Four Modoc men executed as war criminals in 1873 were remembered as warriors and significant historical figures during a ceremony at Fort Klamath.
On Saturday, the 142nd anniversary of their deaths, the graves of Chief Kintpuash (also known as Captain Jack), Schonchin John, Black Jim and Boston Charley were formally dedicated by both tribe members and local museum officials.
The four had been hanged following the conclusion of the Modoc War (1872-1873), during which Kintpuash led tribe members from the Klamath Reservation to their traditional lands in Northern California, in defiance of the Army.
Their executions were for the killing of Major General Edward Canby and Reverend Eleazar Thomas during attempted peace talks April 11, 1873.
They were hanged at Fort Klamath on Oct. 3, 1873.
Two other men convicted in the matter, Brancho and Slolux, had their sentences commuted to life in prison.
The event received coverage in newspapers nationwide.
Fort Klamath closed in 1889, and for many years the Modoc graves had no markers. Klamath County obtained eight acres of land at the site in 1966, and the graves have been continuously marked since then.
Klamath County Museum Curator, Niles Reynolds explained the graves of the four men, officially located through ground-penetrating radar, have been fitted with new grave markers to replace those that had been deteriorating. He also noted the graves were fenced off with new metal brackets crafted by Klamath Tribes member Richard Rambo.
“We understand the importance of stewardship of this site, with full consideration of tribal sensitivities,” said Niles, noting the tribes’ Culture and Heritage Committee was involved in restoration of the graves.
The museum also complied with a request by the Tribes’ Culture and Heritage Committee to use juniper wood for the new markers.
The Klamath Tribal Council voted unanimously on Sept. 23 to approve Saturday’s dedication ceremony.
Tribal members held a private ceremony, during which they placed obsidian headstones to mark the graves.
Taylor Tupper, media spokeswoman for the tribes, said in a Monday news release the anniversary of the warriors’ deaths was “a fitting time for us to remember their sacrifice.”
“It’s very important for us to honor these men, and what they did for our people,” said Tupper.
According to an article on the tribes’ website, the executions of the four marked the only time Native Americans were tried and executed for war crimes in our country, and Kintpuash and his men “died for our future.”
The Modoc War is largely forgotten to most of the nation, but at the time of the conflict, the story made headlines from London to San Francisco. People were enthralled as one of the last real-life, Wild-West battles unfolded on the American frontier.