Modoc War and Central America

Eadweard Muybridge Blacksmiths, two models, hammering an anvil. (Movements. Male) Plate 374 1887

The Modoc War, 1873

Towards the end of 1872, the U.S. Army was mobilised to northeast California against a band of Modoc Indians led by Kintpuash (more commonly known as Captain Jack). The conflict arose because the Modocs had abandoned the reservation to which they had been displaced, returning to their Tule Lake homeland. There they encountered friction from the white settlers. After hostilities began, the army was embarrassed by the protracted resistance it faced, particularly on the inhospitable lava beds with their uncharted caves and tunnels, in which about 60 Modocs withstood over 400 troops, of whom 40 were killed, and many wounded. The army commissioned Muybridge to photograph this difficult terrain and his images also served as useful propaganda. But by April 1873, when he arrived, negotiations with the Modocs had ended in the death of General Canby, and further reprisals against the Indians. Muybridge could only record those who had been caught up in the drama. Unable to photograph the Modocs themselves in action, he got members of the Warm Spring tribe to pose in their place. One of these Warm Spring Indians was a woman called Winema, also known as Toby, who attempted to pacify the Modocs as a go-between, relaying their concerns through her white husband.

Eadweard Muybridge Dancing (fancy) (Movements. Female). Plate 188 1887

Flora Muybridge and the Murder of Harry Larkyns

In May 1871 Muybridge married Flora Downs, a nineteen-year-old divorcee, over twenty years his junior, who worked as a photo retoucher. Three years later, she had a son, whom they christened Floredo Helios Muybridge. The paternity of the child was at first not in doubt, even though, while Muybridge was frequently away on assignments, Flora grew close to Harry Larkyns, a roguish theatre critic and another of California’s self-invented men. Muybridge’s suspicions were confirmed in October 1874, when he discovered a photograph of Floredo inscribed by his wife with the words ‘Little Harry’. Muybridge at once tracked down and shot Larkyns, killing him almost immediately. Because of Muybridge’s celebrity as a photographer, the murder trial that followed was a national sensation. In spite of compelling evidence against him, Muybridge’s lawyers pleaded justifiable homicide, suggesting he had reacted as any right-thinking husband would if betrayed by his wife. A jury of married men accordingly acquitted Muybridge. Soon afterwards he left for Central America to undertake a commission from the Pacific Mail Steamship Company. While he was away, Flora, who had sued for divorce after the shooting, died suddenly. Floredo was sent to an orphanage, and had little further contact with Muybridge.