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Modoc County, California
Map of California highlighting Modoc County
Location in the state of California
Map of the U.S. highlighting California
California's location in the U.S.
Founded 1874
Seat Alturas
 - Total
 - Land
 - Water

4,203 sq mi (10,886 km²)
3,944 sq mi (10,215 km²)
259 sq mi (671 km²), 6.17%
 - (2000)
 - Density

3/sq mi (1/km²)

Modoc County is a county located in the far northeast corner of the U.S. state of California, bounded by the state of Oregon to the north and the state of Nevada to the east. As of 2000, its population was 9,449. The county seat is Alturas, the county's only incorporated city. The county's official slogans include, "The last best place," and "Where the West still lives."

A large portion of Modoc County is federal reservations. A patchwork of overlapping government agencies form a significant part of the economy and provide services to this rural area. The federal presence includes the following agencies and departments: US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.


Modoc County was formed when Governor Newton Booth signed an Act of the California Legislature on February 17, 1874. Land for the county was taken from the eastern part of Siskiyou County.

The county derives its name from the Native American Modoc people, who lived at the Klamath River headwaters. One historian suggests that the word modoc means "the head of the river." Another states that the word is derived from the Klamath word moatakni meaning "southerners," i.e., the people living south of the Klamath tribe. The county was home to three major tribal groups, the Modoc, the Achumawi (or Pit River), and the Paiute. The Modoc were forcibly moved first to Oregon, and then to Oklahoma, while the Achumawi and Paiute were allowed to remain.

Captain Jack's Stronghold

Mule Deer in Modoc County

The Modoc War (or Lava Beds War) of 1872–73 brought worldwide recognition to Modoc during its protracted battles when over 500 of US Army soldiers were unable to overtake less than 55 Modoc warriors who hid themselves in the lava tubes that are now the Lava Beds National Monument. The War began after the American government made a pretense of purchasing the territory belonging to the Modoc people from the Klamath people, and forced the Modoc people to move to the Klamath Reservation in Oregon. Some Modoc people left the reservation, because the Klamath people made it clear that the Modoc were not welcome there. A companion of Captain Jack shot General Edward Canby at a peacemaking session, leading to the siege at Captain Jack's Stronghold. Native Americans were unfamiliar with siege warfare, and the Modoc surrendered only after they were weakened by starvation.

Settlement of the county began in earnest in the 1870s, with the timber, gold, agriculture, and railroad industries bringing most of the settlers into the area. The county was a crossroads for the Lassen Applegate Trail which brought settlers north from Nevada to the Oregon Trail and south to trails leading into California's central valley. Early settlers included the Dorris, Belli, Essex, Scherer, Trumbo, Flournoy, and Campbell families.

Several thousand acres just south of Newell served as the temporary exile for thousands of Japanese-American citizens during World War II at the Tule Lake War Relocation Center, a Japanese American internment camp. A historical marker still stands along California State Route 139 in Newell. Tule Lake was the largest of the "segregation camps." On November 8, 2005 Senator Dianne Feinstein called for the camp to be designated a National Historic Landmark.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 10,887 km² (4,203 sq mi). 10,215 km² (3,944 sq mi) of it is land and 672 km² (259 sq mi) of it (6.17%) is water.

There are 2.25 persons per sq mi, making this one of the most sparsely populated counties in California.

The county is very diverse geographically. The northwestern edge of the county is dominated by the Medicine Lake Highlands, the largest shield volcano on the U.S. West Coast. The Lava Beds National Monument lies partly within the northwest corner of the County. Also along the western edge of the county is the massive Glass Mountain lava flow. The southwestern corner of the county is a unique ecosystem of isolated hardwoods (oaks) and volcanic mountains with intermountain river valleys.

The northern half of the county is the Modoc Plateau, a 1 mile (1.6 km) high expanse of lava flows, cinder cones, juniper flats, pine forests, and seasonal lakes. Nearly 1 million acres (4,000 km²) of the Modoc National Forest lie on the plateau between the Medicine Lake Highlands in the west and the Warner Mountains in the east. The plateau supports large herds of mule deer (Odocoileus Hemionus), Rocky Mountain Elk (Cervus Canadensis), and pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra Americana). There are also several herds of wild horses on the plateau. The Clear Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Long Bell State Game Refuge are located on the plateau as well. The Lost River watershed drains the north part of the plateau, while southern watersheds either collect in basin reservoirs or flow into the large Big Sage Reservoir, which sits in the center of the county.

