The Great Lava Bed Wars: Leading Up to the War


The first known explorers from the United States to come through Modoc country were John Charles Fremont together with Kit Carson in 1843. In the early evening of May 9th, 1846, Fremont received a message brought to him by Lieutenant Archibald Gillespie, from President James Polk about a possible war with Mexico.

Reviewing the messages, Fremont neglected the customary measure of posting a watchman for the camp. By doing so, it was clear Carson, had “apprehended no danger.”

Later that night Carson awakened to the sound of a thump. Jumping up, he saw his friend and fellow trapper Basil Lajeunesse sprawled ou on the ground in blood.

Carson sounded an alarm as he realized the camp was under attack by Native Americans, estimated to be several dozen in number. By the time the attacked end, two more members of Fremont’s group were dead.

The one dead attacker, it turned out, was a Klamath Lake native. Fremont’s group fell into was he described as “an angry gloom.”

To avenge the deaths,  the following day, Fremont attacked a Klamath Tribe fishing village named Dokdokwas, where the Williamson River and Klamath Lake meet.  The village, it is now known, had nothing to do with the attack from the night before.

It’s generally agree Fremont and Carson, chose the wrong tribe to lash out against and that in all likelihood the band that had killed Fremont’s men were from the neighboring Modoc. The attack destroyed the village structures; one of Fremont’s men, by the name of Sides reports the expedition killed women and children as well as warriors.

The Klamaths are culturally related to the Modocs, but the two peoples were bitter enemies.

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