July 12, 2012

Klamath Tribes


The Klamath Tribes include Klamath, Modoc, and Yahooskin, another band of Klamath erroneously believed to be a group of Paiute or Shoshone because they were designated the Yahooskin Band of Snake in the 1864 treaty. They all lived in the Klamath Basin of Oregon.

Official Tribal Name: Klamath Tribes

Address:  P.O. Box 436, 501 Chiloquin Blvd., Chiloquin, OR 97624
Phone: (800) 524-9787 or (541) 783-2219
Fax: (541) 783-2029
Email: taylor.david@klamathtribes.com

Official Website: klamathtribes.org

Recognition Status: Federally Recognized

Traditional Name / Traditional Meaning:

Both the Klamath and Modoc called themselves maklaks, meaning “people.” To distinguish between the tribes, the Modoc called themselves Moatokni maklaks, from muat meaning “South,” or moowatdal’knii, meaning “people of the south.”

The Klamath were also called ?ewksiknii, meaning “people of the [Klamath] Lake.”

Alternate names / Alternate spellings / Mispellings:

Formerly the Klamath Indian Tribe of Oregon. Modok, Yahooskin Band of Snake, Yuhooskin, Yahuskin, Klamaths

Name in other languages:

The Achomawi, a band of the Pit River tribe, called them Lutuami, meaning “Lake Dwellers.”

Region: Plateau

State(s) Today: Southern Oregon and Northern California.

Traditional Territory:

The six tribes of the Klamaths lived along the Klamath Marsh, on the banks of Agency Lake, around Klamath Lake, near the mouth of the Lower Williamson River, on Pelican Bay, beside the Link River, and in the uplands of the Sprague River Valley.

The Modoc’s lands included the Lower Lost River, around Clear Lake, and the territory that extended south as far as the mountains beyond Goose Lake.

The Yahooskin Bands occupied the area east of the Yamsay Mountain, south of Lakeview, and north of Fort Rock.

Confederacy: Klamath-Modoc-Yurok


The United States, the Klamath, the Modoc, and the Yahooskin band of Snake tribes signed a treaty in 1864 that established the Klamath Reservation.

The treaty required the tribes to cede the land bounded on the north by the 44th parallel, on the west and south by the ridges of the Cascade Mountains, and on the east by lines touching Goose Lake and Henley Lake back up to the 44th parallel.

The Modoc surrendered their lands near Lost River, Tule Lake, and Lower Klamath Lake in exchange for lands in the Upper Klamath Valley under the leadership of Chief Schonchin.

In all, the Klamath Tribes ceded more than 23 million acres of land, but retained rights to hunt, fish, trap and gather other foods on their former lands forever.

In return, the United States was to make a lump sum payment of $35,000, and annual payments totaling $80,000 over 15 years, as well as providing infrastructure and staff for a reservation.

The treaty provided that if the Indians drank or stored intoxicating liquor on the reservation, the payments could be withheld and that the United States could locate additional tribes on the reservation in the future.

The land of the reservation did not provide enough food for both the Klamath and the Modoc peoples. Illness and tension between the tribes increased. The Modoc requested a separate reservation closer to their ancestral home, but neither the federal nor the California governments would approve it.

In 1870 Kintpuash (also called Captain Jack) led a band of Modoc to leave the reservation and return to their traditional homelands. They built a village near the Lost River. These Modoc had not been adequately represented in the treaty negotiations and wished to end the harassment by the Klamath on the reservation.

The quest for economic self-sufficiency was pursued energetically and with determination by the remaining Tribal members. Many, both men and women, took advantage of the vocational training offered at the Agency and soon held a wide variety of skilled jobs at the Agency, at the Fort Klamath military post, and in the town of Linkville.

Many Tribal members took up ranching, and were successful at it.

Due to the widespread trade networks established by the Tribes long before the settlers arrived, another economic enterprise that turned out to be extremely successful during the reservation period was freighting. In August of 1889, there were 20 Tribal teams working year-round to supply the private and commercial needs of the rapidly growing county.

A Klamath Tribal Agency sponsored sawmill was completed in 1870 for the purpose of constructing the Agency.

By 1873, Tribal members were selling lumber to Fort Klamath and many other private parties, and by 1896 the sale to parties outside of the reservation was estimated at a quarter of a million board feet. With the arrival of the railroad in 1911, reservation timber became extremely valuable. The economy of Klamath County was sustained by it for decades.

They owned and managed for long term yield, the largest remaining stand of Ponderosa pine in the west.

By the 1950’s the Klamath Tribes were one of the wealthiest Tribes in the United States and were entirely self-sufficient. They were the only tribes in the United States that paid for all the federal, state and private services used by their members.

