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The Modoc tribe is a group of Native American people who originally lived in the area which is now northeastern Californiamarker and central Southern Oregonmarker. They are currently divided between Oregonmarker and Oklahomamarker. The latter are a federally-recognized tribe, the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma. The Oregon Modocs are enrolled in the federally-recognized Klamath Tribes.

Modoc County, Californiamarker, and Modoc, Indianamarker are named for this group of people.



Prior to the 18th century, when European explorers first encountered the Modoc and opened trade relations, the Modoc, like all Plateau Indians, caught salmon during salmon runs and migrated seasonally to hunt and gather other food. Their housing included portable tents and earthen dug-out lodges.

Neighboring groups

In addition to the Klamath, with whom they shared a language and the Modoc Plateaumarker, the groups neighboring the Modoc home were the following:


The known Modoc village sites are Agawesh where Willow Creek enters Lower Klamath Lakemarker, Kumbat and Pashha on the shores of Tule Lakemarker, and Wachamshwash and Nushalt-Hagak-ni on the Lost River

First Contact

In the 1820s, Peter Skene Ogden, an explorer for the Hudson's Bay Company, established trade with the Klamath people to the north of the Modoc.

South Emigrant Trail established

Lindsay Applegate, accompanied by fourteen other settlers in the Willamette and Rogue valleys in western Oregon, established the South Emigrant Trail in 1846 between a point on the Oregon Trail near Fort Hall, Idahomarker and the Willamette Valley. The purpose of this new route was to encourage settlers to western Oregon, to eliminate the hazards encountered on the Columbia Route, to provide an alternate route in the event of trouble with the United Kingdommarker (the British Hudson's Bay Company controlled the Columbia Route), and to provide a route which would be open except for a short winter season each year.

Applegate and his party were the first known white men to enter what is now the Lava Beds National Monumentmarker. On their exploring trip eastward they attempted to pass around the south end of Tule Lakemarker, but the rough lava along the shore forced them to seek a route around the north end of the lake.

The opening of the South Emigrant Trail brought the first regular contact between the Modoc and the European settlers, who had largely ignored the area before. Many of the events of the Modoc War took place along the South Emigrant Trail.

Emigrant invasion

Beginning in 1847, the Modocs raided emigrants on the South Emigrant Trail. The Modocs, numbering about 600 warriors under the leadership of Old Chief Schonchin, inhabited the region around Lower Klamath Lakemarker, Tule Lake, and Lost River in northern California and southern Oregon.

In September 1852, the Modocs destroyed an emigrant train at Bloody Point on the east shore of Tule Lake. Of the 65 persons in the train only three escaped immediate death. Two young girls were taken as prisoners and reportedly killed several years later by jealous Modoc women, and one man made his way to Yreka, Californiamarker. Hearing the news of the attack, Yreka settlers organized a party, under the leadership of Jim Crosby, to go to the scene of the massacre to bury the dead and avenge their death. Crosby's party had one skirmish with a band of Modocs.

The attacks on emigrants by the Modocs aroused settlers at Yreka to send out a party under the leadership of Ben Wright, a notorious Indian hater, in 1856. Accounts differ as to what actually took place when Wright's party finally met the Modocs on Lost River, but most agree that Wright planned to ambush the Modocs. Wright attacked, killing approximately 80 Modocs. This loss led to the general mistrust of the white settlers by the Modocs.

It has been estimated that at least 300 emigrants and settlers were killed by the Modocs during the years 1846 to 1873. Perhaps as many Modocs were killed by settlers and slave traders.

Treaty with the United States

The United States, the Klamaths, Modocs, and Yahooskin band of Snake tribes signed a treaty in 1864, establishing the Klamath Reservation. The treaty had the tribes cede the land bounded on the north by the 44th parallel, on the west and south by the ridges of the Cascade Mountains, and on the east by lines touching Goose Lake and Henley Lake back up to the 44th parallel. In return, the United States was to make a lump sum payment of $35,000, and annual payments totaling $80,000 over 15 years, as well as providing infrastructure and staff for the reservation. The treaty provided that if the Indians drank or stored intoxicating liquor on the reservation, the payments could be withheld and that the United States could locate additional tribes on the reservation in the future. The tribes requested Lindsay Applegate as the agent to represent the United States to them.

The terms of the 1864 treaty demanded that the Modoc surrender their lands in near Lost River, Tule Lake, and Lower Klamath Lake in exchange for lands in the Upper Klamath Valley. They did so, under the leadership of Chief Schonchin. The Indian agent estimated the total population of the three tribes at about 2,000 when the treaty was signed.

