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 You are here: Home > Online Library > Nature Notes > Vol. 10, No. 2 - Jul, 1937 - History of the Modoc War

Nature Notes From Crater Lake

Volume 10, No. 2 - July, 1937


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Outline of Events in the History of the Modoc War
By Don C. Fisher, Assistant Chief Ranger and John E. Doerr, Jr., Park Naturalist

(Continued from the June 1937 issue of Nature Notes)

Part I of this outline appeared in the June 1937 issue of Nature Notes from Crater Lake National Park. The first part covered the period 1846-70. In southern Oregon and northern California those were years of struggle between the white settlers and the Modoc Indians. Many of the events leading up to the Modoc War took place in that period of years. Part II of this outline covers the years 1871-73, including the events immediately preceding the outbreak of the war and the first few months of actual warfare in the Lava Beds, an area now within Lava Beds National Monument in northeastern California. Part III will appear in the August issue of Nature Notes.


Part II
1871 - 1873

1871 A separate reservation recommended for Captain Jack's band of Modoc Indians.
Realizing that there was an unfriendly feeling between Jack's band of Modocs and the Klamath Indians, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon, A. B. Meacham, recommended to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington that Captain Jack and his band be given a separate reservation. Pending action on his recommendation Meacham instructed Captain Jack and his band to remain at Clear Lake. Refer to the sketch map on the following pages.
1872 January Lost River settlers petitioned for the removal of Captain Jack and his band of Modoc Indians.
Instead of remaining at Clear Lake, Captain Jack and his band roamed the country molesting the settlers with the result the settlers in the Lost River region petitioned A. B. Meacham to remove the Indians to the Klamath Reservation.

A. B. Meacham requested help from U. S. Army.
On receipt of the petition, Meacham requested General E. R. S. Canby, Commanding General of Columbia, to remove Captain Jack and his band of Modoc Indians to Yainax on the Klamath Reservation.

Meacham's request forwarded to General Schofield.
General Canby forwarded Meacham's request to General Schofield, Commanding General of the Pacific, suggesting that before using force to get Captain Jack to the reservation, another peaceful effort should be made.

Estimated population of Klamath County, Oregon, was between 300 and 400 white people.

March Reenforcements sent to Fort Klamath.
At the request of General Canby, the forces at Fort Klamath were strengthened by additional officers and troops from Fort (Camp) Warner.
April Council with Captain Jack at Lost River Gap.
On April 3 Major Elmer Otis, U. S. Army, held a council with Captain Jack at Lost River Gap, near what is now Olone, Oregon. This meeting was arranged at the request of General Canby who desired to attempt a peaceful settlement before using force. At that meeting Captain Jack and the important men of his band were distinctly hostile. Nothing was accomplished toward getting the Indians to the reservation.

U. S. Commissioner of Indian Affairs requested that Captain Jack be moved to the reservation.
On April 12 the Commission of Indian Affairs in Washington requested T. B. Odeneal, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon, to get Captain Jack and his band of Modocs to the reservation if practicable and to see that they were not molested by the Klamath Indians.
May Odeneal attempted to arrange a meeting with Captain Jack.
On May 14 T. B. Odeneal, carrying out instructions from Washington, sent Ivan D. Applegate and L. S. Dyer to arrange for a council with Captain Jack. Captain Jack refused to meet in council.
July Orders given to move Captain Jack and his band of Modoc Indians to the Klamath Reservation.
On July 6, 1872, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington directed Superintendent T. B. Odeneal to move Captain Jack and his band to the Klamath Reservation, peacefully if possible, forcibly if necessary. This order from the Commissioner was the result of Odeneal's report on the failure of I. D. Applegate and L. S. Dyer to induce Captain Jack to meet in council.
November U. S. Army requested to force Captain Jack to the Klamath Reservation.
Despairing of a peaceful settlement, on November 27, Superintendent Odeneal requested Major John Green, C. O. at Fort Klamath, to furnish sufficient troops to compel Captain Jack to move to the reservation.

Troops moved to Lost River.
On November 28 Captain James Jackson commanding 40 troops left Fort Klamath for Captain Jack's camp on Lost River. The troops, reenforced by citizens from Linkville (Klamath Falls) arrived in Jack's camp on Lost River about a mile above Emigrant Crossing (Stone Bridge) on November 29.

First battle of Modoc War, November 29, 1872.
Firing began immediately after the Indians refused to give up their arms. After driving the Indians from camp, Captain Jackson ordered the troops to retreat to await reenforcements. The casualties in this short battle included one soldier killed and seven wounded, and two Indians killed and three wounded.

Settlers massacred by Indians.
Retreating from the battlefield on Lost River to the Lava Beds south of Tule Lake, a small band of Modoc Indians under the leadership of Hooka Jim, on the afternoon of November 29 and morning of November 30, massacred 18 settlers.
December Captain Jack and his band prepared to defend themselves in The Stronghold.
For some months previous to the battle on Lost River, Captain Jack had boasted that in the event of war he and his band could successfully defend themselves in an area in the lava beds on the south shore of Tule Lake. It was to that area that the Indians retreated after the first battle on Lost River. The area soon became famous and is known today as CAPTAIN JACK'S STRONGHOLD. In selecting the place in which to defend themselves the Indians took advantage of the lava ridges, cracks, depressions, and caves, all such natural features being ideal from the standpoint of defense. At the time the Indians occupied The Stronghold, tule Lake bounded The Stronghold on the north and served as a source of water for the Indians. Today The Stronghold is one of the interesting features of Lava Beds National Monument.

