Lava Beds
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Chapter 5
Black Jim

Jan. 18—April 11, 1873

The day after the battle, the Modocs searched the lava beds for booty. They claimed later to have found that day rifles of various makes, nine carbines, a large amount of ammunition, and field equipment of various sorts. This rich haul provided them enough additional material to renew their resistance if and when the troops should return. [1]

The soldiers were in no hurry to come back. The Oregon Volunteers, having served more than thirty days, lost little time heading "to the four winds." They were happy now to leave the complicated problem of the Modocs in the hands of the regulars. The Volunteers disbanded officially on January 24, and not until the warmer days of spring came would they take to the field again. [2]

Wheaton too prepared to leave Van Brimmer's ranch for a new camp where his dispirited men could recuperate. He realized that before they could fight again they would have to overcome the "morbid fear or panic" that had left them demoralized. [3] Moreover, Van Brimmer's was not that pleasant a place. The ranch owners, having returned once the troops had arrived, were charging outrageous prices for such supplies as they had. Oregon's "Colonel" Thompson, with his usual sharp pen, told how he paid fifty cents for one egg. "From that time until our departure," he wrote, "I spent a considerable portion of my time in studying human villainy with the Van Brimmers as a model." [4]

Ordering an officers' call, Wheaton informed his command that he would move north to the Lost River (Stukel) Ford and camp there until reinforcements arrived. Lost River Ford, although only a few miles above Crawley's ranch, was a much more pleasant location. Here the river ran close under a high ridge that sheltered it at least partly from the winter winds. In contrast to the flat open plain at Crawley's, groups of trees lined the river at the ford. Furthermore, Wheaton's communication line would be greatly improved since the ford was only 12 miles from Linkville and one day's hard ride closer to Fort Klamath than Van Brimmer's. The command moved on January 21 traveling the 25 miles in that one day. [5]

Reinforcements were already enroute to the Modoc country. Even before the battle, Batteries A and M, 4th Artillery, at the Presidio, San Francisco, and Troop K at Camp Halleck, Nevada, had been alerted for possible movement. [6] As soon as the failure of January 17 was known, General Canby ordered these units and four additional ones — Companies C and E, 12th Infantry, Department of California, and Company I, 21st Infantry, and Battery E, 4th Artillery, Department of the Columbia — to proceed to Wheaton's headquarters. [7]

In addition to the troops, Wheaton planned to put four boats on Tule Lake before he attacked again — two flat boats for carrying supplies, two others for transporting artillery. [8] His boat plans would have to wait. On January 23, Col. Alvan Cullom Gillem was appointed to command the expedition against the Modocs.

Gillem, a West Point graduate, was a native of Tennessee. He had first sharpened his sword as a second lieutenant in Florida against the Seminoles. A friend of his fellow Tennessean, Andrew Johnson, Gillem found his star rising during the Civil War, wherein his performance was competent but not outstandingly brilliant. A major general of Volunteers by the end of the war, he was appointed colonel in the regular army in 1866. In 1870, he became colonel of the 1st Cavalry and was, in fact, Wheaton's commanding officer and colonel of all the cavalry units involved in the Modoc War. [9] Before Gillem arrived on February 7, other events occurred to remind the soldiers that they were still at war.

Bernard, completing his move to the new camp on Clear Lake, sent two wagons with an escort of 22 men back to Land's to bring the grain supply. The loaded wagons left Land's on January 23 for the return trip. The train had traveled two miles when a group of Modocs leaped from an ambush and attacked. The situation was similar to the attack on his wagon enroute from Camp Bidwell back in December. The escort, larger this time, fought off the Indians, while a messenger rode at high speed to inform Bernard. Reinforcements hastened from Clear Lake and found the Modocs already retiring toward the lava beds. For a change, the soldiers suffered no casualties, and they saved the wagons and grain. They were certain they had killed and wounded several Indians. [10] After this minor attack, an uneasy quiet settled over the Modoc country.

