Built in Northern California to protect settlers from Modoc Indian attacks, the Van Brimmer Cabin now sits on a grassy corner in front of the Klamath County Museum. - Bill Miller

The Van Brimmers' cabin

Why is a relic of the Modoc Indian War sitting on Main Street in Klamath Falls?

They call it the Van Brimmer Cabin, but in the beginning it wasn't a cabin at all.

The Van Brimmer boys, Clint and Daniel, were born in Ohio, but Daniel liked to say he was "born at sea." Their younger brother, Ben, was born in Missouri.

In 1861, the brothers left Missouri and crossed the plains to California, claiming land in Siskiyou County on Willow Creek, just west of Tule Lake and only 13 miles from the Lava Beds.

They built a cabin and barn along the creek and began herding cattle.

It was a potentially dangerous life. This was home to the Modoc Indians, a place where both settlers and Indians lived cautiously side by side, each believing the other was trespassing on the land.

During those first few years on their ranch, relations were good and the brothers apparently lived in peace with their Indian neighbors.

But by 1870, tensions were growing. Federal authorities had made several attempts, without success, to move the Modocs onto a reservation.

The brothers were uneasy. They headed for the nearest pine-covered hills for a supply of logs and hauled them back to the ranch. There the logs were hewn by hand and shakes split from the wood.

They built a milk house spanning the creek that could instantly become a protective fort if trouble should arise. Rifle holes were cut into all four sides of the building, and a door was fashioned from the strongest tree trunks. The brothers were quite sure that no ball from a muzzleloader could penetrate the wood.

By January 1872, 44 settlers had signed a petition asking that the Modocs be forced onto a reservation, and although the military patrolled the area until the end of May, they made no move against the Indians.

In November, the order came. The Modocs and their chief, Kintpuash, known as Captain Jack, must be "compelled" to return to the Klamath Reservation.

By the time Colonel John Ross arrived from Jacksonville at the Van Brimmer ranch with two companies of Southern Oregon volunteer militia on Dec. 12, the brothers were already gone.

"We found the ranch deserted," Ross said, "and a notice on the door to the effect that the proprietor had fled through fear of the Indians."

The milk house was never attacked. The military used it as a storeroom until finally blundering to victory over the tenacious Modocs in June 1873.

In 1880, a fireplace and windows were added to the milk house and it served as a residence until 1928.

In 1949, the National Park Service dismantled the cabin and moved it to the Lava Beds National Monument. Each piece was numbered and even the braided tule leaves that were wedged in cracks between the logs were saved.

Thousands of visitors to the monument walked by the cabin until 1974, when it was moved to the Klamath County Museum. There it celebrates the Van Brimmer brothers — originators of Klamath County's first irrigation project in the early 1900s.

But that's a story for another day.

Update: While attending Civil War vet Peter Knapp's funeral last week, we learned that not only had Peter and his wife's unclaimed ashes remained on a Portland crematorium's shelf for more than 80 years, the remains of their adopted daughter, Jackson County-born Minnie Mae Kilburn, were on another shelf not far away. Alice Knapp, great-great-great niece of Knapp, plans to give Minnie's ashes a proper burial.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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