North Coast Indians, likely members of the Kake tribe of Tlingits, behead Isaac Ebey on August 11, 1857.

  • By Patrick McRoberts
  • Posted 2/26/2003
  • Essay 5302
See Additional Media

On August 11, 1857, a group of North Coast Indians -- likely members of the Kake tribe of Tlingits who were led by a woman warrior -- behead Col. Isaac N. Ebey (1818-1857) at his home, "The Cabins," near Ebey's Landing. These Indians were likely retaliating for the killing of 27 tribal members, including a chief, by the U.S. warship Massachusetts the previous year. It is an oral tradition of the Kake tribe of Tlingits that the raid was led by a female relative of a chief slain in the Massachusetts incident. The oral tradition  further specifies that the female leader of the raid was a member of the Tsaagweidi clan.

The white settlers on Whidbey Island -- including Ebey, who was the first to file a land claim there under the Donation Claims Law in 1850 -- had little to fear from the local Indians, but the northern Indians periodically staged raids on the local population. In August 1857, a group of these northern Indians came to Whidbey, reportedly seeking to take their revenge by killing John Coe Kellogg, the "Canoe Doctor," who was well-known in Port Gamble. They viewed Kellogg as a sort of white Tyee.

According to reports at the time, Kellogg was in Port Gamble, away from his Whidbey Island claim, when the Indians came calling. The Indians proceeded to question local residents about Ebey and whether he was a Tyee of the white population. They were told that he was a leader, whereupon they determined that if they could not kill Kellogg, they would take their revenge on Ebey instead.

The following night, they went to The Cabins and fired a gun outside. When Ebey came outside to assess the trouble, they killed him. His headless body was later found outside the door of his house.

The Ebey family, including Mrs. (Emily Sconce) Ebey, escaped before the northern Indians ransacked the home, taking all the clothing and bedding. Ebey was the only reported white casualty of the so-called Indian War of 1856-1857.

In 1978 Congress set aside Ebey's Landing Historical Reserve to preserve and protect the prairie, shoreline, and buildings, a cultural landscape that is a laboratory of Northwest history. This was the nation's first National Historical Reserve and is a non-traditional part of the National Park system. According to the National Park Service:

"It is the first unit of its kind in the system, with most of the land under private ownership. A unit of local government, the Trust Board of Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve, is charged with management as called for in the legislation creating the Reserve. The Trust Board is a partnership of local, state and federal governments working collaboratively to ensure the historic and natural resources of the reserve are protected for future generations to enjoy and experience."


Dorothy Neil and Lee Brainerd, By Canoe and Sailing Ship They Came: A History of Whidbey Island (Oak Harbor: Spindrift Publishing Company, 1989), 47-48; Laura Arksey, "Beheaded Pioneer," Columbia, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Spring 1988), 24-30; Victor J. Farrar, “Diary of Colonel and Mrs. I. N. Ebey,” The Washington Historical Quarterly Vol. 7, No. 3 (July 1916), p. 240-241; Oregon Spectator, October 17, 1850, p. 1; Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve website accessed October 12, 2007 (; Michael Coppock, "Kake Tribes Take the Head of an Official," Juneau, February 29, 2008 (; Mike Jackson (leader of Kakes) phone conversation with Michael Coppock, February 2008, and blog comment to Coppock article from ELJackson, February 29 2008; Michael Coppock email to Priscilla Long, November 23, 2008, in possession of, Seattle, Washington.
Note: This essay was updated as to the likely identity of the North Coast Indians who killed Ebey on November 24, 2008.

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You