19 March 2020

The Peacemakers at War [guest post by Edward Fox, 14 March 1873]


[From the New York Herald, 1873; story by Edward Fox]
[Editor’s note: At this point Fox’s dispatches give out for about a week. New York Herald readers continued to stay informed through Associated Press dispatches relayed through San Francisco, but Fox was silent. There is no obvious reason for this silence, and both Alex McKay and H. Wallace Atwell continued reporting for their papers.
During this period peace negotiations fizzled out and the Commission dissolved in chaos. An explosive meeting on the morning of 9 March (sunday) ended with the peace commissioners hopelessly deadlocked, and Jesse Applegate, who had already resigned, openly denounced the commission as a fraud before vanishing from the scene. Tensions built when that afternoon Samuel Case announced that the Modoc woman who had brought Jack’s message the day before had stolen some ammunition; some feared a Modoc attack was imminent. The crowning touch came that evening when Toby Riddle went to General Canby to say that the Modocs had no intention of surrendering, and only wanted to capture the horses and wagons that were to be sent out to meet them. Extra guards were posted that night.
The next day came as an anti-climax; the Modocs did not appear at all, either to surrender or to capture the wagons. Steele went out to meet them, but there was no sign of them. Nobody knew what it meant. Did the Modocs still intend to surrender? Had they taken to the hills in preparation for raids on the settlers? Various possibilities were discussed, but nothing at all happened for several days. No surrender, but no raids either—in fact, no communication of any kind.
Meacham cabled back to Washington that “every honorable means to secure peace has been exhausted,” while at the same time Canby cabled that he did “not regard this last action of the Modocs as decisive,” and intended to keep on working for peace. Both telegrams made their way to the desk of Interior Secretary Delano, who preferred Canby’s assessment to Meacham’s; his response was to place Meacham under Canby and to appoint new Commissioners to replace Applegate and Case.
Not knowing of Canby’s telegram, the correspondents at the front were surprised by Delano’s decision to continue negotiations. They had fully expected some military action to be taken. It was under these circumstances that Fox wrote the final judgment on the efforts of the first peace commission that follows:]
T
he Modoc question is still puzzling the Indian Bureau at Washington, and from the present aspect of affairs they will probably succeed in running up a bill bordering upon a couple of millions before their peace policy is successfully carried out. History credits the late President Lincoln with a little common sense, found in a remark made by him to Secretary Stanton when General Grant took command of the army in the late rebellion—i.e., “that we had been commanding the army long enough, and it would perhaps be better to let Grant see what he could do.” The good judgement displayed in that remark was plainly exemplified by the record of current events, and if the Indian Bureau were to take the matter into consideration they would see that the cheapest and most expeditious method of settling the difficulty would be to hand over their authority to General Canby, an officer whose years of experience among Indians, coupled with his actual presence on the ground and an army to back him up, would enable him to treat more successfully with the Indian, who has more respect for the force of arms than for promises which experience has taught him are only too often made to be broken.
We have just had the painful experience of the efficacy of a Peace Commission acting under the authority of the Indian Bureau, and their labors have formed a fit subject for the laughter of the citizens of California and Oregon. The history of this Peace Commission may be told in a few words. The Modoc trouble broke out, and Mr. A. B. Meacham, the late Superintendent of Indian Affairs in Oregon, happened to be in Washington at the time. This gentleman is a gifted orator; as described by a contemporary, “words fell from his silvery tongue like peas rolling off a hot platter,” [Bogart, 21 February, San Francisco Chronicle, 1 March] and he has for a long time felt deeply aggrieved at his removal from office and the substitution of Mr. Odeneal in his place. This war was a perfect godsend to this Micawber politician, and, seizing the opportunity, he hied forthwith to Secretary Delano, and exploded one of those shells of oratory, scattering pellets of peace in every direction. [Fox appears to be in error on this point. See the note below.] The Secretary forthwith appointed a peace commission to arrange these Modoc troubles, in which Mr. Meacham was to act in conjunction with Mr. Odeneal and the Rev. Mr. Wilbur, of Oregon.
This, however, did not suit Mr. Meacham, as, perhaps in dreams of the future, he had seen a picture in which a war that broke out through the mismanagement of the present Superintendent was settled by the late Superintendent, a happy termination of affairs which resulted in the reinstating of the late Superintendent in full power, adorned by a wreath of laurels. The silvery-tongued orator, therefore, hied once more to the Secretary, and once more his dulcet tones charmed the ear of Mr. Delano, and the names of Odeneal and Wilbur were struck out and Jesse Applegate and Samuel Case substituted in their place. Everything satisfactorily arranged, Meacham started for the Modoc country, and arrived at Dorris’ ranch like a conqueror come to deliver an oppressed people. He had no doubt of the success of his mission, as he could easily manage the rest of the Commission. Sam Case was an old friend, he could be relied on, and as for Uncle Jesse Applegate there could be no difficulty there, as Meacham knew Uncle Jesse and his partner (another man by the name of Jesse [presumably Jesse Carr, a local rancher and landowner; Jesse Applegate, usually resident in Yoncalla, Oregon, was at this time staying at Jesse Carr’s place on Clear Lake]) had a little interest in certain swamp lands in which he might be able to lend assistance.
The Peace Commission established their headquarters at Fairchild’s Ranch, and in two days after their first meeting Meacham’s face wore the expression of a much-abused man. It soon leaked out that the Commission were at loggerheads, as both Uncle Jesse and the old friend Sam expressed different ideas on the Modoc question to those propagated by the oily-tongued Meacham. His eloquence was wasted upon these two Oregonians, who only listened and laughed in their sleeve; in fact, one of them openly stated that the Peace Commission was a mere humbug, used simply as a cloak to cover the attack of Meacham against Odeneal.
Under existing circumstances it may be naturally inferred that the Peace Commission proved a stupendous humbug, or, as more explicitly termed by Mr. Jesse Applegate, “an expensive blunder.” General Canby, however, fortunately arrived, and his suggestions were accepted by the Commission, and would probably have resulted in the surrender of the Indians if the latter had not been scared by the statement of a man named Blair [Charles Blair, a resident of Linkville, recently pardoned for killing a Chinaman at Shasta, not the Charles Blair who was foreman at John Fairchild’s ranch. (“Not the Man,” Yreka Journal, 26 March 1873)], a pardoned convict residing in Oregon, who told them he had a warrant to hang nine of them when they came in and gave themselves up. These Indians have cause to be afraid of treachery, as some years back Ben Wright murdered forty-seven of their tribe at a peace feast; therefore such a statement totally destroyed the negotiations of weeks, and the work will have to begin again.
During the past week Messrs. Jesse Applegate and Samuel Case both resigned their positions on the Peace Commission and returned to their respective avocations. Mr. Meacham, however, determined not to give up so soon, and remained a commission of one at Fairchild’s.
Before leaving Mr. Jesse Applegate sent the following characteristic letter to Mr. Clum at Washington, as a minority report:—

