Home -> Miscellaneous Books -> Reminiscences of a Pioneer -> Chapter 13 - Three Days Battle In the Lava Beds

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Chapter XIII.

Three Days' Battle in the Lava Beds.

The day following the massacre preparations were made for an attack in full force upon the stronghold. Only the regulars were to be engaged in this task, as the volunteers had been discharged, under assurance from Gen. Canby that he was strong enough to control the situation and protect the settlements. The plan of battle which was the same as that adopted by Gen. Wheaton on the 17th of January was to form a cordon of troops around the hostiles and either kill or capture them. The troops were supplied with overcoats, blankets, three days' provisions and an abundance of ammunition. On April 13, Donald McKay arrived with seventy-two Wasco Indians who were at once armed and assigned to duty, and who made a splendid record. Some slight skirmishing had taken place, but no general forward movement was made until the 14th, when the rattle of small arms, the yells of the savages, and the deep boom of the mortars and howitzers told that the battle was on. All day long the troops continued to advance, slowly, keeping under cover as much as possible, and driving the Indians before them. Even with every precaution there was a list of killed and wounded. As night closed in the troops held their position, but the mortars and howitzers continued to send into the stronghold a stream of shells, mingled with the occasional discharge of small arms and the yells of the savages.

During the night Col. Green and Maj. Mason, disobeying orders (I know what I am saying) drove a column in between the Indians and the lake, thus shutting them off from water. This was carrying out the plans formulated and advised by Gen. Wheaton and Gen. Ross after the battle on the 17th of January. When the Indians discovered this move they made a determined attempt to break the line, but the troops had had time to fortify and the attempt proved a failure.

Gen. Gillem the next morning sent for John Fairchilds and asked him to go with Capt. Bancroft and show him where to plant the mortars and also show him the center of the stronghold. Fairchilds told the General that he would show him, but that he was tired acting as errand boy for Tom, Dick and Harry - that he had risked his life enough. Under these circumstances, the General had to go. They started out and had almost reached the line, bullets were singing around, when the General, rubbing his hands, remarked: "Mr. Fairchilds, this is a splendid day's work; how long did it take Gen. Wheaton to get this far?" Fairchilds, as brave a man as ever trod in shoe leather, replied: "General, I do not remember exactly, but as near as I can judge it was about twenty minutes." That remark settled the friendly relations between the two men. I want to say here that Gillem was not the man for the place. He was self-willed, self-opinionated, knew nothing about Indian warfare; in fact, got his shoulder straps through the enterprise of one of his officers and the treachery of a woman, in killing the Confederate Gen. Morgan. He had nothing else to recommend him, and would not take advice from old veterans like Green, Mason, Bernard, Perry and Hasbrook - men who had grown gray in frontier service.

At 9 o'clock on the morning of the second day, Col. Green ordered an advance. The men answered with a cheer, and soon reached a position on top of the ridge next to Jack's camp. Some of the other lines also slowly advanced during the day. Towards evening another desperate attempt was made by the Indians to break the line between them and water. At this time a very near approach to a battle was reached. Volley after volley of rifles rang out, and mingled with the yells of the savages and roar of the artillery made some of the old veterans of the Civil war think they were really in a fight. All the same, men were being killed and others wounded, even though there was no battle.

Col. Green realized that if the Indians could be kept from the water, they would have to surrender or leave the stronghold, and he held on with the tenacity of a bulldog. During the night the squaws went out under the lines and returned with a load of snow, but the warm spell of weather melted the snow rapidly and soon this source was cut off. Still the outlaws held on, and for three days and nights, pressed in by men and guns on every side, subjected to a fire from four sides, with five mortars and three howitzers raining shells upon them, they held to the "hole in the wall" that had been for ages their salvation and their safeguard. The constant rain of bursting shells had filled the caves and crevices of the lava beds with smoke, and cut off from water, on the night of the third day they quietly slipped out from under Gen. Gillem's lines and left - no one knew where.

