Centuries of Genocide: Modoc Indians, Part III

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American-Indian-Heritage-Month

photo credit: Aaron Huey

The Battle of Lost River

In Part II, I had concluded with the Third Generation’s great crisis. The Modoc were destroyed as an independent people, and forced into being part of the Klamath Tribes on Klamath Indian land, to the north, in Oregon. Keintpoos with Cho’ocks and Scarfaced Charley and their families had left the reservation to go back to lost river. The Battle of Lost River, which broke out when the army and a Linkville militia attempted to force the return of the people, and their disarmament, ended with deaths and injuries on both sides. The Modoc all retreated near Tule Lake to Lava Beds. Hooker Jim’s band massacred settlers in the area around the lake, right at the heart of the Applegate Trail in Modoc country.

It was the last day of November, 1872.

FIGURES

  MODOC

  • Old Schonchin

  • Schonchin John, his brother

  • Keintpoos, or Captain Jack

  • Winema, known as Toby Riddle, interpreter

  • Cho’ocks, or Curley-Headed Doctor, spiritual leader

  • Hooker Jim

  • Scarfaced Charley

  • Boston Charley
  • Slolux
  • Brancho
  • Black Jim
  • Shacknasty Jim
  • Bogus Charley
  • Steamboat Frank

  • Ellen’s Man

  • Mary, Keintpoos’ sister

  • Lizzie, Keintpoos’ wife
  • Old Wife (of Keintpoos)

  • Rose, Keintpoos’ daughter.
  • Stimitchuas, or Jennie Clinton
  • Elvira Blow

    YANKEES

  • Ulysses S. Grant, US president

  • General of the Army William Tecumseh Sherman

  • E.S. Canby, Brigadier General, peace commissioner

  • Alfred B. Meacham, Oregon Indian Agent, peace commissioner

  • Rev. Thomas Eleazer, peace commissioner
  • Elijah Steele, Indian Agent for Northern California
  • Lindsay Applegate, founder of the Applegate trail, Oregon Indian Subagent

  • Frank Riddle, peace commissioner, settler, husband to Winema/Toby

  • L.S. Dyar, peace commissioner

  • Eadweard Muybridge, photographer

  • End Game

    Lava Beds proved a brilliant strategic move by the Modoc. Lava Beds is a naturally complex series of trenches, caves, and volcanic features. One species of fern present in one cave is not found except for hundreds of miles to the west, in far more moderate lands. Perhaps this is an appropriate symbol of the Modoc’s refuge. Only a few dozen Modoc warriors were able to elude and frustrate the US Army, modernized though the Army was, and well equipped after the Civil War and Indian wars, in the dead of winter.

    Already they wanted Keintpoos for murder; in keeping with tradition, he had slain a healer who had failed to cure his sick child. His family, including his wife Lizzie and young daughter Rose, dwelled in their own cave.  The cave is exposed to the sky, but they all remained alive and hidden during the ordeal.

    Stimitchuas and other Modoc children were sent to retrieve the cartridges from fallen soldiers.

    Ojibwa has already delivered an overview of the Modoc War of 1872-1873, so I will try to emphasize other aspects to the story while explaining the basics. From Ojibwa:

    The spiritual leader of the group was Curley Headed Doctor [Cho’ocks]. In the lava beds, he had a rope of tule reeds woven, dyed red, and stretched around the campsite. He claimed that no American soldier could cross this rope. Since no soldiers cross this rope during the conflict, the Modoc assumed that it worked.

    …In one encounter, the 400 soldiers who were sent in to subdue the Modoc encountered a thick fog and soon retreated in panic and disarray. From the Modoc perspective, Curley Headed Doctor’s medicine had worked. He had brought a fog to confuse the enemy, and then he turned the soldiers’  bullets so that no Modoc was hurt.

    In another instance, a large patrol blundered into a carefully planned ambush. The army and the press labeled this a massacre. The soldiers had left on the maneuver as though they were going to a picnic rather than a battle. One of the Modoc leaders, Scarface Charley, had called down to some of the survivors: “We don’t want to kill you all in one day” and through this generosity several soldiers escaped.

    In one incident, the army soldiers found an old woman-described as being 80 or 90 years old-in the rocks near the stronghold. The lieutenant asked: “is there anyone here who will put that old hag out of the way?” A soldier then placed his carbine to her head and shot her.

