On a cold, rainy dawn in late November 1872, Lieutenant Frazier Boutelle and a Modoc Indian nicknamed Scarface Charley leveled firearms at each other....

On a cold, rainy dawn in late November 1872, Lieutenant Frazier Boutelle and a Modoc Indian nicknamed Scarface Charley leveled firearms at each other. Their duel triggered a war that capped a decades-long genocidal attack that was emblematic of the United States’ conquest of Native Americas peoples and lands. California author and editor Robert Aquinas McNally tells the wrenching story of this conflict in The Modoc War: A Story of Genocide at the Dawn of America’s Gilded Age (Bison Books, 2017). The 1872-73 Modoc War was one of the nation’s costliest campaigns against North American Indigenous peoples, in which the army placed nearly one thousand soldiers in the field against some fifty-five Modoc fighters.

Although little known today, the Modoc War dominated national headlines for an entire year. Fought in south-central Oregon and northeastern California, the war settled into a siege in the desolate Lava Beds and climaxed the decades-long effort to dispossess and destroy the Modocs. The war did not end with the last shot fired, however. For the first and only time in U.S. history, Native fighters were tried and hanged for war crimes. The surviving Modocs were packed into cattle cars and shipped from Fort Klamath to the corrupt, disease-ridden Quapaw reservation in Oklahoma, where they found peace even more lethal than war.

The Modoc War tells the forgotten story of a violent and bloody Gilded Age campaign at a time when the federal government boasted officially of a “peace policy” toward Indigenous nations. This compelling history illuminates a dark corner in our country’s past.


Ryan Tripp is an adjunct instructor for several community colleges, universities, and online university extensions. In 2014, he graduated from the University of California, Davis, with a Ph.D. in History. His Ph.D. double minor included World History and Native American Studies, with an emphasis in Linguistic Anthropology and Indigenous Archeology.

 

 

 

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