Celebrated Criminal Cases of America: Harry Tracy

one of the most fiendish desperados in criminal history

In 1892, there lived in the town of Van­cou­ver, Wash­ing­ton, two fif­teen-year-old boys, named Harry Tracy and David Mer­rill. Tracy’s con­duct was ex­em­plary until he met Mer­rill, but im­me­di­ately af­ter­ward a change oc­curred and step by step he waded into crime until his deeds were the talk of the con­ti­nent. At the out­set, Mer­rill seemed to pos­sess the mas­ter mind of the pair, but as Tracy was an apt pupil, this soon changed, and he be­came the dic­ta­tor.
Their first depre­da­tion con­sisted of the steal­ing of three geese from a farmer liv­ing on the out­skirts of Van­cou­ver and sell­ing them to a poul­try mar­ket. For this crime they were sen­tenced by Jus­tice of the Peace M. A. Tuson to serve twenty days in jail.
After being lib­er­ated they pur­chased firearms and prac­ticed al­most daily at the Van­cou­ver bar­racks until they gained rep­u­ta­tions as ex­pert shots. Ar­ti­cles were con­stantly dis­ap­pear­ing from the bar­racks in a mys­te­ri­ous man­ner, and the army of­fi­cers, be­com­ing sat­is­fied that these two boys were the thieves, or­dered them to keep away from the quar­ters.
After com­mit­ting nu­mer­ous petty of­fenses, Tracy was ar­rested for house-break­ing in Provo, Utah, and on July 10, 1897, was sent to State prison for one year.
On Oc­to­ber 8 of the same year, he and three other pris­on­ers were work­ing on a drain ditch out­side of the prison walls, where Tracy se­cured a pis­tol which a friend had planted there for him. With this weapon he held up the guard and made his es­cape.
He then joined the no­to­ri­ous “Rob­bers Roost” gang, which was op­er­at­ing in Col­orado, and of which Dave Lent, Pat John­son, Dave Mer­rill and John Ben­nett were mem­bers.
When this band killed a boy named Wm. Strang, the in­dig­nant cit­i­zens de­manded of the au­thor­i­ties that they be im­me­di­ately ex­ter­mi­nated.
A posse was or­ga­nized and on March 1, 1898, they en­coun­tered the out­laws near Craig, Col­orado.
A des­per­ate bat­tle was fought, dur­ing which sev­eral on each side were wounded and Deputy Sher­iff Valen­tine S. Hay was killed.
The des­per­a­does made their es­cape, but on March 4, Sher­iff C. W. Neiman and posse of Routt County, Col­orado, cap­tured Lent, Tracy, John­son and Ben­nett.
As the Strang boy was mur­dered just over the line in Wyoming, John­son, who was ac­cused of the ac­tual killing, was ex­tra­dited, but was sub­se­quently ac­quit­ted be­cause of in­suf­fi­ciency of ev­i­dence.
A mob seized Ben­nett and lynched him.
Tracy and Lent es­caped from jail, but were re­cap­tured the.​next day. They were then trans­ferred to the more se­cure jail in Aspen, Col­orado, and again es­caped.
Lent was never seen again by the au­thor­i­ties.
Tracy joined Mer­rill, and in De­cem­ber, 1898, they re­turned to Port­land, Ore­gon, where they soon had the cit­i­zens ter­ror­ized by the se­ries of depre­da­tions they com­mit­ted.
They held up and robbed a street-car, and also bur­glar­ized sev­eral sa­loons and stores.
On Feb­ru­ary 6, 1899, Mer­rill was ar­rested, and on the next day De­tec­tive Dan Weiner ar­rested Tracy after a des­per­ate bat­tle.
The pair were found guilty of rob­bery and on March 22, 1899, Tracy was com­mit­ted to the Salem prison for twenty years and Mer­rill for fif­teen years.
They were em­ployed in the foundry in the prison, and at 7 a.m., June 9, 1902, they were marched in line with the other pris­on­ers to their work. It was the duty of Guard Frank Giard to count the pris­on­ers marched in, and after doing so, Giard an­nounced to Guard Frank Fer­rell that 159 pris­on­ers were pre­sent.
Fer­rell replied “All right.” Just then Giard heard a rifle shot and turned in time to see Fer­rell fall dead. Tracy then turned his rifle on Giard and shot with­out hit­ting him, and Mer­rill fired at the other shop guard. In­g­ham, a life pris­oner, at­tempted to dis­arm Tracy but was im­me­di­ately shot and mor­tally wounded by Mer­rill.
