Biography of Captain Jack – Kintpuash

Kintpuash ‘having the water-brash’ – Gatschet; also spelled Keiutpoos, but commonly known as Captain Jack. A subchief of the Modoc on the Oregon-California border, and leader of the hostile element in the Modoc war of 1872-73.

Kintpuash (After Meacham)
Kintpuash (After Meacham)

The Modoc, a warlike and aggressive offshoot front the Klamath tribe of south east Oregon, occupied the territory immediately to the south of the latter, extending across the California border and including the Lost River Country and the famous Lava-bed region. They had been particularly hostile to the whites up to 1864, when, under the head chief Sconchin, they made a treaty agreeing to go upon a reservation established on Upper Klamath Lake jointly for them and the Klamath tribe. The treaty remained unratified for several years, and the meantime Jack, with a dissatisfied band numbering nearly half the tribe and including about 70 fighting men, continued to rove about the Lost River Country, committing frequent depredations and terrorizing the settlers. He claimed as his authority for remaining, in spite of the treaty, a permission given by an Indian agent on the California side. With some difficulty he was finally induced in the spring of 1870 to go with his band upon the reservation, where the rest of the tribe was already established under Sconchin. He remained but a short time, however, and soon left after killing an Indian doctor, who, he said, was responsible for two deaths his own family. He returned to Lost River demanding that a reservation he assigned to him there on the ground that it was his home country and that it was impossible to live on friendly terms with the Klamath. One or two conferences were arranged both by the military and civil authorities, but without shaking his purpose, and it became evident that he was planning for a treacherous outbreak at the first opportunity. At a final conference, Nov. 27, 1872, he absolutely refused to go on the reservation or to discuss the matter longer, and the attitude of the Indians was so threatening that an order was sent the military at Ft Klamath to put him and his head men under arrest. The attempt, was made by Capt. Jackson with 36 cavalrymen at Jack’s camp on Lost River, Oregon, Nov. 29, but the Indians resisted, killing or wounding 8 soldiers with a loss to themselves of 15. The Modoc, led by jack, fled into the impenetrable Lava-beds on the south shore of Rhett (Modoc or Tule) lake, just across the California border, killing a number of settlers on the way. Those under Sconchin remained quietly on the reservation. The war was now begun, and volunteer. companies were organized to assist the small body of troops available. A number of friendly Modoc, Klamath, and other Indians also enlisted. The Modoc position was so strong with rocks and caves and hidden passages that it was practically impossible for the troops to enter with ally prospect of success. On Dec. 22, 1872, the Indians attacked a wagon train with ammunition supplies and a skirmish ensued which one or two were killed on each side. On Jan. 17, 1873, an attempt was made by Col. Greer to storm the Modus stronghold by the entire force of regulars and volunteers, numbering nearly 400 men, assisted by a howitzer battery, but after lighting all day among the rocks against a concealed foe the troops were obliged to retire with the loss of 9 killed and 30 wounded.

Soon afterward civil indictments for murder were procured by the settlers against 8 Modoc concerned in the killing of settlers. Another conference was appointed under a regular peace commission, consisting of Gen. E. R. S. Canby, Indian superintendent A. B. Meacham, Rev. E. Thomas, and Indian agent L. S. Dyar. By agreement with Jack, the commissioners, together with Frank F. Riddle and his Indian wife, Toby (Winerma ), as interpreters, met Jack several of his men near the Modoc camp, Apr. 11, 1873, to debate terms of settlement. Hardly had the talk begun when, by premeditated treachery, Jack gave a signal, and drawing a revolver from his breast shot General Canby dead, while his companions attacked the other commissioners, killing Mr. Thomas and putting 5 bullets into Meacham, who fell unconscious. The others escaped, pursued by the Indians until the latter were driven off by a detachment of troops who came up just in time, one of the officers having already been killed in the same treacherous fashion by another party of the same band.

Active measures were now put into operation and a company of Warmspring Indian scouts from northern Oregon, under Donald McKay, was secured to assist the troops in penetrating the maze of the Laya-beds. With these and the aid of the field guns the Modoc were soon compelled to vacate their stronghold and take refuge in the rocks farther along the lake shore. On Apr. 26 a search detachment of about 85 men, under Lients. Thomas and Wright, was suddenly attacked by the Indians from cover, with the loss of 26 killed, including both officers, besides 16 wounded. In consequence of this defeat Col. Jefferson C. Davis, in command of the Department of the Columbia, restored control of operations to Col. Wheaton, who had been temporarily superseded by another officer. Other miner encounters took place, in one of which Jack in person led the attack, clad in the uniform which he had stripped from Gen. Canby. By this time the Indians were tired of lighting, and many of Jack’s warriors had deserted him, while he, with the rest, had vacated the Lava beds entirely and taken up a new position about 20 miles farther south. The pursuit was kept up, and on May 22, 1873, a party of 65 hostiles surrendered, including several of the most prominent leaders. Others came in later, and on June 1 Jack himself, with his whole remaining party, surrendered to Capt. Perry at a camp some miles east of Clear lake, north west California. The whole military force then opposed to him numbered 985 regulars and 71 Indians, while he himself had never had more than about 80 warriors, who were now reduced to 50, besides about 120 women and children. The whites had lost 65 killed, soldiers and civilians, including two Indian scouts, with 63 wounded, several mortally. The Modoc prisoners were removed to Ft Klamath, where, in July, 6 of the leaders were tried by court-martial for the murder of Gen. Canby, Mr. Thomas, and the settlers, and 4 of them condemned, namely, Jack, young Sconchin, Black Jim, and Boston Charley, who were hanged together Oct. 3, 1873, thus closing what Bancroft calls “their brave and stubborn fight for their native land and liberty – a war in some respects the most remarkable that ever occurred in the history of aboriginal extermination.” The remainder of the band were not permitted to rejoin their people on Klamath reservation, but were deported to the south east corner of Oklahoma, where a part of them still remain.

For Further Study

The following articles and manuscripts will shed additional light on Kintpuash.

  • Modoc Tribe
  • Bancroft, Hist. of Oregon, II, 1888
  • Commissioner of Ind. Affs. Reports for 1872-73
  • Dunn, Massacres of the Mts., 1886
  • Gatschet in Cont. N. A. Ethnol., II, 1890.

Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

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