Oregon Experience

The Modoc War

Nov. 9, 2011 4 a.m.
Captain Jack

Captain Jack

Oregon Historical Society

The Modoc War of 1872 to 1873 was one of the costliest American Indian wars in U.S. history, considering the number of people involved. For nearly seven months, a handful of Modoc Indian warriors and their families held off hundreds of U.S. Army soldiers.

The war is largely forgotten to most of the nation, but at the time of the conflict, the story made headlines from London to San Francisco. People were enthralled as one of the last real-life, Wild-West battles unfolded on the American frontier.

Oregon Experience: The Modoc War examines one of the most dramatic American Indian wars in U.S. history.

The Modoc War began in November 1872 when the military tried to force a small band of Modoc Indians, led by Captain Jack, to a reservation.

The Modocs took refuge in an ancient lava flow that became their stronghold. Today it is a part of the Lava Beds National Monument.

The Modocs knew the land and used it to their advantage. Twisting lava tubes and hidden caves created the perfect hideout for fifty-five Modoc warriors and their families.

Indian policy was the subject of national debate and many humanitarians sided with the Modocs. Then the Indians attacked a peace commission, resulting in the only U.S. General killed in an Indian conflict. The government cracked down hard, calling for swift punishment.

By the end, the Modocs were fighting off a force of nearly 1,000 men, made up of both military soldiers and civilian volunteers.

Again and again, the small band of Indians overcame incredible odds to protect their way of life. But it could not last. Their world was about to change forever.

Oregon Experience revisits the battle scenes, and uses rare historical images and original wood cut drawings from the period.  Additionally, interviews with Modoc descendants, national historians and written first-hand accounts, bring the Modoc War to life.



Cheewa James, MODOC: The Tribe That Wouldn't Die

Keith Murray, The Modocs and Their War

Arthur Quinn, Hell With the Fire Out: A History of the Modoc War

Erwin N Thompson, Modoc War: It's Military History & Topography


Francis Landrum, Guardhouse Gallows and Gravesial and Execution of Indian Prisoners of the Modoc Indian War by the U.S. Army, 1873

Shaw Historical Library Journal (Vol 23-24), Unforgiving Landscape, Lava Beds National Monument and the Modoc War

Oliver Knight, Following the Indian Wars: the Story of the Newspaper Correspondents Among the Indian Campaigners

Jeff Riddle, The Indian History of the Modoc War: And the Causes That Led To It

Alfred Meacham, Wigwam and war-path; or The royal chief in chains

Web sites

Klamath County Museum

Lava Beds National Monument

Klamath Tribes

Cascade Civil War Society

The Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma

PBS History Detectives: Modoc Basket

Broadcast Date: November 08, 2011