USGS Logo Geological Survey Circular 838
Guides to Some Volcanic Terrances in Washington, Idaho, Oregon, and Northern California

(The Geologic Events that created a Natural Fortress)

The Modoc War

In late November of 1872, two groups of Modoc Indians were encamped at their winter villages, located about 1/2 mile apart on either side of Lost River a few miles upstream from where it entered Tule Lake. On November 29, a surprise confrontation just at dawn with a patrol of soldiers sent to put the Modocs on the Klamath Indian Reservation ended in a shootout, followed by withdrawal of the Indians from each village. One group, led by Captain Jack, and the other by Hooker Jim, each headed for their Stronghold on the opposite (south) shore of Tule Lake. Jack's group, which also included the women and children from both villages, paddled the 13 miles (21 kilometers) across the lake from the mouth of Lost River during the night of November 29-30. The following day they were joined by Hooker Jim's small group of warriors, who had ridden horses along the 35 mile route around the east end of the lake, and had taken revenge for the fatalities incurred in the early dawn confrontation by killing all men at isolated ranches and settlements along the north and east shore of Tule Lake. In the wake of the revenging Modocs. the widowed women and children of the settlers began the long walk across Stukel Mountain to the security of other white settlements. Men of two entirely different cultures, neither of whom fully comprehended the rights or the motives of the other, were now at war.

The Stronghold. Examine the map and note the nature of the natural fortress which was to be the home of the Modocs for the next 5 months, Here the northern tip of the plateau surface overlooks a bay in the south shore of Tule Lake. The part of the plateau closest to the lake is a rounded table approximately 150 meters in diameter - about the size of a modern football stadium. It is bordered on three sides by a field of large schollendomes; to the south a neck about 50 meters wide connects it with a larger remnant of the plateau.

Within the area chosen for the Modocs living guarters the plateau surface is dimpled by 8 collapse pits, each a vertical-walled hole 2 to 15 meters in diameter and 3 to 8 meters deep. They formed where parts of the plateau's crust caved into small underground lava tubes. Floors of these pits are covered with large angular boulders tumbled from the roof and walls. In places one can burrow around between these boulders, especially beneath the overhanging walls of parts of the pits, and find small chambers each of which would give protection for 1 to 5 individuals against the rain or snow, and also from the strong cold winds that sweep the plateau in winter and spring. Three of these collapse pits are easily visited from the inner trail constructed by the Park Service: Captain Jack's Cave, Schonchin John's Cave, and Family cave (see map). Nearby a small mound of pahoehoe lava served as a rostrum from which the Modoc leaders could address their people.

Loose rocks picked up from the surface of the plateau were piled into low dry-walls, forming a partial breastworks around parts of the camp. (These fortifications were later rebuilt into much thicker and higher walls by Army soldiers after the Modocs had withdrawn from the Stronghold). The main defense positions used by the Modocs, however, are the deep natural cracks and crevasses along the top of the turndown edges of the plateau, and similar fissures along the tops of high schollendomes which ring three sides of the Stronghold. The more strategic and important of these Modoc defense trenches are labeled on the map. Note that they form a sinuous line along the entire northwest margin of the plateau, and that they curve into a natural U-shaped ambush line which bars access to the Stronghold from the nearest point of the lakeshore. The floors of these natural defense trenches were cleared of loose debris so that the defenders could pass rapidly along them. Short radial routes by which one can walk to various parts of the trench system from the central Stronghold without encountering difficult crevasses were well known to the Modoc defenders.

Beyond this natural trench system lay scattered Modoc outposts - high isolated overlooks with unimpaired views of the surrounding country. Most such outposts are located in the central cracks of the highest schollendomes, and were further camouflaged by piling loose fretworks of rock through which a sniper's rifle could be extended unobserved. No doubt additional Modoc outposts within the area of the map have gone unrecognized during our mapping (see the description of Modoc Fortifications on the map).

