Should Ebey Slough be renamed? Some say yes

MARYSVILLE — Ebey Slough has been known by that name for about 150 years.

Now, suddenly, some different ideas for renaming the northernmost offshoot of the Snohomish River are floating around.

The city of Marysville has petitioned the state to have the name changed to “Ebey Estuary.” That proposal, along with several others, will be heard on Friday in Olympia at a meeting of the Washington State Committee on Geographic Names.

Marysville’s idea triggered a recent slew of letters and commentary in The Herald suggesting the name Ebey should be expunged from the body of water altogether.

Ebey Slough was named for U.S. Army Col. Isaac Ebey, 1818-1857, who led the first steam-powered boat trip up the river in 1855, said David Dilgard, a historian at the Everett Public Library.

One of those calling for a name change is Stan Jones Sr., a Tulalip tribal elder and longtime board member and president.

“Col. Isaac Ebey was a tyrant who slaughtered Native men, women and children; fighting with guns against bow and arrows for the greed of land,” Jones wrote in a guest commentary in The Herald on Thursday.

He suggested the slough be renamed after any of several historic local tribal leaders.

Jones’ commentary was written on his own and was not necessarily intended to reflect the tribes’ position on the name, Tulalip spokesman George White said. Jones couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.

The tribes are considering taking a position on Marysville’s proposed name change but have yet to issue a statement, White said.

Ebey was the first permanent white settler on Whidbey Island, and several features there are named for him, including Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve and Fort Ebey State Park.

In the end, Ebey was beheaded by a northern tribe of Indians, but there’s little evidence to suggest he was a killer of Indians himself, Dilgard said.

He wasn’t necessarily their friend, either.

The purpose of his steamboat trip up the slough was a strategic one, to establish a camp to separate lowlands tribes from those in the mountains and Eastern Washington, Dilgard said.

The following year, 27 members of the Kake tribe of Tlingit Indians from what is now the Alaska panhandle were killed by gunfire from the U.S. warship Massachusetts, according to tribe occasionally came south to stage raids on local Indians, according to the account.

In August 1857, they sent a party looking for revenge for the attack by the ship.

When the tribe couldn’t find who they were looking for, they were told Ebey was a man of importance in the U.S. military, even though he wasn’t involved in the attack, Dilgard said.

In a nighttime raid, the Kakes drew him out of his home and killed him.

“His headless body was later found outside the door of his house,” according to

Marysville city officials first discussed asking for a change from “slough” to “estuary” a few years ago as part of the city’s downtown economic revitalization plans, Mayor Jon Nehring said.

“Estuary” also will be more accurate in light of the Tulalips’ plans to remove a tidegate to allow saltwater back into that part of the river delta to restore it to its natural state, he said.

“We quite honestly didn’t know the history of the Ebey portion,” Nehring said. “I’m not opposed to any effort to change the Ebey part of it also.”

One of the tribal leaders Jones suggested as a new namesake for the slough actually led Ebey on his trip up the waterway. Snoqualmie chief Pat-ka-nam was also known to be rough on other Indian tribes — as in bringing back their heads to sell to whites, according to Dilgard.

Pat-ka-nam sold the heads of members of Eastern Washington tribes as a means of survival, Dilgard said.

“He was a very intelligent and very capable individual who was in a difficult situation,” he said. “If this were a poker game and he didn’t have any cards, he was trying to figure out what to do to stay in the game.”

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Have your say

The Washington State Committee on Geographic Names will hear several name-change proposals, including five in Snohomish County, from 1 to 5 p.m. Friday at 1111 Washington St. SE, Natural Resources Building, Room 172, Olympia. For more information go to

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