25 February 2020

A Visit to the Stronghold [guest post by Edward Fox, 25 February 1873]

[From the New York Herald, 1873; story by Edward Fox]
 write this despatch in Captain Jack’s cave, in the lava beds, having at last reached this spot, though not without considerable difficulty. In my last despatch I stated that John Fairchild, Bob Whittle and the two [women], Matilda and Artena, were to leave on the morning of the 24th for Captain Jack’s camp, with instructions to arrange a meeting between the Modocs and the Peace Commissioners. I also stated that I had applied for permission to Mr. Meacham to accompany these men into the lava beds, in order to give the public, through the Herald, some idea of this band of warriors and the stronghold which they defended so bravely. As you already know, my request was peremptorily denied, and Whittle had given the most decided orders not to permit any member of the press to accompany his expedition. I finally concluded that Mr. Meacham had no authority to govern my going and coming in this section of the country, and, therefore, determined to make an attempt to go on my own responsibility. Knowing that my movements at Fairchild ranch would be rather closely scrutinized, I left there on the afternoon of Sunday, the 23d, saying that I intended riding over to Van Bremer’s ranch and stopping through the night with the officers of the Fourth artillery. This movement was not suspected, and before leaving I casually asked Fairchild at what time they intended to start next morning, and he replied:—
“Seven A.M.”
I felt considerably relieved when I got clear of the headquarters of the Peace Commissioners, as Mr. Meacham might have asked General Canby to give orders that I was not to leave the neighborhood, which would naturally have left me in rather an awkward position. After a good night’s sleep at Van Bremer’s, I got up at reveille and made a start at 7:30, riding down the road towards Fairchild’s in order to meet the party. It had then been snowing some two or three hours, and the ground was covered with a white, fleecy coating. When I arrived at the bridge over Willow Creek I found, as there were no tracks, that the party had not yet come up, so I rode on to meet them. They finally came in sight, Fairchild and Artena leading and Whittle and Matilda bringing up the rear. I immediately rode up to Fairchild and told him I wanted to accompany him. He replied that personally he had no objections, but as the party was under the charge of Bob Whittle I must get his permission. I then rode back to Whittle, and my request was very firmly but politely refused. He said:—
“If you had spoken to me before I was engaged by the Peace Commissioners I would have been happy to have gone with you, but now I am in the government employ, and you know yourself what my instructions were.”
I talked to him for about five minutes, until at last he said:—
“I am very sorry; but either you or I must go back.”
I thought at first of going in alone, but after mature consideration I concluded to turn back, as to hunt for a place twenty miles distant without any further ideas as to the locality to be found would probably result in a failure.
I then said, “Goodby,” and started to ride back, and after trotting along for about half a mile my eye fell on the freshly imprinted horse tracks that were so clearly seen in the newly fallen snow.
I immediately wheeled round, as in an instant I saw my guide to the lava beds. Those tracks would take me there. I rode slowly at first, and was always cautious going up hill to peep over the top before I exposed myself and horse to the plain that lay before me. After a ride of about two hours along the southwestern shore of Klamath Lake the tracks turned sharp to the right up a hill and led through a mass of loose rocks, which proved rather an obstacle to fast travelling. At the top of the hill, seeing nobody on the flat before me, I quickened my pace, as I thought the Modoc country could not be very far off. My judgement was not in error, as from the next eminence I saw the party about a mile and a half ahead, with … Artena in advance. I then concluded that they were in Indian country, and so rode on pretty fast, and presently Fairchild and Whittle caught sight of me. They immediately pulled up and waited until I came up. Whittle appeared rather annoyed at first, but finally said—
“Well, well, now you have come, you had better keep up close, as we have been seen by the Modocs before now.”
He added, “If I had seen you a couple of minutes further back I would have turned back; but as we have been seen it would be unwise to return now.” We all rode on quietly, and in about three-quarters of an hour arrived at the bluffs overlooking the lava beds, without having seen an Indian. As Whittle expected to meet the Indians on that spot, he gathered some brush together and lit a fire in order to let them know we had arrived. In about twenty minutes’ time we saw a couple of horsemen and a man on foot coming across the plain below in the direction of the foot of the bluff. They finally came up the hill towards us, and I had the pleasure of an introduction to Hooker Jim, Modoc Dave and Steamboat Frank.
