Founding of the Klamath (now Yurok) Indian Reservation, 1855


Klamath Modoc Indians, 1860

Hello everyone,
To those who enjoy regular posts I must apologize.  Work and … life have gotten the better of me lately.  Hopefully I’ll get back into regular postings.
I do want to keep on the thread/topic of Lucy and plan to continue discussing her limited options and the dangers she and her children faced during the settlement period.  The focus of the next (this) post was going to be the risks inherant to those on reservations but… but, as often happens with me, I’ve gotten distracted.  Sort of.
Looking through my notes regarding reservations I found the following, which discusses the founding of the Klamath (which is now the Yurok) Indian reservation.  It may be dry reading for some, but I chose not to edit any of it.
It was very surprising …. well, Please also be sure to catch the newspaper editor’s response to the founding of the reservation which follows the letters–his perspective is very different from how reservations are viewed today.
Klamath River Reserve.

Office of Indian Affairs, November 10, 1855.

SIR: Referring to your communication of the 8th of August last to the Acting Commissioner of Indian Affairs, advising him of the approval by the President of the United States of the recommendation of the Department that it was expedient to expend the money appropriated on the 3rd of March last for removing the Indians in California to two additional military reservations, I have the honor now to make the following report:

On the 15th of August last the Acting Commissioner inclosed a copy of your letter of the 8th of that month to the superintendent of Indian affairs in California, with directions to select these reservations from such “tracts of land adapted as to soil, climate, water-privileges, and timber, to the comfortable and permanent accommodation of the Indians, which tracts should be unincumbered by old Spanish grants or claims of recent white settlers,” limiting the dimensions of the reserves to within 25,000 acres each, and to report to this office a description of their geographical position in relation to streams, mountain ranges, and county lines, etc., and indicating the same upon a map. A copy of that letter is herewith, marked A. By the last mail from California, I have received from Superintendent Thomas I. Henley a report upon this subject, dated the 4th ultimo (a copy of which is herewith, marked B), by which it appears he recommends as one of the reservations aforesaid “a strip of territory one mile in width on each side of the (Klamath) river, for a distance of 20 miles.” The superintendent remarks upon the character of the country selected, and incloses an extract from a report (also herewith, marked C) to him of the 19th of June last, by Mr. S. G. Whipple, which contains in some detail a description of the country selected, habits and usages of the Indians, etc., but no map is furnished.

It will be observed from this report of the superintendent that he has deemed it important to continue the employ of an agent and to prepare for raising a crop in order to assure the Indians of the good faith of the Government and to preserve the peace of the country. Considering the great distance of this reserve from the seat of Government and the length of time it necessarily requires to communicate with an agency at the Klamath, it is desirable that some definite action be taken, if practicable, before the sailing of the next steamer, to leave New York on the 20th instant.

I, therefore, beg leave to ask your attention to the subject, and if you shall be of the opinion from the representations made by the superintendent in California and Mr. Whipple that the selection at the mouth of the Klamath River is a judicious and proper one, that it be laid before the President of the United States for his approval, but with the provision, however, that upon a survey of the tract selected that a sufficient quantity be cut off from the upper end of the proposed reserve to bring it within the limitation of 25,000 acres, authorized by the act of 3d March last.

I also inclose herewith a copy of another letter from Superintendent Henley, of 4th ultimo (marked D), in which he states, in relation to the other reserve, that it is intended to locate it “between the head-waters of Russian River and Cape Mendocino.” In reference to both of these proposed reserves, and as connected with the means to be used to maintain peacable relations with the Indians, the superintendent is of opinion that it is of great importance to provide for crops, and that to do so an agent in each instance is necessary. As this last-named selection has not been defined by any specific boundaries, and no sufficient description is given as to soil, climate, and suitableness for Indian purposes, to enable the Department to determine the matter understandingly, of course nothing definite can now be done. But it may not be improper to consider the subject in connection with the general intent as to the particular locality in which it is proposed to make the location.

