Navajo Joe

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Navajo Joe was out of luck. Ordinarily his vagaries were not regarded in Cinnabar. His frequent appearance in the single street in a voluntary of nice feats of horsemanship coupled with an exhibition of pistol shooting, in which old tomato cans and passé beer bottles performed as targets, had hitherto excited no more baleful sentiment in the Cinnabar bosom than disgust.

"Shootin' up the town a whole lot," was the name for this engaging pastime as given by Navajo Joe, and up to date the exercise had passed unchallenged.

But to-day it was different. Camps like individuals have moods; now light, now dark, and so it was with Cinnabar. Just at this time Cinnabar was experiencing a wave of virtue. This may have come spontaneously from the germs of order which, after all, dwelt sturdily in the Cinnabar breast It might have been excited by the presence of a pale party of Eastern tourists, just now abiding at the O. K. hotel and who the rather sanguine sentiment of Cinnabar credited with meditating a large investment of treasure in her rocks and rills. But whatever the reason Cinnabar virtue was certainly aroused; a condition of the public mind which made it a bad day for Navajo Joe.

The angry sun smote hotly in the deserted causeway of Cinnabar. The public was within doors. The Gold Mine saloon and its sister hostels, the dance hall and the Full Blown Rose were thriving mightily. Those games known to the world as monte, high-ball and faro and which generally engrossed the public thought were drowsy and dull enough, but the counters whereat the citizens of Cinnabar gathered with his peers in absorption of the incautious drinks of the place, were fairly sloppy from an excess of trade. Notwithstanding the torrid heat, this need not sound strangely. Cinnabar leaning was strongly homeopathic.

Similia similibus curantur—like cures like

Said Cinnabar, and when it was blazing hot drank whisky.

But to-day there was further reason for this consumption. Cinnabar was excited and this provoked a thirst. Navajo Joe, rendering himself prisoner to Jack Moore, rescue or no rescue, had, by order of that sagacious body, been conveyed by his captor before the vigilance committee and was about to be tried for his life.

What was Navajo Joe's immediate crime? Certainly not a grave one. Ten days before it would have hardly earned a comment. But to-day, in its spasm of virtue, and sensitive in its memories of the erratic courses of Navajo Joe aforetime. Cinnabar had gravely and grimly taken possession of that volatile gentleman for punishment. He had killed a Chinaman. It happened thus:

"Yere comes that prairie dog, Navajo Joe, all spraddled out," said Bill Tutt, a short half hour before. He was peering from the window of the Gold Mine saloon at the time, to which he had been drawn by the noise of hoofs, and there was a sense of injury disclosed in the tone, born of the awakened virtue of Cinnabar.

"It looks like this yere camp never can assoome no airs," said Rosewood Jim, in a distempered way, "but this yere miserable Joe comes chargin' up to queer it."

As he spoke, that offending personage unconscious of the great change in Cinnabar morals, swept up the street emitting gladsome and ecstatic whoops and whirling his pistol on his fore finger like a wheel of light. A tourist stood in the door of the hotel smoking a pipe in short, brief puffs of astonishment and reviewed the amazing performance. Navajo Joe at once and abruptly halted, and, gazing for a disgruntled moment on the man from the East, took the pipe from its owner's horrified mouth and placed it in his own.

"Smokin' of pipes," he vouchsafed in condemnatory explanation, "is onelegant and degradin,' an' don't you do it no more in my presence. I'm mighty sensitive that away about pipes an' I don't aim to tolerate 'em; none whatever."

This solution of his motives seemed entirely satisfactory to Navajo Joe. He sat puffing and gazing at the man bereaved, while the latter stood dumbly staring with a morsel of the ravished meerschaum still between his lips. What further might have flowed in the way of oratory or overt acts may not be stated, for the thoughts of the guileless Joe suddenly received a new direction. Just then a Chinaman, voluminously robed, emerged from the New York store whither he had been drawn by dint of soap.

"Whatever is this yere suds-sloppin' Mongol doin' in camp I'd like for to know?" inquired Navajo Joe disdainfully. "I shore leaves orders when I'm yere last for the immejit removal of all sech."

"Oh, well," he continued in tones of weary and bitter reflection, "I'm the only public sperited man in camp, so all this yere work falls nacheral to me. I'll jest have to make an example of this perticler speciment to let 'em know whatever a Caucasian is, anyhow."

Then came the short, emphatic utterance of a six-shooter, a puff of smoke which vanished quickly in the hot air and the next census was short one Asiatic. Navajo Joe had shot the Chinaman to death.

Then came the brief order from Armstrong, the chief of the vigilance committee, to Jack Moore. That gentleman proffered a Winchester first and a request second; and Navajo Joe, realizing fate, at once surrendered.

"Of course, gents," said Armstrong, apologetically, as he convened the vigilance committee in the New York store, "I don't say this yere Joe is bein' held for beefin' the Chinaman sole an' alone, the fact is, he's been havin' a mighty sight too gay a time of late, an' so I thinks it's a good, safe play—bein' as it's a hot day an' we has the time—to sorter call the committee together an' ask its views, whether we better hang this yere Navajo Joe yet or not?"

"Mr. President," responded Bill Tutt, "if I'm in order an' jest to get the sense of the meetin' to flowin' easy an' smooth, I moves you we take this yere Navajo Joe an' proceeds to stretch him a whole lot. I ain't basin' this yere on no defunct Chinaman nor nuthin' in partic'ler, but jest lettin' it fly under the general head of good of the order."