Below the rim of the Plateau is Big Valley in the extreme southwest corner of the county, and the large Warm Springs Valley that forms the bottom of the Pit River watershed that runs through the county. The north fork and south fork of the Pit River come together just south of Alturas. The River collects hundreds of other small creeks as it flows south towards Lake Shasta.

The eastern edge of the county is dominated by the Warner Mountain Range. The Pit River originates in this mountain range. Hundreds of alpine lakes dot the range, all of which are fed by snowmelt and natural springs. East of the Warner Range is Surprise Valley and the western edge of the Great Basin.

Hot Springs and lava caves are common to Modoc County. There are some geothermal energy resources available in the county, though their viability is highly variable.

Cities and towns[]

Adjacent Counties[]

Transportation Infrastructure[]

Major Highways[]

Public Transportation[]

The Sage Stage is a dial-a-ride service providing trips within Modoc County. It has also provided trips as far away as Klamath Falls and Reno.


There are general aviation airports near Alturas (Alturas Municipal Airport and California Pines Airport. Other airports include Cedarville Airport, Eagleville Airport, Fort Bidwell Airport, and Tulelake Municipal Airport.


As of the census2 of 2000, there were 9,449 people, 3,784 households, and 2,550 families residing in the county. The population density was 1/km² (2/sq mi). There were 4,807 housing units at an average density of 0/km² (1/sq mi). The racial makeup of the county was 85.94% White, 0.69% Black or African American, 4.21% American Indian, 0.61% Asian, 0.07% Pacific Islander, 5.69% from other races, and 2.78% from two or more races. 11.51% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. 13.9% were of American, 13.1% English, 12.2% Irish and 11.7% German ancestry according to Census 2000. 90.4% spoke English and 8.8% Spanish as their first language.

There were 3,784 households out of which 29.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 54.6% were married couples living together, 8.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.6% were non-families. 28.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.39 and the average family size was 2.91.

In the county the population was spread out with 25.6% under the age of 18, 5.7% from 18 to 24, 23.3% from 25 to 44, 27.7% from 45 to 64, and 17.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 42 years. For every 100 females there were 102.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 98.7 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $27,522, and the median income for a family was $35,978. Males had a median income of $30,538 versus $23,438 for females. The per capita income for the county was $17,285. About 16.4% of families and 21.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 29.7% of those under age 18 and 8.6% of those age 65 or over.

Modoc County has the lowest median household income of any county in California.

In 2005, the median home price reached $100,000 for the first time ever, over a 40% increase since 2000. Much of this can be traced to an influx of residents from other parts of the state, who find the housing bargains attractive. Some of these are retirees who have sold their houses for large profits in other parts of the state, using the proceeds to live on, while others are people who are able to telecommute. This sudden rise in housing prices become unaffordable for locals, who find themselves unable to purchase homes given their limited incomes.


Presidential election results
Year GOP DEM Others
2004 72.4% 3,235 25.7% 1,149 1.9% 83
2000 72.3% 2,969 23.0% 945 4.7% 193'
1996 53.1% 2,285 31.8% 1,368 15.1% 650
1992 39.0% 1,803 32.2% 1,489 28.8% 1,333
1988 62.7% 2,518 35.2% 1,416 2.1% 83
1984 69.5% 2,995 28.3% 1,219 2.2% 96
1980 64.5% 2,579 26.1% 1,046 9.4% 375
1976 51.2% 1,917 46.3% 1,733 2.5% 209
1972 58.5% 2,085 35.6% 1,271 5.9% 290
1968 52.4% 1,713 38.7% 1,264 8.9% 2,301
1964 41.3% 1,386 58.7% 1,972
1960 51.8% 1,839 47.6% 1,691 0.6% 20

Modoc is a strongly Republican county in Presidential and congressional elections. The last Democrat to win a majority in the county was Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Modoc is part of California's 4th congressional district, which is held by Republican John Doolittle. In the state legislature Modoc is in the 2nd Assembly district, which is held by Republican Doug La Malfa, and the 1st Senate district, which is held by Republican Dave Cox.

See also[]


Coordinates: 41°36′N 120°43′W / 41.60, -120.72

This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at Modoc County, California. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.