You may be well steeped in the story of the Oregon Trail, the Missoula floods and other events that shaped the Beaver State into the region it is today. But not many locals or visitors know about the Modoc War — a battle that happened in Southern Oregon in the 1870s that is called one of the costliest in the United States in terms of lives lost and dollars spent per number of people on the battlefield.
Intrigued? Load up the car for a road trip and head toward Klamath Falls, where you can see landmarks from the GPS-enabled Modoc War route along the 60-mile drive south to the California border. Simply download the free Modoc War audio tour on your mobile device, start at the Klamath County Museum and press play to hear how 55 members of the Modoc tribe managed to hold off nearly 20 times as many American soldiers during the deadly war, between 1872 and 1873.
The tour is narrated by Cheewa James, a direct Modoc descendant who is the great-granddaughter of the Modoc warrior Shkeitko, better known by his English name of Shacknasty Jim — one of the 55 warriors who fought in the stronghold.
“You’re wondering where that name came from?” James narrates near the start of the audio tour. “Modocs were renamed by settlers and military because English speakers could not pronounce the Modoc language. They did not pick pleasant names, and so such names as Greasy Boots and Tee-Hee Jack emerged! Rumor was that Shacknasty’s mother was a terrible housekeeper. True? Who knows. But it was my great-grandfather, along with the legendary Captain Jack, Scarface Charley and another 55 or so Modoc warriors who held off as many as 1,000 U.S. Army soldiers in a six-month-long conflict that came to be known as the Modoc War.”
As with many audio tours, the history is fascinating when it’s told through a voice and perspective that is entirely authentic. Allow about two hours for the narrated journey, which can be done year-round. It will take you through the small rural towns of Merrill and Malin, into the Lava Beds National Monument in northern California.
In Merrill, city hall doubles as the Merrill Historical and Modoc Museum, which houses a room dedicated to the Modoc War. The town also hosts its annual Klamath Basin Potato Festival each October, featuring barbecue beef, baked potatoes, a beer garden, square dancing and contests for the biggest, strangest and most uniform spuds. (It’s one of 23 Oregon Heritage Tradition festivals celebrating 50 or more years.) Finally, three quilt shops in Merrill make it a great base for crafting and browsing the unique shops.
Just a mile north of the California border, Malin is famous for its 1919 drug store building made of native basalt rock. Now home of the Malin Historical Society, it’s chock-full of artifacts both from the Modoc War and from its early 20th-century roots as a thriving town of Czech immigrants who relocated from the Midwest. Take a tour of the museum to learn more.
The Modoc audio tour was made possible by a grant from Discover Siskiyou, in collaboration with Discover Klamath, Travel Oregon, Travel Southern Oregon and Rural Klamath Connects.
If You Go:
If you like audio tours, there are several others in Oregon to check out. The Oregon National Historic Trail audio tour traces the footsteps of the pioneers as they headed west on the Oregon Trail, and you can actually start in Missouri if you have much more time. The Fort Clatsop audio tour provides narration on your mobile device as you walk around the historic grounds of Lewis and Clark National Historical Park on the North Coast near Astoria. The Together Anywhere audio tours provide entertaining notes on landmarks, history and culture around Salem, Eugene and Bend.