California Joe, the Mysterious Plainsman


FROM Captain Reynolds down to the smallest child in the train, all were pleased with their camp, when daylight came to show them its natural strength of position.

The appearances of having scaled the bluff were all removed before dawn, so that any Injun's watchful eye that might be upon them, could not detect that any extraordinary efforts for caution and defense had been made by the emigrants, and during the day the hunters went off as far as they dared in pursuit of game.

Yet there was a feeling of anxiety resting upon all, for none knew what the night would bring forth.

One young hunter had detected afar off, over a roll of the prairie, a head peering at him, apparently, and he had noticed that it was a redskin and he reported it to Captain Reynolds, upon his return to camp; but this was all that was seen in the slightest degree suspicious.

As for Joe, he was nowhere visible during the day, but the captain had perfect confidence in the strange youth, and felt that he was somewhere about, and on the watch.

At last the shadows of night began to fall, the cattle were driven in to the corral of wagons, and nearly all the force set to work with a will, preparing for the work before them.

The wagons were ditched, so that they could not be easily moved, and dirt and boxes were piled against them as much as possible to shield the animals from the shots, and to prevent their breaking out of the inclosure in their fright, when the fight began.

Dummies representing human-beings were scattered here and there about the fires, having the appearance of man asleep, and the rope ladder being placed so that the trees kept the firelight from revealing it; the women and children were taken up to the bluff and placed in a secure retreat a few yards back in the timber.

By degrees the men, acting for the benefit of any watching red- skin eye that might be upon them, would throw themselves down upon the blanket beds about the fires and then crawl away in the darkness to gain the rope ladder leading to the bluff.

Reynolds and a few others lay longer, threw more wood upon the fire and retired to the few tents, to crawl out from the rear of them and seek safety upon the bluff.

Then not an eye, other than those of the smaller children, was closed in sleep.

The boys of twelve even had been brought forward to aid in the first volley, and so had a number of the women.

All the firearms -- and there was a large supply in the train -- had been laid along upon the edge of the bluff ready for use.

Soon all was as quiet as the grave in the camp and none would have believed but that peaceful slumber reigned supreme.

Slowly the hours dragged along, and then the watchers upon the bluff saw a dark form glide through the line of wagons into the inclosure. Then another and another, until several dogs, I aroused by their presence, and which none of the emigrants had thought to carry upon the bluff with them, began to bark furiously and to fly at the intruders.

Then arose a wild, thrilling war-cry, and a hundred savage throats answered it, as the redskins sent a cloud of arrows flying into the camp at the supposed sleepers and into the tents, and rushed forward to begin the red work for which they had come.

The burning fires showed their buckskin-clad forms, painted faces, and gaudily bedecked heads, and as they reached the first line of blankets, yelling like demons, Captain Reynolds shouted:

"All together! Fire!"

Two-score rifles were discharged as one weapon, almost, and full half as many red-skins dropped dead in their tracks.

Then the line of the bluff seemed to be on fire, so constant were the rattling of the emigrants' rifles and revolvers, and the women and boys reloading, there was kept up a continual discharge upon the surprised red-skins, who, meeting no foe to grapple with and falling by the dozen under the merciless bullets of the pale-faces, broke and ran at all quarters.

"You men follow me!" cried Captain Reynolds, as he descended the rope ladder and crossed the fallen tree-bridge to the camp.

Quickly he was obeyed, and dashing over the dead and dying Indians lying here and there, he gained the wagon line of breastworks and poured a hot fire upon their flying foes, who seemed utterly panic-stricken at the terrific punishment they had met with, where they had expected an easy victory, plenty of scalps and quantities of booty.

But afar off on the prairie was seen the flash of a rifle, then other flashes and reports, as though coming from revolvers, and then came to the ears of the emigrants a rumbling sound like distant thunder.

The flying red-skins heard it too, and there were wild yells of fury, that proved something had gone wrong, and the next instant, along the trail leading by the camp, dashed a large drove of mustangs, saddled and bridled, but riderless.

And in their rear rushed a snow-white steed, with a rider upon his back, hooting and yelling like mad as he sped along.

Away past the camp rushed the drove, and as, the single rider in their midst went by, he shouted:

"I'm Joe, and I've captured their whole outfit of ponies.

"Look sharp, for they may be back on you, and I'll return in a couple of days to guide you to Sunset Settlement."

And on he passed, out of sight, driving the mustangs at full speed, and having by his grand capture dismounted old Bad Blood and his entire band.

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