[From the New York Herald, 1873; story by Edward Fox]
Cottonwood Creek, Cal.,
March 5, 1873.
he peaceful aspect of affairs has disappeared, and present indications look very like war, as the Indians do not appear inclined to leave this country and have set a bold front against all overtures of the kind. Mr. Elijah Steele and party returned from their first mission to the lava beds, accompanied by seven or eight Modoc [men] and … Mary, sister of Captain Jack. Mr. Steele was evidently pleased with his visit, and reported to the Commissioners that the Indians were willing to surrender as prisoners of war and go to some warmer country. This was indeed good news, and we were all calculating upon the prospects of a speedy return home when Mr. John Fairchild, one of Mr. Steele’s party, said that he was afraid the Indians had not properly understood Mr. Steele’s proposition for them to leave this country, and that they were under the impression they were to remain where they had been on Lost River or to go to Klamath. Mr. Steele, however, would not give up the point, and insisted that everything was favorable and that the Indians perfectly understood what he said and replied in the affirmative.
It was finally determined that Mr. Steele should go in again on Monday [3 March], and consequently he started accompanied by Mr. Atwell, Frank Riddle, the interpreter, and [wife], Mary, and six Modoc [men]. Two of the [men], Long Jim and Duffy, surrendered and remained where they were under the charge of the military. They arrived at the lava beds about dusk, and did not receive a very cheering welcome, as the bucks looked sullen and discontented. After taking off their saddles and tying up their horses they went to Wild Gal’s ranch and [ate] supper. They then waited for a messenger to bid them to council; but finally, getting tired, they went over there themselves.
As they came up to the entrance to the cave they heard the Indians wrangling among themselves and talking in loud tones of voice, and several of them came out as they were descending the rather precipitous entrance. The cave was very full, and, before sitting down, Mr. Steele and Mr. Atwell stepped across the circle and shook hands with Captain Jack and Schonchin, and it was plainly evident from their greeting that trouble was brewing. To any one conversant with Indian manners and customs the signs around the cave were of no good portent, as even the woman’s cap on Captain Jack’s head showed that he thought he had been fooled, and the arrows at the head of the wounded warrior were placed side by side in the same position as they are placed at the grave. There were more present than Mr. Steele had seen before, and he counted sixty-nine warriors in all, many of whom were strangers to him and wore hair on their upper lips. This is a fashion not familiar to the Modoc tribe, and gave Mr. Steele the impression that they had been reinforced by some Snake Indians. It is certainly probable that they have received an addition to their force, as I only counted forty-four or forty-five warriors present on the occasion of my visit.
After cutting up and presenting the tobacco they had brought with them Mr. Steele read the terms offered by General Canby and the Peace Commissioners, which were that they were to surrender to the military and be removed to Angel Island and fed, clothed and cared for at the government expense. Jack and several of the head men were to go to Washington, see the President and arrange about their new home—probably in Arizona. These terms were heard in sullen silence, and Scar-faced Charley and two others were the only ones that grunted an assent. Captain Jack finally spoke and evidently showed that he did not appreciate the proposed terms. He accused Mr. Steele of duplicity; said he had never sold his land and would never leave it, and they spoke in a wild strain, every word of which told on his savage auditors, and their eyes sparkled and told a tale of blood that their fingers itched to shed.
Mr. Steele then spoke again, going over the terms once more, and he was followed by John Schonchin, who made a regular war speech, pitching into everybody all around that had had any hand in the proposed treaty; accused Steele of lying, and finally asked him if he was not afraid to lie down and sleep among them after bringing them such a message. Steele replied that he was not afraid, that he was afraid of no man, and that he was old and to die did not hurt much. He then told them that he had deceived no one, and explained the terms of the treaty again, and how it was impossible for them to live peaceably in Oregon. Captain Jack and Schonchin then spoke again in rather hot language, and finally they accepted Steele’s proposition to have a talk again in the morning, and the warriors dispersed, muttering and talking loudly among themselves.
When Steele and Atwell got up to retire to Wild Gal’s ranch, Scar-faced Charley got up and whispered to them, “Make your bed here; I will lay down alongside of you.” They concluded to accept his advice, and, unfastening their blankets, spread them down on the ground near the rocks. Charley slept alongside of them and Captain Jack at their feet, showing that these two were determined to guard them against treachery. The night passed without any incident occurring to break their rest.
