Toby Riddle

From New World Encyclopedia

Toby Riddle

Toby "Winema" Riddle (ca 1846-1920) was a Modoc interpreter who played a significant role during the Modoc War of 1872-1873. Born near southern Oregon's Link River in the late 1840s, she was a cousin of the famed war chief Kintpuash. In her late teens she married Frank Riddle, a white settler, who had emigrated from Kentucky to California during the Gold Rush era. Though initially shunned by her family and tribe for such an act, Riddle was eventually accepted into the family. Winema's grasp of the English language, as well as her spirit of peacemaking, earned her an essential role during the American campaign against the Modocs.

After learning of a Modoc plot to assassinate a group of government commissioners, she informed them in an attempt to save their lives. Her warning went unheeded and General Edward Canby was killed. She successfully intervened, however, and saved the life of commissioner Alfred Meacham.

Following the Modoc War, she and her husband traveled throughout the United States in order to bring awareness to the plight of the Native American. When these travels were completed, she and her husband and son returned to the Klamath Reservation where they lived out their lives. Her son became a councilman and judge for the Modocs living in Oregon.

Several regional landmarks are named "Winema" after Riddle, including the Winema National Forest. Winema Riddle was one of the last remaining Modoc War participants, and one of the first American women to be distinguished by a congressional act for her actions in time of war.

Kaitchkona Winema

Toby Riddle was born Kaitchkona Winema, a member of the Modoc Native American tribe. She was born near southern Oregon's Link River in the late 1840s. Her father was the Modoc, Secot, but her mother's name is unknown. Toby was known to be related to the famous warrior chief, Kintpuash. Though some sources site him as a brother, most site him as a cousin.

She was called Kaitchkona at birth, though as she grew she earned the name "Nonooktowa," which loosely translates as "Strange Child." This name was given to her due to her adventurous exploits in things deemed masculine, such as hunting grizzly bears and fighting in battle. [1] It is reported that as a 14-year-old she led a defensive victory when a surprise attack was issued by a rival tribe. [2]

As a young teen she safely guided a canoe full of children through swiftly flowing rapids, saving their lives. This earned her the name "Winema," which translates into "woman chief." [3]

Toby Riddle

Toby Riddle standing between an Indian agent and her husband Frank (on her left) with other Modoc women in 1873.

Frank Riddle was a white miner from Kentucky who came to the West Coast in 1850 seeking his fortune in the gold fields. In her late teens, Winema met and fell in love with Frank. Defying both the Modoc tradition and her father, who had selected a husband for his daughter, Winema married Riddle. Following her marriage she became known as Toby Riddle, not only to the white community but among the native people as well.

Winema was shunned for a time by both her tribe and her family. However, her husband sought to mend this rift by gaining the acceptance of her family. He learned the obligations of a Modoc groom and fulfilled them by giving several horses to his new father-in-law. In return, her family gave gifts to Frank to welcome him as Winema's husband. The couple settled near her family in the Lost River area in California after their marriage. [3]

Frank and Toby had bonds with both the Modocs and the "white world." Toby's grasp of the English language and her understanding of the white man's world allowed her to act in the capacity of both interpreter and mediator.

Red and White conflict

The Modoc and Klamath were neighboring tribes in the Cascade Range of what is now southern Oregon and northern California. Plateau tribes, they shared a common Penutian language. [4] The Modoc and Klamath, though related, were individual tribes who lived separately within their own villages and had their own customs. Neighbors, they would ally for war. There was some intermarriage between members of these two groups.

As the United States expanded westward, the government pressured the two tribes to give up their traditional territory and move to a reservation near Upper Klamath Lake. This land had traditionally been Klamath land, and the Modoc were viewed as intruders. [4]

This is the environment and situation into which Winema was born in the 1840s. It was one of the most pivotal eras in the history of the Pacific Coast Indians. Not only was the westward expansion under way, the Gold Rush made the rush for land tense and dramatic times for the Native peoples.

In 1852, an emigrant party headed for California was attacked. Evidence pointed to this being perpetrated by southern neighbors of the Modocs, the Pit River Indian tribe. A volunteer regiment from Yreka led by Ben Wright decided to seek vengeance. However, they did not distinguish between the Pit Rivers and the Modocs, and slaughtered a Modoc village of about 40 inhabitants. [3]

Toby Riddle had family members in this village, including Kintpuash, who saw his father killed before his eyes. The two responded differently to this massacre: Kintpuash gained a deep hostility, while Toby-Winema gained a resolve to find a path that would lead to peace.

