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LAST FREE INDIAN CHIEF

Patricia Boyer shows book and documents about Modoc Chief Captain Jack, the last free chief of the Modoc Nation. ().
Patricia Boyer shows book and documents about Modoc Chief Captain Jack, the last free chief of the Modoc Nation. ().

By MARGE WOODFIN

It all began when two granddaughters, both in junior high school, were given an assignment to write about Native Americans.

The girls, one living in Sacramento and the other in Elk Valley, Calif., sought information from their grandparents, whose home was on the border between California and Oregon where a large Modoc village was once situated.

Patricia Boyer provided as much information to her granddaughter as she knew about those Indians and each girl received a good grade on her paper.

That was the beginning of the 10-year search that resulted in the publishing of Boyer's book, "The Last Free Chief of the Modoc Nation, An Allegory."

She first visited the Klamath County Museum where she found all artifacts and information about local Indians stuffed away in a back room in the archives.

What she found in 1992, when her search began, caused her to emulate "Don Quixote jousting with windmills," she said.

"It seemed unbelievable that human beings could have been treated in such a manner by other human beings.

"I felt compelled in my heart to tell the story I had uncovered in an attempt to set the record clear."

The resulting book tells the history of the Indians and Scottish settlers in the Tulelake area just north of the Lava Beds National Monument, which is just south of Klamath Falls.

Boyer worked diligently, researching documents and writing letters, including correspondence with the assistant general counsel for the Smithsonian Institution.

What she discovered provided a story of the Modoc Indian Wars and the lives of the Indians involved from a much different perspective than provided in most history books.

Although the book is sympathetic to the plight of the Indians, Boyer also uses a composite family to represent the Scottish settlers, whom she compares, in their search for freedom from tyranny, with the Indians who became their adversaries in war.

"I really got on a soap box," Boyer said. "I felt compelled to tell as much of the truth as I was able to uncover. My book is the only one I know of that tells as much of the whole story as can be found."

By 1996, using information uncovered in her four years of research, the writing of the book had begun. With the death, in 1997, of her husband of 51 years, she laid the task aside for a couple of years.

When she resumed her writing and actually finished the book, she faced another monumental obstacle, finding a publisher willing to publish her controversial book.

Boyer never gave up, and in 2001 the first printing was published by AmErica House of Baltimore.

The book, which has been endorsed by the Council for Indian Education in Montana, is being used by a number of Indian education groups in their classrooms.

Boyer believes the stories told about Captain Jack, that last free chief, are untrue. He has been portrayed in books, movies and even on the Internet as a villainous man. Boyer writes that her research proves otherwise, the he was a valiant warrior, a loving family man and a brilliant leader.

Certainly, a handful of Modoc warriors, with little ammunition, fighting from a cave in the lava beds, won the first big skirmish of that war against overwhelming odds and a well-armed militia.

Four of the leaders of the Indian warriors were hanged as criminals. Boyer believes they were actually prisoners of war. The controversy continues about the final resting place of their remains.

The book begins with an allegorical story about prehistoric Modocs, Klamaths and Yahooskin Snake Indians of the Tule Valley, that recreates the family life of The People, as the Modocs called themselves.

Boyer is careful not to give definitive answers to some of what she believes to be myths about these people, but presents her arguments for what would appear to be nearer the truth, as uncovered in her methodical and painstaking research.

She shares her concerns about the treatment of the remains of Captain Jack and the three other Modoc warriors, whose bodies and skulls were long withheld from their families.

About the families' efforts to recover the remains of their ancestors, she said, "They have been repeatedly lied to, and are being lied to still," and added, "I have an ongoing interest in what happens to these people."

In her 70s, Boyer has begun a new career as author, and has a second book, "The Mystery of the Medicine Woman's Cave," a book written for teenagers based on an ancient Modoc legend, ready for the publisher.

"The Last Free Chief," is available in book stores and on the Internet. Boyer, who moved to Brookings this year with her son, Judd Meredith Boyer, who designed the book cover, is willing to share her story with interested readers. Her telephone number is (541) 412-8766.

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