Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Captain Jack, Lost Lakes and Dreams that Flew Away

By Bob Ferris

Kintpuash about the time he came
to the Klamath Reservation (1864)
Long before Johnny Depp channeled his best Keith Richards to play Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, America knew another Captain Jack—a Modoc warrior by the name of Kintpuash or Strikes-the-Water-Brashly.

Tule Lake and Lost River areas.  The
Klamath Reservation and Fort Klamath are
just north of  Upper Klamath Lake.
Kintpuash was famous as the chief who twice led a band of Modoc Indians off the Klamath reservation in southern Oregon—first to the Lost River country and later to Tule Lake (see map).  Kintpuash eventually gained his real fame when he shot the leader of a peace commission, General Edward Canby, because Jack had been led to believe that killing Canby would bring an end to the so-called Modoc War of 1872-1873.  It did, but not until Kintpuash and three other Modoc warriors surrendered and were put to death at Fort Klamath.

Captain Jack in 1873.  
I feel connected to all of this on numerous levels.  First, more than 20 years ago right after I had left my PhD program at UC Santa Cruz and before I made the migration to Washington, DC in late 1991, I dragged my sister Mary and her husband Rob to Fort Klamath to look at purchasing and running a fly fishing resort across the street from where Captain Jack, Black Jim, John Schonchin and Boston Charley were hanged.  We dug deeply into the story of Captain Jack at that time.

Rob and I hiked the property, checked out the cabins, dining hall and owner housing while Mary graciously tolerated our exuberance.  Rob and I eventually hiked to the cold water spring that was the source of Fort Creek and while we were there looking at the gin-clear water surging out of the rocky hillside we saw a western tanager.  On the walk back to the developed area of the property between the sound of slaps—the mosquitoes were really vicious—we determined that the new venture would be named Tanager Springs.  And the dream was labeled forever more.

Western tanager by Naturespicturesonline.
It was a dream that was soon abandoned in the light of day as we looked at the numbers, thought about the work involved, and considered the fact that my sister was expecting her third child some few months down the road.  The Tanager Springs dream was dead long before considering the pregnancy and distance to medical facilities, but it is probably easier to anchor to that concept than to accept that the idea was illogical and not well-founded in the first place.

I also feel connected to this incident because my great-grandmother was a Canby just like the General and we all share a common ancestor in Thomas Canby of Pennsylvania who was born in England and married in Philadelphia in the 1690s.  Though in this affair, for many reasons, I feel much more connected to Captain Jack than I do for my distant and much removed cousin.  

If you enlarge the picture and look closely
Mt. Shasta is in the middle of the notch.
As I walked around Captain Jack’s Stronghold with Carlene this past weekend (actually on Valentine’s Day, as I am a true romantic) much of the above and more came back to me.  Visiting the site and seeing the natural and some of the man-made defenses one can see why this was such a perfect fortress at the time.  You get how 60 warriors facing 1000 US soldiers could have killed 35 men in blue while not sustaining a single loss.

Striking too in all of this is understanding that this position was once on the shores of Tule Lake at a time when this body of water was 100,000 acres in size—roughly 156 square miles.  That is until we drained the lake of its water and ultimately its wild nature to forward the cause of agriculture.  I thought about this idea of wildness while standing in what clearly served as a trench works for the Modoc warriors and spying on Mount Shasta in the distance though a stone notch.  I was set upon here by sad metaphors of lost wildness.  Captain Jack’s post surrender haircut and Anglo clothes; Tule Lake’s ecological lobotomy; and my lost Tanager Springs dream (worthless or not) all intersected in the shadow of that iconic peak and the former shores of that lost lake.

Carlene and I drove through Fort Klamath on our way back to Eugene and stopped on the road
Carlene walking up to shrine at
Captain Jack's Stronghold.
between the Fort and the property that was for sale what seemed like a lifetime ago.  The historic fort was in the winter plumage that comes to parks in the off season—somewhat forlorn, unkempt and small.  And “Tanager Springs” was for intents and purposes dead with dining hall roof sagging and near collapse, a crudely painted closed sign propped against the saw horses blocking the access road, and the only sign of life being a tendril of smoke from a chimney in the lone cabin that seemed even remotely habitable.

Standing in front of Tanager Springs
more than 20 years later.
Certainly there is deep and penetrating sadness here, but it is in this loss or sense of loss that we understand the importance of fighting for wildness where we can. These feelings have to motivate us rather than paralyze us.  There is bravery here as well as rebellion and unrealistic expectations too that we must hold dear and carry with us as we wage our own battles to hold onto wildness within and around us.

1 comment:

  1. I am reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and just got to chapter 10. It leads with a quote from Captain Jack and after reading it I immediately felt a connection to him and a deep sadness. It reads: I am but one man. I am the voice of my people. Whatever their hearts are, that I talk. I want no more war. I want to be a man. You deny me the right of a white man. my skin is red; my heart is a white mans heart; but I am a Modoc. I am not afraid to die. I will not fall on the rocks. When I die, my enemies will be under me. Your soldiers began in me when I was asleep in the Lost River. They drove us to these rocks like a wounded deer...I have always told the white man heretofore to come and settle in my country; that it was his country and Captain Jack's country. That they could come and live here with me and that I was not mad with them. I have never received anything from anybody, only what I bought and paid for myself. I have always loved like a white man, and wanted to live so. I have always tried to live peaceably and never asked any man for anything.

    Throughout the book I remain saddened and the unfortunateness of the inability of two peoples to exist together and the shame of my white race to kill and plunder at the expense of these proud, yet humble people.

    I enjoyed reading about your dream of Tanager Springs.