The Modoc War

The American campaign against the Modocs took place from 1869-1873, and resulted in the Modoc War (also known as the Lava Beds War) in 1872-1873. The Modocs, as nearly every other tribe of Native Americans, were pushed onto Indian reservations as more and more immigrants arrived in America, eventually pushing the burgeoning population westward. The Modocs were forcibly settled with the Klamath tribe onto land that had traditionally belonged to the Klamaths. The resulting tensions caused the Modoc to request a move to a different area, a request which the government was slow to respond to.

In 1862 Commissioner of Indian Affairs William P. Dole reported:

All, or nearly so, of the fertile valleys were seized; the mountain gulches and ravines were filled with miners; and without the slightest recognition of the Indians' rights, they were dispossessed of their homes, their hunting grounds, their fisheries, and, to a great extent, of the production of the earth. [3]

The Modoc were a small band—already reduced in size by warfare and disease—who simply wanted to live in their own homeland. They had not originally been a warlike people and were content to live in peace. This began to change as their experiences with reservation life and the encroaching white settlers became more and more unbearable. The tribe's life had become unpredictable, moved from one place to another by the Indian Commissioner while being continuously harassed by the Klamaths.

Many of the Modocs left the reservation for the last time in the spring of 1870, led by Kintpuash (by now known as "Captain Jack") and returned to their old lands. Captain Jack and his band of about 120 warriors retreated to a naturally fortified area in the Lava Beds east of Mount Shasta. They were forced into the open only when their source of water was cut off, after nearly 6 months of refuge in the area. It was during this time that Brig. Gen. Edward R. S. Canby, commander of the Department of the Pacific was killed by Kintpuash. [5]

Toby Riddle's role

In 1869 President Ulysses S. Grant re-organized the U.S. "Indian Policy," removing military supervision on the reservations and replacing it with church leadership. In accordance with this policy, Alfred Meacham, a Methodist minister, became Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon that year. For several years, Meacham worked with Toby Riddle and several leaders in an effort to bring a resolution to the tribe's problems.

He proposed the creation of a subagency at Camp Yainax on the southern border of the Klamath reservation. In his annual report he "recommended the establishment of the band on a reservation to be set apart for them near their old home where they could be subjected to governmental control and receive their share of the benefits of the treaty." [3] Though it was generally agreed Meacham's suggestion would likely bring a resolution to the problem, no action was taken.

With Kintpuash's band entrenched in the Lava Beds, negotiation was not easy. Though Frank and Toby Riddle had remained in California during much of the conflict, Winema was called upon. She took on the task of being a runner and messenger.

President Grant had decided to act upon Meacham's original suggestion of several years earlier to give the Modoc their own reservation, separate from the Klamath. For this, he needed to bring the renegade band to the negotiating table. In March of 1873, a committee was formed consisting of Alfred Meacham, Leroy Dyar, Rev. Eleazar Thomas, Gen. Edward R.S. Canby, and Winema and Frank Riddle. [3] Their responsibility was to convince the Lava Bed Modocs to return and set up a new reservation.

For several months Winema traveled through the Lava Beds carrying messages back and forth. She had several advantages to offer this mission that no one else had: in addition to her language skills and ability to act as interpreter, the presence of a woman signified peaceful intentions. As a relative of Kintpuash, she was afforded protection. Though there were more hostile tribal members who threatened her, her cousin ensured her safety. When no final agreements were settled upon using this method, it was decided a face-to-face meeting must be arranged.

As Winema was leaving the Lava Beds in early April of 1873, she was followed by one of Kintpuash' men, who informed her of a plot to kill the peace commissioners during the face-to-face which was scheduled for April 11—Good Friday. Winema relayed this information to Canby and Meacham and urged them to forego the meeting. However, they failed to heed her warning and went on with the meeting as planned.

Though Kintpuash had been pressured into killing the commissioners, he tried one final time to negotiate more favorable terms for his tribe. However, it soon became clear that the commissioners were not willing to negotiate and simply wanted the Modocs to surrender. As the meeting became more heated, Winema attempted to intervene and settle things peacefully. From the Modoc's point of view they had no choice but to go forward with their original plan of assault and they opened fire on the commissioners.

