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The Ballad of Ol’ Ebey’s Scalp

By Debbie Miller

Seattle songwriter DEBBIE MILLER is like a tantalizing book of short stories. In fact, there are few musicians who work as diligently as she to be as narratively engaging. Her lyrics, like tightrope walkers, rollick on the taught wire of song, guiltlessly and pointedly inspiring listeners who crave more of their spectacle.

Go ahead, dare Miller to do something you think she can’t. Tour the country from house show to house show? Done. Write critically acclaimed songs inspired from books like Lewis Carrol’s Alice in Wonderland or Lindy West’s Shrill? Achieved. Bare her tragicomic soul while playing a grand piano? Just say when and where.

Miller, who has played prominent Northwest festivals like Timbrrr! and Upstream, has also opened for the world famous von Trapp family and shared bills with Damien Jurado and Courtney Marie Andrews, among others, displaying her prowess for honesty and playfulness, inducing laughter and tears.

In October 2018, Miller appeared on PBS’s “The Great American Read,” which highlighted her song, “Queen of Hearts,” inspired by Alice in Wonderland. Following that, she released a 7-inch vinyl featuring “Queen of Hearts” and another book-inspired song, “Persepolis.” Miller’s songs have also appeared on WNYC’s Freakonomics and the New Yorker Radio Hour. But her dream is to write a Broadway musical, which she absolutely-freaking-will one day.

Lyrics & Story

Lyrics & Music by Debbie Miller

Why do people care

About me I'm just hair

And rotted skin

Even I think I'm gross

But somehow I'm the most

Sought after item

I've been blinded

I can't find my ghost

I got danced around

By men who brought me down

I was a prize

My family got me back

But never reattached


Are you surprised that

I'm described as still being intact

I mean I get it a get it

I'm a symbol or some shit like that

But why pick a thing that is smelling

Worse than a dead rat

There is no thing as sweet as the honey of revenge

But seems to me you could have danced around my pants instead

Or taken a pillow from my bed

Or the ring from the night that I was wed

'Cause oh how it sucks to be dead

Without the rest of my head

And now I'm lost to time

Unknown where I reside

If I still exist

If I'm ever found

Just put me in the ground

Though I don't deserve

To rest in earth

That was never mine

Track Credits

Debbie Miller - Vocals & Guitar

Recorded and Mixed by Daniel Guenther at Jack Straw

Mastered by Moe Provencher at Jack Straw

© Copyright Debbie Miller 2019


By Jonathan Shipley

“I came in the yard and found him in his gore,” Winfield Ebey wrote in his diary after his brother’s demise. “His headless trunk lay on its side near the end of the porch apparently where he had fallen.” His brother was Colonel Isaac Ebey, a prominent figure in the early politics of the Pacific Northwest. The first white man to reside on Whidbey Island, he named the city of Olympia and helped separate the Oregon and Washington Territories. He would be beheaded - his remains buried in the family plot above his homestead.

During the 1850s Indians from Canada routinely raided throughout the Puget Sound region. They were marauders, often pirating shipping lanes, negatively affecting the white settlements that were beginning to spring up along coastal waterways. In October, 1856 - Isaac Ebey would die less than a year later - there was a large band of these Canadian Indians that were met near Port Gamble by the USS Massachusetts, a ship sent by the government to protect local government interests and the white settlers that were beginning to call Washington home. Naval officers asked the Indians to depart. They refused and so were gunned down by the men of the Massachusetts. 27 Indians were killed and most all their possessions destroyed. The survivors who surrendered where shipped off to Victoria, British Columbia.

The Indians were eager to exact revenge for the massacre. Chiefs had died in the attack and a “white chief,” they thought, should die in exchange for the carnage.

Ebey, by that time, was a well-known figure on Whidbey, as was his family. His wife, Rebecca, who would later die during childbirth, was never too keen on the local Indian populations. Nervous of them, she often stayed close to home and never ventured far, particularly when her husband, Isaac, was away on business. Ebey’s second wife, Emily, also had her reservations. She and her daughter Anna, from a previous message, would watch her husband die.

On August 11, 1857, a group of Indians beached their canoes at Ebey’s Landing and hiked up the bluff to his house. They knocked on the door. Isaac Ebey came out, was shot dead, and beheaded. Emily and Anna ran to a nearby blockhouse on the ridge, during the chaos. Others at the house escaped quickly into the forest. The Indians returned to the beach and canoed off, Isaac Ebey’s bloody head in their possession.

“My Brother Isaac is Dead - My noble high minded brother is no more...Oh! the agony I have suffered and still suffer. It seems more bitter than death,” Winfield Ebey wrote. Isaac’s headless body were interred soon after in the family cemetery alongside his first wife, Rebecca, and their daughter, Hetty.

He was scalped, Ebey was. The top of his head, ears included, were torn away. His head was never recovered.

A year after his death, Captain Dodd of the Hudson’s Bay Company, attempted to purchase Isaac Ebey’s scalp from the Kake Nation who were then in possession of it. They refused. It was customary to dance around the scalps of their enemies killed in battle.

Three years after Ebey’s death, Captain Dodd tried again. For six blankets, three pipes, one cotton handkerchief, six heads of tobacco, and fathom of cotton, Dodd got Ebey’s scalp in exchange. “At last this memento is received,” Winfield Ebey wrote in 1860. “At last a portion of the mutilated remains of my dear brother is returned...The skin of his head is entirely contained, the ears and most of the hair.” He continued, “The hair looks quite natural.”

Some say, after Winfield received his brother’s scalp, he dug up Isaac’s grave to have it buried with the rest of his body. Some say it passed down through generations of the Ebey family. Some say some Ebey descendents living in California were in possession of it. The year was 1914 when that rumor circulated. It hasn’t been brought up since. No one knows where Ebey’s scalp is.

Perhaps it is with Isaac, laying in his grave with his family, on a hill overlooking the place he died - the grassy hill, overlooking the valley, the wind, like echoes, reminding us of truths that may never be found.

For further reading:
Sunnyside Cemetery