On August 6, 1902, Harry Tracy (1877-1902) takes his own life rather than surrender to authorities, after being wounded in a gun battle in a Lincoln County wheat field. Beginning with his escape from the Oregon State Penitentiary on June 9, 1902, Tracy killed six men throughout the Northwest, and in the process became known as one of the last desperados of the Old West.
In late July, Tracy crossed the Cascade Mountains after a week-long crime spree in King County. He was seen near Wenatchee on July 31. Two days later he was seen aboard a ferry crossing the Columbia River, and following that he was seen near Coulee City. He appeared to be heading for Spokane.
On August 3, near the town of Creston, 18-year-old George E. Goldfinch was hailed by a dark stranger riding a bay horse, and leading a sorrel. "I'm Tracy, the convict," the stranger stated. "Who are you?" In reply, Goldfinch told him his name, and said, "Pleased to meet you -- I think."
Tracy asked the whereabouts of the nearest ranch. Goldfinch told him that the Eddy ranch was nearby, run by two bachelor brothers. Tracy told him to go there, and let them know he was coming.
Once Tracy arrived, Goldfinch introduced him to Lou and Eugene Eddy. Tracy looked around and decided to stay at the ranch for a few days. He let the boy go, warning him that he would kill the Eddys if the authorities were alerted.
Over the next few days, Tracy tended his horses, shaved, and took a bath. He even showed off his gun slinging prowess to the Eddy brothers by pegging a knothole in a pine board, 60 yards away. They were impressed.
Meanwhile, Goldfinch had disobeyed Tracy's orders and had phoned the sheriff in Creston. He also offered to act as a scout and advisor in the capture of Harry Tracy. A posse was formed, and on the morning of August 6, it approached the ranch.
The posse met up with Lou Eddy who was mowing hay in a pasture. As they conversed they saw a man step out of the barn. "Is that Tracy?" they asked. Lou said yes, and was ordered to drive to the barn, followed by the possemen.
As soon as Tracy saw them he asked who they were, "Hold up your hands!" yelled policeman C. C. Straub, "We are constables of the law!" Tracy bolted back into the barn for his rifle and started firing. He ran from the house with the posse in hot pursuit.
He reached some rocks, and leapt behind them. The deputies hid behind nearby rocks, and shots were exchanged. The lawmen began jockeying for better position. Tracy ran towards a wheat field, but in doing so got hit, and fell to the ground.
Two bullets had ripped through Tracy's leg. One caused a flesh wound in the back of his thigh, but the other had hit midcalf, shattering both bones. Tracy wrenched himself forward by his hands, and took cover in the waist-high wheat.
By this time reinforcements had arrived back at the ranch, but no one was willing to travel into the field to find the cornered, injured man. Not knowing the extent of Tracy's wounds, they surrounded the field, in case Tracy tried to escape once again.
He didn't. Tracy had dragged himself over 75 yards, hoping to find a vantage point from which to shoot, but his wounds were too great. Blood flowed out in pulses. A major artery was severed in his leg, and although he had stuffed a handkerchief down inside the wound, the flow could not be staunched.
Having vowed to others that he would never be taken alive, Tracy kept that promise. His energy draining, he brought his revolver up under his right eye, pulled the trigger, and blew out his brains.
The Last Desperado
The posse waited until next morning to enter the field. The body was removed and brought to Creston, which by this time was filled with throngs of oglers. The Sheriff allowed people to see the body, but many started ripping at Tracy's clothes, and snipping locks of his hair. One man pulled the handkerchief out of Tracy's leg wound, but found it too clotted and wet to put in his pocket. He wrapped it up in paper instead.
After a few days, it was decided that Tracy would be returned for burial in Salem, Oregon. Tracy's coffin came through Seattle, under guard, and was shipped south. Back at the penitentiary, chemicals were introduced into the casket, so the body would be destroyed, lest someone try to steal the remains.
The manhunt was over, but legends quickly built up about Harry Tracy. Mere months after his death, dime novels were written and plays produced. After film became popular, at least two silent movies told an embellished version of his story. It wasn't until the rise of more modern criminals like John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde, that Tracy's tale began to wane, although the film Harry Tracy starring Bruce Dern was made in 1983, and more scholarly histories have been written since.
More than a century after his final days, there are many who consider Harry Tracy to be the last desperado of the Wild West.