History & Culture
As one of the longest continually occupied areas in North America, the history and cultural legacy of the lava beds stretches back thousands of years. Explore the history early Native Americans left behind in rock art and at archeological sites, the conflict of the Modoc War, and the traditions and heritage of homesteaders, ranchers, cave explorers, "CCC boys," and the modern Modoc and Klamath tribes.
Are you or a family member a past or current resident of the Klamath Basin with a story to share about homesteading, early exploration at Lava Beds, the Civilian Conservation Corps, or the Tule Lake Segregation Center? Become part of history through the Basin Legacy Oral History Project.
The winter of 1872-1873 was a troubled one in the Lava Beds, where a small band of Modoc Indians was beseiged by a US Army force outnumbering them as much as ten to one. The majority of the battlefields of his conflict, known as the Modoc War, are located within the monument and are still preserved today.
For an overview of the events of the war and places to visit in the monument, download our Modoc War brochure. The book "Modoc War," by historian Erwin N. Thompson, is also available online for more in-depth study of these tragic events.
The land that was later to become Lava Beds National Monument, as well as the highlands to the south and wetlands to the north, was home to paleolithic peoples for thousands of years. This area is still infused with cultural and spiritual importance for many modern people of Modoc and Klamath descent.
Like most National Park Service sites during the Depression, newly established Lava Beds National Monument benefited from the work of a Civilian Conservation Corps crew. Between 1935 and 1942, hundreds of "CCC boys" constructed all of the original infrastructure of the monument, much of which you can still drive on, walk on, and enjoy during a visit more than sixty years later.
Early Exploration and Use
A host of colorful characters populate the early modern history of Lava Beds, including J.D. Howard, a cave explorer; homesteading families that ran sheep and an underground ice skating business; and moonshiners who set up stills in the remote caves during Prohibition.