The 1873 Modoc War was the most expensive Indian conflict in American history, and the only one in which a general—E. R. S. Canby—was killed. Now, utilizing his skills as an award-winning broadcast journalist, author Jim Compton (1941–2014) tells the story in the newest title from Washington State University (WSU) Press, Spirit in the Rock: The Fierce Battle for Modoc Homelands. Following his sudden death, the author’s wife, Carol Arnold, a retired trial attorney, fulfilled his ambitions with a final edit and submission for publication.

Veteran correspondent Compton’s narrative examines events and experiences from a variety of angles, including those of Modoc warriors, army foot soldiers, and cavalry officers. Forced to fight for their ancestral territory in a brutal, bloody, and unjust dispute, the Modoc utilized guerilla tactics against the U.S. Army from a naturally protective setting—lava beds in what is now northern California. They fended off attacks by roughly a thousand soldiers, humiliating army troops and challenging their leaders. During peace negotiations, a charismatic Modoc chief known as Captain Jack fatally shot Canby. Four of Jack’s comrades betrayed him, he was captured, and the war ended. Captain Jack and three others were quickly tried and hanged at Fort Klamath.

Spirit in the Rock breaks important new ground as it analyzes underlying causes of the war. For the first time, the book details the schemes that ultimately drove the Modoc from their traditional homelands along the Lost River, calling attention to the intimate relationship between the Applegates and Frances Fuller Victor, whose flattering portrait of the famous Oregon pioneer family in various historical annals clouded understanding of the Modoc War for over a century.

A preface by respected educator and member of the Navajo Nation, Vivian Arviso, illuminates ways Native American traditions and spirituality influenced events. She also explains that the existence of the Modoc people today is a tribute to Captain Jack’s leadership, the participation of women and children in defending their land and livelihood, and the Modoc cultural spirit. In addition, historian Boyd Cothran’s afterword describes how the Modoc War shaped national perceptions of the Native American fight for survival in the West.

Original black and white photographs from the author’s private collection illustrate the story, and color images by Seattle photographer Bill Stafford reveal a contemporary view of Modoc Country. Text and maps highlight the army’s strategies as well as the brilliant maneuvers made by Modoc warriors.

Meticulously researched and footnoted, with an extensive bibliography, the book also explains why the U.S. Attorney General ordered a military tribunal to try Captain Jack as a belligerent of a foreign power. One hundred and thirty years later, the George W. Bush administration cited this precedent to justify rendition and military trial of terrorists.



Spirit in the Rock cover