TEN

The Ordeal of Captain Jack

1873January 6, U.S. Congress begins investigation of Crédit Mobilier scandal. March 3, “Salary Grab” Act raises salaries of congressmen and government officials retroactively. May 7, U.S. Marines land in Panama to protect American lives and property. September 15, last units of German Army leave France. September 19, failure of Jay Cooke and Company, banking firm, precipitates financial panic. September 20, New York Stock Exchange closes for ten days; severe economic crisis spreads across nation and world. Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days and Mark Twain’s The Gilded Age are published.

I am but one man. I am the voice of my people. Whatever their hearts are, that I talk. I want no more war. I want to be a man. You deny me the right of a white man. My skin is red; my heart is a white man’s heart; but I am a Modoc. I am not afraid to die. I will not fall on the rocks. When I die, my enemies will be under me. Your soldiers began on me when I was asleep on Lost River. They drove us to these rocks, like a wounded deer. …

I have always told the white man heretofore to come and settle in my country; that it was his country and Captain Jack’s country. That they could come and live there with me and that I was not mad with them. I have never received anything from anybody, only what I bought and paid for myself. I have always lived like a white man, and wanted to live so. I have always tried to live peaceably and never asked any man for anything. I have always lived on what I could kill and shoot with my gun, and catch in my trap.

—KINTPUASH (CAPTAIN JACK) OF THE MODOCS

CALIFORNIA INDIANS WERE GENTLE AS the climate in which they lived. The Spaniards gave them names, established missions for them, converted and debauched them. Tribal organizations were undeveloped among the California Indians; each village had its leaders, but there were no great war chiefs among these unwarlike people. After the discovery of gold in 1848, white men from all over the world poured into California by the thousands, taking what they wanted from the submissive Indians, debasing those whom the Spaniards had not already debased, and then systematically exterminating whole populations now long forgotten. No one remembers the Chilulas, Chimarikos, Urebures, Nipewais, Alonas, or a hundred other bands whose bones have been sealed under a million miles of freeways, parking lots, and slabs of tract housing.

One exception to the nonresistant Indians of California were the Modocs, who lived in the harsher climate of Tule Lake along the border of Oregon. Until the 1850’s, white men were almost unknown to the Modocs; then settlers began coming in droves, seizing the best lands and expecting the Modocs to submit meekly. When the Modocs showed fight, the white invaders attempted extermination. The Modocs retaliated with ambushes.

During this time a young Modoc named Kintpuash was coming to manhood, and he could not understand why Modocs and white people could not live together without trying to kill each other. The Tule Lake country was limitless as the sky, with enough deer, antelope, ducks, geese, fish, and camas roots for everybody. Kintpuash scolded his father for not making peace with the white men. His father, who was a chief, told Kintpuash that the white men were treacherous and would have to be driven out before there could be peace. Not long afterward the chief was killed in a fight with white settlers, and Kintpuash became chief of the Modocs.

Kintpuash went into the settlements to find white men he could trust, so that he could make peace with them. At Yreka he met some good men, and soon all the Modocs were coming there to trade. “I have always told white men when they came to my country,” Kintpuash said, “that if they wanted a home to live there they could have it; and I never asked them for any pay for living there as my people lived. I liked to have them come there and live. I liked to be with white people.” 1 The young chief also liked the clothes they wore, their houses, wagons, and fine livestock.

The white men around Yreka gave these visiting Indians new names, which the Modocs found amusing, and they often used these names among themselves. Kintpuash was Captain Jack. Some of the others were Hooker Jim, Steamboat Frank, Scarfaced Charley, Boston Charley, Curly Headed Doctor, Shacknasty Jim, Schonchin John, and Ellen’s Man.

During the time of the white man’s Civil War, troubles arose between the Modocs and the settlers. If a Modoc could not find a deer to kill for his family, he would sometimes kill a rancher’s cow; or if he needed a horse he would borrow one out of a settler’s pasture. The Modocs’ white friends excused this as a “tax” the Indians were levying on the settlers for use of their lands, but most settlers did not like this and through their politicians arranged for a treaty to remove the Modocs from the Tule Lake country.

The treaty commissioners promised Captain Jack and the other head men that if they would move north to a reservation in Oregon every family would have its own land, teams of horses, wagons, farming implements, tools, clothing, and food—all provided by the government. Captain Jack wanted to have his land near Tule Lake, but the commissioners would not agree to this. Somewhat reluctantly Jack signed the treaty, and the Modocs went north to the Klamath reservation. From the very beginning there was trouble. The reservation was on territory that had belonged to Klamath Indians, and the Klamaths treated the Modocs as intruders. When the Modocs cut rails to fence their assigned farmlands, the Klamaths would come and steal the rails. Supplies promised by the government never arrived; the reservation agent issued food and clothing to the Klamaths, but there never seemed to be any for the Modocs. (The Great Council in Washington did not vote any money to buy supplies for the Modocs.)

