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Modoc War
The Modoc War -- Soldiers Recovering the Bodies of the Slain.jpg
Soldiers Recovering the Bodies of the Slain May 3, 1873
Date July 6, 1872 – June 4, 1873
Location California, United States
Result United States Pyrrhic victory
Modoc United States
Captain Jack
Scarface Charley
Shaknasty Jim
Frank Wheaton
John Green
Reuben Benard
Alvan Gillem
Edwin Mason
Jefferson C. Davis
"Jump Off" Joe Mcalester
53 warriors 400–675 infantry and cavalry
2 howitzers
Casualties and losses
13 warriors and civilians killed 57 killed
46 wounded

The Modoc War, or Modoc Campaign (also known as the Lava Beds War), was an armed conflict between the Native American Modoc tribe and the United States Army in southern Oregon and northern California from 1872-1873,[1] The Modoc War was the last of the Indian Wars to occur in California or Oregon. Eadweard Muybridge photographed the early part of the campaign.


Events leading up to the war

Treaty with the United States

The specific events go back to 1852[2], when Modoc Indians killed sixty-five white settlers in a wagon train at Bloody Point. In retaliation forty-one Modocs were killed at a peace parley by California militia led by Ben Wright[3]. Hostilities continued until 1864, when the United States and the Klamath, Modoc, and Snake (Yahooskin band) tribes signed a treaty establishing the Klamath Reservation. Under the treaty terms, the Modoc, with Old Chief Schonchin as their leader, gave up their lands in the Lost River, Tule Lake and Lower Klamath Lake regions, and moved to a reservation in the Upper Klamath Valley.

This relocation was accomplished following a council between Captain Jack, a Modoc leader, Alfred B. Meacham, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon, O.C. Knapp, agent on the reservation, Ivan D. Applegate, sub-agent at Yainax, and W.C. McKay. When soldiers suddenly appeared at the meeting, the Modoc warriors fled, leaving behind their women and children. Meacham placed the women and children in wagons and started for the reservation. "Queen Mary", Captain Jack's sister, was permitted to go to Captain Jack to persuade him to move to the reservation. She succeeded. Once on the reservation, Captain Jack and his band prepared to make their permanent home at Modoc Point.

Captain Jack

Mistreatment by the Klamath

Shortly after the Modocs started building their homes, however, the Klamaths, long time rivals, began to steal the Modoc lumber. Denial of government aid in the situation forced Captain Jack's band to move to another part of the reservation. Several attempts were made to find a suitable location. The Klamaths harassed the band until Captain Jack and his followers finally left the reservation and returned to Lost River in 1870. During the months that Captain Jack had been on the reservation a number of settlers had taken up land in the Lost River region.

Return to Lost River

Acknowledging the bad feeling between Jack's band and the Klamaths, Alfred B. Meacham recommended to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C. that Captain Jack's Modocs be given a separate reservation. Pending action on the recommendation, Meacham instructed Captain Jack to remain at Clear Lake. However, Oregon settlers complained that Captain Jack and his warriors roamed the countryside harassing the settlers, who petitioned Meacham to return the Modoc to the Klamath Reservation.

Major General E.R.S Canby

On receipt of the petition, Meacham requested General Edward Canby, Commanding General of the Department of the Columbia, to move Captain Jack and his Modocs to Yainax on the Klamath Reservation. 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, peaceful efforts should be made. On April 3, 1872, Major Elmer Otis held a council with Captain Jack at Lost River Gap, near what is now Olene, Oregon. At the council, Major Otis presented Captain Jack with some settlers who complained about the behavior of Jack's men, and Captain Jack countered that it was the Modocs who were being abused and unjustly accused of crimes. Although the council's results were inconclusive, Otis resolved to remove Jack’s band of Modocs back to the Klamath Reservation, but recommended waiting until the winter when the Modocs would be at a disadvantage.[4]

On April 12, the Commission of Indian Affairs in Washington requested T. B. Odeneal, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Washington, to move Captain Jack and his Modocs to the reservation if practicable and to see they were not maltreated by the Klamath. On May 14, Odeneal, carrying out his instructions, sent Ivan D. Applegate and L. S. Dyer to arrange for a council with Captain Jack, which Jack refused. On July 6, 1872, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington directed Superintendent Odeneal to move Captain Jack and his band to the Klamath Reservation, peacefully if possible, but forcibly if necessary.