However, despite appearances, 82% of the tribe members living “on the reservation” had no jobs and most still engaged in hunting and fishing for subsistence. As for acculturation, although Klamath students were enrolled in public high schools, only 10 graduated between 1934 and 1947 and in the mid-1950s more than half of the Klamath students enrolled did not pass to the next grade.

Though the Klamath who lived “off the reservation” were more prepared for living in the mainstream society, the occupants of the reservation had no concept of rent, utility payments, taxes, banking or even how they would meet their dietary needs if they left the reservation.

Reservation: Klamath Reservation

The present-day Klamath Indian Reservation consists of twelve small non-contiguous parcels of land in Klamath County. These fragments are generally located in and near the communities of Chiloquin and Klamath Falls.
Land Area:  1.248 km² (308.43 acres)
Tribal Headquarters:  Chiloquin, Oregon
Time Zone:  Pacific

Population at Contact:

Estimates for the pre-contact populations of most native groups in California have varied substantially. James Mooney put the aboriginal population of the Modoc at 400. Alfred L. Kroeber estimated the Modoc population within California as 500 at the year 1770. University of Oregon anthropologist Theodore Stern suggested that there had been a total of about 500 Modoc. The Indian agent estimated the total population of all three tribes at about 2,000 when the treaty of 1864 was signed.

Registered Population Today:

There are approximately 4,500 enrolled members in the Klamath Tribes, as of 2009, with the population centered in Klamath County, Oregon. Of these, about 600 people are Modoc. Only 9 people lived on the reservation lands as of 2009, and 5 of those were whites.

Tribal Enrollment Requirements:

To be eligible for enrollment in the Klamath Tribes a person shall:

(a) be named on the official Klamath Final Roll of August 3, 1954; or
(b) possess one-eighth (1/8) degree or more Klamath, Modoc, or Yahooskin Indian blood; and
(c) not be enrolled in any State or other Federally recognized Indian Tribe.

Genealogy Resources:


Name of Governing Body:  Tribal Council
Number of Council members:   6 council members, plus executive officers
Dates of Constitutional amendments: 
Number of Executive Officers: Tribal Chairman, Vice Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer 

Elections: Elections are held every 3 years.

Language Classification: Penutian -> Plateau Penutian ->Klamath (a.k.a. Klamath-Modoc)

Language Dialects: The Klamath and Modoc peoples each spoke a dialect of the Klamath language, Klamath and Modoc, respectively.

Number of fluent Speakers: As of April 1998, it was spoken by only one person. As of 2003, the last fluent Klamath speaker in Chiloquin, Oregon was 92 years old. As of 2006 there were no fluent native speakers of either the Klamath or Modoc dialects.



The Klamath and Modoc believe they have lived on their traditional lands since time immemorial. They were once one people, later separating as the Modoc settled farther to the south. That they spoke dialects of the same language provides some support for this belief.

Bands, Gens, and Clans

The Klamath had six bands or “tribelets” before the reservation era. This distinction was dropped once they went onto the original reservation.

Related Tribes:

Some Klamath live in the Quartz Valley Indian Community in Siskiyou County, California. Other Klamaths live on rancherias together with Wiyot, Hupa, Tolowa, and Maidu Indians.
The Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma is made up of the descendants of Captain Jack and others sent to Indian Territory after the Modoc Wars.

Traditional Allies:

The Klamath were most closely linked with the Modoc people. They were also friendly and peaceful with the Molala and Wishram-Wasco.They traded with the Chinook people at The Dalles.

Traditional Enemies:

The Klamath, unlike most tribes in Northern California, were warlike. All Klamath tribelets fought together, perhaps under the direction of a principal chief.

Chieftainship was weakly developed, with some Villages having chiefs and others having none. Chiefs were men who had acquired prestige through warfare or wealth, were able public speakers and had some spirit experiences.

The intensification of trade before placement on the reservation led a few men to acquire much wealth and increase their authority.

Traditional enemies included the Shasta, Northern Paiute, Takelma, Kalapuya, and Pit River groups.

They often raided neighboring tribes, such as the Achomawi on the Pit River and the Shasta, plundering and taking captives to use as slaves, or for revenge. Upon signing the treaty in 1864 they agreed to give up slavery.

Blood feuds between tribelets were not uncommon and were often precipitated by the murder of a man living with a wife of another tribelet. The feuds were usually ended by a negotiated payment of compensation.

At other times, they were friendly with these tribes.

Ceremonies / Dances:

Shuyuhalsh – a five-night dance rite of passage for adolescent Modoc girls.

In the spring the c’waam (Suckerfish) swim up the Williamson, Sprague, and Lost Rivers to spawn, and the Klamath have traditionally held a ceremony to give thanks for their return. This celebration includes traditional dancing, drumming, feasting, and releasing of a pair of c’waam into the river. This ceremony is held each year after the first big Fish-Blanket snow in March, in Chiloquin, Oregon.

