Spirit of Isaac Ebey and Whidbey Island - Haunted Paradise
Colonel Isaac Neff Ebey
Colonel Isaac Neff Ebey (January 22, 1818 - August 11, 1857) found his paradise on Whidbey Island in the Pacific Northwest. What was once his home is now a haunted paradise of the past. There are many haunted places in the Pacific Northwest—this is one where I sensed an oppressive and sad heaviness lingering, touching everything upon the land.
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. It truly is a lovely area.
In the spring of 1992, my brother and I were reading haunting stories 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. We also found it was all based on actual facts.
Ebey Moves West
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. In April of 1851, Isaac wrote a letter to his brother, Winfield Ebey:
April 25, 1851
".... 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.
At the time Isaac wrote that letter, Olympia was part of the state of Oregon. Ebey was instrumental in making Oregon and Washington two separate states.
Isaac's 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, 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.
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.— Isaac Ebey
Blockhouse Built by Isaac Ebey for his Father Jacob
The Ferry House and Inn
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.
Ebey 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 capitol in Olympia.
Second Marriage and Death
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.
Emily and the children made it to Jacob Ebey's blockhouse and hid inside. Their friends escaped into the forest and hid.
After the horrific tragedy, Emily was unable to stay with the horrible memories and left with her daughter, Anna. Ellison and Eason, the sons of Isaac and Rebecca, were taken in and raised by their grandparents.
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 and their daughter Sarah at Sunnyside Cemetery. Isaac's life in his beloved paradise had come to a tragic end.
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."
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...— Winfield Ebey, August 14, 1857
1992: We Found the Old Cabin and Cemetery
We found Ebey's Prairie and the site of his cabin, also the monument erected that tells of his murder. We wandered around the land for quite some time, not speaking, each of us deep in thought. There was a heavy feeling of sadness in the area.
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, still lost in 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 - she was nowhere to be found. There were no vehicles on the narrow lonesome road except ours. We drove back to the mainland in silence, wondering who the woman in the black cloak was.
Is she stuck in time?
I often wonder if the apparition was Ebey's first wife, Rebecca, and if she is somehow stuck in time. She must have loved her island paradise as much as Isaac did. Because she died young and unexpectedly, she must be searching for something to hold on to -- maybe looking for Isaac to help him cross over?
I would like to go back to see if she is still there. It is possible that her spirit is trapped in an energy field, like a time warp, where she repeats the same actions over and over.
Is Isaac at Rest?
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.
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 lived 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. We came to the conclusion that the apparition must 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 suffer 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.
Some say that Winfield had the coffin of his brother dug up so as to put the scalp within with his headless body—others say that the scalp was kept in the family and passed down to generations, where someone still has it. The last known whereabouts of the scalp was in the home of descendants living in California in 1914. Ebey's head was never found.
Captain Coupe got over from Port Townsend bringing my friend A. M. Poe, Esquire. Mr. P. brings my brother's scalp which was recovered from the Northern tribes by Captain Dodd. At last this memento is received. 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 [or a portion of it] returns to his home. The skin of the head is entire contained, the ears and most of the hair. The hair looks quite natural.— Winfield Ebey, April 1860
Indians From the North
Another reason that people had believed 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, they more than likely thought 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 south 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.
A Haida War Canoe Could Hold Many Warriors
The family and friends who were there at the time of the attack, and afterwards the ones who investigated, said that the Ebey's kept no weapons in the house, so they 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.
Many different theories and opinions were debated back and forth over the years as to which tribe had attacked and killed Ebey. Although the scalp was finally found with the Kake tribe and purchased by Captain Charles Dodd, a friend of Isaac Ebey's, there was no proof that the Kake tribe had killed Ebey. It is very likely that the scalp had been passed on in trade with another tribe.
Memories and Vibrations Linger
The cabin where Isaac and his family lived had burned down in 1860 and was rebuilt not long after, yet it retains memories and vibrations of the original cabin. 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 sometimes quiet and seemingly peaceful, sometimes oppressive.
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 within that cozy cabin, but could not ignore the grizzly death of Isaac, right off his front porch. When I walked over to the area where Isaac was attacked, I felt like I was suffocating and left quickly.
As Winfield Ebey had written in his diary, "The "Cabins" are now deserted for good I suppose ...." Or are they?
© 2013 Phyllis Doyle Burns