When Captain Jack saw his people growing hungry, he led them off the reservation. They went down into Lost River Valley, where they had once lived, in search of game and fish and camas roots. White ranchers who lived in the valley did not want the Modocs to be there, however, and they complained frequently to government authorities. Captain Jack cautioned his people to stay clear of white men, but it was not easy for three hundred Indians to remain invisible. During the summer of 1872 the Indian Bureau warned Captain Jack to return to the Klamath reservation. Jack replied that his people could not live with the Klamaths. He requested a Modoc reservation somewhere on Lost River, which had always been Modoc country. The Indian Bureau considered the request a reasonable one, but the ranchers opposed granting any part of the rich grazing lands to Indians. In the autumn of 1872 the government ordered the Modocs to move back to the Klamath reservation. Jack refused to go. The Army was assigned the duty of transferring the Modocs by force. On November 28, 1872, in a freezing rain, Major James Jackson and a company of thirty-eight troopers of the First Cavalry marched out of Fort Klamath, bound south for Lost River.

Just before daylight the cavalrymen arrived at the Modoc camp. They dismounted and with carbines at the ready surrounded the lodges. Scarfaced Charley and several other men came outside with their weapons. Major Jackson asked to see the chief, and when Jack appeared the major told him he had orders from the Great Father to take the Modocs back to the Klamath reservation.

“I will go,” Captain Jack said. “I will take all my people with me, but I do not place any confidence in anything you white people tell me. You see, you come here to my camp when it is dark. You scare me and all my people when you do that. I won’t run from you. Come up to me like men when you want to see or talk with me.” 2

Major Jackson said he was not there to make trouble. Then he ordered Jack to assemble his men in front of the soldiers. As soon as this was done, the major pointed to a bunch of sagebrush at the end of the formation. “Lay your gun here,” he commanded.

17. Captain Jack, or Kintpuash, Having the Water Brash. Photographed by L. Heller in 1873. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution.

“What for?” Jack asked.

“You are the chief. You lay your gun down, all your men will do the same. You do that, and we’ll have no trouble.”

Captain Jack hesitated. He knew his men would not want to give up their arms. “I have never fought white people yet,” he said, “and I do not want to.”

The major insisted that they give up their guns. “I won’t let anyone hurt you,” he promised.

Captain Jack placed his gun on the sagebrush and signaled the others to do as he had done. They stepped up one by one, stacking their rifles. Scarfaced Charley was the last. He laid his rifle on top of the pile, but kept his pistol strapped around his waist.

The major ordered him to hand over the pistol.

“You got my gun,” Scarfaced replied.

The major called to Lieutenant Frazier Boutelle: “Disarm him!”

“Give me that pistol, damn you, quick!” Boutelle ordered as he stepped forward.

Scarfaced Charley laughed. He said he was not a dog to be shouted at.

Boutelle drew his revolver. “You son-of-a-bitch, I’ll show you how to talk back to me.”

Scarfaced repeated that he was not a dog, adding that he would keep his pistol. 3

As Boutelle brought his revolver into firing position, Scarfaced quickly drew his pistol from his belt. Both men fired at the same time. The Modoc’s bullet tore through the lieutenant’s coat sleeve. Scarfaced was not hit. He swung toward the stack of arms, sweeping his rifle from the top, and every Modoc warrior followed his example. The cavalry commander ordered his men to open fire. For a few seconds there was a lively exchange of shots, and then the soldiers retreated, leaving one man dead and seven wounded on the field.

By this time the Modoc women and children were in their log dugouts, paddling southward for Tule Lake. Captain Jack and his warriors followed along the shore, keeping hidden in the thick reeds. They were heading for the Modocs’ legendary sanctuary south of the lake—the California Lava Beds.

The Lava Beds was a land of burned-out fires that had turned into rocky fissures, caves, and crevices. Some of the ravines were a hundred feet deep. The cave which Captain Jack chose as his stronghold was a craterlike pit surrounded by a network of natural trenches and lava-rock breastworks. He knew that his handful of warriors could fight off an army if necessary, but he hoped the soldiers would leave them alone now. Surely the white men would not want these useless rocks.

