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Modoc warrior descendant concerned about vandalism at Lava Beds

Petroglyph Point, part of Lava Beds National Monument that features more than 5,000 carved petroglyphs, is an area of pride and concern for Blake Follis, a member of the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma's tribal council and the council's attorney.

"This is part of our history, our creation," Follis said during a stop at the petroglyphs during a Lava Beds tour Wednesday. Park officials estimate the carvings were done 4,000 to 6,000 years ago.

Follis led the group to a panel of rock images, where he focused on damage done by vandals inside a fenced area. "The fence here would surely have to be improved," he said.

In 2013, more than 50 petroglyphs were damaged at a nearby unfenced area. Only a portion of the petroglyphs are fenced. Security is a concern because Petroglyph Point is not connected to the main park. There are stiff federal fines for people convicted of doing damage to cultural sites, but patrols are limited.

Although Follis lives in Miami, Oklahoma, he has made several visits to Petroglyph Point and other areas of the park, including significant sites from the Modoc War of 1862-63. Follis, 32, is the great-great-great-grandson of Long Jim, the youngest warrior during the war. He's also the grandson of Chief Bill Follis, the tribal leader for the past 45 years.

Following the war, four tribal leaders, including Captain Jack, Schonchin John, Black Jim and Boston Charlie, were hanged at Fort Klamath. On Oct. 12, 1873, 155 Modoc prisoners of war — 42 men, 59 women and 54 children — left Fort Klamath and were taken by train to the Quapaw Indian Reservation in Oklahoma. After six years their population shrank to 99, and by 1891 to 68. In recent years — the Modoc Tribe in Oklahoma was granted federal recognition in 1978 — Follis said the number of enrollees has risen to 299.

Although he lives in Miami, Follis said the Lava Beds region is also "home."

"We're talking about a location my family fought and died for. The significance for me is to bring back my son and show him what and where we came from."

Since gaining tribal status, he said the Modoc Tribe is "looking for opportunities to invest in the region," culturally and historically, with a goal of returning to Lava Beds and the Tulelake Basin.

"In recent years we've been establishing a solid foundation to make this journey back. We don't want to convey an impression we're here to take over. We want to be a partner. ... We don't want to displace anybody like they displaced us."