11 April 2020

One of the Most Treacherous Massacres [guest post by Edward Fox, 11 April 1873]

[From the New York Herald, 1873; story by Edward Fox]
eace policy and the Indian Bureau have accomplished the bitter end, and offered as martyrs to the cause the lives of General E. R. S. Canby, commanding the District of the Columbia, and the Reverend Mr. Thomas, of Petaluma, California, Presiding Elder of the Presbyterian Church. As my courier leaves instantly, having eighty miles to ride, I can only give brief details of one of the most treacherous massacres ever perpetrated by the Indians.
For several days past there have been endeavors made by the Peace Commissioners and General Canby to obtain an interview with Captain Jack and the leading chiefs of the Modoc band. The prospects of peace seemed to be better as orders had been sent from Washington to the Peace Commissioners to give the Indians, if necessary, a reservation in this neighborhood.
Yesterday evening Bogus Charley came in, and said that Captain Jack, Schonchin and three or four others would meet the Peace Commissioners on a spot near the lake, about three-quarters of a mile from camp. Bogus Charley stopped in our camp all night, and in the morning Boston Charley also came, and said that everything was all right, as Captain Jack was coming out to meet the Commissioners.
Between ten and eleven o’clock this morning the Peace Commission party—comprising General Canby, Mr. A. B. Meacham, Dr. Thomas, Mr. Dyar, Riddle, the interpreter, and [wife], and Bogus Charley and Boston Charley—went out to the designated spot. There they met Captain Jack, John Schonchin, Black Jim, Shack Nasty Jim, Ellen’s Man and Hooker Jim. They had no guns with them, but each carried a pistol at his belt. This, however, was not much noticed, as in previous interviews they had had their guns with them.
They sat down in a kind of broken circle, and General Canby, Meacham and Dr. Thomas sat together, faced by Captain Jack and Schonchin. Mr. Dyar stood by Jack, holding his horse, with Hooker Jim and Shack Nasty Jim to his left.
Meacham opened the talk, and gave a long history of what they wanted to do for them, after which General Canby and Dr. Thomas both talked for some time. Captain Jack then talked in an apparently good, serious strain, and when he finished stepped back to the rear near where Meacham’s horse was hitched.
John Schonchin then began to talk, and while he was speaking my informant, Mr. Dyar, heard a cap miss fire, and looking around saw Captain Jack to his left with his pistol pointed at General Canby. This was the signal for a general massacre, and a dozen shots were fired inside of half a minute. Mr. Dyar, after hearing the cap miss fire, turned and fled, followed closely by Hooker Jim, who fired two shots after him. Dyar finding Hooker Jim gaining on him turned and drew his Derringer, whereupon Hooker Jim retreated and Dyar made the rest of his way to the camp.
Captain Jack fired again on General Canby, and the noble old gentleman ran off to the left, but was speedily shot down and killed instantly. Meacham was shot at by Schonchin and wounded in the head. He tried to draw his Derringer, when two Indians ran up and knocked him down. Dr. Thomas was killed almost instantly by two pistol shots in the head. Riddle ran off, and it appears they did not fire at him, but they knocked his [wife] down. Dyar, Riddle and [his wife] returned in safety to the camp.
The above story I obtained from Mr. Dyar.
I was lying down in my tent just after lunch, reading a book and rather sulky with the Peace Commissioners for refusing the press access to the talk, when I heard a shout from the signal station on the side of the bluff—“They are firing on the Peace Commissioners.” I jumped up, and, buckling on my revolver, ran out just as the drums and bugles were sounding the call to arms. I then learned from General Gillem that the Indians had attacked Colonel Mason’s camp on the east side of Tule Lake, and he showed me a half-written note which he had hastily penned to send as a warning to General Canby.
I rushed out with Colonel Miller and Major Throckmorton’s two batteries that were leading the skirmish line, and, after about five minutes’ tramp over the broken rocks, we arrived at the scene of the massacre. In the distance I saw three of the perpetrators of the murders running round the edge of the lake on their way back to their rocky fastness. About a hundred yards to the west of the place of meeting we found Mr. A. B. Meacham badly wounded with a pistol shot over the left eye. He was immediately attended to and carried back for medical treatment. Fifty yards further on was the body of the Rev. Dr. Thomas, lying on his face and stripped to the waist. Life was extinct from pistol shot wounds in his head. The body of General Canby, the hero of many a fight, was stripped of every vestige of clothing and lay about one hundred yards to the southward, with two pistol shot wounds in the head.
Pausing only to cast a glance on the body of the man they both loved and respected, the troops dashed on and the two leading batteries were within a mile of the murderers when the bugle call sounded a “halt.” Lieutenant Egan and Major Wright’s companies of the Twelfth infantry were behind the artillery and then come the cavalry. General Gillem and Colonel Green and staff were up with the men, but as soon as they found that the Indians had all got back to their stronghold the troops were ordered to fall back, and active operations will commence to-morrow or the day after.
The attack on Colonel Mason’s camp, as I learn through Lieutenant Adams, signal officer, commenced by the Indians firing on Lieutenants Boyle and Sherwood, who had wandered some five hundred yards outside their picket lines. Lieutenant Sherwood was shot through the arms and leg, but Lieutenant Boyle escaped without injury. Both officers got safely back to their camp.
In justice to Riddle, the interpreter, and his [wife], it should be stated that they both warned the Peace Commissioners and General Canby not to trust implicitly in the Indians, and added, “if they will go I wash my hands of all blame in the matter.”
The murder of General Canby has thrown a gloom over this camp, and created a bitter feeling in the hearts of the men that will exact a bitter reckoning from these treacherous savages. I have never known an officer so universally respected and esteemed as General Canby. He was a true Christian and brave soldier, and died in what he believed was the discharge of his duty. For the past few days he has clothed and fed these Indians, giving them blankets, food and tobacco. I saw him give Boston Charley money out of his pocket to go and buy some things at the sutler’s. When the [Modoc women] came into camp they rushed to General Canby, and they went back laden with provisions, calico, etc. Yet the first to fall was their kindest and noblest benefactor.
Dr. Thomas was the most earnest and best member of the Peace Commission, and never hesitated to go to meet these savages when he deemed his duty called him there.
Mr. Meacham is still in a dangerous condition, suffering from a flesh wound on the right forearm and a pistol shot entering behind the right ear and escaping three inches above. He also has an incised wound on the head, where the Indians tried to scalp him.

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