California Joe, the Mysterious Plainsman


THE morning following their successful battle with the Indians, the emigrants were greatly elated over their victory, and yet most anxious for the future, as they knew not what was in store for them. Every trace of their foes, excepting those who lay dead in and about the camp, had disappeared.

But those who had fallen, and they lay from the camp-fires back to the wagon line: lay a ghastly reminders of the night's red work.

There were nearly half a hundred of them for them, for the emigrants had fired with true aim, and the red-skins had been massed together for a full minute, in the full blaze of the fires.

An arrow wound or two was all to report upon the side of the pale-faces, excepting a few stock killed by stray bullets, and injured in their fright and desperate efforts to escape.

"And all this we owe to that noble boy," said Captain Reynolds with feeling, and there was no dissenting voice, though many were anxious regarding his safety.

The dead braves were quickly buried on the river bank, and the camp placed in order, after which the works were strengthened to meet another attack, should one be intended.

The cattle were driven out upon the prairie to feed, and securely guarded against receiving a surprise, and those in camp looked to their arms, which had served them so well.

Thus the day passed away and Joe did not return.

But he had promised to do so, and none doubted that promise.

Night coming on, the women and children were taken upon the bluff once more, and the men nearly all stood guard.

Excepting the howl of a wolf upon the prairie no sound broke the stillness of the night, and dawn came once more, greatly to the relief of the emigrants.

But Joe came not with it, and all began to feel anxious about him.

"Do you think he intended coming back?" asked one.

"He promised to do so, and to guide us to the settlement, and if he is alive he will keep that promise," said Captain Reynolds firmly. Again the day was drawing to a close, and still Joe's promise had not been kept.

But suddenly a cry was heard from one of the men driving in the cattle:

"He is coming!"

All eyes looked across the prairie, and far off, just over a toll of the prairie, was visible a white horse and rider.

A shout of joy at once went up from every voice in camp at this joyful sight.

But almost instantly it was changed to cries of terror and a scene of excitement.



"To your posts-all!"

Such were the cries, as, following the horseman, were visible scores of other riders.

They were coming on at an easy pace, and heading directly for the camp. Quickly the women and children ascended to the bluff, and the fighting members of the train arranged themselves to resist attack.

"They are soldiers!"

This cry from one of the men quickly relieved all fears, and a closer look now revealed the fact that they were indeed not Indians, but gallant troopers.

It was just sunset as they rode up to the camp, and Captain Reynolds met the officer in command.

It was Van Dorn, the same officer who had Purchased from Joe the herd of Indian ponies.

"I am glad to see you, sir; and, as you may observe, we were prepared to give you a different welcome, believing you to be Indians. Dismount, please, with your men, slid accept the hospitalities of our camp," said Captain Reynolds pleasantly.

"Thank you, sir; I shall accept your invitation with pleasure, as it is camping-time.

"Let the men go into camp, Captain Stewart," said the commander, and dismounting, he continued:

I am Major Earl VanDorn,* sir, commander of Fort ----, and learning of the attack upon you, through a mysterious youngster, I went in pursuit of old Bad Blood and his dismounted warriors, and gave them a severe whipping."

"Yes, sir, we owe it to that mysterious boy-"


"Yes, Joe is what he calls himself, and we owe it to him that we were not all massacred," and Captain Reynolds gave Major Van Dorn the story of their being guided and warned by Joe.

"But who is he?" asked the major.

"I cannot tell you, sir, more than having heard our late guide speak of a mysterious horse and rider often seen back upon the trail, and whom they called the Forest Phantom."

"I, too, have heard camp-fire-yarns about such a person, and am glad to know that it turns out to be real flesh and blood. But you say the boy has not returned?"

"No, air, he has not, although he promised to do so, and to act as our guide on to the Sunset Settlement."

"I will give you an escort then, sir, for there are other bands of red-skins roving about. but I hope no harm has befallen the youth." Captain Reynolds then learned of the visit Joe had made to the fort, and that he had left there to return to the train.

"This looks bad, for the boy would not have broken his promise unless harm had befallen him," said Captain Reynolds.

But the night passed away, and under escort of the soldiers the train pulled out for its destination, for Joe had not returned.

"When I reach the fort I will put my best scouts upon his trail and search for the boy," was the major's remark to Captain Reynolds, as he left the train well, on its way to the settlement, and under a good guide to conduct it there.

[Back]*Afterward Major-General Earl Van Dorn of the late Confederate Army. He was shot by one of his staff- officers the third year of the Civil War. -THE AUTHOR
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