Encounter at Land's Ranch.
On December 21 Modocs, scouting from The Stronghold, attacked an ammunition wagon at Land's Ranch.
1873 January Troops mobilized.
By January 15 the U. S. Army had 400 troops in the field near the Lava Beds. The greatest concentration of troops was at Van Bromer's ranch, twelve miles west of The Stronghold. Troops were also stationed at Lani's ranch, ten miles east of The Stronghold. Col. Frank Wheaton was in command of all troops, including regular army as well as volunteer companies from California and Oregon.

Skirmish with Modocs.
On January 16 troops from Land's ranch, commanded by Col. R. F. Bernard, skirmished with Indians near Hospital Rock.

Attack on The Stronghold.
On the morning of January 17, 1873, troops advanced on The Stronghold. The Indians, occupying excellent positions, repulsed troops advancing from the west and east. A general retreat of troops was ordered at the end of the day. In the attack on The Stronghold on January 17, 1873, the U. S. Army lost 16 men killed and 5 officers and 44 enlisted men wounded. Under Captain Jack's command there were in all approximately 150 Indians including women and children. Of that number there were only 53 warriors. The Indians suffered no casualties in the fighting on January 17.

Peace Commission appointed.
On January 25, C. Delane, Secretary of the Interior, appointed a Peace Commission to deal with Captain Jack. The Commission consisted of A. B. Meacham, chairman, Jesse Applegate, and Samuel Case. General E. R. S. Canby was appointed to serve the Commission as counselor.
Feb.-March Activities of the Peace Commission.
On February 19 the Peace Commission held its first meeting at Fairchild's ranch, west of the lava beds. A messenger was sent to arrange a meeting with Captain Jack. Jack agreed that if the Commission would send John Fairchild and Bob Whittle, two settlers, to the edge of the lava beds he would talk to them. When Fairchild and Whittle went to the lava beds Captain Jack told them he would talk with the Commission if they would come to the lava beds and bring Judge Elisha Steele of Yreka. Steele had been friendly to Captain Jack. Steele went to The Stronghold. After a night in The Stronghold, Steele returned to Fairchild's ranch and informed the Peace Commission that the Indians were planning treachery, and that all efforts of the Commission would be useless. A. B. Meacham wired the Secretary of the Interior, informing him of Judge Steele's opinion. In replying the Secretary instructed Meacham to continue negotiations for peace. Judge A. M. Roseborough was added to the Commission. Jesse Applegate and Samuel Case resigned from the Commission, being replaced by Rev. Eleazer Thomas and L. S. Dyer.

Troops moved to positions nearer The Stronghold.
April Gillem's Camp established.
Gillem's Camp was established at the edge of the lava beds, two and one-half miles west of The Stronghold. Col. Alvin C. Gillem was placed in command of all troops including those at Hospital Rock, commanded by Col. E. C. Mason. The site of Gillem's Camp is one of the interesting historical features of Lava Beds National Monument.

Activities of the Peace Commission.
On April 2 the Commission and Captain Jack met in the lava beds at place about midway between The Stronghold and Gillem's Camp. At this meeting Captain Jack demanded: (1) Complete pardon of all Modocs; (2) Withdrawal of all troops; (3) The right to select their own reservation. The Peace Commission proposed: (1) That Captain Jack and his band go to a reservation selected by the government; (2) That the Indians guilty of killing the settlers be surrendered and tried for murder. After much discussion the meeting broke up with nothing accomplished.

On April 5 Captain Jack requested a meeting with A. B. Meacham. Accompanied by John Fairchild and Judge Roseborough, Frank and Toby Riddle serving as interpreters, Meacham met Captain Jack at the peace tent which had been erected on a flat area about one mile east of Gillem's Camp. The meeting lasted several hours. Captain Jack requested that the lava beds be given to them as a reservation. The meeting ended with no agreement. After Meacham returned to camp a message was sent to Captain Jack, asking that he meet the Commission at the peace tent on April 8. While delivering this message, Toby Riddle, a Modoc woman, wife of Frank Riddle, a white settler, learned of the Modoc's plan to kill the peace commissioners.

On April 8 just as the commissioners were starting for the peace tent a message was received from the signal tower on the bluff above Gillem's Camp. The message stated that the lookout on the tower had seen five Indians at the peace tent and about 20 armed Indians hiding among the rocks nearby. The commissioners realized that the Indians were planning treachery. The commissioners agreed to remain in camp. In spite of warnings of treachery on the part of the Indians, Rev. Thomas insisted on arranging a date for another meeting with Captain Jack. On April 10 a message was sent asking that Captain Jack meet the commissioners at the peace tent on the following morning.

Murder at the Peace Tent, April 11, 1873.
On the morning of April 11 the commissioners, General E. R. S. Canby, A. B. Meacham, Rev. E. Thomas, and L. S. Dyer, with Frank and Toby Riddle as interpreters, and Boston Charley and Bogus Charley, two Modocs who had brought a message from Captain Jack, John Schonchin, Black Jim, and Hooka Jim. After some talk, during which it became evident that the Indians were armed, General Canby informed Captain Jack that the Commission could not meet his terms until orders came from Washington. In an angry mood John Schonchin demanded Hot Creek for a reservation. Captain Jack got up and walked away a few steps. Two Modocs, Brancho (Barncho) and Slolux, armed with rifles, ran forward from where they had been hiding among the rocks. Captain Jack turned giving the signal to fire. The first shot from Captain Jack's revolver killed General Canby. Reverend Thomas fell mortally wounded. A. B. Meacham fell seriously wounded. Dyer and Riddle escaped by running. Had not Toby Riddle cried out, "The soldiers are coming!", Meacham would no doubt have been killed.

All efforts for peace ended when the Modocs carried out their plans to kill the commissioner. A cross marks the place where General E. R. S. Canby and Reverend Eleazor Thomas fell victims of Modoc treachery.







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