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Chapter 2
Curly-Headed Doctor

Lost River Battle

Superintendent Odeneal, for reasons he kept to himself, decided to remain at Linkville instead of going to the Lost River camps to talk personally with Captain Jack. Instead, he sent Ivan Applegate, instructing him to tell Jack that the Indian leaders were to ride into Linkville for a conference. The Modocs' response was to the point: they would not go to Linkville, they did not wish to talk with Odeneal, and they would not move to the Klamath reservation.

Deciding that he had done all he could, Odeneal wrote Major Green on November 27, informing him of Applegate's report and requesting "that you at once furnish a sufficient force to compel said Indians to go to Camp Yainax." It would take at least four days for reinforcements to arrive at Lost River from Camp Warner. Thus, Odeneal's phrase "at once" was an indication that he believed the small force at Green's disposal was sufficient. He hoped there would be no need to shed blood; but he wanted Captain Jack, Black Jim, and Scarfaced Charley arrested should the Modocs resist. Ivan Applegate rode that night to deliver Odeneal's letter to Fort Klamath, 35 miles away. [1]

Applegate arrived at the post at 5 a.m., Thursday, November 28. Lt. Frazier A. Boutelle, the officer of the day, received him. When the officer learned of the message, he assured Applegate that troops would not be sent because there were not enough of them at the fort. Two hours later, Boutelle was amazed to hear Capt. James Jackson, commanding officer of Troop B, 1st Cavalry, order him to get ready to march to Lost River. [2] No record has been found of Applegate's conversation with Green. Whether or not Ivan reinforced Odeneal's "at once" request with the advice that one troop could handle the problem is a matter of conjecture. An officer who may have been a witness wrote later that Odeneal's message stressed that only "a show of force" would be necessary. [3] On the other hand, the orders and intentions of Canby and Wheaton were quite clear — no direct action was to be taken against the Modocs until a sufficiently large force was assembled. Nevertheless Green ordered the march. The onus of the decision was his alone. Now and for the next few days his superior officers were ignorant of the events being set in motion.

According to Boutelle, he had an opportunity to talk to Green before leaving the post. He told the commanding officer that the number of troops was too small, so small that it was "just enough to provoke a fight." Green replied, "If I don't send the troops, they (the citizens of Klamath Basin) will think we are all afraid." [4] By then Green had already written Orders No. 93: "In compliance with the request of the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon...Captain James Jackson 1 Cav. with all the available men of his troop, will proceed at Capt. Jack's camp...endeavoring to get there before tomorrow morning, and if any opposition is offered.., he will arrest if possible Capt. Jack, Black Jim, and Scarfaced Charley." [5]

The patrol consisted of Jackson, Boutelle, Assistant Surgeon Henry McElderry, and 36 enlisted men of Troop B, 1st Cavalry, riding with three days' rations on their saddles. Later, a pack train with four additional enlisted men would follow. The patrol left Fort Klamath at noon "in a cold rain and sleet storm," and arrived outside Linkville just after dark that evening. Jackson met briefly with Odeneal who advised him, "if there is any fighting let the Indians be the aggressors." Ivan Applegate formally joined the patrol at this point to serve as guide, interpreter, and Odeneal's representative. Following along the foot of a low ridge of hills that lay southwest of lower Lost River, "a very tired lot of soldiers" halted one mile from Captain Jack's camp at daybreak, November 29. [6]

Jack's winter village of about 15 men and their families was located on the south side of a sharp bend in Lost River, between the Natural Bridge and the mouth of the stream. Across the deep river, one-half mile downstream, stood a second Modoc village of about 14 families. Among the warriors in this encampment were Hooker Jim, Curleyheaded Doctor, and Boston Charley. On the same side of the river as this second camp were the cabins of several settlers including Dennis Crawley, Dan Colwell, and a man named Bybee. Crawley's cabin was nearest to the village. [7]

During the halt, Jackson had his weary soldiers adjust their saddles, then formed them in two platoons, himself in command of one and Boutelle, the other. Nearing the camp the troops moved into line, then rode at a trot to the edge of the village where they halted. Seventeen of them dismounted and formed a skirmish line. Some of the others held these men's horses, while the rest stood by awaiting orders. Jackson saw that he had succeeded in surprising the Indians who only now began a commotion, due partly to the arrival of Scarfaced Charley. He, apparently by coincidence, had just come across the river in a boat and at this moment fired a single shot from his weapon. [8] Jackson, through Applegate, called to the Modocs to surrender and for the leaders to come forward. For a moment, it seemed as if Odeneal's "show of force" would succeed.

