As the fire had been intentionally placed a little distance from Joe’s feet, in order that he might first feel its discomforting heat, thereby prolonging the torture, he had time to yell vigorously, this being his only hope of rescue from sudden death, considering all the while a possibility of so provoking the Indians that they would kill him outright. 
Dime novel exploits, or historical facts?  With many of the Mountain Men of the late nineteenth century, fact and fiction blend together, forming a thrilling, if sometimes questionable history.  California Joe was a trapper, miner, scout and all-around tough guy at a time and place where surviving meant having a few stories to tell.
Taken from, Buel, J. W., "Heroes of the Plains." (St. Louis: N. D. Thompson & Co., 1881).  Edited by Gary M. Bohannon. 
Who was California Joe? This question many may consider themselves able to answer, but no one, perhaps, can distinguish between the California Joes who have figured in so many escapades attributed to this enigmatic character, for there has been more thati one person to adopt the title. Where was he born? No one will at¬ tempt to answer. The California Joe who hunted, trailed, fought and slept beside General Custer and Buffalo Bill is believed to have been a native of Kentucky. Buffalo Bill maintains that his real name was Joseph Milner, while Capt. Payne declares that his name was Joseph Hawkins, and, as a further proof of the claim, asserts that Joe was a distant relative of Daniel Boone, and also his (Payne’s) third cousin.
We are only able to say, therefore, that California Joe was singularly reticent concerning his early life, and died at last with his full identity unsolved. For what facts I here present concerning his life I am indebted to Buffalo Bill and Captain Payne, and it is this reason which has prompted me to respect the opinions of each by giving their assertions, not, however, with any desire to involve them in any further discussion concerning Joe’s real name. 
A few of Califonia Joe'sadventures will be described here, beginning with one that almost resulted in the early end of his life on the plains.
In the summer of 1849 a party of sixty-five hardy adventurers from Kentucky, with California Joe as their leader, attempted an overland journey to California, being impelled by the golden stories of newly discovered wealth along the San Juan. They proceeded without interruption for several weeks, when they reached a canon hear Pueblo. Here a camp was made just before nightfall, and as the party had never been initiated into the perils of Indian treachery, they did not consider the importance of anticipating and guarding against an attack from these prairie nomads. 
During the still hours of night, when the entire party was sound in slumber, perchance dreaming of vast treasures and the exaggerated blessings which wealth provides, a band of two hundred vindictive Cheyennes descended, likes wolves upon the fold, from the hillsides, and poured into the camp before there was even a suspicion of their proximity. Lance and arrow, tomahawk and war club, soon destroyed the bright dreams, the golden anticipations, and out of the party of sixty-five only two escaped, one of whom was California Joe, but even he was badly wounded. (Two persons who were well acquainted with Joe during his life assert that his wife and two little boys were killed at the same time.) 
In the darkness of the night Joe succeeded in eluding his attackers while they were mutilating and dancing over the bodies of his dead comrades, and crawling to the Arkansas River, one mile distant, embarked on a log, upon which he floated down to Ft. Lyon, where he was taken out of the water and cared for. 
Although this, his first experience on the plains, had been tempered with sore adventure, it was scarcely two months after this event when he again attempted the overland trip to California. He had with him this time but two companions, and having been chastened for his lack of precaution, he now fully appreciated the fruits of that lesson. A guard was therefore constantly maintained, but even this did not avail against what appeared a decree of bitter fate. 
The three were attacked by twenty-five Utahs, as they were passing through the gateway of the Rocky Mountains, and after a bitter struggle Joe’s comrades were killed and himself taken prisoner. The Indians bound him securely on a pony, after which they started off northward with their prisoner. The terrible forebodings which his helpless condition prompted as he rode silently beside his cruel captors, as Joe afterward expressed it, was “tearin’ to a sinner’s soul.” 
Just before dark the Indians halted in a valley beside Green River and then deliberately began to make preparations for punishing their victim. Joe was first taken from the pony he had been riding and laid upon the grass, where he was watched by a single warrior, while the others busied themselves gathering dry wood, which they piled in a circle about a tree. 
The fiendish intentions of his enemies were now revealed to Joe, for these preparations he knew meant death at the stake. Seeing that his life was to end in torture, he made a desperate effort to free himself, hoping that his actions would cause some of the Indians to kill him at once, but knowing their captive to be well bound his captors gave no heed to his writhings. 
When the circle of wood was completed and ready for lighting, the Utahs carried their victim to the tree, and despite his struggles, bound him fast, his back being drawn tightly against the trunk of the tree. The sacrifice now being prepared, one of the Indians, who was evidently a chief, drew a large knife, with which he cut off the outer rim of each of Joe’s ears, placing the bleeding flesh inside his beautifully beaded belt. 
When this part of the ceremony was concluded, the Indians executed a war dance around their victim, in order, no doubt, to torture him with the dread anticipation of his approaching fate. 
