• LOCATION 94 | The Modoc War: A Homeland Lost

    On 120

    Okay, you should be on County Road 120, with a body of water on your right.  This is modern day Tule Lake, named for the reeds that you can see along the edge of the lake.  The Modocs used this reed to make just about everything - from baskets to shoes.

    Continue on this road for a few minutes until I tell you to turn.

    After the first major Battle in the Stronghold, there were two big fallouts. The first was that Colonel Wheaton got sacked. Wheaton, who once commanded 20,000 troops in battle during the Civil War, had let a mere 60 Modoc warriors beat 300 troops armed with superior weapons and canons. Plus, there were twelve soldiers dead, and another twenty five wounded - and not a single Modoc casualty. A defeated Wheaton wrote:

    [WHEATON]: “I have never before encountered an enemy, civilized or savage, occupying a position of such great natural strength as the Modoc stronghold, nor have I ever seen troops engage a better-armed or more skillful foe.”

    [CHEEWA]: Wheaton's replacement turned out to be Colonel Alvan Gillem, who showed up on February 7th, 1873. As you continue on this road, if you look straight ahead to the hills in the distance, you might be able to make out a bluff that sticks out to the right - this bluff was named for Gillem. But, in reality, Gillem would eventually prove to be an even bigger failure against the Modoc. His men detested him, and many disobeyed his command during battle. And from April 14-17, he would lead a second battle against the Stronghold. Like Wheaton, he used gradual compression, even cutting off the Modocs' access to Tule Lake and water. But instead of capturing the Modocs, they simply evacuated the stronghold, using those stacked rocks in the dark to navigate their way through No Man's Land to the south - which surprise! Was not impassable to the Modoc. By the time the army reached the Stronghold, all they found was the stench of human overcrowding, and two elderly Modocs who were killed. The Modoc had slipped through the Army's fingers yet again. But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

    As you continue along this road with Gillems bluff still in front of you, the other big fallout from that first battle for the Stronghold was the formation of a Peace Commission on January 29, 1873, led by the Modocs' old friend Meacham, who tried to negotiate varying degrees of amnesty for surrender between the Modocs and the Army. And for those three months - until Gillem's eventual second attempt on the stronghold - was truly an odd pause in battle. The Modocs came and went at will, slipping in and out of the Stronghold to visit relatives and friends on the Klamath Reservation.

    Also during these peace talks, John Fairchild, the rancher my great-grandfather Shacknasty Jim had once worked for, visited the Modoc and negotiated a shaky armistice with Captain Jack promising "no act of war" would be perpetrated by either side while peace negotiations were going on. But in the Modocs' eyes, the Army violated it almost immediately when they kept some of the Modoc horses after scaring off some Modocs that were guarding them. It only reinforced to the Modoc what the white men really meant by "peace" - back to when Ben Wright entered the Modoc Village under a white flag twenty years earlier.

    Now, look ahead again in the distance at Gillem's bluff, which is still a ways away but becoming clearer now. If you look to the bluff then follow the bluff down, that's the general location of Gillem's Camp, as well as an outcropping of rocks called Signal Rock. Signal Rock was used to communicate with soldiers that were stationed where you're driving through now, which was near Hospital Rock. If you remember, Hospital Rock was where the first three injured soldiers were treated the night before the first attack on the stronghold. Hospital Rock subsequently became both camp and field hospital, and if you look to your right, that bluff that's coming up on your right is the actual Hospital Rock. It's also the spot where we're headed next.

The Modoc War: A Homeland Lost