The ancestral home of the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma consisted of some 5,000 square miles along what is now the California-Oregon border. While their tribal territory encompassed only a small area, it was one of panoramic diversity. On the west loomed the perennially snow-capped peaks of the majestic Cascade Mountains; to the east was a barren wasteland of alkali flats; towering forests of Ponderosa pines were to the north while the Lava Beds, now a National Park, formed their southern boundary.
From prehistoric times dating back some 10,000 years; the Modoc were a culturally detached and unique band. Occasionally they formed war parties to drive out unwelcome visitors or raid neighboring tribes. The Modoc were hunters, fishermen, and gatherers who followed the seasons for food. They lived their lives in relative obscurity. But the arrival of the white European Americans in the early 19th century changed their lives forever.
The intrusion of fur traders and then settlers into the Pacific Northwest had a variety of social and economic effects on the Native populations. The Modoc bartered with fur traders for guns and horses, which became necessary to remain competitive with neighboring tribes. But eventually the traders and the prospectors gave way to farmers and ranchers who had little regard for the Native inhabitants. These new American invaders traveled west by way of the Oregon Trail, which passed directly through traditional Modoc lands.
The Modoc learned to live peacefully with the farming and ranching newcomers, often working for them and trading for livestock and other necessities. The flow of non-Indians into their ancestral homelands had an enormous effect on the culture of the Modoc people. They embraced many of the settler's ways, and eventually began to wear clothing patterned after non-Indians with whom they socialized in the nearby town of Yreka, California. Even the names of the Modoc changed and they became known to their own people by the names given to them by the white man. Keintpoos became Captain Jack, while others became known to history as Scarfaced Charley, Stamboat Frank, Bogus Charley, Shack Nasty Jim, Long Jim, Curly-headed Doctor, and Hooker Jim.
Shack Nasty Jim
As more and more settlers arrived each year, more and more land was needed to farm and to graze. As a result of the enormous pressure of white infiltration into Indian lands in California and Oregon, the Modoc, Klamath and Yahooskin Band of Snake tribes ceded their lands in the United States government and signed a joint reservation treaty in 1864. The Modoc agreed to live alongside the Klamath Indians, their traditional enemy.
Life on the reservation was less than ideal. Between the constant harassment of the Klamaths and the blatant neglect of the Indian agent who was charged with their well being, the Modoc became increasingly frustrated. By 1865, Captain Jack led his band of Modoc off the reservation and returned to the Lost River area of Northern California.
The treaty signed in 1864 was finally ratified in 1870. For the following two years Captain Jack refused to return to the reservation, requesting instead a separate Modoc reservation on Lost River. But after living in violation of the Treaty ratified in 1870 for more than two years, the U.S. Army became determined to capture the wandering Modoc and return them to the Klamath reservation in Oregon. An attempt to return them to the reservation fueled the explosive Modoc War.
When the Modoc War began, the Modoc warriors with their wives and children retreated to the nearby Lava Beds. The war was fought 130 years ago yet it stands out in American military history as one of the most incredible of Indian wars. Captain jack did not muster more than 57 braves throughout the war but for almost six months he withstood an army that came to number over a 1,000 men with their small arms supported by mountain howizers and coehorn mortars. He lost only six men by direct combat while the U.S. Army suffered 45 dead including E.R.S. Canby, the only general to lose his life in an Indian war. The Modoc War cost the United States government, at its lowest estimate, half a million dollars. Considering the number of the enemy, it was probably the costliest Indian war ever fought. In comparison, the reservation requested by the Modoc on Lost River would have cost, at most, $10,000.
When the war finally ended on June 1, 1873, Captain Jack and five of his warriors, Schonchin John, Black Jim, Boston Charley, Barncho and Sioux proved to be the only Indians in American history tried by a military commission for war crimes. Gallows had been constructed even before the trial began, and it was evident the verdict would be death by hanging. The date set for the execution was October 3, 1873. But just before the executions were to take place, the sentences of Barncho and Sioux were changed to life imprisonment at Alcatraz Island. However, they were not informed of the change in their sentences until after they, along with the other Modoc men, women and children were forced to watch as their leaders were hanged. Captain Jack proved to be the only Indian leader executed for participation in one of our country's many Indian wars.
On October 12, 1873, 155 Modoc, 42 men, 59 women, and 54 children were loaded on 27 wagons and departed Fort Klamath, Oregon under the guard of Captain H.C. Hasbrouck and soldiers of Battery B, 4th Artillery. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs had decided to place them at the Quapaw Agency in Indian Territory; however, strict orders had been given not to reveal their destination.