It may appear incredible, but it is true, that during all this battle of three days and nights, amid the hum of tons of leaden bullets and the bursting of countless shells, not a single Indian was killed. We must except one buck who started in to investigate an unexploded shell. That buck was going to "get 'um powder and lead out" with file and hatchet, and was scattered out over the rocks for his inquisitiveness. But the other Indians were nowhere to be seen. They had passed out under the line of troops as ants would pass through a sponge. The troops took possession of the lava beds, the stronghold, but the Indians were gone. It yet remained for Gen. Gillem to learn another lesson in Indian warfare.

When the news was received by Gov. Grover that the Indians had left the stronghold and that the settlers were again exposed, he ordered out two companies of volunteers, one from Douglas county under Capt. Rodgers and the other from Jackson county under Capt. Hizer. I was not ordered at the time to accompany the volunteers, the "mad-cap from Salem" was to be left behind, but not for long. In spite of the abuse of enemies, mostly those fellows who sought safety with women and children behind strong stockades, and the declaration of Mr. Meacham that I was responsible for the slaughter of men on the 17th of January, "when the brave, reckless, madcap, Col. Thompson, drove his men against the lines of the Modocs," I was again sent to the front. In my letters and newspaper articles I had severely censured Mr. Meacham and he took revenge in his "Wigwam and Warpath" by declaring the mad-cap was to blame for the slaughter. I never met him but once after the close of the war and that was in the library of the old Russ House in San Francisco, where I had gone to call upon a couple of friends. This was in August after the close of the war. He was walking back and forth in the library, his head yet bandaged where the Indians had started to scalp him, when he suddenly turned and said, "Col. Thompson. I want to speak to you." I excused myself to Rollin P. Saxe, one of my friends, and walked up to Mr. Meacham. He said "I had made up my mind to shoot you on sight." Then hesitating an instant, continued, "but I have changed my mind." "Perhaps," I replied, "Mr. Meacham, it is fortunate for you or I that you have changed your mind." He then went on to detail how I had abused him. I said, "Mr. Meacham, before God, you are responsible for the death of Gen. Canby, a noble man and soldier, and I don't know how many others." After conversing some time we separated, never to meet again.

But to return to the war. On the 18th Gen. Gillem sent out Col. Thomas and Major Wright on a scouting expedition in the lava region to discover if possible the whereabouts of the savages. The scouting party numbered sixty-two men, including Lieutenants Cranston, Harve, and Harris. Instead of sending out experienced men, these men were sent to be slaughtered, as the result demonstrated. Gillem was not only incompetent personally, but was jealous of every man, citizen or regular, who was competent. The party scouted around through the lava for a distance of several miles. They saw no Indians or sign of Indians. The hostiles had fled and were nowhere to be found. They sat down to eat their lunch. They were quietly surrounded and at the first fire the soldiers, as is almost always the case, became panic stricken. The officers bravely strove to stem the tide of panic, but hopelessly. The panic became a rout and the rout a massacre, and of the sixty-two men who were sent out that morning but two were alive, and they were desperately wounded.

Had any one of the old experienced officers, like Green, Mason, Perry, Bernard or Hasbrook been sent on this duty a massacre would have been impossible. They would never have been caught off their guard and the sickening massacre would have been averted. The very fact of no Indians in sight would have taught these men caution.

The entire command of Gen. Gillem now became demoralized, and desertions were by the wholesale. Gen. Gillem fortified his camp at the foot of the bluff, and surrounded it with a rock wall. His communications were cut off and his trains captured and destroyed. "Gillem's Camp" was a fort as well as a "graveyard." Trains of wagons were captured, the wagons burned and the animals taken away. The Indians daily fired on his picket line.

Such was the deplorable conditions of affairs when Gen. Jeff C. Davis assumed command. Davis was eminently fitted for the task assigned him. He at once restored confidence among the disheartened and beaten men. He declared if there was to be more massacres he would know who to blame, and led the scouting parties in person. The camp at "Gillem's Graveyard" was broken up, and leaving a force. to hold the stronghold he began scouting and searching for the enemy. He went with six men to search for traces of the hostiles. His action restored confidence, and the men manifested a spirit of fight. Donald McKay and his Wascos were sent to circle the lava beds. That night his signal fires informed Gen. Davis that the Modocs had deserted the lava beds. All available cavalry were sent in pursuit. The command of Capt. Hasbrook had been out all day, and was accompanied by Donald McKay's Indians. Arriving at Dry Lake, then politely called Sauress Lake, they found that there was no water. Wells were dug but to no purpose, and McKay and his Indians were sent back to Boyles' camp for water.

