Tour Locations | The Modoc War: A Homeland Lost
LOCATION 102 | The Modoc War: A Homeland Lost
You should be sitting in a parking lot, with Gillem's bluff on your left, facing a large White Cross. This place is now known as Canby's Cross - named for the white cross erected on a windy September day in 1882 to commemorate the spot where General Canby and Rev. Thomas were killed. This, for me, was the turning point of the war from which the Modoc never recovered.
Even the Modocs as a loosely knit tribe fractured after the killing of Canby and the loss of the Stronghold. Whereas Captain Jack kept on the run with the Lost River Tribes, my great-grandfather and the Hot Creeks had had enough, and surrendered. Shacknasty Jim reached out to his old boss John Fairchild and asked him to please come and escort them in to surrender. And in a turn of events that I've had to reconcile within my own heart as a Modoc, after their surrender, Hooker Jim - who had sided with his ancestral Hot Creeks - as well as my great-grandfather, were offered full amnesty if they turned around and brought Captain Jack in.
Captain Jack was handed over to the U.S. Army on June 1, 1873. He along with Schonchin John, Black Jim, and Boston Charley were arrested for the murders of Canby and Thomas. All four were executed at Fort Klamath on October 3, 1873. It was the first and only time in U.S. history that Native fighters were tried and hanged for war crimes, while the rest of the surviving Modocs were packed - and some even chained - in cattle cars and shipped from Fort Klamath to the corrupt, disease-ridden Quapaw reservation in Oklahoma. There many of them discovered that peace for the Modoc could be even more lethal than war.
And, by 1882, five years after the conclusion of the Modoc War, the settlers succeeded in bringing irrigation to the Klamath basin. Tule Lake, and the Modocs' ancestral home - would never be the same.
For me, however, the last chapter of the Modoc story has still not been written. Even as their world died, the Modocs themselves refused to, and to this day their heart and soul still survives. The blood of many cultures and nations now mingles in their veins today - just as it does in my own. It was also here in this very spot where you're parked that I had a chance meeting with Alfred Meacham's great grand-daughter. It was history coming full circle, when we both got to apologize for the wrongs of our ancestors, hoping for a better future.
And that's what I hope you take away from the journey today, that the bitterness of the past must be the past. And hopefully, the understanding and lessons derived from this tragic period in our collective history will be used to build a more tolerant world of tomorrow.
The last thing before I say goodbye, a tiny bit more "housekeeping" in honor of Shacknasty's mother and my great-great grandmother. From here, as you exit the parking lot to the right, you'll quickly hit a fork in the road. The path to the left will lead you to the pay station and entrance to the rest of the Lava Beds National Monument. There you can explore Gillem's Camp and Signal Rock, an amazing Visitor's Center and museum, and more than 700 explorable caves. If you turn right at the fork instead, it will lead you to nearby Tule Lake, where you'll find food, another wonderful museum and gorgeous views of Tule Lake and the wildlife that once dominated this entire valley. Whatever path you choose, may you acknowledge, in the Indian way of thinking, that we as living things we are all interrelated, and it is our responsibility to do better than we have in the past to care for each other.
Even though it’s hard to say goodbye, I want to leave you with something you can take with you back to your own corner of the world - the ancient Modoc song that asks all people to be open to change— and reach out to each other in universal friendship and compassion.
Goodbye, and thank you.