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Why was Captain Jack Famous Across the Nation?

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Published: Wed, 20 Sep 2017

Name: Jacob J. Ervine

Kintpuash was a Modoc Indian Chief, but it was easier for white settlers from Yreka to call him “Captain Jack.” Captain Jack was famous across America and the world because of the huge impact he and his band of freedom fighters had fighting against the Army for their tribal lands. This small group of Modoc’s held off against the might of the U.S. Army that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and almost a year perusing them. The Modoc War last between 1872 and 1873 and was a desperate struggle for the Modoc’s. The life and death of Captain Jack is important when understanding the fame behind this modern day folk hero.

The Ben Wright massacre was highly influential on Kintpuash. Ben Wright and his men from Yreka killed more than thirty Modoc Indians under a flag of truce. Captain Jack saw his father murdered during the massacre in 1852. The Modoc Indians never forget this atrocity and would influence Kintpuash on the broken promises and deceitfulness of settlers. In 1864 a treaty was signed with the Klamath, Modoc, and Yahooskin Indians to give up their lands to live on a shared Indian Reservation east of Klamath. The problems that plagued the Modoc’s on the Klamath Reservation stemmed from both the infighting of the other tribes and the ratification being stalled. “The Modoc’s were ill-treated and abused by the Klamath Indians, The Klamath ceaselessly annoyed them with threats and insults.” Alfred B. Meacham. The tribes were hard-pressed to cooperate and supplies were often late.

In 1865 Kintpuash appealed to the Offices of the Reservation, but was ignored. Kintpuash angrily lead his people back to Modoc Lands. When they returned the discovered that their ancestral homelands were being taken over by white settlers. To earn money to survive, several Modoc’s worked on farms as hands and Kintpuash rented his lands and worked in Yreka where he got his nickname, “Captain Jack.” In 1869 Soldiers brought the Modoc’s back to the Reservation, but nothing had changed so the Modoc returned to their lands once again. In 1872 the Army was called to return the Modoc to the reservation, forcibly if needed.

Captain Jack wanted to avoid conflict, but the situation intensified when they were asked to drop their weapons. Scar Face Charlie and Lieutenant Botell shot at each other, but missed. Both sides retaliated and this skirmish was known as The Lost River Battle. The Modoc’s retreated to the modern-day lava beds. The militia attacked a separate Modoc Camp lead by Hooker Jim, and in response the Modoc’s lead by Hooker Jim killed over a dozen settlers. Afterwards Hooker Jim and other Modoc’s joined Captain Jack’s Stronghold in the Lava Beds. The “war” against the Indians was highly publicized throughout the country as conflict often is. It was expected that the Modoc would be quickly defeated by the Army. Considering how outnumbered the Modoc were. War was not favored by all people, but these were mostly humanitarian and religious groups. President Grant said he would use a peace policy. However, the policy demanded that Indians remain on reservations, but the Modoc would not return to the Klamath Reservation.

There were approximately fifty-five Modoc men and their families in Captain Jack’s Stronghold. The Stronghold is one of the most if not the most defensible places in the United States. The Stronghold was fortified and small skirmishes ensued until the first battle. In January 17, 1873, the U.S. Army outnumbered the Modoc’s six to one and attempted to advance on the Stronghold. Aided by the fog the Modoc’s killed 40 soldiers including five officers. The Modoc’s had no casualties and this prompted a Peace Commission. Captain Jack was insulted by his own people for negotiating and opting for peace. They forced him to wear women’s clothing during meetings. The Modoc’s thought if the American leaders were killed they would leave. Captain Jack agreed if their demands weren’t met. On April 11, 1873 negotiators, General Canby, and Reverend Thomas were killed on Captain Jack’s alleged command and all peace talks ended.

The fighting continued in the Second Battle, the Battle of Sand Butte, and The Battle of Dry Lake where the War turned against the Modoc. On May 10, 1973, the Modoc attacked a U.S. Army Camp at Dry Lake. The Army defended themselves and rushed the Modoc killing five Modoc’s including Ellen’s Man, a famous member of the group, which lead to the fracture of the Modoc groups. The Modoc had to flee the Stronghold and were in desperate need of water and food. The dissent caused Hooker Jim to surrender and agree to capture Captain Jack in exchange for Amnesty. On June 1, 1873 Captain Jack surrendered after fighting the U.S. Army for 7 months. In Fort Klamath Captain Jack was tried as a war criminal. Captain Jack was translated for and told that he only wanted peace. 6 men were found guilty of breaking laws of war for murder, breaking 7 laws. Throughout the nation sympathizers of Captain Jack asked for clemency. President Grant allowed two men to served prison sentences at Alcatraz Prison. Captain Jack, Boston Charlie, Black Jim, and Schonchin John were sentenced to hang.

For months, they were interviewed by reporters and pictures of the condemned were sold. The Fort became a tourist attraction and the execution was highly publicized. The purpose was to make an example of them for other Indians to reflect on. On October 3, 1873, after the hanging, the men were decapitated and sent to Washington D.C. Alfred B. Meacham went on to produce an Indian lecture tour that defended the Modoc that tried to kill him. Meacham was a friend to the Indians and a Humanitarian who wanted to shed a new light onto the plight of the Modoc. Whether famous or infamous the news across the country surrounded Captain Jack and The Modoc War. His impact was felt worldwide as stories reached England and beyond. “The chapter in our national history which tells our dealings with the Indian tribes will be one of the darkest and most disgraceful in our annuals.” Alfred B. Meacham.

Captain Jack was famous across the nation because he and his band of Modoc’s defied the odds and took on the U.S. Army that outnumbered them and had superior equipment. The resourcefulness of the Modoc’s and the use of the highly defensible lava flows and caves allowed them to hold out for 7 months. Humanitarians saw the Modoc’s as fighting for a righteous cause against overpowering opposition. Captain Jack had always opted for peace, and in the trial, he said that he was opposed to murder of the two Peace Commissioners. Because he didn’t speak English the translations were thought to be speculative. The Modoc War was so famous that it attracted tourism and memorabilia. It showed the wrongdoings of the settlers and government in the public idea that started a paradigm shift. That perhaps the Indians were not the aggressors, but the victims.




Landrum, Francis S. Guardhouse, Gallows, and Graves: The Trial and Execution of Indian Prisoners of the Modoc Indian War by the U.S. Army, 1873. Klamath Falls, Or: Klamath County Museum, 1988.

Eyewitness Accounts

“The Modoc War . TV | OPB.” Television, Radio & News for Oregon and Southwest Washington . Home | OPB. n.d. http://www.opb.org/television/programs/oregonexperience/segment/the-modoc-war-/.

Recent Online Sources

Most, Stephen. “The Treaty of 1864.” Oregon History Project. Last modified 2003. https://oregonhistoryproject.org/narratives/nature-and-history-in-the-klamath-basin/inhabiting-the-land/the-treaty-of-1864/#.WM87DqK1uUk.

“Kintpuash – New World Encyclopedia.” Info:Main Page – New World Encyclopedia. Last modified May 29, 2013. http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Kintpuash.

“CAPTAIN JACK, Modoc Indian Warrior Battle of Lost River Klamath Reservation.” CALIFORNIA INDIAN EDUCATION CALIE Educational Tribal Website of Calif Native American Indians Families Reservation and Urban Communities of North America USA Southern CA. Accessed March 19, 2017. http://www.californiaindianeducation.org/famous_indian_chiefs/captain_jack/.

Mark, Stephen. “Modoc War.” The Oregon Encyclopedia. Accessed March 19, 2017. https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/modoc_war/#.WM9teqK1uUk.


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