From 1872 to 1873, the Modoc War, also known as the Lava Beds War, occurred in northeastern California and southeastern Oregon between the Modoc tribe and the United States Army.

The Modoc Tribe

The Modoc tribe originally occupied ancestral territory along the southern Oregon-northern California border, around Modoc Lake, Little Klamath Lake, Clear Lake, Goose Lake, Tule Lake, and Lost River. As a matter of fact, their homeland was located just south of that of the Klamath. They spoke a Penutian dialect close to the Lutuamian language, which was spoken by a related group of people.
According to the Klamath language, the term Mo-adok refers to the Southerners, but the modern pronunciation of the word is MO-dock. Like their more northern Penutian kin, the Modoc and Klamath were considered to be tribes of the Plateau Culture Area and often traded with their northern Penutian kin in order to survive.
Native Americans of the Plateau were seminomadic hunters and gatherers. Migrations were based on seasonal food availability. Salmon runs were important during this time of year. These ocean fish make easy catches when they swim upriver to lay their eggs. Therefore, migratory peoples lived in semi-underground earth lodges as well as tents covered with mats on the Columbia Plateau.
As a result of the Modoc War, one of the few Indian wars that occurred inside the boundaries of the state of California, the Modoc are often associated historically with the California Indians living to the south of them, despite the fact that their way of life was similar to that of people to their north.
There was little need for large-scale violence among California Indians at the time due to their general tolerance of mistreatment by whites and the government’s peace policy toward Native Americans under the post-Civil War administration of President Ulysses Grant in 1872. The Modoc insurrection of 1872 astonished a lot of Americans.
From 1872 to 1873, the Modoc War, also known as the Lava Beds War, occurred in northeastern California and southeastern Oregon between the Modoc tribe and the United States Army.
From 1872 to 1873, the Modoc War, also known as the Lava Beds War, occurred in northeastern California and southeastern Oregon between the Modoc tribe and the United States Army. Source

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The Modoc War

The Modoc War, also known as the Modoc Campaign, was the result of a series of events that began in 1864. At that time, the Modoc and Klamath tribes signed away most of their territory and relocated to the Klamath Reservation in Oregon, northeast of Upper Klamath Lake, which later became known as the Klamath Reservation. There was, however, never a feeling of satisfaction among the Modoc and the Klamath.
Both tribes did not have enough food to feed themselves. It caused a lot of people to become ill. There were tensions between tribe members over petty issues that arose as a result of the situation. North of Tule Lake on the west bank of the Lost River, on the west bank of the Southern California border, the Modoc people longed for a separate homeland and asked for their own reservation.
In response to the tribe’s request, both the federal and California governments turned it down. A group of Indians who lived under a young leader named Kintpuash, who was given the nickname Captain Jack by whites, decided to take matters into their own hands. The Kootenai tribe founded the first settlement in the Lost Valley in 1870, reestablishing their long-sought homeland. Officials temporarily ignored the move.
It is true that complaints about the Modoc presence increased as the number of non-Indian settlers increased in northern California. The federal administration has ordered the troops to withdraw. With instructions to bring back the renegades, Captain James Jackson set out from Fort Klamath in November 1872. Jackson’s announcement of his intentions sparked a fight in the Modoc village.
The shooting resulted in the deaths of one Modoc and one soldier. As Captain Jack and his followers fled to Tule Lake, they worked their way south to what the Indians termed the “Land of Burnt Out Fires.” Hardened lava had formed a harsh and lonely mountainous volcanic environment. Meanwhile, Hooker Jim and a group of Modoc eluded a posse of civilians trying to round them up while away from the village.
There have been several attacks on ranchers in this region by this group, which has led to the deaths of 15. It wasn’t long before the rest of the group fled into the lava beds as well. Captain Jack had hoped that perhaps peace negotiations might be possible. As soon as Hooker Jim’s actions became known to him, he assumed that war was inevitable and that he would have to fight. Near the lava beds, regulars and volunteers from California and Oregon were massed under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Frank Wheaton.
It was January 18, 1873, when the attack took place. The artillery fired rounds into the dense fog enveloping the “Land of Burnt Out Fires” as the bluecoat infantry advanced; however, the shells fell closer to the advancing infantry than to the Indians in the area.
There was also a successful counterattack by the Modoc warriors, who, moving along lava trenches with sagebrush in their hair as camouflage, were able to defeat their enemy. Having suffered many casualties at the hands of Modoc sharpshooters, the soldiers withdrew from the area after suffering many casualties. This was the beginning of the third phase of the war. In order to lead the campaign personally, General Edward Canby, who was the commander of the entire Northwestern District at the time, decided to lead it personally.
In about a year, he had built up a force of about 1,000 men. A peace plan was also set in motion by him, which was to his credit. A negotiation with the Indians was arranged with the help of Captain Jack’s cousin, Winema, who had married a white man but was related to him through his mother.
Together with General Canby, President Grant’s peace commissioners, Alfred Meachem and Reverend Eleasar Thomas, represented the government on behalf of the government. As Captain Jack thought, there might still be a chance for peace to be achieved. However, he refused to hand Hooker Jim and the militants who killed the ranchers over to the authorities.
Captain Jack was told by a medicine man dubbed Curly Headed Doctor that if the army’s leaders were murdered, the troops would be unable to defend themselves. An agreement was made between Captain Jack and his closest friends among the warriors regarding the plan of treachery. On April 11, Captain Jack pulled a hidden revolver from his jacket pocket and shot and killed General Canby with it. Reverend Eleasar Thomas was murdered by Boston Charley.
After that, the warriors escaped from the battlefield. The Modocs would now be treated with no mercy from now on. There was no hope that they would ever be able to secure their own reservation. There were some outraged whites who even called for the complete eradication of the black population. Colonel Alvan Gillem, the new commander in the field, attempted another attack, which was repulsed by the old commander.
It was only a matter of time before the Modocs managed to sneak away to another lava formation further south. Scarface Charley led an ambush on one army patrol in a hollow, and a war party participated. That one-sided battle resulted in the death of 25 soldiers, including all five officers. Even so, the Modoc rebellion was coming to an end. Food and water were in short supply, and the Modocs were arguing among themselves as a result.
Hence, General Jeff Davis, a new commander, organized a relentless pursuit of the small bands that were scattered across the countryside. Despite Captain Jack’s faithful protection, Hooker Jim was prepared to turn himself in and, willing to risk his own life to do so, betrayed him by turning himself in. In order to locate Captain Jack’s hideout, the troops were led by him.
During the battle of Boston Charley, Black Jim and Schonchin John, Captain Jack, and his friends were cornered in a cave, and they surrendered. As a witness at the court martial, Hooker Jim gave testimony against the other defendants in the case. It was decided that Captain Jack and his friends would be hanged. On October 3, 1873, the execution was carried out.
A night after Captain Jack had been hanged, grave robbers dug up his body, embalmed it, and exhibited it in a carnival that toured the eastern cities during the following days. In the Indian Territory, the Modoc who survived the wars were sent to live amongst the QUAPAW. There were 51 Modoc Indians who were allowed to return to the Klamath Reservation in 1909.
Currently, Modoc descendants can be found in both places, and both are thriving communities. The Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma, based in Miami, Oklahoma, has been federally recognized since 1978, with its constitution ratified in 1991. There is a strong effort by tribal members to preserve the language of their people, their oral traditions, and their ceremonies and to pass them on to future generations.

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