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Captain Jack

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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 rock.

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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