Lava Beds
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Chapter 11
Lieutenant Albion Howe

Word of Captain Jack's surrender quickly reached the 2d and 3d Squadrons, and these troopers rode into Applegate's ranch. The Oregon Volunteers continued to track a while longer, making their contribution by capturing the notorious Black Jim. When he learned of this minor success, Major Green requested General Ross to bring in his prisoner. [1]

Meanwhile Trimble and Perry escorted their prize prisoner to Davis' headquarters at Applegate's. The prisoners who had been captured in Langell Valley had already reached the ranch and were quartered in a corral. Jack and his family joined them. There was none of the drama experienced at Fairchild's ranch — that would come later. In the evening, June 1, Davis ordered shackles put on the legs of Captain Jack and Schonchin John. The chiefs were greatly humiliated by this, but their fate lay in Davis' hands now. Of his surrender Jack had little to say. He provided no ringing phrases for future historians to cull, analyze, and admire. In his final report Davis recorded that all Jack said was that his "legs had given out." [2]

On June 4 Davis moved his headquarters to the camp on the Peninsula. The heavily-guarded Modoc prisoners traveled separately in a wagon. Anticipation and excitement flowed through the throng of soldiers and civilians as they waited for the arrival of Captain Jack. In mid-afternoon a cloud of dust announced that the procession was drawing near:

Soldiers, citizens, and everyone who could spare a few moments gathered near the barricade and watched the procession as it . . . passed up the sandy stretch at the base of the bluff where the tent containing the prisoners is located. Lieutenant Chapin, Company F, Fourth Artillery, was in advance. Next came a large wagon loaded with Modocs, followed by two loaded with baggage. The rank and file of Battery G marched beside the wagons, and forty mounted Warm Spring scouts followed in the rear. The Warm Springs supplied the lack of music by sounding their war whoops. "Where is Captain Jack?" "Where is Captain Jack?" was the cry among the spectators. None had the pleasure, however, of seeing the warrior's face. He had anticipated the excitement . . . and was concealed in the wagon, completely in a blanket. [3]

The prisoners climbed from the wagon, the men shuffling off to one side of the makeshift enclosure, the women to the other. One of Jack's two wives, "Lizzie," and their three-year-old child was allowed to stay with Jack out of deference to his position.

Davis intended to punish summarily those Modocs whom he considered to be the leaders during the months of violence. To identify those who had attacked the settlers in November he brought two widows to the Peninsula, Mrs. William Boddy and her daughter, Mrs. Nicholas Schira. The suspected Indians were brought out so that the two women could point out who had killed their husbands. The women were of no help. Davis was standing near them when, suddenly, Mrs. Schira "draw a pistol and went for Steamboat Frank, and Mrs. Boddy drew a knife and dashed at Hooker Jim." The startled colonel lunged at the women and succeeded in disarming them. In doing so he received a cut on the palm of his hand from Mrs. Boddy's knife. The flurry quickly subsided, and Davis was no wiser than before the women came. [4]

Frank and Jim were not the only Modocs whose lives were endangered after capture. As soon as Captain Jack was made prisoner Davis sent orders to Mason at Fairchild's to move all five infantry companies to the Peninsula and to bring with him all the Modoc prisoners from the western band. Mason never explained why he did not order an escort to accompany each wagon or group of prisoners. Perhaps he decided that since the war was over, escorts would be unneeded. Whatever the reason, James Fairchild's brother, John, was driving a large ranch wagon eastward on June 8, filled with 17 Modoc men, women, and children, without an army escort. As he crossed Lost River, Fairchild met Lieutenant Hyzer and a detachment of Oregon Volunteers who at that time were camped at Crawley's ranch. Hyzer stopped the wagon and questioned Fairchild about his passengers. Apparently satisfied the Volunteers returned to their camp.

A few miles farther on Fairchild spotted two horsemen passing him, then waiting for him to come up to where they stood. The horsemen raised their rifles and ordered the wagon to stop. They cut the traces and began firing. The four mules, startled by the noise, dashed off dragging Fairchild behind them. When the two men finished firing, four Indian men (Tehee Jack, Pony, Mooch, and Little John) lay dead, and Little John's wife was severely wounded. Just then Sergeant Murphy with a patrol of ten men from Battery A came upon the scene. The horsemen fled. Murphy sent to the Peninsula for assistance and eventually got the surviving prisoners to the camp.

