Del Norte People: An educator who brought history to life

By Chuck Blackburn July 21, 2011 06:02 pm

Editor’s note: Longtime Del Norte County resident Chuck Blackburn’s column appears every fourth Thursday.

Who are Captain Jack, Curly Headed Doctor, Schonchin John, Hooker Jim and Scarfaced Charley?

What was their relationship to General E.R.S. Canby, Albert Meacham, Reverend Eleasor Thomas and Major General Alvan Gillem?

These names, places and events were introduced to me by my good friend and educator, Ed Anderson, Team C leader at Crescent Elk School in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Ed taught history at Crescent Elk and worked in the team teaching group with Harold Martin, Ron Darlington and Ted Weber.

I was teaching physical education and coaching basketball before my retirement in the spring of 1994. Ed taught a unit in history about the Modoc Wars in northeastern California in the Lava Beds National Monument area near Tule Lake. Every two years, Team C would take about 75 students on this adventure for three days and two nights on a camp-out at the monument campground. I was invited to go to videotape the trip and accompanied several other chaperones.

This was one of the finest educational experiences in my 33 years of teaching. Ed, the leader; Harold, the Wyoming cowboy and drill sergeant; and Ron, the quiet, gentle presence on this team.

It is about a four-hour bus ride to Modoc County and about a half-hour stop at the Klamath County Museum in Klamath Falls, Ore., was always a highlight. It was a nice break in the drive to move around and learn about the history of the upper Klamath Lake, Tule Lake areas and the Modoc Wars of the early 1870s.

Lava Beds National Monument was about an hour’s drive after the stop and the first chore was to set up camp.

 At night a fire was set in between the two campsites. Harold Martin hauled his chuckwagon to the site — stove, tables, pots, pans, utensils and plates for the meals.

The student cooks and team did a great job under Sergeant Martin. One of the top activities for the kids was the trips underground through the lava tubes. I filmed all of this, but only went in partway because of claustrophobia.

A highlight of this trip was a long walk down a trail through the sagebrush, mesquite and lava to the Wright-Thomas Battlefield. This was a place that Modoc’s leader, Capt. Jack, and his warriors watched from a rim of lava above this valley as Wright and Thomas' units entered the valley below and took a lunch break. Within the hour, 64 soldiers were killed with no losses on the Indian side.

A young sub chief named Scarfaced Charley actually called off any more killing by saying, “Enough, let them retrieve their dead and wounded.” Quite a statement was made by this 22-year-old warrior.

Ed Anderson did not walk to the valley with us and I wondered what he had in mind. After a half-hour walk in the May heat of this high plateau area, we were directed by Harold Martin to go down in the bowl below the lava rim. The wind was blowing, which added to the eerie feeling of the 1873 massacre. The kids sat down in a large group with Harold, Ron and chaperones standing.

I was videotaping the group when I caught a figure of a man dressed in buckskins coming down from the Schonchin lava flow toward us.

He was carrying a breach loader rifle of my father, Wes, that Ed traded for earlier in the year. Now I knew why he wanted that rifle. My late dad, Wes, was smiling at Ed and I, as Dad loved that rifle.

Ed carried a large knife in a scabbard and had a wig of braided hair. He was Scarfaced Charley in 1873.

We all were eyes and ears with the easy wind blowing as Scarfaced Charley spoke loud and clear with a certain dialect.

I had butterflies in my stomach as this young Indian warrior shared the hardships of the survival of his people in a time that new people were entering their place and their lives.

The continuous sounds of the wind mixing in with the words of this young warrior added to the dynamics of this great gathering of the eighth-graders, their teachers and chaperones.

Scarfaced Charley raised his gun and, in his other hand, his knife toward his maker in heaven and completed his talk.

I still have the VHS of that trip. What a remarkable event. To this day I tell Ed that he was truly Scarfaced Charley in 1873. He always smiles.

A visit to Capt. Jack’s stronghold was always the last stop of the three-day trip. Everything was loaded for home.

One of the kids came running down from the air toilet and told Harold Martin that a rattlesnake was next to the building. Harold ran up the bank past a group of church people having lunch at two wooden tables. Here he came down the path with the snake that he captured.

He told the kids to gather around as he was going to milk the venom out of the snake into a paper cup. I was videotaping close up.

One of the kids got too close and bumped his elbow. A response was immediate: “Back up you darn kids, this is serious business. Give me some room,” in good Martin form and expression.

The members of the church group looked unsettled, and when Harold said that he was going to put the snake back under a bush, the church group escaped the scene in a matter of minutes.

Another great Modoc trip. Another opportunity for me to be with great students and great educators.

Chuck Blackburn can be reached at  954-7121.