Modern Day Events & Tourism 

Klamath Legends / Oral Stories:

Modoc Legends / Oral Stories:

Art & Crafts:

The Klamath and Modoc people are best known for their fine basketry. Basketry was well developed into an art form, used for caps and shoes, as well as baskets for carrying food. 

Tree shoots, reeds, rushes, and colorful grasses were used in the Modoc baskets. The baskets were used for ceremonies, collecting materials, and gambling.

Baby cradles were made out of cattails, porcupine quills, and tule wood which was used for the back and twine was used to tie it all up so the baby would stay in.

The Klamath made a flute, three types of rattles, and a hand drum.

Klamath people also practice such traditional crafts as beadwork and bone work.

Animals: In the pre-reservation days horses were considered an important form of wealth.


Klamath men wore short wraparound kilts made of deerskin. Klamath women wore longer skirts made of buckskin and plant fiber, decorated with beads. Shirts were not necessary in Klamath culture for either men or women, but in cool or rainy weather, both genders wore deerskin ponchos and leggings made of woven tule. The Klamaths wore sandals woven of fibers similar to their baskets,  or moccasins on their feet.

The Klamaths didn’t wear long headdresses like the Sioux. Klamath women wore woven basket caps, and sometimes beaded necklaces. The Klamaths painted their faces different colors for festivities, war, and everyday life. Some Klamath men also wore tribal tattoos on their arms.


In winter, the Klamath and Modoc built earthen dug-out lodges shaped like beehives, covered with sticks and plastered with mud, located near lake shores with reliable sources of seeds from aquatic wokas plants and fishing. The entrance was in the roof.

Earthlodges housed a number of nuclear families, with the residents all related to one another. In addition, most residents of a village were kin.

Circular wooden frame houses covered in mats were used in summer and on hunting trips. They also constructed sweat lodges of a similar style to their dwellings. These were used for prayer and other religious gatherings.

Weapons and Tools:

Klamath hunters used bows and arrows. Klamath warriors fired arrows at their opponents or fought with war clubs. They also wore armor and shields made of elk hide, and once horses were introduced, they became skilled at fighting from horseback. The United States frontiersman Kit Carson admired their arrows, which were reported to be able to shoot through a house.

Klamath fishermen used nets, spears, and basket fish traps.

The Klamath and Modoc tribes made dugout canoes by hollowing out large logs from pine, cedar, or fir trees. They used these canoes to travel and fish on the rivers during the summer. In the winter they traveled on snowshoes.

They made a large canoe, called a vunsh which could hold 4 to 5 people and a smaller canoe called a vunshaga which could hold two people and was used for maneuvering into tight places where the larger canoe couldn’t go.


Prior to the 19th century, when European explorers first encountered the Klamath and Modoc, like all Plateau Indians, they caught salmon during salmon runs and migrated seasonally to hunt and gather other food. They depended heavily on wild plants, particularly the seeds of the yellow water lily (Wókas) which were gathered in late summer and ground into flour.

While the staple fish was salmon, Klamath and Modoc men used nets and fish traps to catch many different types of fish in the rivers and lakes. They also hunted deer and small game such as water fowl. Klamath women gathered berries, nuts, and other roots such as wild carrots and onions.

Economy Today:The tribe operates Kla-Mo-Ya Casino. Many Klamath are cattle ranchers.

Religion & Spiritual Beliefs:

The religion of the Modoc is not known in detail. According to Modoc mythology, the world was transformed by Gopher and peopled by Gmukamps (Mythic Old Man). Gmukamps was also thought to be responsible for earthquakes, which were probably frequent during episodes of volcanic activity.

Spirits were an integral part of the Modoc’s natural world; they inhabited animals and plants and could also have humanisticd characteristics. The Modoc afterworld, no-lisg-ni, was located past a mountain in the west.

Supernatural power was sought to improve luck in hunting, fishing, gaming and love. Those seeking power undertook a power quest at the places inhabited by sacred beings.

Both men and postmenopausal women could be shamans. As with other northwestern California cultures, the Modoc shamans were healing doctors and clairvoyants. They were paid a fee to facilitate cures, which they did by sucking illness-causing objects from the patient.

Most Modoc illnesses were caused by “breaking taboos or being frightened by a spirit.”

If a shaman was suspected of causing an illness through sorcery, or if their patients died, they might be killed by the other villagers.

The number five figured heavily in ritual, as in the Shuyuhalsh, a five-night dance rite of passage for adolescent girls. A sweat lodge was used for purification and mourning ceremonies.

The Klamath Creator God who created the world and animals was called gmok’am’c.

Klamath mythology was dominated by the culture hero Kemukemps, a trickster figure who had created men and women.

Every Klamath sought spiritual power in vision quests, which took place at life crises such as puberty and mourning. The spirits were poorly defined, but primarily took the form of nature spirits or anthropomorphic beings.