The first stop on their journey was one week later near Yreka, California. When they finally reached Redding, California, Barncho and Sioux were sent with their military guards to Alcatraz Island. The remaining Modoc boarded a train, a conveyance they had never seen, for a terrifying ride to Fort D.A. Russell in Wyoming Territory. They occupied four railroad cars coupled between two other cars filled with soldiers. Guards with loaded muskets stood at the doors of each car day and night. All of the men and boys capable of bearing arms were heavily shackled.
Nearing Fort D.A. Russell, orders were changed sending the Modoc prisoners to Fort McPherson, Nebraska. Arriving there October 29th, Captain Hasbrouck turned his charges over to Captain Melville C. Wilkinson, United States Army, Special Commissioner in Charge of Indian Removal. The prisoners were placed on an island in the Platte River, a few miles from the fort, where they hunted and fished for food.
The terrible 2,000-mile winter ride in railroad cars intended for hauling cattle finally ended on November 16, 1873 when 153 Modoc men, women, and children arrived in Baxter Springs, Kansas cold and hungry.
In Baxter Springs, Captain Wilkinson conferred with Hiram W. Jones, Indian Agent at the Quapaw Agency as to where to place the Modoc. It was decided to locate them on Eastern Shawnee land where they would be under the direct supervision of Agent Jones. But Jones' Quapaw Agency was little prepared to care for 153 persons with little but loose blankets on their backs. With Scarfaced Charley in command and only one day's help from three non-Indians, the Modoc built their own temporary wood barracks two hundred yards from the agency headquarters. Some were housed in tents. These accommodations were to be their home until June of 1874 when 4,000 acres were purchased for them from the Eastern Shawnee.
The Quapaw Agency was located on Eastern Shawnee land in the northeast corner of Indian Territory now Ottawa County, Oklahoma. It was bounded on the north by the Kansas state line and on the east by the Missouri line. The Cherokee Nation formed its western and southern boundaries. The agency had been a sub-agency of the Neosho Agency until 1871 when they were jurisdictionally separated. The tribes constituting the Quapaw Agency were the Confederated Peoria, Eastern Shawnee, Miami, Ottawa, Quapaw, Seneca, and Wyandotte.
Captain Wilkinson remained with his charges until the second week in December. When he left the agency, he reported to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, "on the cars, in the old hotel used for them at Baxter, I found them uniformly obedient, ready to work, cheerful in compliance with police regulations, and with each day providing over and over that they only required just treatment, executed with firmness and kindness to make them a singularly reliable people."
Agent Jones also found he had no difficulty enforcing the strictest discipline, although one small area of friction had developed. This was the habit of some of the Modoc in gambling, resulting in some instances in losing what few possessions they had. When Scarfaced Charley, who had replaced Captain jack as chief, refused to interfere, Jones appointed Bogus Charley as chief. He remained chief until 1880 when formal Modoc tribal government in Oklahoma came to an end for almost 100 years.
The first years following removal to Indian Territory were difficult ones for the Modoc. They suffered much sickness and many hardships due to the corrupt and cruel administration of Agent Jones. During the first winter at the Quapaw Agency, there were no government funds available for food, clothing, or medical supplies. It would be almost a year after removal that funds in the amount of $15,000 were received for their needs.
The death rate was especially high among the children and the aged. By 1879, after six years at the Quapaw Agency, 54 deaths had reduced the Modoc population to 99. By the time of the Modoc allotment in 1891, there were only 68 left to receive allotments, and many of them had been born after removal. Had it not been for the gifts of money and clothing from charitable organizations in the east, General William Tecumseh Sherman's wish not to leave a Modoc man, woman, or child alive so the name Modoc would cease, would have become a reality.
During the 1870's it was common knowledge that the Office of Indian Affairs was rife with corruption and greed Indian agents assigned to look after the well being of their Native captives were frequently involved in a system of billing the U.S. Government of resources intended for the tribes. These so-called Indian Rings operated on a joint conspiracy between one politician, one Indian agent and at least one local merchant. Together, the three components defrauded the government and the Indians of the resources allocated for food, medical supplies, and clothing.
In an effort to eliminate the cruelties of graft so often inflicted upon the newly dependent Indian nations, the Indian agencies were placed in the hands of religious groups such as the Society of Friends, more commonly known as Quakers. The Quakers who were in charge of the Quapaw Agency in the 1870's were from the same Society of Friends who claim credit for successfully proposing the original Indian "Peace Policy" to President Ulysses S. Grant.