In the morning, after breakfasting in Wild Gal’s ranch, they returned to the cave for a talk. After taking their seats business commenced with the following speech from John Schonchin:—“I have heard the talk; Captain Jack has heard it; Captain Jack don’t know anything about another country—don’t want to go there. Captain Jack has talked good about the country; Captain Jack and I have talked much about these things; we have talked enough; I have talked enough. It looks like another heart has entered into the talk now; I want to talk good to you; I want a good country to live in; I will speak the truth; I have talked about it till I am tired; expect you are tired coming out here to talk about it. These boys are tired going to and fro talking. I want to talk good just what comes in my mind; I want to say yes to this thing, but I don’t know about it; don’t know as I can; I want everything wiped out and to live as we used to; that is the way I want to settle this matter. I would like to know the names of the bad men that want to harm us; I want to know where they live; I want to know why they are mad; I am afraid of them; I want to talk good and straight. I am not afraid of these men; these are my men here; all my people; they will do just what they agree to do; what I talk now I talk forever; I am not good to-day and bad to-morrow. This matter has all been talked over. I did not exactly understand then as I do now; the first time you told it to us you did not tell it to us this way. I have talked to my people some about it; we are all of the same mind; I have told all my men to lay down their arms, and you can see that they have done so. What I understood the last time was that we should lay down our arms, we should have peace, and that was all we had to do. I understood that the Commissioners would come here and talk to us. I expected them this time, instead of which none have come. I am willing they should. You must be tired coming so often to talk good for us. I want them to come to talk; I want these Commissioners to come and talk. I want them to come and settle this trouble soon, so that you need not be coming always to talk; I want to talk the truth and have this trouble settled. Why don’t these men quit and have peace? Don’t trouble them (Oregonians). These are my men; they think like me. I have told the truth as near as I can. What is the reason these men won’t make peace, these men over there (Oregonians)? Why don’t they quit fighting?—we have. I told my friends what to do; if they do not do right I would make them do right. It scares me; they won’t quit fighting and let us alone. I have no horse to go and see these Commissioners or anywhere else—let them come here. That’s all.”
Mr. Steele replied as follows:—”I have come a long way to talk to you as a friend; the Commissioners came to Linkville and did not intend to come any further. I asked them to come to Fairchild’s and they came, only a half day’s ride from you. They did this because they are your friends and want to do good and stop this war. Some of the Commissioners have ridden for four weeks to meet and talk with you to try and stop this fighting. General Canby, an old man, has ridden three hundred miles to talk, because his heart is good to you. These young men who went into Fairchild’s saw him; they can tell you if they think he tells lies. He is your friend. He wants you to show confidence enough in him to come out and talk with him. He promises you will be safe. The first time I came here I came as your friend because I trusted you. I was not afraid of you then; I am not afraid of you now. I am not afraid of any man in the world, but I am afraid to do anything wrong. I don’t fear when I walk with a good heart. I told you then that I thought it best for you to go to a warmer climate, under the charge of General Canby, because he is a soldier and can protect you. Our people are many, the Great Chief can’t watch all the bad ones; your people are few. The Oregonians are very mad at your people, and if you live here they will kill some of your men. Then your young people will act wild and kill some good people. These men say that your young men have stolen some of their horses, killed their cattle and murdered their people. They say they will kill you if you stay here. They are very mad. They are not your friends or mine. They talk bad of me because I have been your friend. The Great Chief knows that you are not to blame in the matter, and to keep you from being harmed by them he wants you to go with General Canby, who will take you to a good home where none will hurt you. He thinks this trouble is from a misunderstanding. It is liable to occur again if you remain here. Bad men will drink whiskey, and when drunk will shoot Modocs, then war will begin again. There are plenty of bad men, and the Great Chief cannot watch them all. They will live close to your land, your people will meet them and there will be trouble all the time, for when they see each other each party will get mad. That is why I talk peace, and why I want you to go to a warmer country. If I told you you could live here in peace, when I knew you could not, I would be speaking lies. If you live here in two months there will be war again, and then you will say Squire Steele lied to us, when I could not help it. We can’t move our people, they are too many. Your people are few, we can move them. When I told you I wanted you to go to this warmer country, I could not tell you where it was; I had not been told by the Commissioners to do so. I knew that the Great Chief had plenty of land that he