Battle of Lost River

Despairing of a peaceful settlement, on November 27, Superintendent Odeneal requested Major John Green, commanding officer at Fort Klamath, to furnish sufficient troops to compel Captain Jack to move to the reservation. On November 28 Captain James Jackson, commanding 40 troops, left Fort Klamath for Captain Jack's camp on Lost River. The troops, reinforced by citizens from Linkville (now Klamath Falls, Oregon) and by a band militiamen under Jump Off Joe, arrived in Jack's camp on Lost River about a mile above Emigrant Crossing (now Stone Bridge, Oregon) on November 29.

Wishing to avoid conflict, Captain Jack agreed to go to the reservation, but the situation became tense when Captain Jackson demanded he disarm. Captain Jack had never fought the Army, and was alarmed at this command, but finally agreed to put down his weapons.

As the rest of the Modoc were following his lead, it is believed that the Modoc warrior Scarfaced Charley and Lieutenant Frazier A. Boutelle, of company B, 1st Cavalry, got into a verbal argument, pulled their revolvers and shot at each other, both missing their target. The Modoc scrambled to regain their recently cast aside weapons, and fought a short battle before fleeing towards the border of California. After driving the Modoc from camp, Captain Jackson ordered the troops to retreat to await reinforcements. However, Jump Off Joe and his men decided to press the attack against the Modoc. The casualties in this short battle included one Army soldier killed and seven wounded, and two Modoc killed and three wounded.

Retreating from the battlefield on Lost River to the Lava Beds south of Tule Lake, a small band of Modoc under the leadership of Hooker Jim, on the afternoon of November 29 and morning of November 30, killed 18 settlers. Upon finding the evidence of this attack Jump Off Joe and his militiamen decided to pursue the main body of Modoc towards the Lava Beds.

Accounts vary regarding this first clash. One version has it that the soldiers and militia had gotten drunk in Klamath Falls and arrived at the Lost River camp in a bellicose state of mind, were disorganized, and were outfought. That the militia arrived last and retreated first, with one casualty. And that the Army did not drive the Modocs away; some warriors held their ground while the women and children loaded their boats and paddled south. That Scarfaced Charley, who had good English, was foul-tempered from lack of sleep because he'd been gambling all night, and possibly drunk himself. Since there was a warrant out for his arrest on a false murder charge, he wasn't going to go quietly. The official report sugar-coated the fact that the operation had been badly managed, as Captain Jackson later admitted.

Fortifying the Stronghold

U.S. soldiers inspect Captain Jack's cave in the Lava Beds.

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 Modoc retreated after the Battle of 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 Modoc 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 Modoc occupied the Stronghold, Tule Lake bounded the Stronghold on the north and served as a source of water.

On December 3, Jump Off Joe and his militia band reached the outskirts of the Stronghold and while reconnoitering the area around a dry creek bed they were ambushed. They attempted to take shelter in the creek bed but were quickly overcome and all 23 men were killed.

On December 21, a Modoc party, scouting from the Stronghold, attacked an ammunition wagon at Land's Ranch. By January 15, 1873, 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.

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

First Battle of the Stronghold

On the morning of January 17, 1873, troops advanced on the Stronghold. Hindered by fog, the soldiers never saw a single Modoc. The Modoc's spiritual leader, Curley Headed Doctor performed ceremonies to raise the fog.[5] The Modoc, 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 the U.S. Army lost 35 men killed and 5 officers and 20 enlisted men wounded. Under Captain Jack's command there were in all approximately 150 Modoc including women and children. Of that number there were only 53 warriors. The Modoc suffered no casualties in the fighting.

Negotiations with the Peace Commission

On January 25, Columbus Delano, Secretary of the Interior, appointed a Peace Commission to deal with Captain Jack. The Commission consisted of Alfred B. Meacham, chairman, Jesse Applegate, and Samuel Case. General Canby was appointed to serve the Commission as counselor.

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 Elijah 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 Modoc were planning treachery, and that all efforts of the Commission would be useless. 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.

In April, Gillem's Camp was established at the edge of the lava beds, two and one-half miles west of the Stronghold. Col. Alvan C. Gillem was placed in command of all troops including those at Hospital Rock, commanded by Col. E. C. Mason.

Winema (Toby Riddle) standing between an Indian agent and her husband Frank (on her left) with other Modoc women in 1873

On April 2, the commission and Captain Jack met in the lava beds at a 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 Modocs guilty of killing the settlers be surrendered and tried for murder. After much discussion the meeting broke up with nothing accomplished.

