Manhunt In 1902, the pursuit of outlaw Harry Tracy ends in a wheat field in Creston

By Trista Crossley

wheat field

In August 1902, Washington’s Lincoln County briefly became famous for more than just its grain when the manhunt for escaped convict Harry Tracy ended in a wheat field southeast of Creston.

Tracy was born Harry Severns in 1875 in Wisconsin to Sarah Catherine Atkinson and Orlando Nye Severns. Details about his early life are conflicting, but Tracy was in serious trouble with the law by the time he was in his early 20s. He had already been sentenced to prison in Utah — which he escaped from — and was involved in a saloon hold-up in Colorado Springs where two lawmen were killed. Tracy bounced around the West, reportedly spending time at a logging camp on Loon Lake north of Spokane and marrying his hometown sweetheart, Eugenie Carter, and briefly settling down on a small ranch in Idaho. A few months later, Carter was killed in a gunfight when vigilantes surrounded their cabin in pursuit of two of Tracy’s acquaintances who’d been accused of stealing horses.

Tracy traveled throughout the West, stealing, getting caught and sent to jail, and then escaping. Eventually, he ended up in Portland, Ore., in the company of another outlaw, David Merrill. They became known as the Black Mackinaw Bandits for their habit of wearing black mackinaw raincoats while committing robberies. The law finally caught up to the bandits, and they were sentenced and sent to the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem. Three years later, Tracy and Merrill escaped from the penitentiary, kicking off a two-month regional manhunt that became national news. 

On the morning of June 9, 1902, Tracy and Merrill used smuggled guns to fight their way out of the penitentiary, killing at least three guards in the process. Once free, the men headed north. In Chehalis, Wash., Tracy confronted Merrill about a newspaper report that Merrill’s mother turned Tracy in so Merrill could receive a lighter sentence. Tracy challenged Merrill to a duel, but cheated and shot Merrill in the back, killing him. 

Tracy continued north, reaching Olympia a few weeks later. He hijacked a launch and forced the ship’s captain and several other men to sail him up to Seattle. Tracy got off the boat north of Ballard and headed to Bothell. Just outside of Wayne, Tracy got into a gunfight with a posse, killing Snohomish County Deputy Sheriff Charles Raymond and seriously wounding one other. Tracy escaped and headed back towards Seattle. He took refuge — and hostages — at the home of Mrs. R.H. Van Horn near Woodland Park, where he walked in with guns drawn, said “I am Tracy,” and asked for a meal and clothing. 

By many accounts, Tracy could be very courteous as long as he wasn’t crossed. He reportedly told Mrs. Van Horn that, “I do not kill for the pleasure of killing, but only when I am attacked.” 

News of Tracy’s whereabouts quickly became public, and several local lawmen and residents made their way to the Van Horn house to try to ambush him as he was leaving. In the ensuing gunfight, two more of the vigilantes were killed, one by Tracy and one by friendly fire. In the chaos, Tracy escaped, made his way to Ballard, hijacked another boat, and landed on Bainbridge Island. He took refuge at the home of John Johnson, again demanding food, clothing, and bedding. That evening, Tracy took one of Johnson’s rowboats and forced the Johnson’s hired hand, John Anderson, to row him back to King County. By the time Johnson was able to alert authorities, Tracy had already slipped past them.

Three days later, on July 8, Tracy reached Renton, still with Anderson in tow. He took refuge in the Gerrells home. When his threats against several children brought Mrs. Gerrells to tears, he said, “That was only a bluff. Mother, you have nothing to fear from me. I have a mother. She is reading the papers every day to see if I am caught.” Reportedly, Tracy calmed Mrs. Gerrells with tales of his own mom, and Mrs. Gerrells later said she saw tears in his eyes.

While Tracy was eating, a small posse was slowly surrounding the Gerrells’ house. Before the trap could be sprung, however, Tracy was able to steal away in the dark, after leaving Anderson tied up in the Gerrells’ chicken coop. Even with bloodhounds on his trail, Tracy was able to evade capture.

Tracy began making his way east, taking over the E. M. Johnson home near Kent for a day. He was next seen near Covington, then Black Diamond on July 11, before reappearing near Wenatchee on July 31 and crossing the Columbia River two days later. The next sighting of Tracy was near Coulee City.

