Capt’n Jacks Stronghold…

During the visit to the ice cavesI gathered info about touring Capt’n Jack’s Stronghold from the FS desk. Found that the ranger showed up there at 9 AM, I could meet him there, and get a guided tour. That sounded interesting so became my plan. Next morning, drove over to the national park main entrance once again, and took the left for the 8 mile drive to the stronghold. Got there about 15 minutes early and just hung out in the parking lot. There was already a Forest Service truck in the parking lot but I figured it was there for some other reason. At 9:15, I was getting a bit antsy and started to doubt that I’d heard the time right the previous day. Maybe she’d said 10 am?

Eventually decided to just hike the trail without the guide. A little disappointing but I guessed I’d see most everything even without a guide. And there’s the fact that I’d read at least 5 books about this whole story.

Off in that direction is Tulelake. So far away nowadays you can’t even see it. During Capt’n Jack’s time the shore would have been much closer. In fact the shoreline would have been where that road in the near distance is, just 100 feet behind my car.

There’s the forest service truck. A half hour of waiting was long enough for me, so I just started hiking along the trail for a self guided tour. There’s a brochure available for $1 at the beginning of the loop hike I was happy to find and I picked one up. At each point of interest noted in the brochure there’s a post with a number painted on it. Because of the very dry and hot summers, and the brutal winters, most of the numbers are illegible now. There’s 23 points of interest so too many site descriptions to republish here, you’ll just have to come visit the stronghold yourself.  Looks kind of remote doesn’t it? That dry area past the road is where the lake use to be. And was the only source of water for the Modoc during most of the battle over 5 months here. But there was rainwater and snow melt too. Just never enough for all the people. And here’s the start of the lava fields. From the parking lot, it’s about 50 feet up. Not very inviting up here. Rough terrain.  And the blacktop trail quickly changed to dirt and gravel. Still, much better than trying to walk on chunks of broken up lava. This trail, and most of the others I’ll trod today, are the actual trails the Modoc used during the fighting. Off in the distance, Mt. Shasta.

This area was the Modoc home for thousands of years. They knew the area well. Whites had been passing through this area around Tulelake (though avoiding the lava beds) for a couple decades, and of course, some had decided to stay, squatting on the land. Creating farms and ranches around the fringes of the lake. The Modoc felt threatened by this, and the whites complained about anything Indian, especially about them living nearby, and the periodic raids the Modoc used to intimidate the settlers didn’t help the situation.

So eventually the government decided it was time to round them up and move them to a reservation near Klamath lake. Of course, they really didn’t care about anything other than allowing whites to grab the Modoc land so after making many promises they would never keep, forced them to camp further north on the Klamath reservation with their kin the Klamath people. Although related with similar lifestyles, the two groups didn’t get along. You can guess how that worked out.

Eventually the Modoc had had enough and just left the reservation and headed back home, to their ancestral lands. Prior to that, they did try to work with the whites, asking for a reservation closer to their homelands. But the US would have none of that. Indians were not going to dictate to the whites about where they would live. The lands that the Modoc asked for was really scrub lands, and still are to this day. Not appropriate for large scale cattle ranching or farming, but that didn’t matter to the whites. They wanted to punish the Modoc for not behaving even though their crimes against local whites had been few and minor.

The Modoc had been using the stronghold for centuries as a defensive position in times of wars so that’s where they headed after escaping the Klamath reservation. The army was sent to round them up and return them to the reservation. A fight broke out, some soldiers died, and the Modoc dug in at the stronghold. Independently, a force of settlers attacked a separate group of Modoc, killing several. In revenge, the escaping Modoc on their trek back to the stronghold attacked and killed 12 settlers. There were atrocities committed by both sides during those running battles and during the battles that ensued.

And thus began one of the longest Indian battles the US Army had ever endured. A small band of 60 fighting Indians held off an army force 20 times their size for nearly 5 months. And the stronghold is where they headquartered & sheltered.

View the indians would have had from one of their lookouts. The soldiers eventually brought their mortars over to that ridge to fire into the stronghold. Cannon wouldn’t have worked here as they would fire over the site. It was late in the campaign before the mortars arrived because of the difficulty of getting them here in the first place.

Off in the distance, that pile of rocks is a firing position and Indian lookout position.
A lookout’s redoubt.

Around this point I bumped into a couple FS personnel and asked if they were suppose to be the guides for this trail…but no, they were doing a plant survey. They thought the guy was suppose to show up sometime around 9 but didn’t have details. So I left them behind and continued on my solo hike around the site. Note the cleared out area where the Modoc held their councils during the fighting. There would have been a medicine flag placed here…we know that because an artist drew it shortly after the fighting. One of the many trails used during battles. One of the shelters. Not very comfortable at all.

Many of these low stone walls were built by the Modoc for defense of the stronghold.  Capt’n Jack’s cave. Here he sheltered over the winter with his two wives and daughter. Doesn’t look very comfortable does it? That rounded rock at the entrance is where Jack would stand to speak to warriors. It’s right there where a woman’s basket was placed on his head by Hooker Jim who called him a coward. This caused him to agree to help murder General Canby at a peace council later. And sealed his and his tribe’s fate. A lizard sunning itself. 

Not a fun place to live during a cold winter.  Tried to get a closeup telephoto shot of Capt’n Jack’s cave. Note that all these caves have been picked over by souvenir hunters over the decades.

Over there is the Modoc 2nd defense line. Another one of the defensive walls built by the Modoc.This is the dance ring where it’s said many of the Modoc danced all night as a serious shamanistic ritual to ward off the effects of bullets and bombs. As with all religions, young and old, it never worked except by coincidence.