The Modoc began to turn on Captain Jack, who desired a peaceful solution. Led by John Schonchin and Hooker Jim, they put pressure on Jack to kill the peace commission, as they felt the death of their leaders would force the Army to leave. They shamed Jack for his continuing negotiations by dressing him in women's clothing during council meetings. Rather than lose his position as chief of the band, Captain Jack agreed to attack the commission if no progress was made.

On April 5, Captain Jack requested a meeting with Alfred 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 Modocs at the peace tent and about 20 armed Modocs hiding among the rocks nearby. The commissioners realized that the Modoc were planning an attack. The commissioners agreed to remain in camp. In spite of warnings of planned attack by the Modoc, 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

Boston Charley in 1873

On the morning of April 11, the commissioners, General Canby, Alfred B. Meacham, Rev. E. Thomas, and L. S. Dyer, with Frank and Toby Riddle as interpreters, met with Boston Charley, Bogus Charley, Captain Jack, John Schonchin, Black Jim, and Hooker Jim. After some talk, during which it became evident that the Modoc 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. 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 Canby and Reverend Thomas fell victims to the Modoc.

Second Battle of the Stronghold

The Modocs in Their Stronghold, an 1873 wood engraving

The U.S. Army made preparations to attack the Stronghold. On April 15 a general attack began, troops advancing from Gillem's camp on the west and Mason's camp at Hospital Rock, northeast of the Stronghold. Fighting continued throughout the day, the troops remaining in position during the night. Each advance of troops on April 16 was under heavy fire from the Modoc positions. That night the troops succeeded in cutting the Modoc off from their water supply at the shore of Tule Lake. By the morning of April 17 everything was in readiness for the final attack on the Stronghold. When the order was given to advance, the troops charged into the Stronghold.

After the fighting along the shoreline of Tule Lake on the afternoon and night of April 16, the Modocs defending the Stronghold realized that their water supply had been cut off by the troops commanding the shoreline. On April 17, before the troops had received the order to charge the Stronghold, the Modoc escaped through a crevice left unguarded during a movement of troops from one position to another. During the fighting at the Stronghold, April 15-17, casualties included one officer and six enlisted men killed, and thirteen enlisted men wounded. The only Modoc casualties were two boys, reported to have been killed when a cannon ball, which they were attempting to open with an axe, exploded. Several Modoc women were reported to have died from sickness.

Battle of Sand Butte

On April 26, Captain Evan Thomas commanding five officers, sixty-six troops and fourteen Warm Spring Scouts left Gillem's camp on a reconnaissance of the lava beds to locate the Modoc. While eating lunch at the base of Sand Butte (now Hardin Butte), in a flat area surrounded by ridges, Captain Thomas and his party were attacked by 22 Modoc led by Scarfaced Charley. Some of the troops fled in disorder. Those who remained to fight were either killed or wounded. Casualties included four officers killed and two wounded, one dying within a few days, and 13 enlisted men killed and 16 wounded.

Following the massacre, many called for Col. Gillem to be removed. On May 2, the new commander of the Department of the Columbia, Bvt. Brigadier General Jefferson C. Davis relieved Gillem of command, and assumed control of the army in the field.

Battle of Dry Lake

At first light on May 10, the Modoc attacked an Army encampment at Dry Lake. The troops charged, routing the Modoc. Casualties among the Army included five men killed, two of whom were Warm Spring Scouts, and twelve men wounded. The Modoc reported five warriors killed. Among the five was Ellen's Man, a prominent Modoc. That was the first defeat of the Modocs in battle. The death of Ellen's Man caused dissension among the Modoc, who began to split apart. A group led by Hooker Jim surrendered to the Army and agreed to help them capture Captain Jack, and in return were granted amnesty for the murder of the settlers at Tule Lake and the murder of General Canby's commission.

Captain Jack was captured in Langell's valley, June 4.

After the War

With the capture of Captain Jack, General Davis made preparations to execute the leaders of Jack's band. Execution was prevented by orders from the War Department. The orders were that the Indians would be held for trial. On July 4, Captain Jack and his band arrived as prisoners of war at Fort Klamath.

Captain Jack, John Schonchin, Black Jim, Boston Charley, Brancho (Barncho) and Slolux were immediately put on trial for the murder of members of the Peace Commission. The six Modoc were found guilty, and on July 8 they were sentenced to die.

On September 10, President Ulysses S. Grant approved the death sentence for Captain Jack, John Schonchin, Black Jim and Boston Charley; Brancho and Slolux were committed to life imprisonment on Alcatraz. President Grant also ordered that the remainder of Captain Jack's band be held as prisoners of war.

