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Outlaw Harry Tracy
(aka Harry Severens of Minong)
Written by Ricky Moore
Donated by Pat Goodwin

Pat Goodwin and Ricky (Goodwin) Moore are children of Percy Goodwin, the oldest son of John (Johnny) Lyman Goodwin.  Percy was born in Washburn County in 1890.  Percy lived in Washburn County until 1905 and was educated through the 8th grade at Chittamo school.  He left in 1905 at age 15 and went west to Montana in search of his father.  He returned about 1907 and lived with his sister, Emma, and her husband in the Cloquet, MN area until 1911 and then returned to Montana.  His next visit to Washburn County was in 1964.

Harry Tracy/Severens worked for Johnny Goodwin and became Ed Goodwin's stepson.

~~~

“Harry Tracy made Jesse James look like a Sunday school choir boy”, said one historian about the most notorious outlaw who ever spilled blood across the northwest, and came to his death finally near Creston in the Spokane region.

At the time I read this I knew much about Jesse James and I thought this a very brash and challenging statement. Sometime later, however, when I learned the full story on this turn-of-the-century bad man, I found that I was very much inclined to agree with this opinion of him.

How well Tracy stacked up against the other outlaws of his day is of course, a matter of personal speculation. No one though, could ever question the cold, fearless nerve and diehard determination of this desperado. Having read about most of the “hardcase” gunmen of those wild ol’days, it is my opinion that Harry Tracy takes a back seat to no one in the categories of gunplay and guts.

The final, and most spectacular episode in Tracy’s long, violent career began about 7 am on the morning of June 9, 1902 in the Oregon State Prison. An Oregon drizzle met the line of gray-clad prisoners as they marched from their cells to the various shops they had been assigned in the house of bondage.

Harry Tracy, one of the deadliest men in America, and his companion Dave Merrill, were among those working out their debt to society in the prison foundry shop. Tracy, in prison jargon, served “hard time.” He was constantly at outs with the guards for refusing to conform to what he thought were “trivial rules.” On this particular morning, however, he was filled with high hopes.

According to the generally accepted version of what happened, a promise of a deal of money had persuaded a former inmate, Charles Monte, who had been released from the prison the previous month, to help Tracy set up an escape from the adamant old pen at Salem, Oregon.

In fulfilling his part in the plan, Monte did an amazing thing - probably one of the few feats of its kind in history. On the night of June 8, 1902, Monte drove a buggy to a secluded spot nears the prison wall. Toting a cumbersome bundle of ropes, grappling hooks, and guns, he approached the prison wall under the cover of darkness. Hurling a grappling hook high in the air, he secured it fast to the catwalk above. Hand over hand; he made his way up the rope to the top of the wall. Drawing the rope up quickly, and letting it down inside, he lowered himself into the prison yard.

Moving silently, he crossed the yard, entered the foundry shop, and planted two loaded 30-30 Winchester rifles beneath some patterns in some packing cases. Stealthily making his way back to the outer wall, he climbed over it and was soon gone into the night. It was a clean job: no one had seen him. It was a daredevil feat - but one that later earned him a life-sentence. For this act was instrumental in causing the deaths of three men the following day and several more in the weeks to come.

On the morning following Mont’s secret visit to the prison, Tracy, Merrill, and the 157 other inmates that made up the foundry gang entered the shop as usual. The moment Tracy and Merrill stepped through the door, they sprang toward the packing cases against the wall. In a moment they were armed with the deadly Winchester rifles. Tracy, with a curse, drew a bead on Frank Ferrell, the shop guard “I’ll learn ya’ to hard time me, you (  )” exploded Tracy.

The heavy slug ripped into the guard’s body and he died almost instantly. Some of the old time convicts said that this cold-blooded killing was motivated by the fact that Guard Ferrell had once tied Tracy up by his wrists and lashed his back with a pronged leather strap. According to Joseph “Bunco” Kelly, in his autobiography “13 Years in the Oregon Penitentiary” corporal punishment was then much in vogue in the prison.

As Ferrell went down, Tracy swung his rifle around and took aim at another shop guard. At this instant an old convict, Tom Ingraham (doing life for killing his brother), made a move to stop Tracy and was blasted in the leg. The old prisoner was later gave a pardon for this act but lost his leg as a result of the wound.

