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Native American LegendsNATIVE AMERICAN LEGENDS

Kaitchkona Winema

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WinemaKaitchkona Winema, aka: Toby Riddle, Woman Chief (1848-1932) - A Modoc woman better known simply as Winema, she was born in the spring of 1848. She received her name, Kaitchkona Winenta, meaning "The Strong Hearted Woman," or less accurately, "The Little Woman Chief” because as a child, she guided a canoe safely through the rapids of Link River. She justified her title when, at the age of 15, she rallied the Modoc warriors as they took to flight when surprised by a band of Achomawi.

After she grew up she became the wife of Frank Riddle, a miner from Kentucky. When the Modoc left the Klamath Reservation in 1872 to return to Lost River, Frank served as interpreter to the various commissions that worked with them.

 

After they had fled to the lava-beds and had defeated a detachment of soldiers, the Government decided to send a commission of men to arrange a peace agreement. Winema warned Commissioner Meacham of the murderous temper of Captain Jack and some of his followers. Convinced, Meacham warned his fellow commissioners, General Edward Canby and Reverend E. Thomas that their lives were in danger, but could not swerve them from their purpose.

 

When Modoc shaman, Shonchin John, threatened to kill her unless she confessed who had betrayed the plot, she declared that she was not afraid to die but Captain Jack forbade Shonchin John to shoot a woman.

 

When General Canby refused to withdraw the troops from the lava beds, the Modoc Chief gave the signal and Canby and Thomas were killed. When Shonchin then turned his rifle upon Meacham, Winema, who was present as interpreter, pleaded for his life, placing herself  between the assassins and the victim.

 

However, Meachham was shot anyway, but she saved him from being scalped when she cried out that the soldiers were coming, where upon the assassins fled. Though severely wounded, Meachham survived, thanks to Winema. When the soldiers finally came, she advanced alone to meet them.

 

Afterwards, a crippled Meacham took Winema, her husband, Frank, and her son, Jeff, to the east to continue his intercession on behalf of the Indians, especially the Modoc, even though they had almost killed him.  In 1874, Meacham developed a  lecture-play entitled, "Winema,” that told eastern listeners of the Modoc War and the reasons which led to the uprising. The troupe, which included Winema, Frank, and their son Jeff, as well as several other Modoc Indians, toured until 1881.

 

When the tour was over, Winema returned to Oregon where she lived quietly until her death on the reservation on May 30, 1932. She was buried in the Modoc Cemetery. The Winema National Forest is named for her.

 

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated October, 2013.

 

 

 

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