[From the New York Herald, 1873; story by Edward Fox]
Yreka, Cal., March 26, 1873.
he prospects of peace with the Modoc Indians are not very promising, as they appear to grow more independent every day, and consequently more grasping in their demands. Mr. Meacham still represents the Peace Commission at Van Bremer’s, and was joined yesterday by the Rev. Mr. Thomas, a newly appointed member sent by the Indian Bureau to practice the theory of moral suasion. Mr. Dyar is expected from Oregon every day. Judge Rosborough will come as soon as he can leave his court at Shasta. Great things are expected from the new peace delegates, but I am an unbeliever and maintain that the Modocs will not leave this section of the country until the military have exercised a little physical suasion. At present the Modocs are firmly imbued with the belief that they can “lick” all the soldiers that can be brought against them, and consequently intend remaining where they are.
As General Canby is evidently getting rather tired of the peace manipulations the troops will soon be moved into position surrounding the lava beds, and then some aggressive movements will be made in order to impress the Modocs with an idea of the number of soldiers that can be brought against them. It is expected that the mortars will have a very salutary effect on their weak nerves, as in the last fight they expressed considerable curiosity about the guns that “shot twice.” On that occasion, however, only a few shots were fired from the howitzers, and none of them took effect, only one shell bursting within their neighborhood and that about one hundred and fifty feet above their heads.
Last Friday [21 March] we made a reconnoissance of the lava beds in force and did not get back until midnight the same day. The object of the scout was to give Generals Canby and Gillem a chance to examine the country with a view to selecting a camp on Tule Lake somewhere near the foot of the bluffs. General Canby and aide-de-camp, Captain Anderson, Major Mason, Major Throckmorton and Major Thomas, of the Fourth artillery; Acting Assistant Surgeon Cabaniss, the Herald correspondent, Colonel Biddle and Lieutenants Cresson and Bacon, with Troop K of the First cavalry, left Van Bremer’s at half-past six A.M. and met General Gillem, Assistant Surgeon McMillin, Major Trimble, Lieutenant Rockwell, Colonel Perry, Mr. McKay and Troop F of the First cavalry, at the bridge over Willow Creek. The entire force, numbering over one hundred rank and file, then followed the trail to the top of the bluff overlooking the lava beds and were then dismounted. They arrived at this point about noon, and Generals Canby and Gillem got out their field glasses and took a good look at the lava beds that lay directly beneath them. The Indians were seen below us, moving about as if in rather an excited state, and gathering in about twelve or fifteen horses that were scattered over the plain. Presently three or four of them took up a position on a ledge of rock, about a mile from the foot of the bluffs, which appeared to be their first line of fortifications.
They began to shout to us in English, and finally asked one man to come down and talk, saying that he would not be hurt. Acting Assistant Surgeon Cabaniss was then sitting about half way down the bluffs, and when he heard their request he asked permission of General Canby to go and see what they wanted. The General answering in the affirmative, Dr. Cabaniss went down the hill and walked across to where the Indians were sitting behind the rocks. Looking through our glasses, we saw him shake hands with them and sit down for a talk. Presently one of the party got up, and, bringing out a white horse from behind the rocks, rode off in the direction of Captain Jack’s cave. Dr. Cabaniss then returned to the foot of the bluffs, and shouted up that he wanted another man to come down. I then got up and started down the hill, preceded by Lieutenant Moore, who was called back by General Canby and returned to the top of the bluff.
When I got about half way down I heard Dr. Cabaniss’ message, which was that a Captain Jack and Schonchin would talk with Generals Canby and Gillem at the juniper tree, half way between the foot of the bluffs and their present position. I passed the message on to General Canby who was seated at the top of the bluffs, and, after receiving his approval of the proposition, continued on and joined Dr. Cabaniss at the foot of the hill, and we both walked across to where the Indians were awaiting our return. They all shook hands with me when I arrived, and after setting my pipe on its rounds sat down and had a talk. There were only four Modocs on duty when I came up, and one of them, William, my host on the occasion of my former visit to the lava beds, was stripped to the waist and in full war paint. They occupied a rather ingenious fortification of about thirty feet front. It was originally a wall of rock about twenty feet high, with a projecting ledge about ten feet from the ground. On the edge of this ledge they had built a breastwork of loose rocks, about four feet high, which allowed them a space about three feet deep to work in, with the main rock at their backs. They were all armed, two with Springfield rifles, one with a Spencer carabine and the other with an old-fashioned Kentucky rifle. We sat some time talking, but, as none of those present spoke English well, gained no information of importance.
The messengers sent after Captain Jack returned shortly afterwards and said he was on his way, but wished to meet Generals Canby and Gillem nearer to his own camp. We, however, overruled that suggestion, stating that General Canby was a big Tyee and an old man, and therefore would not come any further than the juniper tree, which they had designated for a place of meeting. They finally agreed to stand to the old arrangement, and Dr. Cabaniss started for the Bluffs to get General Canby and General Gillem down to the appointed place. I remained with the Modocs, who were presently reinforced by Scar-faced Charley, Boston Charley, Wild Gal and several others. We presently saw General Canby and General Gillem come down the hill and sit down, awaiting the arrival of Captain Jack. Dr. Cabaniss then returned to where we were, and sat down in the circle. The Indians appeared rather nettled about the loss of their horses, and were rather particular in their inquiries who were the soldiers that took them away. I told them they were taken by a hundred new soldiers, hoping that the knowledge of such an addition to our forces might have a wholesome effect, but I am grieved to say they did not look very scared.
