Biography of Captain Jack
Bith Date: 1837?
Death Date: 1873
Place of Birth:
Occupations: tribal leader
Kintpuash, son of a Modoc chief, was commonly known as "Captain Jack" because of his penchant for wearing a blue military jacket with brass buttons. Captain Jack (ca 1837-1873) was a major figure in the Modoc War of 1872-1873. Protesting unsuitable conditions on the Klamath Reservation, he led a band of about 50 warriors, resisting forced removal by U.S. troops from their former ancestral lands.
The protestors secluded themselves in the Lava Beds and held off the army for nearly a year. Captain Jack was captured in June 1873 and charged with the murder of General Edward Canby during negotiations. He was executed by hanging on October 3, 1873. His death marked the end of a story of discrimination and conflict between Indians and whites, the Modocs and other northern California tribes, and different factions within the Modoc tribe.
Little is known about Captain Jack's life prior to the age of 25. He was born along the lower Lost River, near the California-Oregon border, in the Wa'chamshwash Village, around 1837. The Modocs lived relatively peacefully in the territory surrounding Clear Lake, Tule Lake and the Lost River. By the 1850s, however, white pressure on the Indian lands, aggravated by the 1848 California Gold Rush, led to conflict. In the early 1850s, Indians attacked a wagon train of immigrants on their way to the West Coast. Because the horses from the train ended up in the possession of the Modocs, the tribe was blamed for the raid. A reprisal party led by the miner, Jim Crosby, did not find the responsible parties, who were members of the Pit River tribe, and took out their frustrations on the Modocs instead. The Modocs, including Captain Jack's father, responded with violence. In 1856 the Modocs ambushed another wagon train at a place called Wagakanna, which the white survivors later labelled "Bloody Point." In response to the massacre, the well-known mountain man and Indian fighter, Ben Wright, organized a vigilante group specifically to stalk and kill Indians. In an attempt to preserve the peace, 45 of the Modoc leaders were invited to a conference and were ambushed by Wright and his men. Wright himself shot Captain Jack's father with a revolver.
Life at the Klamath Reservation
Captain Jack is said to have replaced his father as chief of the clan but it was actually his uncle, Old Schonchin, who compelled the Modocs to abide by the Treaty of 1864. This treaty established a reservation at Klamath Lake, across the California-Oregon boundary. All the Modocs, Klamath and Pit River Indians were to be removed to this tract of land. The reservation, however, was located on former Klamath territory and included none of the Modoc's former hunting grounds. The Klamath, feeling superior to the dispossessed Modocs, harassed and ridiculed their fellow Indians. They demanded concessions, including split wood rails, as payment for the use of Klamath territory. The Indian agents on the reservation also encouraged the Indians to establish a restructured leadership. Instead of hereditary chiefs for each tribe, the Indian men voted for a single reservation chief. The man finally selected was a Klamath native.
The treatment of the Modocs by the Klamath, together with the uncustomary rules of the reservation, caused a rift among the Modocs. Captain Jack renounced the Treaty of 1864 and left the reservation in 1865. Some of the Modoc Indians left with him, and the band returned to their hunting ground along the Lost River. Various groups of Indian agents and military officers visited Captain Jack, trying unsuccessfully to get him to return to the reservation. In December of 1869, a delegation was finally able to convince him. Alfred B. Meacham, the newly appointed Indian superintendent, organized the delegation. He took with him, in addition to soldiers, Captain O. C. Knapp and Ivan Applegate, who both served as agents for the reservation. Also included on the visit were Old Schonchin, and Frank Riddle and his Modoc wife Tobey (later known as Winema) to serve as interpreters.
The Klamath and Modoc Indians lived peacefully together on the reservation for several weeks of the new year, but conflicts soon arose again. The current agent at the reservation, Knapp, refused to become involved. The Modocs were told to work the problems out themselves. In April 1870, Captain Jack called a meeting of all Modocs. They made plans to leave the reservation and, at the end of April, Captain Jack and 371 Modocs returned to Lost River. The rest of the tribe, led by Schonchin, remained on the reservation, although they moved away from the Klamath and settled in Yainax.
Establishment at Lost River
The Modoc presence in northern California caused unrest among the white population. Settlers in the area around the Tule Lake Basin began to demand the removal of Captain Jack and his band. In 1870, Captain Jack made a formal request for a Modoc reservation on the Lost River. The Indian agent Meacham suggested the request be granted but the settlers were enraged. In response, General Edward Canby, a distinguished Civil War veteran with experience in Indian battles, was dispatched to the area. He was placed in charge of a small troop and instructed to keep Captain Jack under control. The settlers were growing impatient with Meacham's lack of action, but neither he nor Canby would make a move until a decision was reached about a reservation site. Finally, in 1872 the Interior Department replaced Meacham as Indian superintendent with T. B. Odeneal. Keith A. Murray describes this action in The Modocs and Their War: "Thus, at this critical point in negotiations, a man who knew almost nothing of the background of the situation and had never met with Jack or the Modocs, was placed in charge of the job of getting Jack to leave Lost River. It is to be granted that Meacham was not a strong agent and that he had shamefully neglected his duty and opportunity to pacify the Modocs."
The final act of the drama began when Jack's niece fell ill. Curly Headed Doctor, the group's shaman or tribal doctor, was absent from the encampment at the time. The nearest healer was the shaman from Klamath. He was sent for, took his payment in advance, but the girl died just the same. Grieved by the unnecessary death and in accordance with tribal custom, Captain Jack killed the shaman for his inefficiency. The Klamath informed the Indian agent and a warrant was issued for Captain Jack's arrest. After a series of unsuccessful conferences, Odeneal made a recommendation to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs on June 17. His solution was to arrest Captain Jack and hold him in custody until he accepted Schonchin's leadership and returned to the reservation at Yainax. It was agreed to take action in September so additional forces could be dispatched should Captain Jack's band resist.
