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Surrender of the Modoc

Library of Congress

As more white settlers moved into the Oregon country, many Native Americans were displaced from their lands. The Modoc people, refusing to stay on a reservation, fought the United States Army but were forced to surrender in 1873, an event depicted in this newspaper illustration.

Native North Americans whose language belongs to the Sahaptin-Chinook branch of the Penutian linguistic stock. They lived in SW Oregon and N California, particularly around Modoc Lake (also known as Lower Klamath Lake) and Tule Lake. Modoc culture was similar to the culture of the Klamath, but the Modoc did not rely as heavily on the wokas, or water-lily seeds, for food. There was considerable trouble between the Modoc and the early white settlers, with atrocities being committed on both sides. The Modoc were finally constrained to go (1864) on the Klamath Reservation in Oregon, but most of the tribe was dissatisfied. In 1870, Chief Kintpuash, or Captain Jack, led a group back to California and refused to return to the reservation. The attempt to bring them back brought on the Modoc War (1872-73). After the Modoc War, the Modoc people were divided; some were sent to Oklahoma (where a few remain), and some to the Klamath Reservation in Oregon. The Modoc in Oregon share lands with the Klamath and Snake. See V. F. Ray, Primitive Pragmatists: The Modoc Indians of Northern California (1963), R. H. Dillea, Burnt-Out-Fires (1973). Captain Jack (d. 1873), subchief of the Modoc and leader of the hostile group in the Modoc War (1872-73). Jack, whose Modoc name was Kintpuash, had agreed (1864) to leave his ancestral home and live on a reservation with the Klamath. He found it impossible to live on friendly terms with his former enemies, and after killing a Klamath medicine man, Jack and a group of followers left the reservation. They resisted arrest (Nov., 1872) and fled into the lava beds in California. Their strong defensive position frustrated numerous attempts by U.S. troops to dislodge them. In April, 1873, a peace commission headed by Gen. Edward Richard Sprigg Canby met with Jack and several of his men. At a prearranged signal, Jack shot Canby dead. The army renewed its efforts to capture them and forced the Modoc to take refuge elsewhere. The Modoc, who were tired of fighting, began to give themselves up, and on June 1, Captain Jack was captured. He was taken to Fort Klamath, where on Oct. 3, 1873, he and three of his warriors were hanged for the murder of Canby. See biography by D. P. Payne (1938). Modoc War 1872-73, series of battles between the Modoc and the U.S. army fought as a result of the attempt to force a group of the Modoc to return to the Klamath Reservation in S Oregon. Beginning in Nov., 1872, U.S. soldiers were engaged in sieges against the Modoc who were encamped in the lava beds near Tule Lake, Calif. The soldiers, after losing battle after battle, increased their forces to 1,000 by March, 1873. During peace negotiations Gen E. R. S. Canby and Eleazer Thomas were killed; the soldiers intensified their efforts to subdue the Modoc and finally in late May, 1873, Captain Jack and his much reduced force of 30 warriors were captured. Captain Jack and five other leaders were hanged in October. The Modoc War proved costly to both sides: 87 soldiers were killed and 83 were wounded. Although the Modoc lost only 8 warriors and an unlisted number of women and children in the fighting, they were thereafter divided as a people.

The Modocs called themselves the Maklaks and were part of the Lulacas coast tribe before 1800. Their language is part of the Lutumanian linguistic group. At about 1800 they broke away from the Lulacas because of an argument about tribute to the chief. Chief Moadacus led his new tribe to the area near Lost River.

[ photo of Captain Jack ] Captain Jack
Captain Jack was the leader of the Modoc Indians who fought the U.S. Army for several months in 1872. However, he didn't have complete control over the band. The Modocs stressed individual choice but worked as a group. Jack would accept the choice of the whole band even if he didn't agree with it. He argued against killing General Canby, but the majority of the warriors believed it would send the Army away, so Jack went along with the plan.

Jack had two wives, at least one daughter, and a sister, Queen Mary. They lived with him during the entire Modoc War.

[ photo of Boston Charley ] Boston Charley
The miners in Yreka called him Boston because he had a light complexion and almost appeared Caucasian. Boston Charley was one of the four Modocs hung on October 3, 1873. He shot Rev. Thomas on April 11th.

[ photo of Scarfaced Charley ] Scarfaced Charley
He got his name because of a disfiguring scar on his face reportedly caused when he fell off a wagon when he was a young man. Scarfaced Charley was one of the more militant of the Modocs and may have shot the first shot of the Modoc War at the Battle of Lost River.

John Schonchin
He was the brother of Old Schonchin, one the the Chiefs of the Modoc Tribe. He was hung with Captain Jack on October 3rd, 1873 for his part in the killing of General Canby and Rev. Thomas.

Black Jim
Black Jim was one of the four Modocs to hang on October 3rd. He shot and tried to scalp Meacham when General Canby was shot. After the Second Battle of the Stronghold, he and a few of the other Modocs left the two main bands of Modocs and tried to escape the U.S. Army. They were captured by Oregon Volunteers.

Hooker Jim
Hooker Jim was one of the most violent and independent members of the Modoc Tribe. After the Battle of Lost River he and a small group of Modocs took revenge on the settlers and killed 17. When he was captured after the Second Battle of the Stronghold, he agreed to help the Army find Captain Jack in return for escaping the hangman's noose.

Barncho and Sloluck
They were at the scene when General Canby and Rev. Thomas were killed. President Grant commuted their death sentences, but they were sent to prison on Alcatraz. Barncho died of tuberculosis in prison, but Sloluck was released and sent to his tribe in Oklahoma in February 1878.

  • Klamath / Modoc Linguistics
    Resource created by a University of Oregon linguist contains an overview of Klamath and Modoc, and links to research papers and bibliographies.
    • Modoc War
      Oregon Public Broadcasting Education Services provides a detailed look at this war in California. Find a forum, links, and lesson plans.

    • MSN Encarta - Modoc
      Peruse a virtual encyclopedia's profile of this Native American community, which was eventually integrated with the Klamath and Quapaw tribes.

    Modoc War
    A Brief History of the Modoc War Sagebrush-covered lava plateaus and wooded mountains of northern California and southern Oregon were the homeland of the Modoc Indians. Their domed dwellings were scattered along the shores of Tule Lake and L