would give to you. I then went back to the Commissioners and General Canby told them your hearts were good, and they have sent me back to you to tell you what they would do for you. He told me to come in and make peace with you for them, if you would not talk with them. But they want to shake hands with the head men, for they came a long way to see you. If your hearts are good you can go a little way to meet them. They don’t want this war to stop because they are afraid of you. They have plenty of soldiers. You might kill a thousand of them; but it would not stop the war. He can in two months bring more soldiers than he can stand on these lava beds. He wants to stop this war to prevent all your people being killed, because he thinks you are a good people. If you go to that new home you will be fed, clothed and protected till you can take care of yourselves. You can have your own land, raise grass, melons, grain, horses, cattle, and live like the white men. If you do not agree to this you will stay here and be killed. He will send soldiers enough here to kill all, and I don’t want that done. I told the Great Chief that I did not want him to fight this people, for I had been their friend for many years. The Tyee Chief, General Canby, has not much clothing, but will send to get more for you if you make peace, and now he can give you enough to make you comfortable. When you go to that island you will be where no one can disturb you, while Captain Jack goes to Washington and then looks out his new home. He will send soldiers to guard them from bad men, so that no Oregon men can harm them. I think it is not safe for you to leave the lava bed without an escort of soldiers to protect you from these bad men. If you go as I want you to, I promise you that none shall be hurt. Now I want you to go and talk with General Canby and make a treaty with him; you need not deal with the Commissioners if you don’t want to, for I heard them say whatever General Canby promised they would agree to. He gave me this paper to show you what he will do for you if you agree to his terms. Jack and his head men will go to Washington, while his people remain on Angel Island; then he can go out and find a new home, and then all can go there. There you will find no bad men to bother you. Your children can learn to read and write, like the whites. The people there will all shake hands with you in peace. I do not know the names of these bad men in Linkville. I can’t point them out; but I see by the papers that they are all mad. There are men way up in Salem who are mad at you, and it is not safe for you to live here. I know they are mad, because they write to me, knowing that I am your friend. I don’t fear them, but I fear for you. I am an old man, and can’t last long any way, and while I live I want to do right between Indians and white people. I hope they will take my advice and make this treaty. I have no more to say.”
Captain Jack then responded as follows:—”The talk that we have made has taken such a turn that I hardly know what to think of it. I did not study the first talk much, and this seems to be somewhat different. I thought of the talk we had a long time ago, and I thought this would be like it. My heart was good then and I thought it would remain so forever. I would like to know why we can’t sleep and live here as we can in any place. What I talked first talk now, I want these men to come here and fix that thing up right away. I did not understand the last talk as I do now. I see that there is a difference in that and this talk. My heart told me there would be no difference when you come back. What I spoke about I spoke from my heart. I thought the Commission would come this time to talk with us, but now they want us to come to them. I thought everything was to be wiped out, and we were to live as we did before. I want these men to come and see us, that we won’t have to go back and forward so often. I am tired of it. These are all my people; I have no other, and they are like me; we talk with one mouth. I don’t know how it is I can’t live here as I was when I made peace here before. I expected to make peace that way now. I don’t know how it is that one man talks one way and another talks different. One says it is all right, and now you talk of coming here with soldiers. The talk now is just what it was when it caused the bloodshed. I never talked or thought of going away off, and if one of my men should talk so to you I would send him away as a bad man. Some bad men have been talking about me; I want it stopped. Why did Matilda tell us the soldiers were gone? My young men saw plenty of soldiers; I want them all to go away and leave us alone. I did not want Matilda to come here; why did she not tell us about going away off? She did not want to tell us that, and now it is new to me. It is just as I thought—the Oregon men want to fight and the others do not. It is strange that your Great Chief cannot rule all your people alike. I am not like the Oregonians; I want everything wiped out; I have been staying around here and am willing to stay here; let them have that side of the lake and I will keep this side; I don’t know of any other country; don’t want any but this, and have nothing to say about another country. Why did they not tell me of this at first? Why kill me if I stay? I don’t know anything about another country; have no money with which to buy a new country. This is my home; I was born here, always lived here and I don’t want to leave here. I have heard a great deal of talk about moving from here, and I am afraid again. I have done.”
