Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

The Modoc War

Tumulus of basalt lava makes Captain Jack's stronghold.
A tumulus at Captain Jack's stronghold within Lava Beds National Monument. (Credit: Donnelly-Nolan, Julie M.. Public domain.)

The north flank of Medicine Lake volcano was the site for many important battles of the Modoc Indian War of 1872-73. The war began in late November of 1872 when two groups of Modoc Indians were caught by surprise by a patrol of U.S. soldiers who were sent to put the Modocs on the Klamath Indian Reservation. The confrontation ended in a shootout and the Indians retreated to their stronghold, which today, is part of Lava Beds National Monument.

Captain Jack's Stronghold, named after the Modoc chief, is a natural lava fortress. Its proximity to the shoreline of Tule Lake ensured a constant supply of fresh water and food for the people who took shelter in its confines. From this base, a group of 53 Modoc warriors and their families held off up to 650 U.S. soldiers over five months. As fighting escalated, and the Modocs became increasingly outnumbered, they abandoned the strong hold and fled south. After being chased for several months, Captain Jack surrendered to the U.S. armed forces and was tried and hanged in the summer of 1873. Remaining Modoc Indians were banished to a barren tract of land near the Quapaw Indian Agency in Oklahoma. In 1909 the few surviving Modocs were given permission to return to the Kalamath Reservation in Oregon.