The History of Fort Klamath Oregon

In 1862, Colonel Charles S. Drew of the First Oregon Cavalry was dispatched to select a location for the establishment of an army post to protect the settlers heading into southern Oregon and northern California, as well as to oversee the Indian population in the area.

His decision to locate the garrison along the Oregon Central Military Road which ran from Idaho on into the Willamette Valley on the other side of the Cascades, was controversial in some respects, although his decision was based upon the abundance of readily available timber, food and water.

The derision came from people who felt that the fort should be erected in a more southerly direction to provide protection to those traveling along the southern Applegate Trail.

Fort Klamath was erected in 1863 by Captain William Kelly and Troop C of the First Oregon Cavalry and was established approximately 36 miles north of present day Klamath Falls and in Klamath County, Oregon. 

It was under the direction of civilian contractor, David Linn, that the Company C began construction.

The plans called for the construction of a sawmill and 50 structures to house two companies and all the officers, including stables and storehouses.

No stockade surrounded the 1,000 acres that the fort occupied, and an additional 3,000 acres were reserved for hay for the horses.

The duties of the soldiers of Fort Klamath were not only to protect the emigrants, but to build and maintain new roads and routes to connect supply points from eastern and western Oregon. They also built the first road to Crater Lake, Oregon.

In 1867, the Federal troops of Troop A, 1st U.S. Cavalry relieved the volunteer troops that had been stationed at the fort since its inception.

They expanded the fort to include an additional 40 buildings and resided quietly until 1872 when the Modoc Indians that had been forced to live on the nearby reservation with their mortal enemies, the Klamath Indians, decided to flee the reservation.

Chief Kintpuash, otherwise known by his white name, Captain Jack, took a band of 300 Modoc and fled into the surrounding areas.  The U.S. Army was instructed to return the Modocs to the reservation.

Once the U.S. Army went after the Modocs, the full scale war was in effect.  

The Modocs holed up in a northern California area which is now known as the Lava Beds National Monument. The fight was furious and fierce and resulted in the U.S. Army being unable to dislodge the Modocs from their stronghold. General Edward R. S. Canby was ordered to cease trying to extradite the Modocs and to commence peace negotiations.

As the U.S. Army and the Modocs held a Peace Commission meeting, the U.S. Army was attacked by the Modocs which resulted in the death of General Edward R.S. Canby and others.

Obviously that was the end of the peace negotiations.

Between ambushes and massacres, the entire battle cost the United States Army five officers and sixty enlisted men.

General Jefferson G. Davis was responsible for finally capturing Captain Jack who was still wearing the uniform of General Canby when he was brought into Fort Klamath.

Six Modoc leaders and 140 men, women and children were held at Fort Klamath awaiting the court martial of the leaders. In the end, 4 of the Modoc leaders were convicted and executed, including Captain Jack and they were buried at Fort Klamath, where the graves are still visible to this day.

The remaining Modocs were sent to reservations in Oklahoma Territory in exile.

The trial and consequent hanging was a national event and brought spectators from across the country to witness the trial and execution.

Souvenirs were passed out and you can still read a philanthropist’s handwritten account of his travels in the Klamath County Museum. It is also available online.

After the Modoc war, the rest of the years at the post were quiet and it was very well maintained. In 1886, it was the last remaining active federal army post in the interior of Oregon and was home to a single company of the 14th Infantry at this time.

In 1887 the troops participated in the Nez Perce War.

The troops did general maintenance and assisted in the army engineers’ survey of Crater Lake, and it was the opinion of Captain Carpenter who was commanding the post at the time, that it needed to be abandoned. It was his opinion that there was no longer danger to the settlers. Eventually, the Secretary of War concurred and in 1886, President Grover Cleveland declared the post “useless for military purposes”.

It took three years for the Federal Government to finally close down the facilities and leave only a caretaker detachment.

In the winter of that year, the area was hit by the hardest winter that they had known and by 1890, over 20 feet of snow had fallen upon them.

Many of the original building collapsed under the weight of the snow and the caretaker detachment was no match for the winter snowfall.

In the summer of 1890, Lt. McCammon and his men of the caretaker detachment, left the fort to the custodian John Loosely and headed to the Vancouver Barracks to join the rest of their regiment.  

Fort Klamath was now closed.

Since this time, the fort has been split up, sold to private individuals, buildings have been moved and Oregon Route 62 now runs through where the original officers’ quarters were located.

Two former fort stables were found across from Oregon Route 62 and the fort’s bakery was discovered two miles from its original location. The fort’s barber shop was located being used as a storage building in the town of Fort Klamath.

The Klamath County Park District took part of the old fort grounds for the establishment of a museum and the park dedicated it in August of 1973.

The Fort Klamath Museum was a replica of the old guard house and it held the original chair that Captain Jack sat on during his trial, officer’s desks and hospital tables, as well as wagons and a diorama of the fort.

According to the Herald and News, on October 16, 2001, Fort Klamath Museum fell victim to an all-consuming fire that destroyed the entire museum and its contents.

To date, the Fort Klamath Museum has been rebuilt at the same site, based on old photos of the fort and is open to the public.

Resources:

Legends of America – Fort Klamath

Oregon State Archives

Oregon Historical Records

1st 14th

Klamath County Oregon

Klamath County Museum

Klamath County Museum Newspaper Headlines – Hanged