Summary: A WHI for A House Divided. “Father against son, brother against brother. A house divided against itself cannot not stand.” What if Adam did leave in order to keep peace in the family? This is a journey of healing for the Cartwright family and some newfound friends.
Rating = T, Word Count = 14415
Freedom’s Just Another Word
Dawn broke over the Sierras bringing with it the golden rays of a new day. This new day, however, would not contain any cheer for the Cartwright family. After seeing Lake Tahoe come into view, a lone rider left the trail he was following. Little Joe Cartwright pulled his horse to a stop, his eyes frantically searching the area. He tried to slow his rapid heartbeat and his heavy breathing. Knowing he’d pushed Cochise hard to make the climb Joe dismounted to give his horse a rest. He laid the reins on a bush and climbed up to the overlook. Scanning the area once more in the brightening light, Joe saw everything that meant home to him – tall green pines, moist black soil, white granite boulders and the sapphire blue lake. What he didn’t find was his oldest brother. Joe had been searching all night after he’d learned from his father that Adam had left home. Now miles from home himself, this spot was the last place he had to look, the place he hoped Adam would be.
Joe was exhausted in so many ways. Dropping down to rest on an old log, he tried to sort out his thoughts. For the last several hours, ever since his father had interrupted the meeting with Frederick Kyle and Virginia City’s leading businessmen, Joe’s world had begun to crumble.
First were the words Ben Cartwright and Frederick Kyle had exchanged, revealing to Joe that Kyle had used him to lure other men into the support of Kyle’s secret agenda. His mission all along was to support the Confederacy and secure their victory in the impending Civil War. Worse yet Kyle had sacrificed his wife and son for his Cause.
Next Joe realized that the words “brother against brother, father against son” had become true of his own family. He and Adam had taken opposite sides of the impending war, even to the point of fighting each other, and Joe had come close to forsaking his own family to assist Mister Kyle, until his father had helped him see the truth.
But now, had he lost a brother in the emotional fray? What was it Pa had said to Kyle? “Today I lost two sons.” When Ben told Joe that Adam had left, Joe knew he had to find him. He had to stop his brother from leaving. But having looked everywhere Adam liked to go when he was upset, Joe realized he’d failed.
Balanced on the log with his hands hanging limply between his knees, Joe also failed to get his emotions under control. He felt guilty for being the reason Adam had left. If he’d only listened to Adam’s side of things rather than argue all the time. He also worried about his brother heading back East, into the middle of the disagreements between the states. But mostly he was angry, not understanding how Adam could forsake his family when they needed him. He hadn’t even given an opportunity for Joe to make things right between them.
Joe rose up and kicked at the log he’d been sitting on then he let out a frustrated yell, startling Cochise.
“Adam, why? How dare you leave and not give any of us a chance to settle things between us. Where are you? Please come home.” Joe fell to his knees and looked out over the placid lake, the sunlight beginning to cast its warm glow across the waters. “Please….Adam.”
After a while Joe finally mounted up and rode home. A part of him hoped Adam would come riding up, but that never happened. As he slowly rode into the yard he found, for the first time in his young life, he was afraid to face his family. He had failed to find his brother. As the front door swung open revealing first Pa then Hoss, Joe couldn’t imagine how his family was going to get through this particular crisis.
Late April 1861
The sky was on fire. Shades of reds, pinks and yellows spread long tendrils from behind the distant mountains toward the darkening sky above. Hoss Cartwright was tending the horses for the night but took a moment to gaze at the glory before him when he noticed the dark pines were alight with the glow of the setting sun. Leaving the horses he moved out into the clearing to enjoy the last of the sunset over the mountains. Normally a sunset this brilliant would fill his heart with its peace and beauty but not this night. Hoss heaved his shoulders in a deep sigh. He hadn’t had any peace for a long time, not since Adam took off for the East after that mess with Fredrick Kyle. Six months later, things were still in turmoil. When Adam came home just three weeks ago, the family talked about the issues, and a calm seemed to settle over the Ponderosa again; that is until a few days later when Joe let it be known that he was never again going to be at peace with his oldest brother.
