Member of an American Indian people who lived in northern California and southern Oregon until 1864. They spoke a Lutuamian language belonging to the Penutian family, and were closely related to the Klamath. Primarily hunter-gatherers, they lived in village settlements and practised a shamanist religion, based on the belief in guardian spirits who could be called on for assistance. After their confinement to an Oregon reservation with the Klamath in 1864, they resisted reservation life and most were killed by US troops in the Modoc War 1872–73. The survivors were sent to Oklahoma, but most later returned to Oregon, and Modoc communities now live in both states.
The Modoc gathered wild plants and hunted a variety of animals using arrows tipped with obsidian (volcanic glass). Their winter homes were earth-covered lodges partly sunk into the ground; in the summer they used wickiups, domed houses made from pole frames covered with mats of tule thatch. Tule, a water plant, was also used to make baskets, rafts, and other items. Modoc villages were autonomous and each had their own headman, shaman, and a community centre for conducting religious ceremonies and prayers.
In 1864 the Modoc ceded their lands in California to the US government and agreed to settle near Upper Klamath Lake, Oregon, on reservation land that traditionally belonged to the Klamath. The USA failed to provide sufficient food, however, and relations with the Klamath deteriorated. In 1870 the Modoc, led by Captain Jack, left the reservation, and in 1872 US efforts to return them led to the Modoc War. In April 1873 the Modoc murdered US general Edward Canby, who was on a peace mission. US troops redoubled their efforts and most Modoc were killed. Followers of Captain Jack were deported to Oklahoma until 1909 when the survivors were allowed to return to Oregon, where their descendants now live.
In 1954 the US government terminated its relationship with the reservation and a few years later sold the land with proceeds going to former inhabitants. In 1978 the Modoc were reinstated as a federally recognized tribe.
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