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Events on tap to recall Modoc War

A historical marker designates a site along Lost River near where the Modoc War started. [Photo by Lee Juillerat]
The site of Bloody Point, where members of a wagon train were killed. [Photo by Lee Juillerat]

Many of the battles fought during the Modoc War happened in what is now Lava Beds National Monument while several key conflicts, including the Battle of Lost River, which happened Nov. 29, 1872, were fought at sites near the present-day cities of Malin, Merrill and Tulelake.

To commemorate the 150th anniversary, Lava Beds National Monument, the Klamath County Museum and other groups are planning a series of activities.

Planned Tuesday are two free half-day auto tours of sites connected to the Modoc War, followed by the showing of an hourlong film, “Modoc Nation: An Untold Story of Survival,” produced by the Modoc Nation, at 6 p.m. at the Broadway Theater in Malin. Admission is free.

Both tours, which begin at the Merrill Museum in Merrill, are full or are nearly full — contact the museum for availability. It’s also requested that people with reservations who cannot attend inform the museum.

A daylong driving tour set for Dec. 10 also is nearly full. More driving tours may be arranged, depending on demand.

For information, including tour reservations, call the Klamath County Museum at 541-882-1000.

The Modoc War officially began Nov. 29, 1872, along Lost River near Merrill, but other events led up to the conflict. Places where several prewar events took place are featured on the tours.

Along with offering tours — and more may be scheduled depending on demand — the Klamath County Museum recently opened a new Modoc War exhibit that features documents and artifacts dating from the war, including letters from Army troops involved in the war, transcripts of comments made by Modoc leader Captain Jack at his trial, accounts of battles by troops and various artifacts, including rifles, swords and items that belonged to Toby Riddle, best remembered as Winema.

Museum curator Matt Voelkel said he’s working with the Klamath Tribes and Modoc Nation “so we can get their input” on events related to the war.

The car caravan tours offer insights into places where important events before and during the Modoc War took place. During a recent tour, Malin historian Ryan Bartholomew, Voelkel and Klamath County Museum Manager Todd Kepple led a small convoy to several historical sites.

The series of stops began at the Stone Bridge, location of a stone monument along the Lost River, where trip leaders discussed the Nov. 29, 1872, Battle of Lost River. A day earlier, 35 troops from Fort Klamath were sent to apprehend Modocs led by Captain Jack and return them to the Klamath Reservation. That effort failed, with some Army soldiers and Modocs killed before the battle ended.

Speakers noted that near the Lost River Battle site is the location of the Ben Wright Massacre. Under the pretext of a truce, on either Nov. 8 or 15, 1872, Wright and other vigilantes killed, according to varying accounts, between 30 and 90 Modocs at a Modoc camp along the river.

Bartholomew said the Lost River area figures prominently in pioneer settlement history. Before the Modoc War, the Lost River and surrounding region was explored by Peter Skeen Ogden and John C. Fremont and later became part of Applegate Trail. Before the war, there was reportedly a discussion between Captain Jack, who it’s believed was born at a Modoc camp along the river, with Jesse Applegate. When told by Applegate there were plans for a railroad, Jack is said to have responded, “Our ponies are good enough. We don’t need a railroad here.”

The tour passed near the Crawley Cabin, which Bartholomew said was the Army’s first headquarters after the 1872 battle. The two soldiers who died and others wounded in the Nov. 29 battle were taken to the cabin. A marker along Highway 39 indicates the cabin site.

The drive along the Old Malin Road included a stop at a highway turnout called Adams Point, where, a week after the war’s end, two masked men looking for Hooker Jim stopped wagons led by John and James Fairchild that were carrying 17 unarmed Hot Creek Modoc prisoners to Boyles Camp near present day Newell.

The men sought Hooker Jim because after the Lost River battle, he and other Hot Creeks rode to homesteads and killed several men and boys. Hooker Jim reportedly felt double-crossed because the Modocs had not been informed by the settlers that Army troops were being sent to move them back to the Klamath Reservation. Likewise, the settlers had not been told about the troops. After learning Hooker Jim was not among the prisoners, the masked men shot and killed four Modocs. Among those murdered was Tehee Jack, who has many descendants, including Cheewa James and the late Edison Chiloquin.

Stories about Hooker Jim figured prominently during the tour. Because he feared he and other Hot Creek Modocs who had murdered the settlers would be killed if they surrendered, Jim led efforts to force Captain Jack to agree to kill Army Gen. R.S. Canby during peace talks, calling Jack a “fish-hearted woman.”

Later, after the Modocs were defeated in the Battle of Dry Lake, a location just east of present-day Lava Beds National Monument, Hooker Jim and his band left Jack and surrendered to the Army. Then as a member of the “Modoc Bloodhounds,” who were paid by the Army, he helped troops locate and capture Captain Jack.

According to Jeff Riddle, son of Toby Riddle, better known as Winema, he was referring to Hooker Jim when he wrote, “There are human devils in all nations. A devil among us.”

Army Gen. Jefferson Davis, who took over after Canby’s death, said Hooker Jim was an “outlaw to all mankind.”

Another prewar battle site, Bloody Point, also was visited. Bartholomew said two roadside interpretive signs recently installed by the Bureau of Land Management have generated debate over whether they accurately pinpoint the correct location Bloody Point. Although accounts vary, in 1850 Modocs attacked a wagon train of gold seekers and settlers, killing upward of 80 people. The incident and other killings were cited by Ben Wright in justifying the 1852 massacre.

Not all the talks focused around the war. Tour participants also learned that in 1846 the area near the Oregon-California border marked the boundary between the United States and Mexico. It was also explained that Turkey Hill, located along the Old Malin Highway, was so named because, at its peak, ranchers had upward of 41,000 free roaming turkeys.

Another story involved legendary western author Zane Grey, whose book “Forlorn River” is set in the Lost River and Lava Beds areas. While researching the book, Grey stayed on a nearby ranch that was a setting for the book.

Another stop was along Highway 139 near the community of Newell. Near a stone monument about Lava Beds is a cross with a small plaque. Unknown to most travelers, the cross honors two Warm Springs Indians who, while helping Army troops, died in the Battle of Dry Lake, the final battle of the Modoc War.

Over the next several months, a series of events will mark the 150th anniversary of the Modoc War. To learn more, contact Lava Beds National Monument at nps.gov/labe or 530-667-8110, or call the Klamath County Museum at 541-882-1000.

Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at 337lee337@charter.net or 541-880-4139.