Contrary to the statements of several writera, these natural defense features of the stronghold are not unique. Many other table-like remnants of the lava plateau have even more formidable and deeply-crevassed turndown edges. The unigue value of the stronghold chosen by the Modocs was its proximity to the shoreline of Tule Lake. A constant supply of water, and of some food from wocus root, waterfowl, fish, and fresh-water clams was thus assured. Also its location denied communication for an enemy using the easily traversible route along the lake shore. Moreover, the Modocs were well aware of an easy escape route to the south over the flat surfaces of scattered remnants of the lava plateau, whereas one unfamiliar with that terrain would flounder painfully and slowly across the heavily fissured and schollendomed country that surrounds these plateau remnants.

Still another unusual topographic feature, a natural cattle corral, was vital in helping the Modocs withstand the winter siege. Just west of the Stronghold encampment is a small and deep collapse basin, bounded on three sides by the steep and heavily crevassed sides of three large schollendomes, and on the fourth (east) side by the steep and deeply fissured turndown flap of the plateau. Miraculously, these bordering fissures along the edge of the plateau die out about 200 meters to the south. Here a smooth and easily traversed slope leads down off the surface of the plateau and northward through a narrow "gate" across the end of the southern schollendome into the natural cattle corral. Stray cattle on the southern plains, and others captured in Modoc raids, were driven north across the plateau remnants and into this natural corral, where they could be securely penned in by piling a wall of rocks and brush across the narrow gate (see map). Thus an adequate supply of beef was available throughout the winter.

Assault of January 17, 1893. Meanwhile the Army, stung by their lack of success in "rounding up" the Indians and shocked by the murder of 14 settlers by the retreating Modocs after the Lost River confrontation, were preparing for a second attempt. Additional troops were called in from other Army posts, and groups of volunteers from Oregon and California (whose enlistment period was only for 30 days) were hastily organized and haphazardly trained. Also recruited were unorganized volunteers and labor support from nearby towns and ranches. By early January 400 "fighting men" were "raring to go." Lieutenant Colonel Frank Wheaton set January 17 for the attack on the Modoc's encampment. At that time their natural fortress was unnamed; it soon became known as Captain Jack's stronghold.

Colonel Wheaton's strategy was a pincers movement from both west and east. Three hundred men were to be committed to battle; 100 held in reserve, captain Green's cavalry (but dismounted as foot troops) along with contingents of Oregon and California volunteers were to bear the brunt of the fighting and attack from the west, Captain Bernard's smaller command was to advance from the east, primarily as a holding force to keep the Modocs from escaping along the lakeshore lowlands. On January 16 the troops moved into position from their training areas. Green's forces marched 13 miles across rough country to a position on the bluff overlooking the southwest corner of Tule Lake (near Gillem's camp on modern maps). On the same day Bernard's force advanced west over the lowlands adjacent to the south shore of Tule Lake, but because of a heavy fog they probed too far, drew the Modoc's fire, and three men were wounded. Bernard's group then withdrew to an area near Hospital Rock (about 3 kilometers east of the Stronghold) and camped for the night.

The morning of January 17 was cold, and a heavy fog encompassed the area around the lakeshore. Wheaton and Green's troops, although on the march at dawn, were slow in making their way down Gillem's bluff and getting organized into a line of skirmishers as they advanced toward the Stronghold. No doubt Modoc scouts were fully aware of the troop movements since early dawn, but it was after 11 a.m. before Modoc snipers opened fire. The debacle that followed has been chronicled by many; the most detailed account of number of men, their positions, and their movements during the "battle" is in Thompson (1971, Chapter 4, p. 33-45). After wounding and killing several men the Modoc's relinquished a few of their outposts, thus leading the advancing troops eastward until they were enmeshed in the chaos of deep cracks and crevasses within the schollendomed area. Here the Modoc's fire from their natural defense trenches above was accurate and deadly; casualties mounted, and yet not an Indian had been seen by the befuddled troops. By midafternoon all thought of charging up onto the plateau was abandoned; some parts of the line were already in retreat leaving their dead on the field. Captain Green personally led an attempt to round the Stronghold along the lakeshore and make contact with Bernard's command on the east. They suffered many casualties; most retreated or were killed, but a few men remained concealed behind boulders until darkness, and then made their way over to Bernard's position. Captain Green was among them.

