Major Boutelle’s Account of His Duel with Scar-faced Charley

In the latter part of November, 1872, Mr. Odeneal, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the State of Oregon, appeared upon the scene and sent word to Captain Jack of the Indians that he was at Link ville and to meet him there. Jack not responding, he was informed that Odeneal would be at Lost River two days later to talk to him. Instead of making preparations for his suggested meeting he despatched Mr. I. D. Applegate to Fort Klamath asking that troops be sent to move the Indians.

Mr. Applegate arrived at Fort Klamath about five o’clock in the morning of November 28th, and was brought by the sergeant of the guard to my quarters, I being Officer-of-the-Day. He told me his errand and asked if I thought Colonel Green would send troops. I told him to make himself comfortable until later as I knew Colonel Green would not send troops, that he had been informed if troops were used enough men should be sent to place the result “beyond peradventure.”

About eight o’clock, I was amazed at receiving orders from Major Jackson to make ready for a trip to Lost River; that we were ordered to move the Modocs. Soon after I was called to the adjutant’s office to prepare an order for the move. When the command was ready, or about half after eleven, I met Colonel Green and took occasion to call attention to the copy of General Canby’s letter to the commanding-officer, District of the Lakes, which had been furnished him for his guidance, and to suggest to him that there was no reason to believe these Indians would not fight, and that the command he was sending was, in my judgment, altogether inadequate -just enough to provoke a fight in fact. His reply was:

“If I don’t send the troops, they (the citizens of Klamath Basin) will think we are all afraid.”

Scarface Charley
Scarface Charley

The command, consisting of Maj. James Jackson, First Cavalry, in command, Asst.-Surg. Henry McEldery and myself, both of us being second lieutenants at that time, and thirty-five enlisted men, followed by five other enlisted men with pack-train, left Fort Klamath about noon in a cold rain and sleet-storm. We arrived at a point near Linkville in time to cook supper and feed the animals. Here the Major found Superintendent Odeneal and had a talk, the character of which I cannot relate. As soon as possible after supper we were in the saddle and en route to the Modoc camp. We were accompanied a part of the way by a party of citizens, who next morning engaged the Indians on left bank of Lost River.

The heavy roads made the ride an unusually hard one, and when daylight appeared it found a very tired lot of soldiers about to attempt a very disagreeable task. We halted about a mile from Jack’s camp, dismounted to adjust saddles. I took off my overcoat, saying to Major Jackson that if I was going into a fight I wanted my deck cleared for action. Most of the men, seeing my movement and hearing my remark, followed suit, notwithstanding the fact that the temperature had fallen and that the wet coats were partly frozen. We strapped the coats on the cantles of our saddles. Mounted again, we rode at a rapid rate and came into the Indian camp before many were out of bed. An Indian who was out fishing saw us crossing and ran down the river-bank crying:

“Soldiers! Soldiers!”

Soon after our arrival Scar-faced Charley crossed the river in a canoe and as he came up the bank of the river fired a shot. He told me after the surrender that it was an accidental discharge. I believed him.

As soon as we were formed in the Modoc camp Major Jackson, through Applegate, who knew the Indians individually, attempted to summon Captain Jack; but could neither get a talk with, nor a sight of, the chief. While these attempts at parley were going on, the Indians, under the influence of Scar-faced Charley and others, were undoubtedly preparing for combat. Applegate saw that there was trouble brewing as fast as possible. Scar-faced Charley had withdrawn to one end of the camp and was talking in a very excited manner with a number of other Indians. He had one rifle in his hand which he waved defiantly, and three or four lay on the ground at his feet.

Major Jackson finally rode over to me and said:

“Mr. Boutelle, what do you think of the situation ?” “There is going to be a fight,” I replied, “and the sooner you open it the better, before there are any more complete preparations.”

He then ordered me to take some men and arrest Scar-faced Charley and his followers. I had taken the situation in pretty thoroughly in my mind, and knew that an attempt to arrest meant the killing of more men than could be spared if any of the survivors were to escape. I was standing in front of the dismounted men of the troop. I called out to the men, “Shoot over those Indians”; and raised my pistol and fired at Scar-faced Charley. Great minds appear to have thought alike. At the same instant Charley raised his rifle and fired at me. We both missed; his shot passing through my clothing over my elbow. It cut two holes through my blouse, one long slit in a cardigan jacket and missed my inner shirts. My pistol bullet passed through a red handkerchief Charley had tied around his head; so he afterward told me. There was some discussion after the close of the war as to who fired the first shot. I use a pistol in my left hand. The track of Scar-faced Charley’s bullet showed that my arm was bent in the act of firing when he fired. We talked the matter over, but neither could tell which fired first.

The fight at once became general. Shots came from everywhere, from the mouths of the tepees, from the sage-bush on our left, from the river-bank and from the bunch of braves in which Scar-faced Charley was at work. As soon as I had time to see that I had missed as I supposed I fired another shot at Charley, at which he dropped and crawled off in the bush. Just then an Indian dropped on his knees in the opening of a tepee a few yards from our right and front and let slip an arrow at me. This I dodged and the subsequent proceedings interested him no more.

