The Great Lava Bed Wars: Mistreatment by the Klamath

Alfred B. Meacham

Shortly after the Modoc started building their homes, however, the Klamath, longtime rivals, began to steal the Modoc lumber. The Modoc complained, but the U.S. Indian agent could not protect them against the Klamath.

Captain Jack’s band moved to another part of the reservation. Several attempts were made to find a suitable location, but the Klamath continued to harass the band.

In 1870 Captain Jack and his band of nearly 200 left the reservation and returned to Lost River. During the months that his band had been on the reservation, a number of settlers had taken up former Modoc land in the Lost River region.

Acknowledging the bad feeling between the Modoc and the Klamath, Alfred Meacham recommended to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington D.C. that Captain Jack’s Modoc band be given a separate reservation at Yainax, in the lower southern part of the reservation. Pending a decision, Meacham instructed Captain Jack to stay at Clear Lake.

Meanwhile, Oregon settlers complained Modoc warriors roamed the countryside raiding the settlers; they petitioned Meacham to return the Modoc to the Klamath Reservation. In part, there was raiding because the U.S. did not adequately supply the Modoc on the reservation with food.

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs never responded to Meacham’s request for a separate reservation for the Modoc. After hearing more complaints from settlers, Meacham requested General Edward Canby, Commanding General of the Department of the Columbia, to move Captain Jack’s band to Yainax on the Klamath Reservation, his recommended site for their use.

Canby forwarded Meacham’s request to General John Schofield, Commanding General of the Pacific, suggesting that before using force, peaceful efforts should be made.

In the middle of the crisis, the Commission of Indian Affairs replaced Meacham, appointing T.B. Odeneal as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon. He knew  nothing of the background of the situation and had never met Jack or the Modocs but was charged with getting them to leave Lost River.

In turn, Odeneal appointed a new US Indian agent, who was also unfamiliar with the parties and conditions.

On April 3rd, 1872, Major Elmer Otis held a council with Captain Jack at Lost River Gap, near what is now Olene, Oregon. At the council, Major Otis presented Captain Jack with some settlers who complained about the behavior of Jack’s men, and Captain Jack countered that it was the Modoc who were being abused and unjustly accused of crimes which other Indians had committed.

Although the council’s results were inconclusive, Otis resolved to remove Jack’s band of Modoc to the Klamath Reservation. He needed reinforcements and recommended waiting until later in the year, when he could put the Modoc at a disadvantage.

On April 12th, the Commission of Indian Affairs directed Odeneal to move Captain Jack and his Modoc to the reservation if practicable. He was to ensure the tribe was protected from the Klamath.

On May 14th, Odeneal sent Ivan D. Applegate and L.S. Dyer to arrange for a council with Captain Jack, which the latter refused. On July 6th, 1872, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs repeated his direction to Odeneal to move Captain Jack and his band to the Klamath Reservation, peacefully if possible, but forcibly if necessary.

Minor skirmishes occurred during the summer and early fall, but some of the settlers in California were sympathetic to the Modoc, as they had gotten along well with them before. The settlers knew the Modoc were being mistreated.

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