Picking up a ladder, which was lying behind the packing cases, Tracy and Merrill ran into the yard and toward the northwest wall.

Guard S. R. Jones, in his towers saw them running across the yard and began firing. Tracy squeezed off one shot. Jones yelled, dropped his rifle and toppled from the wall.

Reaching the wall, they placed the ladder firmly against it, and with Tracy in the lead, started over. Guard Tiffany started firing at them from the East Tower. Tracy and Merrill both returned the shots and a slug caught Tiffany in the chest. He fell outside the wall. In a moment the two escaping convicts dropped to the ground outside, rushed to the wounded guard, and forced him to his feet. Using him as a shield, they made their way quickly to a dense, wooded area a short distance away.

When the guard had served his purpose, Tracy shoved him to the ground and put a bullet through his brain. When Tracy and Merrill made their break, it marked the beginning of one of the greatest, most widespread man hunts in American history.

This was not the first dramatic jailbreak for Harry Tracy, but it was certainly the most spectacular. Throughout the West, he had left a trail of sawed bars and dead men.

Tracy, whose real name was Harry Severens, was born in Minong, Wisconsin, in 1875, and had drifted west at an early age. It seems he fell immediately into the pathways of crime, for he soon was riding with Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch, or “Hole in the Wall” gang, as they were known. Tracy, along with Harvey “Kid Curry” Logan, was probably the most ruthless and feared man to ever ride with the notorious gang.

There has been much garbled fiction written about Tracy’s boyhood years, and most of it was dreamed up in the minds of the pulp paperback novelists who were grinding out their dime-novel hash under the label of “historical fact” just after the turn of the century. In truth, little is known of Tracy’s early life for he was not one to talk often about his boyhood.

His first recorded jailbreak took place in 1897. Tracy, then 22 years old, had been sentenced to a term in the State Penitentiary at Salt Lake City on July 10, 1897, following a burglary in Provo, Utah. Tracy (No. 939) was in the prison less than two months when he led three other convicts in a daring escape.

On Oct. 3, while working at a rock quarry some distance from the prison, Tracy attacked a guard, grabbed his shotgun, changed clothes with him, and accompanied by Dave Lant, Pat Johnson and Jack Bennett, made good his escape. Dodging pursuers the four convicts fled to the safety of a remote outlaw camp known as “Brown’s Hole” in northeaster Utah. On the first day of March 1898, a young boy named Willie Strang was brutally shot and killed in Brown’s Hole by one of the Salt Lake escapees, Jack Bennett. Before he could make his escape, Bennett was captured by Valentine Hoy and other angered ranchers of the region, who promptly honored him at a necktie party.

Upon receiving word that a posse was on its way to the hole, Tracy, Lant, and Johnson decided to make a fast exit from the valley. When the lawmen arrived, Hoy and other ranchers joined in the chase for the fleeing outlaws. They finally cornered Tracy and his companions on a rugged mountainside in Lodore Canyon, high above the Green River. The posse had advanced up the treacherous cliffs to a spot just below a group of large boulders where they had the outlaws at bay.

As Valentine Hoy moved out from the others to a position just a few yards from the cornered men, Tracy yelled down at him, “What kind of a fool are you, Hoy? Get back down there or I’ll blow your head off!” Hoy chose to remain where he was. It was a fatal choice. When the rancher showed himself, Tracy rose up and fired once. Hoy tumbled down the hill with a bullet in his heart.

After night had fallen the outlaws managed to slip by the posse and make their way off the mountain. The outlaws’ stronghold was situated in a deep valley and was bordered on the south by the Green River. Setting their course toward the west entrance to Brown’s Hole, some 80 miles away, the desperados raced their horses parallel to the river, the posse pressing hard not far behind. Some hours later, the three men were once again cornered, and despite Tracy’s protests, they decided to surrender.

They were taken to Colorado where Pat Johnson was tried, convicted and sentenced to a term in the Colorado State Pen at Canon City. Tracy and Dave Lant were taken in irons to Rout County and lodged in the jail at Haun’s Peak to await trial for the murder of Valentine Hoy.

During his incarceration, Tracy wrote a poem, which he gave to Sheriff Charley Nieman. It is published here for the first time, the courtesy of Sheriff Nieman’s widow, Ruby, of Steamboat Spring, Colorado. (The spelling is Tracy’s.)

