( – promoted by navajo)
photo credit: Aaron Huey
Prior to contact, the Modoc people inhabited an area approximately 5,000 square miles in southern Oregon and the northeastern corner of California, where today Modoc County corresponds somewhat to traditional geography. To the southwest (moowat and Tgalam) Mt. Shasta rises up, covered in shining blue ice. Modoc people would make pilgrimages to the sacred mountain every year, but would not dwell there. Sacred journeys were also made to Medicine Lake: a healing volcanic feature now used as a recreation park. To the east (lobiitdal’) lies Goose Lake, and to the north (yaamat) in Klamath land is Mt. Mazama. Today, Mazama is known as Crater Lake.
Thousands of years ago, oral traditional states, the ancestors of the Modoc and the much more numerous Klamath people hid in caves from the catastrophic eruption of Mazama. Beyond the terrifying images of raining ash and fire imaginable, this event affected world climate.
In between these boundaries are Klamath Lake, Tule Lake, Lost, Williamson and Sprague Rivers, hundreds of marshes, many seasonally dry, pine forests, the lush Cascade mountains, high desert, and alkali flats most desolate in appearance. The geography dictated the lifestyle: considered harsh by other Indian peoples, Modocs were nonetheless blessed with the bounty of wocas, a pond-lily seed, during the annual harvest season, salmon and suckerfish, as well as plentiful duck, pelican, goose and other waterfowl, many deer, moose, bear, elk, and delicious berries and roots like camas. Traditionally, they are a weaving and hunting people. Tule reed is the principle fabric source.
This stark land was one of the last places in the 48 where European settlers, desirous for land, timber and gold, would venture. It would become the setting for the most expensive Indian war in US history.
In Part 1, I gave an overview of Modoc life as it existed for 8,000 years from the eruption of Mt. Mazama to contact, and from there, disease, increasing tension between Modocs and European-Americans, and bloodshed, up until the Ben Wright Massacre and its crippling effect on Modoc people.
At least 41 Modoc men, women, and children died in the Ben Wright Massacre, an assault at night on a Modoc village. Schonchin John, brother of Old Schonchin, was one of the only survivors.
- Old Schonchin
- John Schonchin, his brother
- Keintpoos, or Captain Jack
- Toby Riddle, interpreter
- Cho’ocks, or Curley-Headed Doctor
- Link River Doctor
- Hooker Jim
- Scarfaced Charley
- Mary or Queen Mary, Keintpoos’ sister
- Lizzie, Keintpoos’ wife
- Old Wife (of Keintpoos)
- Rose, Keintpoos’ infant daughter.
- Jeff Riddle, Toby’s son.
- Ulysses S. Grant, US president
- Alfred B. Meacham, Oregon Superintendent for Indian Affairs
- J.W. Perit Huntington, Oregon Superintendent for Indian Affairs
- Elijah Steele, Indian Agent for Northern California
- Lindsay Applegate, founder of the Applegate trail, Oregon Indian Subagent
- O.C. Knapp, Subagent
- Captain James Jackson, Army
- Frank Riddle, settler, husband to Toby
The Second Generation’s Passing, The Rise of the Third
After the Ben Wright Massacre, wars broke out between the US and multiple tribes across the northwest and great basin, and even more treaties were made. These treaties dealt with issues that are still politically tense today: fishing, farming, and timber, and with these, water rights. US government was to protect American Indian rights in exchange for their reservation captivity, peace and the forfeiture of much more land.
For Modocs, the second generation since contact began to disappear, either plagued by tuberculosis, smallpox, influenza or other disease, or massacred by settlers. Old Schonchin who had led the raid on settlers at Bloody Point and his brother John passed into elderhood. The Modoc children alive during the Ben Wright Massacre of 1852 matured into adulthood. These included Keintpoos who would become known as Captain Jack, his wife Lizzie, and his sister Queen Mary.
The Valentine’s Day Treaty
Keintpoos met with Elijah Steele. Steele was Northern California’s Indian agent and a Republican Party boss, former prospector, judge and a founding settler of Siskiyou County, California. Keintpoos and his band felt cheated by the process up north.
