California Joe, the Mysterious Plainsman


A FEW moments' rest served to make Joe feel so much better that he decided to move on.

Shouldering his pack and rifle once more he did so.

But the effort was most painful and he soon came to a halt.

It was evident that some bright idea had flashed through his mind, for he stood am instant in deep thought.

Then he said:

"I guess I might as well ride, for them are a hundred ponies over yonder," and he nodded in the direction of the Indian camp which was about a mile from where he then stood.

Whether the pain was forgotten in the thought of carrying out his plot, he hardly knew himself; but he managed to hobble down the ridge, gain the valley and make round to the timber in front of the canyon, where he had so nearly lost his life.

He had been forced to rest several times, but he smiled grimly, when he came in sight of the camp-fires.

It was almost dawn he knew, and he was anxious to lose no time, as darkness was his only hope.

His knowledge of Indian life made him pitch at once upon the locality where they would be most likely to leave their ponies, and thither he went.

It was upon the side of a bill, where the grass was plenty, and not a hundred yards from the camp-fires, around which he could see groups of warriors squatted, some of them too anxious about what had been seen in the cavern to go to bed.

It was evident that they did not suspect danger, or believed that there were any foes near, other than the one, or those in the cavern, for they could not account for the several rapid shots fired, unless there were more men than Joe there.

Joe reconnoitered carefully, and he selected in his own mind just about where the Indian guards were stationed over the ponies.

He saw that the vale in which they were had steep sides, and narrowed toward a canyon which he knew led out upon the prairie some few miles beyond, for once before he had passed through that way.

The guards, therefore, would naturally be toward the canyon, as none were needed on the steep sides of the vale, or toward the camp.

"This helps me immense, and I guess if my legs hold out, I'll just revenge myself a little," he said in a whisper to himself.

Taking from his pack a buckskin bag of red paint, he smeared it over his face.

Then he drew out a war-bonnet of feathers, quite a gorgeous affair, and dropping a blanket about his shoulders, most cautiously began to go down the steep side of the hill.

He came near the first pony, and saw by him the saddle of packed meat. To what he needed he coolly helped himself.

Then he cut the lariat that held him to the stake and passed on to the next, repeating the same trick he had with the herd upon the prairie. The ponies did not know they were free, and in this was his safety.

From mustang to mustang he went, until he drew near the end of the herd, and he dared not go further, as he was aware the guards were near, asleep though they might be.

Then he crept back to the upper end, and saw that dawn would be upon him in less than half an hour.

Selecting the pony of the herd, which in the darkness suited him best, he put upon it the Indian saddle and bridle that was near, and mounting begun to slowly drive those that were nearest him down the valley toward the canyon.

Slowly they went at first, then in a trot, until feeling that the stampede was started, Joe whipped out his revolvers, uttered wild yells, and fired several shots. As one horse the freed mustangs sprung forward, and at once began a wild run.

Into their midst Joe rode, lying low upon the back of his horse, not to be seen by the Indian guards, and like the roll of thunder resounded the hoofs upon the hard ground.

In vain did the guards strive to check their advance, and turn them back, for they could not stem the mad current, and were forced to fly up the sides of the vale for their lives.

In wild alarm the camp arose behind the equine torrent, and fleet-footed braves rushed in pursuit.

But in vain, the stampede had begun well, and the stakes of those animals which Joe had not freed, were drawn up by the pressure, and the whole herd almost was set going.

Past the guards they swept, Joe in their midst, and lying low to escape an arrow if seen, and unseen by them, the red-skins could not understand the cause of the sudden stampede.

They had heard the few shots and terrific yells that set the herd going, and then no sound followed to betray the presence of an enemy. And away dashed the herd, with Joe in their rear, chuckling at his triumph and his revenge upon his foes.

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