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Infernal Caverns
16-Infernal Caverns Battle (26).jpg
Row of soldiers' graves at the battle site, 2016
Location Near Likely, California
Official name: Infernal Caverns Battleground
Reference no. 16

Infernal Caverns is the site of an 1867 battle between U.S. armed forces and Shoshone, Paiute, and Pit River Indians. Infernal Caverns Battleground is California Historical Landmark No. 16.

Location

Infernal Caverns, also known as Hell Caves, is located 6.5 miles west of Likely, California, and 1 mile south of the Ferry Ranch in Modoc County, California. The Infernal Caverns Battleground was the site of one of the last Indian battles fought in California, on September 26–27, 1867.

History

United States Army General George Crook was sent west to quell Indian uprisings that had begun in 1848 when the Northern Paiutes and other tribes in what is now Northern California, Northern Nevada, and Southern Oregon, engaged in both offensive and defense battles protecting their homelands. The last incident that had brought U.S. Army action was when Indigenous soldiers killed 78 miners invading their lands who were en route to Colorado.

With the 39th Mounted Infantry, General Crook tracked the Native Americans south from Goose Lake (which lies on what is now the California-Oregon border), engaging them in a desolate spot named Infernal Caverns. The two-day battle began high in a canyon covered with giant boulders, rocky caverns, and hollow fumaroles caused by lava flows. Eight U.S. soldiers were killed. Six were buried at the site, and a seventh, Sgt. David Rustler, was transported by double mule travois to Camp Warner at Goose Lake, where he died a few days later. Lt. John Madigan, the only officer killed in the fight, was buried just outside the town of Alturas, California.

Memorial

Six white marble tombstones were erected by the U.S. government to mark the burial location for the soldiers. One additional tombstone was added in 1995 for Private Willoughby Sawyer, who also died in this battle and whose marker was missing. This historical omission was discovered by California historian Chris J. Wright.

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