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.
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.