Thursday, October 25, 2007

Isaac Ebey ~ Big Tyee

Isaac Ebey (1818-1857)

Isaac Ebey is noteworthy for being the first U.S. settler on Whidbey Island. He was a farmer, a lawyer and a prosecuting attorney. He helped persuade the legislature to separate Washington from Oregon in 1853 and in 1854 as U.S. Customs collector he made several trips to San Juan Island. According to Bailey-Cummings in their book Powder-Keg Island the Hudson Bay Company had neglected to obtain a license to import farm animals therefore according to Ebey the animals were illegal and Ebey informed Charles Griffin, Hudson’s Bay agent, that they would be impounded. B.C. Governor Douglas responded by appointing Griffin as Justice of the Peace for San Juan Island. Ebey and Griffin threatened to arrest each other. Ebey withdrew leaving his friend Henry Webber as a deputy customs man.

As it was, Ebey's importance did not serve him well. In a skirmish between Northern Natives and an American warship as the story goes, 26 natives including a chief were killed. In 1857 a party of Haida came south to avenge the killing of their chief by killing a white Tyee (chief). After inquiring as to the importance of Ebey and being assured that he was an important man they called him out of his house, shot him dead and cut off his head in front of his terrified family.

According to the Sunnyside Cemetery records, a Captain Charles Dodd of the Hudson's Bay Company was able to retrieve Ebey’s scalp for “6 Blankets, 3 pipes, 1 cotton handkerchief, 6 heads of Tobacco, and 1 fthm of Cotton” Ebey’s brother Winfield noted in his diary, “At last a portion of the mutilated remains of my dear brother is returned. Near three years has elapsed since his murder and now his poor head returns to his home. The skin of the head is entire contained, the ears and most of the hair. The hair looks quite natural. It is a sad memento of the past".

Ebey was the only reported white casualty of the so-called Indian War of 1856-1857.

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