After we had visited Isaac Ebey's Prairie on Whidbey Island we were more curious than ever about this paradise that Ebey loved and his own history. Remember, we had left the island wondering who the mysterious, ghostly woman in Sunnyside Cemetery was. Although she was heading down the hill towards the old cabin where Isaac had live with his family, we were not sure if she intended to go there, for she vanished before we could reach her. It is possible she was from a family of later settlers and did not even know the Ebey's personally. She was more than likely not Emily, Isaac's second wife, for Emily left the area with her daughter, Anna, after Ebey was laid to rest in Sunnyside Cemetery. It could possibly have been Rebecca, Isaac's first wife who lies in repose by his side, overlooking their beloved prairie and home.
Did I say Isaac Ebey was laid to rest? Well, he was buried beside Rebecca, but as to whether or not he is at rest is a debatable point to ponder on. It has been said that Isaac appears at night in the cabin in a misty, pale blue ethereal light and heads out the front door to re-enact the same bloody attack, again and again. His headless ghost is then known to wander around the yard, cradling his head in his arms and ends up at the very spot where he was killed by the "Indians from the north". Many people had said at the time that it was the Haida Indians who killed and beheaded Isaac. This was never validated. However, three years later, a soldier found a group of Haida that claimed to have Ebey's scalp and the soldier bargained highly for it. When the scalp, with the ears attached, was returned to Isaac's brother, Winfield, it was claimed as being definitely Isaac's. The coffin of Ebey was dug up so as to put the scalp within with his headless body. Ebey's head never was found.
Another factor that it might have been the Haida who performed this horrendous deed with Ebey, was that when forced to return to the north, they promised they would - but, they vowed to take several "Tyee" heads with them. This was, they said, in revenge for the brutal murder of one of their Medicine Men. They were hoping to get a white medicine man to appease the spirit of their dead shaman, but, since they could not find one, Ebey was there and just as important as any medicine man. In fact, since Ebey had fought against the Indians in the mainland wars, this was a good choice for them. It is said that off and on some Haidas had been around Ebey's Landing and the homestead, asking questions. Some thought they were spies, trying to find out as much as they could about Isaac Ebey. Apparently, they got enough information to satisfy themselves that Ebey was a valuable "Tyee" and his head would do for revenge.
Haidas were traditionally known as ruthless warriors and slave traders, raiding as far as California. Haida oral narratives record journeys as far north as the Bering Sea, and one account implies that even Asia was visited by Haidas before Europeans entered the Pacific. The Haida's ability to travel was due to the fantastic canoes they carved from Western Red Cedar trees. Carved from a single red cedar tree, a vessel could sleep 15 adults head to toe, and was propelled by up to 60 paddlers, often some being women. The Haida were feared along the coast because of their practice of making lightning raids against which their enemies had little defense. The party that came to Ebey's Landing on that fateful night came in quick, with stealth and determination.
The family and friends who were there at the time of the attack and afterwards the one who investigated, said that the Ebey's kept no weapons in the house, so were completely defenseless. This is rather difficult to believe, because Ebey had fought in the wars against Indians and it seems unlikely that he would not have had arms available to protect his own family at home. In either case, the weapons would not have helped him, for he was outnumbered by cunning Indians with a definite mission.
The cabin where Isaac and his family lived had burned down in 1860 and was rebuilt not long after. The present cabin, in 1992, looked like it was in fairly good shape and seemed quite cozy. We visited the site often after that first trip, so fascinated we were by the stories we heard and the area itself, which was rather peaceful - if one could overcome the horror of that night long ago and ignore the warnings of the ghostly presence of Ebey at night. I had at one time gone right up to the cabin, which was empty, to gaze in the windows. The heavy feeling of a combination of coziness and happiness, mixed with the horrendous murder of Isaac was overwhelming. I could envision the home life of the family withing that cozy cabin, but could not ignore the grizzly death of Isaac, right off his front porch.
As Winfield Ebey had written in his diary, The "Cabins" are now deserted for good I suppose... The old place looks lonesome & deserted. The "Cabins" once a place of resort are now an object of dread. Their presiding genius can never light up their darkend walls. It will go to ruin & decay. There was something about the old houses that bound my brother to them. He never was so happy as when there.
The cabins are deserted and the remaining relatives and friends of Isaac Ebey are long gone - but, the emotions and memories still remain, as strong as they were in Isaac's time.
One tale of Isaac Ebey, "The Headless Colonel", is in a lovely and hauntingly chilling little book titled, "The Mysterious Doom", which is a great read if you love ghost stories.