[From the New York Herald, 1873; story by Edward Fox]
Camp on Lava Beds, April 14, 1873.
hree days have now elapsed since the massacre of General Canby and Dr. E. Thomas, and, as to-morrow we go take action, I write this in case any stray shot might prevent my giving a detailed account of this most heartless and treacherous act. In some such instances the brutal and treacherous nature of the Indian has been passed over and his deeds of blood laid to the account of ignorance; but here no such palliation can be offered, as the Modoc Indians are far above the average in intelligence, having associated freely for the past ten years with the whites. The knowledge of civilization which they have obtained has, however, only rendered them more dangerous, and I do not scruple to say that they are one of the worst bands of Indians in the United States.
I have followed very closely the negotiations that have passed between the Peace Commissioners appointed by the government and these Indians and, although at one time I was inclined to believe they were peaceably disposed, I am now assured that the insolent manner in which they carried themselves, the result of their fight on the 17th January, could only be destroyed by a sound thrashing. They felt like a victorious army, and received the friendly offers of the government as a victorious people would treat the solicitations of their vanquished foes. On the occasion of my visits to their stronghold I always found them talking of the late fight—how one of their men had defended a line of rocks two miles in length; how their little band had whipped three hundred soldiers without losing a man, when the soldiers lost some forty killed and wounded. They always said, “If the soldiers go away we will stop where we are and shoot no man; but if soldiers want more we will give them all they want.” To tell them that more soldiers were coming only made their eyes glisten, as if the thought flashed across their minds, “all the more to kill.” Thomas at that time was of the opinion that Captain Jack was tired of fighting and would make peace, but I freely acknowledge that the surrounding settlers, such as Fairchild and Dorris, and the [wives] of the men Whittle and Riddle, always held to the opinion they would fight rather than leave Lost River.
In a letter written some time ago I stated that the fiend incarnate of these Modocs, Boston Charley, who had been acting as a kind of courier and spy for Captain Jack, had arranged in behalf of the Modocs to accept the terms then offered by General Canby to go to Angel Island until a reservation had been selected for them in some distant county. In pursuance of this treaty he asked for three or four wagons to come and meet them at Klamath Lake, on the Monday following, at noon. He said General Canby and the members of the Peace Commission might come, but no soldiers. On the Sunday evening Tobe, Riddle’s [Modoc wife], came to General Canby and beseeched him not to go, saying it was a plot among the Indians to massacre them all and secure the horses out of the teams. Both Generals Canby and Gillem, Mr. Elijah Steele and numbers of others, including your correspondent, laughed at the idea of such a thing, and both Riddle and his [wife] were looked upon as playing a double game. Mr. Steele accompanied the wagons to the appointed place; but no Indians came in sight, probably thinking that by exercising a little patience they would get a better haul. At the time nothing was thought of it, but now I feel assured that the Indians meant treachery.
Again, when I remained with Dr. Cabaniss at one of their picket stations, while Captain Jack and five others of the tribe had a talk with General Canby and General Gillem, they objected to leaving their guns before going to talk, and although they finally conceded that point they managed to smuggle their pistols with them. I believed then they meant treachery, but, on afterthought, concluded it would be better to wait for some of the Peace Commission.
After we arrived at this camp there were several meetings between the Peace Commission and the Indians, and, although Messrs. Meacham and Dyar both distrusted the intentions of the Modocs, General Canby and Dr. Thomas felt confident that no treachery was intended. For over a week not a day passed by without one or more Modocs coming into camp, ostensibly to talk, but in reality to beg and trade with the sutler. They brought in their feathers and sold them to the sutler for clothing, calicoes, soap, matches and other articles. Food they got in plenty, as General Canby was too kind-hearted to refuse any of their demands for food, and they generally returned to their camp each carrying a bag full of provisions. Boston Charley was in nearly every day, and was in the habit of making his headquarters in General Canby’s tent. His talks with General Canby and Mr. Meacham generally resulted in his getting a couple of blankets from them ostensibly to cover some sick Indian of their tribe.
The day before the massacre Boston Charley and Bogus Charley both came into camp and made arrangements for the meeting of the succeeding day. They arranged to meet at a spot about half a mile from our camp, near the edge of the second inlet on the lake. Two meetings had been held on the same spot, and a wall tent was kept pitched on the ground, so as to give shelter in case of rain. This little flat, covered with bunch grass and loose scoria, that has since become notorious as the scene of the massacre, was hid from our camp by some intervening rolling and broken ground, but was in full view of the signal station on the bluff, at our backs.
Early Friday morning, the day of the massacre, Tobe, Riddle’s [wife], came to Mr. Meacham and beseeched him not to go out, as she was certain the Indians meant to kill them. She said that the last time she had been in their camp on a message William, Wild Gal’s man, ran alongside of her horse as she was leaving and told her that the Modocs were talking bad, and meant to kill all the men at the next talk. Mr. Meacham then went to General Canby and the other Commissioners and told them this story, but neither General Canby nor General Gillem nor Dr. Thomas would put any credence in the statement. Mr. Dyar felt somewhat like Mr. Meacham, and said that he could not see what Tobe had to gain by lying on such a subject. General Canby said that he looked at the matter in another light, and could not see how the Indians would help their case by murdering them, with so many troops on each side of them; it would be only precipitating a war which they were anxious to avert.
