[From the New York Herald, 1873; story by Edward Fox]
Fairchild’s Ranch, February 22, 1873.
he weather has moderated slightly during the past few days, and a warm sun has cleared the low lands of their white and fleecy covering, substituting the most unromantic slush. The Peace Commission are busy in the discharge of their duties and hold mysterious talks together, which result in more work for the clerk, Captain Oliver E. Applegate, who left his reservation at Yainax in order to devote his services to the cause of peace. The settlers in this neighborhood have not much confidence in the Peace Commission, and openly assert that the Indians will not talk with either Meacham or Applegate, as both these men have broken faith with them before. In justice to Meacham, however, I believe he states that he is not responsible for their being starved on the reservation, as, though he was Superintendent of Indian Affairs, the agent on the reservation was Captain Knapp and he had charge of them.
Some time was lost here arranging to send in a messenger, but at last a Klamath [woman], Matilda, the wife of Bob Whittle, and the Modoc [woman] Artena were sent off last Thursday morning with the following message:—
That the President of the United States, General Grant, had heard about the war and was very sorry his children were fighting. He looked upon all the people, of every color, as his children, and he did not want them to spill each other’s blood. He thought this might have been a misunderstanding between the whites and the Indians, and he wanted to see about it. That he was trying to have a new kind of law made that would do away with war, and that’s why he said “Stop until we talk awhile.” Then he sent a man, A. B. Meacham, all the way from Washington, and another man, Samuel Case, that was a friend to Indians and acquainted with their character, to have a talk. They must not mistake the reason why he “done” it, and think that he was weak or a coward, or think that he was whipped, because he was not. The soldiers were beyond the Indians’ power in number; if he had to fight and had not enough here he could send enough; he never failed to win in war; that he would rather settle it without blood.
Matilda was instructed to deliver the above message and to talk with the Indians, ascertain their feelings and see if they were willing to have a talk. They both started about eleven o’clock, Artena in her war paint, with a white handkerchief tied round her head, and Matilda in a neat-fitting red dress, with a white cloth tied round her chest. Matilda was evidently a little nervous as to the result of her mission, as she was afraid she would find the Indians rather wild, and, although she is related to some of them, her brother was fighting against them in the last battle. She, however, was gifted with the indomitable Indian pluck, and started off to make good her promise, but first left all her jewels and trinkets with her husband, in case she should not come out again. As soon as these emissaries of peace had fairly started, the ravens around the camp-fire began to croak as to the danger they would encounter and spun yarns about the visit of One-eyed Dixie—how they licked her when she went in, although she was closely related to many of the leading [men] and sister of the charming Mrs. Shack Nasty Jim.
This ranch is now filled with attachés of the Indian Department, as we have Captain Free [possibly Captain D. J. Ferree, A. B. Meacham’s brother-in-law], one of the contractors supplying the Yainax Agency; Captain Oliver E. Applegate, Indian Agent and Commissary at Yainax; Captain Ivan Applegate, late Interpreter and Messenger; Mr. Samuel Case, Peace Commissioner and Indian Agent at Alsea Reservation; Mr. A. B. Meacham, Peace Commissioner and ex-Superintendent of Indian Affairs in Oregon, and some others. Mr. Jesse Applegate, the other Peace Commissioner, is also here, and General Canby and Aide-de-Camp Captain Anderson have their quarters in the same building. The rest of our party consists of a newspaper correspondent, settlers and the vaqueros attached to the ranch.
Accommodations are rather limited, as about fourteen occupy the floor of one room, fifteen feet square; seven sleep in an adjoining apartment, nine by fifteen, and General Canby and staff have an adjoining shed about eight feet square. We have two meals per diem, one at eight A.M. and the other at four P.M. These meals are decidedly simple in their nature, and are served with a fair allowance of dirt. The sugar bowl is an article of antediluvian extraction, coated with a brown crust of dirt, which has accumulated by its constant service during the past few years without being introduced to water. Although the proprietor of this ranch, Captain Fairchild—a very good fellow, by the way—is the happy possessor of over three thousand head of cattle, the lacteal produce of the bovine race has never been used in the ranch, and even the butter that graces the hospitable board is brought all the way from Yreka. The staple article of food at both meals is beef, fried in grease in the morning and boiled in fat in the afternoon. Flour made up in the style of hot biscuits is also used at each meal, as vegetables have not yet made their appearance here. The fluid in use is called coffee, and has a brown appearance resembling a liquid we have seen before bearing the same name; but perhaps, on the whole, a man might make a campaign under worse auspices.