Bernard's group had also been in trouble during the day. Casualties were inflicted by unseen Modoc snipers. The terrain, although not as difficult as that on the west side, is extensively schollendomed, and in places it contains treacherous groups of crevasses. After learning by signals that the assault on the west side had failed, a more orderly retreat was begun at 10 p.m. on the east side and it continued through the night.

The day after the rout the Modocs searched the battlefield and recovered much valuable booty (Riddle, 1974, p. 56). They found the ground covered with ammunition, rifles and other kinds of guns where the Oregon volunteers had stampeded in bad order. In the area where most of the casualties of the soldiers had occurred were 9 carbines and 6 belts filled with carbine cartridges. Also recovered was considerable field equipment, boots and clothing.

The outcome of the January 17 assault was thus a spectacular victory for the Modocs. Casualties of the Army and the Oregon and California volunteers totaled 37, and 6 of the dead were left on the field. The Modocs had no casualties. In Thompson's words (1971, p. 43) "Three hundred men had been unable to make the slightest dent on the magnificient union of lava and Indian skills. "

In many written accounts the heavy fog is blamed for the Army's debacle, but a person thoroughly familiar with the terrain can argue effectively that the fog worked to the advantage of the Army, not the Modocs. The Modocs early defense was accomplished entirely by snipers in Modoc outposts. From their secondary natural defense trenches at the top of the plateau, other Modoc defenders could not see through the fog and determine which parts of the Army's line were hung up on fissured ground, which parts were advancing, and which were routed and in retreat. Therefore they could not concentrate their limited manpower to the points where it would be most effective - as they did so successfully later in the disastrous Thomas-Wright ambush.

The Winter Program of "Gradual Compression". The events between January 18 and April 11, 1873 are well summarized in Murray (1968) and additional detail can be found in Thompson (1971, p. 45-65). The Modoc Shaman (Curley Headed Docter) had assured the warriors that they were invincible, and would not suffer a single fatality. After the easy repulse of the January 17 attack they had every reason to believe him. The Army was humiliated. Changes in command took place: Brigadier General E. R. S. Canby and Colonel Alvan C. Gillem were placed in charge, and steps were taken to greatly increase the number of soldiers. The Oregon and California volunteers, who had been so eager to do battle prior to the January 17 assault now had their fill of fighting the Modocs; most of them disappeared the moment their 30-day enlistment was up. Irresolute and conflicting orders also came from the War Department in Washington, D.C. A strong feeling arose that it might be better to try to negotiate with the Modocs than to engage them in battle. A Peace Commission of 5 members was set up, but rapid changes occurred in its membership, and the Commission did not truly have the power to give answers with regard to the Indians two chief concerns: 1. Establishment of a small reservation for the Modocs in the Lava Beds; 2. Escape from the hangman's noose for those who had murdered the Oregon settlers after the Lost River confrontation. Moreover the Indians were growing increasingly concerned with the steady build up of troops nearer and nearer to their Stronghold. Canby was engaged in a program of "gradual compression." By early April, Gillem's Camp, at the southwest corner of Tule Lake, and only 3 miles from the Stronghold, contained 350 soldiers. On April 6 Captain Mason moved 5 companies of foot soldiers to Hospital Rock, only 2 miles to the east.

Dissension about future tactics also arose in the Modoc's camp. From their point of view the meetings with the Peace Commission had been completely fruitless, and immediately after each meeting Canby had moved additional troops nearer to the Stronghold. This program of "gradual compression" after each meeting could only lead to frustration, and a final explosion of the Modocs.

One of the Modocs proposed that one more Peace meeting be held at which General Canby, A. B. Meacham, the head of the Peace Commission, and the other members in attendance would be murdered. This audacious idea captured the fancy of many of the Modoc warriors. They reasoned that if the General in charge of operations, and the head of the Peace Commission were simultaneously put out of the way the soldiers might withdraw. Captain Jack knew better, and vigorously opposed the plan, but some of his colleagues taunted him as a coward, pushed him to the ground, and placed women's clothing upon him. His manhood thus called into question, Jack agreed with the plan, and said that he would be the one to murder Canby.

