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

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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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Centuries of Genocide: Modoc Indians, Part IV

In case you missed anything…

Part I describes the first generation of Modoc people to contact European-Americans, and the slow war in the Klamath Basin that destroyed the Second Generation. The Ben Wright Massacre is analyzed.

Part II encapsulates the Third Generation’s great crisis and the process leading to the Treaty of 1864, the significance of the Oregon reservation system, and Keintpoos’ years off the reservation before the US Army intervened, concluding with the escalation of tensions into full-blown war. We celebrate Thanksgiving at the end of November: at that time in 1872, Modoc people were fighting US Army from natural trenches in fiercely cold weather.

Part III covers the Modoc War of 1872-1873 as experienced by over 20 Modoc people, President Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, famous settler Lindsay Applegate, and others. It depicts the assassination of General Canby and the fall of the third generation since contact.

After the war’s conclusion, Keintpoos’ severed skull ended up in the Smithsonian. Brancho and Slolux spent life in prison at Alcatraz Island. Winema died in the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1920. And the Modoc people were halved, and one half was shipped to Oklahoma.

Oklahoma

The Modoc who went to Lava Beds were collectively judged as prisoners of war, whether they were involved in hostilities during the War or not. A people of lakes, the Cascade Mountains and the high desert, these Modoc were punished by being transferred to eastern Oklahoma.

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.

The Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma explains how they ended up at Quapaw, and what happened to them there:

The terrible 2,000-mile winter ride in railroad cars intended for hauling cattle finally ended on November 16, 1873 when 153 Modoc men, women, and children arrived in Baxter Springs, Kansas cold and hungry.

In Baxter Springs, Captain Wilkinson conferred with Hiram W. Jones, Indian Agent at the Quapaw Agency as to where to place the Modoc. It was decided to locate them on Eastern Shawnee land where they would be under the direct supervision of Agent Jones. But Jones’ Quapaw Agency was little prepared to care for 153 persons with little but loose blankets on their backs. With Scarfaced Charley in command and only one day’s help from three non-Indians, the Modoc built their own temporary wood barracks two hundred yards from the agency headquarters. Some were housed in tents. These accommodations were to be their home until June of 1874 when 4,000 acres were purchased for them from the Eastern Shawnee

…Captain Wilkinson remained with his charges until the second week in December. When he left the agency, he reported to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, “on the cars, in the old hotel used for them at Baxter, I found them uniformly obedient, ready to work, cheerful in compliance with police regulations, and with each day providing over and over that they only required just treatment, executed with firmness and kindness to make them a singularly reliable people.”

Despite their industriousness, poverty and material loss would continue to plague the people:

Agent Jones also found he had no difficulty enforcing the strictest discipline, although one small area of friction had developed. This was the habit of some of the Modoc in gambling, resulting in some instances in losing what few possessions they had. When Scarfaced Charley, who had replaced Captain Jack [Keintpoos] as chief, refused to interfere, Jones appointed Bogus Charley as chief. He remained chief until 1880 when formal Modoc tribal government in Oklahoma came to an end for almost 100 years.

More on the dissolution of the legal tribe in a bit. For now, the hard times after arrival:

The first years following removal to Indian Territory were difficult ones for the Modoc. They suffered much sickness and many hardships due to the corrupt and cruel administration of Agent Jones. During the first winter at the Quapaw Agency, there were no government funds available for food, clothing, or medical supplies. It would be almost a year after removal that funds in the amount of $15,000 were received for their needs.

In Oklahoma, the POW population declined precipitously:

The death rate was especially high among the children and the aged. By 1879, after six years at the Quapaw Agency, 54 deaths had reduced the Modoc population to 99. By the time of the Modoc allotment in 1891, there were only 68 left to receive allotments, and many of them had been born after removal. Had it not been for the gifts of money and clothing from charitable organizations in the east, General William Tecumseh Sherman’s wish not to leave a Modoc man, woman, or child alive so the name Modoc would cease, would have become a reality.

If you do a search of ‘Oregon’ in this Quapaw Agency Census from 1900, you will find some of the surviving Modoc. Modoc people are the only tribe of which I’m aware that were ever shipped to Oklahoma from far west.  Their race is indicated as “In” for Indian. Jennie Clinton, or Stimitchuas, is one of the individuals listed. It is believed that she died at age 89 in 1950, but it’s possible she was born earlier than 1861. (She was of the fourth generation after contact, having some pre-reservation and war memories but ultimately spending her adulthood in the reservation system.)

It Was the Assimilation Era

With first Americans no longer free to roam the country, European-Americans thought that the plight of Indians would be alleviated, and with that alleviation, the Indian problem for European-Americans would be solved, by educating and acculturating Indians to Western life.  Quakers had already established a Quapaw boarding school in 1871, 2 years before Modoc arrival. The school was miles to the northwest of the agency.  Isolated from their families, children would forcibly have their hair cut by missionaries, wear European-American schoolchildren garb, and become literate and converted Christians by the missionaries forbidding their language, Klamath-Modoc.

Modoc people at both the Quapaw Agency, Oklahoma and Oregon reservations displayed a strong interest in education and literacy.  In 1879, Modoc people built a church and school on the Modoc Reservation at Quapaw. Later, Modoc children attended the Carlisle School, the notorious string of Indian boarding schools, in Kansas. The families that sent children there included the Hoods, Hoover, Balls and McCartys. Schonchin John’s stepson Adam McCarty died at Carlisle, and Modoc stopped sending their children to Carlisle.

After the war, the third generation since contact passed into elderhood–if they weren’t already butchered or executed. Modoc War leader Steamboat Frank became the first Indian to become an ordained Quaker.  He died in Portland, Maine in the 1890s. The Fourth Generation became the establishment.  The Fifth Generation grew up speaking English.

Dawes, Curtis and Statehood

In 1887, the Dawes Act changed American Indian life forever. Among the most significant changes, reservation land was broken up into patrilineal, owned parcels. This change furthered the loss of Indian land that began with the early treaties and reservations.  

The plains itself had been established as a vast reservation for tribes from the midwest, south and east. But once tapping aquifers like Oglalla and cattle ranching became feasible (Chicago boomed as an inland rail-port) Indians were further reduced to the Indian Territory–Oklahoma.  But now even Indian Territory was wanted, and especially its natural resources.  Statehood for Oklahoma would mean breaking the power of Indian tribes.

Dawes opened a can of worms that, for the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma, would spiral into a loss of sovereignty and environmental degradation.  An amendment to Dawes, the Curtis Act of 1898, ended the authority of tribal courts and the tribal governments themselves in Oklahoma. (Charles Curtis himself was a Republican congressman of Osage descent, who wanted education, assimilation and opportunity for Indians through his bill, which was later botched by various committees.)  Although Oklahoma’s natural resource history is most associated with its oil-boom perhaps, in the Quapaw area, rich deposits of zinc and lead allowed for a mining boom. Multiple Indian tribes leased out their land. Today, Quapaw area residents contend with a superfund site from those mines and the environmental costs that entails.

In 1909, the US government permitted Oklahoma Modoc to return to Oregon. Twenty-nine did so. Jennie Clinton was among them; she would then divorce and live until 1950 in a cabin on Oregon’s Williamson River.  The remaining forebears of the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma were (and still are) the smallest group of American Indian people in the region.

This is how the Third and Fourth Generations lived and died in Oklahoma.

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

Centuries of Genocide: Modoc Indians, Part I

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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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