Skip to main content

Following the 1873 Modoc War, the army had locked thirteen warriors in the cells in the guardhouse at Fort Klamath, a military post near the Klamath Reservation. Initially, the army intended to simply execute eight or ten of the leaders without a trial. The War Department, however, wanted no action taken until the Attorney General decided whether the captives were to be tried in civilian or military courts. The army commander replied:

"Delay will destroy the moral effect which their prompt execution would have upon other tribes."

Six of the Modoc warriors—Captain Jack, Boston Charley, Black Jim, Schonchin John, Slolux, and Barncho—were tried in a military court martial for war crimes. The formal charges stressed that two peace commissioners had been killed during a suspension of hostilities. In justifying the charge of war crimes, the Attorney General stated:

"According to the laws of war there is nothing more sacred than a flag of truce dispatched in good faith, and there can be no greater act of perfidy and treachery than the assassination of its bearers after they have been acknowledged and received by those to whom they are sent."

In order to try the defendants under military rather than civil law, the United States had to classify the conflict as a "war" and thus to define the Modoc as a sovereign nation as only sovereign nations can engage in war.

In 1907, the War Department officially enumerated 1,470 incidents of military action against American Indians between 1776 and 1907. According to the War Department, only two of these actions had the formal status of "war" under U.S. Army terminology: the 1877 Nez Perce War and the 1878 Bannock Indian War. The Modoc War, according to the War Department, was not, therefore a war.

The Modoc defendants were not represented by legal counsel and the government held them to a higher standard than its own soldiers. Any U.S. soldiers who violated the laws of war during the Modoc and other Indian wars were never tried and punished as war criminals. During the trial, Captain Jack and Schonchin John were shackled and chained together as were Boston Charley and Black Jim. The two younger defendants—Slolux and Barncho—were not shackled. Uniformed soldiers holding rifles with fixed bayonets stood guard in the court room.

The trial was carried out in accordance with the rules of a military court-martial. The judge advocate asked the defendants if they had any objection to any member of the military commission. It is likely that the Modoc defendants did not understand the significance of what was happening, for if they had understood, they almost certainly would have objected. There were ample grounds for challenging four of the five commission members for just cause, but the trial record shows that this was not explained to the defendants. Thus, the Modoc defendants raised no objection and the trial was allowed to continue. Four of the five members of the commission had been involved in the war and three had fought battles against the accused Modoc warriors.

With regard to the lack of legal counsel, the U.S. Army considered defense counsel a privilege, not a right. The prisoners, who had been confined to jail cells and shackled since their capture, were unable to find counsel.

Since the Modoc defendants spoke little English, Frank and Toby Riddle, the interpreters who had warned General Canby of the attack, translated the proceedings into Modoc. Frank Riddle also testified against them. It is doubtful that the interpreters understood the complex legal jargon of the trial and may not have translated these concepts.

As expected, the court found the six men guilty and sentenced them to be hung. President Ulysses Grant, however, commuted the sentences of Slolux and Barncho to life imprisonment at Alcatraz Island.

All of the Modoc prisoners, including the children of those to be hung, were forced to witness the executions. Their bodies were allowed to hang for 30 minutes following the execution. After the execution, the Modoc leaders’ heads were severed from their bodies and shipped to Washington, D.C. where they were examined by phrenologists who believed that criminal behavior was governed by cranial characteristics.

Native American Netroots Web BadgeCross Posted at Native American Netroots

 An ongoing series sponsored by the Native American Netroots team focusing on the current issues faced by American Indian Tribes and current solutions to those issues.


Originally posted to Ojibwa on Sun Jul 11, 2010 at 12:58 PM PDT.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site