cover image The Modoc War: A Story of Genocide at the Dawn of America’s Gilded Age

The Modoc War: A Story of Genocide at the Dawn of America’s Gilded Age

Robert Aquinas McNally. Bison, $34.95 (432p) ISBN 978-1-4962-0179-9

In this empathetic narrative history, poet and writer McNally (A Wild Idea: The Hunting Trip That Changed John Muir and Created the American Wilderness) tells the story of the decadeslong conflict between white settlers and the Modoc, Native Americans who lived in southern Oregon and northern California. Though the climax of this conflict, the 1872–1873 war, was chronicled by major newspapers that heaped praise on white combatants, McNally shows that it was a brutal, shameful, and genocidal campaign born primarily out of settlers’ greed for land. Despite its narrow focus, the book’s appeal won’t be limited to specialists: McNally is a strong storyteller with a conversational style and an eye for telling details, such as the 300 hogs’ worth of newly cured bacon that settler Jesse Applegate abandoned in his eagerness to seek riches in Modoc territory. (He would later become a major instigator of the violence against the tribe.) McNally draws out the tragedy of the fate of the Modoc: driven out of their native land through violence and treachery, they were shunted to a desolate Oklahoma reservation, their leaders were hanged and their heads exhibited in Washington, D.C., and their population was decimated. 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. (Nov.)