Home -> Miscellaneous Books -> Reminiscences of a Pioneer -> Chapter 14 - Trailing the Fugitives

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Chapter XIV.

Trailing the Fugitives.

While all this was going on I was riding from Salem, Oregon, "Gov. Grover's mad-cap Colonel," as Jas. D. Fay, Harvey Scott of the Oregonian, and some other of my enemies, designated me. Fay did not like me and I happened to to be with Senator Nesmith when he caned Harvey Scott in the Chemeketa Hotel at Salem. My meeting with Senator Nesmith was accidental, but Scott never forgave me, nor did he in fact neglect any opportunity to "lambaste" me after that time.

But to return to my trip. The Oregon volunteers had been ordered out, with General Ross in command. The murderers of the 17 settlers along the shores of Tule Lake had been indicted by the Grand jury of Jackson County, Oregon. The Governor demanded the surrender of the murderers from the United States authorities. The murderers were not yet captured but we knew it was only a matter of days. I left Salem on Thursday and went by train to Roseburg that evening. There I took the stage, and telegraphing ahead for horses at Jacksonville found a magnificent saddle horse awaiting me. Did you ever travel from Salem to Roseburg by train and then by stage to Jacksonville through the long weary night?

If so you will have some faint idea of my condition. Arriving at Jacksonville I lost no time in proceeding on my journey. That night I rode to Coldwells' place, sometimes called the Soda Springs. The next morning at 4 o'clock, after only about 4 hours' rest in 48, I started on my journey. I knew how to ride a horse, how to save him and how to rest him. At the head of "Green Springs" I met a Government courier. He told me that Gen. Ross had left Linkville that morning with his entire command.

Thanking the courier, I then began to ride, and at precisely half past 11 o'clock was shaking hands with Alex Miller at Linkville. I had ridden one horse 55 miles that morning over a range of mountains. Mr. Miller asked me, when did you leave Salem?"

"Day before yesterday noon," I replied.

"If I did not have all kinds of respect for you I would call you a liar" remarked Mr. Miller. Just them J. B. Neil and Mr. Jackson, District Attorney and Sheriff of Jackson County came up, and showing these gentlemen my papers with the dates, stopped all further discussion of the matter. But I said, "Alex, I want the best horse in Linkville, for I am going to overtake Gen. Ross tonight."

"You shall have not only the best horse in Linkville, but the best horse in the State of Oregon." A ride of 45 miles that evening accompanied by Mr. Neil and Mr. Jackson, convinced me that Alex. Miller told me the truth. We reached the headquarters of Gen. Ross late in the night. I had ridden that day 95 miles on two horses, and I want here to plead guilty to cruelty to animals. The horse I rode into Linkville, to use the common expression, "quit," and the only means I could use to get a "move on," was to shoot the tips of his ears off with my revolver. I will say further that this is the only instance in my life when I was cruel to a dumb brute, but I justified myself then and now on the grounds of "Duty."

Arriving at Headquarters, "for the night," as the General expressed it, the next morning we took up the trail of a band of Jack's renegades. Black Jim, one of the worst of the band of murderers, headed the band. There were only about twenty men in the outfit, and the only means we had of following them was by a crutch used by an Indian shot by John Fairchilds on the 17th of January. Late one evening, in fact just at sundown, we lost the trail. We had tracked the stick to a juniper tree, but there lost it. Finally one of our boys discovered a hand up in the juniper and leveling his gun, told him to come down.

After some parley the Indian came down. Gen. Ross and I told him we were chiefs and that all Indians surrendering would be protected. A hundred yards away, somewhere between Tule Lake and Langel Valley, there was a rim rock, and in this the Indians were hiding. On assurance from our juniper tree man they finally surrendered. Only Black Jim showed any hesitancy, but the muzzle of a 50 caliber Springfield answered as a magnificent persuader.

We then returned to Tule Lake, sending for Mrs. Body and Mrs. Schira to identify the murderers of their families. We were still on the Oregon side of the line, but much to our disappointment neither of the ladies could identify any of the men. We had Black Jim but the ladies did not and could not identify him. We therefore took them to the headquarters of Gen. Davis and surrendered them at the Peninsula.

We arrived about 10 o'clock. I went to the tent of Gen. Wheaton and told him my business. Mr. Neil and Mr. Jackson were with me. Gen. Wheaton took us up to the tent of Gen. Davis and introduced us. I presented to Gen. Davis my papers and told him that the officers of the law were there. The General replied, as nearly as I can remember, "Colonel, I will deliver them to you at any time after 2 o'clock, at least, I will deliver to you their bodies." I simply replied, "that is entirely satisfactory, both to the officers present, the Governor of Oregon and to your humble servant."

He then told me that he had the timbers all framed and ready to put together and intended to hang all the murderers promptly at 2 o'clock.

While we were talking a courier arrived with dispatches from the Secretary of War instructing him to hold the murderers until further orders. All were astounded, but a soldier has no choice but to obey orders. Gen. Davis was angry, and remarked to me that if he "had any way of making a living for his family outside of the army he would resign today."

Mrs. Body, Mrs. Schira, Mrs. Brotherton were all there. Their entire families had been wiped out-butchered. The Indians took a large amount of jewelry, pictures, and more than $4,000 in money. A tent had been spread for the ladies and Gen. Davis had ordered a tent, with tables, chairs, bed, writing material, etc., arranged for my convenience. The correspondent of the New York Herald was living at the sutler's tent, in fact, with good old Pat McManus.

Mrs. Body and Mrs. Schira had also been provided with a tent. They sent to Gen. Davis and asked that they be permitted to talk with Black Jim, Hooker Jim and one or two others. They said that possibly some of the family relics could be reclaimed. The order was issued and the General and I were talking of the awful results of the war and its blunders.