These three gentlemen were all armed to the teeth. Two of them had Springfield rifles, and the other, Frank, had a cavalry Spencer carbine, with equipments. Each of them had a revolver and large sheath knife. After a little talk and smoke round the fire Frank said that Captain Jack wanted to see Mr. Fairchild in camp. We then walked down the bluff, leading our horses, and on arriving at its base I discovered what I had taken to be a flat plain was a rolling surface, covered with sharp-edged rocks, and interspersed with large and deep holes, half filled with broken scoria. The trail was very rough, and we walked slowly along, our horses feeling the travelling rather bad. We came presently on one of Captain Jack’s scouting parties, and found half a dozen warriors warming themselves around a fire, while their horses were nibbling at the bunch grass in the vicinity. We got off and I was again introduced and went through some more hand shaking and more smoking. My smoking qualities were evidently much admired by the Modocs, and they also expressed themselves favorably of the quality of my tobacco. This party were also well armed and all painted.
They were all painted pretty much alike—that is, the entire lower part of the face was smeared with a brownish red or black composition of a greasy nature. It gave them a very hideous appearance, and coming upon this group standing round the blazing fire, each with a musket in his hand and revolver and knife in the belt, they were not calculated to reassure the visitors of the pacific nature of the inhabitants of the lava bed. We did not make a very long stay, however, and moved along, our party being now reinforced by these half dozen scouts. About a half mile further on we came upon another camp of about fifty men, women and children.
They were nearly all lying in a rocky spur, around a blazing fire, but as we approached they rose and came down to meet us. Their costume was of a very heterogeneous nature, showing that their clothing was collected at different epochs of time. Most of them, however, had soldiers’ overcoats, and the [women] appeared very partial to red petticoats.
Here I was introduced to John Schonchin, the brother of Schonchin, the old chief of the tribe, and several other notabilities. After a delay of about five minutes we started again, accompanied by our new acquaintances, which consequently swelled our train considerably.
The road became worse and worse, and the country more hillish-looking every minute. It defies description, and now I can perfectly understand how these forty or fifty men so demoralized the three hundred regulars and volunteers that attacked them on the 17th January. The Modocs appeared to skip nimbly over the rocks, but our horses were completely nonplussed, and my quadruped required considerable persuasion in order to induce him to move forward. We were presently met by Bogus Charley, one of the Old Hat Creek Indians, who was evidently glad to see Fairchild, and a few minutes afterwards a most diabolical-looking Indian, called Charley Miller, came riding down towards us, motioning us back with his hand. A lively discussion then ensued in the Modoc tongue, a language with which I have not yet become acquainted; but … Matilda, acting as interpreter, told me that Captain Jack had sent orders for us to camp where we were and not advance any further. Bogus Charley, Frank and Dave appeared considerably exercised over this order, as Charley stated that Fairchild should come and sleep at his house. Dave added that Whittle and the Herald correspondent should stop at his. I cannot say that at the moment I was very grateful to Mr. Dave for this exercise of hospitality, as I concluded that, should these gentlemen come to blows over this little question of etiquette, the guest would probably fare the worst of all. At this juncture, however, Scar-faced Charley came up and immediately settled the matter by saying we all could come into camp. Fairchild and Artena here left us, taking the left hand trail to go to Captain Jack’s house, and we went to the right, led by Mr. Dave, who was quite happy at having captured his guests. I now dismounted, as the trail became nearly impassable, and after passing through a wild-looking gorge, with walls of craggy rock, about twenty-five feet in height, we climbed up some rocks, and then, suddenly descending a nearly perpendicular wall of broken scoriæ landed in a chasm, surrounded by walls about thirty feet in height, formed of broken rock, apparently piled indiscriminately one on top of the other. There were three or four Indian rancherias located in this wild-looking spot. As our guide entered one of these primitive habitations we dismounted, and, taking off our saddles, made our horses fast to some of the large rocks that had evidently been scattered around with a liberal hand. We then entered the rancheria and squatted down in Indian fashion round the fire, which was built in a cavity formed by two rocks that nature had placed in a position similar to the apex of an equilateral triangle. This rancheria, or “wikkiup,” was only built up to the rocks, so that the fire was really in the open air, and I afterwards found, when the fire was out, the keen, frosty air was rather biting and sharp when it attacked the pedal extremities. After sitting for about half an hour