Isaac Neff Ebey, recreated in Widow Walk as Isaac Evers, was a prominent citizen and pioneer of the mid-nineteenth century Pacific Northwest. Like so many other enterprising speculators in this turbulent era, he had migrated with his skills to California in search of quick fortune. He found none. Luckless and frustrated, he turned his entrepreneurial hopes to the Oregon territory. When he arrived in the Puget Sound area in 1850, fewer than 1500 white settlers had settled there. With the discovery of gold on the Fraser River in 1858 all of that changed and a great booming migration began, with settlers moving northward by ship into the region from California and overland from the Midwest. After surveying areas like Lake Washington and Whidbey Island, Ebey energized that migration by writing effusive letters to friends and relatives, encouraging them to emigrate “before the good land is all taken.” He participated in the establishment of the territorial government in the southern area of Puget Sound and suggested the name “Olympia” for the Tumwater location that subsequently became the territorial capitol. In his duties as a tax collector and regional magistrate, he traveled extensively and immediately understood the importance of San Juan Island as a strategic opportunity for the United States. His exhortations to the territorial government recommending it move settlers onto San Juan Island helped the United States’ case for its claim to the island against Britain. Greatly disturbed by the constant threat of predation and conflict, he outfitted a company of volunteers in 1856 to fight in the Indian wars in Eastern Washington and was widely praised for his help in subduing native tribes.
The fatal cannonade by the U.S. Massachusetts on encamped natives at Port Gamble is thought to have provoked the attack on Ebey and his family, and his brutal murder and beheading by Northerners prompted the settlers and military in the region to intensify their precautions as well as their rationalization of the random lynching of numerous Native Americans. Sightings of long boats parading Ebey’s “Tyee” head were reported for weeks afterwards.