What Became of Joe Dies?
A True Story of Pioneer Days of Southern Oregon by Orson A. Stearns
In the year 1861 there lived in the village of Gassburg in Jackson County a comely German saddler by the name of Joseph Dies. He was about thirty to thirty-five years of age, had black hair and full chin whiskers and mustache of the same color. He was quiet, pleasant and well liked by everyone who knew him. He had been a resident of the village for several years, and for nearly a year had been a victim of chills and fever [malaria], a local malady that in early times attacked nearly every resident of the Bear Creek and Rogue River bottoms. In this case, the victim seemed unable to get over the malady, which became more severe the longer it ran. Quinine, cologne and every other known remedy were vainly tried to eradicate the disease, but the lusterless eyes, the sallow hue of his face, and the languid movements of his limbs showed unmistakably that his case was desperate.
At last the local doctor, having exhausted his skill without avail, advised Joe to go out in the mountains, drink pure water and live on wild game, as the only hope to rid his system of the disease.
Accordingly a number of his friends arranged to go with him and with a camping outfit, a goodly supply of bedding and provisions,, then proceeded, with a light mountain wagon as well as a packing outfit, to cross the summit of the Cascade Mountains to the stock ranch of two bachelor friends, Kimball and Hoxie by name, who had recently located in the "Dead Indian" country, some 25 miles distant.
The "Dead Indian" is the name given to a spring at the western edge of a vast, heavily timbered plateau region. It was so called from the finding of a recently raided Indian camp where, evidently, a surprise by one tribe of Indians on the camp of another had resulted in the hasty departure of all, the survivors leaving a number of dead Indians as a result of the battle. This name was afterwards given to the entire elevated plateau region, which embraces several hundred thousand square miles, and is a dividing watershed from whence feeders of the Klamath and Rogue rivers flow in opposite directions. Its altitude is about 1500 feet. To the east of north, Mt. Pitt rears its white crest, some twenty or twenty-five miles distant, while far to the south is seen the snow-crowned peak of Mt. Shasta, the giant of the Siskiyous. The basin is bordered on the east by high mountain peaks that overlook the Klamath lakes and the river flowing westward that cleaves the Cascade Range towards the ocean. To the west the crests of the Cascade Range that separate it from the Rogue River Valley, and which is only broken by the cleft or canyon through which a portion of the waters of the basin are diverted through Little Butte to the Rogue River.
Nearly the entire plateaus region is densely forested with different species of fir, pine, cedar and yew, with fringes of lodgepole pine and quaking asp along the few streams, and prairies that penetrate at places from the borders of the plateau towards the interior. Nearly all these small prairies are in the vicinity of springs, of small streams running out of the surrounding rim, and most of them end in swampy thickets where the waters sink.
The general character of the ground is level or nearly so except where the waters break away from either side, and so dense is the timber that even an expert woodsman would find it hard to follow any given direction when the sun was obscured, unless possessed of a compass.
At the date of this story there were but four ranches occupied, and they by stockmen, in this country. The Frank Rector place (the original Dead Indian Spring), the Grubb ranch, some three miles south of the former, also on a spring, and the Wells place, about three miles east of the Grubb place. The waters of the two last-named ranches flowed into Grizzly Prairie, from whence they ran towards the Klamath; the waters of the two first-named springs flowed northward into Little Butte.
In 1861 the road from Ashland, in Bear Creek Valley, crossed the Cascade Mountains southwest of the Grubb ranch, from whence one branch turned east past the Wells ranch, crossed the head of Grizzly, thence turned northeast up a narrow glade to the "Kimball-Hoxie" place. The Grizzly Prairie ran nearly south from where the road or trail crossed it, and was nearly two miles long.
Joe Dies and his party had been staying with their bachelor friends, James Kimball and James Hoxie, for quite a time, and Joe's health had somewhat improved so that he took an occasional jaunt with some one of his companions in quest of game.