round the fire, which time was passed in distributing tobacco and making the acquaintance of several other painted savages, I was told by Matilda that there was a little difference of opinion as to whether the Herald correspondent was to be admitted to the council. To the credit of the Modoc nation, I am happy to say that the friends of literature predominated, and a messenger presently arrived with orders to convey our party to the council cave, accompanied by Bob Whittle and his [wife]. I followed our guide, and after clambering up the rough walls of one chasm we walked, or rather crawled, about one hundred yards over some broken rocks, when the guide suddenly disappeared down a dark hole. The Herald correspondent followed, but, not being acquainted with the nature of the country, went down faster than necessary, and found himself in a large cave, lit up by the blaze of a fire, which was burning in the centre, and gave sufficient light to enable me to see some fifty or sixty Modocs seated round in circles four or five deep. Edging my way through this motley throng, I came to a vacant spot in the front circle, but before sitting down shook hands with Captain Jack and Scar-faced Charley, on whose left, with considerable courtesy, I was placed. I took my seat there like the rest. It was a strange scene, and a fit subject for some figure artist, for certainly no troop of Italian bandits could have made a wilder or more picturesque picture. As soon as I had recovered from the first flutter, which the presence of so many celebrities had excited, I ventured to take a quiet look around, and found that I was the object of general attention, and, judging from the favorable glances received, it appeared the party were inclined to tolerate my presence. Mr. Fairchild explained that I was a paper man, and that I had come from far off, from the big city by the sea, and that I was anxious to hear the Indians’ own story of their troubles, and that I had followed their trail in the snow. This speech was translated by Bogus Charley, and was received with general approbation, expressed by a chorus of grunts, sounding like a guttural pronounciation of the letter “A.”
Captain Jack looked very sick, and was sitting with a blanket around his limbs and supporting himself by resting his hands on the handle of one of their root diggers, which was stuck in the ground before him. Bogus Charley sat on his right, and officiated as interpreter, and Schonchin was to the right of Charley. Shack Nasty Jim sat to the left of Captain Jack, and then came Fairchild, Scar-faced Charley, the Herald correspondent and Bob Whittle in the order named here. The rest of the Modocs were seated around in circles, and I noticed that many had washed off their paint and come to the council without their arms.
Shortly after my introduction Mr. Fairchild produced his instructions from the Peace Commissioners, and read them by sentences in English, and Bogus Charley translated them. They simply informed Captain Jack who comprised the Peace Commissioners that the President had sent, and how they were willing to delay the grand council until the arrival of Judge Rosborough and their friend Elijah Steele, of Yreka. It also alluded to Ben Wright’s treachery, and said that Ben Wright was a bad man. This allusion was, however, rather an unhappy one, as, when it was translated, the noble savage evinced the most decided disgust at the introduction of such a reminiscence. After Fairchild had got through, and stated he had come to make arrangements for the meeting, John Schonchin, brother of Schonchin, the old chief, spoke. He talked for about two hours, and in this despatch I will only give the pith of his remarks. Bogus Charley, assisted by Steamboat Frank, officiated as interpreter. Schonchin said “he knew Mr. Meacham. He says he big chief. I see him long time ago. He talked well; told me straight. He told me I was a big chief. Come with me; make you good home. Showed me good home. Said ‘You like that?’ Took me to live at Fort Klamath; then he tell Captain Knapp treat him good, this Modoc Indian. Captain Knapp no like me. Go Meacham; told him watch them good. Give plenty of grub. Captain Knapp bad man; he come my door; I say, ‘Don’t come to my house; no like you;’ saw Mr. Meacham long ago put the axe in the ground; no want to take it out. I know Mr. Meacham; tell him talk straight. I want to live in good place at Klamath, where I live first. Meacham go away. Agent make it bad; hang Indian, that Captain Knapp.”
Mr. Schonchin made a diversion in my favor to give an account of the first fight on Lost River.
He spoke about the fight when the citizens attacked the Indians. He said:—
“White chief tell your people white men shoot first. I tell no lie. I give away all. My country keep little piece on Lost River, yet they shoot me. I don’t know what for I thought. I gave them all my land, water, grass, everything. I don’t charge nothing for my country; give away all, yet they shoot me; want little piece on Lost River. I don’t like to fight; I told them so. They shoot [women], children, little girl. My friend there, white man, shoot him. I got up early in the morning, went out to shoot geese, come back, see so many men both sides of river. What the matter? Bad place. Now Applegate’s son tell me lie; children scared; nobody in house.