While Applegate, who had entered the village proper, was translating Jackson's orders, a few Indians disappeared within their lodges only to come out again stripped and carrying their weapons. Captain Jack himself was nowhere to be seen and was not to make an appearance that day. However among those who had recovered from their surprise were Scarface Charley and Black Jim. Seeing that these armed Indians had gathered together about 30 yards in front of his skirmish line, Jackson ordered Boutelle to take some four to six men from left of the skirmish line to arrest this group. Meanwhile, Applegate, from his vantage point, realized that the Indians were ready to fight. He ran back toward Jackson shouting, "Major, they are going to fire!"

Perhaps a trifle too eagerly Boutelle yelled to his men, "Shoot over those Indians," raised his pistol, and fired at Scarfaced Charley. At that precise moment, Charley fired also. Neither bullet, though coming close, found its mark. The Modoc War had commenced.

Firing became general on both sides. Jackson later reported that his men "poured in volley after volley." The Modocs scattered behind lodges or crouched in the sagebrush, returning the fire even more hotly than they received it. For a moment it appeared that the tired troopers would break; however with the encouragement of their officers, they held their positions. Slowly the warriors fell back. Noticing the lessening in Indian firing, Jackson ordered a charge which moved through the village. Boutelle led this skirmish line beyond the village into the sage where he established a picket line. He continued to exchange fire with the Modocs, but now at long range. This occasional firing continued until the afternoon. The Modocs, withdrawing completely, lit the evening sky with the livid colors of burning haystacks and one or two isolated cabins.

In his first report, written the following day, Jackson said his men had killed eight or nine warriors. As estimates so often are in war, this was a vast overestimation. Only one Modoc warrior, Watchman, was killed during the fight, and one other, Skukum Horse, was wounded. The Modocs later claimed that the soldiers also killed three children in the opening fire. Although it did not appear in the official reports, there appears to have been one other fatality among the Indians. Once the village was secured, Jackson ordered the lodges fired. A Modoc Woman lay ill in one of the lodges and was burned to death. Unsubstantiated charges held that the act was done deliberately. [9] Among his own soldiers, Jackson lost one man killed and seven wounded, one of whom died later.

After the village was taken, Jackson allowed the women and children to leave, believing that so many Indians had been killed "there would be no further resistance." While Boutelle guarded the wreckage, Jackson had the wounded taken across Lost River in the few canoes available. The water was too high to use the ford at Natural Bridge. Jackson, learning that a skirmish had occurred across the river, decided to move to Crawley's ranch. The troops marched up the river eight miles to the next ford, later called Stukel, then down the east side. Boutelle brought up the rear with a few men to insure that the Modocs would not carry out a counterattack. Troop B arrived mid-afternoon at Crawley's cabin where it learned the details of the second fight that day. [10]

Perhaps because there were so many of them, at least one of the Applegates seemed always to be wherever there was action. Oliver Applegate just happened to be in Linkville when Jackson arrived on the evening of November 28. Accompanied by a Klamath Indian, Dave Hill, and a settler, Charlie Monroe, Oliver hastened toward Lost River, hoping to intercept two Modocs who were thought to be spying on Jackson's movements. The three, armed with two revolvers and a Henry rifle, were still keeping a watch on Lost River when Jackson rode by before dawn. Oliver spoke to his brother, Ivan, and to Captain Jackson, informing them that he and his companions were going across the river to Crawley's cabin. Jackson told the trio, "If you hear any firing on my side of the river you had best move up opposite on your side."