The men of the troop were tired as well as exhausted by the ride of fifty-six miles in a terrible storm; and when the firing had knocked out eight of the twenty-three men in action, the line began to give way. I saw that to retreat meant death, and calling on the men to charge, we rushed right at the main body. We were white and they were red. There was the almost invariable result. The dark skin gave way.

We had the camp and everything in it, women and children included. It was believed by all that we had killed very many Indians; so many that there would be no further resistance if the women and children were permitted to go to the men. This was allowed and the camp destroyed.

As soon as the fight was over, Major Jackson crossed the wounded over the river and sent them to Crawley’s Ranch about half a mile beyond. About the time this work was accomplished a messenger came flying from Crawley’s Ranch with the information that the Indians were making a demonstration upon that point.

I failed to mention that the party of citizens who accompanied us from Linkville had had a brush with a small party encamped on the left bank of the river below Crawley’s Ranch and had not been successful. The river was not fordable at this point. Major Jackson then took all sound men except about ten left with me and started for a ford seven miles up the river where he crossed and came down the other bank of the river to Crawley’s Ranch.

As soon as the Indians, who had retreated to the foothills, saw Jackson leave me with a small party they came on and made a futile attack. They had had enough and did not want any more. I followed Jackson, reaching Crawley’s Ranch late in the afternoon with the dead strapped on horses.

A dreadful mistake had been made; yes, more than one, but I shall not treat of matters previous to the attempt to move the Indians. In the attempt the greater sin lies at the door of Mr. Odeneal, who would not trust his precious skin to a council on Lost River; but preferred treacherously to send troops with guns in place of an agent of the Indian Department with an olive branch. He was sadly mistaken in believing that the Indians would not fight. He was dealing with desperate men. When the troops were sent “a boy was sent to the mill.” The heroes of the so-called outbreak do not diminish with years. I believe Superintendent Odeneal still lives. If he failed to send any word to the settlers on the north side of Tule Lake that troops were coming, he has more to think of ‘than I should care to have. Of such failure he was freely charged in those dreadful days.

You may in your work have seen a book written by A. B. Meacham, at one time Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the State of Oregon. I do not know where he got the information upon which he based his description of the first fight with the Modoc Indians. I remember seeing it years ago and that he represents me as advancing upon Scar-faced Charley, uttering vile and insulting epithets. I did not move forward a foot when I received Major Jackson’s order to disarm the party, but commanded the men to fire and fired myself. I did not address a word to an Indian that morning. Meacham attempted to get an account from me and was referred to Major Jackson’s official report. Hence his insults to me. Meacham made the battle last three hours, and that we were whipped. Rot! It did not last much more than so many minutes. We drove the Indians across the sage-bush plain and burned their tepees. Left when called to the other side of the river for the pur

pose of protecting our wounded and citizens threatened by Indians from camp on left bank of river.

The citizens who attacked the Indian camp on the left bank of Lost River were there without order or authority, and had no more right for their attack than if it had been made on Broadway, New York. The Indians, who repulsed them and afterward made such dreadful killing, were called treacherous murderers and were indicted in the Oregon courts, Scar-faced Charley, among others, who I have ample reason to believe was on our side of the river.

In contrast with the action of this civilized party may be noticed the “brutal” conduct of some of Jack’s people who saw two cow-boys, whom they knew, approaching their assemblage. They went out to meet them, telling of the occurrences of a few hours previous, and advising them to go away while they were at war with the soldiers, as they did not want to hurt them.

Of the fight in the lava-beds chapters might be written by the participants in explanation of why so many men were not able to dislodge so small a number of Indians. The newspapers frequently asked why some officer experienced in such work was not sent to command. There was no officer experienced in such work; he did not live.

The popular impression of the Modoc was that he was a dreadful savage, a wild Indian. As a matter of fact, all of them wore white men’s clothing. Nearly or quite all had cut off their hair, and many were in the habit of working for the neighboring stockmen or farmers. Nearly all understood English and many spoke it as well as many white men. As an instance: I had encamped just across Lost River from Jack’s camp a few months before the war, and had talked enough with the Indians to recognize Bogus Charley’s voice. In the early morning of January 17th, as the two lines, one on each side of the stronghold, were closing in on the Indians, I heard a voice calling out to Colonel Bernard’s command:

“Don’t shoot this way. You are firing on your own men. ”

Colonel Bernard commanded” Cease firing,” and was surprised to hear me bawl out:

“Look out, Colonel Bernard, that is Bogus Charley talking!”

Bogus talked a great deal, and when on April 1st I told people that at last Bogus Charley was dead, I was rallied a good deal and asked how I knew. I replied that I had not heard him and knew he could not keep his mouth shut. It transpired that Bogus had left the Modocs the night before the investment and could not get back.

As an indication of the disposition of the Modocs, with relation to learning the ways of the white men and not asking for assistance from the Government provided they were allowed to remain on Tule Lake, in one of the peace talks Bogus Charley offered as proof or reason why he should want a cessation of hostilities that he had “lost his whole winter’s work.”

By Maj. F. A. Boutelle, United States Army (Retired)



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