On Aug. 3, 18-year-old George E. Goldfinch was stopped by Tracy outside of Creston and asked where the nearest ranch was. Goldfinch took him to the Eddy ranch, which was run by two bachelor brothers, Lou and Eugene Eddy. Tracy let Goldfinch go after warning him that if he alerted authorities, Tracy would kill the brothers. Tracy stayed at the ranch for a few days, even helping the brothers repair their barn.  Goldfinch, however, didn’t follow orders and alerted authorities. On Aug. 6, a five-man posse was formed in Creston and headed out to the ranch. When confronted, Tracy went inside the barn for his guns. The Aug. 7, 1902, edition of The Spokesman-Review detailed what happened next:

“Sighting the men and securing his rifle, Tracy sought cover behind a haystack, escaping several rifle bullets. The posse then found cover behind a large rock, and, for a while, it looked like a siege. Then Tracy broke for a large boulder lying on the edge of a small wheat field, and this dash was his undoing. For just as he came to the rock, he fell forward, a rifle bullet having broken his leg. He plunged into the wheat, and his bloody trail here shows the savage determination of the man. For, after receiving this wound, he crawled 75 yards on his hands and feet in order to reach a spot that would command the posse and enable him to pour a merciless fire upon them, But, once only was he able to fire from this vantage point. Then, weakened by loss of blood, he tried to staunch his cruel wound, failed, and with his revolver, sent a bullet through his brain.”

Unaware Tracy was dead, the posse took up positions around the field and waited until dawn to follow the trail.

Tracy’s body was taken to Davenport. Charles May Anderson was 11 at the time and remembered seeing the body driven through town and put into a back room of a drug store. A crowd broke in and started cutting off parts of Tracy’s clothing, hair, and gun belt for souvenirs. 

“After things quieted down, the sheriff permitted my brother and me to view Tracy’s body. There was a large wound in the right forehead and the left leg below the knee was shattered, with the tourniquet, his leather belt, still in place. He was a sandy-haired man about five feet eight inches tall, well muscled, and weighing about 160 pounds. His blood-stained clothes were torn in places,” Anderson recalled.

A few days later, Tracy’s body was sent back to the penitentiary in Salem, Ore., where chemicals were used to destroy the body (to stop the remains from being stolen) and buried.

The rock where Tracy was shot still stands. In 2020, The Washington State History/Geology Facebook page visited Tracy Rock and posted a Facebook video


 “The Outlaw Harry Tracy” by Jim Kershner, The Spokesman-Review, Aug. 18, 2002. Accessed at on Jan. 4, 2024.

“Harry Tracy escapes from the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem on June 9, 1902” by Alan J. Stein. Accessed at on Jan. 4, 2024.

“Harry Tracy enters King County aboard a hijacked launch on July 2, 1902” by Alan J. Stein. Accessed at on Jan. 4, 2024.

“Harry Tracy participates in two gun battles that leave three men dead on July 3, 1902” by Alan J. Stein. Accessed at on Jan. 4, 2024.

“Harry Tracy takes food and clothing from the Fisher family, north of Ravenna, on July 4, 1902” by Alan J. Stein. Accessed at on Jan. 4, 2024.

“Harry Tracy takes over the John Johnson household on Bainbridge Island, and kidnaps John Anderson on July 5, 1902” by Alan J. Stein. Accessed at on Jan. 4, 2024.

“Harry Tracy returns to King County with kidnapped John Anderson on July 6, 1902” by Alan J. Stein. Accessed at on Jan. 4, 2024.

“Harry Tracy charms a captive audience near Renton on July 8, 1902” by Alan J. Stein. Accessed at on Jan. 4, 2024.

“Harry Tracy invades the E. M. Johnson home near Kent, and escapes into the Cascades on July 9, 1902” by Alan J. Stein. Accessed at on Jan. 4, 2024.

“Harry Tracy dies by his own hand following a bloody gun battle in Lincoln County on August 6, 1902” by Alan J. Stein. Accessed at on Jan. 4, 2024.

“I touched Harry Tracy’s corpse” by Charles May Anderson. Accessed at on Jan. 4, 2024.

“Creston Celebrates the Capture of Harry Tracy, “The Last Desperado” by Steve Willis. Accessed at on Jan. 4, 2024.

“Harry Tracy the Outlaw” by Rebeka Smithson. Accessed at on Jan. 4, 2024.