On Friday I rode with Captain Anderson to Van Bremer’s camp and stopped there all night. It is very neatly laid out, at the foot of Van Bremer’s hill, which overlooks the lava beds. The little shelter tents are all laid out in streets, and everything around the camp is kept clean and orderly. Colonel Miller, of the Fourth artillery, is in command. He arrived about a week ago and relieved Major Throckmorton, who was in command at that time. I returned on Friday morning, and passed a rather dismal afternoon awaiting the return of the two [women], Matilda and Artena.
As the afternoon passed away and anxious gazers discerned no sign of approaching horsewomen on the distant knoll over which the trail mounted and fell, the ravens began to croak again with redoubled energy and uttered fearful prophecies as to their fate. Shortly after five P.M. a solitary horsewoman was seen riding over the crest of the hill, followed immediately afterwards by another, and the quick eye of a looker-on discerned the expected messengers. Uncle Jesse Applegate walked down to the corner of the fence to meet them, and, for fear that unhallowed ears should first receive the message from the famous Captain Jack, ordered the [women] to ride straight to the ranch and speak to no one before they saw the Peace Commissioners.
After they had partaken of one of the standard ranch meals they were escorted by the Commissioners and General Canby to an outlying hut, where the session was to take place. As I was rather anxious to hear the [women] tell their story in their own language I asked Mr. Meacham for permission to be present. He said he had no objection and would ask his colleagues. Mr. Meacham finally returned and said his colleagues objected. I then asked Mr. Jesse Applegate, who said he did not mind, but Mr. Meacham objected. Mr. Case said bluntly and honestly he objected, but finally agreed to admit me if Mr. Meacham did not object. As all three by this time had decided not to admit me they finally concluded to throw the onus of the refusal on General Canby, and having extracted a mild negative to my request from that gentleman, I was politely informed that the interview would be strictly private.
The Star Chamber was thereupon convened, and the grand inquisitor, Mr. A. B. Meacham, put the [women] through a most interesting “course of sprouts.” After about two hours’ talk the session was closed, and they all came up to the ranch. Mr. Meacham then came forward and said that the Peace Commissioners were willing to give the press the following information:—
The Klamath [woman] Matilda made the following statement to them:—When she arrived in the camp the Modocs received her kindly. Said they were glad she had come. Were tired of waiting. Out of clothes, out of provisions. They wanted no more war, and were ready to wash their hands of blood. Captain Jack, John Schonchin, brother of the old chief, and another old [man] were the only speakers. Captain Jack commenced by complaining that the Indians were pitched into when asleep. They did not intend to trouble citizens. Wanted to fight soldiers. Citizens should not have troubled them. They went to the rocks for safety, and soldiers came and hunted them as if they were coyotes. Did not want to live like that; wanted the blockade raised. They were tired of seeing women come to them; women did not understand; often lied [“women did not understand when men lied” according to other accounts]; he was a chief still; Squire Steele had made him a chief; he did not want to talk to little Ty‑es [Chinook Jargon for “chiefs”], or people who had been in the fight; wanted to see them come in there; they would not be hurt. I am ready to talk, and I want to talk to these men that come from a long way off.
