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As It Was: Thousands Witness Hanging of Captain Jack and Other Modocs

In the fall of 1873, mountain roads from Jacksonville and Ashland to Fort Klamath, Ore., were crawling with people anxious to witness the Army hanging of five Modoc warriors and their notorious leader, Captain Jack.

All six were charged with war crimes, among them murdering three men at a peace conference under a white flag, including the Army general leading the war against Captain Jack’s small band of Modocs.

At the last minute, President Ulysses S. Grant reprieved two of the Indians, disappointing most of the 2,000 spectators and 300 military men.  Also in attendance were Modocs and Klamath Indians forced to witness the hangings as examples of what could happen to them. 

The condemned men spit tobacco as they climbed the steps of the 20-foot-high gallows.  At a white-handkerchief signal at 10 a.m., the four black-hooded Modocs dropped to their deaths, their bodies hanging from the gallows for 30 minutes.

The crowd bargained for souvenirs, with pieces of noose rope selling for $5 and strands of Captain Jack’s hair going to the highest bidder.  Later, his head was sent to Washington, D.C. and his followers transferred to Oklahoma.

James, Cheewa. Modoc, The Tribe That Wouldn't Die. Happy Camp CA, Naturegraph Publishers, Inc, 2008, pp. 164-65.

Lynda Demsher has been editor of a small-town weekly newspaper, a radio reporter, a daily newspaper reporter and columnist for the Redding Record Searchlight, Redding California. She is a former teacher and contributed to various non-profit organizations in Redding in the realm of public relations, ads, marketing, grant writing and photography.