December 11, 2008

Modoc War in Terminator

In the December 1 episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles--titled Self Made Man--Cameron the good robot (Summer Glau) is doing research in a library. She's making small talk with the librarian, a guy in a wheelchair, when she abrupt says this:CAMERON:  Do you have a history of California field artillery?

CAMERON:  I'm interested in the ancient muzzle-loading rifles used during the Modoc Indian War.

LIBRARIAN:  Uh, in the California room.
Hmm. The Modoc War occurred in 1872–73. I'm pretty sure "ancient muzzle-loading rifles" were ancient history by then. I'm less sure--but still willing to guess--that "field artillery" wasn't a big part of the weaponry used. This war consisted of skirmishes, attacks on camps, and pursuits on horseback. It wasn't like the Civil War where each sides lined up against the other and fired their cannons.

It seems this exchange was just an excuse to move the characters into a room with old Los Angeles photographs. Which the creators could've done in a million different ways. But still, they chose this way.

People have claimed that Summer Glau is part Native. Did the writers include the Modoc line as a sly wink to Summer Glau's fraction of Native blood? Did she come up with this line, perhaps ad-lib it, because of her Native awareness? I don't know, but it would be nice to think so.


Unknown said...

Hey, I know I'm coming to this late (I just ran into Summer Glau's line online right now), but PBS reports on the subject that "[t]he Yreka Union reported in March 1873 that the Modocs had 13 breech-loading rifles, four of them "needle" or Springfield rifles. They were said to have a number of muzzle-loading weapons."

I found the reference fascinating simply because it means someone involved with the acting or writing is interested in the Modoc War... based on the number of Google hits on "a history of california field artillery", I guess it sparked a larger interest as well.

Rob said...

I wouldn't totally trust an old newspaper, but perhaps the Modocs did have "ancient muzzle-loading rifles." If so, I stand corrected.

But I was right to think they were out of date by 1873. Here's what Wikipedia says on the subject:

As mentioned above, rifles were initially single-shot, muzzle-loading weapons. During the 18th century, breech-loading weapons were designed, which allowed the rifleman to reload while under cover, but defects in manufacturing and the difficulty in forming a reliable gas-tight seal prevented widespread adoption. During the 19th century, multi-shot repeating rifles using lever, pump or linear bolt actions became standard, further increasing the rate of fire and minimizing the fuss involved in loading a firearm.

During the American Civil War many breech loaders would be fielded. The Sharps rifle used a successful dropping block design. ... These held a significant advantage over muzzle-loaders. The improvements in breech-loaders had spelled the end of muzzle-loaders. To make use of the enormous number of war surplus muzzle-loaders, the Allin conversion Springfield was adopted in 1866.

Rob said...

I guess the Modocs used some of those surplus muzzle-loaders from the Civil War.

Assuming the writers dug up this fact the way you did, I'm impressed. They're trying to incorporate genuine Native information.

For more on subject, see Cabeza de Vaca in Terminator and Native Souls in Terminator.