Modoc Indians

Photo above: Modoc Indians from the 1873 uprising in today's Lava Beds National Monument as published in Frank Leslie's Newspaper, 1873, Carleton E. Watkins. Courtesy Library of Congress. Right: View of the Summit Trail in Modoc National Forest, 2012, Jim Gumm, USFS. Courtesy National Forest Service via Wikipedia Commons.

Modoc National Forest

Tule Lake, Lava Beds, Modoc National Forest

For most, a visit to these three remote areas, actually four parks, in northern California is a mission for a hike, a fish, or a camping trip into central mountain nature. And while that is the predominant rationale and perhaps even purpose of most of this land, it is also about the preservation of landscape and the preservation of history, both good and bad. This area was home to the Modoc Indians, who battled the United States Government in 1873 in the Modoc War to gain a different reservation on traditional Modoc land. It's also home, in the Tule Lake area, to an internment camp, and later segration camp, for Asian Americans who were imprisoned during World War II after Pearl Harbor. So you see, the area of these four parks in three areas just below the Oregon border can be visited for many purposes, with recreation and history in tandem. And although it does not get the visitation of other parks due to its rather remote location, it will provide a unique visage into both topics, one that may be different from others who visit North Cali.



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U.S. Army, Modoc War

Tule Lake, Lava Beds, and Modoc Then

Tule Lake - While the lake and regional wildlife have inhabited the area for hundreds of generations, with the refuge designated in 1928, it is the Tule Lake National Monument that tells the story of one harsh period and aspect of World War II. In 1942, ten internment camps for Japanese Americans were built, housing one hundred and twenty thousand West Coast residents, one at Tule Lake, north of the refuge. One year later, the Tule Lake center was repurposed as the Tule Lake Segregation Center, for those 29,840 of the ten camps who the government thought were disloyal or disruptive Japanese Americans. At one time, 18,700 were located in Tule Lake at its zenith, with that total over four years.

Lava Beds National Monument - The first thing you notice here is the landscape. It's rugged and filled with unique formations caused by the lava which flowed from the Medicine Lake Shield Volcano. Those lava tubes and other distinct features were formed thirty to forty thousand years old. The Modoc Indians inhabited the land prior to European contact; evidence in the park of the native american art at Petroglyph Point indicates habitation here by the native population as two to six thousand years ago. Of course, once Europeans arrived, there was bound to be conflict. An 1864 treaty forced the Modoc onto an Oregon reservation in Oregon, along with the Klamath and Yahooskin tribes. Kintpuash, known as Captain Jack, left the Oregon reservation displeased by the treaty. He returned to the Lost River Valley and Tule Lake region over the next decade several times, with conflicts against white settlers and disagreements with Indian agents.

Eventually, in 1870, Captain Jack left the reservation for good after a disagreement with the Klamath with fifty-three warriors and a total of one hundred and fifty to two hundred followers, and returned to the Lost River Valley and Tule Lake. Over the next three years, negotiations for their return to the Klamath Reservations failed, and by July 6, 1872, the U.S. Government decided it was time to return Captain Jack and the Modoc, by peace or by force.

Conflicts arose in the final months of 1872, but by January 17, 1873, the Modoc War erupted at the First Battle of the Stronghold. The U.S. Army had four hundred soldiers and two howitzers, but could not capture Captain Jack for more than five months. Peace negotiations were arranged, but proceeded slowly. The Modoc decided that if they killed the leaders of the Army negotiators, that the Army would leave. Two were killed, including General Edward Canby. After the Army got reinforcements, raising their numbers to nearly one thousand, they captured the Modoc and returned them to their reservations. Captain Jack and three warriors were convicted of the killings of the peace negotiators, and hanged.

Modoc National Forest - Much of the land of the forest, which surrounds the other parks, with the majority to the south and east, was covered with similar lava tubes due to the Medicine Lake Shield Volcano. It was home to the Modoc prior to forced relocation to the first reservation in Oregon and a later reservation in Oklahoma. Emmigration into this territory by Europeans began in 1846.

Photo above: U.S. Army at Gillem's Camp in today's Lava Beds National Monument during the year of the Modoc War, 1873. Courtesy National Park Service. Photo below: Entrance to Blue Grotto Cave, 2010. Courtesy National Park Service.


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Blue Grotto Cave, Lava Beds National Monument

Tule Lake, Lava Beds, and Modoc Now

Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1928 by President Calvin Coolidge. It protects the staging area for migrating birds with grasslands and marshes that can be viewed from the ten mile driving tour along the lake. Nearly half of the refuge is crop land leased to farmers.

Tule Lake National Monument was established as part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument in 2008. In 2019, the sites of the larger monument in Hawaii, the Aleutian Islands, and California were split into three monuments, thus Tule Lake is now a National Monument all its own.

Lava Beds National Monument was established on November 21, 1925 to protect the geological features of the lava tubes, as well as the history of the Modoc and Modoc War. There is a Visitor Center with exhibits, guided ranger tours, and a campground for visitors.

Modoc National Forest - Much larger than any of the other parks, the national forest contains hundreds of miles of hiking trails, fishing spots, and other locations for outdoor activities. It was established on November 29, 1904 as the Modoc Forest Reserve.




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Lava Beds National Monument

Tule Lake, Lava Beds, Modoc

Things You Should Not Miss


1. Take the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge Driving Tour. It's ten miles long along the southern edge of the lake.

2. For those interested in difficult history, take the Ranger Guided tours of the segregation center and camp of Tule Lake National Monument. These are only available on Saturdays from Memorial Day to Labor Day and have a twenty person limit. Call in advance for how to book one of the tours. Some summer days outside Saturdays may include tours if staffing allows.

3. Take a ranger guided tour of the caves at Lava Beds, the history of the Modoc War, or the geology of lava flows and beds of the past eruptions. The guides will be able to provide you with a plethora of facts and figures on any of those topics. You can tour some of the caves by yourself, if that's your preference. Ask at the visitor center for the rules and regulations about self-guided tours.

4. Go hiking in the Modoc Forest. It includes a variety of ecosystems for you to explore. Trailheads are available in every district, with day hiking or backpack trips. Horseback riding is also allowed on most trails, so you'll have to share. After the hike, consider whether you want to adopt one of the wild horses of the Modoc area. They are often thinning the herd.

Photo above: Snow in Lava Beds National Monument. Courtesy National Park Service.


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