Harry Tracy enters King County aboard a hijacked launch on July 2, 1902.

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 3/06/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 5384

On July 2, 1902, escaped convict Harry Tracy (1877-1902) enters Seattle aboard a launch hijacked from Olympia. After landing north of Ballard, he begins making his way towards the city with one of the kidnapped crewmen, whom he later releases. Tracy had escaped from the Oregon State Penitentiary one month earlier with the help of fellow convict David Merrill. He shot Merrill in the back near Chehalis.

The World is His Oyster

Harry Tracy arrived at the Capital City Oyster Company near Olympia around 5:00 a.m., and entered the shanty of Horatio Alling. Alling and his cook William Adair were shocked by the intruder's audacity, but when Tracy introduced himself, they immediately knew who he was, having seen his escapades on the front page of every newspaper. The escaped killer ordered them to fix him some breakfast, which they proceeded to do.

Company workers Frank Scott and John Messegee entered the cabin, and were forced at riflepoint to sit with the other two men while Tracy finished his grub. Tracy asked them about the gasoline launch N & S, which was moored in the bay. He ordered the cook to call Captain A. J. Clark, the ship's master, and Clark's 15-year-old son Edwin ashore for breakfast.

Captain Clark came in and noticed the man with a gun, but thought the fellows were playing a jolly prank on him. He and his son sat down for breakfast, and ate it all despite being a bit puzzled as to why the men were so strangely quiet. After they had finished, Tracy introduced himself, and told them that he needed their boat.

Sailing to Seattle

Tracy ordered Messegee to tie up and gag Alling and Adair, and then marched him down to the beach with Frank Scott, Captain Clark, and the boy Edwin. Scott was sent back to the building for some clothing. Tracy said he was in discomfort because he was wearing shoes that he'd stolen from a "cripple," and one had a sole several inches larger than the other.

Once all four men and the boy were aboard, they headed north to Seattle. Captain Clark wanted to make good time and be rid of their captor, but Tracy told him to slow down so that they would arrive under the cover of twilight. It was only 9:00 a.m., and it was going to be a long, slow ride.

All day long, Tracy regaled them with blood-curdling stories about his life. He told them of his escape from the Oregon Penitentiary with his partner-in-crime David Merrill. He told of a duel between the two of them a few days later, when Tracy shot Merrill in the back, "before he turned to shoot me in the back," he explained. "He was nothing but an impediment to me," said Tracy, "and I am glad he is out of the way."

As the launch passed the United States penitentiary on McNeill Island, Tracy wanted the boat moved closer to shore so he could "shoot a guard or two," but the men persuaded him otherwise. Instead, he popped off a shot at a harbor seal (he barely missed), this being the only shot fired from his rifle during the entire boat trip. He did take aim at a tug captain whom he thought was approaching too closely, but nothing came of it.

Well, So Long

Tracy wanted to be dropped off at Smith Cove, but was surprised at the number of ships there and told the captain to sail up to Meadow Point, north of Ballard. They anchored offshore at 6:30 p.m., and waited for an hour. When he disembarked, Tracy told Captain Clark, "I'll send you a lot of money for kidnapping you and the launch, for I will have a lot of dough pretty soon now. You have acted pretty decent by me. Well, so long."

Tracy insisted on taking Frank Scott with him, but first made him tie up the other men. Tracy noticed that Edwin Clark had a sore wrist, and told Scott to tie his elbows instead. As the men began walking along the Great Northern railroad tracks to Seattle, Tracy griped that he didn't have a six-shooter. All he had was his Winchester rifle, and 200 rounds of ammunition.

At one point a man approached and Tracy wanted to hold him up. "For God's Sake," pleaded Scott. "You'll implicate me!" Tracy hesitated a few seconds and said, "Well, damn it, I don't want to get you in trouble, so I'll wait until you leave me." They made it into Ballard and rested alongside the rails.

Although Tracy appeared exhausted, he continued to loudly tell violent tales with no fear of being overheard. After a few choice stories, he told Scott that he could go. "What are you going to do?" asked Scott. Tracy said that he was going to hold up a policeman for his gun, and then go down to Seattle by Pike Street to hold up Clancy's Saloon, because "I hear they have got some dough down there."

Scott Free

Tracy bid his unwilling assistant a fond farewell and, after thanking him and shaking his hand, resumed his walk to Seattle. Scott hightailed it back to Meadow Point, and out to the launch. The men had already extricated themselves from their bonds, and had been waiting for Scott to return. They motored south.

When they reached Seattle, it was past midnight. They immediately notified the police, and a posse was organized. After the posse left northward, the hungry kidnap victims went out to a restaurant with a group of newspapermen.

Each told of their harrowing tale of being kidnapped, but agreed that Scott was the one that Tracy appeared to almost befriend. "I was mortally afraid of Tracy," Scott told the pressmen, "yet he made a fellow feel at home."


"Convict Harry Tracy Lands Near Seattle," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 3, 1902, p. 1, 2; "Captain's Son Relates Story," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, July 3, 1902, p. 2; "Tracy Definitely Located in Vicinity of Bothell," The Seattle Times, July 4, 1902, p. 1, 2; "Story of the Search for Tracy," The Seattle Times, July 4, 1902, p. 2, 3.

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