The reserve proposed on the Klamath River and Pacific coast does not appear from the map of the State of California to be very far removed from Cape Mendocino, or a point between that and Russian River; and as provision is made only for two reserves in the State other than those already in operation, the question arises whether it should not be situated farther in the interior, or perhaps eastern part of the State, than the point referred to. The Noome Lacke Reserve is situated in one of the Sacramento valleys, at about the latitude of 40 degrees north and 122 degrees of longitude west, about the center of that portion of the State north of the port of San Francisco. As, therefore, the proposed Klamath Reserve, being northwest from the Noome Lacke Reservation, would appear to be adapted to the convenient use of the Indians in that direction, the question is suggested whether the other reserve should not be located farther east and north, say on the tributaries of either Pitt or Feather Rivers. As in the case of the proposed reserve of the Klamath, I am desirous of obtaining your opinion and that of the President of the United States, with such decision as may be arrived at under the circumstances, in season to communicate the same by the next California mail, for the government of the action of superintendent Henley.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

      Secretary of the Interior.

Washington, D. C., November 12, 1855.

SIR: I have the honor to submit herewith the report from the Commissioner of Indian Affairs of the 10th instant, and its accompanying papers, having relation to two of the reservations in California for Indian purposes, authorized by the act of 3d March last.

The precise limits of but one of the reservations, viz, a strip of territory commencing at the Pacific Ocean and extending 1 mile in width on each side of the Klamath River, are given, no sufficient data being furnished to justify any definite action on the other.

I recommend your approval of the proposed Klamath Reservation, with the provision, however, that upon a survey of the tract a sufficient quantity be cut off from the upper end thereof to bring it within the limit of 25,000 acres authorized by law.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,


Let the reservation be made, as proposed.



Humboldt Times, January 12, 1856–New Klamath Reservation-Response Klamath Reservation—By reference to our Washington news, it would seen that a strip of land on the Klamath… has been reserved by order of the President as a military reservation for the Indians…. we certainly approve of this one selected in our neighboring county.  The tract selected will not be required by white people for years if ever, and the great river… will supply the natives with the greater portion of their food.  The difficultly… will arise when the agent attempts to collect the surrounding tribes within the limits of the Reservation.  They are much attached to their old homes and manner of living and have not the clearest conceptions of the obligations of treaties and promises.

It was difficult, as the editor predicted, to bring together all the neighboring tribes, including the Modoc in Butte County.

The following is from the Butte Valley Chamber Website:

In 1864, a treaty was signed with the Modocs. When settlers began moving into the Lost River area, they made no attempt to get along with the Indians, instead they demanded that the Modocs be removed from their homelands and placed on the Klamath reservation. The Modocs and the Klamaths were historic enemies and conflicts were unavoidable. Capt. Jack and other Modocs left the Klamath reservation and demanded their own reservation on the Lost River. Once again the settlers demanded the removal of the Indians. Capt. Jack was convinced to return to the reservation by Oregon Indian Superintendent Alfred Meacham. Back on the reservation the Klamaths once again harassed Capt. Jack and his followers.

In April 1869, Capt. Jack and 371 Modocs left the reservation and moved back to their homeland on the Lost River. By November 1872, all peaceful attempts to return Capt. Jack and his followers to the reservation had failed. On November 29, 1872, Capt. James Jackson and forty men arrived at the mouth of Lost River to take the Modocs back to the reservation, peacefully if possible, by force if necessary. Fighting broke out on both sides of the river. Capt. Jack with some of his camp escaped to the Lava Beds. On the other side of the river, civilians attacked the Modoc camp. Huka (Hooker) Jim and his band escaped and headed for the Lava Beds to meet Capt. Jack. On the way to the Lava Beds Huka Jim and his band killed fourteen settlers in revenge for the attack on their village. The combined tribes counted 50 warriors and a large number of women and children. The Indians knew their liberty and even their lives were at stake.

When John Fairchild (J.F. Ranch) heard about the battle, he sent a messenger to the Hot Creek band of the Modocs. The Modocs had a meeting with Fairchild and an agreement was made that the Hot Creek band would remain peaceful, for the present at least, and if war followed and they joined the hostilities, they would not bother the settlers.

A few days later, John Fairchild, Presley Dorris, Nate Beswick and a Mr. Murray with Shacknasty Jim and another Indian paid a visit to Capt. Jack at the stronghold. In his treaty with Fairchild, Capt. Jack had reserved the Lost River camp for a residence, considering that he had sold the balance of the country to the stockmen. Jack requested Fairchild and Dorris to go to the soldiers and tell them not to come or he would fight them.