    Embedded Journalism

    Toby Riddle, 4 Modoc women and 2 settlers

    Originating in the Crimean War twenty years prior, modern war photography and journalism had become something refined by the time of the Lava Beds War. Eadweard Muybridge (born Muggeridge in England) was one of the most influential photographers in the early statehood period of California. One generation later, his interest in capturing motion on film would prove deeply influential to the rising motion picture industry. A true archetype of the Old West, Muybridge was a constant self-reinventer. Also a fabulous deceiver and liar, he later murdered his wife’s lover and got away with the crime. During the beginning of the lava beds campaign, Muybridge captured some fascinating images to be sold to magazines and newspapers. For instance, take this photo of Toby Riddle between two California militia men, with 4 old Modoc women. However, some were fabricated: Muybridge had a non-Modoc man pose at some rocks as though he were shooting at Army soldiers. “On the start for a Reconnaissance of the Lava Beds “ reads the title for one photograph.

    Journalists followed the Army around and reported on events as people around the world followed their stories with relish. Interestingly, reporters even went into Lava Beds to document and interview Modoc people.

    Divides, Assassination

    Winema, called Toby Riddle, was one of the Modoc on the other side of the conflict. Similar to the contemporaneous Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins, Toby Riddle was a US Army interpreter, and her husband Frank was a settler. During the war she mostly acted as a messenger. Although she had already borne a son she ran across the lavascape. Because she was a cousin to Keinpoos, Winema remained safe venturing into Lava Beds.

    Brigadier General E.S. Canby was in charge of the Lava Beds campaign. Meacham, described in Part II, again appears as a participant.

    The war was divisive for Modoc people. Most remained under the authority of Old Schonchin up north during the war, in turn outnumbered by the Klamath in the “democratic” government. Schonchin John had joined the Modoc encampment. Within the Lava Beds community there were strong divisions. Keintpoos wanted the war brought to a carefully-arranged end that would secure peace and the right to live in the area of Lost River with his family.  Others wanted to drive out the European-Americans.

    Months of peace negotiations unfolded. Canby grew annoyed by the interference from the Oregon governor, who was eager to hang multiple Modoc at the moment of surrender.

    In the meantime, Canby’s men seized Modoc horses while the negotiations played out. To the Modoc this was unacceptable. At a gathering, the Modoc warriors proposed assassinating Canby at the peace commission. In the northwest and basin, killing an enemy’s leader typically ended conflict. Furthermore, the Third Generation did not forget the Ben Wright Massacre and its false flag of peace in the dead of night. Keintpoos differed from those proposing the killing. Some of the group, possibly Hooker Jim among them, considered Keintpoos cowardly and unfit to be their leader. They tossed a female woven hat at the leader as shaming. By now, the warriors were mostly in favor of assassination. It would be a dangerous move.

    Winema learned of the assassination plot and warned Canby and others.  She went unheeded. Elijah Steele warned Canby by letter, too, but in response Canby wrote that his duty overrode concerns for safety.

    At their peace negotiation on Good Friday, 1873, Canby left many soldiers waiting just off from the peace tent, which was situated halfway between the Modoc and Army encampments. The mere presence of so many troops would deter any threats, was his thought. Also there were the Riddles, the Methodist minister Eleazer Thomas, and agent Alfred Meacham, L.S. Dyar, and two soldiers carrying concealed weapons. Keintpoos tried one last time to make progress. Schonchin John wanted a reservation for his band at Hot Creek.  However, the commissioners were single-minded and resolved to accept nothing less than total surrender.

    Keintpoos revealed his revolver and shot Canby dead. Slolux and Brancho pulled forth rifles and fired. Reverend Thomas also died from gunfire, and Meacham was wounded. Frank Riddle and Commissioner Dyar fled; Winema remained behind. Someone began scalping Meacham but Winema intervened and saved him by warning of the coming soldiers. Keintpoos, Black Jim, Boston Charley, and the rest escaped.

    Punishment

    Replacement General Jefferson C. Davis swelled the ranks to 1,000 troops. William Tecumseh Sherman, General of the Army, urged Davis to kill every Modoc man, woman and child in retaliation. Sherman instructed a colonel, “[y]ou will be fully justified in their utter extermination.”

    The first Modoc defeat happened at the Battle of Dry Lake on May 10. Despite the routing, only several Modoc died including the band leader Ellen’s Man. Recognizing that a precise time had come, Hooker Jim and his band left Lava Beds and changed allegiance.  Hooker Jim, Bogus Charley, Shacknasty Jim and Steamboat Frank and others helped end the war earlier by enabling US Army to track down Keintpoos. They and their families were allowed to return to Klamath reservation unguarded. In exchange for Captain Jack, these Modoc received amnesty for the Tule Lake killings.

