Modoc - Fighting in the Lava
Modoc, meaning "southerners,” were a warlike and aggressive offshoot from
the Klamath tribe of southeast
occupying the territory immediately to the south of the latter, extending
border and including the Lost River Country and the famous Lava-bed
region. The most important bands of the tribe were settled at Little
Klamath Lake, Tule Lake, and in the Lost River Valley when the first white
settlers began to arrive.
Modoc were nomadic hunters and gatherers, surviving on fish, game, seeds,
roots, and berries. By weaving together tule reeds they made a variety of
their needs including fishing rafts, baskets, moccasins, and summer huts.
In the winter they made their homes in earthen dug-out lodges.
Lava Beds National Monument, courtesy
Though they spoke
virtually the same language as the Klamath tribe and often
intermarried with them, they also had a number of conflicts with them.
The first recorded
contact with the Modoc was made in the 1820’s when Peter Skene Ogden,
an explorer for the
Company, established trade with
the Klamath people to the north of the Modoc.
But the real
intrusion of white settlers would not be until 1846 when Lindsay
Applegate established the South Emigrant Trail between Fort Hall,
Idaho and the Willamette Valley of
provided an open route except for a short winter season each year. By
the following year, new settlers began to flood the region, usurping
the Modocs’ traditional hunting grounds.
retaliation, the Modocs began to attack the wagon trains and
in September 1852, destroyed an emigrant train at Bloody Point on the
east shore of Tule Lake. The white pioneers fought back, sending
Indian fighters in to ambush the
Modocs. Before long, the white settlers demanded that the Modoc
be removed from their homes and placed on a reservation.
In 1864, a treaty was reached with
the Klamaths, the Modocs, and the Yahooskin band of Snake tribes that
lands and created the Klamath Reservation. An estimated 2,000
were then escorted by the U.S. Army to the reservation.
Modoc and the Klamath were historic enemies and the
Modocs' relationship with the Yahooskin was not much better. In
addition to the tensions between the tribes, the
reservation did not provide enough food
for the comfort of all of them and a number of illnesses on the
reservation broke out. As a result, the Modoc began to demand a
separate reservation closer to their ancestral home. When the
government would not approve a new site, a prominent chief named
commonly known to history as
Captain Jack, led the more
turbulent portion of the tribe back to the
border in 1870 and obstinately refused to return to the reservation.
The first attempt to
bring back the runaways by force instigated the
of 1872-73. After some struggles
and his band retreated to the lava-beds on the
frontier, and from January to April, 1873, successfully resisted the
attempts of the troops to dislodge them.
Kintpuash was better known to white settlers as
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In April, President Grant
organized a Peace Commission to meet unarmed with the
Modoc leaders in a peace negotiation meeting. However, the meeting
resulted in the killing Major General
Edward Canby and a
The campaign was then pushed with vigor, the
Modoc were finally dispersed and captured, and
and three other leaders were hanged at Fort Klamath in October, 1873. The
tribe was then divided, a part being sent to
and placed on the Quapaw Reservation, where they had diminished to 56 by
1905. The remainder were sent to the Klamath Reservation, where they
numbered 223 in 1905.
In 1907, the group in
given permission, if they wished, to return to
Several did, but most stayed at their new home.
Today, the Modoc still
live in both
Oregon with an estimated 600 members in Klamath
and around their ancestral homelands; and another 200 in
Unfortunately, for those living on the Klamath
including the Modoc, Klamath and Yahooskin tribes, an act of congress
terminated federal recognition in 1954. Even though tribal leaders and the
Affairs opposed the act, it was passed anyway, The act not only stripped
them of federal recognition and federal assistance, it also took away some
1.8 million acres of their reservation. In 1986, the Klamath
Tribe Restoration Act returned their federal recognition, but did not
return their land. Though a small parcel was set aside for a diminished
reservation, the land remains owned by the federal government rather than
the tribes themselves.
The present day Klamath
Reservation consists of just twelve small non-contiguous parcels of land
in Klamath County, with a total land acreage of just a little more then
300 acres. Few of Klamath tribal members actually live on reservation
land. In fact, the 2000 census reported only nine persons residing there,
five of whom were white.
Modoc Tribe of
officially recognized by the United States government in 1978, and their
constitution was approved in 1991.
of America, updated July, 2010.
Also See: The Modoc
Surrender of the Modocs, 1873, Frank Leslies
American Founding Fathers - It is too often forgotten that the
first to settle America were the
Americans. They, along
heroes should be commemorated just like like the colonists that formed
Constitution. Utilizing our great
vintage photos, we have created a montage to
recognize these great founders.