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November 2017 - The desperado

council bill

The hunt for escaped convict Harry Tracy was a top story in the summer of 1902. Tracy and his fellow prisoner David Merrill broke out of the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem and headed north into Washington. Somewhere near Chehalis, Tracy shot Merrill in the back and continued north, eventually hijacking a boat in Olympia and landing it north of Ballard.

Tracy traveled to Bothell, where he shot two Snohomish County deputies in a gun battle, killing one and wounding the other. From there he headed south on a road following the railroad tracks and hitched a ride with a Green Lake farmer to the far side of Woodland Park. Tracy then entered the home of Mrs. R.H. Van Horn at 5011 Phinney Avenue with his gun drawn, asking for dinner and a change of clothes.

After several hours of polite conversation inside the house, Mrs. Van Horn managed to alert a grocery delivery boy that Tracy was in the house. The boy sped back to Fremont to share the news, and the posse that was already out looking for the convict quickly made their way up to Phinney Ridge. Another shootout ensued, in which a Seattle police officer and another member of the posse were both shot and killed. Tracy escaped again.

Several days after this shootout, Council Bill 462 was introduced with the following language:

WHEREAS, Tracy, the Oregon escaped convict, has been at large in this community and terrorized the residents; and

WHEREAS, by his hand, E.E. Breece, a police officer of Seattle, met his death, and a citizen of Fremont, while a member of a posse, in a battle with the desperado, was also killed; Now, Therefore,


Section 1. That the Board of Public Works be and they hereby are authorized and directed to offer a reward of one thousand (1000) dollars for the capture of Tracy.

Section 2. That the sum of one thousand (1000) dollars be and the same is hereby appropriated from the General Fund for the uses and purposes hereinabove set forth.

By the time the bill was introduced, Tracy had been to Ravenna, to Bainbridge Island, back to the mainland in Renton (where he escaped another posse), and then south to Kent. Along the way he kept homeowners and farmers captive, demanded meals and clothing, and pressed men into service to row him across the Sound. From Kent he headed into Eastern Washington. Almost two months after his escape from prison, he was confronted a final time by law enforcement in Lincoln County, was wounded in a gun battle, and took his own life.