    But we struck Park City early where the Morning sunbeams lit
    On our stripped pantaloons where a happy party sit.

    It’s there we took to refuge in some jungles which stood near
    and watched the brave policeman while around us they did stear.

    It’s there we ate our lunches and our weary limbs did rest
    Until the sun was sinking in the far and distant West.

    When we started on our journey for our home they call the wall
    where very few detectives ever dair to call.

    For their we have no sheap to heard and corn we do not hoe
    and for other kind of labor old sheats is rather slow.

    Joe Bush is also harmless with his doubled barreled gun
    For when he came to powder springs he was prepared to run
    He is out for noteriety and not atal for gain
    He may arrest a school boy or pull a hobo from a train.
    We claim to be no poetes but the truth we will plainly tell
    of those two brave detectives who have by the wayside fell.

    Now just one word to citesome who for protection cry
    Just vote for braver officers when the swallows homeward fly.
Yours with Kind Love and Best Wishes
Harry Tracy

On March 24, 1898, Dave Lant broke through the wall separating their cells, and got into Tracy’s cell. When Sheriff Nieman brought the morning breakfast, Tracy clubbed him over the head with a heavy object, secured his keys, locked him in a cell and he and Lant made their escape.

They had taken the keys with them, so it was sometime before the jail lock was pried off and the Sheriff was released from the cell. He immediately took after the escapees and succeeded in capturing them a few miles south of Steamboat Springs. In a short while they were lodged in the stronger jail at Aspen, Colo.

The adamant Tracy wasn’t to be held here long either. It was here he performed the spectacular stunt that was applied some 30 years later by that infamous Indiana farm boy John Dillinger. In a bold bluff, Tracy bulled his way out of the maximum-security tank of the jail with a wooden gun, which he had carved in his cell, and covered with tinfoil. Dave Lant, as usual, followed him to freedom, but at this point, for some unknown reason, they parted company.

Lant later joined the armed forces and distinguished himself for bravery in the Philippines. After his discharge, he returned to Utah and thereafter lived a peaceful life. Not so with Tracy. He headed to Oregon where he soon teamed up with another young criminal named Dave Merrill, to act out the final and most spectacular chapter of his violent misspent life.

Merrill and Tracy had a lot in common - namely, their interest in a successful career in crime. Merrill was two years older than Tracy and the young bandits favored each other to a remarkable degree in looks. Merrill, however, was to prove to be the weaker counterpart of the fearless, intractable Tracy. The pair launched their new partnership by staging a series of daring daylight robberies of department stores in the Portland, Ore., area. They wore grotesque masks during these forays and soon came to be known in newsprint as the “false face bandits.”

Merrill didn’t have the seasoned good judgment and criminal instinct for caution that the crime-wise Tracy had. After a successful job, Merrill would often go on a wild spending and drinking spree, and invariably talked too much. On one of these occasions, he came under the suspicious eye of Portland Detective Dan Weiner who traced Merrill to his mother’s home and arrested him. After tripping himself up in a web of lies, Merrill finally confessed, and hoping to get his sentence shortened, put the finger on Tracy.

When confronted on the street by Weiner that night, Tracy put up his usual tiger-like resistance. At the corner of Market and Fourth, Tracy and the Detective exchanged gunfire, and leaping aboard a slow moving Southern Pacific train, Tracy commanded the engineer at gunpoint to “speed up, and get this train out of town!” Someone, however, had pulled the emergency cord and the train very quickly began to lose speed.

Tracy sprang from the engine and once again exchanged shots with Weiner who had been running alongside. A butcher, Albert Way, saw the two men blazing away at one another. He grabbed his shotgun and fired at Tracy. The heavy charge of shot crashed into the side of the outlaw’s head and he sprawled in an unconscious heap on the ground. Luckily for Tracy, the charge had only grazed his skull, and though painful, his wound was soon to heal. Weiner hauled him away to the Portland jail, and that same night detectives found much of the loot from their stickups in Merrill’s home.

