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Whidbey Island, Isaac Ebey's Paradise
April 25, 1851
I scarcely know how I shall write or what I should write...The great desire of
To the north down along Admiralty Inlet (that portion of water connecting Puget Sound with the Straits of Juan de Fuca) the cultivating land is generally found confined to the valleys of streams with the exception of Whidby's Island (the large island that blocks up and terminates the Straits of Fuca on the east) which is almost a paradise of nature. Good land for cultivation is abundant on this island.
I have taken my claim on it and am now living on the same in order to avail myself of the provisions of the Donation law. If Rebecca, the children and you all were here, I think I could live and die here content.
Col. Isaac Neff Ebey's letter to his brother, W. S.
Whidbey Island truly is a paradise. I was born in the Pacific Northwest and it is beautiful country. Whidbey Island, one of nine islands located in Island County, Washington, is about 30 miles north of Seattle. Whidbey forms the northern boundary of the Puget Sound.
In the spring of 1992, my brother and I were reading stories of hauntings in the Pacific Northwest, where we lived at the time, and came across the tragic story of Colonel Isaac N. Ebey. When we related the story to our Mother and sister, we all decided to go and explore Whidbey Island to see if we could find the old Ebey farm, where Isaac built a home for his family, and Sunnyside Cemetery where the Ebey family plots were. We first did a lot of research at some local libraries to validate the story we had read and found a wealth of information on Isaac Ebey and Ebey's Landing. We found that the sudden and violent death of Col. Ebey had, over the years, become one of the most famous folklore tales in the Pacific Northwest.
Isaac Ebey was born in 1818 in Ohio. He grew to follow his father's habit of continually moving west. Isaac received legal training in Missouri, where he and Rebecca Davis were married in 1843. They had two sons, Eason and Ellison. Isaac was a man who was very loyal to the idea of duty and responsibility. He believed that the noblest aspiration of men was "to improve their condition in life."
In 1848, Isaac, leaving his family in good care with relatives, headed out to the West Coast. After trying his luck in the California gold rush he headed for the Puget Sound area. He explored Whidbey Island as a possible settling place for him and his family. Ebey fell in love with the area and decided to build his home there and bring his family out. On October 15, 1850, he entered a claim for 640 acres of the rich black loam land which now bears his name, Ebey's Prairie. His wife, Rebecca, their two sons, her three brothers and their friends, the Crockett family, came out and they all settled in early 1852 on the island paradise.
Isaac's father and mother, and his brother, Winfield, joined them not long after this and claimed land that overlooked Isaac's. Isaac built a blockhouse next to his father's home as possible protection against the Haida Indians from the north.
Isaac's farm was on land that was some of the most productive in the Pacific Northwest. The news of the land and Ebey's good fortune quickly brought a rush of other families. In 1860, W. B. Sinclair built a ferry house, which also served as an inn, warehouse and postal station.
Isaac was given the title of colonel after he led a company of volunteers to fight in the mainland Indian wars of 1855-1856. He gained admirable respect and many men would enlist only under his command in Island County. In the nine years of his life at Whidbey, Isaac maintained a vital role in territorial affairs. He was prosecuting attorney for the community and also represented Thurston County in the Oregon Territorial Legislature. He was persuasive in getting the legislature to sign the Monticello Memorial which separated Oregon and Washington Territories in 1853. President Franklin Pierce appointed him to be collector for the Puget Sound district and inspector of revenues at the state capital in Olympia.
Rebecca died in 1853 after the birth of their third child, Sarah Harriet. Ebey later remarried to Emily Palmer Sconce, widow of John Sconce. Emily joined Isaac and his children at Whidbey, along with her daughter, Anna.
In spite of continuous threats and concerns about the Haida Indians, life was pleasant and productive for the families of the settlement. The Haida had been forced to promise that they would return north, which they said they would do. However, they vowed to take several "tyee" heads with them. Tyee meant men of prominence, holding titles, who fought against them.
On a seemingly pleasant summer evening in August of 1857, when friends of the family were visiting, they were disturbed by noise outside and the warning barks of their dog. When Isaac went outside to inspect, he was attacked, shot and beheaded by the Indians. Emily, the children and the couple staying with them managed to escape through a back bedroom window as the Indians broke into the cabin on the other side of the house and began ransacking rooms.
Isaac's brother, Winfield, wrote in his diary on August 14, 1857: My Brother Isaac is Dead - My noble high minded brother is no more - shot and beheaded at his own door...Oh! the agony I have suffered for three long days and Still Suffer. It seems more bitter than death...
He goes on to give an account of how the news came to him: On the morning of the 12th inst (Wednesday) at about 2 oclk we were awakened by a knocking & shouting at the door. I & Tho Hastie Sprang from the bed & found R. C. Hill, H. Hill, R. H. Crosbie & Mrs Corliss. In a few words they told us that an attact had been made on Isaac's House by the Northern Indians, that Mrs. C- had jumped from a window got off, ran to Mr. Engle's and aroused them & came up here.
After Winfield gathered some men and their guns, they went in search of the family and took them to safety in a neighboring home. At daybreak Winfield and the others returned to the home of Isaac and found him. I came in the yard and found him in his gore. His headless trunk lay on its side near the end of the porch apparently where he had fallen. wrote Winfield.
Thus ended the happy home life of the Ebey family. Isaac was buried up the hill from his cabin by the side of Rebecca at Sunnyside Cemetery. Isaac's life in his beloved paradise had come to a tragic end. Emily left the area with her daughter. The two sons and daughter of Isaac and Rebecca were taken to live with their grandparents.
Winfield wrote 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.
We found Ebey's Prairie and the site of his cabin, the monument erected that tells of his murder and wandered around the land. There was a heavy feeling of sadness in the area and we could not speak much while there. We walked up the hill to the cemetery and after considerable searching, found Isaac's grave. It was as if we had known him and mourned him in silence. We stood there for quite some time, each with our own thoughts.
As we turned to leave, I saw a movement off to our right about 100 yards away. I looked and saw a woman in a long black dress with a long black hooded cape over it. She had the hood over her head. She was walking down the hill towards the cabin. Without saying anything, I touched my Mother's arm and pointed to the woman. We all turned and watched as the woman slowly walked then disappeared behind some large bushes. She never came out the other side. We walked over to where we had seen her, feeling a bit apprehensive. There was no sign of her. We walked down to the road that runs between the cemetery and the cabin and she was nowhere to be found. There were no other vehicles on the narrow lonesome road except ours. We drove back to the main land in silence, wondering who the woman in the black cloak was.
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