Bogus Charley now talked and said:—”Applegate’s son and One-armed Brown one day talk good; next day all lie on the other side. Major Jackson don’t know what the matter with him. Come before day, plenty soldiers with him, pistol in hand, like to see Captain Jack. I said ‘stop!’ He say, ‘Like to see Captain Jack in bed.’ They tell me plenty of men coming. I asleep house. Come out see soldiers. Say, ‘Stop, boys! I don’t want you come near.’ Go camp. Children scared. Still they come closer to house. All carry gun and ask for Captain Jack. Captain Jack no clothes on, no gun loaded, no pistol loaded. Old [woman] give Jack shirt. He go out; have no gun. I go down to see Major Jackson. I say, ‘Why you come, what you come for?’ Scar-faced Charley come down side of river from Dennis Crowley’s; so soldiers now fall down; gun go off 400 yards away. Soldiers hear shoot. One man shoot me. Shoot me in side fifty yards away. All soldiers shoot. Two Indians dead. Few Indians shoot; only two or three guns. Then one [sic] other side bad men took guns from Indians. George Fiock shoot first and Dennis Crowley. Both shoot. Shot woman. Ivan Applegate come down with Brown before. Says I, ‘Come back, three men, and talk till Big Tee he come back with soldiers.’ Major Jackson so quick shoot quick. Scar-faced Charley asked him what chief he come from? He say he come from the mountain.”
As Captain Jack was very sick the council was then adjourned until morning, and I returned to my house and got some supper. I then gave an audience and received John Schonchin, Scar-faced Charley, Bogus Charley and several others, and heard more about the way the Indians were treated in the reservation. They were moved three times from place to place; were only given half a blanket and the squaws none at all. It was the Winter season. They were given no food and had to dig in the hard, frosty ground for camus roots and kill their horses for meat. I only give the facts now, as my report in detail will be forwarded by mail. Before lying down I went back to Captain Jack…
[Something appears to have dropped out of Fox’s account, as it cuts immediately to Captain Jack’s speech the next day.]
Captain Jack then went over the story of the fight on Lost River and directly denied that the Indians shot first, and then said:—
“Tell Meacham I want him to come to no gassing. Tell him not be scared this man from paper afar off. He come to hear me talk. He hear no lie. He hear no more hard stories about me. Did not make first fight. I want every good. I am not ashamed of first fight. Glad to see white come to talk.”
Mr. Fairchild then put a series of questions in order to find out where they wished to meet, how many they were going to bring, and whether they objected to the Commissioners bringing soldiers, and Captain Jack answered, saying that “all his boys wanted to hear the talk. White men might come, but no soldiers. Soldiers make his boys feel bad. Twelve or fifteen white men come; want paper man to come. No want Lalake, Jim Parker or Modoc Sally. No like them. Keep soldiers where they are. Come to-morrow; come first day ready. Come soon; tired waiting. Want to talk.” Schonchin then spoke for a little, chiefly against Meacham and the Commission bringing soldiers. “Indians bury the hatchet. No want to see soldiers, make him feel bad. Meacham not be scared. Boys waste all the blood. Mean good. Talk truth. Meacham mean peace; soldiers no good for peace. Afraid somebody your side wants to make blood again. Don’t like it. Perhaps tell lies. I want to make all good; tell no lies. Soldiers like dogs—they come want blood. White men come all right.”
As soon as Schonchin had finished we started for our horses, and I arrived here about seven P.M. Although the route is only twenty miles it is over a very rough country. From what I have seen of the Indians in the lava beds and from what I have learned of their history I think they have been badly treated and that the origin of the war can easily be traced to a few Oregonians. The California settlers have never had any trouble with these Indians. They are now in a stronghold that is nearly impregnable, and, as they have many men and good marksmen, it will require a force of a thousand men to clean them out, and it cannot be done without a fearful sacrifice of life. They hold themselves innocent of any crime, as, after the white men attacked, they do not consider it any wrong to kill white men, and when they made their raid they spared women and children. If the Peace Commissioners expect them to give up the Indians that killed the settlers, they need not for one moment flatter themselves of obtaining such a result, as the Indians will fight to the last man, believing they have done no wrong. They are, however, willing to go on a reservation, and if the whites only keep faith with them and the Indian agents do not rob them of their supplies, for which the government pays, they will remain quiet like the rest of their tribe and give no further trouble. It is very doubtful, however, whether the present Peace Commission will do any good with these Indians, as I am satisfied from what I have seen in the lava beds that they distrust them. I sincerely trust that peace will be made, as more war can only result in much bloodshed and very little honor. I send this by special messenger to Yreka.

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