Mr. Meacham then called John Fairchild and asked him to sound Bogus Charley and see if he could find anything out of him. Fairchild had a long talk with Bogus, getting quietly at the point, but could get no more information. Bogus asked Fairchild if he was going out with the Commissioners, and, receiving an answer in the negative, then said everything would be all right; “Captain Jack hurt no one.” When Dr. Thomas heard the story he went to Bogus, an Indian to whom he had taken rather a fancy, and asked him if there was anything in the story, and, very naturally, Bogus denied it, saying it was a squaw yarn. Dr. Thomas then said he was satisfied that the Indians meant no treachery, and that he should go, as he felt certain that the God in whom he trusted would guard over him while he went on such [a] mission.
After some reluctance and with evident misgivings as to the result, Messrs. Meacham and Dyar consented to go, and the party were preparing to start when Riddle called them all into General Gillem’s tent and said:—“Gentlemen, I want you to hold me blameless if any harm comes to you to-day, as I feel confident that the Modocs mean no good. They will not shoot me because I am married to one of their tribe, but I greatly fear they have treacherous intentions.” Generals Canby and Gillem rather laughed at his fears, and the party finally started on their mission, from which two never came back alive. Just before leaving, Boston Charley asked Mr. Dyar’s permission to tie a bag of provisions on his horse, a favor which was granted. The party consisted of General Canby, Dr. Thomas, Boston and Bogus Charley, on foot, and Mr. Meacham, Mr. Dyar, Riddle and his [wife], Tobe, on horseback. General Gillem did not go, as he was on the sick list, having been in the doctor’s hands for the past three days.
They all walked quietly towards the rendezvous and arrived there without any incident of importance occurring, but it was noticed that Boston Charley stopped behind them a little and looked about, as if to see that there were no soldiers about. General Canby and the Peace Commissioners, when they arrived at the tent, were shortly afterwards joined by Captain Jack, John Schonchin, Shack Nasty Jim, Hooker Jim, Ellen’s Man and Black Jim. The party finally sat down in a kind of broken circle. General Canby sat facing the west, with Mr. Meacham on his left. Dr. Thomas sat to the left of Mr. Meacham, a little back, and adjoining him were Riddle and his [wife]. Captain Jack sat nearly opposite General Canby, with Schonchin, Black Jim and Ellen’s Man on his left, and on his right were Mr. Dyar, Shack Nasty Jim, Hooker Jim and Boston Charley. Mr. Dyar was standing alongside of Jack during the conference, holding his horse, and Mr. Meacham’s was tied a little in his rear. Bogus Charley was not sitting down, but kept moving about in a restless manner.
Mr. Meacham opened the talk with a long speech, in which he told the Indians how anxious he was to arrange a peace with them, so that the President would be pleased and there would be no more fighting. He told them how difficult it was to get a place where they could live unmolested in this section of the country, and that it would be better for them to decide upon going some distance, where they would be away from the Oregonians, who wished to annoy them. Mr. Meacham spoke for nearly half an hour, after which General Canby talked, telling them not to be afraid of the soldiers; they were their friends and would not hurt them. He also told them how the President wished all his children, Indians and whites, to be at peace and not fighting with one another. Nothing could have been kinder than his speech to these savages, and the kind old gentleman talked to them as if they had been his own children. Captain Jack and Schonchin then spoke to the effect that they wanted the soldiers sent away, and then they would make peace and take a reservation on Cottonwood, Hot Creek or Willow Creek, in the country that they knew and where they had lived many years. Dr. Thomas then talked in his kind, quiet way, and was telling them how difficult it would be for them to live at peace in this part of the country, and how much better it would be for them to go with their families to some other part of the country where they would be fed and clothed by the government.
While Dr. Thomas was speaking Captain Jack got up and walked back to where Meacham’s horse was tied, and then returning said aloud, “Hetuck?” (Are you ready?)—and, pulling his hand out of his pocket, snapped a pistol at General Canby. This was the signal for the murderers, and they immediately commenced their bloody work. There was no hurry or confusion in their manner; each man had selected his victim, and they had only been waiting the signal.
At the first snap of Captain Jack’s pistol General Canby got up and ran in a southerly direction, followed by Captain Jack and Shack Nasty Jim, who both fired at him. The poor old gentleman ran about fifty yards, when he threw up his hands and fell. Bogus Charley, Shack Nasty Jim and another Indian then threw themselves upon him and, after stabbing him in the throat, stripped him of everything he had on. They did not leave a vestige of clothing on his body, and the only portion of his apparel found was a small black necktie.