When Major Jackson’s soldiers had come to Captain Jack’s camp, a small band of Modocs led by Hooker Jim was camped on the opposite side of Lost River. In the early hours of the morning while Captain Jack was fleeing with his people for the Lava Beds, he had heard gunfire from the direction of Hooker Jim’s camp. “I ran off and did not want to fight,” he said afterward. “They shot some of my women, and they shot my men. I did not stop to inquire anything about it, but left and went away. I had very few people and did not want to fight.” 4

Not for a day or two did he discover what had happened to Hooker Jim’s people. Then suddenly Hooker Jim appeared outside Jack’s stronghold. With him were Curly Headed Doctor. Boston Charley, and eleven other Modocs. They told Jack that at the time soldiers came to his camp, several settlers had come to their camp and started shooting at them. These white men shot a baby out of its mother’s arms, killed an old woman, and wounded some of the men. On their way to the Lava Beds, Hooker Jim and his men decided to avenge the deaths of their people. Stopping briefly at isolated ranch houses along the way, they had killed twelve settlers.

At first Jack thought Hooker Jim was merely boasting, but the others said it was true. When they named the dead white men, Jack could not believe it. Some of them were settlers he knew and trusted. “What did you kill those people for?” he demanded. “I never wanted you to kill my friends. You have done it on your own responsibility.” 5

Captain Jack knew for certain now that the soldiers would be coming; even into the vastnesses of the Lava Beds they would come for revenge. And because he was chief of the Modocs he would have to answer for the crimes of Hooker Jim and the others.

Not until the Ice Moon did the soldiers come. On January 13, 1873, the Modocs guarding the outer defense ring sighted a Bluecoat reconnaissance party approaching a bluff overlooking the Lava Beds. The Modocs drove them away with a few long-distance shots. Three days later a force of 225 regular soldiers supported by 104 Oregon and California Volunteers came riding like ghosts through the fog of a wintry afternoon. They took positions along ridges facing Captain Jack’s stronghold, and as darkness fell they began building sagebrush fires to keep warm. The military commanders were hopeful that if the Modocs saw the force arrayed against them, they might come in and surrender.

Captain Jack was in favor of surrendering. He knew that the soldiers most of all wanted the Modocs who had killed the settlers, and he was willing to put his life along with theirs in the hands of the soldier chiefs rather than sacrifice the lives of all his people in a bloody battle.

Hooker Jim, Curly Headed Doctor, and those who had killed the settlers were opposed to any surrender, and they forced Jack to call a council to vote on what action the tribe should take. Of the fifty-one warriors in the stronghold, only fourteen wanted to surrender. Thirty-seven voted to fight the soldiers to the death.

Before daylight on the seventeenth, they could hear the soldiers’ bugles echoing across the fog-shrouded Lava Beds. Not long afterward, howitzers sounded the beginning of the Bluecoat attack. The Modocs were ready for them. Camouflaged with sagebrush head coverings, they moved in and out of crevices, picking off soldiers in the first skirmish line.

By midday the attackers were spread out for more than a mile, their communications badly broken because of fog and terrain. Keeping under cover, the Modoc warriors hurried back and forth along the front, creating an illusion of superiority of numbers. When one company of soldiers moved up close to the stronghold, the Modoc fire concentrated upon it, the women joining the warriors in the shooting. Late in the day, Jack and Ellen’s Man led a charge that routed the soldiers, who left their casualties on the field.

Just before sunset the fog lifted, and the Modocs could see the soldiers retreating to their camp on the ridge. The warriors went out to where the dead Bluecoats were lying, and found nine carbines and six belts of cartridges. Farther on were more ammunition and some Army rations that had been thrown away by the fleeing soldiers.

When darkness came the Modocs built a big fire and celebrated. None had been killed in the fighting, and none was seriously wounded. They had captured enough rifles and ammunition to fight another day. Next morning they were ready for the soldiers, but when the soldiers came there were only a few of them, and they were carrying a white flag. They wanted to recover their dead. Before the end of that day all the soldiers were gone from the ridge.

Believing that the Bluecoats would return, Captain Jack kept scouts far out to watch for them. But the days passed one after the other, and the soldiers stayed far away. (“We fought the Indians through the Lava Beds to their stronghold,” the commander of the attacking force reported, “which is the center of miles of rocky fissures, caves, crevices, gorges, and ravines. … One thousand men would be required to dislodge them from their almost impregnable position, and it must be done deliberately, with a free use of mortar batteries. … Please send me three hundred foot-troops at the earliest date.” 6)

On February 28, Captain Jack’s cousin, Winema, came to the Lava Beds. Winema was married to a white man named Frank Riddle, and he and three other white men accompanied her. These men had been friendly to the Modocs in the time when they visited freely in Yreka. Winema was a cheerful, energetic, round-faced young woman who now called herself Toby Riddle. She had adopted the ways of her husband, but Jack trusted her. She told him that she had brought the white men to have a talk with him, and that they intended to spend the night in the stronghold to prove their friendship. Jack assured her that they were welcome and that no harm would come to any of them.