    Keintpoos surrendered at the beginning of June, 1873.

    Military tribunal. Winema interpreted. Keintpoos, Schonchin John, Boston Charley, Black Jim, Slolux and Brancho were sentenced to death. In yet another ironic turn, they were convicted of war crimes, the only time American Indians would be. None had legal counsel.

    Ulysses S. Grant would later commute the sentences of Slolux and Brancho, giving them life imprisonment at Alcatraz Island, far to the southwest. The rest were hanged. Their heads were severed and shipped to Washington, D.C. Over a century later, Keintpoos’ relatives would finally retrieve custody of his head from the Smithsonian.

    Keintpoos’ wife Lizzie, his Old Wife, his daughter Rose and sister Mary were, with all the remaining Modoc from Lava Beds, boarded on cattle cars and shipped to Oklahoma on a non-stop journey. It is said that they became so starved that upon being released on a field in Oklahoma, the captives found a cow in the field, killed and ate it there on the ground. Rose died in Oklahoma, Keintpoos’ only child.

    Curley-Headed Doctor fell into disfavor. His power had failed the Modoc, so the people believed. The Modoc in Oregon converted to Methodism and those in Oklahoma were converted by the Quaker. As time passed on, Curley-Headed Doctor’s heart grew heavy.  One cold morning, he went outside to behold a gigantic flock of crows.  Their movement signified a great event, and he died soon after. He is still buried in Oklahoma. The Third Generation mostly passed by 1900.

    Note

    Winema lived the rest of her life on the Klamath Reservation with Frank and her son Jeff. Influenza claimed her in 1920.

    The last Modoc War survivor was Stimitchuas, remembered as Jennie Clinton. It’s unknown when she was born, but she was one those shipped to Oklahoma after the war, and returned to Oregon in 1918. In 1922, Jennie Clinton divorced her husband. She spent the rest of her life in a cabin on the Williamson River. She made beadwork but did not weave.

    Elvira Blow was an even older Modoc War survivor (she already had children before the war) who continued traditional basket-making into the 1930s.

    In the 20th century, Oklahoma Modoc were able to return to Oregon. About 50 remained behind at Quapaw. That is why there are two separate Modoc tribes within two different nations today: one in Oregon, one in Oklahoma.

    Jennie Clinton died in 1950, somewhere between the ages of 89 to over 100. She was the last, having survived forced migration, hunger, poverty, and bloodshed. The Fourth Generation was gone and the Fifth was mostly gone. Four years later, an act of congress would terminate the existence of the Klamath Tribes.

    Subsequent generations of Modoc history will be described in upcoming diaries.

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    Centuries of Genocide: Modoc Indians, Part II

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    American-Indian-Heritage-Month

    photo credit: Aaron Huey

    Ethnography

    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.

    Introduction

    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.

    FIGURES

      MODOC

  • 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.

    YANKEES

  • 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.

    Reservation Woes

    What is cultural genocide?

    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.[4] 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.

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    Centuries of Genocide: Modoc Indians, Part I

    ( – promoted by navajo)

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    American-Indian-Heritage-Month

    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 live on it.  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 Modoc and the much larger Klamath peoples’ ancestors 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, 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.

    Contact

    In the 1820s, Peter Skene Ogden, born in Quebec, became the first European trader (working for Hudson’s Bay Company) to venture into the Klamath basin.  Although the Hudson’s Bay Company operated great fur-trading in the Northwest, specifically at Ft. Vancouver, (it lay across the Columbia river from what is now Portland) and Astoria, the Klamath basin promised little. The region’s lack of pelts, and the inhospitable lands to the east, made venturing into the basin unattractive to the first wave of outsiders. In addition to being much drier than the Willamette Valley naturally, the growing season is very short with very snowy winters.

    Lindsay Applegate, a British-American from Kentucky, who had fought in the Black Hawk War of the 1830s, established an alternative trail to Oregon passing through the great basin in 1846.  Previously unknown diseases, including smallpox and tuberculosis, began taking a nearly apocalyptic toll on Oregon and California natives.

    The Modoc people felt both curious and offended at the sudden influx of people and cattle passing through their homeland.  Seeing these large animals on their land, some Modoc people killed cows. The bad blood was nearly instant between Modocs and some settlers.

