excitement prevailed among people. Before night the
excitement had increased tenfold. Harry Tracy, it was
reported, had come into touch with two posses, had engaged
in battle with them, killed three officers and wounded one,
and had himself escaped unhurt!
Persistent reports came to the city of
Tracy's presence near Bothell. It was said that he was
surrounded in a brickyard; that he had several times been
definitely identified by men who saw him skulking in the
heavy timber. Sheriff Cudihee, of King County, a fearless
and efficient officer who had a good record for running down
criminals, at once ordered posses to the scene and hastened
there himself. It may be stated in passing that from that
moment to the time of Tracy's death Sheriff Cudihee hung
doggedly to the trail of the flying bandit. Other sheriffs
took up the hunt and dropped it when the convict had passed
out of their bailiwicks, but Cudihee alone followed him like
a bloodhound wherever he went, until the question of Tracy's
escape or capture came to bc a personal issue between Edward
Cudihee and Harry Tracy, two of the most fearless and
determined men that ever carried a gun.
At Bothell the posse separated, and every
road was guarded. Two officials from Everett, several from
Seattle, and Mr. Louie B. Sefrit, a reporter for the Seattle
Times, started down the road toward Pontiac,
part of them following the railway track and part the wagon
road. About a hundred yards southeast of where the railroad
track and the wagon road cross again there were two small
cabins standing in a yard which was much overgrown with
grass, weeds, and old tree stumps. Three men, named
Williams, Brewer, and Nelson, jumped through a wire fence
and started toward the cabins, while the others went down
the track to examine the cabins from that side. Said one
Raymond to Sefrit, the reporter:
"I believe Tracy is in that yard."
Sefrit answered that he thought so, too, for
the grass had been freshly beaten down. He pointed to a
black stump some five yards in front of him. Like all tree
stumps in the Puget Sound country, it had been partly
"That's exactly where I believe he
is," said Raymond. "Let's----"
He never finished the sentence. From behind
the stump arose Tracy himself, his rifle at his shoulder.
There came a flash, and Anderson, one of the deputies, fell.
Still another spit of flame belched from the rifle, and
Raymond fell back with a stifled cry. He was quite dead
before help reached him. Sefrit took a shot at the desperado
with a Colt's revolver, whereupon Tracy wheeled and let
drive at him. Sefrit, realizing that he was in an exposed
position, fell as if shot. The outlaw fired again at him,
then waited watchfully to make sure he had killed his man. A
bunch of grass lay between Sefrit's head and Tracy, but the
reporter could see the convict crouching behind the stump
and knew that the slightest movement meant death. So for
some minutes the Times reporter lay there in an agony of
suspense, expecting every moment to feel a bullet tearing
through his breast. Then Tracy slowly began to back away in
the drenching rain. Two more shots rang out, and Jack
Williams, who had been coming forward from the rear, fell,
Tracy scudded away in the thick underbrush,
and half a mile from the scene of battle relieved a rancher
of a horse he was riding. This he presently discarded,
impressing into his service a farmer named Louis Johnson,
with his wagon. He forced the farmer to drive him to
Fremont, which is a suburb of Seattle. By this time the
escaped convict was very hungry. He made Johnson hitch his
team to the fence outside the home of Mrs. R. H. Van Horn
and then invited himself to dinner. Mrs. Van Horn at once
recognized Tracy from his published photograph.
"What do you want?" she asked.
"Food, madam, and clothing,"
returned the urbane murderer. It chanced that there was a
man named Butterfield in the house, and from him Tracy
coolly took the dry clothing which he wore. Being in a good
humour, the bandit dropped into the kitchen and conversed
with Mrs. Van Horn while she prepared his meal for him.
"I have never 'held up' a lady
before," he explained, while eating the food. "I
don't want to have to tie you when I leave. Will you promise
not to say anything about my having been here?"
"For to-night I will--but not to-morrow
morning," answered the plucky little woman.
"That will be all right," said
Tracy; "I'll be far enough away by then. I want to tell
you, madam, that I haven t enjoyed a meal so much in three
years." He then mentioned his "yachting
trip," as he called it, from Olympia to Seattle.
At eight-thirty o'clock a knock came at the
door. Mr. Butterfield answered it and said that it was the
"If you tell him anything it will mean
death to the men here," Tracy told Mrs. Van Horn
significantly, as she went to give her orders to the boy.
Nevertheless, she took occasion to nod her
head toward the door and whisper the one word
"Tracy" to the boy. He understood, and two minutes
later was lashing his horse along the road toward Fremont.
When Tracy rose to depart an hour later Sheriff Cudihee lay
in ambush within six feet of the Johnson wagon.
Tracy thanked Mrs. Van Horn for his meal in
courteous fashion, then stepped down the path to the road
with Butterfield and Johnson on either side of him.