Who were the killers? The Oregon Volunteers denied emphatically that they had had anything to do with it. Alfred Meacham wrote that no effort was ever made to find out who they were. An eastern newspaper claimed "it is generally supposed that the guilty parties are Oregon volunteers. Fairchild is of that opinion himself." The army did not doubt it, "the Indian captives . . . were fired into by Volunteers." [5]

Despite his thwarting the women's attack on the Modocs and sending aid to the victims of the wagon incident, Davis was not averse to punishing Modocs. At first he was thoroughly supported in this by General Sherman who wired Schofield, "Some should be tried by court martial and shot; others be delivered over to civil authorities, and the balance dispersed so that the name Modoc should cease." Davis agreed but felt that the four Modocs who had helped to track down the last of the hostiles should be exempted from execution although "two of them, Hooka [sic] Jim and [Steamboat] Frank are among the worst of the Band." [6]

Davis wasted no time. By June 5 a scaffold decorated the Peninsula, and hanging ropes had been prepared. Even with the four exemptions Davis had picked out "8 or 10 ringleaders" for execution at sunset, June 6. Amazed, he read a telegram from Schofield ordering a postponement of any hangings. The War Department had concluded that any extreme action should be delayed until the Attorney General made a decision as to whether the Modocs were prisoners-of-war who could be tried by military law, or were murders who should be turned over to civil authorities for trial. Sherman's sympathies still lay with the troops: "I wish Davis had dispatched those Indians." Not all was lost however. "I believe the same result will be accomplished in a way that will be strictly lawful," he wired Schofield, "and at the same time serve as a rule for the future." [7]

The Attorney General's ruling came down on June 9. Sherman wired Schofield that the Modocs' actions since November 29 "constitute war in a technical sense that crimes afterwards committed against the laws of war are triable and punishable by military courts preferably Military Commissions." [8] The prisoners were escorted to Fort Klamath, where Jackson's 3d Squadron had preceded them to erect a log stockade "large enough to confine 44 Bucks 49 Squaws and 62 children total 155." [9] There was one less prisoner than before the caravan left the Peninsula. Curley Haired Jack had somehow hidden a pistol and, rather than leave as a prisoner, killed himself. [10]

Schofield instructed Davis on the functions of a military commission. It should have at least three but not more than thirteen members. The proceedings would be the same as for a court martial, and the "usages and laws of War" would govern the sentences. Schofield left it to Davis whether or not those who had helped him after their capture should receive capital punishment. If they were exempted he felt that they and all other Modoc men should be imprisoned, preferably at Alcatraz, and the women and children sent to some distant reservation. Schofield believed that the commission had the authority to try both those who had killed settlers and those who had attacked the peace commission. The War Department later directed the commission to try only those Modocs who had killed General Canby, Lieutenant Sherwood, and Dr. Thomas. All others were to be treated as prisoners-of-war. [11] In the end, only those who had attacked the peace commission faced the judges.

The military commission and its eventual findings aroused deep emotions from both those who demanded more severe punishment and those who thought the punishments much too strong. The state government and many of the citizens of Oregon felt outraged that the military should have jurisdiction and that those Modocs who had killed civilians should be exempt from trial. Citizens of southern Oregon, particularly, believed that only the state courts would inflict sufficient penalty to revenge the dead. Across the Continent, pacifists, citizens generally involved in the welfare of Indians, and others besieged Secretary Delano with appeals for mercy. The most active organization on behalf of the captives was the Universal Peace Union headquartered in Philadelphia. A number of Californians, in contrast to their northern neighbors, also came to the Modocs' assistance. One of these, Congressman J. K. Luttrell, representing California's 3d Congressional District, wrote the secretary, "the War was caused by the wrongful acts of bad white men." While he favored the hanging of those Modocs who had murdered, he demanded a full investigation of the war. "There never was a time since the organization of our Government, that there was so much corcuption and swindling," he wrote, "as is to day practiced on the Indian Reservations on this Coast." [12]

The military commission when formed consisted of Lt. Col. Washington L. Elliot, 1st Cavalry, acting as president; Capt. John Mendenhall and Capt. Henry C. Hasbrouck, 4th Artillery; Capt. Robert Pollock, 21st Infantry; and 2d Lt. George W. Kingsbury, 12th Infantry. Maj. H. P. Curtis, Judge Advocate, Department of California, became the judge advocate for the trial. [13] The Modocs would not be represented by a legal officer. The first meeting of the commission was held July 1; the trial was over July 9. [14]

In the end six Modocs faced the commission: Captain Jack, Schonchin John, Black Jim, Boston Charley, Barncho, and Sloluck. The commission found all six guilty of two charges, each having two specifications:

Charge 1 — Murder, in violation of the laws of war.
    Specification 1 — murder of General Canby.
    Specification 2 — murder of Dr. Thomas.

Charge 2 — Assault, with intent to kill, in violation of the laws of war.
    Specification 1 — attack on A. B. Meacham.
    Specification 2 — attack on Agent Dyar.