This treacherous plan was learned by Toby Riddle (Winema), a Modoc woman married to a white man, Frank Riddle. The Riddles had served as interpreters during the Peace negotiations. She warned Canby and Meacham of the plan and begged them not to hold another meeting. They did refuse a meeting for the following day, but after Captain Jack formally requested a meeting for April 11, to be held in the "peace tent" located between Gillem's Camp and the Stronghold, Canby agreed. He "assured the Commissioners that the Modocs would 'dare not molest us because (our) troops commanded the situation'" (Thompson, 1971, p. 59).

The meeting was held. Canby and Jack immediately argued over peace terms. Jack gave the sign, pulled his gun, and killed Canby. Simultaneously Thomas was killed. Meacham was shot several times, but survived because Toby Riddle deflected Schonchin John's aim. She also stopped an attempt by Boston Charley to scalp Meacham. L. S. Dyer and Frank Riddle ran the moment Jack pulled his gun, and each successfully evaded bullets fired by pursuing Modocs.

Assault of April 15-17, 1893. The tragedy of April 11 spurred both the War Department and the local Army command into action. Gillem's and Mason's soldiers were already poised on either side of the stronghold. Mason had 300 men, and in addition 70 Warm Springs Indians were riding from their reservation to the north to join him as scouts in time for the battle. The western command under Colonel Gillem and Captain Green already had 375 soldiers at Gillem's Camp. Surely 675 troops plus 70 Indian scouts was sufficient to capture or exterminate 53 Modoc warriors! Wheaton had realized that Coehorn mortars would be more effective than the low-trajectory howitzers in displacing the Modocs from caves and rock trenches. Many mortars had arrived and were ready to be moved into action. Wheaton, from his January 17 experience, had also passed on to his successors that the east side of the Stronghold was much more vulnerable to attack than the west side, but this excellent advice was totally disregarded.

Gillem set April 15 for the assault. Its planning, execution, and final results were almost a carbon copy of the assault of January 17th, except that this time the scenario was played in slow motion. On the night of April 14-15 the soldiers edged gingerly forward in the darkness until they occupied roughly the same positions that the troops of January 17 had reached when they came under Modoc fire. But in this second assault the troops were prepared to stay and hold on. As the troops on the west side were moving into position under cover of darkness a soldier lost his footing among the jagged rocks and his rifle accidentally fired. Thus the Modoc's were alerted, and their cries of warning were passed along throughout the perimeter of the Stronghold. The soldiers immediately bivouacked in place, throwing up rock forts as shelters.

The soldiers on the east side had already constructed numerous low forts of loose rock, and a rock-wall line of defense before the date for the assault was set. The lesson of the value of rock shelters had been well-learned in the January 17 assault. When the Modocs cried out their alert, the troops on the east paused for the night in these shelters.

The next day (April 15) mortar and howitzer shells were poured into the Modoc's encampment, and the troops began a cautious and slow advance. They immediately drew the Modoc's fire. Some success was attained in the early afternoon when Green's troops displaced a few Modoc snipers, who escaped safely to their defense trenches on the margin of the plateau, but not until they had taken a toll of casualties from the advancing troops. As the night of April 15-16 approached, Green ordered his troops to straighten their line and build forts of loose rock, or else find shelter in rock crevices for the night. The advance on the east side had been even more slow and cautious. Throughout this night the artillery sent bursts from their mortars and howitzers toward the Modoc encampment.

