California Joe, the Mysterious Plainsman
THE sudden scampering of the frightened red-skins tickled Joe
immensely, and half in enjoyment of the fun, half to urge them on to
greater speed and not to stop, he set up a series of most unearthly
yells, as though to make the savages believe that they had invaded the
"If they only knew who I was, that the Injuns below on the river
call me a spook, this would help me tip-top, for I even am scared
myself," said Joe.
But to keep his foes still going Joe ran after them, yelling as
he went, and reaching the abrupt bend in the canyon found that they had
not tarried there.
But at the entrance of the ravine they had, and Joe discovered
that they had been reinforced by the entire band of hunters, who had
doubtless been sent for to hurry back.
They were building camp-fires, with evident intention to stop for
the remainder of the night, and here and there, in the fire-light, Joe
beheld knots of red-skins discussing the fearful sight they had
witnessed, and telling their comrades.
"They'll not come again until morning, and then they'll come with
a rush, or roll logs before 'em, which I can't shoot through.
"They have camped for business, and I've got to do something
mighty quick, if I wants to keep my hair, and I do."
Cautiously Joe left then his place of reconnaissance, and
proceeded back to the cavern, for he saw the utter impossibility of
getting out of the canyon.
One thing gave him hope, and that was the wind came through the
canyon, and the smoke from his fire had been blown back into it, and in
some way disappeared.
If it did this there must be another opening, and he must find
it. His blankets had dried by the heat of the fire, and he rolled them
up and strapped them up, with his other belongings, upon his back.
Securing his lariat, he left the mummy-like corpses where they
fell, lying in rows across, the cavern entrance, and then, with a torch
he manufactured, he set out upon his reconnaissance.
He followed the cloud of smoke through several winding
passageways, and discovered that the cavern was indeed a perfect charnel
house, or huge -tomb, for hundreds of bodies were there.
"Holy Smoke! hain't I scared," he said to himself, as he glanced
upon the grim lines of dead Indians, yet he did not certainly act as
though he were very much frightened.
After walking full a hundred yards, he came to a large chamber,
or rotunda, and here he halted, holding the torch over his head to have
a look around him.
"Whew! this is the high mucky muck of all, and it looks as if the
whole tribe had died sudden like and been buried here.
"Wonder if 'twas small-pox they had!
"If 'twas I'm in for it.
"Well, well! I've seen old Injuns and squaws, young Injuns and
pappooses Injuns along the sides, but this is where the high-toned bucks
"Guess they are all big warriors in here," and in spite of his
assumed fright, he glanced coolly around upon the scaffolds with their
weight of dead, and saw by the robes, necklaces, feathers, bonnets and
weapons that there the head men only had found burial, such, burial as
"I guess this must be where Kit Carson buries his dead Injuns,"
said Joe, and then he added grimly:
"I've started in putty well myself in the killin' line, and I may
have a graveyard as big as Kit's, when I get to be away in years.
"But if I don't get out of this, I'll have only a grave."
He saw that the smoke went up over his head, just where he was
standing, and a crevice was visible in the vaulted roof Placing his
torch some distance off he then returned and looked upward. To his
delight he saw the stars, and he knew that there was an opening there
large enough for him to pass through.
It seemed round, and about the size of a well, and could not be
less than a hundred feet to the top.
But how was he to get there? That he soon decided upon, for he
set to work building afire and soon had a bright blaze.
By its light he saw that there was a natural chimney-like opening
in the roof, and remembering the hight of the hill, he knew that it must
be many feet to the top.
Measuring the width with his eye, he saw that it was just wide
enough for him to reach each side, by stretching his legs far apart, and
his hands too.
I've been down a well and up again, and I guess, I can make it,
if the sides ain't smooth as glass," he said.
"Now to make something I can climb upon.
"Injuns, I'm sorry to disturb your rest, but I think more of
myself living than I do of you all dead.
"So here goes!"
He jerked one of the scaffolding poles out as he spoke, and with
a crash and heavy thuds, a score of dead bodies came down to, the rocky
Joe sprung aside to escape being buried, while he cried: "It's
raining corpses, hard."