It was when returning from one of his hunting trips toward the Cascade summit that he and Hobart Taylor came into the road near the Wells place about sundown on a late October day. They had met with no success that day and were on their way to camp. Just after passing the Wells place they came in sight of some horses nearly half way down Grizzly Prairie and, recognizing them as some of their animals and fearing they were heading for the Rogue River Valley, Hobart Taylor handed his gun to Joe and telling him to go on to camp, that he would go and get the horses and left him for that purpose. Shortly after he had left Joe he heard a rifle shot in the direction of the point of timber through which the trail led, but there was no second shot. He caught the horses and proceeded to camp, expecting to find Joe there ahead of him. Not finding him there, he very naturally concluded that Joe had shot a deer and was delayed by reason of having to dress it, but would arrive later.
Supper having been prepared and eaten and there being no appearance of Joe, his comrades became uneasy and resorted to the firing of a gun at intervals, thinking that in the darkness Joe must have lost his way, but though they kept up the firing at intervals all night it was without avail. As soon as it was light enough to see, some of his comrades went to where he and Hobart had separated and by diligent search tracked Joe to where he entered the belt of timber. There they found fresh deer tracks and soon saw the bloody trail of a deer and a man's tracks following it. They followed these tracks around through the brush for some distance until they entered the denser timber, where they could follow them no more.
They spent that and the following several days in a thorough search, aided by all the residents of that neighborhood, but the only further sign was several miles to the northward where it would seem that someone had sat against a dead tree in a small burnt deadening. After a week's search, all hope of finding him either alive or dead had to be abandoned on account of an early snowfall, so his companions reluctantly gave up the search and returned to Gassburg.
Sometime in late November 1861, following the incidents narrated, there came through the country a Dr. Dodd, a lecturer on the then little-known science of mesmerism. The doctor was accompanied by a rather frail-looking young man, whom the doctor stated to be one of the best subjects then known in the United States to illustrate the uncanny powers of the new science. The doctor gave a lecture in one of the two brick buildings which the little burg boasted, and it was attended by practically all the adult population of the place. After his introductory remarks, by which he gave a history of mesmerism, so far as then known, he asked that his audience select three of their number to come up on the stage to blindfold his subject, whom he had mesmerized, and who was then apparently in a profound slumber, reclining in an easy chair. This request he said was made to ensure against any deception or trickery on his part, as he expected to demonstrate some very remarkable powers of his subject that would suggest trickery as a possible explanation unless guarded against.
At the request of the audience the following well-known citizens were selected and took up their positions on the platform: Orange Jacobs, the resident schoolmaster, afterwards delegate to Congress from the Territory of Washington, and later chief justice of that state; Dr. Minier, a resident physician and the third member, if I mistake not, was the late Timothy Davenport. After the committee had bound several handkerchiefs and mufflers around the subject's head, the doctor, who stood all the time at the farther end of the platform, instructed the committee to submit such tests as placing sealed letters or folded newspapers behind the subject's head, when he would read the contents accurately. He was then requested to describe articles in the pockets of anyone in the audience; if a watch, give the factory number and any other items of identification that the owner himself was ignorant of.
Finally, the doctor stated that his subject possessed the ability to read the mind of any individual with whom he came in contact, and requested that some member of the audience sit down by the side of the subject, clasp his hand and cause his mind to travel to some well-known place, which the subject would proceed to describe. Being requested so to do, Orange Jacobs took the chair, grasped the subject's hand, who proceeded to describe a farm with its fields, trees, fences and outbuildings, then the house, visiting the various rooms, describing the persons in the house, the books in the library and many other things so plainly that the audience could almost see them. At the conclusion Mr. Jacobs stated that the subject described his boyhood home in Michigan, his parents and others of the family, that his thoughts were accurately described by the subject, though he would not have believed such a thing possible had he not himself experienced it.
The doctor then asked if there was anything more that the audience could think of to satisfy themselves of the truth of his claims for the science. Immediately someone in the audience called out, "Send him after Joe Dies." Then cries of "Yes, yes! That will be a test," came from all over the room.
The doctor seemed nonplussed and finally asked someone to explain what was meant, when one of the committee explained that Joe Dies was the name of a man who was recently lost in the mountains, and of whom no trace could be found.
The doctor remarked that such a task would be beyond the power of his subject, unless there was at hand someone who was with the lost man when last seen, in order to place his subject "en rapport" with the lost man. Even then, he said, it was a question whether his subject could solve the mystery, though he was willing to try what could be done. It so happened that Hobart Taylor was in the audience and immediately came forward, took the chair at the subject's side and grasped his hand. After an interval of silence the subject began speaking in a slow, strained voice that grew stronger as he proceeded, and this is the substance, if not the exact words, of his tale.