On the second day of fighting (April 16) the artillery continued to pour mortar and howitzer shells into the Modoc's lair, and the foot soldiers advanced slowly. An attempt to push forward strongly on the south flank of the west side failed completely. On the eastern front Mason's troops came under sniper fire from their rear as well as in the direction of advance, and were pinned down for most of the day. It became obvious that it would be too costly to try to take the Stronghold by direct charge. The strategy was changed to attempting a simultaneous advance along the lakeshore which would cut off the Modoc's water supply. Reports disagree on whether a real junction of the two forces was made, but at least the soldiers approached close enough to bring any Modoc seeking water under fire. Throughout the night mortar shells were lobbed continuously at the Modoc's positions, and this activity was doubtless far more effective than the desultory and inaccurate rifle fire of the foot troops against an enemy that they could not see. At any rate, it was during this night that the women, children, and most of the Modoc warriors withdrew to the south, undoubtedly following the well-known route across the flat-topped remnants of the lava plateau along which the Modocs had driven cattle into the natural corral. A few Modoc warriors remained through most of the night to harass and taunt the troops "in very plain, if not classical English" (Thompson, 1971, p. 74).

On the morning of April 17 the artillery stopped pouring shells into the Stronghold, and troops on both east and west sides began a cautious advance. No sounds came from the Modoc's position, no shots were fired, and so soldiers in parts of the Army line advanced more rapidly and soon were on top of the plateau within the Stronghold area. They found it completely deserted. Many soldiers, however, delayed and were still hiding behind their rock shelters. Colonel Gillem, angry at their unwillingness to fight "got upon the highest rock available and ordered repeatedly 'Forward,' 'Forward,' until finally Mason's Troop G under Captain Bernard came up to join with Green in sweeping the area." (Thompson, 1971, p. 75).

It was an empty "sweep." Over 650 Army regulars had spent 3 days and 3 nights in "battle" and had suffered 23 casualties (6 killed, 17 wounded). Their attempt to "round up" or else "exterminate" the Modocs was a complete failure, even though they now occupied the Modoc's Stronghold.

The Modocs, however, had suffered a few casualties as well, and so the Shaman's pronouncement of invincibility was discredited. It is reliably reported that one Modoc warrior was killed by a mortar shell, and very likely two additional Modocs died from the shelling. Sergeant Fitzgerald reported that the severed head of a Modoc was being kicked about by the troops after their entry into the Stronghold, and William Simpson, an English newspaper reporter, drew a picture of a soldier holding the scalp of a Modoc man, erroneously reported to be Scar-Faced Charley (who, however, was still alive and out of the Stronghold). One aged Indian squaw, crawling through the rocks in an attempt to get to water was captured, and then summarily shot through the head. In this war savagery was not restricted to people of one culture or one color.

The Modoc's Withdrawal Route. Much nonsense has been written in Army Reports, as well as by historians and other writers, about the route by which 150-170 people, mostly women and children, were able to escape from the Stronghold undetected. It was inconceivable to the Army command that they could slip away so silently in the night without the soldiers' knowledge. The Warm Springs Indians, hired as mercenaries, were suspected of being traitors to their contract and of allowing the Modocs to "escape up a gulley," near the line that the Warm Springs held at the southeast end of the eastern front. Historians, as well, have appealed to the finger-like collapse draws south of the Stronghold, plus connivance with the Warm Springs scouts. Yet an observer who walks through these draws on the ground finds them so cluttered with schollendomes and riven with deep cracks and crevasses that it would be quite impossible to get such a large group through, along with their dogs and horses in one night's time. Even more fanciful are the written statements in some serious reports that the Modocs "slipped past the Warm Springs scouts in a large lava trench" (no such "trench" or "gulley" is there), or the less ambiguous (but quite impossible) statement that they "disappeared into the Schonchin Flow."

To a topographic engineer or to a geologist equipped with modern airplane photographs of the terrain, the escape route of the Modocs is obvious. They simply walked south and then southeast at a brisk pace on the remnants of the surface of the lava plateau (see map), avoiding the collapse basins which dimple parts of the plateau, and the turndown flaps and schollendomes which clutter the borders of the plateau remnants. The route is precisely the same as the one along which the Modocs had driven over 100 stray and stolen cattle into the natural corral from the plains and highlands to the southeast. In the area of our map the northern end of this trail is shown by a broken line symbol. Note that its closest point to the Warm Springs position is about 1/2 mile (750 meters) but that it is not far from the Modoc natural defense trenches at the top of the turndown flap on the west edge of the plateau. Here the Modocs had totally broken an effort of the soldiers to "push forward strongly" during the previous day's fighting.