Portland police might have kept a more diligent watch on Tracy had they been aware of his past escapades. On the morning of his trial, Tracy made another desperate bid for freedom. Somehow he managed to have a gun smuggled into his cell in the old Portland Kelly Butte jail. At gunpoint he forced the guards to release him from the “strong cell.”

He then ran into his final obstacle, Ned Daugherty, the head jailor, who was commanding the last iron door to the outside. In what would appear to be nothing short of suicide, the old jailor threw the keys through the outer bars and out of reach. Dougherty saw the look of death in the gunman’s eyes as Tracy ran up to him. Then, in what was certainly not typical of Tracy, he proceeded to curse the jailor rather than shoot him. At this moment, Deputy Sheriff Tom Jordan appeared and triggered off a shot which knocked the gun out of Tracy’s hand.

Forced to surrender, this incident stands on Tracy’s record as his only unsuccessful attempt to break out of confinement in his long, bloody career.

Tracy, between holdups, had found time to marry Dave Merrill’s sister, Rose. It was thought quite possible that she had smuggled the gun to him while visiting the jail. Brought to trial, Tracy was handed a 20-year sentence at hard labor in the Oregon State Prison. Merrill, for his part in Tracy’s capture, received a lesser sentence of 13 years. Tracy entered the Oregon Pen at Salem on March 22, 1899, as No. 4033 -Merrill as No. 4089. Oregon prison records give us this information on Tracy. Real name: Harry Severens, Born at Minong, Wisconsin, Height 5 ft. 5 in., weight 160 lbs., 24 years old, married, raised a Catholic, cook by occupation, has served time in Utah and Colorado Prisons, has a brother and a sister in Wisconsin.

For nearly three years Tracy bided his time waiting for the right opportunity. Since the day of his arrest, Tracy had been suspicious of Merrill. As they labored in the prison shops, Tracy often commented to Merrill about the difference in their sentences. Merrill passed him off by saying that Tracy’s additional time was caused by his attempted break from the Portland jail. This explanation seemed logical enough, but it went on boiling in Tracy’s bitter mind. Whatever bad judgment may have led Tracy to choose his destructive way of life he was not stupid nor was he a double-crosser! He would find out the truth about Merrill someday.

Now with three dead guards behind him, following their escape, they were being closely pursued by men and bloodhounds from the Oregon prison as they fled north toward the town of Gervais. It has been told that Tracy sprinkled pepper along the way to throw bloodhounds off the trail. A posse from the Washington State Prison at Walla Walla and Company F of the Oregon Militia were called in on the trail.

In Gervais, the two desperate convicts stole a horse and buggy and continued their flight northward. That night they found themselves surrounded in a thickly wooded area, but cunningly made their escape under cover of darkness. Stopping at farms along the way, they made their way past Oregon City and on to Portland. When confronted by the pair, farmers never argued with their demands, but fixed them a meal and gave them clothing and other essentials. When approaching a farmhouse, Tracy would announce, “I’m Tracy. This is Merrill. Just do as you’re told and we’ll get along all right.”

One old farmer told that the convicts ate with guns across their laps while a posse passed down the road just a short distance from the house.

On June 15, a week later after the break, Charles Holtgrieve, a farmer living on the Columbia River, was confronted by two men who ordered him at gunpoint to row them across the vast river, which divided Oregon and Washington states. This was done, and they landed about five miles above Vancouver. That the pair had managed to successfully elude the hundreds of armed pursuers for a full week, and gain the Washington shores, seemed an unbelievable feat. Not stopping to look back for a moment they stole another team of horses and started for the mountainous country directly north.

Without any serious encounter with their pursuers, they passed safely by Ridgefield, La Center and Kalamas, and near Castlerock, Wash., they stopped at another farmhouse for a meal. While sitting in the kitchen after finishing the dinner, Tracy glanced over a local newspaper. It was here that he confirmed his suspicions about his partner. In recounting details of the manhunt, the paper related how Merrill had betrayed Tracy to the Portland authorities. Tracy put down the paper, and never let on what he had learned to Merrill. In a few minutes they were again on their way.

The record discloses that Tracy first came to the attention of the law in the spring of 1897 when he was arrested on a burglary charge in Provo, Utah, and was sent to the Salt Pen from which he soon escaped to begin his long reign of terror. If the timetable of the Loone Lake story is accepted it would appear that Tracy journeyed from Washington State to Utah where he got in his first serious trouble.

