For the entire 52-week account of Dr. Nemeth’s time on Jeju Island as a Peace Corps volunteer in the early 1970s, you can download his new e-book free of charge. JejuWorldWide would like to thank Dr. Nemeth again for his generous contribution. — Ed.

Click here for Part 1 — Ed.

Heroic Strongholds, Old Schonchin Butte and the Modoc Indian War

“This looks familiar” I said to myself on my first hike into the rugged interior of Jeju Island in the spring of 1973.

My destination was the steep-sided Sangumburi Crater, said to be unique. I had been told (by unreliable sources as I later discovered) that there were government plans underway to create a sort of “wilderness zoo” inside the crater.

My sources claimed or implied that were I to hike out to Sangumburi on a Saturday morning, I would arrive to discover a perfectly-round crater, spectacularly deep and wide, having interior cliffs so steep that perhaps only mountain goats could successfully negotiate the climb from crater lip to floor and back. The flora inside Sangumburi was said to be lush; a “subtropical jungle where snowflakes never fell.”

Hearing more of this astonishing tourism development scheme, I couldn’t wait to get to Sangumburi crater and assess the potential of the unprecedented project firsthand: The government’s plan writ large entailed all sorts of medium-to-large wild beasts being brought live from around the world (but mainly from Africa). These exotic species would be carefully lowered into the vast Sangumburi crater using winches, chains and pulleys, once there to be set free to act according to their instincts: to fight, to flee, whatever. Intent on self-preservation, they would no doubt be totally oblivious to those thousands of tourists who would be observing them from afar and above on a daily basis.

In Jeju Island’s Lost World Wilderness Park the beasts from abroad would ideally go about their daily lives playing out real predator and prey scenarios for the amusement/entertainment of paying customers amassed at the crater rim. Who could resist the urge to peer down at a Darwinian spectacle constantly unfolding at a safe distance inside of Nature’s own volcanic gladiator stadium?

Humans stationed around the rim would drop baek won jjari (100 won coins) into 360 degree pay-to-view large, shiny telescopes on swivels. Once paid they would have a 60-second opportunity to visually experience natural mayhem while at the same time hearing the rule of tooth and claw roaring, howling and screaming away amidst the foliage within the bloody pit.

Unfortunately I never made it to Sangumburi on that Saturday morning back in 1973. I discovered about halfway there that it was too far a destination for a day hike. I was well past Manjang Cave and headed inland across the northeastern flanks of Hallasan when I gave up and reversed my course. Along the way I did experience some of the ups and downs of a few of the volcanic cones (oreum) there. It was while doing so that I fondly recalled having had experienced their same kind of geology similarly close at hand and underfoot before, as a younger man, when camping out in the American West.

On Jeju Island these “hills” known to be of volcanic origins are called “oreum.” In the American West — and especially in its northwestern-most extents — the same sort of hills are called “buttes” in the local vernacular.

The butte I came to know best out West as a youngster is named “Old Schonchin’s Butte” or simply as “Schonchin’s Butte.” It is a prominent peak within northern California’s Lava Beds National Monument.

Where volcanic terrain and human history converge, I have now come to learn over a lifetime of study that these cinder cone landscapes — for example, Old Schonchin Butte in California and Darangshi Oreum on Jeju Island — more often than not embody a remarkable class of storied humanized landscapes I have come to call “heroic strongholds.” They are spirited places that speak to avid listeners of human strengths and weaknesses, heroics and betrayals, depravations and valor, corruption and camaraderie. As we know, it all depends on who is telling the story that determines which of the combatants get to enter the pantheon of heroes and which must instead wander in silence eternally as unstoried, forgotten, or misrepresented angry ghosts.

I will write briefly here about heroic strongholds, about Old Schonchin Butte and about the Modoc Indian War (1872-1873). My story applies to Jeju Island’s volcanic terrain and associated history mainly by analogy. I will leave it to Jeju World Wide readers to connect the appropriate dots I insert here and there into my storyboard that might reveal significance of my story as analogy.

“Old” Schonchin Butte, Lava Beds National Monument, in north-eastern California, site of the Modoc War. Photo courtesy David Nemeth

“Old” Schonchin Butte, Lava Beds National Monument, in north-eastern California, site of the Modoc War. Photo courtesy David Nemeth

Old Schonchin Butte began to appear on maps following the notorious Modoc Indian War, which reached its climax in April of 1873, or, 100 years exactly prior to my arrival to Jeju Island as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Captain Jack, War Chief at the height of the Modoc War, here portrayed by Charles Bronson in the film "Drum Beat" (1954). Warner Bros

Captain Jack, War Chief at the height of the Modoc War, here portrayed by Charles Bronson in the film “Drum Beat” (1954). Warner Bros

I believe that I would never have passed muster to enter Peace Corps if I did not have my many years experience as a Boy Scout on my resume. Some complex algorithm in Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington D.C., predicted that “successful” Peace Corps Volunteers in the early years of Peace Corps (founded 1961) quite often are ex-Scouts (both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts). Ironically, the same algorithm indicates that ex-Scouts quite often make good military recruits. Go figure.

Anyway, it was during my early Boy Scout experience, perhaps 1956, that the boys in my troop drove north and camped out for a few days and nights in the Lava Beds National Monument located in isolated northeastern California. While there we climbed Old Schonchin Butte and looked out over the Modoc War Chief Captain Jack’s “Stronghold.” Later we visited “Captain Jack’s Cave” in the heart of Jack’s Stronghold where the last days of the Modoc Indian War played out.

Captain Jack’s Cave within Captain Jack’s Stronghold, Lava Beds National Monument. Photo courtesy David Nemeth

Captain Jack’s Cave within Captain Jack’s Stronghold, Lava Beds National Monument. Photo courtesy David Nemeth

In the next installment I’ll explain what I learned about that terrain and its history from the park rangers and from experts sitting around the campfires during that visit.


Next week: Hollywood does Captain Jack