Rock Fortifications Constructed by the Army. Where had the Modocs gone? Would they return? Was their disappearance only a ruse preliminary to a surprise attack? Colonel Gillem and his troops did not know. It was obvious that a few Modocs were still around, for the occasional crack of a sniper a rifle was heard, and now and then an Indian could be seen out of rifle range walking on the southern plateau remnants, and others bathed in the lake. So the next few days after the occupation were spent in hastily throwing up rock forts and rock walls for defense in case the Modocs decided to return. Over 200 of these fortifications have been located and are large enough to be shown by appropriate symbols on our map. Another 30 or 40, including a long but discontinuous rock wall, were put up by Mason's troops before the April assault - they constitute the easternmost line of forts and walls shown on the map.

During this activity the troops also discovered that the easiest travel in the area is on the surface of the lava plateau, and they selected and fortified with 10 larger and stronger "hollow-square" forts an east-west line of easy travel across the plateau remnants south of the Modoc's former living quarters. The outer trail, constructed by the Park Service, follows this line of forts in its east-west course (see map).

The Thomas-Wright Ambush. Colonel Gillem decided to send out patrols in an attempt to find out where the Modocs had gone. Bernard headed a cavalry patrol to the east and northwest, and a second patrol under Perry rode to the southeast on the same day. Near Dry Lake some Warm Springs Indians, riding with Perry, caught, killed and scalped two Modocs. When the Warm Springs returned on April 21 they also brought information that some Modoc warriors were in the Lava Beds about 4 miles south of the Stronghold near a light colored butte (now known as Hardin Butte). Gillem first sent a small patrol to investigate, and then decided to send a large patrol to see if it was feasible to set mortars on Hardin Butte to shell the Modocs in their new hideout. It seems clear from other evidence that only a few Modoc warriors were near Hardin Butte. The route of withdrawal of the Modocs was southeast toward Big Sand Butte and Dry Lake.

The large patrol started for Hardin Butte from Gillem's Camp on April 26. Captain Evan Thomas, son the Adjutant General (retired) Lorenzo Thomas, was in charge. With Evans were the sons of two other Army Generals: Lieutenant Thomas F. Wright and Lieutenant Albion Howe. None of the three had any experience fighting Indians. The patrol moved along slowly from Gillem's Camp, and just before noon they entered an amphitheater bounded by low ridges on the east, south, and west, and located near the west base of Hardin Butte. It is reported that "old hands" among the foot soldiers had been worried on the march by the lack of experience of the officers, and by the careless way in which the patrol trudged along in a compact column without deploying skirmishers to the sides. Indeed it is reported that Sergeant Romer became disgusted, climbed up the ridge on the west and acted as a flanking guard for part of the journey.

When the patrol reached the floor of the amphitheater Captain Thomas called a halt for lunch. The troops sat in small groups on the sandy ground, and many took their boots off. While the men were resting and eating, Captain Thomas with three other soldiers began to climb the low ridge on the south at the head of the amphitheater. Before they had gone far rifle fire came from the very pile of rocks that they had set out to reach. Lieutenant Wright reacted at once by ordering a "set of fours" up the ridge to the southeast; these four men immediately were fired on; they turned and ran back to Wright's position in the middle of the amphitheater. Thomas then ordered Wright to advance with all of Company E onto the opposite ridge (west of the amphitheater). Again the Modocs fired from rock piles in the top of this ridge, but Wright and some of his men continued, only to die in the attempt. Others turned and ran. Meanwhile Lieutenant Cranston had taken 5 men to the northeast, hoping to climb high enough onto Hardin Butte to signal Gillem's Camp. All six were killed when they reached the Butte.