Headquarters Peace Commission,
Fairchild’s Ranch, Cal., March, 1873
Hon. H. B. Clum, Acting Commissioner of Indian Affairs:—
Sir—The Commission appointed to examine into the causes and bring to a conclusion the Modoc war having concluded its labors submit the following as its final report, to wit:—
First—The causes leading to war were the dissatisfaction of Captain Jack’s band of Modocs with the provisions and execution of the treaty of October 14, 1864, and refusal to abide thereby. To what extent wrongs justified resistance, the Commission having no power judicially to investigate, cannot say.
Second—The immediate cause of hostilities was resistance by the Indians to military coercion.
Third—Unconditional surrender of the Indians, and the trial and punishment of the guilty by the civil authorities, would have been more satisfactory to the whites and a better example to the Indians than more lenient conditions.
Fourth—Terms of surrender were offered the Indians to save the further effusion of blood and secure a permanent peace by the removal of the whole tribe out of the country, a result scarcely to be hoped for by continued hostilities.
Fifth—The terms agreed to by the Commission were suggested and must be carried into effect by the military. A commission to negotiate a peace was therefore unnecessary.
Sixth—A commission to inquire into the causes of the war should be composed of men wholly disinterested in the findings of the commission, directly or indirectly, and clothed with full power to investigate.
Seventh—Some of the personnel of this Commission being obnoxious to the Indians it was a hindrance to negotiations. Having no power to administer oaths nor send for persons and papers, and the official acts of the chairman to be revised, its finding must have been imperfect and unsatisfactory in regard to the cause of the war. We therefore consider the Commission an expensive blunder.
Jesse Applegate

