Centuries of Genocide: Modoc Indians, Part V (Termination Era, 1954-1986)

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photo credit: Aaron Huey

Don’t worry if you missed previous installments. This diary will serve as a stand-alone and as part of the series.

In the 20th century, there were two separate, legal, Modoc entities: the Klamath Tribes of Oregon, which includes the Klamath, Modoc, and Yahuskin peoples (a band of Snake Indians), created by an 1864 Treaty, and the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma, who were created out of the US Army’s POWs from the Modoc War of 1872-1873.

Blogging is a self-reflexive and responsive activity. Several commentators have appeared, calling these diaries “whining” about the past. Not relevant to present concerns.  That is not true.  This is a generational series, and by starting off with contact, we’ve worked our way with a context to the 20th century. We’ve covered the eras of (Fur) Trade, the First Reservation System (they stay over there) the Second Reservation System, (they move to there) the Indian Wars in the West, (kill the people) forced removal (we send them there) the Assimilation Era (save the man, kill the Indian) and now we come to a forgotten time. It’s forgotten even though many of its survivors are still alive: The Termination Era. And many of you were alive then, too.

What is Termination? If I was to tell you that an Indian tribe legally existed and then it later didn’t, you might find that a little surprising. But that’s exactly what happened, multiple times, in modern American history.  So along came a proponent of assimilation.  He was a Western senator, a Mormon, moderately conservative, of the Republican Party. And he had a plan that would legally extinguish Modoc people in Oregon.

Geographic and Economic Context

In order to understand the termination of the Klamath Tribes, we need to talk about money, politics and God.  With the Fourth and Fifth Generations since contact nearly all dead, Modoc people in Oregon were fully transformed. Once a people of marshes (originally called “Lake Indians”) who would subsist on the woca lily, fish, waterfowl and their eggs, and big game, the Modoc people now lived far to the north, east of Crater Lake in the Ponderosa pine forests of the Klamath Reservation. The Sixth and Seventh Generations grew up speaking English and were Christians–Methodists mostly. Forced dependency on western foods–flour, sugar, salt–made for a semi-Western diet.

All together, the land that had been lost by the three tribes totaled 23 million acres. By comparison, in 1888, the Klamath reservation spanned 1,056,000 acres (that equals 4.5%).  The rights to fish, hunt and gather on the reservation were retained. However, the reservation was resource poorer land than the wetlands and the major rivers to the south.  Attempts to farm as instructed by missionaries had failed. But since all three tribes considered horses a form of wealth, cattle ranching easily translated into a major industry.  Back in the 1850s, cattle on Modoc land was a source of contention as settlers passed through, and Modocs treated the animals as game. But historically, the largest industry of all proved to be timber.  Shortly before the war had began in 1870, a sawmill was finally constructed, as promised in the 1864 treaty.

By the 1880s, Modoc people were transporting goods across Klamath County, down to the main settlement at Linkville, now Klamath Falls, which is on the eastern side of Klamath Lake.  In 1911, reservation timber sales soared with the advent of the railroad economy in the county.  

At the turn of the century, the US was reaching a peak of industrialization; port cities across the West Coast blossomed. That meant a lot of construction–wood construction.

Timber management made the Klamath Tribes one of the richest in the nation.  While pictures of early Portland show a tree-bereft landscape out to the horizon, the Klamath Tribes did not clear-cut.  They would select individual trees, from which sale proceeds would enter a tribal (communal) fund.  There always was (and still is) resentment towards Indians, especially Klamath Tribes people, as to Indian wealth management and resource rights.

Ideology

Indian policy at this time had taken a turn. Now considered mostly Westernized–educated at boarding schools, English speaking, hair cut, and Christian, not to mention off the valuable land and hidden away at former POW camps–officials saw Indians as mostly benign. In their eyes, assimilation had succeeded. Indians were granted the right to vote in the 20th century. To complete assimilation, Indians would have to be no longer legally separated from society.

The path to termination began in the 1940s, coinciding with the Cold War. The Cold War was at its “hottest” from 1948, when Stalin blockaded Berlin, to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Washington D.C. saw itself in a struggle to defend free markets and democracy both against collective ownership and authoritarian government.  With an American people firmly adhering to generations of rugged individualism philosophy, with warfare seen as positive again (it was despised in the 20th century until WWII) and a deep animosity towards collective ownership, it’s not hard to imagine the sentiments felt by both non-Indians in Klamath County and non-Indian lawmakers in Washington as to the Tribes.