Mr. Meacham rose at the same time as General Canby, to receive a bullet from the pistol of John Schonchin, but he ran off a short distance, about seventy or eighty yards, and then fell shot in four places. His murderers then stripped him to his underclothing and left him, as they supposed, a ghastly, bleeding corpse. Poor Dr. Thomas was shot through the head in the first fire by Boston Charley, the treacherous brute who had breakfasted with him the same morning. He staggered a few yards and fell on his knees, at the same time asking Boston Charley to spare his life. The fiend replied by firing another bullet through his head, and, at the same time, Bogus Charley said to him, “Why you no believe squaw?” Boston Charley, after stripping the body of Dr. Thomas to the waist, ran to where Meacham was lying and commenced scalping him, when … Tobe shouted, “The soldiers are coming!” and the cowardly devil ran off.
Mr. Dyar was standing on Jack’s right when the first shot was fired, and he immediately turned and ran for camp, followed by Hooker Jim, who fired two shots after him. Dyar, thinking that Hooker Jim was gaining, drew his Derringer, and, turning round, snapped it. The pistol did not go off; but the coward no sooner saw the weapon than he wheeled and ran back to where the rest of his party were finishing their bloody work. This whole scene was enacted in a very few minutes, and before the troops got on the ground the murderers were safe in their rocky fastness.
I was lying down in my tent reading, when I heard a shout that came from above me at the signal station—“They are firing at the Peace Commissioners! General Canby is killed!” I rushed out just as the bugle notes were calling the men to arms. Colonel Miller’s and Major Throckmorton’s batteries of artillery were soon skirmishing across the rolling ground between the camp and the scene of the murder, followed closely by Colonel Wright and Lieutenant Egan, with two companies of the Twelfth infantry. Colonel Biddle and Major Trimble came next with troops K and F, of the First cavalry. When the troops came to where the body of their beloved General was lying cold and dead, disfigured with his wounds, they did not at first recognize him, but learning the horrid truth they dashed forward among the rocks, eager to revenge his murder.
While some were attending to the dead and dying the troops were moving rapidly forward, and it was with difficulty General Gillem kept them back to reserve their vengeance for another day. It was a sad march, that walk back to camp with the dead bodies of General Canby and Dr. Thomas and almost hopelessly wounded Meacham. The Indian [woman], Tobe, was in despair, crying incessantly and muttering, “Why would they not believe me?”
At first it was thought in camp that the murder had not been premeditated, and that the Indians had started the shooting when they found that the Peace Commissioners would not give them a reservation in their old country. When we came back from the scene of the murder I went into General Gillem’s tent, and, as I sat down, he handed me a piece of paper on which was written, “General Canby—The Modocs have attacked Mason’s pickets, wounding Lieutenant Boyle.” As I read it, he said, “I was just writing a note to General Canby, which Dr. Cabaniss had volunteered to take out, when the warning from the signal station told me it was too late to save the life of one of the best and noblest men in the United States Army.” It appears that during the morning some Indians, including Scar-faced Charley and Steamboat Frank, came out on the rocks on the east side and waved a white flag. Lieutenant Sherwood, of the Twenty-first infantry, who was officer of the day, went out to see what they wanted, accompanied by Lieutenant Boyle, Quartermaster of Colonel Mason’s command.
When they arrived within about sixty yards Lieutenant Sherwood asked them what they wanted, and Steamboat Frank answered they wanted to talk with the “little tyee’s,” and asked them to come upon the rocks where they were. This Lieutenant Sherwood refused to do, and the Indians immediately fired upon them, wounding Lieutenant Sherwood severely in two places. Lieutenant Boyle ran away on hearing the first shot and succeeded in escaping unhurt. On hearing the shots a company immediately left Colonel Mason’s camp, led by Lieutenant Egan, who happened to be there visiting at the time, and accompanied by Assistant Surgeon De Witt. They soon came up to where Lieutenant Sherwood was lying and brought him back to camp. His wounds have proved fatal and he died two days afterwards. Mr. Meacham has been doing remarkably well, and, although shot in four places and half scalped, will probably recover. I trust that by this time to-morrow the punishment of these treacherous murderers will have begun, and that some will have paid the penalty of their crimes.
[Note: Although who did exactly what is understandably a matter of controversy, it is generally agreed that Captain Jack and Ellen’s Man George were the two who killed Canby. Shacknasty Jim was busy attacking Meacham, along with John Schonchin. Shacknasty Jim took Meacham’s clothes. Bogus Charley was probably involved in the killing of Thomas, though this is uncertain. Neither Scarfaced Charley nor Steamboat Frank were involved in the attack on Sherwood and Boyle; Miller’s Charley and Curley-Headed Jack were the guilty parties. Steamboat Frank was part of the crowd at the peace tent, though the only part he took in affairs was to seize Thomas’ coat after he had been killed. Scarfaced Charley was also there, watching from a distance. He had promised to protect Frank Riddle from harm, and was keeping an eye on him.]