Shamans enjoyed considerable prestige and authority, often more than did chiefs. Shamans were people who had acquired more spiritual power than had others.

Shamanistic performances, during which the shamans became possessed, were the main forms of Klamath ceremonialism. These performances were held in the winter and lasted five days and nights.

The shamans’ services could be invoked at any time during the year for such purposes as prophecy, divination, or weather control, in addition to curative funtions.

Burial Customs:

The deceased were cremated, and their possessions, along with valuables given by others in their honor were burned with the body. Mourning was a personal matter with a mourning period and behavioral restrictions without public ceremony.

Wedding Customs:

Marriage was by gift exchange, with the bride’s family generally giving more than the groom’s. Since marriage to kin was forbidden, village exogamy predominated, with a slight tendency toward marriage within the tribelet.

Wealthy men might take more than one wife, with sororal polygyny and the levirate present.

Postmarital residence was generally patrilocal, though matrilocal residence did occur, particularly when the groom was poor.

Divorce was easy and common.
Kinship Terminology Explained



Famous Klamath Chiefs and Leaders:

Famous Modoc Chiefs and Leaders

Catastrophic Events:

Tribe History:

In 1826 Peter Skeen Ogden, a fur trapper from the Hudson’s Bay Company, was the first white man to visit Klamath lands. 

Brothers Jesse and Lindsay Applegate, accompanied by 13 other white settlers, established the Applegate Trail, or South Emigrant Trail, in 1846. It appears to be the first regular contact between the Modoc and the European-American settlers. Many of the events of the Modoc War took place along this trail.

From 1846 to 1873, thousands of emigrants entered the Modoc territory. Beginning in 1847, the Modoc raided the invading emigrants on the Applegate Trail under the leadership of Old Chief Schonchin.

In September 1852, the Modoc destroyed an emigrant train at Bloody Point on the east shore of Tule Lake, killing all but three of the 65 persons in the party. The Modoc took two young girls as captives. One or both of them may have been killed several years later by jealous Modoc women.

The only man to survive the attack made his way to Yreka, California, where settlers organized a militia under the leadership of Sheriff Charles McDermit, Jim Crosby, and Ben Wright. They went to the scene of the massacre to bury the dead and avenge their death. Crosby’s party had one skirmish with a band of Modoc and returned to Yreka.

Ben Wright, known to be an Indian hater, and a small group stayed on to avenge the deaths. Accounts differ as to what took place when Wright’s party met the Modoc on the Lost River, but most agree that Wright planned to ambush them, which he did in November 1852.

Wright and his forces attacked, killing approximately 40 Modoc, in what came to be known as the “Ben Wright Massacre.”

Historians have estimated that at least 300 emigrants and settlers were killed by the Modoc during the years 1846 to 1873, and perhaps as many Modoc were killed by settlers and slave traders.

In November 1872, the U.S. Army was sent to Lost River to attempt to force Kintpuash’s band back to the reservation. A battle broke out, and the Modoc escaped to what is called Captain Jack’s Stronghold in what is now Lava Beds National Monument, California.

The band of fewer than 53 warriors was able to hold off the 3,000 troops of the U.S. Army for several months, defeating them in combat several times.

Finally, in April 1873, the Modoc left the Stronghold and began to splinter. Kintpuash and his group were the last to be captured on June 4, 1873, when they voluntarily gave themselves up.

The U.S. government personnel had assured them that their people would be treated fairly and that the warriors would be allowed to live on their own land.

The U.S. Army tried, convicted and executed Kintpuash and three of his warriors in October 1873 for the murder of Major General Edward Canby earlier that year at a parley. The general had violated agreements made with the Modoc.

The Army then sent the rest of the band to Oklahoma as prisoners of war with Scarfaced Charley as their chief. The tribe’s spiritual leader, Curley Headed Doctor, also was forced to remove to Indian Territory.

In 1909, the group in Oklahoma was given permission, if they wished, to return to Oregon. Several people did, but most stayed at their new home in Oklahoma.

In 1954, the Klamath Tribes were terminated from federal recognition as a tribe by an act of congress, and their reservation land base of approximately 1.8 million acres was taken by condemnation.

In 1974 the Federal Court ruled that the Klamath tribes had retained their Treaty Rights to hunt, fish, trap and gather, and to be consulted in land management decisions when those decisions affected Treaty Rights on land and water.

In 1986, they were successful in regaining Federal Recognition, although their land base was not returned.

In the News:

Photo by Patrick McCully from Berkeley, United States, via Wikimedia Commons
Klamath Tribes protest
In 2001, an ongoing water rights dispute between the Klamath Tribes, Klamath Basin farmers, and fishermen along the Klamath River became national news. The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, under discussion since 2005, was ultimately signed into law in February 2010.

Further Reading:

US Tribes K to M
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