"Do I hear any remarks?" asked Armstrong. "If not I shall take Mr. Tutt's very excellent motion as the census of this yere meetin' an' it's hang she is."

"Not intendin' no interruption," said Texas Thomson, "I wants to say this. I'm a quiet man myse'f, an' wants to keep Cinnabar a quiet place wherein to pass my declinin' years. For which-all I shorely favors a hangin' of Navajo Joe. He's given us a heap of trouble. I'm like Bill Tutt I don't make no p'int on this yere dead Chinaman; we spares him too easy. But this Joe is allers a ridin' an' a yellin' an' a shootin' up the camp till I'm clean tired out. So I says, let's hang him, an' suggests as a eligible place the windmill out back of the dance hall."

"Yes," said Armstrong, "the windmill is upholstered for jest sech plays, an' as delays is aggravatin' the committee might as well canter over right now an' get this yere done by daylight, an'—"

"See yere, Mr. President," inquired Navajo Joe in a tone of truculent inquiry, "don't I get no hand in this yere? What for a deal is this, I rises to ask, anyhow?"

"You can gamble this yere is a squar' American game," said Armstrong confidently. "You're entitled to your say when the committee is done. Jest stand your hand now an' we'll deal to you in a minute."

"Well, I jest wants to know if I'm in on this play, that's all," said Navajo Joe.

"Gents," said Rosewood Jim, who had sat silently listening, "I'm with you on this yere hangin'. Any attempt on my part to p'int out those features in the daily life of this camp as makes me tired might seem invidious an' I don't aim to do it none. But we've got to do somethin' in the way of takin' a good, firm, moral step. I takes it, hangin' Joe will fill the pree-scription. These Eastern men is yere in our midst, it'll impress 'em that Cinnabar means business an' is a good safe, quiet camp. They'll carry reports East as will do us credit an' thar you be. As to the propriety of stringin' Joe, there need be no doubt. If the Chinaman ain't enough, if assaultin' of a innocent tenderfoot ain't enough, you can bet he's done plenty beside as merits a lariat. He wouldn't deny it himse'f, if you asks him."

There was a silence succeeding the rather spirited address of Rosewood Jim and at last Armstrong broke it by inquiring of Navajo Joe if he had anything to offer.

"I reckon it's your play now, Navajo," he said, "so come a-runnin'."

"Well," said Navajo Joe disgustedly, "these yere proceedin's makes me sick. I shore objects to this yere hangin' idee an' all for a meanly Chinaman, too. This yere camp of Cinnabar is a-gettin' a mighty sight too stylish for me. It's gettin' that per-dad-binged-tic-ler it can't take its reg'ler drinks, an'—"

"Stop right thar," said Armstrong with dignity. "Don't cuss the chair, none, cause the chair won't have it It's a parliamentary law if anyone cusses the chair he's out of order, same as its law that all chips on the floor goes to the house, an' when a man's out of order once, that settles it. He can't talk no more that meetin'. Seein' we're aimin' to hang you, we won't claim no rule on you this time, but be careful how you come trackin' 'round; an' don't crowd us. You sabe? Don't crowd us none."

"Well, I won't crowd you," retorted Navajo Joe, "I don't have to crowd you. What I says is this: I s'pose I sees fifty men stretched by committees between yere and Oregon an' I never sees a man get roped yet on account of no Chinaman. An' I offers a side bet of a hundred even it ain't law to hang people on account of downin' a Chinaman. But you all seems sot on this thing an' I'll tell you what I'll do. I'm a plain, everyday sport an' thar's no filigree work on me, but if it's all congenial to the gents here assembled—not puttin' it on the grounds of no miserable pigtales, but just to meet public sentiment half-way—I'll gamble my life, hang or no hang, on the first ace turned from the box, an' Rosewood deal. Is it a go?"

Cinnabar tastes were bizarre. A proposition, original and new, found in its very novelty a strong argument for Cinnabar favor. So the unusual offer of Navajo Joe to stake his life on a turn at faro was approvingly criticised. The general disposition agreed, and even the resolute Armstrong saw no good reason to object

"Navajo Joe," said Armstrong, "we don't have to do this, yere or take this chance, an' it's a-makin' of a mighty bad preceedent as may tangle us yereafter, but Cinnabar goes you this time. Rosewood turn the cards for an ace."

"Turn squar,' Rosewood," said Navajo Joe with an air of interest. "You wouldn't go for to sand no deck nor run a brace yere agin perishin' flesh an' blood, would you?"

"Well, I should shore say not," replied Rosewood; "I wouldn't do it for money an' you can bet I don't do it now when the epeesode comes more under the head of a picnic."

"Well, then," says Navajo Joe, "roll your game. I plays it open."

"I dunno," said Bill Tutt meditatively, "but I'm thinkin' I'd a-coppered."

The turn proceeded, and as may happen in the interesting device named faro, a split occurred. Two aces came together.

"Ace lose, ace win," said Rosewood. "Whatever be we a-goin' to do now, I'd like for to know?"

"Gents," said Armstrong with dignity, "a split like this yere creates a doubt, an' it's law that doubts go to the prisoner, same as a maverick goes to the first man as runs his brand onto him. This yere camp of Cinnabar abides by the law and Navajo Joe goes free. However, he should remember this little graze and restrain his fun-makin' methods yereafter. Some of them ways of his leads straight to everlastin' life, an' if he's wise, he alters his play from now on."

"So the camp really lose an' this yere cuss goes free," said Jack Moore, dejectedly. "I allers was agin faro as a game; whar we all misses it is, we don't play him freeze-out."

This work was published before January 1, 1925, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.