Before the Commission broke up Judge Rosborough, of Yreka, had been added to the Commission, at the suggestion of General Canby, and that gentleman, assisted by Mr. Elijah Steele, of Yreka, did good service in the negotiations that followed General Canby’s proposition. Mr. Steele made several trips to the lava beds, and would have succeeded in obtaining the surrender of Captain Jack and his party if the lies of Blair had not upset all their calculations. The Indians had gone so far as to agree to come out and surrender. They were to be met by wagons half way to carry their baggage, but on the appointed day not an Indian made his appearance. Things since then have been in a state of statu quo, and rumors were current that the Indians had deserted the lava beds.
General Canby finally ordered Major Biddle, of the First cavalry, to come from Bernard’s camp, at Clear Lake, to Van Bremer’s with his troop, and on the way make a scout through the lava beds. Major Biddle arrived here last evening and brought in thirty-four Indian ponies with him. Major Biddle reported to General Canby, who arrived here yesterday morning, that when about four miles south of Captain Jack’s stronghold they came upon a nest of ponies, guarded by five Indians, four [men] and a [woman]. Not knowing how peace matters were going on, they did not fire at the Indians, but simply surrounded the ponies and drove them into camp. [This violation of the truce made the Modocs believe that Canby was unable to control his men, thus weakening the peace party among them. sbh]
Matters are now on rather a peculiar basis, as a despatch arrived to-day from Washington stating that Mr. Odeneal has been added to the Commission. This brings matters to a most interesting crisis, as the Commission will now comprise Meacham, Odeneal and Judge Rosborough, the other two having resigned. It is very doubtful, however, whether Odeneal will accept and face the music of the silvery-tongued Meacham.
How long this farce will be carried on by the Indian Bureau is hard to say, but it does seem an outrage that they should have the power of running up such an unnecessary debt as they are rapidly accumulating. Grain is now twelve and a half cents per pound, which is cheap compared with the thirty-five cents per pound paid during the first part of the war. On an average each horse in the government employ costs about one dollar and seventy-five cents per day for subsistence, and as there are about three hundred horses now in this county for cavalry and fighting purposes we can easily account for an expenditure of five hundred dollars per day on that branch of service alone. The cost of freight on ammunition and rations for seven or eight hundred forms also no inconsiderable item of expenditure. There are also hundreds of other things that help to foot the bill to one of gigantic dimensions.
This camp is at present the headquarters of the army, and we have here batteries [A], E and M of the Fourth artillery, companies E and G of the Twelfth infantry and troop K of the First cavalry, making in all about two hundred and sixty rank and file. Everybody is getting very tired of the inactive state of affairs and hope for some move that will lead to a conclusion of these troubles.
[Note: Elisha Applegate (not Jesse Applegate as is sometimes erroneously claimed) and Samuel A. Clarke, both of whom were present in Washington at the time, agree that Elisha Applegate originated the proposal to send a peace commission to the Modocs. Clarke wrote “…Meacham took no part in the matter, and even accepted the appointment with some reluctance, and only when the other members of the Commission were appointed to suit his preferences.” Samuel Clarke, 14 April 1873, Sacramento Daily Union, 23 April 1873. sbh]

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