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.

Modoc War Cover
Cover of the Modoc War by Erwin N. Thompson
The Modoc War

The winter of 1872-1873 was a troubled one in the Lava Beds, where a small band of Modoc Indians was besieged by a US Army force outnumbering them as much as ten to one. The majority of the battlefields of this conflict, known as the Modoc War, are located within the monument and are still preserved today.

An overview of the events of the war and places to visit in the monument can be found on our Modoc War Webpage. The book "Modoc War," by historian Erwin N. Thompson, is also available online for more in-depth study of these tragic events.

A woman grinds wocus
A woman grinds wocus, the fruit of a water lily, to make traditional Modoc flour.

Modoc Homeland

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.

Learn more about Early Modoc History and Modoc Homelands.

A Civilian Conservation Corps recruitment poster, in which a man holds an ax
Portion of a CCC recruitment poster


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 seventy years later.

Learn more about the CCC's work at Lava Beds and the Schonchin Butte Lookout.

Charcoal pictograph with many lines radiating downwards from a central line with circles on both sides
Pictograph in Big Painted Cave

Rock Art

Discover an extensive collection of awe-inspiring pictographs and petroglyphs throughout the Lava Beds landscape.

Learn more about Images in Stone here at Lava Beds.

J D Howard
Early cave explorer J. D. Howard sharing his knowledge of the area with another explorer.

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.

Last updated: April 4, 2024

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 1240
Tulelake, CA 96134


530 667-8113

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