Several citizens, A. J. (Jack) Burnett, W. J. Small, George Fiocke, and Harry Duncan, who had been following the troops in search of excitement, joined Oliver. The seven men made their way to the cabin where they found Dennis Crawley, O. C. Brown (an employee of the Indian Office), Bybee and his family, Charles Monroe, Dan Colwell, Jack Thurber, and possibly one or two others.

This ragtag group took a position at dawn in a gully between the cabin and the east-bank village, which was 400 yards distant from the gully. When the sun came up, they could see the Indians moving about in their early morning duties.

After what seemed a long wait, they heard a shot from the west, probably Scarfaced Charley's. The Modocs heard it too, and there was an increase in activity in the camp. One of the citizens left the gully and rode the half-mile upstream to see how Jackson was doing. He returned and said that Captain Jack was surrendering peacefully. The citizens decided that they would "capture" the eastern village, feeling certain their show of force was sufficient. They rode into the center of the village and shook hands with a surprised Curleyheaded Doctor and some others. Hooker Jim, recovering his wits, ran toward the river. Brown chased him and made him give up his weapon. Another Modoc, Miller's Charley, retrieved the weapon momentarily but then surrendered it to Dave Hill. However the citizens began to realize that rounding up Modocs was not so simple as it had seemed.

Aware, finally, that the Indians were waiting to see what happened in Captain Jack's camp, and seeing that the Modocs would have an advantage in fighting from their partially dug out lodges, the citizens decided they were overextended. Withdrawing as rapidly as they could, the whites fired into the lodges as they went. The Modocs returned the fire and gave chase.

Reaching Crawley's cabin, the whites were able to sort out the sounds of firing coming from Jackson's side. Meanwhile, the Indians on their side "were still shooting at us at long range...and from their horses...while the women, children and old men could be seen making their escape down the river." The Modocs did not rush the cabin, and it was clear they were preparing to withdraw. Unable to get reinforcements from Jackson to give chase, some of the whites now turned to help transport his wounded across the river. Although the citizens' efforts were abortive and were to cause a future tragedy, Jackson gave them credit for preventing the eastern village from reinforcing Jack's group.

Casualties were light for both the Indians and the civilians. Jack Thurber was killed at the beginning of the fighting. Two civilians, riding toward the village and unware of the situation, were attacked. One of these, Joe Penning, was wounded, the other, William Nus, killed. The Army was unable later to establish the number of casualties suffered by the Indians. Jeff Riddle, many years afterward, said that one Indian woman and one baby were killed in the fighting. This was partially supported by Riddle's mentor, A. B. Meacham, who wrote that George Fiocke "killed an Indian infant being held by its mother — with a double-barrelled shot-gun." At least three Modoc men (Miller's Charley, Black Jim, and Duffy) were said to have been wounded, as were some Modoc women. [11]

Whether or not all these casualties did occur, the people of both villages made their escape without harassment once the fights were over. The men of Jack's village and the women and children of both groups traveled by boat from the mouth of Lost River, across Tule Lake, to the beds of frozen fire on the south shore. This journey of thirteen miles on water took the Modocs most of the cold stormy night, November 29-30. The next day, they were reunited with a group of men from the eastern village who had ridden more than 30 miles around the east side of the lake.

This group of horsemen included Curleyheaded Doctor, Hooker Jim (his son-in-law), One-eyed Mose, Boston Charley, Steve, and Long Jim. Angered by the citizens' attack on their village, they took revenge by attacking settlements along the north and northeast shores of the lake. They first came to William Boddy's cabin, three and one-half miles from Crawley's. Leaving the women of the family unmolested, they killed the unsuspecting Boddy, his son-in-law, Nicholas Schira (Schearer), and Boddy's two step-sons, William and Richard Cravigan. Riding on, they killed three men in the Brotherton family, two herders, and Henry Miller, the last being the man who had assured Major Otis in the past spring that the settlers need not fear the Modocs. Before they reached the Lava Beds, these Modocs disposed of at least 14 male settlers. [12]

To the Indians these deaths were justified because of the white settlers' attack on them. To the whites of Oregon and northern California, when they learned of them, these murders were justification for a war of extermination. Hapless Captain Jackson did not learn of this trail of blood until two days after the event.

