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Chapter VIII.

History of the Modoc Indians.

Voltaire describes his countrymen as "half devil and half monkey," and this description applies with equal force to the Modoc tribe of Indians. In general appearance they are far below the tribes of the northern country. They did not possess the steady courage of the Nez Perces, nor the wild dash of the Sioux, but in cunning, and savage ferocity they were not excelled even by the Apaches. In war they relied mainly on cunning and treachery, and the character of their country was eminently suited for the display of these tactics.

Our first knowledge of the Modocs was when they stole upon the camp of Fremont in 1845 at a spring not far from the present site of the now prosperous and thriving village of Dorris. It was here that Fremont suffered the loss of some of his men, including two Delaware Indians, in a daylight attack, and it was here that he was overtaken by a courier and turned back to assist in the conquest of California. From that day to the day when Ben Wright, with a handful of Yreka miners, broke their war power in the so-called "Ben Wright massacre" the Modocs were ever the cruel, relentless foe of the white man, murdering and pillaging without other pretext and without mercy. It has been estimated, by those best capable of giving an opinion, that from first to last not less than three hundred men, women and children had been relentlessly murdered by their hands, up to the beginning of the last war.

The shores of their beautiful lakes and tributary streams are scattered over with the graves and bleaching bones of their victims. Even among neighboring tribes they were known and dreaded for their cunning duplicity and savage ferocity. They are yet known among the Klamaths, Pits, and Piutes as a foe to be dreaded in the days of their power, and these people often speak of them in fear, not because they were brave in open field, but because of their skulking and sudden attacks upon unsuspecting foes.

During the early 50's many immigrants, bound for Southern Oregon and Northern California, passed through their country, traveling the road that passed round the north end of Rett, or Tule Lake, and crossed Lost river at the then mouth of that stream on a natural bridge of lava. A short distance from where the road comes down from the hills to the lake is the ever-memorable "Bloody point." This place has been appropriately named and was the scene of some of the most sickening tragedies that blacken the annals of this or any other country. At this point the rim rock comes down to the edge of the waters of the lake, and receding in the form of a half wheel, again approaches the water at a distance of several hundred yards, forming a complete corral. Secreted among the rocks, the Indians awaited until the hapless immigrants were well within the corral, and then poured a shower of arrows and bullets among them. The victims, all unconscious of danger, taken by surprise, and surrounded on all sides, with but the meager shelter of their wagons, were at the mercy of their savage foes.

In 1850, an immigrant train was caught in this trap, and of the eighty odd men, women and children, but one escaped to tell the awful tale. On the arrival of the news at Jacksonville, Colonel John E. Ross raised a company of volunteers among the miners and hastened to the scene of butchery. Arriving at Bloody Point, the scene was such as to make even that stern old veteran turn sick. The men had died fighting, and their naked bodies lay where they fell. Those of the women not killed during the fight were reserved for a fate ten thousand times worse. The mutilated remains scattered about the ground were fearfully swollen and distorted and partly devoured by wolves and vultures, little children, innocent and tender babes, torn from their mothers' arms, had been taken by the heels and their brains dashed out against the wagon wheels, killed like so many blind puppies. One young woman had escaped out of the corral but had been pursued and butchered in a most inhuman manner. Her throat was cut from ear to ear, her breasts cut off, and otherwise mutilated. Her body was found a mile and a half from the wrecked and half-burned train, and was discovered by her tracks and those of her pursuers.

Again in 1851 Captain John F. Miller raised a company of volunteers at Jacksonville and went out to meet and escort the immigrant trains through the country of the Modocs. Arriving at Bloody point at daylight one morning and finding a train surrounded, he at once vigorously attacked the savages and drove them away, with the loss of several of their warriors. His timely arrival prevented a repetition of the previous year's horror. The savages were followed into the lava beds, but here he was compelled to give up the pursuit, as further advance into this wilderness was to court disaster. The train had been surrounded several days and a number of its members killed and wounded. An escort was sent with the train beyond Lost river and then returned to guard the pass until all the immigrants should have passed through.

During Captain Miller's stay here his scouts discovered smoke coming out of the tules several miles north and west of the peninsula. Tule Lake at that time was a mere tule swamp and not the magnificent body of water we see today. Taking a number of canoes captured from the Indians to lead the way, and mounting his men on their horses, the spot was surrounded at daylight and a large number of women and children captured. Notwithstanding many were dressed in bloody garments, they were all well treated. They were held prisoners until the company was ready to leave, when they were turned loose.

Another company of immigrants was murdered on Crooked creek not far from the ranch of Van Bremer Bros. on the west and south side of lower Klamath lake. Who they were, where they came from, how many in the train, will ever remain an impenetrable mystery. Waiting friends "back in the States" have probably waited long for some tidings of them, but tidings, alas, that never came. We only know that the ill-fated train was destroyed, the members murdered and their wagons burned. Scarface Charley told John Fairchilds that when he was a little boy the Indians killed a great many white people at this point. The charred remains of the wagons and moldering bones of the owners were yet visible when I visited the spot during the Modoc war. Charley said that two white girls were held captives and that one morning while encamped at Hot creek the Indians got into a dispute over the ownership of one of them and to end matters the chief caught her by the hair and cut her throat. Her body, Charley said, was thrown into the rim rock above the Dorris house. Hearing the story in February, 1873, while we were encamped at Van Bremer's ranch, Colonel C. B. Bellinger and I made a search for the body of the ill-fated girl. We found the skull and some bones but nothing more. Enough, however, to verify the story told by Charley. What became of the other Charley did not know, but her fate can better be imagined than described.

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