While Wheaton awaited the arrival of Gillem, important developments were occurring in the national capital. On January 30, Secretary of War William Belknap directed that hostilities against the Modocs be suspended and that the troops act only to protect settlers. [11] Behind these orders stood Secretary of the Interior Columbus Delano, an earnest man who failed to understand his responsibilities and during whose term of office the Indian Bureau was scandalously corrupt. [12] Delano had asked Belknap to take this step because Interior had decided to send a "peace commission" to the Modocs in order to find out why hostilities had started and how the war could be ended without further bloodshed.

No other than A. B. Meacham, the ex-Superintendent for Oregon, had proposed the idea of a commission to Delano. Meacham was in Washington as a member of the Electoral College. When he and other Oregonians also in Washington, including Lindsay Applegate, learned of Wheaton's failure to end the war, they met and concluded that negotiations were better than bullets. This group convinced Delano of its wisdom, and the Secretary promptly began forming such a commission with Meacham as its chairman. [13]

At the same time Canby received orders to halt the fighting, a rumor spread in southern Oregon that Captain Jack wanted "to have a big talk looking toward peace negotiations." Wheaton attempted to verify this rumor by sending 1st Lt. John Adams to Fairchild's ranch in order to feel out the Modocs. [14] Adams reported back that there was dissension among the Modocs. Captain Jack and his supporters wanted peace, but another group led by Curleyheaded Doctor and Shacknasty Jim rejected the idea and threatened Jack's supporters' lives. Adams was convinced "that Jack is so anxious to stop fighting that he will eagerly seek the proposed interview, though he naturally dreads doing anything that would displace him and make a new Chief." [15]

A severe snow storm raged through the Modoc country at the end of January, delaying Gillem's arrival and delaying word of the peace commission's formation. Wheaton spent the snow-bound days planning his next attack on the Modocs. After soliciting his subordinate commanders' opinions, he decided that next time he would attack only from the east side, except for a small force of Indian scouts (if he could get Warm Springs from northeastern Oregon) on the south. He would also employ four batteries of mortars. Despite his opinion that "the Modoc position is a perfect Gibraltar," he personally expressed his optimism, "of course we can take it." [16] That same optimism was not to be found among all the troops. Captain Bernard wrote, "many of the troops . . . would much rather serve ten (10) years in Alcatraz for desertion, than attack the enemy again in the lavabeds." [17]

Finally, Colonel Gillem arrived at the Lost River camp and assumed command of the district and all the troops in it. [18] One of his first acts was to send Wheaton back to Camp Warner. Wheaton left believing that his colonel would recall him if and when hostilities resumed. He was to be disappointed. Gillem quickly set about to putting things in his order. After he had listened to the various experts, he decided that the Modocs had only 55 to 75 men, the first accurate estimate of enemy strength made by army personnel. He also prepared a plan for the distribution of the troops he had and the reinforcements that he knew were enroute: [19]

At his own camp on Lost River — Strength
    Troop B, 1st Cavalry 51
    Companies B, C, and I 21st Infantry 12

At Applegate's on Clear Lake —
    Troop G, 1st Cavalry 60
    Troop K, 1st Cavalry 70

At Van Brimmer's ranch —
    Battery A, 4th Artillery 33
    Battery E, 4th Artillery unknown
    Battery M, 4th Artillery 35
    Company E, 12th Infantry about 45
    Company C, 12th Infantry about 45

158 plus
At Dorris' ranch, Hot Creek —
    Troop F, 1st Cavalry about 54
Total in command
505 plus

Not only did Gillem anticipate the arrival of a peace commission, he learned that General Canby himself was coming down from Portland in order to be present during the delicate process of negotiating. Gillem decided to move his headquarters to Fairchild's ranch, mainly because the commissioners could more readily make contact with the Modocs from that location. This move was completed by mid-February; however Mason's three infantry companies and Troop B remained at the Lost River camp.

The peace commission had undergone some changes since its first members had been selected. When it arrived at Fairchild's it was composed of Alfred Meacham, chairman, Jesse Applegate, at whose ranch on Clear Lake Captain Bernard was then stationed, and Samuel Case, the acting Indian agent at Alsear, Oregon. General Canby was not considered a part of the commission at this time, although he did give close attention to its activities, and the commission made it a practice to consult with him as an advisor.