On October 3, 1873, Captain Jack, John Schonchin, Black Jim, and Boston Charley were hanged at Fort Klamath. The remainder of the band of Modoc Indians, consisting of 39 men, 64 women, and 60 children, as prisoners of war were sent to the Quapaw Agency in Indian Territory (Oklahoma). In 1909, members of the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma were allowed to return to the Klamath Reservation, if they so desired. {29 moved}

Appendix to history of the Modoc War

In the First Battle of the Stronghold, January 17, 1873, there were approximately 400 Army troops in the field. The troops included U. S. Army infantry, cavalry, and howitzer units; Oregon and California volunteer companies, and some Klamath Indian Scouts. Lt. Col. Frank Wheaton was in command of all troops.

In the Second Battle of the Stronghold, April 17, 1873, approximately 530 troops were engaged. These included U. S. Army infantry, cavalry, and artillery, and Warm Spring Indian Scouts. The volunteer companies had withdrawn from the field. A small number of civilians were used as runners and packers. Col. Alvin C. Gillem was in command.

At no time during the Modoc War were there more than 53 Modoc warriors engaged in the fighting.

The casualty lists for the Modoc War are as follows:

Rank Killed Wounded
Officers (U.S.A.) 7 4
Enlisted Men 48 42
Civilians 16 1
Indian Scouts 2 0
TOTALS 73 47

Including the four Indians hanged at Fort Klamath, Captain Jack's band suffered the loss of seventeen warriors killed.

It has been estimated that the Modoc War cost the United States over $4,000,000; a very expensive war in terms of lives and dollars, considering the small number of opposing forces. In contrast, the estimated cost to purchase the land requested by the Modoc for a separate reservation was $20,000.

Battlefields of the Modoc War are among the outstanding features of the Lava Beds National Monument. These include Captain Jack's Stronghold in and around which one can see the numerous cracks, ridges, and knobs used by the Modoc in defending their position, numerous Modoc outpost fortifications, smoke-stained caves inhabited by the Modoc during the months of the war, corrals in which the Modoc kept cattle and horses, and a war-dance ground and council area. Around the Stronghold one can see numerous low stone fortifications built by troops advancing on the Stronghold, as well as numerous fortifications built by the troops after the evacuation of the Modocs, the fortifications built after evacuation being for the purpose of defending the Stronghold in the event that the Modoc should attempt to return to their former strong defensive position. The Thomas-Wright battlefield, near Hardin Butte, is one of the interesting features of the monument; as is also the site of Gillem's camp, the former military cemetery, Hospital Rock, and Canby's Cross. The National Park Service provides self-guided trail maps for two walking tours of the battle field. The creek where Jump Off Joe and his men were killed was renamed in his honor. A small commemorative plaque was placed where their mangled bodies were discovered. This plaque was stolen on the night of August 7, 1924 and was never replaced.

See also

Further reading

  • Murray, Keith A. "The Modocs and Their War"
  • Quinn, Arthur. Hell With the Fire Out: A History of the Modoc War
  • Riddle, Jeff C., The Indian History of the Modoc War, 1914. ISBN 0-913522-03-1.
  • Solnit, Rebecca. River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, 2003 ISBN 0-670-03176-3
  • Yenne, Bill. Indian Wars: The Campaign for the American West, 2005. ISBN 1-59416-016-3.


  1. ^ Beck, Warren A. and Ynez D. Hasse. The Modoc War, 1872-1873. California State Military Museum. (10 Feb 2008)
  2. ^ Modoc. Military Museum
  3. ^ Riddle, Jeff C., The Indian History of the Modoc War, pages 28-30, 1914, reprinted Orion Press, 1991.
  4. ^ Reports of the Otis Conference, 3 April 1873; and Otis to Odeneal, 11 April 1872. ([1]
  5. ^ David, Eric. Captain Jack's Stronghold: Ghost Dancing. 25 Sept 2008 (10 Feb 2009)


  • "Named Campaigns — Indian Wars". United States Army Center for Military History. Retrieved December 13 2005.  
  • This article was adapted from a series of articles by Don C. Fisher and John E. Doerr, Jr., published in the public domain Nature Notes from Crater Lake National Park, vol. x, nº 1–3, National Park Service, 1937.
  • ^  Named Campaigns — Indian Wars.

External links

External images
Map of the campaigns during the Modoc War

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