Quaker Hiram W. Jones was the Indian agent at the Quapaw Agency when the 153 Modoc prisoners of war arrived there in 1873. Jones answered to a fellow Quaker, Enoch Hoag, who was Superintendent of the Central Indian Superintendcy headquarters in Lawrence, Kansas. As it happened, Agent Jones' wife and Superintendent Hoag's wife were first cousins. Such nepotism was not the most obvious problem with Agent Jones' management practices.
The Modoc experience at the Quapaw Agency would prove no better than the treatment they received on the reservation in Oregon, and indeed, much worse. As historian Albert Hurtado has written, "the Modoc were victims of a Quaker Indian ring that operated at the Quapaw Agency for nearly a decade during the 1870's". Of the 12 agency employees, 11 were relatives of Agent Jones or Superintendent Hoag.
Soon after the Modoc were settled at the Quapaw Agency, Agent Jones restricted all trade with them to a store constructed next door to the agency building, thus eliminating all trade with merchants in nearby Seneca, Missouri. Superintendent Hoag's first cousin, T. E. Newlin, operated the store. When Seneca residents filed numerous complaints concerning the intolerable conditions suffered by the modoc, their claims were dismissed. It was presumed that the complaints were from disgruntled merchants who were bitter at being cut out of the lucrative Modoc trade.
Hiram jones' swindling of the Modoc's already meager rations of bad food and inadequate medical created such deplorable conditions that the Modoc mortality rate continued to climb. Because of persistent complaints by the Modoc and their non-Indian neighbors, Jones' Indian Agency was investigated by the Office of Indian Affairs in 1874 and again in 1875, but few changes and no criminal charges were made as a result. It wasn't until the third investigation in 1878 that a system of nepotism and corruption was officially reported. It was described as a family Indian ring whereby Jones and his family members would receive kickbacks from local merchants for the inflated prices and inferior quality of goods and services provided to the agency on behalf of the Modoc. Apparently, Jones' religious convictions did not protect him from the greed enjoyed by so many of the less pious Indian agents. Still, it wasn't until the following year that Hiram Jones and his family ring were relieved of their duties at the Quapaw Agency.
In spite of the odds, the Modoc men and women persevered and survived the cruel administration of Agent Jones by supplementing their own income in a number of ways. They rapidly took hold of their new lives, adopting the ways of the area whites and assimilating in order to survive. They worked at anything that brought them an income. The men worked on the farms of their white neighbors, hauled materials and supplies to surrounding towns. The women added to the family income by selling their beadwork and intricately woven basketry. Both men and women worked in the fields. Soon they were cultivating their own land and assured their own survival by continuing to improve the condition and productivity of their farmlands and livestock herds. it was reported that they sowed and reaped with the same persistent courage with which they had fought. Furthermore, it was said that they dressed better, farmed more intelligently, kept their houses cleaner, cooked their food better and sent their children to school tidier with each succeeding year. The Modoc were regarded among the Quapaw Agency as the best of the agency's tribes. The Modoc Indian agent reports indicate that this small band of Modoc made more progress with less land than any other tribe under the jurisdiction of the Quapaw Agency.
During the Fall of 1874, Alfred Meacham, one of the four peace commissioners who had met Captain jack during the Modoc War, visited the Modoc. He was planning a lecture tour of eastern states dealing with his adventures during the war and felt it would add color and interest if some of the modoc participants were with him. He received permission for Scarfaced Charley, Shacknasty Jim and Steamboat Frank to accompany him on the tour.
The Modoc were very interested in obtaining an education for their children. Six weeks after removal, 25 of their children were attending the Quapaw boarding school some 12 miles north of the agency. Less than one year later it was reported the children were making excellent progress in school and were rapidly learning English. Many of the adults were also learning to read and write. In 1879, the government constructed a building on the Modoc Reservation that served as both a school and a church. Several of the children later attended Carlisle Indian School near Arkansas City, Kansas. However, after the death of Adam McCarty, a stepson of Schonchin John at Carlisle, Modoc families were reluctant to send their children away to school.
The Modoc also became active in the church established for them by the Society of Friends. By 1881, most had been converted to the Quaker faith. Three of Captain Jack's warriors formerly referred to as "blood thirsty and savage renegades," became recorded ministers of the Friends Church. Steamboat Frank, who later took the name Frank Modoc, was the first full blood American Indian to become a recorded minister of the Society of Friends. He was also the Modoc Church's first minister. To better prepare himself for the ministry, Frank requested to be sent to Oak Grove Seminary in Vassalboro, Maine. While there, he became ill. Realizing death was near and wanting to return home to be with his only child, Elwood, he left the seminary. He traveled as far as Portland, Maine, where de died June 12, 1886 and is buried in the Friends Cemetery there.