The first efforts of the commission, which was officially organized February 18, concentrated on establishing a system of communication with the Modocs. A day or two after its organization, it sent an Indian woman and her white husband, Matilda and Bob Whittle, to the Stronghold. Beginning with these earliest visits, Mrs. Whittle was accompanied by a Modoc woman, Artina Choakus (also known as One-Eyed Dixie). The Modocs replied to these feelers by agreeing to talk with John Fairchild and with Frank Riddle, a resident of Yreka married to a Modoc woman known then as Toby. [20] During the next two weeks these several emissaries made a number of contacts. Because of the Modocs' request, their old Yreka friends, Elijah Steele and A. M. Rosborough, also arrived at Fairchild's and, according to Meacham, Judge Rosborough was made a member of the commission on March 4, at the request of General Canby. [21]

Meanwhile, the Modoc war had attracted the attention of a number of newspapers across the nation, and reporters arrived at Fairchild's to cover the dramatic story of a handful of Indians holding off the U. S. Army. This was the first Indian campaign in the west to be extensively covered by a number of reporters, each competing with the others to be first in print. [22] One of the most outstanding of these men was Edward Fox, an Englishman who had served in the British army. Fox worked for the New York Herald and was extremely ambitious to meet the Indians. Against the wishes of the commissioners, he did manage to visit the Stronghold. [23] Fox then published an article describing the Modocs and their problems. This article undoubtedly further stimulated the already-active "peace" societies in the East to demand that the Modoc war be ended. Oregonians, of course, continued to demand the capture or destruction of the enemy. [24]

Meacham and his associates hardly knew how to handle the reporters and concluded to make their meeting secret and to tell the newspapermen only what they wished them to hear. The reporters reacted strongly and some of them wrote dispatches bitterly attacking the various members. Meacham was described as being able to "talk the legs off a cast-iron pot in just ten minutes," and "words roll from his silvery tongue like green peas from a hot platter." Robert Bogart, representing the San Francisco Chronicle, called him a "Micawber politician," but concluded that Meacham was basically an honest man.

Bogart also took after the Applegates with a vengeance. He accused the Applegate clan of, corrupt deeds in their past associations with the Klamath agency. At one point Oliver Applegate received a letter from a friend that said, "I see the son of a bitch of a Correspondent for the Chronical is still at his abuse. Yesterday's Chronicle has a letter . . . which abuses the Applegates in general and you in particular." [25] Jesse Applegate was most upset at Bogart's attacks.

A prominent citizen of Oregon ever since his arrival in 1844, Jesse Applegate was widely known as a literary man and territorial leader. In recent years, the "sage of Yoncalla" had run into financial trouble when held liable for the bond of a state treasurer who had absconded with the funds. As a result, Applegate found it convenient to live on the California side of the border where he settled on Jesse Carr's ranch at Clear Lake, land which he had earlier surveyed for Carr. It was at this ranch that the army had established its camp and referred to it always as Applegate's ranch.

Jesse did not think much of the commission's efforts to settle the war, and he was exceedingly unhappy with Bogart's attack on the family, "two of my nephews have been employed . . . on the Klamath Reservation . . . and the press has charged them with having a personal interest [in forcing the Modocs to surrender]." He concluded, "I am not a proper person to sit in judgement upon their conduct, or be a member of a tribunal charged to make investigations that might impugn it." Applegate's resignation was accepted. [26]

About the time Applegate left Fairchild's, an incident occurred that caused the peace commission to conclude for the moment that the war was over. On his return from a visit to the Stronghold, March 5, Elijah Steele reported to the commissioners that the Modocs had agreed to the terms of surrender. The jubilation felt at headquarters was marred, however, by John Fairchild's announcement that Steele had made a grievous error. He had been with Steele and now insisted that the Yreka lawyer had not understood what the Modocs really said. Steele offered to return to the Stronghold to confirm his report. He did so and, to his amazement found that he was indeed in error. Moreover, the Modocs were angry with him for his misinterpretations. They told Steele to take back the message that they wanted the commissioners to come personally to the Stronghold if negotiations were to continue. Meacham, on learning this depressing outcome, wired Secretary Delano "this undoubtedly means treachery. The Mission should not be a failure." [27]

