Captain Jack

Captain Jack and the Modocs 1850-1873

On November 29, 1872, troopers from the US 1st Cavalry regt., rode into the camp of the Modoc chief known as Captain Jack on Lost River. Their orders were to disarm the Modocs and herd them back to their Oregon reservation. When told to drop their weapons, the Modocs refused. Suddenly a rifle cracked, and bullets began flying. Captain Jack’s band then quickly melted in the wilderness, leaving behind a dying sergeant, 7 severely wounded troopers, and 1 dead Modoc.

The clash at Lost River was just one of many in the long, bitter history of the Modocs. The small tribe had resisted the rush of settlers to Oregon in the 1850’s before finally agreeing to settle on a reservation with the Klamaths. But the Klamaths harassed and bullied the Modocs, forced them back to their old homeland on the California-Oregon border in the late 1860’s. Again, the Modocs were set upon by land-hungry whites, and in 1872 at Indian agent ordered them to return to the Klamath reservation. When Captain Jack’s people refused, Gen. Edward R.S. Canby, a veteran officer, tried to have the Modocs sent to a different reservation, as a possible peaceful solution. The agent refused to back down, and Canby reluctantly issued the orders that led to the battle of Lost river.

Captain Jack’s fugitives from Lost River took refuge in the Lava Beds, a region the army later referred to as "Hell with the fire out." The Lava Beds had been formed centuries ago by volcanic eruptions that spread molten rock over a 70 sq. mile area in Northern California. The Modocs turned a small section of this area into a fortress that became a death trap for 16 of the 325 soldiers who attacked it on January 17, 1873. Shielded from artillery and rifle fire by caves and ravines, fewer that 70 Modoc warriors held off the attackers. The battered soldiers withdrew, and the army rushed another force of 1000 men to the Lava Beds. At the same time, a peace commission, headed by Gen. Canby, was sent to talk to Captain Jack.

During the parley, Captain jack suddenly whipped out a pistol and killed Gen. Canny, who thus became the 1st and only US General to die in the Indian Wars. Overwhelming forces finally hammered this dwindling tribe of some 165 men, women, and children into submission. Captain Jack was hanged and the Modocs were sent far from home to a barren, unhealthy strip of Indian Territory (Oklahoma).

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