In The Modocs and Their War, Keith A. Murray describes their horribly modest goals:
[T]hey asked Judge Steele to draft a treaty for them, even thought they were no longer under his agency. Steele knew that his jurisdiction no longer extended to the Modocs [relocated to Oregon] and Klamaths and, furthermore, that he had no authority to negotiate treaties with any Indians. Nevertheless, he felt that an informal treaty was better than none, especially when the Indians themselves asked for one. He thought he could turn over to the new superintendent a fair accompli. By the terms of the treaty, the Modocs and others who signed it promised to stop stealing stock and to refrain from further child stealing. They agreed to quit selling their women to the miners, though marriage by purchase to other Indians was permitted. They also agreed to cease quarreling among themselves. They conceded the right of soldiers to punish them if they broke the agreement. In return, they were given permission to trade, to acts as guides, and to operate ferries for a fee. They also agreed to get permission from the soldiers at Fort Klamath whenever they wished to leave a reservation that would be set up for them. Steele promised, bound only by his own word, to try to get a reservation for Jack’s band just west of Tule Lake along the Lost River.
This reservation would have cost $20,000 and appeased Keintpoos, a much smaller sum than the over $1,000,000 Modoc War that would follow.
The Klamath Tribes Treaty of 1864
There was another treaty, one that became binding. This October treaty, signed in Oregon, required the Modoc and Yahooskin tribes (a band of the Snake Indians) to enter a reservation on Klamath land. You can see a text of the treaty here, along with the names of the signers. Modoc participants included Old Schonchin and Keintpoos, recognized by treaty as chiefs of the Modoc people, with Schonchin recognized as the superior. Although the Modoc spoke a dialect of Klamath, intermarried, and traded with Klamath people, their relationship was not friendly. The Klamath saw the Modoc people as a country people, coarse in their speech and hardscrabble in their existence.
ARTICLE 9. The several tribes of Indians, parties to this treaty, acknowledge their dependence upon the Government of the United States, and agree to be friendly with all citizens thereof, and to commit no depredations upon the person or property of said citizens, and to refrain from carrying on any war upon other Indian tribes; and they further agree that they will not communicate with or assist any persons or nation hostile to the United States, and, further, that they will submit to and obey all laws and regulations which the United States may prescribe for their government and conduct.
ARTICLE 10. It is hereby provided that if any member of these tribes shall drink any spirituous liquor, or bring any such liquor upon the reservation, his or her proportion of the benefits of this treaty may be withheld for such time as the President of the United States may direct — from the 1864 treaty.
In 1865, Keitpoos led his band (there had been 4 villages on the Lost River before the Ben Wright Massacre) back to his ancestral home on the Lost River after the government did not recognize him as chief. He had grown disgusted with the US favoritism towards Old Schonchin. With dozens of men, women and children with him, Keintpoos spent 4 years coming and going through the Klamath basin. Because the 1864 treaty was not ratified by the US senate and therefore not in effect, Applegate could not coerce Keintpoos to leave his homeland.
In 1869, Keintpoos met with Oregon’s superintendent for Indian Affairs, Alfred B. Meacham. Keintpoos, who was by now known as Captain Jack, (allegedly a man in Yreka found Keintpoos similar in appearance to an old mariner) fled with all warriors at the sudden and unexpected appearance of US soldiers. Meacham ordered the women and children (who had been left behind) to be boarded on wagons bound for the reservation. Meacham entreated Queen Mary, the sister of Captain Jack, to go persuade the man and his band into heading back north. Captain Jack relented. The Modoc were all together again on the reservation.
Article 7 of a 1994 draft of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples uses the phrase “cultural genocide” but does not define what it means. The complete article reads as follows:
Indigenous peoples have the collective and individual right not to be subjected to ethnocide and cultural genocide, including prevention of and redress for:
(a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities;
(b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources;
(c) Any form of population transfer which has the aim or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights;
(d) Any form of assimilation or integration by other cultures or ways of life imposed on them by legislative, administrative or other measures;
(e) Any form of propaganda directed against them.
To what degree do these apply to the Third Generation’s pre-war story?
The misfortunate of the Modoc was to be outnumbered by the Klamath, who could then control the distribution of promised goods delivered by the US. Because the reservation was so small, the Indian peoples had no choice but to depend on the deliveries of food, clothing and other supplies. Nor were the deliveries generous in size. Hunger and poverty began with the third generation.
Because she was married to the settler Frank Riddle, Toby Riddle was free to come and go as she pleased, with her young son Jeff. Since her English was among the best spoken by Modoc she found employment as an interpreter.