They then fled from the build­ing and di­rected their at­ten­tion to the fence guards, where S. R. Jones was guard­ing one cor­ner of the stock­ade. They both fired at Jones, one bul­let strik­ing him in the ab­domen and one in the chest, and he fell dead at his post. Guard B. F. Tiffany then emp­tied his rifle at the des­per­a­does, but none of his bul­lets struck their mark. Tracy fired one shot at him and he fell out­side the wall with a wound in his chest.
Tracy and Mer­rill then pro­cured a lad­der, scaled the wall and run­ning to Tiffany, as­sisted him to his feet and used him as a shield until they got out of range of the other guards. They got in a po­si­tion where they could be ob­served from the prison and de­lib­er­ately blew the top of Tiffany’s head off and then dis­ap­peared in the tim­bers.
Posses of peace of­fi­cers and cit­i­zens were at once or­ga­nized and re­wards were of­fered for the bod­ies of the con­victs. It is said that Tracy and Mer­rill ob­tained their sawed-off ri­fles in the fol­low­ing man­ner:
On May 20, 1892, Harry Wright was re­leased from the Salem prison and car­ried with him a let­ter from Mer­rill to a rel­a­tive. It was ap­par­ently only a short note, not cov­er­ing more than one-half of the paper, but un­der­neath it was a note writ­ten in in­vis­i­ble chem­i­cal ink, in which he re­quested the rel­a­tive to pro­vide the bearer with money for rea­sons which would be ex­plained later.
Wright also stole a horse and buggy in Port­land, which he sold to as­sist in rais­ing funds. He pur­chased two high-grade ri­fles with short bar­rels and a quan­tity of am­mu­ni­tion, which were smug­gled into the prison the night be­fore the break.
On the day fol­low­ing their es­cape, Tracy and Mer­rill en­tered Salem, Ore­gon, at 10 p.m., and held up a man at the point of a rifle and took his clothes. They then stole an over­coat and two horses and con­tin­ued on their way north. Theii next ap­pear­ance was in the town of Ger­vais, twenty mile: north of Salem, where they de­manded and pro­cured food ana
held up two deputy sher­iffs and took such wear­ing ap­parel from them as they needed. Learn­ing that a posse was en route to Ger­vais with blood­hounds, they re­turned to­ward Salem, re­main­ing in the woods in the day­time and at night they en­tered the town, and ac­costed a cit­i­zen named J. W. Roberts as he was en­ter­ing his home. They took his clothes (the ob­ject being to change as often as pos­si­ble), and then or­dered him to go in his house and re­main there until day­light under pain of death.
Early on June 13, they broke through a cor­don of mili­tia md deputy sher­iffs near Ger­vais and a few hours af­ter­ward stopped at a farm near Mon­i­tor, which was owned by a man named H. Aikus. They or­dered the women folks to pre­pare a break­fast, and sup­plied them­selves lib­er­ally with eat­a­bles and cook­ing uten­sils.
On June 15, the ban­dits stole a team from G. R. Ran­dall, near Ore­gon City, and on June 16 they ap­peared at the farm of Chas. Holt­grieve on the Co­lum­bia River and de­manded din­ner. There were five men in the house at the time and the con­victs made them all enter a boat and row them across the Co­lum­bia River. On June 17, about 6 a.m., they ap­peared at the cabin of a rancher named Reedy, about four miles back of Van­cou­ver, They bound and gagged him, took his clothes and left him lying on the ground.
From June 17 to July 2 lit­tle was heard of the ban­dits, but on the last named date Tracy ap­peared at the Capi­tol City Oys­ter Co.’s place at South Bay, near Seat­tle. He en­tered the home of Ho­r­a­tio Ail­ing, while an­other man named Lat­trige was pre­sent.
Tracy made known his iden­tiy, and or­dered them to pre­pare a meal. In the mean­time, a Frank Scott and John Schlesinger came in. Tracy then or­dered all four men to stand fac­ing the wall with their hands up while he pre­pared his own break­fast. At this time Cap­tain Clark of the gaso­line launch “N. and S.” and his son en­tered the house, and they also joined the “wall flow­ers.” While eat­ing his break­fast, Tracy learned of Clark’s launch, and after sat­is­fy­ing his ap­petite or­dered all pre­sent to ac­com­pany him to the launch. On the way he stated that he had killed his part­ner in crime, Mer­rill, be­cause he showed ev­i­dence of a faint heart. He said that they had agreed to fight a duel and that it was arranged that they should place back to back and at a sig­nal each should step out ten paces and turn and fire.
At the eighth step, Tracy turned and killed Mer­rill by shoot­ing him in the back. He claimed that this oc­curred about four miles south of Chehalis, Wash­ing­ton, on June 28. An in­ves­ti­ga­tion proved his state­ment to be true as the body of Mer­rill was found thrown head first over a log.