The soldiers in the amphitheater were in a state of confusion - many broke and ran toward Gillem's Camp. Those who remained were pinned down on the sandy floor with little or no protection by either rocks or bush. Most were killed or wounded. Although the first survivor of those who ran reached Gillem's Camp before 2 p.m., his story was not believed. Rescue parties were not organized or under way until nearly dark. It was the following day before they picked up the wounded, and buried the dead at the points were they found them. No Modocs were at hand to contest the operations. The return to camp was not attempted until after dark. It was shortly after dawn on April 28 when they straggled into Gillem's Camp.

This stunning victory of the Modocs was accomplished by Scar-Faced Charley with only a few men. Most of the Modoc warriors were on the other side of the Schonchin Flow, far to the southeast. Charley's small band evidently remained behind to check on what was going on in the Stronghold and at Gillem's Camp, and also to protect the rear of the departing Modocs. It is likely that he had less than a half dozen men, and they may have staged the ambush on the spur of the moment because of the fear of being trapped against the west wall of the Schonchin Flow. The only crossing of this flow that is negotiable without hours of slow plodding over treacherous loose lava blocks is just north of the base of Hardin Butte.

From the standpoint of the Army the results of this battle are succinctly summed up in a report from Lieutenant Jocelyn. stationed at Camp Warner: "We have sickening news again from the Lava Beds."

Twenty-five men were killed, and 16 wounded - most of them seriously. In historian Thompson's words (1971, p. 91): "Two-thirds of the patrol had fallen victim to the Modocs accurate rifle fire. The rest had run." Again a ring of rock clefts and loose boulders in a schollendomed area had been used with expert precision by Modoc snipers.

Dissension, Flight, Betrayal, and Surrender. Why had the Modocs left their natural fortress? We surmise that two events may have played important roles. Obviously the slow inward "Program of Gradual Compression" had its effect in generating frustration and fear. But very likely the shelling by mortars and howitzers during the April attack was the real cause which forced the Modocs to withdraw. During the day and night of April 16 it is reported that the lobbing of shells into the Modoc encampment was almost continuous (Thompson, 1971, p. 72-73). The effects of such shelling on a resident population including women and children was heightened by the fact that the shells also killed one or more warriors. The Shaman's claim that Modoc defenders would never die in battle was proved incorrect.

No matter what the reasons, the task of the Army in rounding up the Modocs now became one of movement and fluidity, instead of a siege. In this new situation the Modocs, deprived of nearby sources of water and food, and encumbered by women, children and the aged, could not forever withstand the probing of cavalry patrols from a well-equipped and well-fed army of over 1,000 men. Nevertheless the retreating Modocs were still a dangerous force to cope with. On May 7 they raided a train of 4 wagons, drove off its escort of 15 to 20 men - 3 of whom suffered wounds - and captured 11 mules and 3 horses. The wagons were empty - the train was on its way to pick up quartermaster supplies - so the Modocs burned them. Three days later, at dawn on May 10, the Modocs surrounded an Army patrol camped for the night near Dry Lake. This time, however, the soldiers stood their ground and drove the Modocs off. Eight troops were wounded, 3 of whom later died, but the Modocs also lost two men killed, one of them the popular leader Ellen's-Man George.

Dissension and betrayal now became important factors in bringing the fighting to an end. The Modocs quarreled bitterly after the Dry Lake battle, and split into two camps. One group who formerly lived mainly along Hot Creek, near Dorris, turned west toward their original homeland. The other and smaller group under Captain Jack remained for the present in the neighborhood of Dry Lake and Big Sand Butte. Army patrols continued to reconnoiter through this area for days, occasionally seeing one or more Modocs. Rock fortifications that the soldiers put up near Dry Lake and south of Big Sand Butte are numerous, and well preserved to this day. Moreover, the visitor who will search out the highest points on this nearly flat plain generally will be rewarded by finding the open fretwork of stones with which a Modoc sniper had camouflaged his observation position.