In the council which followed, the white men explained that the Great Father in Washington had sent out some commissioners who wanted to talk peace. The Great Father hoped to avoid a war with the Modocs, and he wanted the Modocs to come and talk with the commissioners so that they could find a way to peace. The commissioners were waiting at Fairchild’s ranch not far from the Lava Beds.

When the Modocs raised the question of what would happen to Hooker Jim’s band for killing the Oregon settlers, they were told that if they surrendered as prisoners of war they would not be subject to trial by Oregon law. Instead they would be taken far away and placed on a reservation in one of the warm places—Indian Territory or Arizona.

“Go back and tell the commissioners,” Jack replied, “that I am willing to hear them in council and see what they have got to offer me and my people. Tell them to come to see me, or send for me. I will go and see them if they will protect me from my enemies while I am holding these peace councils.” 7

Next morning the visitors departed, Winema promising that she would inform Jack when the time and place for the council was decided. On that same day Hooker Jim and his followers slipped away to Fairchild’s ranch, sought out the commissioners, and declared that they wanted to surrender as prisoners of war.

The members of the peace commission were Alfred B. Meacham, who had once been the Modocs’ agent in Oregon; Eleazar Thomas, a California clergyman; and L. S. Dyar, a subagent from the Klamath reservation. Overseeing their activities was the commander of the troops gathered outside the Lava Beds, General Edward R. S. Canby—the same Canby who as an Eagle Chief had fought and made peace with Manuelito’s Navahos twelve years earlier in New Mexico. (See Chapter 2.)

When Hooker Jim’s Modocs came into Canby’s headquarters with their startling announcement of surrender, the general was so delighted that he dispatched a hasty telegram to the Great Warrior Sherman in Washington, informing him that the Modoc war was ended and requesting instruction as to when and where he should transport his prisoners of war.

In his excitement Canby failed to put Hooker Jim and his eight followers under arrest. The Modocs wandered out into the military camp to have a closer look at the soldiers who were now supposed to protect them from the citizens of Oregon. During their rounds, they happened to meet an Oregon citizen who recognized them and threatened to have them arrested for murdering settlers on Lost River. The governor of Oregon had demanded their blood, he said, and as soon as the governor got his hands on them the law would hang them.

At the first opportunity, Hooker Jim and his band mounted their horses and rode as fast as they could back to the Lava Beds. They warned Captain Jack not to go to Fairchild’s ranch to meet the commissioners; the proposed council was a trap to catch the Modocs and send them back to Oregon to be hanged.

During the next few days, as Winema and Frank Riddle came and went with messages, the suspicions of Hooker Jim’s Modocs proved to be true insofar as they were concerned. Political pressure from Oregon forced General Canby and the commissioners to withdraw their offer of amnesty to Hooker Jim’s band. Captain Jack and the remainder of the Modocs, however, were free to come in and surrender with a guarantee of protection.

Captain Jack was now caught in a classic dilemma. If he abandoned Hooker Jim’s people, he could save his own. But Hooker Jim had come to him for protection under the chieftainship of the Modocs.

On March 6, with the help of his sister Mary, Jack wrote a letter to the commissioners, and she delivered it to Fairchild’s ranch. “Let everything be wiped out, washed out, and let there be no more blood,” he wrote. “I have got a bad heart about those murderers. I have got but a few men and I don’t see how I can give them up. Will they give up their people who murdered my people while they were asleep? I never asked for the people who murdered my people. … I can see how I could give up my horse to be hanged; but I can’t see how I could give up my men to be hanged. I could give up my horse to be hanged, and wouldn’t cry about it, but if I gave up my men I would have to cry about it.” 8

Canby and the commissioners, however, still wanted to meet Captain Jack and persuade him that war for his people would be worse than surrendering the killers. Even though the Great Warrior Sherman advised Canby to use his soldiers against the Modocs so “that no other reservation for them will be necessary except graves among their chosen Lava Beds,” the general kept his patience. 9

On March 21 Captain Jack and Scarfaced Charley sighted Canby and a small cavalry escort riding down from the ridge overlooking their stronghold. Jack did not know what to make of this bold approach. He deployed his warriors among the rocks, and watched a lone figure ride forward from the escort. The man was an Army surgeon, and he proposed an informal meeting between Captain Jack and General Canby. A few minutes later they were conversing. Canby assured Jack that if he would lead his people out of the Lava Beds they would be well treated; they would be given food, clothing, and many presents. Jack replied by asking Canby why he had not brought some of these things with him if he had so much to give the Modocs. He also asked Canby why he did not take the soldiers away; all that the Modocs wanted was to be left alone, he said.

During this short meeting neither Jack nor Canby made any mention of Hooker Jim’s band and the killing of the settlers. Jack promised nothing; he wanted to wait and see what Canby would do next.

