Born: April 12, 1835, Syracuse, New York
Died: August 8, 1914, Decatur, Nebraska
Joseph Malcom was the eldest son of Horatio and Lucina Malcom. Much of his youth was spent in eastern Iowa at a home and trading post established by his father and uncle. This later grew into the town of Malcom, Iowa. For seven years he had watched the steady trickle of wagons pass the Trading Post in route to Independence, Missouri, to join up with wagon trains starting west to Oregon or to California. He had thrilled to the stories of the gold rush in California, and the vastness of the Oregon country which seemed doomed to become a part of Canada. Like many young men of his day, Joseph Malcom determined to seek his fortune in California. In the winter of 1856, at age twenty-one, Joseph bade his mother, father and brothers goodbye, and started out on horse back for Independence, Missouri to join up with a wagon train starting across the plains to California.
"He (Joseph Malcom) said his Dad gave hime a good horse and saddle and two 44-caliber revolvers and was told to learn how to shoot well but to keep them in his saddlebag until he needed them. You needed two guns because you always carried the hammer on one empty space so you only had five shots. It took quite awhile to reload a muzzle loading revolver with powder, wadding, bullets and a firing cap." [From Billy Malcom's (Joseph's son) diary.]He found the flat rambling Town of Independence a seething vortex of adventurers and settlers, each individual fighting his own particular battle, against time and nature and a hostile terrain, in his endeavor to possess the golden treasures of the west.
Young Joseph Malcom joined up with a wagon train California bound, going as an extra hand. Single men were always welcomed by the wagon masters of such outfits. He had his own horse and gear, and he was even as a young man, of the type which country people call a "handy man". The plains were strange to him on this first journey, but he learned the plainsman's ways rapidly, and in a few years he came to be as familiar with the far west as he had been of his native village. His skill as a guide was to take him into many strange adventures. The first hazardous trip , west ended on Christmas Day 1856, at a point on the Uba River not far from Placerville, California. He remained in Placerville during the winter prospecting and trading, and in the spring of 1857 he returned to the Mormon settlement in Utah.
There has been some question about his motive in returning to Utah, some members of the family fearing that the young man might have inclined toward the teachings of Joseph Smith. There is no doubt that Joseph Malcom greatly admired the sturdy independence of the Mormon settlers. One of his own characteristics was a keen sense of justice, and as an old man when speaking of this time in his life, he sharply criticized the Navaroo, Illinois massacre, and the expulsion of Mormon women and children from Fort Bridger in the midst of the winter, an act which was almost a death sentence to the young and weak. Regarding their religion, however, at no time did he ever abandon the Presbyterian faith of his boyhood which he had learned from his beloved mother.
His decision to go to the Mormon settlement was a commercial venture which paid him well. He was now a thoroughly seasoned scout, with no desire to engage in prospecting. The Mormons were in desperate need of the services of a man with his experience and ability, and able to pay well for his services. They were extending their settlements into California and Oregon, and Joseph Malcom was the man who knew the terrain and dangers. Also he was a man whom their leaders trusted.
By the spring of 1858, Joseph Malcom was in charge of the Mormon pack trains freighting supplies to the Whitman settlement at Walla Walla, Oregon Territory. This assignment was one of great difficulty; since the route was over some the most mountainous and barren country in all of North America.
The Whitman settlement was then an outpost for the Americans set against the British in the Columbia River Valley. If the pack train's route was abandoned, the Americans would be forced to retire from the Oregon country. The trip to the settlement was made successfully during the summer of 1858, but on the return trip the pack train became lost in the rugged Goose River Mountains. The heavy snows came early that year, and it was soon evident that the pack train could not move until spring.
The responsibility for the safety of the pack train was the lot of the guide, and Joseph Malcom proved himself equal to it. He forbade any hunting in the region of abundant game, and immediately rationed all supplies and ammunition. The traders built huts of pine boughs and cut more boughs which they stripped of the needles and tender branches. They made a tea brewed from pine needles and they lived on goose eggs and small game which they could snare. The pack mules survived on pine needles stripped from the tender branches. In the early spring, when the thawing snows cleared the trail, the pack train was able to proceed to Ogden, where it had long been given up as lost.
The summer of 1859 found him in charge of a Mormon freighting and supply train in route to the new Mormon settlement at San Bernardino, California. Again there was urgent need for the train to get through to the settlement. California was becoming the background for civil strife, as both the North and the South strove to bring the new rich settlements into the free or the slave group of. states.
Joseph Malcom, again responding to the early training of his youth was violently opposed to slavery. He believed that it was of the utmost importance that the territory of California be kept in the ranks of the free states.
Believing that the southern sympathizers in the San Bernardino settlement would attempt to terrorize the settlement, and prevent anyone from voting for Abraham Lincoln in the presidential election of 1859, he joined with 30 other abolitionists to charge into town and police the voting places. The City voting places showed a strong majority for the Union, but twenty-four hours later only four of the policing party remained alive. These men are identified and named on a memorial plaque on a monument in the city of San Bernardino. The names listed are Parson Neplon, William Gillespie, and Joseph Malcom, and an unknown Unionist. Years later the beautiful Mountain to the Sea Highway in the City of Los Angeles was named Malcom Boulevard in his honor.
He returned to Salt Lake City and. in-1861 became a rider for the eighth day on the Pony Express. His route was that part which lay in the Wasatch Mountains, known to the Indians as the Haunted Land. At one time he found the relay station where he was to contact his relief rider had been attacked by Indians, and the relief rider and his horse were dead. He had hardly sized up the situation when he saw the Indians riding down on him. Only his quick wit saved him. Knowing that to the Indians a demented man was taboo, he pretended insanity. Dismounting he pulled his coat over his head and walked among the still hot ruins of the station, flapping his arms and screaming in a horrible manner.
The Indians, fearing a return of their Gods, fled and he was left to bury the dead rider and complete the route to the next relief station, fifty miles away. When he arrived there, he and his weary mount had covered one hundred miles without rest. He returned to Utah after the completion of the telegraph line to Sacramento, California, caused the discontinuation of the Pony Express.
Joseph ended up in Grand Island, Nebraska, in the winter of 1865, where he met and married Permelia Payne Doyle in the spring of 1866. The bride's wedding ring was made from a golden nugget mined by her husband in the design of two clasped hands. She wore it all the rest of her life and it was on her hand when she was laid to rest beside him.
The young couple moved to a homestead near Norfolk, and established their first home. Permelia Malcom lived to tell her great grandchildren of those days, of the blizzards and of the wandering parties of Indians who sometimes stopped at the cabin. She told of one Indian who helped himself to any food stuffs he could lay his hands on, and of how she grew so exasperated that once she threw a steaming hot pie in his face.
Joseph Malcom moved his little family east to Neola, Iowa, where he purchased a small farm, and his father and brothers joined him. Here the family settled down to making a home.