A few days later the Modocs seemed to have reconsidered their demands. Captain Jack's sister, Queen Mary, arrived at Fairchild's and said the Modocs had agreed to surrender as prisoners of war providing they were removed to some place far from the lava beds. Canby set March 10 as the date of surrender and on that day sent wagons to the designated place to receive the Indians. But no Modocs appeared. A second date was set; but again the wagons returned empty. Apparently unaware of the various cliques and dissension among the Modocs, Canby nonetheless concluded correctly that the end was not yet in sight. [28] Meacham cast about for somebody to blame for this breakdown. He found his man in the person of Charles Blair of Linkville. According to Meacham, Blair had visited the Modocs and had told them that "the object of the Peace Commission was to get possession of the Indians indicted for murder . . . and have them hanged." Reporter H. Wallace Atwell (Sacramento Record) agreed, describing Blair as a worthless fellow who . . . has at one or more times graced the inside of the Penitentiary. [29]

By this time Commissioner Case had also resigned, pleading urgent business at his own reservation. The Interior Department set about to recast the commission. By the end of March the Reverend Eleazer Thomas, a 58-year-old Methodist minister from Petaluma, California, and Agent Dyar had replaced Jesse Applegate and Case. Also, General Canby was now formally affiliated with the commission, being given the authority to replace any member he saw fit. [30]

Canby, in charge of both the troops and the peace commission, now decided on a policy of applying pressure to the changeable Modocs. Sherman's orders to suspend hostilities were still in effect, but they did not prohibit a careful watch on the Indians. Using various justifications — concern lest the Modocs leave the lava beds, prevention of unsavory whites from misleading the Indians, discouragement of Modoc raids — Canby directed an increase in patrols and the movement of troops to critical observation posts nearer the lava beds. [31]

The first major patrol at this time was the march of Troop K under Maj. James Biddle from Applegate's ranch to headquarters at Van Brimmer's. [32] Troop K had left Camp Halleck, Nevada, by train on January 21. At Reno it had mounted its horses and had ridden the 150 bitterly cold miles to Camp Bidwell. There the troopers had learned about the battle for the Stronghold and had marched out on February 8 for the lava beds. After six days of exhausting travel through snow and ice the troops had reached Land's ranch, only to find no feed for their horses. Biddle had marched them then to Bernard's camp at Applegate's. [33]

When the order for the patrol arrived from Gillem, Biddle secured the services of a guide to lead the troops through the country south of the lava beds. At least part of the route followed the Tickner Road. In 1871, H. C. Tickner, Yreka, had set out to locate a road that would go south from Van Brimmer's, around the south end of the lava beds, to join the existing road then running from Linkville down the east side of Tule Lake to the Pit River valley. Such a route would greatly shorten travel distance from Yreka to the Pit River settlements. Despite difficulties encountered with terrain and laborers, Tickner had had the road fairly well built or cleared by the summer of 1872. The only complaint that travelers had voiced was the lack of water, particularly where it skirted the lava beds. [34] To Sgt. Maurice Fitzgerald the patrol was an adventure he would not forget.

The horses picked their step "along a dim path, invisible to ordinary eyes, winding through endless defiles, or narrow passages between immense quantities of basaltic rock." Near one of the cinder cones, which Fitzgerald called Sugar Loaf Peak and which may have been the large cone today called Big Sand Butte, the troopers caught sight of two Indians who quickly disappeared; "it was difficult to restrain some of the boys from pursuing them, but our orders not to fire or attack unless fired upon were imperatives." The sergeant did not note in his reminiscences that his troop captured the 34 horses these Indians had been herding. Although the Modocs later protested bitterly that this capture was a violation of the truce, they did not get the horses back. [35] Biddle brought the herd into Van Brimmer's, which again was headquarters, Gillem, Canby, and the commissioners having moved there from Fairchild's.