What Canby did next was to bring in additional troops and dispose them on opposite sides of the Modoc stronghold. Companies of the First Cavalry and Twenty-first Infantry, supported by the Fourth Artillery, were now in easy striking distance of the Indians.

On April 2 Captain Jack sent a message to the commissioners. He wanted to meet them halfway between the nearest soldier camp and his stronghold. That same day Canby, Meacham, Thomas, and Dyar, with Winema and Frank Riddle, rode out to a rocky basin below the soldier camp on the bluff. Jack, Hooker Jim, and several other Modocs were waiting for them there; they had brought along their women as an indication of peaceful intentions. Although Jack greeted Meacham as an old friend, he spoke somewhat bitterly to Canby, asking him why he had moved his soldiers so close and on both sides of the Modoc stronghold.

Canby tried to pass the question off lightly by replying that he had moved his headquarters closer to Jack’s headquarters so they could meet more easily in councils, and that the soldiers were needed to make him feel safe. Jack did not accept Canby’s explanation; he demanded that the soldiers be taken out of the Lava Beds and sent home. And then he brought up the sensitive subject of Hooker Jim’s band. There could be no further talk of surrender, Jack said, unless Hooker Jim’s people were treated the same as all the other Modocs. Canby replied that the Army would have to decide what would be done with them and where they would go; he could promise no amnesty for the killers of the settlers.

While they were talking, dark clouds overspread the Lava Beds, and a cold rain began falling. Canby said that further talk would not be possible in the rain. “You are better clothed than I,” Jack replied mockingly, “and I won’t melt like snow.” 10 Canby ignored Jack’s remark, but announced that he would have a tent shelter erected for the next meeting.

Next morning Canby sent some soldiers down to erect a council tent. They did not place it in the rocky basin, but instead chose a sagebrush flat that was in full view of the soldier camp and its formidable batteries of artillery.

Two days later Jack sent a message to Alfred Meacham, stating that he wanted to meet him and his old friend, John Fairchild, who owned the nearby ranch. Jack stipulated that they were not to bring General Canby or Reverend Thomas. Meacham and Fairchild were puzzled by the request, but they went out to the council tent with Winema and Frank Riddle. The Modocs were waiting, and Jack greeted the white men warmly. He explained that he did not trust Canby, because he wore a blue uniform and talked too much about his friendship for Indians; his talk did not ring with truth, because he kept bringing his soldiers closer to the Lava Beds. As for Reverend Thomas, he was a “Sunday doctor,” and his holy medicine was opposed to the Modocs’ beliefs. “Now we can talk,” Jack said. “I know you and Fairchild. I know your hearts.” He went on to explain how the soldiers had forced them to flee Lost River and take shelter in the Lava Beds. “Give me a home on Lost River,” he pleaded. “I can take care of my people. I do not ask anybody to help me. We can make a living for ourselves. Let us have the same chance that other men have.”

Meacham pointed out that Lost River was in Oregon, where the Modocs had shed the blood of white settlers. “The blood would always come up between you and the white men,” the commissioner declared.

Jack sat in silence for some minutes. “I hear your words,” he said. “Give me this Lava Bed for a home. I can live here; take away your soldiers, and we can settle everything. Nobody will ever want these rocks; give me a home here.”

Meacham replied that the Modocs could not stay in peace in the Lava Beds unless they gave up the men who committed the killings on Lost River. They would be treated fairly, he promised, in a court of law.

“Who will try them?” Jack asked. “White men or Indians?”

“White men, of course,” Meacham admitted.

“Then will you give up the men who killed the Indian women and children on Lost River, to be tried by the Modocs?”

Meacham shook his head. “The Modoc law is dead; the white man’s law rules the country now; only one law lives at a time.”

“Will you try the men who fired on my people?” Jack continued. “By your own law?”

Meacham knew and Captain Jack knew that this could not be done. “The white man’s law rules the country,” the commissioner repeated. “The Indian law is dead.”

“The white man’s laws are good for the white men,” Jack said, “but they are made so as to leave the Indian out. No, my friend, I cannot give up the young men to be hung. I know they did wrong—their blood was bad. … They did not begin; the white man began first. … No, I cannot give up my young men; take away the soldiers, and all the trouble will stop.”

“The soldiers cannot be taken away,” Meacham replied, “while you stay in the Lava Beds.”

Grasping Meacham’s arm, Jack asked imploringly: “Tell me, my friend, what am I to do? I do not want to fight.”

“The only way now to peace is to come out of the rocks,” Meacham told him bluntly. “No peace can be made while you stay in the Lava Beds.”

“You ask me to come out and put myself in your power,” Jack cried. “I cannot do it. I am afraid—no, I am not afraid, but my people are. … I am the voice of my people. … I am a Modoc. I am not afraid to die. I can show him [Canby] how a Modoc can die.”

