The Modoc Nation is a federally recognized Indian Tribe; organized under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of 1936. The Modoc Tribe has a constitution and bylaws, approved by the United States Secretary of the Interior.
The native Modoc homelands are in the Pacific Northwest, located between the Pacific Ocean and the Sierra-Nevada Mountains along the present-day California and Oregon borders. As a result of the Modoc War in 1872-1873, the Modoc people who fought for their homelands were forcibly removed, as prisoners of war, to the Quapaw Agency located in the northeast region of Indian Territory, present-day Oklahoma. The Modoc Tribe is the only tribe to be exiled to Oklahoma from the western United States.
The United States policies of Manifest Destiny and the transcontinental railroad, along with the discovery of gold in the mountains of California, better known as the California Gold Rush, led to the mass immigration of thousands settlers and prospectors into the Modoc lands. As a result of this mass intrusion, tensions arose between Modoc people and those who entered into their homelands. Stories, mostly of myth, were told among the intruding settlers and prospectors about the Modoc people being “ruthless” and “murderous” in killing innocent people who entered into their lands. These false stories were often used as statistics and political tools for encouraging violence and the removal of the Modoc people from their native homelands, including State policies being passed and financially supported to kill natives, including the Modoc people.
From 1851-1852, a man by the name of Ben Wright who was a self-proclaimed “Indian killer” from Indiana, came out to Modoc country in search of gold. Wright decided that he had heard enough of these “murderous Modocs”. Wright gathered up a group of miners and negotiated a deal with the California government, and permitted under California state law, to be paid for every Modoc that his posse could kill. Wright and his posse set up camp near a Modoc village and rode in amongst the Modoc people there under a white flag of peace. Upon entering the village, Wright and his men opened fire on the unarmed Modoc people, shooting and killing all the men, women, and children that the posse could find. It was told that less than five Modoc people from this Modoc village survived the unjustified slaughtering that became known as the Ben Wright Massacre. The antagonistic settlers praised Ben Wright and called him a “hero” while the Modoc people mourned the loss of over 170 the innocent mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters.
Treaty of 1864 (October 1864)
The region of the Lost River became a destination for settlers and non-Indian people who wanted to enter into the region and become landowners. The Modoc people who had lived and occupied this region for thousands of years had now become an obstacle for the U.S. government. The federal policy for most of the United States history was the concept of a “Treaty” between the U.S. government and a tribe, where the tribes would agree to give up their expansive claims to all of their aboriginal lands in exchange for a tract of land called a “reservation.” Tribes were assured that these reservations would remain as Indian lands “forever” and the United States would protect their boundaries from incursions by non-Indians.
The United States government considered the Modoc lands to be a prime area for settlers and thus decided in 1864 to get the Modoc leaders to enter into a Treaty and place the Modoc people on a reservation, along with two other tribes, the Klamath and the Yahooskin band of Snake Indians. The reservation would be known as the Klamath Reservation. The government also promised in this treaty to provide supplies and money for goods, and build shops and mills for logging, along with schools for the Modoc children.
During this time, the Civil War was still being waged between the Union and the Confederacy. As a result, the Treaty of 1864 was not ratified or honored by the United States when entered into, but the government still expected the Modoc people to honor their terms by giving up their lands and moving onto the Klamath Reservation. The Modoc people would honor the Treaty under the assumption that the United States would do the same, and the Modoc moved to the Klamath Reservation.
Life on the reservation was difficult and short-lived for the Modoc people as they were constantly harassed and taunted by settlers, soldiers, and the Klamath. The promised food and supplies were often not brought to the Modoc, or if they were, they were later taken back or stolen by the Klamath. Within months, these disparaging events led a Modoc leader named Kientpoos, or Captain Jack as the United States came to know him, to call a meeting amongst his people. Together the Modoc people decided that they would leave the Klamath Reservation and go back to their homelands in the Lost River and Tule Lake region. Upon learning that Modoc people had returned to their homelands, the settlers who had entered into the lands began to complain to government agents and the military that they feared the Modoc people, and that the Modoc should be removed for their safety.
The Modoc War (November 1872 – June 1873)
The Treaty of 1864 was finally ratified by the United States in 1870. By this time, Captain Jack and his Modoc people had returned to their homelands and had been living there as they did before. The settlers continued to protest against them. Some of the Modoc people traveled back to the Klamath Reservation under new terms and on a new location. Captain Jack visited the location and found it unsuitable in comparison to his homelands. Captain Jack attempted to negotiate a new Treaty and reservation with government officials within his homeland region for the Modocs, but the government at the time decided that it would no longer enter into Treaties with Indian tribes.
The Modoc people continuing to live in their homelands, in defiance of the Treaty of 1864, led the United States government to issue orders for their removal and placement back on the Klamath Reservation. However Captain Jack’s band of about 170 Modoc decided to remain on their homelands. By November of 1872, orders came from the Commissioner on Indian Affairs, F.A. Walker, in Washington, D.C. to remove Captain Jack’s band of Modocs “peacefully if possible, but forcible if you must.”
With orders in hand, the U.S. Army rode to the Lost River region where Captain Jack and his people were living. The Army demanded that the Modoc people “give up their guns” and that they were under arrest for violating the Treaty. A Modoc man by the name of Scarfaced Charley refused to give up his gun. An Army lieutenant drew his gun on Scarefaced Charley, and demanded that he give up his gun, and then fired. The lieutenant missed, and Scarfaced Charley returned fire, as did many others on opposing sides. This was known as the Battle of Lost River that ignited the Modoc War.
The Modoc people retreated to an ancient lava bed field, a natural fortress that extended over 46,000 acres. It was there at the lava beds that the Modoc people of Captain Jack’s band fought over 1,000 United States soldiers from November of 1872 until June of 1873; and the Modoc who were outnumbered nearly 20 to 1, won many of the battles fought.
The Peace Commission of April 11, 1873
During the Modoc War¸ a party of government officials that included Army General E.R.S. Canby, Indian Agent Alfred Meachem, and a few others attempted to negotiate a truce between the military and the Modoc and return the Modoc to the Klamath Reservation. Again, Captain Jack requested his own reservation within his homeland region, and again he was denied the request. Hearing that the government would not agree to provide the Modoc people with the requested reservation within their homelands, Captain Jack and the other Modoc men in attendance at the negotiations opened fire on the government officials. Army General E.R.S. Canby was shot and killed; becoming the first and only United States Military General to be killed in an Indian war.
End of the Modoc War
After the killing of General Canby, General William Tecumseh Sherman who was the commanding General of the Army and a veteran of the Civil War, called for the “Extermination of the Modoc people.” Soldiers and volunteers came far and wide to defeat the Modocs. A military surge to defeat the Modocs pushed them out of their stronghold and the Army was able cutoff their water supply. It was only a matter of time before the Modoc people who fought for their homelands would surrender to the United States military, but he military would have to catch the Modoc first.
The Modoc War and the Modoc people who fought in it became world famous, bringing newspaper reporters from as far away as Paris, France. The estimated cost of the United States in fighting the Modoc War was estimated to be at the lowest estimate a half-million dollars; in comparison to the reservation that Captain Jack had attempted to negotiate that would have only cost, at most, $10,000.00.