Meanwhile, the vigilant Sheriff Cudihee lay in wait for his
man near the wagon. As Tracy sauntered down the path the
sheriff of King County covered him every inch of the way
with his Winchester. There was just a shadow of doubt in his
mind as to which of the three was the man he wanted. He
decided to wait until the outlaw climbed into the wagon.
Suddenly out of the darkness rushed Police
Officer Breece, Mr. J. I. McKnight, and Game Warden Neil
Rawley. Breece covered the convict with his rifle from a
distance of about ten yards and cried, "Throw down that
The desperado wheeled and fired point-blank.
Breece fell over, a dead man. Twice more the convict fired,
this time at Rawley, and the game warden went to the ground
mortally wounded. Tracy dashed through the fence and made
for the woods. The sheriff levelled his rifle and fired
twice at the disappearing convict, but owing to the darkness
neither shot took effect. Harry Tracy, burglar, outlaw, and
murderer, had again broken through the death trap that had
been prepared for him. Had it not been for the recklessness
of interfering officials Cudihee would undoubtedly have
caught or killed his man.
With the curious mania which he had for
continually doubling on his tracks Tracy again headed for
Bothell, near which point he held up Farmer Fisher for
clothes and provisions. Cornered in a strip of country not
twenty miles square, in the midst of which was a city of one
hundred and twenty thousand population, though three bodies
lay in the county morgue to attest his unerring skill and
others lay wounded near to death in the hospitals, yet Harry
Tracy still roamed the country like an Apache, uninjured and
untamable. Whenever men bearded him he left a trail of blood
behind him in his relentless flight. He himself condoned his
crimes because, as he said, he killed to satisfy no lust for
blood but simply to keep his cherished liberty.
In order to understand how one fearless man
was able for so long a time to defy the law, the nature of
the country must be considered. The Puget Sound country was
at that time the most densely timbered on earth. The
underbrush is very heavy, and a rank growth of ferns some
four feet high covers the ground like a carpet. A man might
slip into the ferns and remain hidden for months within a
dozen yards of the roadside provided the food question were
eliminated. The one thing that Tracy feared was the
bloodhounds which were set on his trail, and after he had
shot these, his mind was more at ease.
After holding up another household of
Johnsons, Tracy--accompanied by their hired man, Anderson,
whom he forced to attend him as a human pack-horse--doubled
back to Seattle by way of Port Madison. He skirted the city
till he came to South Seattle, and then cut around the end
of Lake Washington to Renton. At this point he made himself
the uninvited guest of the Jerrolds family. Walking up from
Renton with his unwilling companion, Tracy met Miss May
Baker, Mrs. McKinney, and young Jerrolds picking
salmonberries. Tracy stopped them, smiling. "I guess
you have heard of me; I am Tracy," he said; then added,
"You needn't be afraid of me. I never harmed a woman in
my life, and I don't intend to begin now."
Talking easily with the women, Tracy walked
along to the house, in the rear of which he tied Anderson to
a clump of bushes. He called the Jerrolds boy and handed him
two watches, which he wished sold in order to buy two
45-calibre single-action Colt revolvers and a box of
cartridges. He threatened to kill everybody in the house in
case the boy betrayed him, but the lad was no sooner gone
than he told Mrs. Jerrolds that this was mere bluff. This
iron-nerved murderer and outlaw actually shed tears at this
"I wouldn't hurt you, Mother, for
anything. I have a mother of my own somewhere back East. I
haven't done just right by her, but I reckon all the mothers
are safe from me, no matter what happens."
Presently Tracy brightened again and was
laughing and talking with the three women just as if they
had been old acquaintances. It was nearly time to prepare
dinner, and Tracy carried in wood and volunteered to get the
water from the spring. Rifle in hand, he sauntered down to
the railroad track and filled his bucket with water. As he
did so a special train, bearing the posse which hunted him,
came round the bend. He ducked into the bushes to let it
"I reckon there are some gentlemen in
that train looking for me," he remarked carelessly when
he had reached the house. "I saw a reporter there. They
are always in the lead. First you see a reporter, then a
cloud of dust, and alter a while the deputies. It's the
interviewer I'm afraid of!" And he laughed.
There was much gay talk and laughter during
the meal which followed, in which Tracy took the lead. His
repartee was apt and spirited, and his sallies were
irresistible. The Jerrolds boy had informed the sheriff's
officer of Tracy's whereabouts long ago, and by this time
the deputies were beginning to surround the house. Everybody
was alarmed save the outlaw himself. He strolled to the
window and looked out at an enterprising photographer who
was trying to take a picture of the house
"My trousers are too short and they're
not nicely ironed," he said. "I like to be neatly
dressed before ladies. I guess I'll go out and hold up a
deputy for a pair."
Miss Baker was worried in case she might not
get home before dark. Tracy reassured her saying it was a
pleasant moonlit night, and that he would be glad to
accompany her if he might have the pleasure.
