Applegate and his party were the first known white men to enter what is now the Lava Beds National Monument. On their exploring trip eastward they attempted to pass around the south end of Tule Lake, but the rough lava along the shore forced them to seek a route around the north end of the lake.
The opening of the South Emigrant Trail brought the first regular contact between the Modoc and the European settlers, who had largely ignored the area before. Many of the events of the Modoc War took place along the South Emigrant Trail.
In September 1852, the Modocs destroyed an emigrant train at Bloody Point on the east shore of Tule Lake. Of the 65 persons in the train only three escaped immediate death. Two young girls were taken as prisoners and reportedly killed several years later by jealous Modoc women, and one man made his way to Yreka, California. Hearing the news of the attack, Yreka settlers organized a party, under the leadership of Jim Crosby, to go to the scene of the massacre to bury the dead and avenge their death. Crosby's party had one skirmish with a band of Modocs.
The attacks on emigrants by the Modocs aroused settlers at Yreka to send out a party under the leadership of Ben Wright, a notorious Indian hater, in 1856. Accounts differ as to what actually took place when Wright's party finally met the Modocs on Lost River, but most agree that Wright planned to ambush the Modocs. Wright attacked, killing approximately 80 Modocs. This loss led to the general mistrust of the white settlers by the Modocs.
It has been estimated that at least 300 emigrants and settlers were killed by the Modocs during the years 1846 to 1873. Perhaps as many Modocs were killed by settlers and slave traders.
The United States, the Klamaths, Modocs, and Yahooskin band of Snake tribes signed a treaty in 1864, establishing the Klamath Reservation. The treaty had the tribes cede the land bounded on the north by the 44th parallel, on the west and south by the ridges of the Cascade Mountains, and on the east by lines touching Goose Lake and Henley Lake back up to the 44th parallel. In return, the United States was to make a lump sum payment of $35,000, and annual payments totalling $80,000 over 15 years, as well as providing infrastructure and staff for the reservation. The treaty provided that if the Indians drank or stored intoxicating liquor on the reservation, the payments could be withheld and that the United States could locate additional tribes on the reservation in the future. The tribes requested Lindsay Applegate as the agent to represent the United States to them.
Under the terms of this treaty the Modocs, with Old Chief Schonchin as their leader, gave up their lands in the Lost River, Tule Lake, and Lower Klamath Lake regions, and moved to the reservation in the Upper Klamath Valley. The Indian agent estimated the total population of the three tribes at about 2,000 when the treaty was signed.
The land of the reservation did not provide enough food for the comfort of both the Klamath and the Modoc peoples. Illness and tension between the tribes increased. The Modoc requested a separate reservation closer to their ancestral home, but neither the federal nor the California government would approve it.
In 1870, a group of Modocs under the leadership of Keintpuash (Captain Jack to the Europeans) left the reservation to reestablish a village near the Lost River, because they had not been represented in the treaty negotiations and often fought with the Klamaths.
In November 1872, the U.S. Army was sent to Lost River to attempt to force the Keintpuash's band back to the reservation. A battle broke out, and the Modocs escaped to Captain Jack's Stronghold in what is now Lava Beds National Monument, California. The band of 60-90 warriors was able to hold off the 3,000 troops of the U.S. Army for several months, defeating them in combat several times. In April 1873, the Modocs left the Stronghold and began to splinter. Keintpuash and his group were the last captured on June 4, 1873 when they voluntarily gave themselves up, after assurances from the U.S. government that their people would be treated fairly and that all of the warriors would be allowed to live on their own land. Keintpuash and three of his warriors were hanged in October 1873 for the murder of Major General Edward Canby, after the general violated agreements that had been made with the Modocs, and the rest of the band was sent to Oklahoma as prisoners of war with Scarfaced Charley as their chief.
In the 1870s, Peter Cooper brought Indians to speak to Indian rights groups in eastern cities. One of the delegations was from the Modoc and Klamath tribes. In 1907, the group in Oklahoma was given permission, if they wished, to return to Oregon. Several did, but most stayed at their new home.
200 Modocs live in Oklahoma on the Quapaw Indian Reservation at the far northeast corner of Oklahoma. They are descendants of the band led by Captain Jack (Keintpuash) during the Modoc War. The Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma was officially recognized by the United States government in 1978, and their constitution was approved in 1991.
The religion of the Modoc is not known in detail. The number 5 figured heavily in ritual, as in the Shuyuhalsh a five-night dance ritual for adolescent girls. A sweat lodge was used for purification and mourning ceremonies.