Several days passed and then, on July 2, 1902, employees of the Capital City Oyster Co. at South Bay, a short distance from Olympia, on Puget Sound, got the surprise of a lifetime when Tracy stepped into their place and ordered them at the point of his Winchester to get something to eat. After he had finished a large breakfast of bacon and eggs, Tracy tied up several of the employees, and then ordered Capt. Clark and three others to accompany him to the tug, N. & S., which was anchored nearby.

“Everybody aboard!” Tracy announced. “We’re going to Seattle: but don’t bother to hurry, because I don’t want to get there ‘till after dark.”

Accompanied by Capt. Clark, his son, and two men named Scott and Munro, America’s most wanted fugitive started out slowly across the waters of Puget Sound. As the tug passed by the Federal Prison on McNeil Island, Tracy said to the captain, “Pull in closer, I want to see if I can pick off a couple of guards!”

Tracy was no doubt serious but he was finally talked out of it by Clark and the others when they pointed out that some of the men in the boat might be hit if the guards opened fire on them.

Capt. Clark, like most everyone else, had followed the exploits of this news worthy outlaw. While cruising northward across the sound, he asked Tracy where Merrill was. Tracy told him matter-of-factly, “I read in a newspaper that Merrill had double crossed me into the pen, and I figured he would turn on me again to save his own skin if he had the chance, so I killed him!”

When pressed for details, Tracy told this story to the men: “We were walking in the woods about sunup when I told Merrill that I knew he had betrayed me. I said I was going to kill him. I told him that I’d give him a chance though, and offered him the choice of fighting a duel or being shot down like a dog.” With a tone of satisfaction, Tracy recounted the grim game. “I could see he was scared as hell but he finally agreed to the duel. He had no choice. He knew I meant business.”

Tracy went on to relate that the two men were to pace off 10 steps, pistols in hand, then turn and fire at the count of 10. “We started back to back and I counted off the steps out loud. I figured, yellow that he was, he would try to ambush me before the count of 10, so I turned at the count of eight and let him have it. I got him square in the back; and just for good measure, I put a couple more slugs in him. He was a yellow rat and he deserved it,” Tracy finished.

Several days later Merrill’s body was found shoved behind a log in some woods near Castle rock, where Tracy said the “duel” had taken place. He had been shot three times in the back and head.

The N & S. landed that evening at Ballard, six miles from Seattle, and Tracy left his captive crew with a friendly “So long.” He even shook hands with Captain Clark and thanked him for the boat ride. The rewards for his capture, dead or alive, now totaled $5,600. That night Tracy slept in a deserted waterfront shack in Ballard, and by sun up, he was walking north along some railroad tracks. A caretaker on the University of Washington campus spotted him and rushed a call to the Sheriff’s office. This day, July 4, was to be the bloodiest red-letter day in Tracy’s career.

A posse was quickly formed and they came upon Tracy sometime later that morning near some deserted cabins at Wayne Station along the old macadam road near Bother.

In the battle that followed, Tracy’s Winchester again took a heavy toll. The first man to fall was a news reporter, Karl Anderson. As he and Deputy Charles Raymond advanced up a rain-soaked hill toward Tracy’s position, the outlaw suddenly rose up from behind a stump and fired. Anderson crashed forward on his face. Before Raymond could go into action, Tracy killed him instantly with a bullet through his heart.

Another newsman, Louis Sefrit, following a short distance behind, exchanged shots with Tracy, and fell as though he had been hit. For several nerve-wracking moments. Sefrit lay in the damp weeds watching the outlaw through slitted eyelids - not daring to move. Tracy watched him from behind the stump for three or four minutes, which must have seemed an eternity to the newsman, then, apparently satisfied that he was dead, the outlaw slowly moved away toward the shacks nearby.

As Tracy dodged around the corner of one of the shacks, a movement in the brush caught his eye. It was the lone figure of Deputy Jack Williams. Three well-placed slugs from Tracy’s rifle brought him down. Two other officers, Nelson and Brewer, then appeared and began shooting. Dodging the hail of bullets, Tracy darted into some woods and escaped. The remaining few unscathed members of the defeated posse loaded their dead and wounded in a wagon and started back to the city to report the grim news to Sheriff Ed Cudihee, who had been away on other matters when the call to Bothell was received. Cudihee vowed he would run the outlaw into earth. He was to have his chance that very night.