When Tracy and his in­vol­un­tary com­pan­ions reached the launch, he or­dered them all into the boat and in­structed Clark to pro­ceed with the party to Mead­ows Point, near Seat­tle. At this place they dis­em­barked, and Tracy or­dered one of the party to take a rope from the launch and bind the rest of the party. This done, he com­pelled this man to ac­com­pany him to a place called Bal­lard, six miles from Seat­tle, and then or­dered him to leave him and to pro­ceed along an iso­lated path and say noth­ing of what had tran­spired.
July 3 proved to be the red-let­ter day in the ca­reer of this arch-crim­i­nal. His mar­velous luck and cun­ning re­mained with him, and, as usual, he es­caped un­harmed.
At 3:30 p.m. he en­coun­tered a posse at a place called Both­ell, near Seat­tle, and by quick ma­neu­ver­ing he gained an ad­van­ta­geous po­si­tion and opened fire on the posse be­fore they were aware of his pres­ence.
He only fired five shots. With the first he in­stantly killed Deputy Sher­i­ff Chas. Ray­mond. An­other ball splin­tered the stock of Deputy Sher­iff Jack Williams’ rifle, and the ball en­tered his breast. He then wounded oth­ers in the party and es­caped.
Later in the day Tracy met an aged farmer who was dri­ving a team along the out­skirts of Seat­tle. He seized the team, made a pris­oner of the old man, and then drove up to the res­i­dence of Mrs. R. H. Van­horn, lo­cated near Wood­land Park, Seat­tle. He fas­tened the team and forced his aged pris­oner to ac­com­pany him into the lady’s home and or­dered her to cook a meal for him. Tracy did not watch this lady very
closely and there­fore did not ob­serve that a butcher boy called at her door for or­ders. Mrs, Van­horn whis­pered to the boy that Tracy was there and the boy rushed back to Freemont, a sub­urb of Seat­tle, and no­ti­fied Sher­iff Cud­i­hee and Po­lice­man Breese of the fact. These men, ac­com­pa­nied by C. J. Knight and Neil Raw­ley, armed them­selves and, pro­ceed­ing to Mrs. Van­horn’s house, they se­creted them­selves within view of the en­trance. Presently Tracy stepped out with the old man on one side and an­other man on the other.
The of­fi­cers could not shoot with­out en­dan­ger­ing the lives of in­no­cent per­sons, so Breese called out: “Tracy, drop that gun.” Quick as a flash the ban­dit fired and killed Breese in­stantly. With the next shot he mor­tally wounded Raw­ley. He con­tin­ued to use his in­vol­un­tary com­pan­ions as shields until he reached a place of safety, when he dis­missed them and dis­ap­peared.
On July 5, he en­tered the home of a Fisher fam­ily, near Pon­tiac, and act­ing under his or­ders, they pre­pared his break­fast. While he was eat­ing he sta­tioned the fam­ily by the door. It is need­less to state that he now had the en­tire coun­try ter­ror­ized and a great many amus­ing sto­ries are told of posses of cit­i­zens which boldly started to find him, but on learn­ing of his where­abouts, stam­peded in the op­po­site di­rec­tion.
On Sat­ur­day, July 6, Tracy ap­peared at Meadow Point, on the water front, three miles north of Seat­tle. Here he met a Japan­ese fisher boy whom he forced to row him twelve miles to Madi­son Point, where the boy was dis­missed.
The ban­dit then pro­ceeded to the home of Farmer John John­son. By em­ploy­ing the usual tac­tics of an­nounc­ing his name and dis­play­ing his weapons, Tracy ter­ror­ized the fam­ily and then re­quested Mrs. John­son to pre­pare his break­fast. There was a large, pow­er­ful man named John An­der­son em­ployed at this farm, and after break­fast Tracy pro­cured ropes and bound the John­son fam­ily and then or­dered An­der­son to ac­com­pany him. From that time until the fol­low­ing Tues­day, An­der­son was a mere slave and beast of bur­den for the ban­dit.
Tracy forced his com­pan­ion to row him down the sound, and on the next day the boat they used was found in a clump
of bushes in Miller’s Bay. When they reached land, Tracy com­pelled An­der­son to carry the blan­kets and pro­vi­sions, and while Tracy slept, or ate, An­der­son was bound to a tree.
On Mon­day, after a long tramp, they en­tered the woods from which the no­to­ri­ous des­per­ado, Tom Blanck, emerged, only to be killed.
At the Black River bridge, Tracy met four friends, ev­i­dently by ap­point­ment.