The Hot Springs group ran into trouble while traveling west. Colonel Jefferson C. Davis, who succeeded to Canby's command, arrived in the lava beds on May 2. He soon broke up the large concentrations of soldiers at Gillem's Camp, the Stronghold, and Hospital Rock into many roving patrols of large size who would live in the Lava Beds "where they could fight at the first opportunity, or could rest and take things easy, like the Indians." Two such patrols picked up the trail of the Hot Creek band. One caught up with and gave chase to the Indians - who scattered in all directions through the rocks, mountain mahogany, and junipers. But 5 Modocs were killed - 3 women and 2 men - and several women, children and horses were captured. Davis ordered his units to regroup, and then continue to harass these Indians, but before they could again take up the chase some Modocs came to the Fairchild Ranch and reported that the Indians wanted to surrender (Thompson, 1971, p. 105; Riddle, 1974, p. 128). Davis sent two Indian women that he had employed on other missions to seek out the Modocs and give them the terms of surrender.

John Fairchild and his wife also went up the mountain with them. After a short discussion Scar-Faced Charley took the lead in persuading his people to surrender without further bloodshed. Eventually 63 Modoc men, women and children came off the mountain and surrendered. They were a sorry-looking group: clothes in tatters; many lame, sick or injured; and "half-naked children and aged squaws who could scarcely hobble". Hooker Jim, "the Lost River murderer," was not among them, but he came in and surrendered a little later.

Davis' avowed purpose, however, was to catch Captain Jack and to hang him forthwith for the murder of Canby. He lost no time in accelerating the search. Davis had learned the value of hiring Indians to catch Indians, so he immediately hired Steamboat Frank, Hooker Jim, Bogus Charley, and Shacknasty Jim to find Captain Jack (Thompson, 1971, p. 110; Riddle, 1974, p 164). These were the very same Modocs who had taunted Captain Jack into killing Canby. Davis also sent along the two Indian women who had helped arrange the surrender of the Hot Creek group.

Within a week these Modocs, now turned informer, and riding well-fed Army horses, had located Captain Jack's band camped along Willow Creek in a wild and mountainous area east of Clear Lake. A large contingent of troops moved in, and while the traitor Bogus Charley was talking with Captain Jack about surrender, the troops came upon the Indian camp a few hundred meters away and fired a volley of shots into it (Riddle, 1974, p. 147). The hunted Modocs scattered, leaving most of their guns, ammunition, and equipment. Eight Modoc women and some children were taken prisoner, among them Jack's two wives and child. Jack and a few others dashed into a thicket of willows, waited until darkness, and then escaped.

The chase continued. Before it was over Jack and the few members still left in his band had raced approximately 200 miles, first in the rough country along Willow Creek, then to Langell valley and Bryant Mountain in Oregon, and back to Clear Lake and the lower part of Willow Creek again. But the odds against survival were too overwhelming; the mounted patrols, now aided by skilled Indian trackers, had picked up his trail at many points, and on June 1, 1873 they closed in. Again Scar-Faced Charley helped in pursuading both Modocs and soldiers to refrain from further bloodshed. Captain Jack, along with two men, three women, and several children surrendered. Another Modoc warrior, Ben Lawyer with his wife, boy, and aged father and mother came in a few days later.

The remainder of the Modoc's story is a record that contributes little of honor to either victor or vanquished. Davis, intent on revenging Canby, planned to hang Captain Jack publicly within a few days after capture, but he was frustrated by a ruling from Washington that penalties must be decided by the courts. The results of the trial were predictable. Captain Jack, Schonchin John, Boston Charley, and Black Jim were hanged. Slolock and Barncho, who also were in the vicinity of the peace tent but did not take part in the actual killings, were sentenced to life at Alcatraz. Five wounded Modoc prisoners were killed by two unknown assasins while being transported to jail at Fort Klamath. Another Modoc committed suicide after capture. The remaining Modocs, 155 men, women, and children, were banished to a barren tract of land, 5-3/4 square miles in area (2.5 miles on a side) near the Quapaw Indian Agency in Oklahoma. Confinement, disease, and poverty then accomplished more than had the efforts of over 1,000 troops. Some few survivors were given permission to return to the Klamath Reservation in Oregon after 1909.

The Modoc's eternal monument is the natural fortress of the Stronghold, which remains just the same today as when it was formed by the congealing and creeping forward of a large flow of lava more than one million years ago.

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Last Updated: 28-Mar-2006