Neither Canby nor Gillem had yet seen the lava beds personally. On March 23 the two officers, accompanied by a strong cavalry patrol, rode from Van Brimmer's to the bluff overlooking the sea of lava. Canby's report of this patrol was barren of detail except that he reported meeting Captain Jack. Other participants recorded a more interesting story. Sergeant Fitzgerald told how the patrol took the long route by way of Lower Klamath Lake. Upon reaching the edge of the bluff, the patrol dismounted and looked out "over the placid expanse of Tule Lake stretching away many miles northward and eastward, while to the east and south lay the seemingly level expanse of the lava beds."

"While leisurely gazing over the imposing landscape," he wrote, "we suddenly heard a shout from the rocks near the foot of the bluff, and then observed an Indian waving his cap." Dr. Thomas Cabaniss, a contract surgeon with the army who knew many of the Modocs, was half-way down the bluff at the moment and decided to talk to the Indian. Accompanied by Correspondent Fox, he did so and learned that Captain Jack wanted to talk personally with General Canby. Cabaniss and Fox remained at the bottom as hostages of a sort, while Jack climbed half-way up to a juniper tree. After some discussion, Canby and Gillem went down to meet the Modoc leader. Sergeant Fitzgerald wrote that those on the bluff "could only conjecture as to what was being said." Canby reported later that it was an unsatisfactory meeting in which Jack said he wanted the army to leave and his people to be able to return to Lost River.

Meanwhile Fox and Cabaniss learned from their hosts that the Modocs were still upset over Biddle's capture of their horse herd. Trying to impress them, Fox replied that the troops who had taken the horses were 100 new soldiers. However, Fox concluded, "I am grieved to say they did not look very scared." Captain Jack returned to the Stronghold; Canby rode back to Van Brimmer's; but Fox decided that night to get his hair cut lest it be too attractive a scalp should there be another encounter. [36]

Canby continued to move the troops closer to the lava beds. On March 17 Gillem ordered Major Mason to move his three companies of the 21st Infantry, Troop B, and the howitzers from the camp at Lost River to Applegate's, where Mason assumed command of all the troops on the east side, including Bernard's. A week later, Mason moved his command to a new camp on Scorpion Point at the southeast corner of Tule Lake, about five miles west of Land's ranch and only eight miles from the Stronghold. From here, Troop G made a two-day patrol east and south of the lava beds, returning to camp on March 29. [37]

When he had the camp on Lost River broken up, Gillem ordered Major Green to report to Van Brimmer's to assume direct command of all the troops on the west side. Eight companies (Troops F and K and a large detachment from Troop H, Batteries A, E, and M, and Companies E and G, 12th Infantry) were already at Van Brimmer's, and one other, Battery K, 4th Artillery, was enroute from the Presidio. Through the rest of March a number of these units went out on patrols, mostly toward the lava beds. [38]

On April 1 Canby took his policy of "gradual compression" one step further by moving headquarters, the commissioners, and all the troops at Van Brimmer's to a camp site at the base of the already well-visited bluff. Here on the edge of the lava beds, three miles from the Stronghold, the troops established an elaborate bivouac, known as Gillem's Camp. This change was not without its lighter side. That first night in the new camp, Gillem "was awakened by one of the peace Commissioners with information to the effect that our camp was to be attacked before day, and that the line of tents occupied by the peace Commission, General Canby and myself was to be the object of their attack." Gillem attempted to quiet the nerves of the poor unnamed commissioner. [39]

The next day, the commissioners met the Modoc leaders for the first time since negotiations had begun. This brief, unsatisfactory meeting was held in the no-man's land between Gillem's Camp and the Stronghold. It ended abruptly when a severe storm whipped in over Tule Lake resulting in an agreement that a tent should be erected for future meetings. Both sides agreed that a level stretch of rock-free meadow, rather closer to the camp than to the Stronghold, would be satisfactory for future meetings. The soldiers erected a regulation wall-tent for the purpose.