The day after the fight, Jackson, resting his exhausted command at Crawley's ranch, learned for the first time that other settlers lived nearby and that they had not been alerted to his movements. That morning he sent a small detachment over to the Boddy ranch. It soon returned and reported that the ranch was deserted. Thinking that Boddy had been warned and had escaped, Jackson forgot the matter. On the evening of December 1, two travelers arrived at Crawley's and informed the startled captain that the Boddy men had been murdered, while the women had started walking across the mountains toward Linkville. Expecting the worst, Jackson sent Boutelle and a patrol eastward on the morning of December 3. The patrol returned that day with the news of the Modocs' revenge.

In his first report to Green, written November 30, Jackson realized that he would not be returning to Fort Klamath immediately. He told Green, "I need enforcements and orders as to my future course." He was not unduly worried, however, for he believed that his gallant troop had killed Captain Jack, Scarfaced Charley, and Black Jim, the three leaders he had been ordered to arrest. Still, he should have some additional troops just in case the Modocs came out of the lava beds to attack the settlers.

In his second report, two days later, and just after he had learned of the settlers' deaths, Jackson noted that he had sent a detachment of five enlisted men and some civilians to Jesse Applegate's (Jesse Carr's) ranch on Clear Lake, and that he would "move the Infantry you send me into Langell Valley and Clear Lake." Also some reinforcements had already arrived — a company of 36 Klamath Indians under "Capt." D. J. Ferree, a rancher outside Linkville and the brother-in-law of A. B. Meacham. [13] Jackson did not make it clear if he still believed Captain Jack was dead. And he had no way of knowing that his one-half day's battle was but the beginning of a disastrous seven months' war.

Neither Wheaton, sick in bed at the moment, nor Canby knew the war had started. At the very time Jackson was attacking Captain Jack's village, Wheaton was preparing two messages. One of these was to Major Green at Fort Klamath telling him, "should you require the services of Captain Perry's Troop (F, 1st Cavalry), it can be sent you at a moment's notice." He also wrote Superintendent Odeneal that "the necessary preliminary steps have already been taken for the concentration of all available mounted men of the Garrisons at Harney, Bidwell, Warner and Klamath." He promised to send these troops to Green "whenever it becomes necessary."

As late as December 1, Wheaton was still planning the movement of troops to Fort Klamath to aid in the removal of the Modocs. His shock on learning the history of the past two or three days can only be imagined. Canby too found it difficult to understand just what had happened. The general learned of the fight from Oregon's Governor La Fayette Grover. Later, on December 3, Major Green attempted to explain what had gone wrong: "It was believed, that the Modocs would submit." He added unconvincingly that the troop "could almost have destroyed them, had it not been fair to give them a chance to submit, without using force."

Wheaton, indirectly defending Green, wrote Canby on December 5 that the Indian agents had assured Green that Captain Jack would surrender in the face of force. He said that the Modocs' resistance "was as unexpected as it was deplorable." Canby was still in the dark as late as December 10, when he informed Schofield that perhaps full details from Wheaton would explain the apparent "want of proper precautions." Schofield passed on the information to Washington, admitting that he did not yet know if the cause of events was "due to the fault of any officer of the government."

Considerable additional correspondence passed between Washington and Schofield, Canby, and Wheaton during the next month. In the end, Canby summed up the opinions more concisely than anyone: "While I think that Major Green was in error...I do not think that he or the Superintendent should be judged wholly by the result. If the measures had succeeded...[they] would probably have been as highly commended as they are now censured." Later commentators have not been so kind. Bancroft wrote, "I myself think that he [Green] wished to show how easy a thing it was to dispose of the Modoc question when it came into the proper hands." Lieutenant Boutelle, after his retirement, took an opposite view, "the greater sin lies at the door of Mr. Odeneal, who would not trust his precious skin to a council on Lost River." Green himself escaped from official censure and went on to prove during the next seven months that he was a proficient and courageous, if impulsive, officer. [14]

Troops on captured Medicine Flag Rock.


Modoc War
©1971, Argus Books
thompson/chap2.htm — 11-Nov-2002