The Modoc War


The Modoc War

A Story of Genocide at the Dawn of America's Gilded Age

Robert Aquinas McNally

432 pages
9 photographs, 2 illustrations, 2 maps, index


April 2021


$26.95 Add to Cart

November 2017


$34.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

November 2017


$26.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

November 2017


$26.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

Commonwealth Club of California Book Award winner, Californiana category

On a cold, rainy dawn in late November 1872, Lieutenant Frazier Boutelle and a Modoc Indian nicknamed Scarface Charley leveled firearms at each other. Their duel triggered a war that capped a decades-long genocidal attack emblematic of the United States’ conquest of Native America’s peoples and lands. Robert Aquinas McNally tells the wrenching story of the Modoc War of 1872–73, one of the nation’s costliest campaigns against North American Indigenous peoples, in which the army placed nearly one thousand soldiers in the field against some fifty-five Modoc fighters.
Although little known today, the Modoc War dominated national headlines for an entire year. Fought in south-central Oregon and northeastern California, the war settled into a siege in the desolate Lava Beds and climaxed the decades-long effort to dispossess and destroy the Modocs. The war did not end with the last shot fired, however. For the first and only time in U.S. history, Native fighters were tried and hanged for war crimes. The surviving Modocs were packed into cattle cars and shipped from Fort Klamath to the corrupt, disease-ridden Quapaw reservation in Oklahoma, where they found peace even more lethal than war.
The Modoc War tells the forgotten story of a violent and bloody Gilded Age campaign at a time when the federal government boasted officially of a “peace policy” toward Indigenous nations. This compelling history illuminates a dark corner in our country’s past. 

Author Bio

Robert Aquinas McNally is a freelance writer and editor based in Concord, California. He is the author or coauthor of nine nonfiction books, including So Remorseless a Havoc: Of Dolphins, Whales, and Men.


"The Modoc War is a devastating history of defiant indigenous resistance during the Gilded Age of the nineteenth century. McNally's fast-paced, blow-by-blow account chronicles the daring actions of Modoc freedom fighters, treacherous U.S. soldiers, genocidal American settlers, and hubristic military leaders that scarred the West during the "Indian Wars" of the post–Civil War era. But this is more than simply a long-overdue accounting of broken treaties, broken promises, and tragic removal in California. McNally also shines a mirror at us, demanding a reckoning for the demographic and cultural genocide that occurred in the Klamath Basin and across the American West."—Natale A. Zappia, California History

"McNally provides a brutally frank and damningly well-documented account of the war's sordid background."—Bradley A. Scott, Foreword Reviews

"General readers and scholars interested in an excellent, detailed narrative history of the Modoc War will be well served by McNally's work."—Brendan Lindsay, Western Historical Quarterly

"McNally is a strong storyteller with a conversational style and an eye for telling details. . . . This honest accounting of the cruelty, corruption, and savagery of the settlers—who believed their actions were smiled upon by God—takes a step forward in correcting a sanitized and muffled history."—Publishers Weekly

"Robert McNally's fresh perspective on the Modoc War will engage and inform both scholars and interested general readers."—Dwight S. Mears, Michigan War Studies Review

"The Modoc War was as much a media narrative as it was a historical event. What made and continues to make the Modoc War compelling in this sense is that it was among the first such narratives to be reported in real time through the then-novel technology of the telegraph, photography, and mass-produced newspapers—presaging much of our media landscape today."—Mark Axel Tveskov, Oregon Historical Quarterly

"McNally's The Modoc War uses the power of hindsight to characterize historical subjects in thematic fashion, revealing deeper motivations behind the heartrending war in the Lava Beds."—Ishmael Elias, News from Native California

"McNally provides an excellent background to the events leading to the war. . . . This is a sad tale of stereotyping Indians as savages; bureaucratic insensitivity; and Indian resistance to injustice, well told in a compelling narrative."—Abraham Hoffman, Roundup Magazine

"This volume provides the historical and cultural context of the Modoc war in great detail."—Steven C. Haack, Journal of America's Military Past

"Robert Aquinas McNally's storytelling talent is on full display in this history of the Modoc War, a violent conflict on the Oregon-California border in 1872–1873. . . . [The Modoc War deserves] a prominent place in the literature on frontier Indian wars and exemplifies a well-researched, engaging narrative technique."—William S. Kiser, Journal of American History

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Prologue: Duel at Lost River

Part 1. Holy Lands Here and There
1. Bad to Worse
2. Stone and Story
3. Running the Pagans Out of the Promised Land
4. Death Squads, Sex Slaves, and Knights of the Frontier
5. The Peace That Wasn’t, the Treaty That Was, Kind Of
6. The Bacon of Three Hundred Hogs
7. Gray-Eyed Rancher to the Rescue

Part 2. True Fog, Real War
8. Glove and Fist
9. Modoc Steak for Breakfast
10. A Look Inside
11. First Fog of War
12. Celebration and Postmortem

Part 3. Firing into a Continent
13. Give Peace a Chance
14. The News That Fits
15. Heroic Reporter Dens with Lions
16. Talking for Peace, Lying for War
17. The Warrior Takes Command
18. Squeeze Play
19. A Homeland to Be Named Later
20. Pride and Prejudice in the Peace Tent
21. Martyrs at Midday
22. The War Goes Cosmic
23. Girding for Battle
24. Half-Empty Victory
25. Scalps and Skulls
26. Into the Volcanic Valley of Death

Part 4. Things Fall Apart
27. The Center Cannot Hold
28. Hounds and Scouts
29. Hang ’em High
30. Varnishing Vengeance
31. Still Small Voices Swell
32. Strangled Necks, Severed Heads
33. Exile and Showbiz
34. Requiem




2018 Commonwealth Club of California Book Award Winner—Californiana 

2018 Northern California Book Award Finalist—General Nonfiction  

Also of Interest