Historic Resource Study, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, 1984
I. Formation of the Crater Lake Environment
C. Historic Indian Occupation of the Crater Lake Vicinity
2. The Modocs
Although the Klamaths and Modocs were once closely associated, they separated into more distinct tribal entities sometime around the late 1770s. By the time of white intrusion into the Tule Lake area, the Modocs were clearly an individual group, calling themselves the “Lake People.” Possessing a stone-age technology prior to 1800, within the next forty years, following the introduction of horses, they widened their horizons considerably. They not only acquired a reputation among their neighbors (especially the Pit River Indians, Shastas, Paiutes, and Upland Takelmas) as fearsome raiders, but they also became astute businessmen who traded captives for horses and white men’s trade goods.
The region dominated by the Modoc tribe comprised a small strip of land east of the Cascade Range and straddling both sides of the present-day Oregon-California line. These tribesmen had at least twenty semi-permanent winter villages situated alongside lakes and streams in peaceful valleys. The one farthest north was located on the present site of Klamath Falls, while another stood at Hot (Willow) Creek, four more along Lower Klamath Lake, four on Lost River, seven on the shores of Tule Lake, and three farther east. An abundance of foodstuffs was at hand. Numerous ducks, geese, swans, pelicans, loons, and gulls could be found on the waterways, and salmon and other fish were smoked and stored for the winter. Turtle flesh provided sustenance and their shells were fashioned into bowls and utensils. Nearby plains and ridges provided a variety of large and small game, including deer, antelope, mountain sheep, elk, bears, rabbits, squirrels, and prairie chickens, while water lilies in the bottomlands and marshes could be supplemented by other tuberous roots, such as wild turnips, and by wild plant seeds. Tules, or rushes, found along the lake shores were woven into mats, baskets, and mocassins, and were also used as thatch for Modoc houses.
Headquartered in the Tule Lake basin, the Modocs frequented the east and south shores of Klamath Lake, roamed throughout the Butte Creek country farther south, and ventured as far north as Lost River. Despite their wanderings, they were always assured of a defensive stronghold in the twisted passages, caves, and trenches of the formidable Lava Beds area of present northern California. A small but hardy group, skilled in warfare and in eking out an existence in an often harsh environment, the Modocs were to prove a formidable adversary for white men after contact brought these two dissimilar cultures into conflict.