Carrying on

Carrying on

Jim Compton's legacy didn't die with his death.

In March 2014, two months after finishing the manuscript for a book on the 1872-73 Modoc War, "Spirit in the Rock: The Fierce Battle for Modoc Homelands," Compton unexpectedly died.

For his widow, Carol Arnold Compton, there was never any question that she would push for it to be published. A retired trial lawyer, she had been intimately involved during the several years her husband had been researching and writing. Following his death, she edited and submitted his manuscript.

"He worked on this forever. He was seriously working on it since the 1980s," Compton said, noting she found letters from 1983. "He rented an office, and it was entirely full of his Modoc materials."

Jim Compton was born in the Portland area but moved with his family to Klamath Falls as a young boy, where he learned about the Modoc War.

"He lived here pretty much nonstop," Carol Compton said, noting he graduated from Klamath Union High School before graduating from Reed College, spent a year with the merchant marine, earned a degree from Columbia University School of Journalism and received two Fulbright Scholarships in Eastern Europe.

He was an international correspondent for NBC in London and Cairo covering Europe, Africa and the Soviet Union. Compton later settled in Seattle, where he created and hosted a weekly program, "The Compton Report," for 10 years. From 1999 to 2006, he was a member of Seattle City Council.

"I think he enjoyed covering the City Council more than being on it," she laughed.

On their first date — the two met during a council work session — Carol said he talked to her, and as she learned, "anybody who would listen," about the Modoc War and his plans to write a book. After their 2004 marriage, he sometimes suggested his wife, a self-described "frustrated historian" who has a master's degree in history, write the book.

"He told me, 'You're the historian and scholar.' I said, no, you do it."

She said her husband made frequent Klamath Basin visits, meeting with Ryan Bartholomew, Steve Kandra, Klamath County Museums Director Todd Kepple, staff at the Shaw Historical Library and others with knowledge and data on the war. They often met with Debra Riddle, who later was given some Modoc skulls, and her mother, Christine.

On New Year's Eve in 1992, officials at Lava Beds National Monument, where most of the war was fought, allowed him to spend a night in Captain Jack's Cave. He wrote of the experience, "It was bitterly cold, with a light snow falling and a sharp wind from the north. The cave is at the bottom of a deep bowl of jumbled boulders, and the irregular ceiling requires that a person crouch to enter. It is really nothing more than a craggy ledge affording a few small feet of shelter under the rock."

"I tried not to mess with his voice," Carol Compton said of editing the book. Noting his journalistic background, "He intentionally used simple sentences. I tried to keep that, to keep it straightforward. In editing it, I came to appreciate the really brilliant job he did. He took all this information. The way he told the story, I could see it happening."

Compton believes he succeeded in including "Indian voices," noting, "He found the Modocs and their stories." The books include letters from Army soldiers stuck for months in a ragged landscape. "He captured that boredom and tedium."

In the book, the Applegate family and Jesse Carr, who owned lands near the Modocs historical villages along the Lost River, are portrayed as key figures in inciting the conflict so they could obtain the lands for cattle operations, irrigation ditches and an unrealized railroad — a "land grab."

According to Compton, Jesse Applegate had business schemes that would destroy Captain Jack's village, forever sever the Lost River Modocs from their homeland, and bring on the Modoc War.

Compton notes that while some Klamath Indians served with Army troops and provoked Modocs on their shared reservation, they quietly assisted the Modocs during the fighting. According to Compton, during Captain Jack's murder trial, he told the tribunal "the Klamaths had indeed provided his warriors with guns and ammunition, and fired their rifles in the air rather than at the Modocs."

Following his years of research and writing, Jim Compton's book is now available through the Washington State University Press.

Carol Compton will present a program at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12, at the Klamath County Museum, 1451 Main St., Klamath Falls, called "The Modoc War: Why it Matters." Books will be available. She will also participate in a book signing Friday, Oct. 13, at the Basin Book Trader, 5507 S. Sixth St., Klamath Falls.

While she's delighted to see the book published and is eager to promote it, she expresses mixed emotions. "Yes, it is exciting," Compton said. "I'm sorry Jim didn't get to see it. He would have loved it."

— Reach freelance reporter Lee Juillerat at or 541-880-4139.




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