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Chapter 1
Captain Jack

By the early 1860's, white settlers in both Oregon and California were arguing that the Klamaths and Modocs should be placed on a reservation and the rest of their traditional homelands be made available for settlement. The Klamaths, who had maintained more peaceable relations with the whites over the years, offered no opposition. The reason they so readily accepted was that the proposed reservation included nearly all the land they claimed as theirs. J. W. Perit Huntington, Superintendent of Indian Affairs in Oregon and son-in-law to one of the Applegates, and the Klamaths signed a treaty in 1864 establishing the Klamath reservation. Although the treaty was not proclaimed until February 17, 1870, Huntington did not hesitate to put its provisions into effect immediately. With the concurrence of the Klamaths, he recommended his father-in-law's brother, Lindsay Applegate, for the position of sub agent. [1]

The Modocs were less happy about the state of affairs. Living on both sides of the California-Oregon border, they found themselves in a cross-fire between factions in both states. Huntington believed the Modocs to be his responsibility and planned to have them sign the same treaty. This would require them to surrender all their lands and move to the Klamath reservation. Meanwhile, in Yreka, Elijah Steele had other ideas.

A native of New York, Steele had emigrated to California by way of Wisconsin, where he had practiced law and had been a state senator. He had spent his first few years in California working in the mines, finally settling in Yreka, and resuming his law practice in partnership with A. M. Rosborough and J. Berry. Appointed agent for northern California Indians in 1863, he had developed a considerable sympathy for the Modocs, who in turn had given him their trust. Although he had already lost his position as agent by 1864, and apparently knew that the Oregon officials were working out the terms of a treaty Steele undertook to make his own treaty with the Modocs. The Indians were happy to agree, for Steele proposed they keep their lands north of Tule Lake, along lower Lost River. [2]

Now, with bewilderment, the Modocs learned that their "treaty" with Steele had no authority. Moreover, they were reluctant to give up their territory and to live among the Klamaths. Only with a great deal of persuasion did Huntington secure the marks of the Modoc leaders. They left their homes and moved to upper Klamath Lake. Within a few months resentment came into the open and caused a sharp division within the tribe. One portion followed "Old Schonchin," an elderly man recognized by white authorities as the chief of the tribe. Chief Schonchin was willing to fulfill the terms of the treaty and to remain on the Klamath reservation. The other group was much more militant and, before the end of 1865, concluded to leave the reservation and return to Lost River. This group had several strong leaders, including Old Schonchin's brother, John, who had witnessed Ben Wright's attacks in 1852, and Keintpoos, better known to history as Captain Jack. [3]

Jack was a strong leader who had considerable control over his fellow dissenters. However he was not an absolute leader. The character of the tribe, with its strong emphasis on individual action, the number of other strong leaders who insisted on asserting themselves within the group, and Jack's personal ability to be conciliatory in the face of impossible odds, all combined to limit his authority. Since the Wright posse had killed Jack's father in 1852, he had cause to hate whites. However in recent years Jack had been one of those Modocs who had developed friendships with Yreka citizens. He especially trusted the two lawyers, Steele and Rosborough. If labels may be applied, Jack was a moderate whereas John Schonchin was an extremist.

When Jack's band returned to Lost River just north of Tule Lake, white settlers had already moved in with their herds and had erected cabins. For the next four years, the two groups lived warily side by side. Considering that each thought of the other as a trespasser, relations were good, marred but occasionally by a misunderstanding concerning property "rights." As time passed and the settlers invested more and more in their claims, they grew increasingly concerned about the Modocs. While attempting to put on a show of casual friendliness to the Indians, they demanded that the Oregon Superintendency move the Indians back to the reservation. The authorities attempted to do this several times, without success.

When U. S. Grant entered the White House, he faced the difficult problem of Indian-white relations throughout the West. One of the several changes adopted in 1869 was the "Quaker Policy." The government hoped that by having the various churches nominate Indian agents, some of the past abuses of administration would be avoided. [4] This innovation had its effects in Oregon when Alfred B. Meacham, hotel and toll road operator from the Blue Mountains of northeastern Oregon, was appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon on May 15, 1869. A strong Republican and member of the Methodist Church, Meacham set out to clean up the agencies, which in his opinion had been scandalously mismanaged.

