Captain Jack

Captain Jack, Modoc Chief

Captain Jack was a Modoc. His real name was Kintpuash. He was a warrior and a chief, who grew up near Tule Lake, on the California-Oregon border. It was not the richest land, though it was enough to sustain his small tribe. It certainly wasn’t rich enough to support the Modocs and the white settlers who kept flowing in after the gold rush.

The Ben Wright Massacre

Ben Wright vowed to massacre as many Modocs as he could. Ben Wright was not an honorable man. In 1852, he came waving the white flag. The Modocs, who believed in the white flag, put down their guns and welcomed him to their table. They gave him a feast and he slaughtered forty-one of their men, women and children in cold blood. The Modocs never trusted the white flag again.

The Klamath Reservation

In 1863, the U.S. Army built Fort Klamath, just north of the Oregon border. Hundreds of Civil War veterans spent their days and evenings there getting drunk because there wasn’t anything else to do there. The army had forced Captain Jack and a hundred other Modocs to leave Tule Lake and live on the Klamath reservation. However, the Klamath Indians mistreated the Modocs. And the U.S. soldiers raided the reservation and raped Modoc women. So, Captain Jack returned to Tule Lake with the hundred Modocs he had brought with him, plus another 300 who had been living on the reservation before he got there.

When they returned to Tule Lake, they found even more white men than when they had left. Many of the white men didn’t want the Modocs around. They demanded that the Army return Captain Jack and his people to the reservation. The army surrounded the Modocs and sent in a peace delegation to negotiate a return to the reservation. Captain Jack had settler friends and didn’t want war with the white people. Old Schonchin was an elder who used to kill every white man he saw. He told Jack he was done fighting with the white men because no matter how many he killed, new ones kept popping up, like new blades of grass. Captain Jack agreed. He told his war council that war was pointless, victory impossible. Even if they killed all the white soldiers, the Great Father in Washington would just send more, like new blades of grass. But who would replace the Modocs who fell in battle?

Preparing for Battle

Curly Headed Doctor, Black Jim and Boston Charley disagreed. “The white man is not honorable. If we make peace, we will be betrayed. It has always happened this way. Remember Ben Wright? Each day we talk peace with the army, they sneak in more soldiers and bigger guns.” They called Captain Jack a fish-eyed squaw. They threw a bonnet on his head and a shawl over his shoulder. They knocked him to the ground and kicked him when he was down.

Captain Jack knew there was no way to fight for peace and remain head chief. And he knew that Curly Headed Doctor, Black Jim and Boston Charley were going to lead to Modocs into war no matter what he said or did. So, he decided it was better to remain head chief and die in battle than to die in disgrace.

When they next powwowed with the U.S. peace commission, Captain Jack shot and killed General Canby, the only general to ever die in the Indian wars. Boston Charley killed Reverend Thomas. The other members of the delegation fled. And thus began the Modoc War.

The Modoc War

The Lava Beds were a natural fortress, with hundreds of caves and tunnels that were well-known to the Modocs. A dense fog moved in from Tule Lake. The soldiers couldn’t see, yet they proceeded anyway. Modoc sharpshooters hid in crevasses and behind natural lava breastworks. They picked off the U.S. soldiers, one by one. In all, the Modocs killed thirty-five U.S. soldiers. And the army killed two Modoc squaws and two of their children.

The army brought in more troops and surrounded the Modoc camp. But Captain Jack had a plan. He snuck everyone out through secrets tunnels in the lava beds in the middle of the night. The army pursued the Modocs for months. As they ran low on food and water, some of the Modoc chiefs betrayed Captain Jack and hired on as scouts for the army. Hooker Jim, Bogus Charley, Shacknasty Jim and Steamboat Frank collaborated to help the army capture Captain Jack. But Captain Jack refused to be caught and surrendered instead.


The army hanged Captain Jack, along with Schonchin Jim, Black Jim and Boston Charley.  Then they chopped off their heads and donated them to the Army Medical Museum in Washington. The heads were later transferred to the Smithsonian. Jack’s descendants fought for his head. Finally, in 1984, the Smithsonian returned the heads of Captain Jack, Schonchin Jim, Black Jim and Boston Charley to Kintpuash’s relatives.

The Modoc War cost the U.S. government $400,000. In contrast, the cost of purchasing land for a reservation was $20,000. The Modocs had only 53 warriors. But they killed 83 U.S. soldiers and volunteers, including 7 officers. The army killed 17 Modoc warriors.

1 thought on “Captain Jack”

  1. Pingback: Today in Labor History April 26 - Marshall Law

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap