Friday, December 9, 2016

"The Mother of All Demos" and the Hippies

SRI during the "Mother of All Demos"
December 9, 1968 was one of the most significant days in personal technology history. On that day, computer scientist Douglas Engelbart demonstrated experimental computer technologies that 40 years later would become ubiquitous in homes and workplaces around the globe. During the "The Mother of All Demos," as it would later be known, Engelbart's live demonstration, at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco, featured the introduction of the computer mouse as well as video conferencing, teleconferencing, word processing, and hypertext---many of the tools that would define personal computing and social networking decades later. Engelbart's presentation was the first to publicly demonstrate all these elements in a single system, then called the "oN-Line System" or, NLS. 


NLS
Engelbart's demonstration showed that computers could be used for complex group communications over long distances and for the enhancement of individual and collective learning. The demonstration was highly influential and spawned similar projects at Xerox PARC in the early 1970s, and influenced both the Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows graphical user interface operating systems in the 1980s and 1990s.


Doug Engelbert and an early mouse
Part of the demonstration was controlled, in part, by researchers at the Augmentation Research Center at Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in Menlo Park, CA about 30 miles South of where the live demonstration was held. Englebart's system was linked via telephone lines and microwave channels to a terminal at SRI. The video production of the SRI end of the demonstration was led by a non computer scientist by the name of Stewart Brand. A few months earlier, Brand had launched the Whole Earth Catalog, a publication that helped provide tools and connectivity to people living on communes around the country. 

As Fred Turner notes in From Counterculture to Cyberculture:

"...Like the NLS system, the Catalog would link multiple, geographically distributed groups and allow them to collaborate—albeit not in real time. And like the hyperlinked texts of Engelbart's system, the Whole Earth Catalog presented its readers with a system of connections. In the Catalog, no text stood apart from every other; each was part of an informational or social system, and each offered a doorway through which the reader could enter one of those systems..."

Nearly three years before "Mother of All Demos," Brand had helped launch the hippie counterculture era by heping produce the three-day Trips Festival, a three-day acid test/music/performing arts extravaganza that, according to Tom Wolfe in The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, kicked off "The Haight Ashbury Era."

The fact that Brand was part of the Trips Festival and, then, part of the SRI lanch of the NLS system is quite symbolic of the links between the counterculture and the rise of the personal computer and internet technologies. As Turner details in From Counterculture to Cyberculture and John Markoff notes in What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry, the personal computer and early internet technologies were created by innovators and scientists influenced by the free-thinking hippie counterculture spirit that reached its apex in late 1960s and early 1970s in the Bay Area. Stewart Brand touches upon this below:




Perhaps most significantly, Brand, who found himself part of the teams behind the Trips Festival and SRI demonstration, is credited as a major influence on Steve Jobs and his early vision for Apple Computer. As noted in Cult of Mac, Jobs often cites the impact of the Whole Earth Catalog on his thinking. During Jobs’ famous commencement address at Stanford University in 2005, he referred to Brand’s publication as “Google, in paperback form” in terms of importance, and referenced its mantra of “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.”

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Read more about the "Mother of All Demos" and Stewart Brand below:

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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Remembering a Founding Mother of San Francisco: Juana Briones y Tapia de Miranda

Descendants of Juana Briones pose before the reconstruction of her adobe-filled wall at the California Historical Society, San Francisco, January 26, 2014 
California Historical Society

More than a dozen men and women gathered in January 2014 at the opening of an exhibition at the California Historical Society. Some of them had never met before. But they all had something special in common: their ancestor, a Californio woman of Spanish, indigenous, and African descent named Juana Briones y Tapia de Miranda (1802–1889), recognized by one historian as “the most prominent woman of provincial California.” They had come to the learn about her and her legacy at the exhibition Juana Briones y su California ~ Pionera, Fundadora, Curandera (pioneer, founder, healer).

These descendants are standing in front of the exhibition’s centerpiece—a segment of a wall from Juana’s homesite in Palo Alto dating to the 1840s. The wall is a rare example of post-and-beam construction, insulated with unformed adobe mud. It is one of the few historic artifacts salvaged from Juana’s Rancho la Purísima Concepción. Deconstruction of her home containing this remnant of the original wall began in May 2011. A few months later, when demolition ended, a rare structure and significant piece of California history was lost.

Wall segment from Juana Briones’s Palo Alto homesite on display, Juana Briones y su California, 2014 Preservation work by Gil Sanchez, FAIA
California Historical Society

Today the wall is in storage with the City of Palo Alto, awaiting a new home at the Palo Alto History Museum, whose historic building will be reconstructed in the near future.

But the commitment to tell the story of the house and its owner was not. In 2014, CHS honored the contributions of Juana Briones—rancher, farmer, businesswoman, healer, landowner—with a bilingual exhibition at its San Francisco headquarters and online. Uniquely, the exhibition reconstructed Juana’s life in 19th-century California) during California’s transformative Spanish, Mexican, and U.S. periods—all in the absence of any known personal objects of hers.

From the wall remnant, historic seventeenth- and eighteenth-century manuscripts, accounts of early travelers to the Bay Area, legal papers, maps, and deeds, an image emerged of this potent, resourceful, and creative woman who convincingly still represents the spirit and promise of our state.
The photo essay below, drawn from the exhibition, commemorates Juana—who died on December 3, 1889—as part of an ongoing effort to keep her history and spirit alive.

Artist unknown, Las castas, c. 1700s
Courtesy of CONACLTA-INAH-MEX
Reproduction authorized by the Instituto Nacional de Antropologie e Historia

Widespread diversity characterized 18th-century Mexico, the home of Juana’s parents and grandparents, who were of Spanish, African, and probably Indian descent. Socio-racial designations, as represented in this painting, were part of the Spanish Empire’s casta system, an elaborate hierarchy of identities based on racial mixing, family lineage, economic position, and other factors. In missionized Alta California (Upper California, or roughly what we now know as the State of California), these social distinctions were replaced by a new hierarchy between the Hispanic colonial settlers and Native Californians. 

Map of Juan Batista de Anza’s Route to Alta California in 1775–76
Courtesy National Park Service

Juana’s mother, Ysidora Tapia, traveled with Juan Batista de Anza to Alta California in 1775–76 from Mexico to San Francisco, where de Anza founded the Presidio of San Francisco. Juana was born in Villa de Branciforte (present-day Santa Cruz) in 1802.

Adobe House at El Polín Spring, The Presidio, San Francisco, 2013
California Historical Society, photograph by Rebeca Méndez 

After her mother’s death, Juana (age 10) moved with her family to the Presidio de San Francisco and then to El Polín Spring, a settlement adjacent to the Presidio. An adobe foundation was discovered in 2003 by a Stanford University archaeological team in partnership with the Presidio Archaeology Lab. It is believed to be one of two houses occupied by the Briones family. The foundation was later reburied to preserve the site. This reconstructed foundation is part of an interpretive exhibit at The Presidio in San Francisco.    

San Francisco de Asis Mission, Marriage Record, Apolinario Miranda and Juana Briones, 
May 14, 1820
Courtesy of the Mission Dolores Museum

At the age of eighteen, Juana married 26-year-old Presidio soldier Apolinario Miranda at Mission Dolores. Although the couple had eleven biological children together, their marriage was marked by domestic abuse and legal strife. Seeking to live separately from her abusive husband and strike out on her own, Juana moved in the late 1830s to Yerba Buena, a flourishing town and soon to become a hub for international commerce.

C. M. Waseurtz, Rough Sketch of a Kitchen and Dining Room on a Farm in California, 1842–43
Courtesy of the Society of California Pioneers

This drawing provides a glimpse into domestic life in Mexican California in the 1840s. Juana and other Californios lived in small adobe houses with gabled, tiled roofs. Waseurt’s drawing shows a comal (griddle) for cooking tortillas; a pot for cooking atole (gruel), bean dishes, and meat stews; and an open fire for roasting meat.

William Henry Thomes, On Land and Sea, or, California in the Years 1843, ’44, and ’45 
(Boston: DeWolfe, Fiske, 1884)
California Historical Society

One of the first non-native residents of Yerba Buena (renamed San Francisco in 1847), Juana was legendary for her friendship with the sailors whose ships arrived there to trade for hides and tallow, whale oil, and other commodities. She sold them goods from her North Beach home, treated their illnesses and wounds, and bravely harbored deserters. 

One such visitor to San Francisco in the 1840s was William Henry Thomes, who wrote a semi-fictional account of his travels when he was a young sailor, includes anecdotes about the “rich widow” “Senora Abarono” and her Yerba Buena farm, including his opinion that “If the men had some of the energy of that buxom, dark-faced lady, California would have been a prosperous State, even before it was annexed to this country, and we would have had to fight harder than we did to get possession.”

Fritz Wikersheim, Entrance to San Francisco Bay Taken from Telegraph Hill, California, 1845–51
Courtesy of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

In Yerba Buena, Juana quickly identified and seized an opportunity that would forge her reputation there as an astute businesswoman and entrepreneur. By 1837, she had built an adobe house in present-day North Beach and established a dairy farm that supplied milk to sailors, merchants, and other visitors. This artist’s rendering shows the northern tip of the San Francisco peninsula, the bay, and Marin. The settlement pictured is Yerba Buena (present-day North Beach). Footpaths to the presidio cross the northern tip of Russian Hill behind. The corral and home shown in the flatland may be Juana’s residence.

Briones Family Chest, undated
Courtesy of the Bolinas Museum; photograph by Rebeca Méndez

During this time, Juana served as a curandera (healer) at Mission Dolores, the Presidio, and Yerba Buena. According to a Briones family descendant, this painted Chinese chest belonged to Juana’s niece in Bolinas. Legend has it that sailors gave Juana a red-lacquered Chinese chest as a token of their gratitude after she cured one of their shipmates.
  
Doctor’s Bag Belonging to Pablo Briones, 19th century
Courtesy of the Bolinas Museum; photograph by Rebeca Méndez

According to a Briones family descendant, this medicine bag belonged to Juana’s nephew Pablo Briones, who worked as a doctor in Bolinas. Juana may have inspired and trained Pablo. The family tradition of curanderismo (folk healing) was also carried on by Juana’s sister Guadalupe Briones de Miramontes’ daughter Carmen Miramontes, a midwife in Half Moon Bay.

Aerial View of Juana’s Homesite in Santa Clara County, 1923
Courtesy Special Collections, Stanford University

In 1844 Juana purchased Rancho la Purísima Concepción in Santa Clara County from two Ohlone Indians with the money she had earned in Yerba Buena. After Apolinario’s death in 1847, she left Yerba Buena and moved to the rancho. Little did she know that this property would provide a place of physical and economic refuge during the frenetic years following the discovery of gold in California in 1848. This aerial photograph shows the site of Juana’s home in the 1923. By this time, previous additions had altered the original structure, but it is still easy to see Juana’s strategic location for her home on the crest of a hill. During her lifetime, there would have been fewer big trees, allowing Juana an unobstructed view of her ranch lands.

Plat of the Rancho La Purísima Concepción, Finally Confirmed to Juana Briones [Santa Clara Co., Calif.] as Located by the U.S. Surveyor General, 1863
Land Case Map E-281
Courtesy of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

Following the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hildago in 1848 ending the Mexican-American War, California was ceded to the United States. Landowners like Juana were now forced to prove their land claims in American courts. Juana was involved in litigation for two decades, defending her claims to her properties. 

Establishing rights to Mexican-era land grants required extensive documentation. To support her 1852 claim to Rancho la Purísima Concepción, Juana needed an official survey, as required by the new land laws. In September 1858, U.S. Deputy Surveyor C. C. Tracy conducted a formal survey of the property. This official plat, filed in 1863, is based on Tracy’s and other surveyors’ field notes.

Henry W. Halleck, 1862
California Historical Society

In order to overcome some of the legal challenges of defending land claims, Juana temporarily hired Civil War general and California attorney Henry Wager Halleck, widely considered one of the best lawyers in California. Juana’s ability to negotiate her way through a complex system of laws and obstacles to successfully defend her property, despite being an illiterate woman from a humble background, speaks to her remarkable resolve and ingenuity. Of the sixty-six women who petitioned for and were granted land during the Mexican period, only twenty-two—including Juana—had their grants confirmed and patented by the United States. 

Historical Atlas Map of Santa Clara County, California (detail)
(San Francisco: Thompson & West, 1876)
California Historical Society

By 1876, the original Rancho La Purísima Concepción land grant had been divided into eight parcels. Martin Murphy owned the largest parcel, comprising more than 65 percent of the original rancho. Juana retained the second largest parcel, having divided the rest among her children.

California Bear Flag Belonging to the Briones Family, c. 1850–1900
Courtesy of the Bolinas Museum; photograph by Rebeca Méndez

The California Bear Flag was first flown during the 1846 Bear Flag Revolt, in which American insurgents led by John C. Frémont captured Sonoma and proclaimed the Republic of California. This flag was donated to the Bolinas Museum by the granddaughter of Pablo Briones, Juana’s nephew.

Five Generations of Briones Women, before 1901
Courtesy of the Bolinas Museum

We end as we began, with Juana’s descendants. Pictured here are five generations of Briones women, descended from Juana’s older brother Gregorio Briones and his wife, Ramona. Upper left: Ramona Garcia Briones Munos (wife of Gregorio); her daughter Maria del Rosario Briones (Mrs. Francisco Mesa; her daughter, Francisca Nott (Mrs. Samuel Clark); her daughter, Frances Clark (Mrs. Martin McGovern); her daughter, Elsie McGovern.

Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager
skale@calhist.org

Marie Silva
Acting Director of Library & Archives
Co-curator, Juana Briones y su California
msilva@calhist.org

Sources

  • J. N. Bowman, “Prominent Women of Provincial California,” Historical Society of Southern California Quarterly XXXIX, no. 2 (June 1957): 149–66
  • Juana Briones y su California, California Historical Society, January 26–June 8, 2014, and online at https://californiahistoricalsociety.org/exhibitions/juana-briones/exhibit/
  • Anne Petersen, “Exhibition Review: Juana Briones y su California ~ Pionera, Fundadora, Curandera,” The Public Historian 36, no. 4 (November 2014): 100–7
  • Sam Whiting, “Juana Briones exhibit built around wall from her final home,” San Francisco Chronicle, January 25, 2014


Day of Infamy, 75 years later

Troops in Vehicles Lining Crissy Field, 1941
Courtesy of National Park Service
Articles

FOCUS: How the attack on Pearl Harbor changed the course of California

http://www.ocregister.com/articles/infographic-737460-focus-california.html

http://files.onset.freedom.com/ocregister/news/2016/focus/FOCUS_Cal_and_Pearl/cal-after-Pearl.gif

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http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/military/honor/

http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Ansel-Adams-Japanese-internment-WWII-6206027.php

http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Tora-Tora-Tora-over-SF-When-Japanese-10652456.php

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/readersreact/la-ol-le-pearl-harbor-75th-anniversary-20161207-story.html

http://www.latimes.com/travel/deals/la-tr-hawaii-pearl-harbor-75th-anniversary-20161123-story.html

http://www.smdailyjournal.com/articles/lnews/2016-12-07/memories-of-pearl-harbor-san-mateo-man-reflects-on-surviving-infamous-attack/1776425172438.html

http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2016/12/06/pearl-harbor-survivor-chuck-kohler-makes-up-for-lost-time-spreading-the-word/

http://people.com/human-interest/oldest-surviving-pearl-harbor-vet-to-visit-base-on-75th-anniversary-i-hope-people-never-forget/

http://blog.constitutioncenter.org/2016/12/pearl-harbors-role-in-a-historic-supreme-court-decision/

Previous California Historical Society pieces related to Pearl Harbor and its aftermath

http://californiahistoricalsociety.blogspot.com/2016/02/day-of-remembrance.html

http://californiahistoricalsociety.blogspot.com/2015/12/this-day-in-history-bombing-of-pearl.html


Monday, December 5, 2016

California Vintage: Wine and Spirits in the Golden State
December 5, 1933: Prohibition Ends!

Trucks at San Francisco Civic Center en route to returning Tipo Chianti Italian Swiss Colony wine to retail shelves and restaurants, marking the end of prohibition, December 1933
California Historical Society
In the image above, a procession of trucks returns wine to San Francisco for sale. The formality of the scene masks what certainly was a sigh of relief to the city, state, and nation brought by the end of Prohibition, the constitutional ban on producing, importing, transporting, and selling alcohol that was in effect from 1920 to 1933. It was, however, only the first leg in a journey to reestablish California as the wine-making giant it had been.

Winemaking in California is considered as old as the mid to late 1700s, when the Spanish missions were established along the Pacific coast region (1769–1833). Mission grapes were cultivated for the production of both sacramental and table wine.

Hannah Millard, Mission Grape, 1872
Courtesy Special Collections, UCLA Library
Photograph of Ferdinand Deppe’s 1832 painting of Mission San Gabriel, the leading wine producer among the California missions, 
c. 1900 
California Historical Society Collections at the University of Southern California
In the nineteenth century, grapes were the major agricultural product of Los Angeles, called the “city of vines” by the 1870s. By the end of the century, 45 of the state’s 52 counties were producing wine.

Topographical Map of California Showing Vineyard Districts in green . . . Total Production of Wine in 1902 40,000,000 gallons (California Wine Association, 1903) 
Courtesy Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps
Fast forward to 2015, when the annual impact of California’s wine industry on the state and world economies was $57.6 billion and $114.1 billion, respectively, and California was publicized as both the nation’s number one wine state and the world’s fourth largest wine producer.

Grape-pickers on Hastings Ranch, Pasadena, California, c. 1898 
California Historical Society Collections at the University of Southern California

But California winemakers didn’t always enjoy such economic success. Nor did their sister producers of alcoholic beverages, the distilleries and breweries. With passage of the 18th Amendment legalizing Prohibition, these industries faced near ruin, and in the hard times of the Great Depression they struggled even more. As wine historian Thomas Pinney observes, in Los Angeles County—once the wine capital of the state—the number of wineries dropped from 97 in 1935 to 35 in 1939, and those wineries that did exist made wine only irregularly.

In this blog series, we look at some aspects of the wine and spirits industries in the Golden State during these two challenging periods. We begin with Prohibition, which on this day in 1933, finally ended with ratification of the 21st Amendment repealing the 18th. After nearly 14 years, the nation was no longer “dry”!

Crowd outside the Belmont Grill celebrating the return of beer to Los Angeles, 1933 
Los Angeles Public Library, Herald-Examiner Collection


Prohibition
(1929–33)

Imported Chinese rice wine destroyed under court order, 1928
Los Angeles Public Library, Herald-Examiner Collection
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the temperance movement—as the “dry” movement was called—had been gathering strength in state legislatures. By 1916, there were 26 dry states in the nation. By 1908 in California, sixty California towns had passed anti-liquor ordinances. Although Californians voted against statewide prohibition in 1914 and 1917, the vote was carried primarily by northern California voters.

One such voter was Andrea Sbarboro, founder of the Italian Swiss Colony winery in Asti, Sonoma County, who was actively anti-Prohibitionist. As wine historian Thomas Pinney explains, “A native Italian, he found it incredible that people concerned with temperance should be opposed to wine, and he labored hard to persuade the infidels.” In 1908, Sbarboro had founded the California Grape Protective Association and worked tirelessly to prevent passage of the 18th Amendment legalizing Prohibition, but, as Pinney writes, “All was in vain. The national mood was in favor of prohibition.”


Detail of a page from “How Prohibition Would Affect California,” 1916 

(San Francisco, CA: California Grape Protective Association)
“If Prohibition carries, thousands of acres of hillside vineyards will be rendered useless, as this land is suited only for wine growing,” Sbarboro’s marketer Horatio Stoll warned in his brochure How Prohibition Would Affect California.

The 18th Amendment was ratified in January 1919 and went into effect a year later. Exclusions in the Amendment, however, kept grape growers busy during its enforcement, including wine for religious and medicinal purposes and the production of up to 200 gallons of non-intoxicating cider or homemade fruit juice each year.

Advertisement, Washington Post, September 7, 1921 
Courtesy www.thehillshome.com

These loopholes paved the way for a lucrative trade with home winemaking businesses and eastern markets. The grape-growing industry was saved!