Meacham was satisfied with the character of Lindsay Applegate, sub-agent at Klamath. However he lost Applegate that fall when Capt. O. C. Knapp was appointed to the position. Unassigned in the army since May of that year due to a reduction in strength, Knapp asked for his discharge and received it on October 25, a little more than three weeks after he took over the sub-agency. [5] He was not a forceful man and he was to run the reservation's affairs with a loose hand. During the year he was in charge, he and Superintendent Meacham developed little regard for each other. [6]

Nonetheless, Knapp and Meacham cooperated in December 1869 to persuade Captain Jack's people to move back to the reserve. On December 30, Jack led his band to Modoc Point, on Upper Klamath Lake, where a wary truce was agreed upon with the Klamaths. No sooner did the Modocs settle down than the Klamaths demanded tribute for the land and heaped other indignities on the returnees. Knapp tried to solve the matter by moving the Modocs to another location. Again the Klamaths made demands on the Modocs. Knapp tried a second move and at the same time was forced to cut off the Modocs' rations because of lack of money. Jack had had enough. Toward the end of April 1870, he and his group again fled and returned to the lower Lost River area. [7]

Meacham's brother, John, replaced Knapp on October 1, 1870. Eleven months later he was succeeded by Johnson N. High. Then, on May 1, 1872, L. S. Dyar replaced High. This rapid turnover in the Klamath Agency did little to help solve the Modoc problem. Yet there was one change during Knapp's last months in office that did hold promise. The eastern part of the reservation was occupied by a large number of Snake Indians, who got along as poorly with the Klamaths as did the Modocs. To keep the peace, Superintendent Meacham drew a boundary between the Snakes and the Klamaths and appointed the commissary at Yainax, Ivan D. Applegate, in charge of the Snakes and the remaining Modocs. Ivan and his brother, Oliver, had assisted their father, Lindsay Applegate, when he was sub-agent for the reservation. Ivan knew the Indians and their problems well and, possessing the characteristic abilities of his prominent family, proved to be a capable administrator of the eastern Indians. Acting almost as an independent agent, he was to maintain his special position at Yainax through the administrations of Knapp, John Meacham, High, and Dyar. Alfred Meacham, assuming the Modocs would trust Ivan, hoped this reorganization would encourage Captain Jack to return. But Jack was far too disenchanted to live again near the Klamaths. [8]

Meacham next proposed to create a separate six miles square reservation for the Modocs at the mouth of Lost River. Although the Commissioner of Indian Affairs later forwarded this forlorn proposal to the Secretary of the Interior, he tempered it with an alternate suggestion that the Modocs be moved to a new reservation to be set up in southeastern Oregon. Nothing came of either proposal. Before he left office, Meacham finally came full circle and decided the solution was the forced removal of Jack's band to Yainax. [9]

Agent L. S. Dyar had been on the job only four months when he made his first annual report. Although he has been accused of being ignorant of the bitterness the Modocs felt toward the Klamaths, he was but following Meacham's conclusions when he too recommended that Captain Jack's band be moved back. He warned that, if the Modocs were allowed to wander another year, "I fear serious consequences." By this time T. B. Odeneal had replaced Meacham as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon. He gave full support to the recommendation, stressing that military force would be necessary. [10]

During the past two years, 1870-1872, Captain Jack had appealed for assistance to his white friends in Yreka, particularly Steele and Rosborough. Both men advised him not to resist the authorities and, at the same time, offered to give their legal expertise to help the Modocs obtain a separate reservation on Lost River. Out of these contacts grew rumors that Yreka whites of low character were advising the Modocs to resist forcibly any efforts to move them. Whether or not this was the case, there seems to have been no such effort on the part of Steele and Rosborough. [11]

Besides the settlers and the Department of the Interior, a third element found itself very much concerned with the Modocs by 1872—the United States Army. Oregon and California were both in the Military Division of the Pacific. Maj. Gen. John McAllister Schofield, recently the Secretary of War, commanded the Division with his headquarters at the Presidio, San Francisco. [12] The Division of the Pacific consisted of two departments, California and the Columbia. Brig. Gen. E. R. S. Canby commanded the latter, maintaining his headquarters at Portland, Oregon. [13] Canby kept himself informed of the Modoc situation through two subordinate posts: Fort Klamath, just over the western boundary of the Klamath reservation, north of Upper Klamath Lake; and Headquarters, District of the Lakes, which in 1872 was at Camp Warner, Oregon, both posts being sixty miles from Tule Lake. [14]

Before Meacham left the superintendency, he wrote General Canby in January 1872, asking that 50 or so soldiers from Fort Klamath be dispatched to move Captain Jack to the reservation. In an effort to dramatize the seriousness of the situation, he enclosed a petition for removal signed by 44 settlers who claimed to live on Lost River. Canby refused to take hasty action. He was "not surprised at the unwillingness of the Modocs to return to any point of the reservation where they would be exposed to...the Klamaths." However he promised Meacham that he would direct the troops at Fort Klamath to continue to protect the settlers. Similar correspondence flowed between the two men throughout February, Canby finally offering to send a force of 50 or 60 men to Yainax to protect the whites. Meacham replied by saying that Yainax was too far from the source of trouble; he recommended either Linkville (Klamath Falls), west of Tule Lake, or Langell Valley, to the east.

