Murder on South Whidbey…
The year was 1872 and there were few white settlers on South Whidbey. As loggers cleared the forests within easy reach of the bays and inlets, men began to stake claims, build cabins and start farming.
One such man was Daniel Dale of Pennsylvania, who had come to Whidby Island (as it was often spelled back then) about 1863. An 1870 census lists him as age 55, a farmer, with real estate in the Useless Bay area amounting to $800 and personal property of $700.
Dale took on a business partner in 1871, a man named Milton Herron, who was about 40 to 45 years of age. He had been born in the west and had lived on the Pacific northwest coast for about 21 years.
Herron paid Dale $250 to buy into a partnership for the farm and then built his own cabin on the property.
The Feb. 15, 1872 Puget Sound Dispatch carried this article about what happened between the two men as a possible motive for the murder of Milton Herron.
“The body of the murdered man was found on Saturday, Feb. 4 by Messrs. Anderson, Thomas Johns, John Bryant, and James Wilson, who went in search of him, as he had not been see alive since. Wednesday, January 31.
When this party found him, he was dead and appeared to have been shot in the back of his head. They did not touch him, but notified the Coroner, who, with the Sheriff of the County, Mr. E. H. Hathaway, immediately repaired to the place where the remains of Mr. Herron lay.
On examination it had been found that the deceased had been at work chopping up a small tree, and that the assassin came up behind him and fired the fatal shot, two bucks having entered his head and five more lodged in the small of his back.
From where Herron had been at work, after being shot he evidently started to run to his house, but had only got 40 to 50 feet when he was supposed to have dropped dead.
About one year ago, as is generally known, Herron went into partnership with Dale on the ranch, putting in about $250 in money, and has worked on the place ever since.
Two or three weeks ago Herron went to Port Ludlow and purchased some goods, and after paying what money he had, said to charge the balance to Dale and himself as partners.
When Dale learned of this transaction, he was very indignant, applying abusive epithets to Herron, and telling him he had no interest in the property.
Herron went to Port Townsend on the 30th of January. Dale started for Port Ludlow, but on learning that Herron had returned, he turned back and went to a new cabin he had built about a mile and a quarter from where Herron lived.
It was in testimony before the Coroner’s Inquest that Dale had threatened Herron’s life on several occasions.
Mr. Anderson and five others went to Dale’s cabin and called him out.
Anderson said to him (Dale), “We want you to come to my cabin.” Dale quickly said, “What, have you found Herron?”
After the Sheriff had taken him in charge, he (Dale) said they could not prove he killed Herron, for no one saw him do it.
The prisoner is lodged in jail at Port Townsend to await action of the Court, which meets the 20th of this month. He is over 60 years of age and without family.”
Though no newspaper article follow-ups to this story have yet been found, Territorial Court records show that Daniel Dale was found Not Guilty by a jury.
He evidently remained in Port Townsend and appeared on the 1881 census as a carpenter.