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As It Was: Modocs Defend “Land of Burnt Out Fires”

The Lava Beds National Monument in Northeast California has been called both “a place where time stood still” and “the land of burnt out fires.”

Author Lee Juillerat describes, in his words, “a landscape created by fiery volcanic forces, including cataclysmic events that created more than 700 lava tube caves and an above ground landscape shaped and fractured by lava flows and other geologic turmoil.”

Some of the repeated lava flows were as recent as 1,100 years ago.  Humans inhabited the area for thousands of years before the coming of the white man. 

The lava beds gained worldwide attention during the Modoc War of 1872 and 1873, when a small band of Modoc Indians used their familiarity with the sharp-edged terrain to boldly hold at bay more than 1,000 regular Army soldiers reinforced with artillery and determined to place the Modocs on reservations.

In his book titled “Lava Beds National Monument,” Juillerat writes that others who played prominent roles in the region’s history included sheep ranchers, homesteaders, cave explorers, tourists, U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service managers, and even bootleggers who sought water and secrecy in the caves.

Source: Juillerat, Lee. Lava Beds National Monument. California, Arcadia Publishing/Images of America Series, 2015,pp. 7-9, https://www.arcadiapublishing.com/Products/9781467134071. Accessed 23 Mar. 2017.

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.