In the skirmish, Canby and Thomas died, while Dyar and Frank Riddle escaped, and Meacham was severely wounded. As a warrior descended upon his wounded body to scalp him, Winema intervened. Shouting that soldiers were coming, they left Meacham's body and he was taken to safety. The killing of the peace commissioners made national and international news. For the Modocs it meant two more months of fighting and eventual surrender as the army closed in. [3]


Did you know?
Toby Winema Riddle, one of few Native American women to be so honored, received a military pension by congressional act acknowledging her role as a key participant and mediator during peace and war

A number of Modocs escaped, and the final holdouts—Kintpuash's group—were forced to surrender on June 1, 1873. A hasty trial was convened. At this, Frank and Winema were called to testify. In addition to giving facts of the killings of the commissioners, Toby Riddle attempted to explain the Modoc viewpoint in hopes of leniency. Nevertheless, four of the defendants received death sentences; Kintpuash, Schonchin John, Boston Charley, and Black Jim. They were hanged on October 3, 1873. The remaining members of those who had occupied the Lava Beds were removed to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma).

Winema and Frank decided to bring attention to the Modoc's plight in hopes of preventing such tragedy befalling other tribes. Encouraged by Meacham, they embarked on a lecture circuit throughout the United States. Because of lack of funds, compounded by Winema's homesickness, this endeavor did not last long. Eventually they returned to the Klamath Reservation, where both lived out the remainder of their lives.

Meacham's gratitude to Winema for saving his life, as well as his strong admiration for her courage throughout the ordeal, prompted him to petition Congress to grant her a military pension. By a special act of Congress, pension certificate number 565101 was issued to Winema Riddle. The act noted that the pension of "$25 per month" was granted "for service rendered Commission to the Modoc Indians." [3]

Death and legacy

Toby Winema Riddle died of influenza in 1920. She was one of the last remaining Modoc War participants, and one of the first American women to be distinguished by a congressional act for her actions in time of war.

Riddle is noted for her courageous actions throughout her life; daring stories of her childhood, her defiance in marrying a white man, her important role as interpreter, mediator and peacemaker. She instilled in her son Jeff the qualities of mediation in leadership. He became a councilman and judge for the Modocs living in Oregon.

In 1954, the federal government terminated its relationship with the inhabitants of the Klamath reservation. The land was sold, with the proceeds going to former residents. Most of the land was incorporated into the Winema National Forest. The Modoc and Klamath people regained federal recognition in 1986, but they did not regain their former reservation lands. [4] This forest in south central Oregon is named for Toby Winema Riddle.


  1. Rhodes Educational Publications. 2005. Winema (ca. 1848-1932) Retrieved May 3, 2008.
  2. Harvey Markowitz, and Carole A. Barrett. 2005. American Indian biographies. (Magill's choice. Pasadena, Calif: Salem Press). 549
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Rebecca Bales. 2005. Winema and the Modoc War: One Woman's Struggle for Peace. Prologue Magazine. Retrieved April 30, 2008.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2008. Modoc and Klamath.
  5. The U.S. Army Center of Military History. October 3, 2003. Named Campaigns - Indian Wars.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Chartier, JoAnn, and Chris Enss. She wore a yellow ribbon: women soldiers and patriots of the western frontier. Guilford, CT: TwoDot, 2004. ISBN 9780762726011
  • Drennen, Nancy, James T. Rock and Micahel Hendrix. Women of Siskeyou County. Yreka, CA: Siskeyou County Historical Society, 2001.
  • Markowitz, Harvey, and Carole A. Barrett. American Indian biographies. Magill's choice. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press, 2005. ISBN 9781587652332
  • Meacham, Alfred. Wi-ne-ma (The Woman-Chief) and Her People. Hartford, CT: American Publishing Company, 1876.
  • Murray, Keith A. The Modocs and Their War. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. 1976. ISBN 978-0806113319
  • Oregon Historical Society, Toby Winema Riddle, 2003. Retrieved May 3, 2008.
  • Quinn, Arthur. Hell With the Fire Out: A History of the Modoc War. Faber & Faber, 1998. ISBN 9780571199372
  • Riddle, Jeff C. History of the Modoc War. Saratoga, CA: Union Press, 1975. ISBN 978-0913522035
  • Sonneborn, Liz. A to Z of Native American women. Encyclopedia of women. New York, NY: Facts on File, 1998. ISBN 9780816035809
  • White, Julia. Kaitchkona Winema - Modoc Woman Spirit.

External links

All links retrieved April 30, 2023.


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