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Modoc apology bill passes Senate, on to House

A resolution commemorating the Modoc War of 1872-73, honoring those who lost their lives in the war and expressing regret for “the expulsion of the Modoc Tribe from their ancestral lands in Oregon” passed the Oregon Senate Tuesday and moves on to the State House.

However, an amendment to the resolution removed wording that had expressed “regret over the 1873 Modoc War execution of Kintpuash” (Captain Jack) and three other Modocs.”

Proposed by State Sen. Fred Girod, R-Stayton, the resolution was approved by 24 senators. Four senators were excused from voting, including Sen. Dennis Linthicum, who represents the Southern Oregon region where the Modocs were held as prisoners and where the four were executed.

Girod reportedly sponsored the resolution after viewing “The Modoc War,” a documentary produced by Oregon Public Broadcasting. The documentary dealt with Modoc War of 1872-73, one of the most expensive Indian wars in U.S. history and the only one in which a U.S. Army General, E.R.S. Canby, was killed.

“This tragic event in Oregon’s history is relatively unknown,” Girod said in a statement. “When I learned of the Modoc War and the history of the Modoc tribe in Oregon, I felt that we needed to do something to express regret and remember what happened. While this resolution may be coming nearly 150 years later, I hope that this acknowledgment serves as the catalyst for healing.”

Most of the key battles were in California, including what is now Lava Beds National Monument, although Captain Jack and five others were tried and found guilty at Fort Klamath, then an Army post.

Following the hanging of Jack and Schonchin John, Black Jim and Boston Charley, the surviving Modocs were sent as prisoners of war to Indian Lands, which later became Oklahoma. The Modocs were later given permission to return to Oregon, with some doing so and becoming part of the Klamath Tribes. Others remained in Oklahoma, eventually being recognized as the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma. In recent months, the group has rebranded itself as The Modoc Nation.

Two Modoc descendants who testified during a Senate Committee on Veterans and Emergency Preparedness, Cheewa James and Allen Nelson, expressed their thanks for the Senate’s actions.

Cheewa James, an enrolled member of the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma who lives in Roseville, Calif., and appeared in and consulted on the “Modoc War” documentary, thanks Girod. James termed the resolution “a gracious act, one deserving to those who have lived in the shadow of the Modoc War these many years. We are all humans and all involved in the war are in need of redemption for a terrible thing that happened years ago.”

A former National Park Service ranger at Lava Beds National Monument, she has written two books about the Modoc War and people. Her great-grandparents and grandfather, an infant during the war, were among the 150 Modocs exiled to Oklahoma.

Nelson, an enrolled member of the Klamath Tribes, said the resolution recognizes the Modocs “were fighting to protect their families and their homeland just like anyone of us would do under those circumstances.”

He termed the resolution “a step forward in the healing process for the spirit of our ancestors, the Modoc families, descendants and to all the people who have suffered and sacrificed their lives during that time ... The spirit of our Modoc ancestors will live on and all that was done was not in vain but for the Modoc people to live on.”

Nelson, who lives in Salem and works as a trainer and consultant with tribes on historical trauma and the healing process, is related to Scarfaced Charley.

During the Senate hearing, a letter from Klamath Tribes Chairman Don Gentry was read. In part the letter said, “On behalf of the Klamath Tribes, the Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin Paiute people, I hereby express our overwhelming support of Senate Concurrent Resolution 12 ... Acknowledging the truth of wrongs done is a critical first step towards healing those affected.”

According to a summary of the resolution’s “essential features,” it outlines Captain Jack’s (Kintpuauh or Kientpoos) history and the 1864 treaty between the United States and the Modoc, Klamath and Yahooskin tribes.

The summary notes incidents during the Modoc War of 1872-73, including the battle in what is now known as Captain Jack’s Stronghold that was decisively won by the Modocs.

It also notes that “during a truce period on April 11, 1873, a group of Modocs led by Kintpaush killed peace commissioner Rev. Eleazer Thomas and Gen. Edward Canby, the highest-ranking U.S. Army office to be killed during the Indians war.”

The summary recounts Captain Jack’s capture, the trial in which he and five other Modocs were found guilty of murdering Canby and Thomas and attacking others by a federal military court at Fort Klamath.

The resolution notes Jack, Charley were “the first Indians to be tried and executed by the federal government for war crimes.” Before the hanging, the two others convicted, Brancho and Siolux, sentences were commuted to life imprisonment at Alcatraz.

In addition, the summary notes about 150 Modocs were “herded into rail cars and sent as prisoners of war to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma)” and in 1909 offered the opportunity to return to the Klamath Reservation, which was accepted by 29 Modocs.


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