John Schonchin, the brother of the old chief Schonchin, and one of the surviving Modocs that took part in the war of 1852, then spoke and said:—He was very tired waiting for some one to come and talk, because he could not go out and talk. He remembered the Ben Wright treachery. These boys (pointing to the other Indians) have all grown up since then. He wanted to wash everybody’s hands of blood—all the past buried. He was the oldest there, would control the boys and bring peace. He was glad men had come to talk to him from a long way off. The Ty-es and those who had fought with them could not talk with them. Wanted to see Mr. Case because he had come from a distance; wanted to see Mr. Meacham because he had come from a distance. A man of his name, or like it, had talked to him before and made his heart strong. Since then very much blood shed, and he did not want any more.
He had given up all his country, but a very little place at Lost River. Soldiers pitched into him there. Always tried to be friendly with citizens. Boys got wild when soldiers pitched in; could not control boys then, but could now. His heart had been wild; getting better now; thought the wild got out of boys the same way. He liked the talk sent by the woman from the President. “All the people were his children; he did not want them to fight.” He felt like being a peacemaker among his own children; breaking the trouble as he would break a string in the middle. These men were coming to do that. When troubles came among his people he tried to separate them and prevent blood. He had a red skin, but a white heart.
His heart was wild while fighting, but good news sent out wild spirit. He was ready to see and talk at any time; did not want any more women; they did not understand things well. When next messenger came they would arrange to meet the men from afar off, where there were grass and water. They were to come and not be afraid. I can control my people, but I am afraid you cannot control your people. My men will do what they agree; we are afraid your people will not. I am not afraid myself, and these men need not be afraid; they will not be hurt, nobody will kill them. Went on the reservation promised place by Link River Jack; no let stop there only little while; Captain Knapp move me to Williamson River, and then again between the Klamaths; had to live on mud (meaning roots, etc.); could not see happy home and rest, and came away. Did not want any time lost about council; clothes worn out, sent men and women to our caches for roots on Lost River; got scared and turned back. Send this woman Matilda back with the next messenger, and they will all come out of roots [rocks?] and talk. We like all the words that have been sent to us; they did not send very many—we have replied all we want to send; when send more talk we send more aback. Tell the white men not to be afraid.
The other old Modoc that talked did not say much, but the drift of his observations was in favor of peace, but he was afraid of treachery like Ben Wright’s. All the Modocs were very attentive to the speakers, and grunted their approval at the words that had been sent to them. There were no dissenting voices to the speeches, and the Indians seemed all to be in accord, except a little jealousy on the part of Captain Jack lest he should not be recognized as Chief. [Matilda Whittle] was of the opinion he had lost his influence, and that John Schonchin was the acknowledged leader by the majority of the bucks. She did not think that the jealousy would result in a conflict, as Schonchin had a large majority on his side. She has the utmost confidence in their pretensions for peace. The Indians sent no propositions.
I afterwards learnt from Mr. Whittle, who had a talk with his wife, that Captain Jack appeared more anxious to talk with Elijah Steele or Judge Rosborough, and that he also spoke very bitterly about being attacked by soldiers in the dark. He also said the citizens on the other side of the river fired the first shot, and killed a [woman] and two [children], which so maddened the young men that five of them started on the raid and killed the white men, but spared the women. He also complained about the broken treaty, and how they were frozen out and starved on the reservation. The other [woman], Artena, also said that Captain Jack would not make peace unless he was given a portion of land on Lost River.
The result of this first mission to Captain Jack formed the subject of discussion last evening, and all the settlers appeared surprised at finding the Indians so anxious for peace. There were many opinions as to what terms the Indians wanted, but the majority were impressed with the belief that nothing except a general amnesty would effect peace. This morning Bob Whittle and his [wife] Matilda started off to meet the Modocs and arrange for a meeting with the Commissioners. This meeting will probably take place next Tuesday somewhere between Van Bremer’s and the lava beds.
[Fox consistently refers to Oliver Applegate as Oliver E. Applegate; Oliver’s middle name, however, was Cromwell. sbh]
[Probably Matilda Whittle and Artena were accompanied by another Modoc woman, One-eyed Dixie. The Gillem Report asserts that three women went in to the lava bed on this mission, and this is confirmed by Bogart, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle for 1 March 1873. One-eyed Dixie had previously acted as a messenger between Captain Jack and John Fairchild. sbh]