From Dry Lake to Boyles' camp the distance was about twelve miles. With a pack train McKay was in no hurry; as a matter of fact, Donald was never in a hurry when there was danger about. He was an arrant coward, but had some brave men of the Wascos with him. I speak advisedly of what I know.

Capt. Hasbrook's command went into camp feeling secure, as the Indians were in hiding. But Hasbrook, old soldier as he was, had a lesson to learn. During the night a dog, belonging to the packers, kept growling. The boss of the train, Charley Larengel, went to the officer of the guard and told him the Indians were about and that they would certainly be attacked at daylight. Mr. Larengel told me that the officer treated his advice with indifference, not to say contempt. The "boss of the pack train was unduly alarmed, there were no Indians around." But Charley Larengel knew a thing or two. He had been with Crook and knew that hostiles did not come out, shake their red blankets and dare the soldiers to a fight, so he barricaded his camp, using the apparajos as breast works and told the packers to "let the mules go to the devil. We must look out for ourselves."

Just as day began to break over the desolate hills, the fun began. From three sides the Indians poured into the camp a withering fire. As a result the entire command became panic stricken. Seven men were knocked down, almost at the first fire, and it has always been a matter of surprise to me that Hasbrook, old campaigner as he was, should be caught off his guard. It began to look like another Wright-Thomas massacre. Captain Jack stood well out of harm's way, dressed in the uniform of Gen. Canby, and giving orders. It was surely another massacre.

But the Modocs had not seen Donald McKay and his Wascos leave the camp the evening before, nor were they aware that he was within striking distance that morning, at a most critical time. Hearing the firing and yells McKay left his pack animals, and under the leadership of Captain George, chief of the Wascos, attacked the Modocs in the rear.

From a rout of the soldiers it became a rout of the Modocs. They quickly fled and Jack was the first man to run. This brought on dissensions, for the Hot Creeks claimed they had to do all the fighting, all the guard duty, had, in fact, to endure all the hardships, while old Jack in his gold braided uniform stood at a safe distance giving orders. During the dispute Hooker Jim shot at, or attempted to shoot Jack.

The Modocs, or renegades were now out of the lava beds, and with soldiers and volunteers practically surrounding them, and with dissensions in their own camp, the band broke up. Jack and his band went in a northeast direction, closely followed by Hasbrook and McKay's Indians, and two days later surrendered.

The Hot Creeks went around the lower end of Tule Lake and surrendered to Gen. Davis at the Fairchilds-Doten ranch. Hooker Jim, followed them and seeing they were not massacred by the soldiers, determined to surrender. Yet this Indian, one of the worst of the band of outlaws, was an outlaw to every human being on earth. He dared not go to Jack's band, his own party had disowned and tried to kill him. He watched the band from the bald hills above the ranch enter the camp of the soldiers. He saw they were not massacred. He then made up his mind to surrender. He fixed in his mind the tent of Gen. Davis. Crawling as close to the line of pickets as possible, he raised his gun above his head and yelling "Me Hooker Jim," ran through the lines, among soldiers, and up to the tent door of Gen. Davis, threw down his gun, and said, "me Hooker Jim, I give up."

In speaking of the surrender, Gen. Davis said to me: "Here was a man, an outlaw to every human being on earth, throwing down his rifle and saying, "me Hooker Jim, me give up." He stood before me as stolid as a bronze. I have seen some grand sights, but taking everything into consideration, that was the grandest sight I ever witnessed."

Hasbrook followed relentlessly Jack's band and captured them in the canyon below Steel Swamp. Jack was an arrant coward, but old Sconchin, whose bows and arrows I retain as a souvenir, and which were presented to me by a sergeant of the troop, was a fighter, and would have died fighting.

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