The land of the reservation did not provide enough food for the comfort of both the Klamath and the Modoc peoples. Illness and tension between the tribes increased. The Modoc requested a separate reservation closer to their ancestral home, but neither the federal nor the California government would approve it.

Keintpuash (Captain Jack to the Europeans) led a band of Modocs in 1870 to leave reservation and return to their traditional homelands. They built a village near the Lost River. These Modocs had not been adequately represented in the treaty negotiations and wished to end the harassment by the Klamaths on the reservation.

Modoc War

Captain Jack, a Modoc leader in the Modoc War.

In November 1872, the U.S. Army was sent to Lost River to attempt to force the Keintpuash's band back to the reservation. A battle broke out, and the Modocs escaped to Captain Jack's Strongholdmarker in what is now Lava Beds National Monumentmarker, Californiamarker. The band of 60-90 warriors was able to hold off the 3,000 troops of the U.S. Army for several months, defeating them in combat several times. In April 1873, the Modocs left the Stronghold and began to splinter. Keintpuash and his group were the last captured on June 4, 1873 when they voluntarily gave themselves up, after assurances from the U.S. government that their people would be treated fairly and that all of the warriors would be allowed to live on their own land. Keintpuash and three of his warriors were hanged in October 1873 for the murder of Major General Edward Canby, after the general violated agreements that had been made with the Modocs, and the rest of the band was sent to Oklahoma as prisoners of war with Scarfaced Charley as their chief. The tribe's spiritual leader, Curley Headed Doctor also made the voyage to Indian Territory.

In the 1870s, Peter Cooper brought Indians to speak to Indian rights groups in eastern cities. One of the delegations was from the Modoc and Klamath tribes. In 1907, the group in Oklahoma was given permission, if they wished, to return to Oregon. Several did, but most stayed at their new home.


Estimates for the pre-contact populations of most native groups in California have varied substantially. James Mooney put the aboriginal population of the Modoc at 400. Alfred L. Kroeber estimated the 1770 Modoc population within California as 500. Theodore Stern suggested that there had been a total of about 500 Modoc.


About 600 members of the tribe currently live in Klamath County, Oregonmarker, in and around their ancestral homelands. This group included the Modocs who stayed on the reservation during the Modoc War, as well as the descendants of those who chose to return to Oregon from Oklahoma in 1909. Since that time, many of them have followed the path of the Klamath. The shared tribal government of the Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin in Oregon is known as the Klamath Tribes.

200 Modocs live in Oklahomamarker on the Quapaw Indian Reservation at the far northeast corner of Oklahoma. They are descendants of the band led by Captain Jack (Keintpuash) during the Modoc War. The Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma was officially recognized by the United States government in 1978, and their constitution was approved in 1991.


The original language of the Modoc and that of the Klamath, their neighbors to the north, were branches of the family of Plateau Penutian languages. The Klamath and Modoc languages together are sometimes referred to as Lutuamian languages. Both peoples called themselves maklaks, meaning people. When they wanted to distinguish between themselves, the Modoc were called Moatokni maklaks, from muat meaning "South".

The religion of the Modoc is not known in detail. The number 5 figured heavily in ritual, as in the Shuyuhalsh a five-night dance ritual for adolescent girls. A sweat lodge was used for purification and mourning ceremonies.

See also


  1. Western Oregon Plan revision Appendix O Federally Recognized Indian Tribes with Interest in the Planning Area. US Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management. (retrieved 11 March 2009)
  2. Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma. Oklahoma Tribes. (retrieved 11 March 2009)
  3. Thrapp, Dan L. Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography, Volume 1: A-F. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991.
  4. Mooney, p.18
  5. Kroeber, p.883
  6. Stern, pp. 446-456


  • Commissioner of Indian Affairs. 1865. Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs to the Secretary of the Interior for the Year 1865: Reports of Agents in Oregon U.S. Office of Indian Affairs, Washington, D.C.
  • Kroeber, A. L. 1925. Handbook of the Indians of California. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin No. 78. Washington, D.C.
  • Mooney, James. 1928. The Aboriginal Population of America North of Mexico. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections No. 80(7). Washington, D.C.
  • Stern, Theodore. 1998. "Klamath and Modoc". In Plateau, edited by Deward E. Walker, Jr. Handbook of North American Indians, William C. Sturtevant, general editor, vol. 12. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
  • Waldman, Carl. 1999. Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes. Checkmark, New York. ISBN 0-8160-3964-X

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