"I see two men walking along a trail near a small prairie. There is timberland on either side of them; one is a large man with ruddy complexion, the other is smaller with black hair and beard and rather pallid complexion; they both have guns and bullet pouches with powder flasks. They have evidently been hunting, but they are carrying no game. They halt and are looking toward the southeast, where there seems to be quite a large prairie. I see some horses way down the prairie, and the larger seems to be pointing to them. He hands his gun to the smaller man and walks rapidly away in the direction of the horses. The smaller man starts to go through a point of timber bordered with brush just north of the head of the larger prairie. He proceeds but a short distance when he halts. He sees a deer! He raises his gun and fires! The deer falls. He rushes toward it but before he reaches its side it jumps up and staggers away into the brush before he can get the other gun to his shoulder. He follows rapidly after the deer thinking it must soon fall again, but though he sees quite a quantity of blood along the trail, and it frequently stops, it manages to keep brush and trees between itself and its pursuer. Winding and turning through the forest with the blood stains by which he follows it becoming fewer and fewer, the increasing gloom of the forest, the sun having sunk behind the mountain, renders it impossible to trace it further, and the urgent need for him to turn in the direction of camp forces itself upon his consciousness.
"He halts and considers which is the proper course to take to lead him to camp. It is now so dark in the forest that nothing he can see will give him the direction in which the camp lies, and his turning and winding around while trailing the deer has thoroughly confused him as to the direction to take. However it will never do to stand still with the darkness growing deeper rapidly, so he decides on a course and starts on as rapidly as the gathering gloom permits. But he is wrong. He is going north when he should have gone east. He hurries forward as fast as the fallen timber and brush will permit, gradually increasing the distance between himself and camp.
"For nearly an hour he makes his painful way through the darkness, when thinking he must have passed the camp to right or left, he stops and halloos several times, but hearing no answering shout he fires the loaded gun. He hears the sound echoing and re-echoing through the forest and imagines he hears a distant answering shot, but it must be a mistake, as the sound is behind him. It surely must have been an echo of his own gun. He now realizes that he is lost, and the wilderness of despair follows. He rushes in another direction, trips over a fallen log, loses one gun and his hat, but gathers himself up and travels on without sense of direction. He frequently shouts, but only the echo answers him. He pitches the remaining gun far from him and frantically rushes on, falling over logs and brush, tearing his clothes and lacerating his hands and face. His face is covered with perspiration and blood, his eyes protrude and seem to have lost all semblance of intelligence. His thirst is excessive from his unwonted exertion and excitement, and his course has been almost in a circle, he having crossed and re-crossed his trail several times. Aimlessly, urged on by an uncontrollable fear, he travels until, utterly exhausted, he falls at the foot of a large tree. After a period of utter collapse he managed to assume an upright sitting position against the body of the tree. Here, with his head sunk forward upon his breast, he sleeps the sleep of utter exhaustion, awakening at intervals as some forest sound penetrates his hearing; once the hoot of an owl causes him to spring to his feet and shout, only to collapse again. Once a limb falling from a tree arouses him for a brief period, but only for an instant, when he again relapses into that fitful sleep.
"At last, after a night of horror, with the chill of the high altitude almost freezing his blood and stiffening his muscles, his eyes perceived the approach of dawn, and he staggers forward, falling and gathering himself to fall again on account of stiffened limbs, urged on by a fever and the overpowering desire for water, he goes aimlessly onward. Not now with any conception of direction or any sign of intelligence, only the one great craving--water.
"The chill of the night has been succeeded by a raging fever that imparts an unnatural strength to his limbs and impels his onward course.
"At last the gleam of the forest seems to break; there is light ahead, and towards it his footsteps hasten. He enters an opening in the forest, a glade where at one side there appears a grove of small quaking aspens and some willows. Without reasoning, he seems to sense the presence of water and rushes into the thicket, and there, close to a bunch of willows, is a spring or pool of water. Rushing forward, he throws himself prone on his stomach and, plunging his face into the cold water, he gulps it in huge draughts, only removing his face to draw a breath, then plunges it in again. Why, oh why! cannot someone restrain him, why cannot he realize his danger in thus gorging himself with cold water!