While no military force established a camp at any of these designations, Maj. Elmer Otis, commanding officer of the District of the Lakes, did send a patrol through the countryside, reporting afterwards to Canby, "I do not anticipate any serious trouble." [15]

In the latter half of March and early April, Otis himself made a patrol through the country. He interviewed a number of settlers and learned that a majority of them had complaints against the Modocs for thievery and threats. Two whites, Henry Miller and (Abe?) Ball, supported the Indians and assured the major that the settlers had no grounds for fear. Otis climaxed his journey by meeting Captain Jack on Lost River on April 3. He informed Jack of the complaints he had heard and warned him to restrain his men. Later Otis advised General Canby that trouble would occur if the Modocs were not permanently settled by summer. This information reached Secretary of War Belknap by early May, and he promptly passed it on to Secretary of the Interior Delano. It may have been this intelligence that caused the Interior Department to order Superintendent Odeneal in July to proceed with removing the Modocs. [16]

Supporting Otis' concern, the Yreka Union published an article, "An Indian War Imminent," on April 27, describing a series of insolent acts on the part of the Modocs. However in its next issue, one week later, the newspaper adopted a quieter tone: "we have been unable to learn that any acts of actual hostility have either been committed or contemplated." [17]

During most of May, Otis kept a patrol in the Lost River country. However, he soon came to doubt the value of this because "the Modocs are now scattered all over the country from Yreka to the Yainax Agency and in the mountains in the vicinity of Lost River." Canby concurred and on May 22 ordered the patrols discontinued. [18] It proved a sound decision, for the summer of 1872 passed in peace. But the main reason for the quiet was that neither the Indian Office nor the Army undertook any overt moves against the Modocs. [19] During the summer Maj. John Green became commanding officer at Fort Klamath. A courageous and competent officer, Green set out to learn for himself the temper of the Modocs and the geography of the country. [20]

On September 9, accompanied by Troop B, 1st Cavalry, he rode out of Fort Klamath. Five days later, he arrived at Captain Jack's camp at the mouth of Lost River. True to his earlier message to Green, Jack did not come out of his lodge to meet the major, claiming that "white men talked too much" and that his mother was ill. Green continued on his patrol, eventually visiting Camp Bidwell, in northeastern California, and Camp Warner. He returned to Fort Klamath on October 1. [21]

While Green was on his patrol, events began taking a dramatic turn at Canby's headquarters. Superintendent Odeneal informed the general that the Modocs were definitely to be moved to Yainax. While it did not appear that the Modocs would offer any resistance, Canby decided not to risk relying solely on the small force at Fort Klamath. He directed Green to consider himself to be under the District of the Lakes for this one operation, so that the district commander would have "the power in an emergency to control all the force at the several posts in that section of the country." [22]

By this time, Lt. Col. Frank Wheaton had replaced Otis as commanding officer of the District. [23] A capable career man, Wheaton was soon to regret, if only for a short time, that he had ever heard the word "Modoc." At the end of October Canby informed him that Odeneal had selected November as the time for removing Captain Jack. Canby also told Wheaton to use his own discretion, yet warned him "that if the intervention of the troops becomes necessary, the force employed should be so large, as to secure the result at once and beyond peradventure." These were to prove fateful words. [24]

Two weeks later Wheaton emphasized the same point to Green at Fort Klamath. He told Green to give Odeneal whatever assistance he needed, and to "report at once whether in your opinion a larger force than you now have will be required." At the same time he notified Canby that if necessary he would move "with every available mounted man from Harney, Bidwell, Warner and Klamath and compel Captain Jack's immediate compliance."

Green reported back to Wheaton on November 25 that Superintendent Odeneal had just arrived. As of yet Odeneal had not disclosed his plans; nevertheless Green recommended that the cavalry troop at Camp Warner "be kept in readiness to join that at this post, if required by the superintendent." Green concluded with the assurance that he would notify Wheaton "of any emergency as soon as I am aware of it myself." [25] To examine this exchange of correspondence from a distance, it would seem that each person had performed to perfection and that every eventuality had been foreseen. Events during the next few days would prove the opposite.

sketch of Captain Jack's cave
Another Simpson drawing shows the entrance to Captain Jack's cave. Remnants of the Modocs' stone fortifications shown here in the center of the Stronghold still stand today. A photograph taken at the same time Simpson drew this shows that he was an accurate artist.


Modoc War
©1971, Argus Books
thompson/chap1.htm — 11-Nov-2002