On January 16, 1873 troops descended on the stronghold. On April 11 1873, after almost three months of skirmishes, General Canby, Reverend Thomas, Indian Commissioner Meachem, Agent Dyar and Toby and Frank Riddle went to a peace conference to meet with Capt. Jack, Schonchin John, Boston Charlie, Huka Jim, Black Jim, Ellens Man and Shacknasty Jim. During the meeting the Indians opened fire. Canby and Thomas were killed, Meacham was wounded and Dyar escaped. After the ambush Jack and the Modocs escaped from the Lava Beds. Jack was finally captured at Willow Creek on June 1, 1873. The most expensive Indian war in the United States (estimated at ½ million dollars) was over.

This was the only major Indian war fought in California and the only Indian war in which a General Officer was killed.

On October 3,1873, Capt. Jack, Schonchin John, Black Jim and Boston Charlie were hung at Ft. Klamath. Ironically some of the most vicious members of the tribe, Huka Jim, Bogus Charlie and Shacknasty Jim, were entitled to their lives for services rendered in capturing their companions.

The remaining Modocs, including the Hot Creek Band, was rounded up and sent to Oklahoma. The change in cultural environment and living conditions basically destroyed the Modoc culture.


There were other problems with the Klamath reserve, which I’ve touched on previously HERE.


9 Responses to Founding of the Klamath (now Yurok) Indian Reservation, 1855

  1. Ross Rowley says:

    Welcome back. We’ve missed your posts. Trust me, I know It’s hard to keep up with this “blogging hobby”.

  2. Fred Mangels says:

    Whew! That was close. Another few days and I was worried I’d have to give you my Time to roll this blog up and shut ‘er down message.

  3. skippy says:

    Ditto, Double Whew! and Welcome Back. Glad you’re back– writing in the saddle again.

  4. olmanriver says:

    Jeremiah Standley was a sheriff and judge in Mendocino county in the middle to late 1800’s, and from the writings he has left us, a man of stellar integrity and a reliable source.
    One of the little known manuscripts he and his family ‘editors’ left us told a story of events in 1866 in the as yet unnamedLeggett valley. It is a fascinating read about the earliest man in the area who started trading with the Indians, and settlers to the south, became quite successful and took three Native ‘wives’ from the local tribelet. When he attempted to throw them off for a white wife, the Indians became outraged. A half dozen or more of his children showed up outside his house which forced him to have to fess up to his new wife and plead for her understanding and forgiveness. Sensing rising tensions from the local Native people he sent her away to the sanctuary of her nearby family. The traders closest associate left disapproving of the traders actions.
    The returned Indian ‘wives’ were considered defiled and would never have equal standing in their tribelet. One of them had been the love interest of the young leader of the warriors, and after getting liquored up, the braves attacked the whiteman and tortured him to tell where his sizable gold holdings were hidden. They got the information they wanted, cleaned out his stores of provisions and returned to their rancheria for a victory dance around the man’s head on a pole. Afterwards the Indians had the sense to clear out of the valley for awhile.
    The dead whiteman’s partner who left ahead of the attack knew who was responsible and attacked the Indian brave on the trail, leaving him for dead and fleeing for the sanctuary of the Usal creek area on the coast and the ruffians living there. Jeremiah Standley took a summer job as a deputy sheriff and was assigned the unenviable task of arresting the refugee for attempted murder, as the Indian did. The tale of Standley’s successful apprehension of the attempted murderer is a story worthy of another day. Every detail of who was living along the coast in 1866 was completely accurate to the historical record giving much credence to the story, which he had pieced together from interviewing the attempted murderer at length, and the Indian warrior later in life.
    Further confirmation of the account came before I had read the story when a friend at the Cahto rancheria had told me the names of his great great grandmother and gggrandfather, identical to those in the story.

    Later in life, Standley had the opportunity to talk to the Indian man when he was in prison for killing a member of his own tribe. When asked why he did the deed, the Native man replied that the other man had stolen some of the gold that the tribe had set aside for the three cast off ‘wives’ and their children. He said that half of the estimated $20,000 in gold had been set aside for those families and that the other half had been given to the Modocs. !

    Lost facts, or lore? There is not a trace of ‘storytelling’ in this manuscript or the other two Standley wrote, as he attempts to stay as close to the facts as possible in all accounts, even if the $20,000 was an exaggeration from his source. Makes one wonder if there was any confirming record in the Modoc histories, though I have never seen it.
    Lost history, or lore?

  5. olmanriver says:

    “as the Indian did live” –sorry.

  6. I am regular reader, how are you everybody? This article posted at this website is actually nice.

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