Frank and Toby Riddle served as interpreters at this meeting. Afterwards they warned that the Modocs were considering an attack on the unarmed commissioners at a future meeting. Meacham and the others scoffed at the idea. With such a large number of troops on the doorstep of the lava beds, the Indians would not dare do anything so rash.

Intentionally or not, the progressive increase of troops at Gillem's Camp was impressive. Not all the units at Van Brimmer's arrived at the same time as did the headquarters. On April 2, the date of the first meeting, Battery E arrived. On April 4, when a second meeting was held, Battery K came in. The Modocs could witness all these movements from the Stronghold.

The meeting on the fourth was as unproductive as the first. Only Meacham and Rosborough, accompanied by Fairchild and the Riddles, attended. Jack appeared with six men and his own family. After it was over, Canby sent word to the Modocs that the troops would move still closer. During the night of April 4-5, Boston Charley and Hooker Jim stayed at Gillem's camp. This casual visiting may have seemed odd to the outside world, but it was justified on the grounds that through these visits communication with the Indians was maintained. Also, the Modocs could see for themselves the army's growing strength. On April 6, Mason moved his five companies from Scorpion Point to Hospital Rock, only two miles from the Stronghold. The pressure was mounting. But the Modocs did not weaken in their determination to resist. With these relentless conditions, the increasing "compression" was bound to result in an explosion. [40]

On the face of the slope behind Gillem's Camp, Lieutenant Adams established a signal post on a small outcropping of rock about 75 feet above the tents. From here he could signal Hospital Rock and he also had a good view of the meeting tent. The signal men on duty, April 8, watched an Indian messenger come into the camp below. Captain Jack was asking for another meeting. The soldiers scanned the peace tent site and reported to Canby's headquarters they could see "six Indians, and also in the rocks behind them twenty other Indians, all armed." The Riddles' warning of treachery came to mind and the commissioners declined the meeting for that day.

Two days later, the Modocs requested a meeting for April 11. Again the Riddles expressed a fear that such would be dangerous. This time the commissioners listened to the warning. On the morning of the 11th, they met to discuss the situation. Meacham and Dyar argued that the meeting should not be held. General Canby and Doctor Thomas felt otherwise. Canby assured the commissioners that the Modocs would "dare not molest us because his troops commanded the situation." His signal men reported that only five unarmed Modocs could be seen at the tent. Thomas' argument was "that where God called him to go he would go." [41]

Reluctantly, Meacham and Dyar agreed to go along. Eight persons left Gillem's Camp that morning. First on the trail were Canby and Thomas, on foot. Dyar on a gray horse and Meacham on a sorrel rode behind. Then came Frank Riddle, also on foot. Toward the rear rode Bogus Charley and Boston Charley who had spent the previous night at Gillem's Camp, staying with the Riddles at their cave north of the tents. Last of all rode Toby Riddle, sick at heart in her belief that the Modocs would strike that day. [42]

When they reached the peace tent, the whites counted eight Indians including the two Charleys who had ridden with them, all of them armed: Captain Jack, Schonchin John, Ellen's Man, Hooker Jim and Black Jim. This was far different than the six unarmed men promised. [43] General Canby opened the meeting by passing out cigars. Sitting on a rock near a small fire the Indians had built east of the peace tent, Canby opened a conversation with Captain Jack. The tensed commissioners realized that this confrontation was accompanied with danger.

Tens of thousands of words have been written on the events of the next few minutes. One of the first descriptions written by a participant was sorely-wounded Meacham's report to Secretary Delano:

Gen. Canby assured the Inds. that he was here for the protection of both parties, and to see that the faithfully performed their promises. About this time two armed Indians [Barncho and Sloluck] suddenly appeared from the brush in our rear. An explanation was asked and Capt. Jack replyed [sic] by snapping a pistol [a misfire] at Gen. Canby, saying in Indian "all ready" after which Gen. Canby was dispatched by Cap. Jack with a pistol and knife. Dr. Thomas by a pistol shot in the breast and a gun shot in the head by Boston [Charley]. Meacham [and Dyar] attempting to escape toward camp, the former followed by Schonchin John, and the latter by Black Jim and Hooker Jim. Schonchin fired six shots at Meacham, hitting him four times, and leaving him for dead. Boston attempted to scalp him and was deterred by the Modoc woman [Toby Riddle]. Dyar escaped unhurt, although fired at three times by Black Jim who was only a few feet away, and twice by Hooker Jim by whom he was pursued. After running about two hundred yards he turned upon his pursuer with a small pocket durringer [sic], when the Ind. turned and run back — thus letting Dyar get away. [44]

The tensions of gradual compression had exploded. The author lay dead. The time was twelve minutes past noon.

