October 3, 2007

October 3 | Kintpuash

1837 - October 3, 1873: Age 36

Kintpuash, commonly known as "Captain Jack", was a leader of the Modoc people, a small band of Indians whose traditional home was on the California/Oregon border. In the 1820s an explorer for the Hudson's Bay Company established first contact with them, trading with their neighbours to the north, the Klamath people. In the 1840s settlers began to move through the area on their way to western Oregon. The Modocs, numbering at the time about 600, began to raid the settlers, and in 1852, after a massacre of a 65-person caravan (only 3 survived), the cycle of vengeance unfolded in its usual way.

In 1864 a treaty with the US Government moved the Modocs north to share territory with several other tribes in an area dominated by the Klamath. The land ceded did not provide enough food for the combined tribes, and poverty and sickness increased racial tensions. Since the US Government wanted to deal with one leader, the tribe was required to choose a single individual to lead all the bands (a form of government completely alien to them); the individual chosen was from the Klamath tribe and the Modoc in general were treated as intruders. The Modoc applied to the US Government for territory nearer their ancestral home but were rejected. In 1870 Kintpuash led a group of Modocs back to reestablish a village in their ancestral home.

The general outcome was inevitable. Both the US Government and the Modoc repeatedly attempted to negotiate some kind of settlement over several years of struggle and intermittent violence. After 3 years, Kintpuash's comrades began to doubt his leadership. In a complete misunderstanding of white people's culture and intentions, they believed that if the white generals were killed, the army would go away. During a negotiation, Kintpuash made yet another plea for a reservation to be established for his people on their ancestral land. As he spoke about their grievances, he suddenly shouted Utwih-kutt! ["Let's do it!"] and fired at one of the white negotiators, a US general. The warriors fled back to their camp and prepared to die in the fighting that would follow.

They did not — not right away. They held out until May, when Kintpuash and his lieutenants turned over their guns and gave themselves up. They were sentenced to hang. Kintpuash refused to name a successor, and the Modoc who had followed him were forced to witness his execution. After burial, Kintpuash's head was severed from his body and sent to the collections of the Army Medical Museum in Washington along with the heads of other warriors. The skulls were later transferred to the Smithsonian Institution. In 1984 the Smithsonian returned the remains to Kintpuash's relatives.

The remaining Modoc who had followed Kintpuash back to their ancestral land were sent to live on Shawnee land in Oklahoma, where many died of hunger and disease. Today about 200 Modoc live in Oklahoma. 600 Modoc live in Klamath County, Oregon, the descendants of those who did not follow Kintpuash. The ancestral language of the Modoc, the Klamath-Modoc Indian Language, has only one truly fluent speaker (of the Klamath dialect) left, and a few dozen other elders who remember something.

Sources: Answers.com, Wikipedia article on Kintpuash, Wikipedia article on the Modoc, Native Languages of the Americas

1 comment:

Ulla said...

The ways of peoples... even the languages... are impermanent...