Nature and History in the Klamath Basin

Inhabiting the Land

Cattlemen and Indians

Between winter and fall in the Upper Basin country of lakes and marshlands, great quantities of water evaporate into the high desert skies. In the nineteenth century, before Klamath Project engineers drained the land and regulated its waters, lake shores rose and fell, revealing wagon tracks from previous years.

The emergent terrain was good for grazing. After 1864, when local Indians were removed to the Klamath Reservation, settlers, also known as “swamp grabbers,” began to dig ditches and bring in cattle. N.B. Ball, a Kentuckian, kept 500 head on a 3,000-acre ranch in Butte Valley. John Fairchild had 3,000 head of stock on 2,700 acres nearby.

The departure of Captain Jack’s band of Modocs from the reservation and their return to their homeland in 1870 troubled the new residents of Modoc country. Some ranchers complained of broken fences and stolen cattle. They said that Modocs who came by their houses asking for food scared womenfolk and children. Other settlers, like John Fairchild and Henry Miller, befriended the Modocs. Contradicting those who claimed that Indians extorted them for “rent” in the form of hay for their horses, Miller maintained that he never paid them a nickel for his land. Instead, he hired them as herders. The rancher also rejected the notion that the Modocs were “hostiles,” saying that they “are not more insolent to whites than whites are to whites.”

At a meeting convened by Major Elmer Otis, the Modoc headman Captain Jack (Keintpoos) announced: “We are willing to have whites live in our country, but we do not want them to locate. . . where we have our winter camps. The settlers are continually lying about my people and trying to make trouble.”

Captain Jack knew that some ranchers were demanding that the Army round his band up and march them back to the reservation. But the trouble came from both sides. Shortly before the outbreak of the Modoc War, Indians stampeded George Miller’s 300-steer herd as he drove them from his Langell Valley ranch to Arizona.

© Stephen Most, 2003. Updated by OHP staff, 2014.

Related Oregon Encyclopedia Articles

Related Historical Records

Henry Miller, Cattleman

The portrait above shows Henry Miller (1827-1916), a German immigrant who started off as a butcher in San Francisco and rose to become one of the most successful businessmen in the American West.

Henry Miller and Charles Lux, another immigrant butcher from Germany, formed a partnership in 1858, quickly becoming prosperous …

Kintpuash (Captain Jack)

Kintpuash (also spelled Keintpoos, Keiintoposes), better known as Captain Jack, was a Modoc Indian chief during the 1860s and early 1870s. In a desperate attempt to maintain his people’s independence, Kintpuash led several Modoc bands in an unsuccessful war of resistance known to whites as the Modoc War. He was …

Klamath and Modoc Indians, 1860

U.S. Army Lt. Lorenzo Lorain took this photograph of a group of Klamath and Modoc Indians in the summer or fall of 1860.

The traditional territory of the Klamath and Modoc once encompassed the entire Klamath Basin. The Klamath inhabited the northern portion from Klamath Marsh south to present-day Klamath …

Klamath Indian Reservation

When white explorers entered the Klamath Basin in the 1820s, the Klamath Indians occupied the Upper Klamath Lake area, which included Klamath Marsh and the Sprague and Williamson rivers.  The Modoc people inhabited the Tule Lake area of Northern California and Southern Oregon.  Yahooskin land bordered Klamath territory to the …

Klamath Indians in Dugout Canoes

The Klamath Indians traditionally lived in villages and seasonal camps in southern Oregon, near upper Klamath Lake, Klamath Marsh, and the lower Williamson River. Canoes were very important in Klamath culture, used for fishing, transportation, and gathering wokas (the seeds of pond lilies), roots, berries, and tule reeds. Reeds and …

Frémont and Kit Carson at Upper Klamath Lake

On his expeditions to map the continent, Frémont needed the services of an able scout. Kit Carson, a mountain man who had covered much of the western territory trapping beavers for the fur trade, filled that bill perfectly. “Cool, brave, and of good judgment,” Frémont said of Kit Carson in his memoirs, “a good hunter and a good shot; experienced in mountain life, he was an acquisition, and proved valuable throughout the campaign.”


The Treaty of 1864

As settlers filled the Upper Klamath Basin, fencing land and putting cattle out to graze, many feared raids by Indians. The Natives had lost access to country where they had hunted game and gathered edible plants. Many were starving. Ranchers and farmers did not want to fight, and with the United States embroiled in civil war, authorities did not want to contend with further massacres or an Indian uprising.


This entry was last updated on March 17, 2018