Ten minutes earlier, 1st Lt. William Sherwood had received mortal wounds on the east side of the Stronghold. Major Mason had established a semi-circle of outposts on top of the scattered hillocks that lay between his camp at Hospital Rock and the Stronghold. On April 11, Pvt. Charles Hardin was posted as a guard of the first relief on one of these rocky ridges. During the morning Lieutenant Sherwood, the officer of the day, visited Hardin's post. [45] The young officer was in an exuberant mood. Referring to the commissioners, he said, "Well, this is the last day of the war and now we can all go home and rest." He told Hardin to be on the lookout for Modocs who might signal their wish to visit Hospital Rock camp.

A few minutes after Sherwood left, Hardin discovered two Indians about 400 yards away waving a white flag. He yelled to them and his cries were heard back at camp. Sherwood returned to the outpost to learn what was happening. When he saw the Indians, the lieutenant said he was going out to see what they wanted. Hardin urged him not to go; but Sherwood went, and the private kept him covered with his Sharp's carbine. Sherwood returned and informed Hardin that the Indians would come back at one p.m. and that they wanted to talk with Major Mason.

Hardin was off guard duty at noon when Sherwood and Lieutenant Boyle went out to meet the Modocs the second time. The private and his companions climbed upon Hospital Rock from where they could watch the lieutenants' progress. The two officers went almost half a mile beyond the picket posts and met an Indian in advance of the truce flag who asked if Boyle was tyee, or chief. When Boyle said he was not, the Indian urged the officers to go with him to the flag site where Steamboat Frank was waiting to talk with them.

The unarmed lieutenant suddenly felt very exposed and, politely breaking off the discussion, started back to camp. Almost as soon as they turned their backs, the Modocs began firing. "Boyle told Sherwood they best separate . . . which they did, but poor Sherwood had not gone over thirty paces when he was shot in the arm and leg." By then, the lieutenants had disappeared from the soldiers' sight behind a lava ridge. At Hospital Rock the entire guard relief quickly formed and rushed toward the scene of the shooting. An unnamed officer from Gillem's camp who happened to be visiting Mason's command excitedly ran after the guard and, overtaking it, assumed command. However he led the men in the wrong direction. The sergeant of the guard tried to correct him, but the officer would not listen. The desperate sergeant turned to Hardin and said, "You know where they are. I cannot get away from this lunatic. You drop back and when clear run up this draw and hurry to that hog-back. The officers are down behind that."

Hardin did so and saw that Boyle had already escaped toward camp. Then he saw Sherwood lying on the ground, "I called to him asking if he was badly hurt and he answered saying he was." Hardin signaled his fellow guards who broke from their hysterical commander. They ran to Hardin's position. Sherwood was carried into camp, where he died from his wounds three days later. [46]

As soon as the attack on Sherwood occurred, Mason signaled the word to Gillem's camp. Colonel Gillem sat down immediately to write a message to Canby informing him of the attack. Cabaniss offered to take the message but, even before the doctor got out of camp, the signal officer saw that Canby was under attack. [47]

Sergeant Fitzgerald was one of those sitting idly that noon on the slope near the signal station. He and his fellow soldiers were brought to their feet when the signal sergeant yelled, "They're firing on the peace tent!" The men ran down the steep hillside toward their tents where their arms were stacked. "Each man grabbed his gun and started at top speed towards the council tent; but before we had gone many steps, the command 'fall in' rang out clear and strong, and the military instinct of obedience prevailed." The troops formed into a skirmish line and moved forward at double time. On their way out they met a hysterical Dyar and, behind him, Toby Riddle.