In 1891, the Society of Friends purchased the building and the decision was made to move the building to its present location on County Road S679 adjoining the Modoc Cemetery. The building was enlarged to include living quarters for the Friends missionary and his family. Services were conducted on Sunday and prayer meetings on Wednesday night. In the fall of 1978, the Society of Friends held the last meeting for worship in the church.
The Modoc Tribe in Oklahoma was granted federal recognition in May 1978. Recognition made the tribe eligible for Federal assistance. An application was promptly forwarded to the Department of Housing and Urban Development t purchase the Modoc Church and the four acres upon which it stands from the Society of Friends; and to restore the church to its original structure. The grant was awarded but was less than requested. An additional $24,000 from the Oklahoma Historical Society made it possible to complete restoration of the church.
The Modoc Friends Church and Cemetery were placed on the National Register of Historic Sites in 1980, the first site so designated in Ottawa County, Oklahoma. Shortly thereafter renovation of the church began. The dedication of the restored church was celebrated June 10, 1984. In 1988, the Major William McBride Chapter, National Society United States Daughters of 1812, placed a historical marker at the church.
The first marked grave in the Modoc Cemetery is inscribed as Rosie Jack, died April 1874. Rosie was the daughter of Captain Jack and his "young wife" Lizzie. Many of the leading participants of the Modoc War are buried in the cemetery in unmarked graves. As time has passed, the church and cemetery are the only reminders of the 153 Modoc prisoners of war.
Following the Nez Perce War with the United States, Chief Joseph and his people were forcibly removed from their homelands in the Northwest to Fort Levenworth, Kansas in 1877. Eight months later they were transported by train in sweltering heat to Baxter Springs, Kansas. The weakened and sick Nez Perce were unable to make the walk in the heat to the Quapaw Agency. The Modoc were hired as teamsters to bring them by wagons to Modoc Springs on the reservation where they set up a temporary camp. Modoc Springs would become the site of many spirited horse races enjoyed by all tribes at the agency. Agent Jones viewed the gambling that tends to accompany such events with great consternation.
The Nez Perce did not remain long with the Modoc. Less than six months later they were transferred a few miles north to the Peoria Reservation. Eventually, they were transferred to the Ponca Agency in the western portion of Indian Territory and later to Washington State and Idaho.
Pursuant to the Act of March 3, 1909, the United States government allowed the Modoc to return to Oregon. Records indicate that 29 returned; however, several had gone back prior to 1909. Both the Modoc who returned and those who chose to remain in their land of exile were enrolled at the Klamath Agency. As the years passed, the Modoc language, customs and culture were forgotten.
The Modoc and Klamath tribes were terminated from federal supervision in 1956. Several years later all tribes in the northeastern corner of Oklahoma banded together to establish the Inter-Tribal Council, Inc. of Northeastern Oklahoma. At that time, the Modoc formed an unofficial tribal government. Bert Hayman, whose mother had been one of the youngest prisoners of war, became the first tribal chairman; followed by Vernon "Dutch" Walker, grandson of James Long, the "Youngest Modoc Warrior."
Bill G. Follis great grandson of James Long, became chairman in 1973. When the tribe was granted Federal Recognition in 1978, Chief Follis became the first federally recognized chief of the Modoc in Oklahoma since the death of Bogus Charley in 1880. There were several Modoc chiefs at the Quapaw Agency after Bogus but they were only recognized as such by the Modoc people.
Chief Follis, an avid horseman and rancher, continues to lead the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma. He was responsible for obtaining federal recognition for the tribe and reestablishing a tribal land base. The Modoc Tribal Complex, located at 515 G Street, S.E., Miami, Oklahoma was completed in the early part of 1982. The complex houses tribal headquarters, tribal archives and library. The library is the only one in the area dedicated solely to native American history and genealogy. Chief Follis has also initiated numerous economic programs such as Red Cedar Recycling, opened to the community in 1996. In 1998, The Modoc Tribe established The Stables Casino. Also, under Chief Follis' leadership, the tribe has reintroduced bison to the Modoc prairie with a thriving and ever growing herd. Today, the tribal office administration numerous federal and state programs that benefit tribal members, as well as other Native Americans in the area.
While it is true tribal rolls no longer carry the name of a full blood Modoc, it is a tribute to their courage and determination and perhaps, ironic that despite General Sherman's efforts to wipe the Modoc from the face of the earth, they have survived. As their story continues to be written, the legacy of the modoc will always be one of pride, strength and uncompromising desire to carry on.