Once upon in the Wild West,
there was an outlaw named Harry Tracy who was tracked by posse men, sheriffs
and marshals in what would be the greatest manhunt of the early twentieth
century, spanning 58 days and ending in suicide.
Some historians consider Tracy was born Harry (Henry) Severn in Pittsville,
Wisconsin in 1874. While much may never be known about his childhood,
it is certain this medium-height, blue-gray eyed man later emerged into
a vicious outlaw with his string of crimes, arrests and jailbreaks. A
born leader who would charm women with his courteous manners, respected
by men and always spoke fondly of his mother, Tracy preferred living the
life of a desperate criminal. He was a sharp man who outwitted many men
tracking him and, coupled with his arrogance, he never hid who he was.
When encountered, he would boast, "I'm Tracy."
Harry Tracy was part of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid's Wyoming Hole-in-the-Wall
gang, though it is not known exactly for how long. In the events that
followed, while with pal Dave Lant, Tracy was jailed for the murder of
cattle ranch owner V.S. Hoy and sentenced to the Routt County jail, where,
after beating the sheriff, he later escaped.
So would begin an arms
length of crimes committed by Harry Tracy, including a jailbreak in Colorado
and another from the Utah Penitentiary, before venturing to the Pacific
Northwest. He proved time and again that no jail could hold him.
Around 1898, while living in Portland, Oregon, Harry Tracy met Vancouver,
Washington native David Merrill. Perhaps the two men were destined to
meet, as Merrill was no stranger to crime. A decade before, on November
1, 1887, while in the Clark County jail on a theft charge, David Merrill
(using the alias Dave Robinson) along with two other prisoners escaped
from their cell by the use of a key they'd made.
In the months that followed, Tracy courted and married David Merrill's
sister, Rose. Not much is known about his bride, nor if they had a child
During 1898-1899, partners-in-crime Tracy and Merrill committed numerous
robberies in downtown Portland, including saloons, banks, trolley cars,
a drug store and other various businesses. In most of these felonies,
they often bound and gagged their victims, at gunpoint.
At this time, Merrill's mother lived in Portland. Police officers, much
like the Pinkertons with Jesse James family farm, decided to watch his
mother's house. Though the police didn't use such extreme measures, they
entered the house and found David Merrill hiding upstairs. In the aftermath,
a detective caught up with Harry Tracy, who, in his notorious arrogant
manner, leisurely walked straight up to the house, exchanged a few words,
and turned around and left. One account has him fleeing the house, running
through the trees and hopping aboard a moving train. After telling the
engineer to jump, Tracy ran down the cab, leapt to the ground and knocked
himself out cold.
Another version, and probably more likely, has Tracy fleeing the house
and later hiding out in a butcher shop. Not one to go down without a fight,
gunfire was exchanged, where he took a minor bullet wound to the head.
Harry Tracy was taken into custody and sentenced to twenty years in the
Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem, Oregon. David Merrill was sentenced
to thirteen (note: could also be twelve.)
On June 9, 1902, at seven o'clock in the morning, Tracy and Merrill broke
out of prison, leaving behind two dead guards.
This would begin the most intense and electrifying manhunt in the Pacific
In the days that followed, heading north and stealing horses, food and
clothing as they went, Tracy and Merrill traveled over fifty miles to
Portland. From there, the two men rowed by boat across the Columbia River
into Vancouver, Washington.Vancouver Sheriff John Marsh had
already been alerted and had formed
a posse of over sixty men. On June 16, Deputy Bert Biesecker and volunteer
Luther Davidson were positioned at a post along Salmon Creek (roughly
seven miles from the Washington state
line) when just after dusk they spotted the two escapees. After a stand
off and trading gunfire, it was here Tracy once again demonstrated he
would flee any one who stood in his way.
En route to Olympia and
while in Castle Rock, Tracy and Merrill got into a duel -- possibly over
a disagreement -- and Tracy shot and killed his partner-in-crime/brother-in-law.
Alone now, stealing as he went and staying with various families, Tracy
continued on his way, while skillfully keeping lawmen at bay. In early
July, he was in Seattle, then moved eastward on to Kent, Auburn, Coulee
City, Ritzville and Creston. It has been mentioned that he also stayed
in caves. It seemed the outlaw was invincible, larger-than-life, and no
bullet or man could bring him down. During this time, across the nation
Harry Tracy would make headlines in the newspapers.
On August 3, Tracy came upon a ranch located in Creston, which was owned
by brothers Lou and Gene Eddy. Some state that while staying at the Eddy
ranch, Tracy helped the brothers build a barn.
The next day, lawmen and a posse surrounded Tracy in the wheat field.
He was shot in the leg by one of five wheat farmers. Possibly sensing
he could not make an escape while bleeding to death, Harry Tracy shot
and killed himself with his 30-30 rifle. (Evidence showed later that Merrill
had been shot in the back.)
On August 5, in Davenport, souvenir seekers tore clothes from his remains,
and ripped hair from his scalp. Harry Tracy's body was returned to Salem
where it was buried in lime outside the prison walls. $4,000 reward money
was paid to the five wheat farmers. During his 58-day escapade, Tracy
killed seven men. At the time of his death, he was either 27 or 28-years
The burial spot for Harry Tracy is now long gone and nobody knows for
sure where his remains in the ground are. Perhaps the mystery is fitting
for a man who was able to elude lawmen, trackers and posse men through
two states. And just like his relics, we may never know the gaps in just
where his life took a wrong turn. Today, over a hundred years later, he
remains one of Washington and Oregon's most notorious outlaws.
"I'm Tracy. I don't
want to hurt anybody but those who get in my way, but when I say put your
hands up, put them up."
- Harry Tracy