The sentence for the six read "to be hanged by the neck until they be dead." President Grant approved the findings on August 22. [15]

Three weeks later Grant commuted the sentence to imprisonment for life at Alcatraz for Barncho and Sloluck. [16] The two Modocs did not know this. Colonel Wheaton, from his headquarters of the District of the Lakes at Fort Klamath, wrote on the last day of September, "Six graves for the burial of the condemed are dug near and in front of the Guardhouse just outside the parade ground fence." Orders had come to him not to inform the two men of the commutation until minutes before the execution. Besides the graves, the scaffold was also finished by the end of September. It was thirty feet long built of "very strong . . . dressed pine logs one foot in diameter," large enough for six men at one time. [17]

The execution was scheduled for 10 a.m., October 3. The evening before a newspaper editor got permission to witness the last visit between the condemned men and their families. He described the men "seated on the floor, each with space enough that his family might gather around him where they engaged in their death chant. The condemned men sat stolidly without uttering a word." It was an experience he would not care to repeat. [18]

Minutes before the execution the sheriff of Jackson County, Oregon, presented warrants demanding that the prisoners be turned over to civil authorities for trial and punishment. Writs of habeas corpus were also issued by the circuit court of Jackson County. It was too late for civil interference; the military proceeded with a surety as if hanging were a part of the daily ritual between reveille and taps. [19]

Nearly the entire Klamath tribe stood silently watching the scaffold. The Modoc prisoners from their stockade could see the beam from which hung six ropes, two of them now thrown back. Soldiers led Boston Charley, Black Jim, Schonchin John, and finally Captain Jack up the steps to the platform. The Modocs did not resist. Their shackles had been removed; now they stood, each in his appointed place, their arms tied securely with rope. At 9:45 a.m. Oliver Applegate and Dave Hill explained to the prisoners the army's orders, which Lieutenant Kingsbury formally read aloud at 10:00 o'clock.

Then Barncho and Sloluck were led back to the stockade. At least they would not have to watch. A chaplain prayed, no doubt with earnest hope that the white man's concept of afterlife would comfort the condemned who had never penetrated the white man's concept of the real world. At 10:15, the nooses were fitted carefully. There was a slight delay while a soldier trimmed Captain Jack's hair to insure a better fit. An officer then moved from man to man bidding them farewell; and black hoods descended over their heads, cutting off forever from view the familiar world. At 10:20 the captain dropped his handkerchief and an assistant cut the rope holding the drop.

As the drop fell with a thud, a half cry of horror escaped the spectators' mouths. A wail of anguish went up from the stockade. "The bodies swing round and round, Jack and Jim apparently dying easily, but Boston and Schonchin suffering terrible convulsions." They all were pronounced dead at 28 minutes past ten. [20]

It was probably Col. H. S. Shaw, a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle, who happened to walk past a tent at Fort Klamath and saw an amazing sight. In the center of the tent stood a long table "similar to those used in the dissecting-room of a medical college." A black india rubber sheet was spread over the table. In one corner stood a barrel of water and in another was a case of surgical instruments. The curious reporter set out to learn what this strange ensemble was for. He soon was able to inform the Chronicle that he had learned that the heads of Captain Jack and Schonchin John had been cut off for shipment to Washington. The Chronicle was aghast. But the Army and Navy Journal countered that if the story was true, it was not a case of barbarism, but the need to do a medical dissection. [21]

The report was incomplete but not incorrect. However, the army's attempt at secrecy resulted in the spread of a story, even more grotesque, that still is alive today. On November 2 several wagons carrying government stores from Fort Klamath arrived at the railroad station at Roseburg, Oregon. One of the teamsters entered the office of the Roseburg Plaindealer and invited the editor down to the depot where he showed him a whiskey barrel allegedly addressed to the Society of Natural History, Washington, D. C. The teamster told the startled editor that the barrel contained the body of Captain Jack, minus the head, which had been shipped separately. [22]

There is not a shred of evidence that Captain Jack's body was shipped to Washington. However his head was, as were the heads of the other three Modocs who were hanged. On October 25 Colonel Wheaton wrote the Surgeon General notifying him of the shipment of not two but of the four heads of the executed for the Army Medical Museum. [23]

Soon after the hangings the surviving Modocs climbed aboard wagons for the long drive to Yreka, escorted by Captain Hasbrouck and his battery. They arrived at Yreka on October 17 and stepped on a train bound for Fort McPherson, Nebraska. On October 29 Hasbrouck turned over his 155 charges to Col. J. J. Reynolds and collected a receipt for them. From there the Modocs traveled south to the Indian Territory where they received a tract of land, two and one-half miles square, near the Quapaw Agency and not far from Baxter Springs, Kansas. Here they lived in exile and in poverty. Diseases accomplished what bullets could not. [24]

Shortly after 1900 a few returned to the Klamath reservation and, despite the continuing unfriendliness exhibited by the Klamaths, tried to renew their ties with the world they once knew intimately — a world of mountains, forests, sage, and lava. The Modocs are not yet extinct. But the spirit that drove them to resist the inevitable westering of the whites died in the lava beds. Occasionally, on frostbiting nights, the cries of coyotes haunt the ghostly, star-lit Stronghold, bringing back the memory of that time. A time to remember.

Gillem's Camp
Another view of Gillem's Camp. The row of four bell tents in the foreground undoubtedly represent officers' row. Horses have disturbed the earth along the picket line in front.


Modoc War
©1971, Argus Books
thompson/chap11.htm — 11-Nov-2002