Both men knew there was nothing more to be said. Meacham invited Jack to return with him to the soldier camp and continue their discussions with General Canby and the other commissioners, but Jack refused. He said he must first counsel with his people, and that he would let the commissioners know if there was to be any more talk. 11

When Meacham reported to General Canby that Captain Jack would never give up Hooker Jim’s band and therefore would not surrender the Lava Beds stronghold without a fight, Canby decided to give any Modocs who wished to leave one more opportunity to do so. Next day he sent Winema to inform Jack that any of his people who wanted to surrender could return with her.

While Winema waited, Captain Jack called a council. Only eleven Modocs voted to accept Canby’s offer. Hooker Jim, Schonchin John, and Curly Headed Doctor all spoke strongly against surrender, accusing Canby and the commissioners of plotting treachery. The meeting ended with a threat from Hooker Jim’s followers to kill any Modocs who tried to surrender.

That evening, as Winema was riding back to Canby’s headquarters, a young Modoc named Weuim who was related to Winema halted her a short distance along the trail. He warned her not to come to the Modoc stronghold again, and to tell her white friends not to meet his people in council again. Hooker Jim’s followers were planning to kill everyone who was against them, Weuim said. Winema rode back to the Army camp, but she was afraid to pass the warning on to anybody other than her husband. Frank Riddle, however, went immediately to headquarters and informed the commissioners of the warning. None of them believed it was anything more than angry talk.

In the Lava Beds, however, the angry talk against the white peacemakers grew stronger. On the night of April 7, Hooker Jim and his followers decided to have a showdown with their chief. Some of them suspected Jack of being on the verge of betraying them.

Schonchin John opened the council with a bitter speech: “I have been trapped and fooled by the white people many times. I do not intend to be fooled again.” He accused the peace commissioners of trickery, of playing for time while the Army brought in more soldiers and guns. “When they think there is enough men here, they will jump on us and kill the last soul of us.”

Black Jim spoke next: “I for one am not going to be decoyed and shot like a dog by the soldiers. I am going to kill my man before they get me.” He then spoke for killing the peace commissioners at the next council with them.

When Captain Jack saw how far the talk was going, he tried to convince the speakers they were wrong. He asked for time in which to bargain with the commissioners, to try to save Hooker Jim’s band as well as to obtain a good piece of land for a reservation. “All I ask you to do is to behave yourselves and wait.”

Black Jim accused Jack of being blind. “Can’t you see soldiers arriving every two or three days? Don’t you know the last soldiers that came brought big guns with them that shoot bullets as big as your head? The commissioners intend to make peace with you by blowing your head off with one of the big guns.” Other speakers supported Black Jim’s argument, and when Jack again tried to reason with them, they shouted him down: “Your talk is not good! We are doomed. Let us fight so we die sooner. We have to die anyway.”

Believing it was useless to say more, Jack turned to leave the council, but Black Jim stopped him. “If you are our chief, promise us that you will kill Canby next time you meet him.”

“I cannot do it and I will not do it.”

Hooker Jim, who had been watching silently, now stepped up to his chief. “You will kill Canby or be killed yourself. You will kill or be killed by your own men.”

Jack knew this was a challenge to his chieftaincy, but he held in his anger. “Why do you want to force me to do a coward’s act?”

“It is not a coward’s act,” Hooker Jim retorted. “It will be brave to kill Canby in the presence of all those soldiers.”

Refusing to promise anything, Jack again started to leave the council. Some of Hooker Jim’s men threw a woman’s shawl and headdress over his shoulders, taunting him: “You’re a woman, a fish-hearted woman. You are not a Modoc. We disown you.”

To save his power, to gain time, Jack knew he had to speak. “I will kill Canby,” he said. He pushed the men aside and walked on alone to the cave.

Winema did not come with any messages the next day or the next, and so Boston Charley, who could speak and understand English, was sent to tell General Canby that the Modocs wanted to counsel with him and the commissioners on Friday morning, April 11. The Modocs would come unarmed to the council tent, Boston Charley told Canby, and they expected the commissioners to come unarmed.

On the morning of April 10, Jack called his men together outside the cave. The day was springlike, the sun quickly burning away the night fog. “My heart tells me I had just as well talk to the clouds and wind,” he said, “but I want to say that life is sweet, love is strong; man fights to save his life; man also kills to win his heart’s desire; that is love. Death is mighty bad. Death will come to us soon enough.” He told his listeners that if they started fighting again, all would die, including their women and children. If they had to fight, let the soldiers start it. He reminded them that he had promised the commissioners to commit no acts of war as long as the peace councils continued. “Let me show the world that Captain Jack is a man of his word,” he pleaded. Then he came to the promise he had made to kill General Canby. “Do not hold me to it. If you hold me to what I said in anger, we are doomed. Hooker Jim, you know that as well as I do.”

