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Harry Tracy invades the E. M. Johnson home near Kent, and escapes into the Cascades on July 9, 1902.

HistoryLink.org Essay 5376 : Printer-Friendly Format

On July 9, 1902, escaped convict Harry Tracy (1877-1902) overtakes the E. M. Johnson home near Kent, following his escape from a posse near Renton the evening before. He keeps the Johnson family captive throughout the day, and leaves eastward at nightfall. One month earlier, Tracy had escaped from the Oregon State Penitentiary, leading lawmen on a massive manhunt throughout the Northwest.

Tracy showed up at the Johnson household at 6:00 a.m., with his gun in his hand. "I'm Tracy," he said, "and I'm hungry and tired." He told Mrs. Johnson to fix him breakfast, which she did. After finishing his meal, he instructed Mr. Johnson to go to Tacoma and buy two revolvers.

Tracy knew the train schedule, and told Johnson to be back at the house by 6:00 p.m. If he alerted the authorities or returned late, Tracy would kill his wife and two children. The man gathered $28.50 and left to buy the guns.

Calming Down

Alone with the killer, Mrs. Johnson began pleading for the lives of her family. At this point, Tracy asked her if, in any of the news articles about him, she had ever heard of him harming women or children. "No," she replied. But would he kill her husband? Tracy answered: Only if he arrived with deputies.

Tracy lay down on the bed, and lightly dozed. An hour later, he arose and told the family to come with him outside, so that they could see if anyone suspicious approached. They gathered by a spring for three hours. The Johnsons didn't say much, and Tracy was not his usual talkative self. As usual, he told stories of the men he had killed, and of his various escapes, but mostly, he remained silent.

Just past noon, he brought them all back into the house for lunch, which Mrs. Johnson prepared. Later they went back outside to await Mr. Johnson's return. Shortly before 6:00, the 40-year-old farmer came running up to the house. He was able to buy one gun, but could not find another in time. He feared the worst.

But Tracy was happy to have a new revolver. When Johnson offered to give him the money in place of the missing gun, Tracy declined. "Do you think I want to rob you?" Tracy asked. "However, I will take that money from you as a loan, and will return it when I can."

Goodbye to You All

Tracy stayed for dinner, and afterwards Mrs. Johnson began packing food for him without being asked. She boiled three dozen eggs, gave him 5 pounds of butter, large pieces of bacon and ham, four loaves of bread, a can of baking powder, and two pounds of flour.

At sundown, Tracy told them he had to go. He thanked the Johnsons and shook their hands. "Goodbye to you all. Maybe I'll come back sometime." He then told him that he was taking their horse, but would release it one mile down the road. Later that night the horse returned.

Lost and Found

Tracy was next seen near Covington. A man was involved in a gun battle with deputies near Black Diamond, but whether it was Tracy or not was never determined. On July 11, a confirmed sighting was made in Black Diamond, and then word came that Tracy might be in Ravensdale.

It was apparent that Tracy was making his way into the mountains, which made his trail harder to find. By the end of July, no trace of the killer could be found. During this time, the body of David Merrill, Tracy's erstwhile accomplice, was found near Chehalis, shot apart just as Tracy had described it to earlier captives.

Some thought Tracy had disappeared for good, but on July 31, he reappeared near Wenatchee. Either by train, horseback, or foot, he had made it across the Cascade Mountains into Eastern Washington.

"Tracy Threatened to Murder Family," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 11, 1902, p. 8; "Tracy Respectful to Johnson Women," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 11, 1902, p. 8; "Posse Changes Shots With Tracy," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 11, 1902, p. 9; "Outlaw Tracy in Green River Valley," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 13, 1902, pp. 1, 12; "At Johnson Home," The Seattle Times, July 11, 1902, pp. 1, 2.

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Harry Tracy spent 15 hours at the Johnson Home near Kent on July 9, 1902

E. M. Johnson (right) was sent to Tacoma to buy guns for Harry Tracy, July 9, 1902

The gun that E. M. Johnson bought for Harry Tracy on July 9, 1902, is now in the collection of the White River Valley Museum in Auburn
Photo by Alan Stein

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