    The first generation of Modocs to contact the European intruders adopted guns, and western shoes, skirts, trousers and blouses and tools. Their cultural flexibility and openness to change would become a running theme across each generation until the present.  As Modoc people interacted with Europeans, many assumed European names.

    But the offense grew quickly. Within one year of the Applegate Trail’s opening, the presence of so many settlers and cattle passing through their land alarmed and angered the Modoc. By the shores of Tule Lake, now known as Bloody Point, Old Schonchin and some warriors raided an emigrant party. Only three settlers survived the attack; two of them women, who were taken into the tribe; one man ventured the long distances over the Cascade Mountains to Yreka, California.  (Yreka is a town that prospered for three reasons: timber, mining and Indian blood: more on this later.)  Jim Crosby there raised a militia that buried the dead and fought in a skirmish against Modoc people.

    The Ben Wright Massacre and the Death of Hope for Peace

    In 1852, Indian hunter Ben Wright appeared in Northern California. We know that Wright wanted to keep the Emigrant Trail safe for settlers passing into Modoc land, and that secondly, he was anxious to retrieve the two white women still living with the Modoc.  (Fear of the defiling of European-American women at the hands of the Indian is a persistent theme in the American story.)

    Jeff Riddle, the son of Modoc woman Toby Riddle and the settler Frank Riddle, claims that Wright set out to murder as many Modoc as possible. Wright’s inherent animosity is not in dispute.

    By this point, several massacres of Modoc had been already committed.

    Wright and 36 men waited at the Lost River village, one of the more populated areas in Modoc country, for the retrieval of the captive women. With the growing presence of the Modocs encamped there, the militia became gripped by morbid fantasies while waiting for the women to arrive.  Jeff Riddle claimed that Wright planned for the events to follow, telling the volunteers that their lives were in danger from the villagers.

    There is ambiguity over the details of everything that happened, but the Ben Wright Massacre followed.

    During what was supposed to be a meeting to broker peace, which the Modoc were eager to achieve, Wright laced the banquet food with strychnine. However, the intended felt suspicion and refused to eat the food.  Wright’s men began firing pistols at the villagers. The Modoc with their bows retreated into the sage brush.

    In Chapter 9 of Reminiscences of a Pioneer, Colonel William Thompson, himself biased against the Indian, describes the massacre:

    It was now no longer a battle. The savages were searched out from among the sage brush and shot like rabbits. Long poles were taken from the wickiups and those taking refuge in the river were poked out and shot as they struggled in the water. To avoid the bullets the Indians would dive and swim beneath the water, but watching the bubbles rise as they swam, the men shot them when they came up for air.

    Wright’s company killed at least 43, possibly up to 80 Modoc people, and cleared the village from the face of the earth.

    One year later, Wright successfully demanded payment from the California legislature for his actions.

    Forever Broken, Omens of Destruction

    How great was this toll on the Modoc people? Riddle claimed that ever-after, the Modoc were forever broken, indicating an event devastating on the small population, and that the later Modoc War of 1872-1873 (Toby and Frank Riddle had a critical role in the events of the final war) was never the original intention of an already butchered and weary people.  In 1928, ethnologist Mooney estimated a pre-contact population 480 people.  Assuming the effect of disease, bloodshed and the very limited potential for population growth in the region kept the population at least flat, (if not much less) about 8-10% of the people died that day; much more if the higher number of casualties is to be believed.  The famous anthropologist Alfred Kroeber assumed twice as many living Modoc before contact; if in that somewhat improbable ballpark in 1852, about 5% of the population died in the Ben Wright Massacre. Population would continue to decline from disease, fueled by hunger and exposure but also more bloodshed. The 1910 Census recorded less than 300 Modoc, over 50 of whom lived in Oklahoma on the Quapaw Reservation (more on this later).

    That is a dramatic population decline within one century.

    Considering the specialized economies of American Indian peoples, where individual agents assumed responsibility for memorizing oral history, genealogy, custom, ethnobotany and medicine, language, spirituality, mysticism and religion, agriculture, tracking and food production skills, the sudden loss of so many people in one event undeniably produced a great cultural loss in addition to the deaths themselves.

    That the massacre happened in the context of a supposed peace deal provides an essential understanding of the much more widely known, somewhat fetishized and poorly interpreted assassination of General Canby (of whom Canby, Oregon is named after) during the US Army war against Modoc.  The Modoc War was fought by the children of the 1850s generation.

    The following generations of Modoc history will be described in subsequent diaries — Nulwee.

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