Modoc Vengeance |

Modoc Vengeance

In late 1872 a small group of Modoc Indians led by Captain Jack (and others) refused to relocate from their homes in southern Oregon to the Klamath Reservation. When federal troops made a move to force their removal, some of the Modocs retaliated by attacking settlers. They killed several men and boys, terrified women and girls, and retreated into the lava beds of the region that is now Lava Beds National Park.  

Settlers fortified their homes and banded together in defense while the federal army brought troops in who would dislodge the Modocs and force them to the reservation. 

Over the course of months the story played out with the Indians well-concealed in the natural caves and rough terrain of the lava beds, where they had feed for horses and cattle that supplied them with a steady source of food.  

The story of this Indian war played out in newspapers of the region, told through reports by regular correspondents who sent dispatches to the San Francisco Chronicle, New York Herald, New York Times, San Francisco Call-Bulletin, Yreka Union, and Yreka Journal. Supplementing their reporting were letters submitted to the newspapers by settlers in the area and affected by the events. 

In Modoc Vengeance: The 1873 Modoc War in Northern California & Southern Oregon, Daniel Woodhead III provides a brief overview of the Modoc War and the correspondents who reported on it, before he lets the reporters and settler participants tell the story. He has reviewed the period newspapers, copied all reports related to the Modoc war, as it was called, and reprinted them in chronological order. 

This lack of interpretation on the part of the author means the reader will “get the news” just the way the people of the day received it. There is nothing to put the story into perspective of context. On the other hand, you will quickly see that the news of one day is likely old — and erroneous — news of the next publication.  

For an example of this, the Yreka Journal reported on Dec. 5, 1872, that George Fiock had written his wife to say “the settlers at Tule Lake have been all killed” and he was headed to that region “to drive his sheep away to safe quarters, since they are running in the midst of where the hostilities prevail.”

Three days later, Dec. 7, 1872, the Yreka Union reported “two more men killed on Lost River, George Fiock and Charles Monroe.” Who had gone to the area to move Fiock’s sheep.  

The San Francisco Chronicle, however, reported on Dec. 9 that “George Fiock, who was reported killed by the Modocs, arrived in town this evening.” One can only imagine the relief this report would have been to Mrs. Fiock! 

These accounts of the hostilities, ramp-up by the military, calls for a peaceful resolution of the issue by the editorial writers of the San Francisco Chronicle, and the fighting that resulted in the Modocs being taken captive (with many killed) and removed to Indian Territory, you definitely get a sense of the prevailing sentiment in the region.  

The addition of numerous photographs of participants on both soldier and Indian sides in the war, illustrations, maps, and descriptions of the people, helps set the context. 

This is not a narrative and interpretive account of the Modoc War, but rather a collection of 19th century writings arranged chronologically. You’ll need to draw your own conclusions about the war, its causes and effects. ❖


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