This Day In History: The US Army Hangs Four Indians for the Murder of A General (1873)

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On this date in history in 1873, the US army hanged four members of the Modoc tribe for the murder of a US general. General Edward Canby was murdered by the Indians during the Modoc War in Oregon. Canby was a Civil War Hero and he was the highest ranking officer ever to be killed by Indians in the history of the US army.

The Modoc War was fought in Oregon and it involved the Modoc tribe fighting to retain their land. The tribe was small but they proved to be fierce fighters. A treaty was signed in 1864 between the tribe and the US government and this resulted in the movement of the Modoc to a reservation. The reservation was located in an area of Oregon that was dominated by another tribe, the Klamath Indians and they saw the Modocs as invaders. The larger Klamath tribe ill-treated many members of the Modoc tribe.  The leader of the Modocs the colourfully named Captain Jack, led his people out of the reservation and back to their old lands and returned to their old nomadic life. The returning tribe came into conflict with the white settlers. Captain Jack repeatedly tried to negotiate a peaceful settlement but it was too late. In 1872 after a public outcry the US army were ordered to remove the Madoc from their old lands and return them to the reservation.

Some of the younger men of the tribe resisted. This led to a conflict between the tribe and the US army.  The tribe fled to a remote area among the Lava Bed near Tule Lake, and they used the terrain to great effect. The Lava beds were a natural fortress and the tribes succeeded in resisting the army for amongst eighteen months. The war was in reality, a series of skirmishes and it was not a major challenge to the US army or the white settlers.

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Captain Jack’s Stronghold

At first, Captain Jack and the older members of the tribe had sought a peaceful end to the conflict. However, some younger men wanted to fight on. When General Canby entered the Modoc Camp under a flag of truce for negotiations he was murdered by those who did not want peace. The killing of the General was a deliberate strategy to end peace talks. Captain Jack and other Indian elders had been forced to take part in the killing of Canby. Two of the generals’ companions were also killed by the Indians, but one member of the party escaped and told the army of what had happened.

America was angered by the killing of a national hero and the army was ordered to step up its efforts in order to end the Modoc’s rebellion. The army began to press the Modoc’s very hard and within months they had detained much of the tribe and had captured Captain Jack.  The resistance of the tribe was broken. After the murder of the general, the America government adopted a hard line towards the tribes.

Captain Jack and three of those responsible for the killing of General Canby and his two companions were executed on this day in 1873.

The Madoc’s were later forced back to their reservation.

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