Keintpoos, with his wife Lizzie, daughter Rose, his “Old Wife,” Cho’ocks, Hooker Jim, Scarfaced Charley and other Modoc all sojourned south from the reservation to the Lost River over the next several years. On the Klamath tribes reservation deep misery overtook the people. Those who stayed behind began a lifestyle of cattle ranching (growing crops failed) and forestry as instructed by the agents.
Although Meacham had won acclaim for removing Indians from Iowa to the Pacific, his personal beliefs were not totally unsympathetic to the treatment of First Americans. In fact, he was distressed:
- one agent had told Meacham that the best solution for the Indian problem was to “wash out the color”; many Indian agents were impregnating Indian women
- at Fort Klamath, Modoc women could not pay for the goods they wanted, and so engaged in prostitution
- officers took Indian women from their husbands
- Indian husbands would not take back wives who had been seized by whites
- many male settlers moved onto reservations and lived in a casual state with women
Meacham issued an ultimatum to settlers on the Klamath reservation: marry, or leave.
Despite the Modoc abandoning their ancestral home for the exponentially increasing Applegate Trail settlers, treaty promises remained unfulfilled. One of the stipulations was the establishment of a saw mill, because the newly created Klamath tribes was to support itself through the harvesting of timber. No saw mill, as promised by the Applegates, had been built.
As a good Methodist, Meacham stood fiercely opposed to the Modoc religion and its spiritual leaders. The new tribal elections system deliberately bolstered trustworthy, if not puppet, rulers, and reduced the political power of the traditional spiritual leaders. Methodist missionaries have been the primary religious establishment among the Klamath Tribes ever since.
Many Modoc, including Keintpoos and Cho’ocks, felt great unease at these and more developments. Across the west, Indians resisted the missionary influence of the Meachams and began to adopt a racial view of themselves. This was facilitated especially by the Ghost Dance, a radical, pan-Indian spiritual movement that arose during the first reservation era. The goal of the Ghost Dance was to raise the dead, who had been taken by murder, mayhem and disease, and together expel the European-American settlers. Understanding its unifying potential, the US suppressed the Ghost Dance movement with force. For the Modoc, Curley-Headed Doctor, or Cho’ocks, was now the main spiritual leader. He acquired knowledge of the Ghost Dance from the Paiute. Meanwhile, Link River Doctor faced arrest, trial and imprisonment in 1870 at the hands of Subagent Knapp, with Meacham’s encouragement, for the practice of Modoc religion.
Modoc people raided settlers for food. Complaints deluged Meacham’s office.
Meacham was both retained as an agent in the region and would prove a critical actor in later events. However, J.W. Perit Huntington replaced Meacham as Oregon Superintendent. Ulysses S. Grant was president, then, and this reshuffling was in keeping with politics at the time, including the “spoils system.”
With a growing crisis in the region, Meacham requested a separated reservation for Keintpoos’ band down at the Yainax station in the southern part of the Klamath Tribes reservation. Like the previous attempts by various actors, this too was ignored.
It was 1872, and in one of a multitude of ironies, Captain Jack was to be arrested for the murder of a ‘shaman.’ Traditionally, the tribe would take the life of a healer who failed to cure the sick. Not only did Keintpoos exercise a tribal duty, (not the first time he would end up vilified for fulfilling tribal obligations) he had eliminated a person whom the government itself criminalized. Notwithstanding, a warrant was issued for Captain Jack’s arrest.
The Battle of Lost River
Cpt. James Jackson, on orders from Ft. Klamath, marched with 40 troops to Captain Jack’s camp to force a return to the reservation. They were joined by a citizen’s militia from Linkville, (now Klamath Falls) the main European-American settlement in the basin. At the camp on November 29th, the Modoc were ordered to disarm. After doing so a fight broke out and firing commenced.
Quickly, the Modoc reclaimed their weapons and fled to California. They took shelter at Lava Beds, a complex series of lava tubes near Tule Lake.
Between November 29th and 30th, Hooker Jim led a band of Modoc on a series of raids that slaughtered 18 settlers around the lake.
This was the beginning of the 1872-1873 Modoc War.
Centuries of Genocide is a generational series on the destruction of First Americans, or American Indian peoples. I began this series with Part I of the Modoc story. Subsequent generations will be described in the upcoming entries.