“We hold you to the promise,” Hooker Jim replied. “You have to kill Canby. Your talk is good, but now it is too late to put up such talk.”

Jack looked at the fifty men seated around him on the rocks. The sunlight was bright on their dark faces. “All who want me to kill Canby,” he said, “raise to your feet.” Only about a dozen of his loyal followers remained seated.

“I see you do not love life nor anything else.” His voice was somber as he grasped for an alternative. In the council with Canby, he said, he would tell the general what the Modocs wanted. “I will ask him many times. If he comes to my terms I shall not kill him. Do you hear?”

“Yes,” they all said.

“Will that do?”

“Yes,” they agreed.

Now only the words of Canby could stop the killing. 12

Good Friday, 1873, dawned clear, with a chill breeze fluttering the canvas of the council tent, which still stood between the soldier camp and the Lava Beds stronghold. Captain Jack, Hooker Jim, Schonchin John, Ellen’s Man, Black Jim, and Shacknasty Jim reached the council ground early, and one of them built a fire of sagebrush to keep warm by while they waited for the commissioners to arrive. They had not brought their women this time. None had brought a rifle, either, but all had pistols concealed beneath their coats.

The commissioners were late in arriving (Winema kept warning them not to go), but soon after eleven o’clock General Canby and Reverend Thomas appeared on foot, and behind them on horseback were L. S. Dyar, Alfred Meacham, Winema, and Frank Riddle. Accompanying the commissioners and the interpreters were Boston Charley and Bogus Charley, who had gone into camp to meet them. Both Charleys carried rifles carelessly slung. None of the commissioners had any arms showing; Meacham and Dyar carried derringers in their coat pockets.

Canby brought along a box of cigars, and as soon as he reached the tent he gave a cigar to each man. Using brands from the sagebrush fire, they lighted up and sat on stones around the fire, smoking silently for a few minutes.

As Frank Riddle later remembered, Canby made the first speech. “He told them that he had been dealing with Indians for some thirty years, and he had come there to make peace with them and to talk good; and that whatever he promised to give them that he would see that they got; and if they would come and go out with him, that he would take them to a good country, and fix them up, so that they could live like white people.” 13

Meacham spoke next, opening with the usual preliminary remarks about the Great Father in Washington sending him there to wipe out all the blood that had been shed. He said that he hoped to take them to a better country, where they could have good houses and plenty of food, clothing, and blankets. When Meacham finished talking, Captain Jack told him that he did not want to leave the Modoc country, and asked for a reservation somewhere near Tule Lake and the Lava Beds. He also repeated his previous demand that the soldiers be taken away before they talked peace.

Apparently Meacham was irritated by Jack’s repetitious demands. He raised his voice: “Let us talk like men and not like children.” He then suggested that those Modocs who wished to do so could remain in the Lava Beds until a reservation was found where they might live in peace.

Schonchin John, who was seated about ten feet in front of Meacham, spoke angrily in Modoc, telling the commissioner to shut up. At this moment Hooker Jim arose and strolled over to Meacham’s horse, which was standing to one side of the commissioner. Meacham’s overcoat was draped over the saddle. Hooker Jim took the coat, put it on, and buttoned it up, clowning a bit as he walked in front of the fire. The others had stopped talking and were watching him. “You think I look like Meacham?” he asked in broken English.

Meacham tried to make a joke of the interruption. He offered Hooker Jim his hat. “Take it and put it on; then you will be Meacham.”

Hooker Jim stopped his clowning. “You keep a while. Hat will be mine by and by.”

Canby evidently understood the meaning in Hooker Jim’s words. He quickly resumed the parley by saying that only the Great Father in Washington had authority to send the soldiers away. He asked Jack to trust him.

“I want to tell you, Canby,” Jack replied, “we cannot make peace as long as these soldiers are crowding me. If you ever promise me a home, somewhere in this country, promise me today. Now, Canby, promise me. I want nothing else. Now is your chance. I am tired waiting for you to speak.”

Meacham sensed the urgency in Captain Jack’s voice. “General, for heaven’s sake, promise him,” he cried.

Before Canby could say anything, Jack sprang to his feet and moved away from the fire. Schonchin John turned toward the general. “You take away soldiers, you give us back our land,” he shouted. “We tired talking. We talk no more!” 14

Captain Jack swung around, speaking in Modoc: “Ot-we-kau-tux-e (All ready!).” He drew his pistol from his coat, pointing it directly at Canby. The hammer clicked, but the weapon failed to fire. Canby stared at him in astonishment, and then the pistol fired and Canby fell back dead. At about the same moment, Boston Charley shot Reverend Thomas, killing him. Winema saved Meacham’s life by knocking Schonchin John’s pistol aside. During the confusion, Dyar and Riddle escaped.