Suddenly Fox of the New York Herald called at the door of Gen. Davis' tent and said, "the women are going to kill the Indians." Both of us sprang from the tent door and rushed to the tent where the women were domiciled. Davis was ahead of me. I saw Mrs. Schira with a double edged knife poised. Hooker Jim was standing fronting the women, as stolid as a bronze. Mrs. Schira's mother was attempting to cock a revolver. Gen. Davis made a grab for the knife, catching the blade in his right hand and in the struggle his hand was badly lacerated. A surgeon was called who dressed the wounded hand, and then we all went to dinner at "Boyles' mess." At the dinner table were seated about forty officers, men grown gray in the service of their country and young Lieutenants just out from West Point. The latter, as is always the case, were in full uniform, while the old fellows wore little or nothing that would indicate their calling or rank. During dinner one of the young men made some slighting remark about the conduct of the women in attempting to kill the Indians, characterizing their act as unwarranted and a breach of respect to the General.

Instantly Gen. Davis pushed back from the table and rose to feet, fire flashing from his eyes, and if ever a young upstart received a lecture that young officer received one. I was sitting to the left of Gen. Davis while Jesse Applegate, one of the "Makers of Oregon," sat at his right. The General spoke of the women as the wife and daughter of a frontiersman, and before whom stood the bloody handed butcher of husbands and sons. It was one of the most eloquent, at the same time one of the most withering addresses that it has ever been my fortune to hear. Resuming his seat the General continued his conversation with those about him, but there were no more remarks, you may be assured, upon this incident.

The next morning at daylight the orderly to Gen. Davis came to my tent and awaking me said that the General wanted to see me at once. Hastily dressing I walked over to the General's tent. He was sitting on the side of his camp bed, partly undressed. Jas. Fairchilds was sitting in the tent talking as I entered. The General asked him to repeat to me what he had been saying. Mr. Fairchilds then proceeded to relate that a bunch of Indians, four bucks and a lot of women and children, had come in to the ranch and surrendered. He had loaded them into a wagon and started to the Peninsula to turn them over to the military authorities. When within about six miles of his destination he was headed off by two men who were disguised past identification. They ordered him to stop and unhitch his team and after doing so was told to drive the horses up the road. When about thirty yards away he was ordered to stop. The men then began killing the Indians while he stood looking on and holding to his team. After firing a dozen shots into the wagon, the men rode away, telling him to remain there and not to leave. He remained until dark and then mounting one of his horses rode to camp.

While we were talking Donald McKay came up and accused the volunteers of the massacre. I told Gen. Davis that it was impossible that the volunteers could have committed the crime. McKay was drunk and swaggered around a great deal and finally asked the General to let him take his Indians and follow the volunteers and bring them back.

Becoming angered at the talk and swagger of McKay I told the General to let him go, and plainly told McKay that I would go with him. That he, McKay, was an arrant coward and could not take any one, much less a company of one hundred men. I then expressed my belief to Gen. Davis that the killing had been done by some of the settlers whose relatives had been massacred by the savages; that Gen. Ross had gone around the south end of the lake and that Capt. Hizer must have been many miles on his road towards Linkville.

I told him, however, that I would make an investigation and if possible bring the perpetrators of the act to justice. Mounting my horse I rode rapidly back to where the wagon was standing in the road. The women and children were still in the wagon with their dead, not one of them having moved during the night. It was a most ghastly sight, the blood from the dead Indians had run through the wagon bed, and made a broad, red streak for twenty yards down the road. Soon after my arrival Donald McKay rode up, and I ordered him to go to the lake and get some water for the women, one of whom had been severely wounded. Soon after his return with the water Mr. Fairchilds came with the team and all were taken to the camp. The woman was not seriously hurt, but the four bucks were literally shot to pieces.

I remained several days at the Peninsula, making an excursion into the lava beds in company with Capt. Bancroft of the artillery, and with Bogus Chancy as guide. We explored many of the caves, at least as far as we were able with poor lighting material at our command. I then started to overtake the volunteers, coming up with them before reaching Jacksonville, where Capt. Hizer's company was discharged. Capt. Rogers, of the Douglas county company, was discharged at Roseburg. After this I returned to my newspaper work at Salem, Oregon.

The Indians were moved from Boyles' Camp at the Peninsula to Fort Klamath where five of them, Jack, Sconchin, Black Jim, Hooker Jim and Boston Charley were all executed on the same gallows. One of the murderers of the Peace Commission, "Curley Headed Doctor," committed suicide on the road to Klamath. The remainder of the Indians were then moved to the Indian Territory, where the remnants now live.

Thus ended the farce-tragedy of the Modoc war, a farce so far as misguided enthusiasts and mock humanitarians could make it in extending the olive branch of peace to redhanded murderers. And a tragedy, in that from first to last the war had cost the lives of nearly four hundred men and about five millions of dollars.

The foregoing pages describe in simple language what I saw of the Modoc war. Several so-called histories have been written purporting to be true histories. One by A. B. Meacham in his "Wigwam and Warpath." Meacham wrote with the view of justifying all that Meacham did and said. It was, in fact, written in self defense. Another, by one "Captain Drehan," who claimed to have been "Chief of Scouts." The gallant Captain was simply a monumental romancer. No such man served at any time during the war. Donald McKay was chief of scouts, and the exploits of Drehan existed only in his own imagination. I was personally acquainted with all the officers and know that no such man was there. For the truth of all I have said I simply refer the Doubting Thomases to the official reports on file at Washington.

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