In quick time, Tracy put several miles between himself and the battle scene. He next stopped a farmer named Johnson, who was driving his buggy along a backcountry road, and forced him to drive to Freemont, a Seattle suburb. Tracy and his captive arrived in Freemont about 8 pm and reined the buggy up in front of the Vanhorn residence. They were met at the door by Mrs. R. H. Vanhorn who was understandably frightened to hear, “Hello, Ma’am. I’m Tracy. You’ve no doubt heard of me. I want to rest a while and have something to eat, and, as you can see, I’m badly in need of a change of clothes.”

So that evening Mrs. Vanhorn had the somewhat dubious pleasure of playing host to the country’s most wanted outlaw. While they were having dinner, Tracy talked freely of his past life and spoke of his mother, whom he hadn’t seen in many years. “He talked tenderly about her, and there were tears in his eyes,” a newsman later quoted Mrs. Vanhorn.

This revealed a well-hidden spark of tenderness in his strange make-up. Most who looked into his ice-cold, steel blue eyes would not have guessed that Tracy ever had a good thought toward anything or anyone!

After the meal was over, Tracy thanked Mrs. Vanhorn profusely, and seemed in good spirits as he walked out the door, accompanied on either side by Farmer Johnson and another man who had been at the home when he arrived. Tracy was not aware that a butcher’s boy, who had delivered some groceries to the home that evening, had received a hurriedly-whispered message from Mrs. Vanhorn. So, a bright full moon and a cool evening breeze weren’t the only things that awaited Tracy as he emerged from the Vanhorn home.
(A piece of this article is missing but will take up what I have of the finish).

Severely wounded, but still game, Tracy got down on his hands and knees and began crawling through the deep barley. The wind, causing the grain to ripple, made it difficult to detect the outlaw’s movements. Tracy tied his belt around his wounded leg, tight, in an effort to halt the heavy flow of blood. It is possible that he was making an effort to reach the far end of the valley where he could have a good opportunity to escape. Lillengreen’s account is as follows:

“After Tracy disappeared into the grain we fired a few more shots where we saw it moving and then everything became quiet. We decided on a plan of watchful waiting. No use risking our lives to go in after him where he could see us and we couldn’t see him. So we spread out around him, around the field. In the morning we could flush him out. It was a tedious business, sitting there through the hours watching the field for a wounded killer to emerge, but soon others began to arrive by the score:

The party consisted of posse men, lawmen and just plain curious folk. They spread out around the field. It was about 10:30 that night, as I remember it, that we heard a single shot out in the wheat field. Then everything was quiet again.”

Throughout the long night the men kept to their grim (missing) “could have been I as well as any other member of the posse. We all tried hard enough to get him!”

Archie Hoople, who still resides in the area, drove Tracy’s body to the County seat at Davenport in a buggy, and delivered it to the undertaking parlor. It is often told that souvenir hunters stripped the dead man of his clothing and took snatches of his hair. Tracy’s body was taken back to the Salem Prison from which he had exited some two months previous. His long, round-trip was over. He was buried beside his ill-starred partner, Dave Merrill. Oregon prison officials are vague as to the location of their graves. They lie buried somewhere beneath a large new industrial shop, which was erected over the old prison graveyard inside the walls.

Lillengreen stated in his memoirs: “Sheriff Gardner was acting very much as if he was going to claim all the credit for Tracy’s slaying and sure enough, he immediately applied for the reward. But when Tracy’s body was sent on by rail to Salem, Straub, Doc Lanter, and Maurice Smith went right along with it. They saw to it that the rights of the five of us were fully protected.

“It seems Harry Tracy Severne came west to Loone Lake, some 40 miles northwest of Spokane) when he was twenty-one and worked as a lumberjack for J. W. Dunlap, got into it with two Wilman brothers over their married sister having an affair with Tracy, thus he went into his life of crime.

My father claimed that it was believed his mother killed her first husband by drowning him in a lake but the body was never found so couldn’t be proven. They say she wanted to get rid of him so she could marry Uncle Ed, which she did. Perhaps her son Harry came by his callousness naturally.
 Ricky Moore


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