KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. – Documents and artifacts dating to the time of the Modoc Indian War of 1872-73 are featured in a new temporary exhibit opening Friday, Nov. 25, at the Klamath County Museum.
The opening is timed to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the first battle in the conflict that claimed dozens of lives in the Upper Klamath Basin.
Modoc tribal members repelled an attempt by a small detachment of Army soldiers to capture them on Lost River on Nov. 29, 1872.
What followed was a protracted standoff in the Lava Beds of Northern California that included three additional pitched battles, two of which were won decisively by the Modocs. The third battle, in which the Army prevailed at a site called Dry Lake, was the Modocs’ last stand as a unified force.
After the fighting ceased, four Modoc leaders were executed in October 1873 at Fort Klamath for their role in the killing of Army Gen. E.R.S. Canby and Methodist minister Eleazar Thomas during a peace conference.
The museum exhibit opening Friday will be in place for the next year, in addition to the museum’s permanent display on the Modoc War.
“Our business as historians is to promote understanding,” said Matt Voelkel, who began work in August as the museum’s curator. “We hope that, together with our existing display on the war, this new exhibit will help visitors understand the truly complex story of the conflict.”
Voelkel, a native of Lakeview, holds a bachelor’s degree in history from BYU-Idaho, and a master’s degree in historical research from Boise State University.
Original documents on display in the exhibit include a warrant for the arrest of Modoc leader Captain Jack, a document signed by Jack on the eve of his execution, and a journal kept by a witness of the execution.
Exhibit panels focus on 10 documents held in other institutions that illustrate the complex set of factors that led up to the fighting.
“History is hard to understand without context,” Voelkel said. “By focusing on documents from the era of the war, we can better understand the background behind certain events, as well as the motives and feelings of participants.”
Artifacts on display include firearms used in the war, and original photos of Army officers and battlefield scenes.
Another element of the exhibit highlights the contributions of Toby “Winema” Riddle, a Modoc woman often credited as being a peacemaker during the conflict.
In addition to the temporary exhibit, the museum is also coordinating a series of events in partnership with the Lava Beds National Monument over the next year to interpret the war’s history in a variety of ways, including tours, film screenings and an author panel.
Admission to the Klamath County Museum is $5 per person for adults, $4 for students, seniors and military veterans, and free for youth 12 and under.
For more information, contact the Klamath County Museum at (541) 882-1000.