Darkness now had fairly settled down, as if to hide the dark and dreadful deed, and accepting this pall of nature as the most opportune time for their hellish design, the circle of wood was lighted in a dozen places, after which the Indians sat down around the fire, filled their pipes and entered upon the full enjoyment of the barbecue. 
As the fire had been intentionally placed a little distance from Joe’s feet, in order that he might first feel its discomforting heat, thereby prolonging the torture, he had time to yell vigorously, this being his only hope of rescue from sudden death, considering all the while a possibility of so provoking the Indians that they would kill him outright. 
His lusty shouts, together with the illumination on the clouds from the fire about him, by extraordinary good fortune, attracted the attention of a party of trappers, who chanced to be camped on Green River, within less than half a mile from the place where Joe was being sacrificed. Knowing that something was wrong, the trappers, fifty in number, rushed down toward the spot indicated by the cries, and approaching carefully they discovered the situation. With a deadly volley from their rifles, twelve Indians dropped over dead with smoking pipes in their hands. Another volley followed swiftly after the first, and when the trappers rushed to the rescue of Joe they found eighteen Utahs fallen about. 
Poor fellow! the fire had wrinkled his buckskin clothes, and so burnt the skin on his lower limbs that large pieces fell off; though the pain he suffered was most excruciating, yet the injuries were not of a serious character. He was taken to the trappers’ camp and treated with all the consideration and kindness friends are capable of giving. Upon his recovery, some weeks after his wonderful escape from the most horrible of deaths, Joe became associated with the party in their occupation, and followed trapping for more than a year in the company of his rescuers. 
In another adventure in 1875, California Joe and Jack Corbin, his old partner, went to the Black Hills to try their luck in gold mining. They built a small cabin at a point where the indications were good, but after digging for some time without reaching pay dirt, they started another prospect hole about five miles further up the mountains. Here their work was prosecuted with much vigor and some profit. On one occasion Joe had gone back to the cabin for some blasting powder, all their heavy articles being stored at that place, leaving Corbin alone for the time being.
Upon his return, and when within a short distance of the prospect, Joe heard his partner shouting for help. He rushed forward with all possible speed, and just as he reached an opening commanding a view of the spot where the mine was being put down, he saw Corbin down upon one knee battling with a large, powerful Sioux Indian, whose knife was being uplifted for a fatal plunge. It was scarcely an instant, so quick, in fact, that the knife had not begun to descend, when Joe raised his rifle and sent a ball crashing through the warrior’s heart. 
Some weeks after this incident atiother move was made in search of better paying dirt, the next location being on the side of an adjacent mountain about the same distance (five miles) from their cabin. It was customary for the two miners to carry their provisions and cooking utensils with them on a small burro, so that they were not compelled to return to the cabin at the close of each day’s work, especially as the weather was so delightful as to permit a comfortable sleep on the ground, where, in fact, it was cooler, and therefore more pleasant, than down in the valley where their cabin was situated. 
Corbin was sent over to Custer City after new supplies, shortly after their last location was made, and during his absence California Joe, being unable to work in the pit without assistance, concluded to-prospect over the adjoining district, entertaining a hope that he might make some great discovery by which to surprise Corbin on his return. So, packing his patient little burro, he set out up the mountain side, carrying his rifle and pistol with him. After searching for some time he found what appeared to be excellent surface indications of gold, and here he tied his little pack animal and began to work with his pick. 
In working around over the various places he left his gun lying on the ground some distance from him. Pretty soon his attention was attracted by a voice and sound which immediately apprised him of an Indian’s presence. Joe quickly grasped his pistol, but before turning round looked over his shoulder and saw an Indian holding his own (Joe’s) gun, and looking at him with a very demure countenance, while some distance in the background were two others watching the proceedings. Knowing with what dread the Indians regarded him, Joe spoke out: "California Joe. Come on fight!" 
By this time Joe had his pistol presented, while the Indian, profoundly astonished at meeting an adversary of such known powers, changed his demeanor, and advancing, proffered Joe his hand. Instead of attacking him as they had intended, the Indians made many overtures of friendship, and returning Joe’s gun, they soon afterward departed. The first Indian, who had crept up and secured the gun, evidently believed that he could intimidate the owner, who was left with nothing but a pistol to fight three Indians; but the magic in the name of “California Joe” changed their purpose. 
This wonderful dread of one man, and of California Joe in particular, was illustrated before, in 1869, as will be found related in the life of Captain Payne, whose escape from a frightful death was due entirely to the belief entertained by a large body of Indians who had surrounded him and two others, that one of his comrades was California Joe. 
These are only a few of California Joe's exploits, and there were many.  The fact that he was a favorite character of the dime novelists, however, makes it as difficult to determine fact from fiction as it is to determine his true identity.
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