American Indian Trails of the West

Modoc History on the California-Oregon Border
Discover the proud history of the Modoc tribe, from Lava Beds to Crater Lake.

The harsh alarm cry of the peregrine falcon echoes across the bleak, jagged lava lands of northern California, known today as Lava Beds National Monument. The former geological turmoil of the land was matched in 1872-’73 by the chaos of the six-month Modoc War.

A small group of Modoc Indians, numbering some 55 warriors along with their women and children, took a stand against U.S. soldiers after an attack on a Modoc village. General E.R.S. Canby was the only general ever killed in an Indian war. They occupied a cleverly fortified natural lava fortress—dubbed Captain Jack’s Stronghold after the Modoc leader—in a desperate attempt to keep their ancestral waterways and grounds to the north. Lt. Thomas Wright alleged, “The match for the Modoc stronghold has never been built…. It is the most impregnable fortress in the world.”

By the end of the war, over a thousand U.S. troops were engaged in this David and Goliath battle. At war’s end, 150 Modocs were sent as prisoners-of-war to Oklahoma Indian Territory.

The Favell Museum in nearby Klamath Falls, Oregon, has exhibits on the Modocs, a spectacular collection of Native artifacts, and works of over 300 major Western artists. To the north is the majestic Crater Lake National Park. The startling blue lake had great spiritual meaning to the Modoc people and was often a vision quest destination.

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