On Mon­day night An­der­son was again bound to a tree, and on Tues­day the pair pro­ceeded to Ger­rell’s home, two miles from Ren­ton, Wash. Tracy went into the kitchen, and after or­der­ing a meal, began jok­ing with the women folks. Ger­rell’s home was near the rail­road track and presently a train came along bear­ing one of the nu­mer­ous posses which were scour­ing the coun­try for the out­law. As the train stopped, Tracy took An­der­son into the woods and bound him to a tree. The ban­dit then es­caped, and shortly af­ter­ward An­der­son was found and re­leased.
On July 10, Tracy called at the ranch of M. E. John­son, near Kent, fif­teen miles from Seat­tle, and or­dered him to go to Tacoma and buy him a 45-cal­i­bre re­volver and 100 car­tridges. He told John­son that if he be­trayed him, he would slaugh­ter his en­tire fam­ily, which re­mained with Tracy at the farm­house dur­ing his ab­sence. Need­less to say, John­son kept faith and at night Tracy ap­pro­pri­ated one of John­son’s horses and an ample sup­ply of food and de­parted.
On the night of July 11 Tracy was sur­rounded near Cov­ing­ton. Just be­fore day­light he ap­proached the lines in such a care­less man­ner that the guards thought he was one of their party. Dur­ing the night he had ev­i­dently crept up and over­heard the name of one of the guards, and on being chal­lenged gave that name, and had suc­ceeded in pass­ing through the lines be­fore the mis­take was dis­cov­ered. Eight charges of buck­shot were sent after him and Tracy fired one shot in re­turn, but no one was in­jured.
On Sun­day, Au­gust 4, an eigh­teen-year-old boy named G. E. Goldfinch was rid­ing a horse near the Eddy ranch, about eleven miles from Cre­ston, Wash., when he ob­served a man who was ev­i­dently camp­ing in the woods. The stranger stopped him and after stat­ing that he was Tracy, di­rected the youth to con­duct him to the near­est ranch. Goldfinch es­corted him to the Eddy ranch, where Tracy com­manded that no per­son would be per­mit­ted to leave the ranch night or day with­out his per­mis­sion. So ter­ror­ized were the per­sons ad­dressed that they made no ef­fort to dis­obey his order.
On Mon­day, Goldfinch was per­mit­ted to go, but was warned to say noth­ing of what had tran­spired. The boy paid but slight at­ten­tion to the ad­mo­ni­tion and as a re­sult a posse was or­ga­nized in Cre­ston, which con­sisted of Deputy Sher­iff C. H. Straub, Dr. E. A. Lanter, At­tor­ney Mau­rice Smith and Joseph Mor­ri­son, a track fore­man.
On Au­gust 6, 1902, they pro­ceeded to the Eddy ranch, where they saw a man come out of a shed whom they sus­pected was Tracy, but not being pos­i­tive they re­frained from fir­ing. Mr. Eddy was seen work­ing in the field, so one of the posse ap­proached him with­out being ob­served by the sus­pect. Eddy in­formed him that the man was Tracy. Eddy then arranged to drive his team to the barn.
Dur­ing his stay on this ranch, Tracy vol­un­teered to do his share of the work, so when Eddy ap­peared at the barn, Tracy came out to as­sist in un­hitch­ing the horses. While he was thus oc­cu­pied, the posse ap­peared in full view. They com­manded the out­law to sur­ren­der, but in­stead of obey­ing the com­mand, Tracy used Eddy and one of the horses as a shield until he reached the barn, where his rifle was hid.
He then slipped out of a side door and dashed into a wheat field. At every mo­tion of the wheat the posse fired a vol­ley in that di­rec­tion. Fi­nally Tracy fired one shot and then all was silent.
Shortly after this, Sher­iff Gard­ner of Lin­coln County ap­peared on the scene with his son. After a con­fer­ence it was de­cided not to ven­ture into the field that night, so it was sur­rounded until the fol­low­ing morn­ing. They then made their way through the grain and found that Tracy had com­mit­ted sui­cide by blow­ing off the whole side of his head with his huge re­volver.
An in­spec­tion of the body showed that one of his legs had been shat­tered by two rifle balls fired by the posse. He at­tempted to stop the flow of blood with a ban­dage, but as fur­ther flight was im­pos­si­ble, he re­al­ized the hope­less­ness of fur­ther com­bat with the de­ter­mined posse, and there­fore made good his boast that he would never be taken alive.
His body was taken back to Salem Prison, for the dou­ble pur­pose of hav­ing it of­fi­cially iden­ti­fied and to demon­strate to the con­victs, who looked up to Tracy as a hero, the folly of at­tempt­ing to fol­low in his foot­steps.
The re­ward for Tracy, dead or alive, was $4,100.00.

Warning: count(): Parameter must be an array or an object that implements Countable in /users/eblox/www/storybreeze/wp-includes/class-wp-comment-query.php on line 399