After stripping Canby of his uniform, Jack led the Modocs back to the stronghold to await the coming of the soldiers. The main point of contention—the surrender of Hooker Jim’s killers—had not even been discussed in that last council.

Three days later the fighting began. Batteries of mortars pounded the Lava Beds, and waves of infantrymen charged the rock breastworks. When the soldiers finally overran the stronghold, they found it empty. The Modocs had slipped away through the caves and crevices. Having no taste for searching these hard-fighting Indians out of their hiding places, the Army employed seventy-two mercenary Tenino Indians from the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon. These Warm Springs scouts discovered the Modocs’ hiding place, but when the soldiers were brought up to capture it, Captain Jack set an ambush and came very near wiping out the advance patrol.

At last the overwhelming numbers and firepower of the soldiers forced the Modocs to scatter. They had to slaughter their horses for food, and some days there was no water to drink. As casualties mounted among the Indians, Hooker Jim began quarreling with Captain Jack over his strategy. After a few days of running, hiding, and fighting, Hooker Jim and his band abandoned the chief who had given them sanctuary and then had refused to surrender them to Canby. Jack was left with thirty-seven warriors to fight off more than a thousand soldiers.

Not long afterward, Hooker Jim’s band surrendered to the soldiers and offered to help them track down Captain Jack in exchange for amnesty. The new military commander, General Jefferson C. Davis, gave them the protection of the Army, and on May 27 Hooker Jim and three members of his band set out to betray the chief who had refused to betray them. They found Jack near Clear Lake, arranged to parley with him, and told him they had been sent to take his surrender. The soldiers would give the Modocs justice, they said, and plenty to eat.

“You are no better than coyotes that run in the valleys,” Jack answered them. “You come here riding soldiers’ horses, armed with government guns. You intend to buy your liberty and freedom by running me to earth and delivering me to the soldiers. You realize that life is sweet, but you did not think so when you forced me to promise that I would kill that man, Canby. I knew life was sweet all the time; that is the reason I did not want to fight the white people. I thought we would stand side by side if we did fight, and die fighting. I see now I am the only one to forfeit my life for killing Canby, perhaps one or two others. You and all the others that gave themselves up are getting along fine, and plenty to eat, you say. Oh, you bird-hearted men, you turned against me. …” 15

What galled the Modoc chief most of all was that these turncoats had been the very ones who had thrown squaw’s clothing over his head and called him a fish-hearted woman a few weeks before, thus forcing him to promise to kill Canby. They knew as well as he that it was too late for him to surrender; he would be hanged for murdering Canby. He told them he had made up his mind to die with a gun in his hand instead of a rope around his neck, and then ordered them to go back and live with the whites if they wanted to. But he swore to them that if they ever came within range of his gun again he would shoot them down like dirty dogs.

For a few more days the pursuit continued. It was “more of a chase after wild beasts than war,” General Davis said, “each detachment vying with each other as to which should be the first in at the finish.” 16

After a grueling foot race across jagged rocks and through a thicket, a small party of troops surrounded Captain Jack and three warriors who stayed with him to the end. When Jack came out to surrender he was wearing General Canby’s blue uniform; it was dirty and in tatters. He handed his rifle to an officer. “Jack’s legs gave out,” he said. “I am ready to die.”

General Davis wanted him to die immediately by hanging, but the War Department in Washington ordered a trial. It was held at Fort Klamath in July, 1873. Captain Jack, Schonchin John, Boston Charley, and Black Jim were charged with murder. No lawyer represented the Modocs, and although they were given the right to cross-examine witnesses, most of them understood very little English, and all spoke it poorly. While the trial was in progress soldiers were constructing a gallows outside the prisoners’ stockade, so there was no doubt as to what the verdict would be.

Among the witnesses against the doomed men were Hooker Jim and his followers. The Army had given them their freedom for betraying their own people.

After Hooker Jim was questioned by the prosecution, Captain Jack did not cross-examine him, but in his final courtroom speech, translated by Frank Riddle, Jack said: “Hooker Jim is the one that always wanted to fight, and commenced killing and murdering. … Life is mine only for a short time. You white people conquered me not; my own men did.” 17

Captain Jack was hanged on October 3. On the night following the execution, his body was secretly disinterred, carried off to Yreka, and embalmed. A short time later it appeared in eastern cities as a carnival attraction, admission price ten cents.

As for the surviving 153 men, women, and children, including Hooker Jim and his band, they were exiled to Indian Territory. Six years later Hooker Jim was dead, and most of the others died also before 1909, when the government decided to permit the remaining fifty-one Modocs to return to an Oregon reservation.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!