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--A condemned man escapes hanging, gets away and sets out on a trail that will lead him to Alcatraz prison.
-Oregon, 1873. Michael Barncho is charged with the murder of an American General. He and his fellow conspirators, face a military tribunal at Fort Klamath. The Nation is crying out for revenge. Found guilty, the death sentence is a formality. Chained together, the condemned men are led to the gallows, but Barncho survives in the most bizarre fashion. However the hangrope appears a merciful alternative to the persecution he now faces. Dubbed ‘The Modoc Kid’ he is hunted, hated and feared. Fate leads him along a trail of ordeal and murder that will end with a life-sentence in the fog-bound hell-hole called Alcatraz, the notorious prison in San Francisco Harbour which is surrounded by shark-infested waters, treacherous currents and icy cold sea. -
I cannot recall my white parents; nor do I have any resentment against the Indians who perpetrated their deaths. I grew to manhood as a Modoc, respecting my new father and mother. They loved me as their own, never chastising me.
My step-mother was a midwife.
I was always with her, watching with the women who came to see each birth. My mother, forever wearing her basket hat, would instruct the infants’ fathers; it was often the practice that they should offer what assistance they could at the time of the delivery. Sometimes a shaman would also be present, wearing a special bear-claw necklace. He would sing a song and call upon such spirits as Buzzard, Owl and Eagle if the birthing proved difficult. I decided that if I were to be born a woman, I would rather not be born at all.
After a birth, no enquiry was made as to the sex of the child for that was considered impolite.
*** *** ***
I do not witness the death of Jack and the others. Slolux and I are returned to the guardhouse. But we hear the thunderous crack when the trap-door collapses beneath the condemned men. The Modocs watching from the stockade unleash an anguished, keening wail – a sound that rises high, probing into the deepest part of my soul. My heart feels like a captive bird, fluttering frantically. Later, a soldier tells me how the corpses of Jack and Black Jim swung easily, while Boston and John Schonchin were gripped by convulsions. Apparently the dogs at the foot of the scaffold remained asleep, undisturbed.
That night my mind is filled with nightmares although my eyes remain open. I am on the scaffold with Jack, a hood over my head, while the noose chokes me.
Next morning Slolux is in bad spirits. He babbles like the idiot he is. He tells me that he expected to die and it is a bad shock to him that he is still alive. I do not share his sentiments. He vomits, becomes ill. Shortly, he starts to cough. I am thankful that we are no longer shackled together. Only my wrists remain cuffed.
I feel cowed by what has happened. I experience the fear I should have known yesterday. Sometimes I pinch myself to make certain I am alive. I hear that the bodies of Jack and the others have been decapitated, that their heads will be shipped to Washington and used for what the white man calls ‘scientific research’. They seek to discover what makes Indians bad. I wonder what they would have found inside my head. The remains of the corpses are consigned to the graves and the earth is shovelled in. From within our cell, Slolux and I hear the clink of spades on the pebbly earth.
Before Jack died, his hair was shorn so the noose would fit properly. People are paying money for locks of his hair. They will keep them as souvenirs. Perhaps this is no worse than the ghoulishness of the corporal who kept General Canby’s false teeth after Jack had killed him.