Captain Jack may have suspected the military's true intentions. In September 1872, he resisted all their attempts to meet with him. The order was finally given, at the end of November, to arrest Captain Jack, Black Jim and Scarfaced Charley by the next morning, forcibly if necessary. Troops left Fort Klamath for Captain Jack's stronghold, beginning the first battle of the Modoc War. Captain Jack and 50 of his warriors fought the troops while around 175 women and children fled across the lake to the Lava Beds. The volcanic rock formations absorbed the lead as well as offered cover. Few Indians were killed or wounded, compared to casualties on the American side. The fighting Modocs held out against superior numbers, including approximately 400 reinforcements that arrived in January 1873.
At the end of January, northern California was hit by blizzard. The snow immobilized supply trains as well as the advance of additional troops. Captain Jack used the snowstorm as cover in sending a messenger to the military camp. He wanted to speak with John Fairchild, a rancher who was well liked and trusted by both settlers and Indians, about a settlement. Word was sent that Fairchild would visit when weather permitted. Captain Jack may have wanted peace but his advisors wanted land. They convinced him to continue with the war, holding out with the weather, which was working to their advantage in demoralizing the opposing troops.
Though Fairchild made several trips to and from the stronghold, no agreements were reached. Intermittent fighting continued until March when Captain Jack agreed to meet with the whites in council. By this time Lost River had officially been rejected as a reservation site. Entering the negotiations with the assumption that a compromise was sought, Captain Jack suggested two other sites as possible reservations for the Modocs. General Canby promptly refused. Albert Britt summarized the negotiation in his book, Great Indian Chiefs: "The only peace offered them was the peace of submission. As each location that the Modocs would accept was rejected by Canby, it became increasingly clear that the only reservation for them would be that they would share with the unfriendly Klamath. And that had no look of peace to the Modocs."
Planned "Final" Negotiations
At this point Captain Jack called a council among his own people in the Lava Beds. Schonchin John and Black Jim, two tribesmen who were wanted by the authorities for killing soldiers, challenged Jack's leadership. They insisted he prove his commitment to the Modoc cause by killing the white representatives. Captain Jack was in a difficult position. For himself he wanted peace, an end to the fighting. As a leader of his people, however, he was obliged to meet their need for land of their own. Captain Jack spent the following two days alone in his cave, struggling with this decision. A mutual friend warned Winema (Tobey Riddle) that the negotiators would be murdered. When she, in turn, tried to warn Canby and the other representatives, they did not believe her.
The council met again on April 11, 1873. Captain Jack, Schonchin John, Boston Charley, Bogus Charley, Black Jim and Hooker Jim met with Captain Meacham, General Canby and the Reverend Mr. Thomas. Frank Riddle and his wife Winema served as interpreters. Captain Jack made a final plea for a reservation to be established for his people at Hot Creek in California. Britt describes the next events: "[A]s though the enumeration of his grievances and his thought of the home that he knew now he was not to have had broken the last thread of his resistance to violence and kindled fresh hated of the whites, he shouted in Modoc, Ut-wih-kutt, [Let's do it,] and fired at Canby." Captain Jack knew the fate of the Modocs was sealed. Whether judged by their fellow Indians or a jury of white men, they had committed an unforgivable act by striking down unarmed men during negotiations. Jack later stated that after killing Canby, he returned to the Lava Beds with the assumption that he would die in the fighting that followed. The Modoc representatives fled back to the Lava Beds and fighting began once more on April 14.
Capture and Trial
By May the Modoc resistance had begun to crumble. Quarrels among the Indian leaders caused the group to fragment and surrender piecemeal. Hooker Jim even offered to turn Captain Jack over to the U.S. soldiers in return for his life and liberty. Captain Jack turned in his gun in late May, accompanied by Schonchin John, Black Jim and Boston Charley. His trial began on July 5 at Fort Klamath. Steamboat Frank, Hooker Jim, and Bogus Charley--those who had convinced Captain Jack to kill the negotiators--were also present at the trial but not in custody. The four men were hung on October 3, 1873. Captain Jack was asked to name his successor, but he refused. The entire Modoc band from Lost River was forced to witness the execution. All the soldiers from Fort Klamath were also required to attend.
After the bodies were buried, Captain Jack's was exhumed and taken by freight train to Yreka. Some reports state his body was embalmed and then sent to Washington, D.C. Others suggest it was decapitated and his head then used in carnival side shows. Whatever became of his body, the Modocs gained no ground for their efforts. The cost of the Modoc War was enormous compared to its results. The tribe requested a reserve of land with a value of approximately $20,000, according to most sources. As Britt explains in Great Indian Chiefs, the government spent $500,000 on the war, in addition to losing "the lives of eight officers, thirty-nine privates, sixteen volunteers, two Indian scouts, and eighteen settlers--a trumpery affair, as wars go." The remaining Modocs were escorted to a reservation on Shawnee land in the Indian Territory. They arrived at their destination, Seneca Springs on the Quapaw Agency, almost one year after the war began.
- Britt, Albert, Great Indian Chiefs, Books for Libraries Press, 1938.
- Dockstader, Frederick J., Great North American Indians, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1991.
- Murray, Keith A., The Modocs and Their War, University of Oklahoma Press, 1959.
- Native North American Almanac, edited by Duane Champagne, Gale Research, 1994.