Hiking

Hike Hardin Butte – with a detour to Black Crater – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News

Photo by Lee Juillerat The trail to the battlefield lookout is easy to follow.

Photo by Lee Juillerat A hiker approaches the summit of Hardin Butte.

NATIONAL LAVA BEDS MONUMENT – Sometimes a familiar hike can be made refreshingly new.

A recent hike to Hardin Butte, a somewhat indescribable cinder cone in Lava Beds National Monument, was spiced up with the addition of a short detour through the county that led to the Battlefield Viewpoint of Thomas-Wright with a view of where army troops came under attack and many were killed during the Modoc War nearly 100 years ago.

And, to add an extra twist, while following the trail to the start of the hike, I took another detour to Black Crater, a spatter cone made up of black lava splattered in a wonderfully beautiful confusion of formations. irregular, rough and uneven.

The hike to Hardin Butte started from the battlefield parking lot. It’s about a quarter mile south along the main park road to an old, unsignposted road not shown on park maps. From there it is about two miles east to the base of Hardin Butte. And from there, it’s a do-it-yourself climb to the 4,469-foot summit of the cinder cone. From the summit ridge, views include the seemingly frozen lava fields of the Schonchin Lava Flow, Schonchin Butte to the south and, on sunny days, snow-capped Mount Shasta.

The cinder cone is named after Charles Hardin, who was an army soldier and later a corporal during the Modoc War. At that time it was known as Sand Butte. Warm Springs Indian scouts, working with the army, reported that the Modoc Indians who had left Captain Jack’s fortress were gathered near the cinder cone.

On April 26, 1893, a reconnaissance patrol led by Cpt. Evan Thomas and First Lieutenant Thomas Wright left Army Headquarters at Camp Gillems and headed to Sand Butte to determine the feasibility of moving artillery to the area. The patrol included five officers, an assistant surgeon, 59 enlisted soldiers, a civilian guide and a civilian packer. According to historical accounts, instead of keeping their distance from each other, Company E, 12th Infantry marched in column, forming a single mass of troops.

Twenty-four Modocs under Chief Modoc Scarfaced Charley followed the patrol. They watched and waited for the troops to reach a place surrounded by higher slopes and, because it was noon, stopped. Most of the soldiers were resting while others were assigned to guard duty. There are several versions of what happened, with some reports saying that when the troops halted “some took off their boots to ease their tired feet”. Some stories say that when the fighting started, several of the homeless ran barefoot across the lava fields to return to Camp Gillems.

The Modocs, hiding in the rocks above the troops, attacked when Thomas began leading soldiers up one of the mounds. When the Modocs started firing, Thomas led a counterattack but suffered heavy casualties. Thomas was among those killed.

Wright also died. According to “Modoc War: Its Military History & Topography,” by Erwin N. Thompson, “Wright was badly wounded on the way to the heights (the ridge above which they had rested) and his company, at a or two exceptions, deserted him and fled like a pack of sheep, then the slaughter began. According to an Army officer who helped recover the bodies of the dead and wounded, 20 enlisted men and the packer were killed while another 16 enlisted men were injured, many of them seriously.

According to Robert McNally’s “The Modoc War: A Story of Genocide at the Dawn of America’s Gilded Age,” as Wright lay dying, “the young officer buried his watch and said, ‘They won’t understand this,’ then stood up with his revolver on fire. Within seconds, rifle bullets ripped through Wright’s groin, right wrist and chest. He collapsed and died.

(Other Modoc War books include “Spirit in the Rock: The Fierce Battle for Modoc Homelands” by Jim Compton, “Modoc: The Tribe that Wouldn’t Die” by Cheewa James, “The Modocs and their War” by Keith Murray and Jeff Riddle’s “Indian History of the Modoc War.”)

One of the battlefield interpretive panels tells an often disputed story of Scarfaced Charley. As the panel recounts, “Scarfaced Charley stopped the battle, showing pity for the few surviving soldiers: ‘All the guys that aren’t dead better go home. We don’t want to kill you all in one day. Several historians, however, doubt that these words were spoken, with some speculating that an army survivor told the story to explain why he had deserted.

From the lookout it’s over a mile on a good trail to the parking lot. Shortly before the parking lot is a trail to the Black Crater, where a rough, rocky, sometimes difficult to follow trail leads to and around the large splash cone. Geologists say it was created relatively recently, about 3,000 years ago. Be prepared for difficult feet. On the way to Black Crater, an interpretive sign marks the location of a tree mold, where a living tree was burned by then-fresh lava, leaving an imprint of its bark inside the mold.

When you visit sites like the Thomas-Wright Battlefield, Hardin Butte, and Black Crater, you can break the mold and, with caution and common sense, explore. After all, when it comes to hiking to and from Hardin Butte, there are no hard and fast rules.

Contact freelance writer Lee Juillerat at [email protected] or 541-880-4139.