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Infernal Caverns Battleground, 1867 (No. 16 California Historical Landmark)

Historic Site or District
Infernal Caverns, located in the center of the photograph, is situated on a volcanic escarpment overlooking the valley floor. – Summit Envirosolutions

California Historical Landmarks Program

Historical Landmarks are sites, buildings, features, or events that are of statewide significance and have anthropological, cultural, military, political, architectural, economic, scientific or technical, religious, experimental, or other value. Historical Landmarks are eligible for registration if they meet at least one of the following criteria:

1) Is the first, last, only, or most significant of its type in the state or within a large geographic region

2) Is associated with an individual or group having a profound influence on the history of California

3) Is a prototype of, or an outstanding example of, a period, style, architectural movement or construction or is one of the more notable works or the best surviving work in a region of a pioneer architect, designer or master builder

California’s Landmark Program began in the late 1800s with the formation of the Landmarks Club and the California Historical Landmarks League. In 1931, the program became official when legislation charged the Department of Natural Resources—and later the California State Chamber of Commerce—with registering and marking buildings of historical interest or landmarks.

In 1948, Governor Earl Warren created the California Historical Landmarks Advisory Committee to increase the integrity and credibility of the program. Finally, this committee was changed to the California Historical Resources Commission in 1974. Information about registered landmarks numbered 770 onward is kept in the California Register of Historical Resources authoritative guide. Landmarks numbered 669 and below were registered prior to establishing specific standards, and may be added to the California Register when criteria for evaluating the properties are adopted.

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This is the site of one of the most famous Indian fights in California history. Here, a battle between 110 U.S. soldiers and a band of about 75 Paiute, 30 Pit, and a few Modoc Native American tribe members took place on September 26th and 27th in 1867. Armed with ammunition, Native Americans had been attacking white settlers throughout Southern Idaho, western Nevada and northeastern California for some time. U.S. General George Crook was sent west to quell the Native American uprisings. General Crook, accompanied by the 39th Mounted Infantry, tracked a group of Native Americans, including women and children, to a desolate spot on the California-Oregon border near modern-day Ferry Ranch. Here, before a seemingly impregnable fortress of caves and rocks, a pitched battle took place.

When Crook’s army attacked, fighting ensued into the night as Indians took refuge in the nearby caverns—named Infernal Caverns, or Hell Caves. At the end of this two day battle, 20 Native Americans were killed, including a number of women and children. Crook reportedly shot down the great Chief Sieto himself. On the third day, the remaining Native Americans escaped the caverns and fled, despite Crook's efforts to block cave entrances with boulders. Over a third of the command was killed or wounded in the battle; six soldiers were buried at the foot of the slope.

One Native American's account of the battle:

" So all the Indians were in the cave. Well my grandmother, and a few others, knew what the outlet was in the cave. So they went through with no lights or anything - they just knew the way. And the first day - well, they made it out - on top . . . After the third day [the soldiers] rolled a big rock in there. That rock's still there yet. They figured that the third day [the Indians] would go thirsty and be hungry and they'd starve them out - like that . . . So, [the soldiers] left [the Indians] there for dead because they covered that hole up. But there's an outlet that they didn't know about..."

The battleground of Infernal Caverns, where the old fortifications and six soldier grave stones can be seen, is located at Ferry Ranch on Co Rd 60 (6.5 miles NW of Likely).

The story of the Native Americans and early settlers of this area is further depicted at Fort Crook Museum.

Modoc County

Through Modoc County, the northeastern corner of the Sierra Nevada mountains, thousands of early emigrants traveled in search of newly discovered gold during the Gold Rush of the mid 1800s. Prior to settlement, this region was inhabited only by Paiute, Pit River (“Achumawi”), and Modoc Native American tribes. As settlers flocked to California, battles with the Modoc Native American tribe over territory and resources stained this area’s history in bloody conflict. The Modoc War (1872–1873), fought here, was the last of the Native American Wars to occur in California.

Time Period Represented

1867