California Joe (Jack Crawford Kind friends, I don't like stories; nor am I going to act A part around this campfire that ain't a truthful fact. So fill your pipes and listen; I'll tell you -- let me see I think it was in '50; from there till '53. You've all heard tell of Bridger? Well, I used to ride with him. And many's the long day's journey I've had 'longside of Jim; And back in old Fort Reno, a trapper used to dwell; We called him Mad Jack Reynolds; the scouts all knew him well. Now in the Spring of '50, we camped on the Powder River. We killed a calf of buffalo and cooked a slice of liver. While eating, quite contented, we heard three shots or four; Put out the fires and listened; we heard a dozen more. And we all knew old Jack Reynolds had moved his traps up here. So catching up our rifles and hitching up our gear, We moved as quick as lightning; to save was our desire. Too late; the painted heathens had set the house on fire. We turned our horses quickly and waded down the stream, And close beside the water I heard a muffled scream, And there amongst the bushes a little girl did lie; I picked her up and whispered, "I'll save you or I'll die." God, what a ride -- Old Bridger had covered my retreat. At times the child would whisper in a voice so clear and sweet, "Dear Papa, God will take you to Mama up above. There's no one left to love me; there's no one left to love." The little girl was thirteen; I was twenty-two. Says I, "I'll be your Papa, and I'll love you just as true." She nestled to my bosom and her hazel eyes so bright Looked up and made me happy through the close pursuit that night. . . . A year had passed when Maggie -- we called her Hazel Eye -- In truth was going to leave me; had come to say goodbye. Her uncle, Mad Jack Reynolds, long since reported dead Had come to claim my angel, his brother's child, he said. What could I say? We parted. Mad Jack was growing old. I handed him a banknote and all I had in gold. They rode away at sunrise; I went a mile or two. In parting said, "We'll meet again; may God watch over you." . . . Close nestled by a babbling brook a little cabin stood, And weary from the long day's scout, I saw it in the wood. The pleasant valley stretched below; the mountains towered above: 'Twas like some painted picture, or a well-told tale of love. While drinking from my juggaree and resting in the saddle, I heard a gentle rippling, like the dipping of a paddle, And, turning toward the water, a strange sight met my view: A pretty girl was seated in a little bark canoe. She stood up in the center, a rifle to her eye. I thought for just one moment that my time had come to die, So tipped my hat and told her, if it was all the same, To put up her little shooter, as I was not her game. She dropped the deadly weapon and leaped from her canoe. Says she, "I beg your pardon; I thought you were a Sioux. Your long hair and your buckskins looked warrior-like and rough. My bead was spoilt by sunlight, or I'd 'a dropped you sure enough." "Well, perhaps it had been better had you shot me then," says I. "For surely such an angel could bear me to the sky." She blushed and dropped her eyelids; her face was crimsoned red. One shy glance she gave to me and then hung down her head. And then her arms flew 'round me. "I'll save you or I'll die." I clutched her to my bosom, my long-lost Hazel Eye. The rapture of that moment was heaven unto me. I kissed her then, amid her tears, her merriment and glee. Her heart next mine was beating when sobbingly she said, "My dear long-lost preserver, they told me you were dead. The man who claimed me from you, my uncle, good and true Lies sick in yonder cabin, and he talks so much of you." "'If Joe was living, darling,' he said to me last night, "'He'd care for you, dear Maggie, when God puts out my light.'" We found the old man sleeping; "Hush, Maggie -- let him rest." The sun was slowly sinking in the far-off golden West. Although we talked in whispers, he opened up his eyes. "A dream, a dream," he murmured, "Alas! a dream of lies." She drifted like a shadow to where the old man lay: "You had a dream, dear uncle, another dream today?" "I dreamed I saw an angel, as pure as drifted snow, And standing close beside her was California Joe." She said, "I am no angel, dear uncle, this you know; "My hands are brown; my face is too; I was never white as snow." "But listen while I tell you, for I have news to cheer: Your Hazel Eye is happy, for truly Joe is here." Then, but a few days later, the old man said to me, "Joe, boy, she is an angel, or as good as angels be." "For three long months she's hunted, and, Joe, she's nursed me too; "And I believe that she'll be safe alone, my boy, with you." Then, but a few days later, Maggie -- my wife -- and I Went riding from that valley with the tears all in our eyes. For there beside the cabin, within a new-made grave, We laid him 'neath the daisies, her uncle, good and brave. Hereafter, every gentle spring will surely find us there, At his graveside in the valley. We'll keep it fresh and fair. Our love was newly kindled while resting by the stream, And two hearts were united in love's sweet happy dream, And that is all my story; and this you ought to know: That Hazel Eye is happy with California Joe. This was written in the year of Joe's death by Captain Jack Crawford (formerly Chief of Scouts, U.S. Army) and published in his book, The Poet Scout, in 1873 (I think). It's a true story (or as true as Victorian poetry allowed). Of Joe, Crawford wrote: "He was a good, brave, generous man, and his only fault was liquor." Joe was shot by his own men; I don't know how it happened. Learned this version mostly from the singing and especially from the recording of Jim Ringer on Folk-Legacy. JN JN
Thanks to Mudcat for the Digital Tradition!