"Alas! When it seems impossible that he could contain no more he is seized with convulsions. Oh my God! what pain, what torture! Convulsion after convulsion wracks his frame; he rolls over and over on the ground in his agony. Gradually, his struggles grow less until finally with one long convulsive shudder he becomes still. He is still forever! The pure sweet water he so craved has brought on a congestive chill that ended his life. There on the grey grass, beneath the quaking aspens, he sleeps his last sleep."
The subject drew a long sigh and remained silent. The audience, which has remained spellbound during the recital, began to stir and talk. The doctor came forward and after removing the enveloping bandages from the subject's head and eyes disclosed him apparently lifeless, and it was not until he had made many passes over his face that he finally drew a long breath as of relief and opened his eyes.
The lecture was concluded by forming a class of some dozen or more of the audience who came and sat down on front benches and under the doctor's direction gazed fixedly at some object held in one hand for some fifteen or twenty minutes, when the doctor went around the circle and tested them one by one as to their susceptibility to the mesmeric influence. Two of the class he found to be good subjects and caused them to go through some very amusing performances, much to the delight of the others, but much to their surprise and chagrin after they were released from the influence and learned of their performances. The audience was then told that the lecture was at an end, and nearly everyone left with a feeling that there was something unaccountable and uncanny in the exhibition of the clairvoyant powers of the doctor's subject. Had not the season of snowfall rendered further search for Joe Dies impossible for that fall, there would have been no trouble in raising a large party to go out in the Dead Indian country and follow up the description of the locality of his death to ascertain how much or little truth there was in the subject's realistic description. [The passage of the mesmerists through the valley went unnoticed by the Sentinel, which was distracted by news of the flood and the Civil War.]
The firing on Fort Sumter followed soon after this lecture [Fort Sumter was fired upon several months before Dies' disappearance] and, answering Lincoln's call for volunteers, Hobart Taylor, James Kimball and James Hoxie enlisted in Oregon's first regiment for three years or [duration of] the war, and amidst the exciting and tragic events of that long war Joe Dies was forgotten, or at least all search for him was given up. One rumor had it that Dr. Colwell, who formerly prescribed for Joe, claimed to have seen Joe Dies in San Francisco some years later. That he met him on the street and accosted him, calling him by name, but only received a blank stare in return. This tale seems utterly improbable, but shows one of those numerous cases of mistaken identity.
As a sequel to the above, some fifteen or twenty years later, after the Dead Indian country had been fairly well settled by cattle and sheep men, a herder stopped for noonday lunch at a spring in a glade some six or eight miles northeast of where Joe Dies was last seen alive, and while eating, his dog that was prowling around nearby brought in a bone that was evidently part of a human skeleton. A further search found many more human bones, enough to justify the belief that some person had died there years before.
No further search was made, and as the skull was not found the identity of the remains was never determined. In fact, I do not think anyone ever attempted to connect this find with the disappearance of Joe Dies, as his case was long since forgotten.
Whether these human remains were those of Joe Dies, the description of the place he met his death, together with the realistic description of his wanderings and final demise, made a lasting impression on at least one of the audience.
The fact that neither the doctor nor his subject had ever heard of the case nor knew any of the parties thereto, were ignorant of the country so accurately described, together with the manner of the narrator, confirmed at least one of the audience in a belief in occult powers that the fifty-odd years of strenuous life that has elapsed has failed to shake.
Whether the sequel explains convincingly the query "What became of Joe Dies?", the reader can form his own opinion after a perusal of this true narrative.
O. A. STEARNS.
Medford Mail Tribune, May 9, 1916, page 4
J. G. DIES STILL MISSING.--On the 3d. inst., Mr. J. G. Dies of Gasburg, and Mr. Jas. Kimball, of Dead Indian Prairie, started from the house of the latter in search of their horses. They caught one of the horses, which Mr. Kimball mounted, giving his rifle to Mr. Dies with the understanding of separating and circling the hill. Since thus separating, Mr. Dies has not been seen. About a dozen of men have ever since been in search of him. On the 6th they struck his trail, which they followed about twelve miles, when the trail was lost. The search was continued without further traces of him until Monday last, when his tracks were again discovered, accompanied by those of an Indian and horse, and were followed two and one-half miles into the mountains between the road and Hyatts Prairie, where all traces of him were again lost. It is feared that he has been murdered by the Indians. He had in his possession two rifles, a Navy revolver, and a plain gold hunting watch, valued at $100. A party intend starting from Gasburg this morning, in company with Capt. Lindsay Applegate, to further prosecute the search, and interrogate the Indians.
Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, October 19, 1861, page 3
[For the Sentinel.]
Joseph Dies--the Lost Man.
EDITORS SENTINEL:--The hunt for this unfortunate man having ceased, I thought I would send you for publication a full account of the facts in the case. Mr. Dies had been a good deal afflicted with the fever and ague during the latter part of the summer and the early part of the fall, and to reinvigorate his enfeebled constitution he started for the Dead Indian country about a month ago. The Dead Indian country is a high table land, lying between the upper portion of Bear Creek valley and the Klamath Lake country. Mr. Dies stopped with James Kimball and James Hoxie, at their camp on an arm of what is known as Grizzly Glade. This arm is on the east side of Grizzly Glade, and their camp was about a mile up the same. Three weeks ago last Sunday evening, Dies and Kimball started out in search of their horses. They found their horses about three miles from camp, on what is known as Grubs' Prairie. Kimball caught his own horse without any difficulty, but Dies' showed a disposition to enjoy his liberty. Kimball handed Dies his rifle, mounted his horse, and after directing Dies where to go, started off after the liberty-loving fugitive. In a short time Kimball heard a rifle shot in the direction where he supposed Dies was. He shortly went out to the place where they were to meet and where he supposed the gun was fired, whistled through his fingers and hallooed, but no answering response came back. He hurried on to the camp and ascertained that Dies was not there. Guns were fired, fires were kindled and an extensive search immediately commenced and continued up to Sunday last, but Dies has not been found. The next day they found his track and traced him in an easterly direction about eight miles and found where he camped, probably in the latter part of the first night, for it was just at dusk that he left. They afterwards struck his trail about four miles still further east, going across a piece of burnt ground. He evidently was walking with fearful strides when he passed over the burnt ground, and there is no mistake as to the trail, for he wore a boot with a small heel, pegged in the instep, sewed on the ball. Mr. Chapin, his partner, who by the way has been indefatigable in his efforts to find his friend and partner, thinks that he found the tracks of Dies' boots on the emigrant trail, about thirty miles from the settlements. He followed this track about twelve miles, coming towards the settlements. The track was accompanied with a moccasin track and also a horse's track, and he supposed at the time that the Indians had found his partner and were bringing him in. He left the emigrant trail and struck across the mountains to Dead Indian to tell the glad news, but soon after he left the emigrant trail he came across the same tracks in the timber and followed them about two miles, when he lost all trace of them. He is of the opinion that the Indians have killed Dies, and that an Indian was wearing his boots. The Klamath Indians say that two Indians, who were concerned in the murder of the Ledford party, told a squaw that they saw a white man hunting in the vicinity of the mountain lakes, about sixteen miles east of Dead Indian, some seventeen or eighteen days ago, but that the white man did not see them. The time and the direction give a probability to the report. Dies had with him two rifles, a Navy revolver, number 37,413, and a gold watch, hunting case.
Mr. Dies was twenty-four years old, about medium height, light complexion, black hair and rather thin, whiskers very black. He was of German descent, quite intelligent and of very industrious habits. His loss is mourned by a wide circle of friends. Mr. F. E. Chapin, his partner in business, wishes to publicly express his thanks for the aid and assistance afforded him by the citizens of this valley in searching for his lost friend and partner.
Yours, etc., O. JACOBS.
Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, November 2, 1861, page 2
THE LOST IS FOUND.--We learn from a reliable source that Joseph Dies, whom our readers will remember was supposed to be lost in the Dead Indian country, last summer, was seen in San Francisco about ten days after his mysterious disappearance. He told a friend that he was going to Mexico. A large number of his friends hunted for him over two weeks, with untiring energy. And we had the honor of writing his funeral oration. Sic transit gloria mundi.
Oregon Sentinel, Jacksonville, July 4, 1862, page 3
Last revised June 13, 2014