One gentleman, on hearing the news, passed his hand affectionately over a scalp of curly brown hair that covered his shot pouch, as if congratulating himself on the speedy acquisition of more of the same sort. This was too much for my refined and well educated wool to endure, and it gently raised my hat, as if it desired to remind me of the company I was in. I took the hint, and when I got back to Van Bremer’s had my hair cut off, thinking it might not wear well as a pouch cover. After waiting about an hour Captain Jack arrived, accompanied by the Curley-Headed Doctor, Steamboat Frank and about a dozen others. After shaking hands with the party I showed Captain Jack where General Canby and General Gillem were sitting awaiting his arrival.
He did not show any very great eagerness for an interview, and thought General Canby had better come where he was. To this motion, however, I put a most decided veto, but, in order to reassure him of his safety, said that Dr. Cabaniss and I would remain where we were as hostages for his safe return. He then appeared more satisfied and started to meet the Generals, accompanied by Scar-faced Charley, Steamboat Frank, the Curley-Headed Doctor and three others. Just as they were going I noticed that they had their guns and immediately told them they must leave them behind. To this, however, they objected; but finally, after I had explained that General Canby and General Gillem were unarmed, Scar-faced Charley set the example by laying down his gun, and the others did the same, with the exception of Steamboat Frank, who got sulky and asked me what I was afraid of. I told him I was not afraid, as I had come to see twenty of them, all armed, carrying guns, but General Canby was a big Tyee, and when he talked peace he came without arms and expected to meet Indians without arms.
This satisfied the others, but Steamboat was evidently in a bad humor, and sat down, refusing to go. The others started off, but before they had got half way I noticed that three of them had not taken off their revolvers. As they were then pretty near the place of meeting I thought it better to let them go on, trusting that there would be no contretemps to mar the harmony of the meeting. Our position would not have been very pleasant if one of those revolvers had gone off accidentally, as the soldiers on the bluffs would immediately have come tearing down to see what was the matter, and our scalps would probably have suffered before they were half way down.
The conference, however, concluded peacefully, and as soon as we saw Generals Canby and Gillem on their way back, we left our friends and started for the top of the bluffs. On the way we met Captain Jack and his party returning from the talk, and we stopped for a few minutes to find out the result of the conference. Captain Jack said he had not talked much and did not think that the soldier Tyees had much good to offer. He said he wanted peace and wanted to remain where he was. We then shook hands and left them pushing on up the hill to join the rest of the party. As soon as we got to the top of the hill we mounted our horses and started to return to Van Bremer’s. It was half past six P.M. when we left the bluffs, and our party did not get to Van Bremer’s until after midnight, after a ride of about forty-four miles. General Gillem and party returned to Dorris’ ranch.
On the way back General Canby told me that he did not think Jack wanted peace unless he could get Lost River. Captain Jack told him as he was going away that if he had anything to give him he could send it down to the lava beds. General Canby asked him why they did not come out and meet the wagons according to their own proposal, and to that question he could not get an answer. The General is of the opinion that nothing can be done with the Modocs until they have experienced the power of the troops and thoroughly understand their position.
The Lost River troops marched last Sunday from their old camp and are now located on the east side of Tule Lake, about three miles from Captain Jack’s cave. The howitzers, under command of Lieutenant Chapin, are with them. General Gillem and the two troops of cavalry at Dorris’ are expected at Van Bremer’s to-morrow, and in a few days all the troops from the latter place will move into camp at Tule Lake, at the foot of the bluffs, about two and one-half miles this side of Captain Jack’s cave. The Modocs will then be between the two camps. Major Mason is in command on the east side and Major Green will take charge on this side. If the Peace Commissioners do not succeed with “moral suasion,” General Canby will probably try the power of the military. The attack will be made in skirmishing order, quietly, but firmly, and the troops will take their blankets and hold their position during the night. Under cover of night they will be supplied with rations and fresh water. The mortars will cover the advance of the troops and keep shelling Captain Jack’s stronghold day and night. These tactics will, I am satisfied, have more effect upon Captain Jack and his band than all the “moral suasion” of the Peace Commission and Indian Bureau combined. I return to Van Bremer’s to-morrow morning.
[The juniper tree conference occurred 21 March. The date of 23 March occasionally given for this event is based on Canby’s statement in a telegram dated 24 March that he “had an unsatisfactory meeting with Captain Jack yesterday afternoon” (Modoc War, p. 74). The telegram is clearly misdated. As it was received in Washington on the 25th, it can hardly have been written later than the 23rd, two days transmission time from the front to Washington being typical. The 24th would therefore be the date the telegram was sent from Yreka, not the date it was written. Correspondent Alexander McKay’s account of this expedition appeared only in the Yreka Union, 29 March 1873. The San Francisco Evening Bulletin, 25 March 1873, carried instead the Associated Press story derived from Fox’s account of events. Fox had carried General Canby’s dispatches to Yreka, writing this account and the earlier telegraphed dispatch there. He left Yreka 27 March, returning to the front. sbh]