Prohibition-era L. M. Martini Grape Products Company, producing sacramental and medicinal wine and grape concentrate (“Forbidden Fruit”) for legal home winemaking, Kingsburg, Central Valley, California, c. 1922
Courtesy www.louismartini.com
Most vintners, however, became unemployed. Scientific training in viticulture and enology at the University of California, Davis—in existence since 1880—was discontinued, providing a shortage of trained vintners in the years after Prohibition. By the time the 18th Amendment was finally repealed in 1933, vintners faced a new challenge: the Great Depression.

Watch for the next blog in our series California Vintage: Wine and Spirits in the Golden State on December 12.

Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager
skale@calhist.org

Sources
Thomas Pinney, City of Vines: The History of Wine in Los Angeles (Berkeley: Heyday Books/California Historical Society, forthcoming September 2017)

Frona Eunice Wait, Wines and Vines of California (San Francisco: The Bancroft Company, 1889)
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Love California Wine and Spirits? Don’t Miss These CHS Events!

December 10, 2016
California Historical Society, 678 Mission, San Francisco















CHS opens its new exhibition, Vintage: Wine, Beer, and Spirits Labels from the Kemble Collections on Western Printing and Publishing, December 10, 2016–April 16, 2017


December 13, 6:30 pm
California Historical Society, 678 Mission, San Francisco






The California Historical Society’s annual holiday party
Craft cocktails, legendary California wine, innovative brews, and live entertainment
Learn more

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Monday, November 28, 2016

The Halprins continue to make news

Earlier this year, the California Historical Society presented Experiments in Environment, an exhibition about the famous interdisciplinary workshops led by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin and his wife, post-modern dancer, Anna Halprin. The exhibition was presented in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first workshop the Halprins held in 1966. The work of the Halprins continues to draw attention from the media and cultural institutions around the country. 

Dance Magazine reminds us that 50 years ago, it featured a cover story (see below) about Anna Halprin and Driftwood City, a project that grew out of the workshops 




Last week, Curbed featured a terrific piece on the role Lawrence Halprin played in influencing the design of city parks and civic spaces across the country. The article was in written, in part, because of a new exhibition on Lawrence Halprin's work that has recently opened in Washington D.C. Created by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (a partner and sponsor of our exhibition) and on display at the National Building Museum, the exhibition coincides with the 100th anniversary of Halprin's birth and features, among other items, more than 50 newly commissioned beautiful photographs of his built works. 


The exhibition includes a terrific online companion. It can be reached by clicking here:. Included in the online exhibition is a link to the exhibition catalog (where the images below are sourced from).  It can be reached directly here. 


Levi's Plaza




Ghiradelli Square







 Yosemite













Friday, November 25, 2016

Modoc Chief Kintpuash (Captain Jack): A California Indian Hero


Modoc Chief Kintpuash (“Captain Jack”) in 1864
Creative Commons 
As Native American Heritage Month draws to a close, so, too, do our related exhibitions, Sensational Portrayals of the Modoc War, 1872–73 and Native Portraits: Contemporary Tintypes by Ed Drew. The Modoc War connects these two shows: one features the intense interest the war created throughout the United States and the other displays contemporary portraits of native peoples of the Klamath region—some of them descendants of those who fought in the war.

This blog post commemorates a hero of the Modoc War, Kintpuash, known as Captain Jack (1837–1873). In 1872–73, this Modoc resistance leader led his people from the confines of the Klamath Indian Reservation back to their homeland to fight for the right to live as free people on their ancestral land in the Tule Lake area of northern California.


Klamath Indian Reservation, 1879
US Bureau of Reclamation, Klamath Basin Office

The Klamath Indian Reservation had its beginnings in the Treaty of 1864, in which the Klamath, Modoc, and Yahooskin peoples agreed to live together as what was referred to as the “Klamath Tribe” on a reservation in the Klamath Basin of southern Oregon. In exchange for their land—almost 20 million acres—they would be provided necessary provisions on land about one-tenth the size.


Klamath and Modoc Territories and Subgroups in the 19th Century with Modern Town Locations
Courtesy College of the Siskiyous

In the annals of the militarization of the West in the nineteenth century, many promises were made by the federal government, and many were not honored. For one band of Modoc Indians living in the Klamath Reservation the arrangement became untenable.

