Canby's Cross in Lava Beds National Monument marks the spot where fell the only general killed in the Indian Wars. A sign next to it explains that the cross is a replica of an original erected by a U.S. soldier in 1882.
Not leaving good enough alone, the sign continues:
"Although the inscription on the cross may elicit strong emotions in some modern visitors, it illuminates the point that people see events through the lens of their own culture and time. In 1873, what some Modocs considered a justifiable war tactic, the U.S. Army considered murder. No monument commemorates the places where Modocs may have felt their attempts to live peaceably were betrayed.
More than any other Modoc War site, Canby Cross represents the vast gulf between the perceptions of the two sides during wartime, and challenges us to look beyond history to the assumptions of our own cultures. As in all wars, there were no innocent parties in this conflict."Could the folks at the Park Service please just present the facts about the Modoc War and let us draw our own conclusions? I can't recall in any of my visits to a Civil War historical site being asked by the Park Service to look beyond history to the assumptions of my own culture.
(And, true, there are no monuments to the Modoc places, but there are plenty of sympathetic PBS documentaries.)
For those readers new to the Modoc War, here are a few facts. General Canby met the Modoc Indians under a flag of truce to discuss peace terms. The Modoc leader Captain Jack, spurred on by some in his group, drew a revolver and shot General Canby. The Modocs thought that by killing the leader of the enemy, the enemy would withdraw from the battlefield. The Modocs killed another peace commissioner, Reverend Eleazar Thomas, and wounded a third, before withdrawing to their stronghold in the Lava Beds.
Okay, I get it. From the Modoc viewpoint, killing General Canby would end the war. But they were wrong, terribly wrong. Their killing of General Canby totally deflated the peace argument touted by the liberals in the Northeast (have things changed so much from those days?) and put the war hawks in charge. The Modocs were now at the mercy of a very angry Federal Government. Things did not turn out well for them.
The Modoc War presents an incredible story, far too complex to detail here. It contains real villains on both sides, as well as heroes. People on both sides made terrible decisions. Innocents on both sides died. The vanquished suffered terribly. Had the very events of the Modoc War occurred in ancient Greece, perhaps we would be reading the history in a tragedy by Aeschylus. But instead, in these politically-correct times, we get the story from insipid words such as those on the sign next to Canby's Cross. This is the history we give our kids. Can any schoolchild be blamed for being bored out of their skull in history class?
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