Most Indian war leaders distinguished themselves through courage,
but treachery was more the trademark of the Modoc leader Kientpoos,
better known as Captain Jack. The Modocs, in 1852, slaughtered an
emigrant train near Tule Lake, Oregon. Only one many, who was left
for dead, escaped. A posse chased the Modoc warriors into the vast
red lava beds, where the Indians successfully eluded them. Later,
the white men sent word to the Modoc chief Schonochin, to meet with
them for a peace parley. When the Indians emerged, they were fired
upon and many of them were killed. The tribe was placed on a
reservation with their enemies, the larger Klamath tribe.
About 20 years later a band of Modocs led by Captain Jack was camped
in the Lost river area, having left the reservation after
disagreements with the Klamaths. Frightened settlers protested to
the Government, which ordered General Edward S. Canby to return the
tribe to the reservation by whatever means necessary. Canby sent
Captain James Jackson and 40 soldiers to round up the Modocs. On
November 28, 1872, during a morning downpour, the Modoc camp was
taken, but Captain Jack, Hooker Jim, Scar Face Charley and several
others refused to submit. When the troopers tried to disarm the
warriors a battle broke out. Captain Jack retreated with his group
into the hills, leaving behind 15 dead Modocs. Hooker Jim's group
was attacked by a posse of civilians and also retreated after
killing 17 of the enemy.
The combined bands numbered about 50 braves plus many women and
children. Hiding in the lava beds, the Modocs put up an amazing
defense as the Army sent additional detachments against them. As the
troopers stumbled about in the eerie maze of twisted rock, they were
picked off by sharpshooters they could not see. Fully one fourth of
the Army men were killed or wounded. Canby made peaceful overtures
again and Captain Jack was tempted to come to terms, but some of the
warriors demanded war.
Captain Jack arranged a meeting with Canby and other members of a
peace commission, which included a Methodist minister, the Rev. Dr.
Eleazar Thomas; Col. Gillem; H.B. Meacham, a former Indian agent,
and L.S. Dyer, an Indian agent. The meeting occurred on the morning
of April 11, 1873, in a large tent. Frank Riddle, who was married to
a Modoc woman, was appointed as interpreter. Riddle tried to
dissuade Canby from the meeting, insisting that Captain Jack could
not be trusted, but Canby insisted the meeting be held. Col. Gillem
was stricken ill and could not attend.
Shortly after the council began, Captain Jack suddenly shouted an
order and all the Indians opened fire on the white men, each with a
chosen victim. Jack shot Canby in the face, Boston Charley shot Dr.
Thomas and another Modoc killed Meacham. Riddle and Dyer,
brandishing derringers, escaped. Col. Gillem led a force against the
lava bed hideaway on April 14, using mortar fire to inflict heavy
casualties upon the Modocs, who hid farther back in the maze of lava
On April 21 a group of soldiers went into the lava beds and were
ambushed. There were no Modoc casualties, but 22 troopers were
killed and 18 were wounded. Col. Jefferson C. Davis, commander of
the Department of Columbia, took command in May and ordered a
blockade of the lava beds. On May 10, the poorly provisioned Modocs
attacked the camp of the Fourth Artillery and were defeated for the
first time since the war began. The Indians fled closely pursued by
Davis' troops. Many were captured and given the choice of being
executed or leading them to Captain Jack Hooker Jim and the other
chiefs. Soon the men were in custody.
Davis was about to hang Jack and his colleagues, but Washington
insisted they be given a trial. Jack was found guilty along with
five others and sentenced to death. Two of the sentences wee
commuted by presidential order. Captain Jack, Boston Charley,
Schonochin John and Black Jim were hanged October 3, 1873, while
their tribe watched. Captain Jack had been an effective war chief:
only 14 Modocs died in a campaign that cost the enemy 168
casualties-including 83 dead.
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