Captain Jack and the Modoc War

Captain Jack and the Modoc War

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Captain Jack and the Modoc War

The last major campaign to be fought against Native Americans in California occurred in one of the most inhospitable locations in the entire nation. The Lava Beds in northeastern California consist of 72 square miles of razor sharp black volcanic rock, narrow canyons, and caves. This area, which is now a national park, was once home to the Modoc Indian tribe. Their population probably was never larger than 400 hundred, and today the same area is still sparsely populated. It has been said, that the only good thing about living in this location was it's natural defensive terrain. In fact, the Modoc found it easy to defend against intruders.

In 1864, the Modoc agreed to the terms of a treaty that forced them to relocate on the Klamath Lake Reservation in southern Oregon. Immediately, they began having problems. There were so few of them, that it made it easy for the other larger tribes to push them around. The Modoc people all had native names that were difficult to pronounce, so over time they were given names like Boston Charley, Hooker Jim, and Steamboat Frank. The leader and shaman of the tribe was named Kientpoos, and he was called Captain Jack.

In 1865, the Modoc fled the reservation and headed home to Lava Beds. They would return to the reservation in 1869. Then, only a few months later Captain Jack and a band of 60 Modocs fled again, only this time they went to the Lost River section of the Lava Beds. During July of 1872, Brigadier General Edward Canby was told by the War Department to force Captain Jack and his men back on the reservation. In their first encounter near Tule Lake, a furious gunfight ensued and 17 soldiers and settlers were killed. Immediately, the Modoc withdrew into the heart of the lava beds where they had constructed an impregnable fortress that the military called Captain Jacks Stronghold.

On January 17,1873, the U.S. Army launched an all out offensive against the Modocs. They bombarded the stronghold with artillery fire and attacked them on three sides. One by one the soldiers were picked off by Modoc sharpshooters. They killed 37 soldiers, while no losing a man in what the newspapers across the nation called the Battle of the Stronghold. The army decided to try and negotiate a treaty, so on April 11, General Canby, Eleasar Thomas, a Methodist minister, and former Indian Superintendent Alfred Meacham met in a tent that was erected between the Army's perimeter and the Stronghold. When the negotiators told the Modocs that they had to return to the reservation or else, the Modoc's shot all three of them. Only Meacham would survive.

The U.S. Army's response was swift. They used howitzers to rain shells on the stronghold day and night. After three days, the troops invaded the stronghold and found 11 dead, including 8 women. The Modoc have fled. Nine days later Captain Jack and his band attacked the 12th Infantry Division killing 24 soldiers and wounding 17. The Modoc would attack again, stealing horses and supplies from a wagon train.

Eventually, the military began to capture the Modoc one by one. Then, when they captured Hooker Jim, they hit the jackpot when he offered to take the U.S. Army to the cave where he was hiding. Captain Jack was hanged for the killing of General Canby, and his body was preserved and taken on a national tour where it could be seen for 10 cents.