Vashon vigilantes repel the ferry Illahee on May 15, 1948.

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 3/20/2002
  • Essay 3735

On May 15, 1948, a group of Vashon vigilantes prevent the ferry Illahee from landing at the Vashon ferry dock, in response to threats by Captain Alexander Peabody, president of the Puget Sound Navigation Company, to restart ferry service to the island. The islanders had formed their own ferry service earlier in the year when Peabody shut down his system for nine days. Residents had no desire to use Peabody’s ferries when their own sufficed.

Rough Waters

Residents of Vashon Island began running their own ferry service on May 1, 1948, when the state legislature created King County Ferry District No. 1 in response to islanders complaints about Captain Peabody’s service. In 1947, a strike left folks on the island stranded for six days, and when Peabody threatened his own shutdown in February 1947, residents decided to do the job themselves.

Acquiring the passenger ferries Gallant Lady and Elsie C for the southern runs, and the Lincoln for the northern runs, operators of the new ferry district thought they had things under control. But they soon found out that running a ferry service was no easy task.

Delays were common, wait lines long, and the aging Lincoln was in constant need of repairs. Although many riders voiced complaints, they were united in their goal of seeing that their ferry service stayed in business, rather than return to Peabody’s ferries. Vashon Chamber of Commerce chairman F. C. Bard went on record, stating "Ninety-eight percent of the 8,500 Vashon residents don’t want him or his service."

To Arms!

Obviously, Peabody was not well liked on the island. During the shutdown, an effigy of the captain was hung from the ferry landing, where it dangled in the air for some time afterward. Nevertheless, when Peabody heard the grumblings over the rough new service on the island, he made an attempt to reclaim the Vashon run for his own system. He scheduled the Illahee to land at the Vashon dock on May 15, 1948.

Vashon Island ferry commissioners had received a legal opinion from their attorneys that if the ferry landed, the company would have a right to continue service to the island. The fledgling district was struggling as it was, and the commissioners felt that they didn’t need the competition.

A group of vigilantes planned on assembling at the ferry dock in order to repel Peabody’s boat. Commissioner George McCormick, who also owned the island’s hardware store, opened the doors to his business so that those who were not armed could grab ax handles, hoes, pickaxes, and whatever other blunt instrument they could find.

V for Vashon Victory

As the Illahee approached the island that morning, the captain saw an angry mob on the dock. Nearing the loading ramp, he yelled out that he was going to land. “No, You’re not!” bellowed the crowd, clutching their farm tools menacingly.

The ferry shifted into reverse, and the crowd relaxed. Wives of the vigilantes plied the men with doughnuts and coffee, and two deputy sheriffs made sure no one would do anything rash. Just then the Illahee lurched forward again, and the mob rushed the boat.

They began pushing it back with their ax handles, bludgeons, and billiard cues. The vessel was unable to rest against the pilings and backed away once more. A few tense moments passed, until the ferry finally headed back towards Seattle. A rousing cheer went up from the crowd, and they shook their fists at Peabody’s boat and gobbled down the last of their doughnuts before triumphantly returning home. The “naval war” had lasted all of 20 minutes.

Vigilant Vigilantes

Over the next few days, a watch was kept on the dock, lest Peabody’s boat returned. “We’ve got 25 good husky young lads down here,” Bard told the newspapers, “and we know where we can get lots more if we need them.” The need never arose. Captain Peabody made no further attempts to reclaim the run.

The ferry district stayed operational for three years, during which time Peabody ended up selling most of his ferry service to the State of Washington. On June 1, 1951, Washington State Ferries became operational, and King County Ferry District No. 1 was dissolved, with all its assets being sold to the state.


“Skeleton Boat Service Planned to Meet Sound Ferry Emergency,” The Seattle Times February 29, 1948, pp. 1, 8; “Ferry District Proves Worth in Emergency,” Vashon Island News-Record , March 4, 1948, p. 2; “Islanders Give Approval to Ferry District Service,” Vashon Island News-Record , March 11, 1948, p. 1; “Ferry District Operation Proves Successful,” Vashon Island News-Record , March 18, 1948, p. 1; “Ferry Lincoln Back on Island Run,” Vashon Island News-Record , April 1, 1948, p. 1; “Docking of Ferry Boat Prevented,” The Seattle Times , May 15, 1948, p. 1; “Wrathful Vigilantes Keep Vashon Ferry from Landing,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer , May 15, 1948, p. 1; “The Day the Vashon Vigilantes Repelled Captain Peabody’s Navy,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 14, 1971, Magazine, pp. 4-6; “Problems Today are a Repeat of the 1940s,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer January 8, 1986, p. C-12.

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