atm-logoWho is Captain Jack?

Paul Gordon
St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada

Captain Jack, whose real name was Kintpuash, was a Modoc sub-chief who lived on the California-Oregon border. He apparently acquired his nickname from Yreka area miners due to the brass-buttoned military jacket he wore that soldiers had given him.

As whites began encroaching on Modoc lands, friction between the two groups heightened. A clash between the Modoc and the U.S. military broke out in 1872; men on both sides (as well as some civilians) were slain.

Around 150 Modoc, led by a reluctant Captain Jack, fled to the lava beds of northern California. Jack knew they couldn’t win and wanted to surrender, but he was voted down by other leaders—who questioned his manhood. To restore his reputation, Captain Jack murdered Gen. E.R.S. Canby and Rev. Eleazar Thomas during a peace conference on April 11, 1873.

Within a month, the Army had defeated most of the Modoc in battle. Tribe members began quarreling among themselves, and some helped the Army capture Captain Jack and other leaders in June. Captain Jack and three others were hanged on October 3, 1873.

After his burial, Jack’s body was dug up, embalmed and shipped back East. Legend has it he was exhibited at a sideshow for 10 cents a view.

Captain Jack was not a great warrior, and he allowed himself to be goaded into treacherously murdering two peace commissioners. His is a tragic story, but not the stuff of legend.


Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian.
His latest book is Wyatt Earp: Showdown at Tombstone.

If you have a question, write:
Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008,
Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him at

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