This was Schonchin John’s cave, the 2nd in command. There was some natural protection here…easy to imagine Indians poking their heads up and shooting or scurrying along these trails trying to keep their heads down. The Indian soldiers took pride in individual accomplishment during battle and would often act alone. The Army’s soldiers were usually under trained, underpaid conscripts who could care less about the battle only wanting to stay alive, but usually did follow orders. Just not very enthusiastically.  This medicine flag is placed and maintained by the Modoc still in the area. There would have been one here during the battle. It’s on the highest point of the stronghold and meant to be seen by all the warriors, the people, and the enemy. Back then, you would have been looking at a lake over there where you see dark grey dirt now. There are two trail loops that branch off here. I took them both during my visit. Doesn’t take all that long. The site isn’t all that big really. My visit was in June and it was already getting hot in the middle of the day this time of year. On this visit I got to the stronghold site before 9 am so I could miss the heat of midday. This is Schonchin John’s command post (that group of rocks in the foreground). At first they were able to fight off the army but eventually, the army cut off the Modoc access to water near here, spelling the end. Because the Modoc did so well fighting off the vastly superior Army force, the military had to send in seasoned troops to take the place of the greenhorns who hadn’t done so well the first 3 months. One of the message trails used by the Modoc.There were over 100 Modoc elderly, women and children scattered around these rocks and they had to live here while their 60 warriors tried to protect the site and their families. These small rock strewn areas are where they lived.

Early in the battle, some Modoc scouts happened onto a herd of cattle to the south of the stronghold. They brought them all here and kept them in this natural corral. As a major source of protein, this herd kept the Modoc fed for months. You can still find bones of the cattle wedged in the rocks.This was the only exit from the corral so it was easy to keep them inside.

This is the area named ‘The Western Front’. The difficult terrain kept the cavalry from using the area for horse mounted attacks. Calvary was ineffective so those troops became infantry. This firing position overlooks the area where the soldiers would try to attack as infantry. Unsuccessfully. I got to walk over this little bridge. The Modoc had to jump over. It’s around 6 feet deep here. All these ravines are good hiding places for Indian soldiers. That’s called Mt. Dome.

Hard to see but a Modoc would scrunch down in that hole and peer out the small opening in the rocks. He’d fire from this nearly invisible position.

Yeah, the brave would slither down that hole. I’d get stuck. Another of the rock walls the army built and posted sentries to after the Modoc had surrendered. They were worried that if the Modoc escaped again and came back to the stronghold, it would take several more months to extricate them.
Eventually, the Modoc knew they were going to lose, so they snuck out of the stronghold. 160 men, women, and children just ‘walked’ out along this corridor overnight. By morning, they’d reached a new source of water at the ice caves I visited in the last posting. After they made their escape, it was an easy matter for the army to surround and capture them. They were exhausted anyway. The Army really did a poor job of maintaining a watch force.  Looking back towards the stronghold, on the route the Modoc took. Hard to tell there’s a stronghold there. Another of the Army’s defensive positions built after the Modoc escaped. After the battle started, the Modoc had stationed a small group here on this outcrop to fire on the soldiers over near the lake.

Here’s where the army camped. Not very comfortable.
That juniper tree in the picture below is right inside what was at one time a building put up by the Army during its bivouac here. It’s not looking very healthy at the moment. I think it died. But it likely lived over 100 years. One of the Modoc redoubts up on the top of the hill.

On the last of the trail headed back towards the parking lot.

And that was the end of the trip through Capt’n Jack’s Stronghold. Very interesting history lesson. Glad I came for a visit and very happy it was empty of people. Good timing on my part. Most crazy tourists come in July or August.

Time to head back to Merrill. I’d passed this harvester a couple times before. This time stopped to take a few pics.It took 6 people to directly operate the machine. And than a bunch more to haul product.

A couple miles further on is this internment camp. Where the mostly innocent Japanese-Americans were interned during WWII. From all accounts, this camp was one of the more brutal. But as an offset to the conditions here, the internees were often invited to work the harvests nearby, which had terrible manpower shortages because of WWII, which they did without reservation of course, just to get out of the camp for a time. It was closed when I passed by so I wasn’t able to get past the entrance. No notification of why. Most of the buildings are gone, and the locals are trying to get the land back for farming. Many Japanese-Americans and others are fighting to keep this sad bit of history available as a lesson.

And that’s the end of that days history tour. It was fun. Really enjoyed the entire adventure.

Thanks for visiting!

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2 Responses to Capt’n Jacks Stronghold…

  1. Jeff says:

    Well done Jim! We did the same self-guided hike a few years ago and were surprised at home much history we did not know! We picked up a book on the Modoc War to fill in the gaps. Nice to see so much snow on Shasta, it was nearly buck-naked when we went by the end of August.

    Thank you. As a history buff, I really enjoy that kind of expirience. It’s interesting to stand on the same place where actual history happened. This particular site is unique in that you can actually walk on the same ground those that made history did.

    The snow on Shasta made for good pictures too…

  2. Upriverdavid says:

    Over the past 30-40 years I’ve visited 3 x with girlfriends, brother; wife..
    Thanks for your narrative and photos…You’ve given me another visit.
    It’s not for everyone but it was swell for me.
    Thanks again,

    Thanks for the kind words! But the compelling point of the story is the inevitability of it all. Jack knew that, played a part in his agreeing to murder those at the peace conference, and he went to the gallows for it.

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