Modoc (Native Americans of the Plateau)

Modoc, from Moatokni, or "Southerners" (Klamath). Their self-designation was Maklaks, or "People," as was that of their neighbors and linguistic cousins, the Klamath.

Location Traditionally, Modocs lived around Goose, Clear, Tule, and Klamath Lakes, in northern California and southern Oregon. Today, Modocs live mostly around Oregon and in Northwest cities as well as in Oklahoma.

Population The eighteenth-century Modoc population was roughly 500. There were almost 600 enrolled Modocs in 1990, roughly two-thirds of whom lived in or near Chiloquin, Oregon.

Language With the Klamath, the Modoc spoke a dialect of the Lutuami division of the Penutian language family.

Historical Information

History Modocs obtained horses early in the nineteenth century, about the time they encountered non-natives, and by the 1830s they were aggressively raiding their neighbors for horses, slaves, and plunder. Major disease epidemics in 1833 and 1847 reduced their population considerably. Wagon trains began coming through their territory during the late 1840s, scaring the game away and disrupting their natural cycles. Hungry now, and anxious and resentful, they began attacking the intruders, as well as neighboring Indians, for slaves. When gold was found near their territory in 1851, miners flocked in and simply appropriated Indian land, killing Indians as they liked.

The 1860s Ghost Dance brought them little comfort, and they, especially the women, drifted into debauchery during this period. In 1864, Modocs and Klamaths ceded most of their land and moved to the Klamath Reservation. The Modoc were never comfortable there, however, and matters became worse when a food scarcity exacerbated the level of conflict. They petitioned several times for their own reservation, but to no avail. In 1870, about 300 Modocs under Kintpuash (Captain Jack) reestablished a village in their former homeland on the Lost River.

Increasing conflict with white settlers soon led to a military confrontation, after which the Indians escaped to nearby lava beds.

Meanwhile, another group of Modocs under Hooker Jim also fled to the lava beds south of Tule Lake after attacking several ranches in revenge for an unprovoked army attack on their women and children. In a confrontation early in 1873, about 80 Indians held off 1,000 U.S. soldiers and irregulars. At a peace parley later that year, the Modocs killed the U.S. general and one of his negotiators. Later, another white attack was repulsed, but the Indians killed some soldiers during negotiations. However, Modoc unity was failing, and their food was running out. Hooker Jim was captured and betrayed his people, leading troops to the hideout of Kintpuash, who was forced to surrender. At his trial, Hooker Jim’s testimony against Kintpuash and others resulted in their being hanged.

In 1870, about 300 Modocs under Kintpuash (Captain Jack) reestablished a village in their former homeland on the Lost River. Increasing conflict with white settlers soon led to a military confrontation.

In 1870, about 300 Modocs under Kintpuash (Captain Jack) reestablished a village in their former homeland on the Lost River. Increasing conflict with white settlers soon led to a military confrontation.

Most surviving Modocs were sent to the Quapaw Reservation in the Indian Territory (Oklahoma).

The Oklahoma Modoc became farmers and ranchers, and many adopted Christianity. Modoc tribal land ownership in Oklahoma ended in 1890 when their land was allotted to individuals. A group of 47 Modocs returned to the Klamath Reservation around 1905, but that reservation was terminated in 1954. Its lands were sold in 1964 and 1971. The Oklahoma Modocs lost their tribal status in 1956 as well, but they were restored in 1978.

Religion Shamans, usually men, provided religious leadership. They dreamed spirit dreams for five nights and then performed a five-day quest, acquiring a number of guardians and powers. They could cure illness, interpret dreams, control the weather, and harm people at will. Curing was generally accomplished by sucking out a disease object. Adolescent boys and girls also undertook spirit quests.

Government Each of about 25 Modoc villages was led by a civil and a war chief. Civil chiefs were selected on the basis of their wealth as well as their leadership and oratory skills; there were also some hereditary chiefs. An informal community assembly decided most legal matters.

Customs Corpses were wrapped in deerskin and cremated. The house and possessions were also burned, and the deceased’s name was no longer spoken. Widows cut their hair and covered their faces with pitch and ash. Modocs practiced infant head flattening.

Dwellings Winter dwellings were permanent, semiexcavated lodges made of willow poles covered with tule mats and earth. Width averaged between 12 and 20 feet. People entered through a smoke hole in the roof. Temporary mat-covered structures were used at seasonal camping sites. Sweat houses were heated with steam; they were a place for cleansing as well as praying.

Diet Modocs followed the food supply in three seasons. They ate fish, especially salmon, trout, perch, and suckers. Men hunted a variety of large animals as well as rabbits and other small game. Antelope were driven into brush corrals. Fowl were taken with nets and decoys. Women gathered camas and other roots, greens, berries, and fruits. Seeds, especially those of the waterlily (wocus), were also important; they were gathered in the fall and ground into flour.

Key Technology Fishing equipment included nets, spears, hook and line, and basket traps. Many items were made of tule or bulrushes, such as twined baskets, mats, cradles, rafts, and moccasins. The people used stone mullers and metates for grinding seeds, stone arrow straighteners, and basketry seed beaters.

Trade Modoc Indians were actively involved in the regional trade. They especially obtained horses for slaves and plunder at the Dalles.

Notable Arts Women made particularly fine baskets.

Transportation Traditional means of transportation included cedar dugout canoes, snowshoes, and tule and lashed-log rafts. Horses were acquired in the early nineteenth century.

Dress Men and women wore skin, grass, or tule aprons. They also wore tule moccasins, leggings, fur robes, and hats in winter. Charcoal black on the face protected against sun and snow. They flattened their infants’ heads for aesthetic purposes.

War and Weapons The war chief was coleader of the village. Modocs’ traditional enemies were the Achumawi and the Shasta.

Contemporary Information

Government/Reservations The Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma is located in Miami, Oklahoma. Their constitution was approved in 1991. They own an administrative building, a church, a cemetery, and just over nine acres of land.

Many Modoc descendants also live on the Klamath Reservation in Chiloquin, Oregon. The General Council (total enrolled adult population) chooses an eight-member business committee.

Economy Modoc descendants participate in the local economy.

Legal Status The Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma is a federally recognized tribal entity.

Daily Life Oklahoma Modocs are engaged in a major project to document their history and recover their language and traditions. Some Oklahoma Modocs regularly attend ceremonies with their relatives in the Northwest. They are also involved with pan-Indian activities in Oklahoma.

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