American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
Teaser Image

Captain Jack

Title: Captain Jack, aka Kintpuash
Button: Click to display an enlarged version of the image.

Kintpuash (Modoc, ca. 1837–1873), later called Captain Jack by Anglo-American colonists of California, played a major role as a leader in the Modoc War of 1872–1873. Born at the Wa'chamshwash village on the Lower Lost River near the California–Oregon border, Kintpuash's father was ambushed and slain by whites during the Ben Wright Massacre of 1846. Little is known of his life before age twenty-five. We do know that his Modoc name, Kintpuash, meant "he has water brash [psoriasis]."

The Modocs had little contact with the immigrants until the advent of the 1849 California Gold Rush. Around this time, Kintpuash acquired the nickname Captain Jack because he wore a uniform coat with brass buttons that had been given to him by a U.S. Army officer. Although the Modocs opposed Anglo-American expansion into their lands, Captain Jack counseled peace and encouraged trade with the settlers living near Eureka, California, during the 1840s. He had taken two wives by this time.

The Gold Rush intensified tensions and hostilities in the 1850s until Schonchin John, a Modoc chief, signed a treaty removing his band to a reservation in Oregon in 1864. The area was also the traditional homeland of the Klamaths, however, who resented the Modoc intrusion. Realizing that the land in Oregon was insufficient, Captain Jack and his followers returned to California and requested a reservation there. The federal and state authorities denied their request.

Settlers soon began to insist on the forced removal of Modocs. On November 28, 1872, forces invaded Captain Jack's camp and coerced him into consenting to removal. As tensions mounted at the meeting, violence broke out. Scarfaced Charley, a Modoc leader angered by the Army's behavior, refused to give up his gun, and shots were fired during the ensuing struggle. When the fighting stopped, eight soldiers and fifteen Modocs were dead.

Fearing reprisals, the Modocs under Captain Jack fled to the Lava Beds nearby, believing that they would be safe there. However, this was not to be the case. Hooker Jim and his Modocs, encamped on the other side of the Lost River, were attacked by settlers, and, while retreating to the Lava Beds, they killed twelve whites in revenge. Within this hostile environment, the Modoc leaders, Captain Jack, Schonchin John, and Hooker Jim prepared for an attack in the vast, largely inaccessible volcanic area. But Captain Jack still counseled peace and negotiation, arguing that the government would ultimately win. However, more militant factions under Hooker Jim and Schonchin John outvoted him.

On January 13, 1873, troops moved into the Lava Beds to quell the Modoc uprising. On February 28, Captain Jack's cousin, Winema (married to a white man named Frank Riddle), and a peace delegation began talks with the rebellious Modocs. Hooker Jim and Schonchin John believed Captain Jack to be a coward for consenting to the talks, so they insisted that Captain Jack kill General Edward S. Canby, the head of the delegation. The Modoc militants also believed that American resolve would be damaged by the death of Canby.

Reluctantly, Captain Jack agreed to their terms only if the Modocs were refused amnesty and a return to their California homeland. At a meeting on April 11, Captain Jack shot Canby. The Reverend Eleazar Thomas was also killed, and Albert Meachum, the Indian superintendent, was severely wounded. Winema and her husband managed to escape with the remaining members of the peace party. Quickly, the government fielded more troops and heavier weapons.

The rugged lava rock terrain worked to the Modocs' advantage at first, but dissension among the Modoc leaders and harsh conditions weakened their position. Captain Jack surrendered in late May. After a military trial with Hooker Jim testifying for the prosecution, Captain Jack, Boston Charley, Black Jim, and Schonchin John were hanged on October 3, 1873. Since the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant had instituted a Peace Policy toward Indians, the American people were stunned by the uprising and the consequent inhumanity and insensitivity of the pursuit and hanging of the Modocs.

In the final analysis, white prejudice, Indian betrayal, greed, and an opportunistic press made a deplorable situation far worse. Employing more than a thousand soldiers to fight a Modoc force that never numbered more than fifty-three, the Army incurred losses of seven officers, thirty-nine soldiers, two scouts, and sixteen civilians. The Modoc dead numbered eleven women and seven men. An enormous human and financial cost was endured to capture and remove 155 Modocs to Indian Territory.

A melodrama entitled "Captain Jack" was staged for a brief time in 1873 but it failed to fully capitalize on the tragic bloodletting. A second group of grisly entrepreneurs were more successful. On the day after Captain Jack's execution, robbers excavated his grave, embalmed his body and put it on display in a carnival sideshow that toured profitably across many Eastern cities.

In 1909, fifty-one of the Oklahoma Modocs were permitted to return to their reservation in Oregon.

Bruce E. Johansen

Further Reading
Hagen, Olaf T. No date. "Modoc War Correspondence and Documents, 1865–1878." May 1942. Typescript, Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation, National Park Service. [Approximately 1,780 pages of documents selected from records in the National Archives, War Department, Presidio of San Francisco, University of California (Berkeley) Library, and the Applegate Collection.]; McCarthy, Michael. No date. "Journal of Michael McCarthy." Library of Congress.; Miller, Colonel William Haven. No date. "Incidents of the Modoc War." [Narrative made available to Dr. Ron Rickey by Miller's grandson, Captain Charles F. Humphrey, Vallejo, California. Miller was a second lieutenant in Troop F, First Cavalry, during the Modoc War.].

©2011 ABC-CLIO. All rights reserved.

  Chronological Essays
  People and Groups
  Southwest Nations
  California Nations
  Northwest Coast Nations
  Great Basin Nations
  Plateau Nations
  Great Plains Nations
  Northeast Woodlands Nations
  Subarctic Nations
  Arctic Nations
ABC-cLIO Footer