Dr. Wesley F. Cherry dies following arrest of murder suspect Tom Taylor on March 6, 1854.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 8/28/2001
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 3520

On March 6, 1854, Dr. Wesley F. Cherry dies of wounds received as the member of a posse sent to Whidbey Island to arrest the killers of William Young. A Native American member of the posse was killed and the other three white members were wounded. A Snohomish suspect is killed along with an unknown number of other tribal members. Cherry is acknowledged as the first public safety officer to die in the line of duty in Washington, but the slain Native American whose name was not recorded may also deserve this honor.

In March 1854, William Young, an engineer employed at the Alki Point sawmill operated by Charles Terry (1829-1867) and William Renton (1818-1891), hired three members of the Snohomish Tribe to take him north to locate a claim. Several days later, two of the guides were seen with Young's clothing, watch, and money. Fearing that Young had met with foul play, Deputy Sheriff Thomas Russell organized a posse consisting of himself, Dr. Wesley F. Cherry, Mr. Tyson, and one or two other white men along with four Indians. Cherry was a partner in a sawmill on Tulalip Creek.

The posse followed the suspects by canoe to Holmes Harbor on Whidbey Island. The posse took of them into custody including Tom Taylor, but a fight broke out on the beach. Deputy Sheriff Russell, Tyson, and Cherry were wounded and one of the Indian members of the posse was killed. Also killed was one of the suspects. The Pioneer and Democrat, the only newspaper on Puget Sound at the time, reported that nine other Indians were killed.

The party returned to Seattle, where Cherry died the next day. The Rev. David Blaine (1824-1900) officiated at the funeral held at the tiny cemetery on Maynard's Point. Residents of Seattle organized a company of volunteers to retaliate against the Indians, but before departing, reconsidered. The citizens drafted a request to Governor Isaac Stevens (1818-1862) for military action. Stevens accompanied a squad of soldiers from Fort Steilacoom under Lieutenant William Slaughter (1827-1855).

The boat containing members of Companies A and C of the 4th U.S. Infantry capsized in Puget Sound and nine men drowned. Only two survived.

Stevens continued on with Indian Agents Michael Simmons (1814-1867) and George Gibbs. They met with Chiefs Seattle of the Suquamish and Patkanim of the Snoqualmie tribes. The story came out that engineer Young had gotten drunk and quarreled with his Indian companions. He assaulted them with a sword, killing one and wounding the other. Tom Taylor, the son of the dead man, killed Young in revenge. Seattle and Patkanim named the Indians in the Holmes Harbor fight, but said the killers had fled.

Stevens's party went on to Holmes Harbor and ordered the residents to deliver up the suspects. When the Indians refused, Stevens burned their canoes and paddled back to Olympia.

The Pioneer and Democrat reported that Tom Taylor pleaded guilty to murdering Young and to murdering one of the other guides. Taylor was indicted for murder. The trial commenced at Coveland on Whidbey Island on April 9, 1855. Taylor was defended by Victor Monroe, W. H. Wallace, and Elwood Evans, who were appointed to represent him. The prosecutor asked for a continuance to the October term (courts convened every six months) and defense counsel opposed this. The prosecutor then moved to drop the charge and Taylor was discharged.


Arthur Armstrong Denny, Pioneer Days On Puget Sound (Fairfield, WA: Ye Galleon Press, 1979), 42-43, 67; Roberta Frye Watt, Four Wagons West: The Story Of Seattle (Portland: Binfords & Mort, 1931), 166-167; Sophie Frye Bass, Pig Tail Days In Old Seattle (Portland: Binfords & Mort, 1937), 52; "Indian Difficulties," Pioneer and Democrat, March 11, 1854, p. 2; "Lieut. Slaughter," Ibid., April 8, 1954, p. 2; "The Courts Spring Term," Ibid., April 21, 1855, p. 3; Frontier Justice: The Court Records Of Washington Territory (Olympia: Washington Secretary of State, 1987), microfilm reel 1, Case ISL-3; Kent D. Richards, Isaac I. Stevens: Young Man in a Hurry (Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1979), 196.
Note: This essay was updated on June 6, 2007.

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