But the bodies were not exactly what he was after, though he made
use of some of them for props for the poles.
Selecting three of the longest poles, he tied the tops together,
and then stood them up like Gipsy camp-sticks, the center being directly
in the opening in the vaulted roof, which they just reached.
The bodies at the base kept the poles from slipping, and throwing
aside the pack on his back, he climbed up one of the uprights as nimbly
as a cat could have done.
Standing on the tops, he glanced upward, and when his eyes became
accustomed to the darkness, he saw to his delight, that the well-like
opening continued about the same size all the way through, and that its
sides were so uneven and rough that he could manage to make his way to
the surface by stretching his feet and hands across it, and thus working
his way along.
Descending once more, he tied his lariat to his rifle and belt of
arms, and then attached to that a longer line, made from strips he cut
from the buffalo and bear robes he found with the dead warriors.
Two long lines he thus made, one for his weapons, the other for
his blankets and traps, and then he fastened them to his waist.
But he did not intend to help the red-skins find him, and about
the base of each pole he built a large pile which met in the center, so
that it would make one grand fire when he got ready to ignite it. Taking
some light sticks for kindling, he fastened them to his pack, and then
started upon his ascent of the poles, having divested himself of his
huge boots, as he knew he could not climb with them on.
Reaching the top of the poles, he spread himself so to speak,
across the well-like opening, and found that he could cling there.
"It's going to be a tough job," he said, realizing fully the
great strain it would be upon him, and that a false step would burl him
back to death.
He knew too, should his strength fail him, back he must fall.
But the Indians would visit upon him a worse fate, he well knew,
so up he started.
Slowly, first one hand, and then a foot, and so on he went.
The strain now begin to tell on him, and in places he had only
the rough rocky side for a footing or hold, instead of as in other
places a slight projection, and in each instance it took all his
strength to keep from falling.
The smoke too, came up about him, nearly blinding him, and that
with the foul air of the huge tomb were suffocating in the extreme.
But on he went, slowly, surely, the sweat dropping from him in
great beads, his feet and hands blistering, and the nails of his toes
tearing to the quick as he clung to the rough rocks.
Nearer and nearer the top he drew, and yet the way seemed
interminable. No resting-place, his muscles strained raw sore, his
blistered hands and feet wearing and bloody, and his weight seeming to
be hundreds of pounds.
But Joe had a will of iron, and a nerve not to be subdued, and
with shut teeth, and blinded eyes, for the smoke made it impossible for
him to see, he struggled on upward.
At last he put his hand out as usual, and he nearly fell, for it
met no resistance.
Quickly he felt around him, and knew that he was at the top.
Then he made a violent effort and drew himself over the ledge.
He was safe, but so worn out that he could not move, and lay
where he had dragged himself.
He was so blinded that he could not see; but he was content to
The cool air soon revived him, the smokeblinded eyes were soon
able to look about, and he found himself upon a high ridge, overgrown
with dwarfed trees.
The stars were shining brightly, and the air was chill, after his
experience in the cavern.
But he shook himself together, and seizing the line that was
fastened to his arms, lay down upon the rock and glanced below.
The foul air and smoke almost stifled him, and he wondered how he
could have lived through it.
Slowly he drew on the line and up came his weapons to the top.
He could hardly repress a shout of joy when he grasped them.
Then the blanket-pack was drawn up, and laid beside the rifle,
and Joe gathered the faggots, which were like tinder, lighted them, and
lowered them quickly to the pile below.
Instantly they blazed up, and a hot roaring fire was the result.
"Rather, hard on the dead Injuns, I guess," he said, with some
sympathy for those in the tomb.
Ever and anon he looked down, and saw that the fire was creeping
up the poles and, that they would soon be consumed, and all below
present no appearance how an escape had been made from the cavern.
Joe was foot-sore, weary, in fact utterly worn out but he felt it
incumbent upon him to place as much distance as possible between him and
his foes by morning, so he drew on his over-large boots, wincing with
the pain it gave him and then started upon his way.
But each step was agony to him and at last he knew he must rest,
be the consequences what they might to him.