From 1947 to 1959, Arthur V. Watkins served as US senator (sorry for the error) from Utah. He had been a rancher on 600 acres, a Columbia University-educated lawyer and a missionary for the Church of Latter-Day Saints. He remained highly active in the Church.

Watkins was not a rabid anticommunist, but he was fully anathema to Indian values and became the leading proponent of Termination. He saw termination as the completion of assimilation. The senator envisioned benefits from the erasure of differences between Indians and whites (who would eventually breed out the Indian). Actually, he went further, comparing termination to the emancipation of slaves during the Civil War, freeing them from wardship of the state.  Watkins chaired the Senate Interior Committee Subcommittee on Indian Affairs.

Termination Begins

In 1953, the US Congress officially began Termination Era legislation with House Concurrent Resolution 108:

Whereas it is the policy of Congress, as rapidly as possible, to make the Indians within the territorial limits of the United States subject to the same laws and entitled to the same privileges and responsibilities as are applicable to other citizens of the United States, to end their status as wards of the United States, and to grant them all of the rights and prerogatives pertaining to American citizenship.

Responsibilities here means federal and state taxes to which legally recognized Indian tribes were not subject. This use of wards arises from perception, dating to surveys in 1943, that found that American Indians were living in abject poverty across the nation. Officials believed they were doing the morally right thing and correcting government abuse by termination. Bureau of Indian Affairs compiled a list of the most economically prosperous tribes to start the termination process. The Klamath Tribes were the second richest. That year, Congress passed Public Law 280, which gave the states legal jurisdiction over all but a couple reservations in the US.

The next year, 1954, was the 90th anniversary of the creation of the Klamath Tribes. Through the heavy involvement of Watkins and like-minded legislators, the first American Indian tribe would be terminated by the Menominee Termination Act.  That August, Congress passed the Klamath Termination Act. Only four years prior, Jennie Clinton, the last Modoc War survivor died.  The Modoc people would legally no longer exist. It only took seven generations since contact.

1954-1986

Termination was not immediate. In fact, Klamath Tribes members could choose between remaining as tribal members or accepting a payment for an individual land parcel to be ceded, but only one choice had much incentive.  Federal recognition of the tribe ceased, and with that, the hunting and fishing rights. And with that abrogation, even more water rights had been lost across the generations. A total of 1660 people withdrew from the tribe. Those remaining became part of a management plan handled by a bank up north in Portland.

The Klamath Reservation lands entered the US Forest Service system, where the lands were badly managed. One portion of former reservation fell under US Fish and Wildlife management. The Tribes state that “the Deer population (while in State and Federal control) went from 60 per sq. mile in the 1950’s, to approximately 4 per sq. mile today, in the former reservation area.”

Modoc people along with the other tribes suffered increasing poverty. The small town of Chiloquin, at the former center of the Klamath Reservation, saw an influx of new whites and a rise in violence. A town of less than 1000 became known as one of the most dangerous places in Oregon: robberies, kidnappings, unsolved disappearances and shootings.

The Seventh and Eighth Generations knew Termination. Kossack deeproots bears witness in the comments:

I remember what happened with the Klamath/Modoc (2+ / 0-)

termination.  Although my family is not Native American, my father had lived and worked in Klamath County and had a number of Klamath friends.  He was in anguish as he saw what happened to so many members of the tribe.  Those who took the cash settlements were preyed upon by merchants in Klamath Falls who sold them stoves and refrigerators when some didn’t even have electricity in their homes, and they jacked up the prices of everything, especially automobiles, which many Klamaths wanted.  The money was soon gone for many former tribal members, who then had absolutely nothing.  Those who kept their land did somewhat better, although the loss of hunting and fishing rights was grievous.  My father said the U.S. government was trying to kill off the Indians and was doing a damn good job of it.  

Congressional termination of tribes ended in the 1960s. Other aspects of Indian policy proved more pernicious. Discreet sterilizations of American Indian women, without their consent or knowledge, date back to the early 20th century and continued until at least the late 1970s. These were especially common in Oregon, the last state to employ sterilization, where it may have continued into the early 1980s. The Indian Adoption Era officially lasted from Termination into the 1970s. With tribes no longer federally recognized, Indian individuals could be adopted by white families and the process of assimilation completed.  Even members of the Ninth Generation of Modoc people since contact, Millenials, have been adopted out to non-Indian families.

Centuries of Genocide: Modoc Indians

Part I (Contact, 1820-1852)

Part II (First Reservation Era, 1852-1872)

Part III (War and Second Reservation Era, 1872-1950)

Part IV (Removal Era, 1873-1909)

Tribal Restoration and Dick Cheney will feature in the next (and final?) part of this series.

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