After a number of years without help and provisions, and under the leadership of Kintpuash with Jim Schonchin, a small group of Modoc men and their families left the reservation and returned to their ancestral lands in today’s Lava Beds National Monument in northern California. Federal troops attempted to push them back to the reservation. As Indian Commissioner Thomas J. Morgan, acknowledged about the government’s long-standing policy, “The Indians must conform to ‘the white man’s ways,’ peaceably if they will, forcibly if they must.” But the Modocs refused to abandon their homeland.

Louis H. Heller, Modoc Leaders Jim Schonchin and Captain Jack, 1873
California Historical Society

Louis H. Heller, Captain Jack’s Family, 1873
California Historical Society

War erupted in November 1872 between the Modocs—about 55 men and their families—and the United States Army. The volcanic landscape of the 47,000-acre lava beds (called the Land of Burnt Out Fires), with its nearly 700 caves, became a natural fortress that the Modocs reinforced to give them an upper hand in battles.



Eadweard Muybridge, The Lava Beds, 1872–73
California Historical Society

In January 1873, as U.S. troops from Fort Vancouver and Fort Klamath pressed the first major assault on Captain Jack’s Stronghold (the Modoc fortress), fog rolled in from nearby Tule Lake, blinding the soldiers as they inched across the rocky terrain. The Modocs moved unseen through lava tubes, killing or wounding dozens of soldiers from below while suffering no casualties of their own.

For about six months, the Modocs successfully fought off U.S. troops, capturing the attention and imagination of people across the country, many of whom were sympathetic to the Modocs for humanitarian reasons.

Captain Jack himself became somewhat of a folk hero. He was then “a man of 30 years of age, a man of square mold, 5 feet, 10 inches in height—a royal-blooded man of more than common heritage,” observed Col. Alfred B. Meacham of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

According to the May 30, 1873, issue of the New York Times, “Each mail brings also to camp an extensive correspondence for Capt. Jack . . . . One wishes Jack to come there and scalp the fellow who wants to win his girl away from him, another assures him he will get plenty of volunteers if he comes to his village, still again he is congratulated on his heroism and told to go on and conquer.”

But the adulation was short-lived. On April 11, 1873, the Army and Modocs held a peace commission. In his bid for a settlement, Captain Jack requested a reservation of 6 square miles on the lava beds. Indians could live there, he reasoned, white men couldn’t. When it became clear that the two sides would not come to terms, Captain Jack opened fire and a battle ensued, resulting in the deaths of General Edward R. S. Canby—the only U.S. general lost in an Indian conflict—and Reverend Eleazer Thomas.

With the tide now turned against the Modocs, the government renewed its attempts to drive the Modocs out of the lava beds. Joined by 70 Warm Springs Indian scouts, 675 U.S. soldiers with four batteries of artillery besieged Captain Jack’s Stronghold for two days, but as few as eight Modoc men continued to fend them off.



Eadweard Muybridge, Warm Springs Indian Scouts in Camp, 1872–73
California Historical Society

Add captioEadweard Muybridge, The Modoc Stronghold after Its Capture, 1872–73
California Historical Society

 
The Modocs were nevertheless driven from their advantageous position. A loss of morale led several men to desert Captain Jack and help the forces hunting him. It was not until the first of June, a remarkable six months after the conflict began, that Captain Jack and his closest allies finally surrendered. They were brought to Fort Klamath, where they were sentenced to death for the murders of General Canby and Reverend Thomas.

Fort Klamath Graves of Boston Charley, Black Jim, John [Schonchin] Schonchiss, and Captain Jack, Executed October 3, 1873
Courtesy Huntington Library, San Marino, California


Shelly Kale
Publications and Strategic Projects Manager


Sources
Boyd Cothran, Remembering the Modoc War: Redemptive Violence and the Making of American Innocence (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press)
Cheewa James, The Tribe That Wouldn’t Die (Happy Camp, CA: Naturegraph Publishers, 2008)
The Oregon Experience: The Modoc War, documentary, Oregon Public Broadcasting and the Oregon Historical Society; http://www.californiaindianeducation.org/famous_indian_chiefs/captain_jack/  
Jeff C. Riddle, The Indian History of the Modoc War; http://www.archive.org/details/indianhistoryofm00riddrich
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Closing Soon!