As the day wore on the deputies gathered
thicker and thicker around the house, cautiously drawing
closer and closer, for they knew that the outlaw was a dead
shot. Finally Tracy concluded that he had better be going.
From his Chesterfieldian manner he might have been bidding
his hostess good-bye after some elaborate function. From the
back doorstep he waved them all a merry good day and wished
them all manner of luck. As it happened, just at that moment
poor Anderson had been discovered tied to a tree. One of the
deputies gave a shout, and the others crowded round to see
what was the matter. In the excitement Tracy quietly slipped
down to the river and disappeared!
Day after day the chase after this
extraordinary man continued. Hundreds of men beat the woods
and patrolled the roads in vain. Once Tracy was wounded, but
managed to keep under cover until he was again able to
travel. He played hide-and-seek with the officers of King
County for weeks, then suddenly broke away for the Cascades
on horseback. Weeks later he turned up in eastern Washington
en route for his old stamping ground, the
"Hole-in-the-Wall" country. More than once his
fondness for loitering for days in the same spot showed
itself. His effrontery knew no bounds. At one place he made
use of the telephone to call up a sheriff in order to tease
him about his ill-success in capturing Tracy. Before he
left, however, he gave the poor official one grain of
consolation. "You've done better than the other
sheriffs," he said. "You've talked with the man
you want, anyway. Good-bye; I'm afraid you won't see me
But he did. Eastern Washington does not
afford any such hiding ground as the big forests of the
western part of the state. From point to point the telephone
handed on the message that Tracy had just passed. He doubled
here, there, and everywhere; but he could not shake off his
relentless pursuers, aided as they were by the telephone
wires. Sheriff Cudihee, now thoroughly aroused, swore never
to leave the chase till Tracy was taken. Sheriffs Gardner
and Doust and Cudihee held the passes and closed in on him.
Tracy had reached the rough country south of
the Colville Indian reservation. He had become gaunt as an
ill-fed wolf. Hunger, cold, and exposure have tamed more bad
men than fear. They sap the physical well-being which in
some men is the spring of courage. But they did not affect
the iron nerve of his man. He was still as savage and as
dangerous as on the day when he broke out of the
penitentiary. For two days and nights the outlaw hung around
the Eddy ranch, not far from Creston, until a young man who
saw him there raced with the news to Sheriff Gardner, who
hastened to the scene at once.
Meanwhile, a party of five citizens of
Creston, which is in Lincoln County, stopped forever the
evil career of the man who had travelled four hundred miles
and baffled thousands of pursuers. C. C. Straub, deputy
sheriff, Dr. E. C. Lanter, Maurice Smith, attorney, J. J.
Morrison, section foreman, and Frank Lillen Green, all armed
to the teeth, proceeded to the ranch of Mr. L. B. Eddy,
where the outlaw was known to be in hiding. The country
thereabout is very rocky, and the party took every care not
to be caught in an ambush. They saw Farmer Eddy mowing his
hay, and while talking with him observed a strange man
emerge from the barn.
"Is that Tracy?" asked one of them.
"It surely is," answered Eddy.
Eddy followed orders and drove to the barn.
Cautiously the members of the posse followed him. Tracy came
from the barn and began to help his host unhitch the team.
His rifle he had left in the barn, but his revolvers he
still carried. Suddenly he saw his pursuers.
"Who are those men?" he demanded,
turning sharply to Eddy.
"Hold up your hands!" shouted the
officers, without waiting for the farmer's reply.
Like a flash Tracy jumped behind Eddy and the
team and bade the terrified farmer lead the horses to the
barn. When near the door he made a break to reach his rifle.
A moment later he reappeared, rifle in hand, and started
headlong down the valley. Again his iron nerve had brought
him out of an apparently certain trap. Two shots he fired at
his pursuers, but neither of them had effect
The man hunters took up the chase at once.
Tracy dodged behind a rock and began firing rapidly. It was
growing dark, however, and he missed his men. Then he made a
dash for a wheat field near at hand, the officers firing at
him as he, ran. Suddenly he stumbled and fell on his face,
but dragged himself on hands and knees into the field. He
had been hit.
Sheriff Gardner and his posse now arrived on
the scene and surrounded the field. Presently a single shot
was heard by the watchers. That shot sent the notorious
bandit into eternity. In the early morning the cordon
cautiously worked its way into the field and presently
stumbled upon Harry Tracy's lifeless body. The most famous
man hunt in the history of the country had ended. Crippled
and bleeding, hopeless of escape, the bandit had shot
himself sooner than let himself be taken.
After escaping from a dozen sheriffs,
slipping cleverly out of death trap after death trap, and
leaving behind him everywhere a trail of blood that would
not have discredited an Apache chief, Tracy fell at last by
his own hand rather than lose the liberty which he
apparently prized more than life itself.