California Joe, the Mysterious Plainsman

CHAPTER XXI.
CALIFORNIA JOE.

In the same mysterious way in which he had before disappeared for several years, Joe again was lost sight of, after his departure from the outpost, the night of his capture of Bowie Bob and his gang.

There were stories told of a white man living among the Indians, and some of the soldiers set this down as Joe.

Old trappers were wont to spin tales about a Hermit who lived in the Rocky Mountains, and the description of him tallied so well with what Joe was that many believed that it must be he.

Again, reports were circulated among the frontier of the doings of a man who went by the euphonious title of "California Joe."

It was said that he had guided one of the first parties of miners into what is now the Golden State, and had shown them localities where gold was to be found in a way that proved that he must have been there before, though he would never tell any of his comrades whether such was the case or not.

It was stated also that this Gold Guide had been named California Joe, and that he had few equals in strength, was a most desperate man in a fight, and could throw a bullet in the exact spot he meant it to go. Those who told camp-fire yarns about the mysterious man said he bore innumerable scars upon his body, legs and arms, but that his face was very handsome and unmarred.

One of the scouts who had been at the fort, and afterward the outpost when he was at them, was seized with the "gold fever," and made his way to California in company with several others.

Hearing of a mining camp in the mountains, where "dust" was panning out well, they sought its vicinity, and arrived just in time to witness a very exciting scene.

It seems that a man had been shot in his "find" the day before, and his brother, a mere boy, knowing who his murderer was, had avenged his death.

The murderer happened to be the leader of a desperate lot, and they at once swore to avenge their chief, and marched in force to the cabin of his slayer.

He had heard of their coming, and stood boldly at his door, his pistols in hand.

"We've come to hang ye, youngster, an' yer mou't as well drop them wepins," said one.

"I will defend my life, so I warn you off", was the firm reply.

"Come, boys, let's run on him, fer 'twon't do ter cheat ourselves out o' ther fun o' hangin' him by shootin' him."

This advice was about to be followed, when a man suddenly stepped between the youth and his foes.

"Waal?" said the leader, savagely.

"Waal?" echoed the man.

"What does yer mean?"

"I means his biz yer means ter hurt thet boy," was the cool reply.

"Waal, we intends ter bang him."

"I guesses not."

"Yer does?"

"I does far sartin."

"Does yer mean ter go agin' us?"

"I means that boy is not ter be hurted, Tom Jones.

"Yer pard kilt his brother, an' ther boy shouted back in squar' fight, an' now yer says hang him, an' I says no."

"Waal, we'll do it, ef we hes ter kill yer ter git ter him," was the stern response.

"I guess not."

With these words the man whipped out two revolvers in the twinkling of an eye, and covered the crowd.

Some one fired, who no one knew, and that set the ball going, and in six seconds a score of shots were fired, and several men lay dead in their tracks, and the and the youth be defended stood in the door of the cabin unhurt, while their assailants had fallen back before an aim that never failed.

Such was the scene that the scout and his pards witnessed as they entered the mining camp, and one asked:

"Who are that terror on legs, pard?"

"Thar pilgrim what made that cold meat just now? inquired the one addressed.

"Yes."

"They was durned fools ter push him ter it."

"But who are he?"

"Ther squarest man in this heur camp.

"Ther man who guided ther boys ter find ther dust heur, an' don't car' a durn fer diggin' it hisself."

"But what are his name?"

"Waal, yer hes ter ax me suthin' more easier, pard stranger."

"Don't he hev no name?"

"Yas, I hes heerd o' him, an' knows him," and the scout who had turned miner went up and renewed his acquaintance with Joe, who greeted him most cordially, and added:

"I is glad ter see yer ag'in, on' ther boys will give yer a blow- out ter-night, an' it are a pity them fellers was sich durned fools fer they'll miss a good time," and those he referred to as the ones who would "miss a good time" were the men he had killed only a few minutes before in defending his young pard.

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