"When we reached the tent, a gruesome sight was presented to our view," Fitzgerald recalled. "About twenty feet to the south lay General Canby on his back; his body was pierced by three bullets, and all his clothing had been removed." They also found "the dead body of Rev. Mr. Thomas, also stark naked." Meacham had lost his clothing too "save a pair of red flannel drawers." Cabaniss discovered that Meacham was still alive and forced some whisky into him. [48]

At both Gillem's Camp and Hospital Rock, the soldiers reacted to the killings by clamoring for an immediate attack on the Stronghold. Their officers ordered restraint. The time for a major assault had not yet arrived.

Reporter Atwell was with the troops when they reached the peace tent. He was shocked when he saw the "terrible-looking object" that was the half-scalped Meacham. And, in sorrow, he removed his coat and covered the general's naked body. Later a strip of canvas was torn from the peace tent and wrapped around the naked form. Still later, a photographer took a picture of the forlorn tent showing the gap left by the removal of the shroud. [49]

Until now, a considerable body of sympathy had developed around the nation, particularly in the East, for the plight of the Modocs. When word was flashed of the murders, this sympathy largely, if not completely, evaporated. The death of the highly-respected Canby, the only Regular Army general officer to be killed in the Indian wars, aroused a latent feeling of revenge. "The Red Judas," screamed the San Francisco Chronicle. Harper's Weekly said, "The treacherous murder . . . is one of the most tragical events in the history of Indian wars." The Army and Navy Journal noted that "no event in connection with our Army since the Rebellion has created such excitement throughout the country as the news of the assassination." Headquarters of the Army issued a general order that read in part "thus perished one of the kindest and best gentlemen of this or any other country, whose social equalled his military virtues." [50]

Why had the Modocs carried out these killings which would surely bring swift and thorough revenge? Was it just a matter of the Modocs lacking knowledge of how the whites would or could react? It was not that simplistic. Captain Jack had argued against the scheme when it was first proposed, probably by Schonchin John. Jack and those who supported him could not be sure that these deaths would serve the Modocs' cause. However, Canby's "gradual compression" of the past two months had had the effect of strengthening Schonchin John's arguments. As the noose grew tighter the Modocs had fewer alternatives and less to lose. They were surrounded by hundreds of troops, troops that were moving even closer. Many of the Modocs had been indicted for murder in Oregon; should they surrender they would die at the end of a rope. The peace commissioners could not satisfactorily guarantee their future safety. Desperation was the force that drove the extremists to conclude however rashly that a simultaneous blow against the army leaders of both camps and the peace commissioners would be so devastating that the troops would have to leave. A humiliated Jack finally went along with the madness. When Jack at first refused to participate, an Indian put "a squaw's hat on his head, and another threw a shawl over his shoulders. They tripped him and threw him down on his back and taunted him." Captain Jack still had his manhood; he joined them, saying that he himself would kill Canby. [51]

Any second thoughts no longer counted. Canby was dead. Sherman wired Schofield, who had recently returned from Hawaii, "The President now sanctions the most severe punishment of the Modocs and I hope to hear that they have met the doom they so richly have earned by their insolence and perfidy." Sergeant Fitzgerald put it simply, "the Indians had to be punished, and no time was to be lost." [52]

On April 12 Mason reported that the Modocs were firing on his pickets west of Hospital Rock. It was an inconclusive exchange of bullets, but nevertheless "the picket post gave way." Lt. Edward Theller, with part of Company I, 21st Infantry, reoccupied the picket post without serious incident. The firing continued until dark and resumed briefly the next morning. It was not important by itself. yet an astute commander might have shown a little concern that, for troops who demanded an opportunity for revenge, the pickets withdrew rather quickly and with little cause. [53]

Sorass (dry) Lake
From the Modocs' position, looking south toward Sorass (dry) Lake which indeed is dry in this photograph—the dark patch toward the left. Farther south one sees the trees at the base of Timber Butte where the artillery battery was camped at the time of the attack.


Modoc War
©1971, Argus Books
thompson/chap5.htm — 11-Nov-2002