State Senate Resolution Would Address History Surrounding Death of General Canby, Modoc War

A Republican-sponsored resolution has sailed through the Senate for approval last week and is now headed to the House, and it’s all about Canby.

Well…General Canby, anyway. Some listeners may remember a Canby Then segment we brought you a few months back about how the town of Canby got its name. Though he never set foot here, as far as anyone knows, the city bears the name of Gen. Edward Canby, a Civil War hero in the Union Army who lost his life in April 1873 during a failed peace negotiation with the Modoc people of southern Oregon. He was the only general to be killed in the Indian Wars.

His death sparked a renewal of hostilities between the United States Army and the tiny Modoc tribe, which history would remember as the Modoc War — though very few people really remember it.

Six Modoc warriors, including their leader, Kintpuash, also known as Captain Jack, were captured and tried by what was essentially a military tribunal. They were not given interpreters or legal counsel. They were convicted of war crimes for the killing of General Canby and another peace commissioner who had died that day.

Though two of the Modocs would eventually have their sentences reduced to life imprisonment, four — including Captain Jack — were hanged at Fort Klamath on Oct. 3, 1873. The remaining 150-some Modocs were rounded up and shipped to Indian Territory in Oklahoma, where they were held as prisoners of war for over 30 years.

A ragged handful eventually returned to Oregon, where they joined the Klamath Reservation.

I know, I know: Great history lesson, right? But why are we talking about all this now? Well, the new resolution, SCR 12, is all about this history. It represents the state’s desire to set the record straight about the Modoc Wars, and to honor the bravery and sacrifice of those who fought and died on both sides of what was, actually, a pretty fascinating piece of our state’s history.

Sen. Fred Girod, of Stayton, sponsored the bill and he began his comments at a recent hearing by saying, “Remembr the Alamo?”

It’s true. Before the failed peace conference, Captain Jack and his band of 52 Modoc warriors held off a force of more than 1,000 U.S. soldiers, who were also reinforced with artillery. This was no fortress, either; it was a lava bed in what is now northern California. Ridiculously outnumbered, under-resourced and outgunned, the Modocs held their position through sheer force of will and determination.

Sen. Girod thinks it’s a story that should be taught in Oregon schools, and that it would be a source of great pride, particularly for students of Native American descent, if it were.
Author and historian Cheewa James, whose great-grandfather, Shaknasty Jim, fought in the Modoc War, agrees. She said it’s a story and a heritage that they’ve never forgotten, and it means the world to know that others might remember it, too.

Canby’s state senator, Alan Olsen, serves as chair of the Committee for Veterans and Emergency Preparedness, which referred the measure to the Senate floor, where it was approved last Tuesday. In speaking to Cheewa and several other descendants of the Modoc tribe, he said it’s the least they can do.

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