By Harold Fuller
When Old Black Joe died, he was found on a Sunday morning lying on the floor of the small, box like cabin he had used as a boot-black stand. Judge Hawthorne impaneled a jury and held an inquest. It was determined that death was caused by apoplexy, resulting from long continued intemperance.
Old Joe was one of the best known characters on the coast. Although supposed by most people to be a Negro, he was a Hindu from Calcutta. His people were well to do and gave him a good education. He was a noted teacher of Sanscrit (classical Old Indic literary language) until he fell into disgrace through intemperate dissipation. He came to California in 1849 and remained in this country till his death.
Joe blacked boots and cleaned offices in nearly every prominent town on the Coast, and when in his cups, was a favorite object of merriment to mischievous men and boys. He most frequently turned the tables on them however, with his quick wit and bombastic oral delivery.
He spent quite some time on the Comstock before coming to Hawthorne in 1882.
Never liking, or being liked, by the Indians, he was frequently obliged to live with them, and would often, with paint and blanket, pass himself on the railroad to gain free passage on top of the box cars. He loved to travel the complete line, especially going to Wabuska and Candelaria. He was occasionally and thrown off the train, sometimes getting a few lumps and bruises. He spent several days once trying to get back on a freight train at Mound House. With no funds, he got pretty hungry and sober that time. When on his good behavior, old Joe was industrious and hard working. He could shine a mean pair of boots and did.
Perhaps Joe’s biggest heart break came when he had quit drinking, shortly before he died, and tried to contact his family, friends and his only son in India and they never responded. They apparently never forgave him for “wasting his life”.
He had another bit of heart burn too, and would discuss it with anyone who would listen, and that was with that old, un-scrupulous Chinaman, Hon Ess. He could never understand how he could be permitted to serve that lousy tripe and call it food.
Old Joe was 70 years old when he died and both he and his services were missed.