Mr. Steele then said:—”I told you the first time I talked with you that the Oregon men were so mad that they and the Modocs could not live in peace when they and the Modocs were so close together. It would not last; there would soon be fighting. Your people are few, and I wanted them to move to a warmer country, where you would be happy and safe, and I tell you again I want you to go there. Your people will be safe and increase and grow strong. Stay here, fight the soldiers and you will be killed. If you make this treaty you can sleep as soundly as I slept last night. The people of Oregon are under one chief, those of California under another; one wants war, the other wants peace. One says kill all the Modocs unless they give up these men and have these men hanged; the others say “No,” and I say “No,” for I want you to go away from here and make peace. These men want to hang Scar-faced Charley, Hooker Jim and several others, and they will if you stay here and fight the soldiers, for they are too many for your men. They want this done as the only condition on which they will make peace with you. I know that, living on the borders, you cannot keep peace. The last time we talked you told me you wanted to leave this place, that it was a bad place to live in, that you did not want to live near the Oregonians. That is different from what you talk now. The talk we had some time ago I wrote to the Big Chief. He said it was good; he was pleased with it. A little while after that you made another treaty with Huntington—a different one. In that paper you and your people said you wanted to go on the Klamath Reservation. The Big Chief then said these people did not like my talk, but had sent another talk, saying they would go on the Reservation instead of living here. He then told me I was chief no longer. He put in a man whom they understood better. Since then I have been no chief; only Modocs’ friend. I will go back to tell the soldiers’ Chief about what you say to-day. My heart is sick about your talk. You want me to trust you all the time, but you trust no one. I will go and tell them what you say, and see what they will do. I don’t know what they will say or do about it. That is all.”
Schonchin then said:—”I would like to live in my own country. I know the Oregonians are mad at me; still I hate to give up this land. I don’t see why they want to take me away. I did not start first, and I want you to think of that. If my men had fired the first shot I would not say one word about going away. But they did not. I want to know why they want to hang my men. I never told my men to shoot. I know the soldiers shoot first. I want you to think that all over.”
Mr. Steele then replied:—“When Schonchin’s brother, who is on the Reservation, talked with Huntington, he sold them all this land—so the papers say. He stays on the Reservation and keeps his promises. Captain Jack’s party came away and broke their promises. The Tyee sent soldiers to bring them back, and that brought on the fight. The soldiers think the Indians fired first. I don’t know, but I do know they killed Miller, Brotherton and Boddy in cold blood after the fight was over, and their best friends, too. This is what made the Linkville men mad at the Modocs.These men were at Linkville the day before the fight, and the people did not tell them the soldiers were coming, because they knew these men were your friends and would tell you of it. You then murdered them, and that is why these Linkville people wish to hang these Indians. The Oregon Chief thinks it right to hang them. I thought at first that some mistake had been made and that all might be washed out. But I know now that, to make a sure peace, you must go away, and that is why I advise my friends to make this treaty. If your hearts were as good as mine you would go this little way to talk with these men and arrange this thing. Your men went with me and came back safe. I promise you to bring you back safe; if you go you shall be equally safe.”
Schonchin replied:—“I thought the talk the other day settled everything, buried and wiped all out. What I said then I say now. I want to quit and live as we did before. I want to know who will come here and kill me when I am asleep. Your talk is so different I don’t understand it. You talk now of the soldiers coming. Are they mad, too, because I want to live here? I don’t want much more talk about it. I want these men to come and fix this trouble right and straight.”
Captain Jack then said they would meet the Peace Commission in the lava beds at the foot of the Bluff in two days’ time. He only wanted to see Meacham and Applegate. John Fairchild might also come and two or three reporters, but nobody else. The council then broke up and Mr. Steele and party went and saddled their horses and started out, accompanied by Mary, Wild Gal, Boston Charley and another [woman]. Lucy, another [woman], wanted to come, but the Modocs would not let her. Scar-faced Charley also told Mr. Steele that he would like to come in but he dare not as the others would kill him if they saw him making such an attempt.
The party arrived at Fairchild’s at dusk last night and Mr. Steele made his report to the Commissioners. The news rather astonished those gentlemen, and they now became satisfied that their mission was near a close and that matters would now be entrusted to the care of General Canby.
Boston Charley, Mary, Artena and two other [women] returned to-day, bearing the information that the Peace Commissioners were tired of talking, that they would not go in to see them. They would meet them on honorable terms on neutral ground with an equal number of men on each side, or they would guarantee the safety of the head men if they would come to Fairchild’s and have a talk. They would wait for their answer until to-morrow evening, and if they did not hear by that time their mission would cease and General Canby would have to deal with them. General Canby also sent word that any that chose to come in and surrender would be cared for and fed and clothed. The messengers departed in a very bad humor, some of them refusing to shake hands.
I believe this will end my peaceful correspondence.
[In Fairchild’s opinion, opposition to leaving Lost River was so strong among the Modocs that Captain Jack would have been unable to accept the terms even if he had wished to. Besides this, however, Fairchild is quoted as saying, “Neither Jack nor Schonchin in their speeches ever said they would agree to leave Lost River and go to the warmer country, proposed by the Commissioners. The fact they did not say that they would do this was evidence to my mind that they did not intend [to] do it.” “Capt. Fairchild on the Modoc Question,” Yreka Union, 22 March 1873. sbh]