Hoss acknowledged the beauty of the sunset, and its Creator, saying a prayer that maybe the new day coming would bring peace to the brothers. That’s what they were out there for anyway wasn’t it? Isn’t that what Pa said when they left? “Get those mustangs for the Army contract and don’t come home until there’s peace among you three!”
Hoss glanced one last time at the sinking sun, feeling like his heart was sinking with it. Sighing again he headed back to camp. At the edge of camp he paused and observed his older brother, sitting on a log, hunched over and mindlessly poking at the fire. A cursory look around told him Joe was nowhere to be seen. Lowering his head, Hoss dropped his hands into his jacket pockets and quietly made his way toward the fire.
“Got the horses bedded down?” Adam didn’t stop his poking of the fire and his voice was deathly quiet.
“Yeah. Where’s Joe?”
“Took the dishes and pots down to the river to clean ‘em. Reckon he’ll be gone a while.”
“Yeah, reckon so.”
Hoss spread out his bedroll but was too restless to sleep so he sat by the fire across from Adam.
“Listen Adam, we gotta talk.” Adam stopped his poking but didn’t look up. “I know what’s been said between you and Joe but somehow you two have gotta make peace. I get how all this talk about the War has put you and Joe on different sides but I thought all that was settled when you come home. I just don’t know why it’s started up again.” Hoss shrugged and fell silent.
Adam started poking the fire harder as silence reigned. When he finally spoke the tension in his voice was barely controlled, “I think you do know why Joe got it started again.”
A frown crept over Hoss’ face and he slowly nodded. “Reckon you’re right. It’s got ta do with the Jackson family. Joe keeps complainin’ how you brought them here just ta prove how bad the South is. You heard him just before we left. He said you were as good as wavin’ ‘em under his nose.”
Tossing his stick into the fire, Adam stood and gave his brother an angry glare. “I know what he said! You don’t need to repeat it. Do you, too, think that’s why they’re here? Why I helped them travel all the way from Boston? I thought you had more sense than that, Hoss, more faith in me. Guess I was wrong – wrong about a lot of things it seems.” Adam turned his back on Hoss and moved away from the fire.
Hoss stood and reached Adam in two long strides. Spinning him around by the shoulder and aiming a finger at him, he set the record straight. “Now you wait just a doggone minute there, Adam. Don’t you go puttin’ me on one side or th’ other. I’m jest repeatin’ what Joe said. Don’t mean I agree with him. You oughta know that. What I want ta know is why the Jackson family came out here with ya. You said they was from the South but moved to the North. I know there’s got to be more to it than that. An’ don’t give me that look, older brother. I know you very well an’ can tell when you leave out parts of a story.”
Adam relaxed his stance after Hoss’ rebuke. “It’s not my story to tell, Hoss. Thomas Jackson needs to tell it.”
“Aw, don’t give me that neither, Adam. You know the whole story an’ I suggest you tell it when Joe gets back. Seems ta me there’s a lot of misunderstandings goin’ on with all three of us and now’s the time to get ‘em settled.”
In the darkness away from the campfire, Joe stood listening to most of the conversation between his brothers. The more he heard the angrier he became. He was sick and tired of everyone standing against the South and its needs during the War. And brother or not, he was not going to hear any lies from Adam about the Jackson family. He stormed into the camp and threw down the cookware and dishes.
“I don’t need to hear any more stories from you about how bad it is in the South. All you want to do, Adam, is bring up slavery. But you seem to forget that the South produces a lot of things that support this country, and they need just as much support as the North. They’re just tired of being told what they can and can’t do, and I’m sick of that too. So you can just forget about trying to persuade me to give up my support of the South.”
Adam glared at Joe, his nostrils flared and his lips thinned. He threw his hands into the air. “Fine, go ahead and believe what you want but you should know that this country will be a lot better off, a lot stronger, if it’s whole rather than divided.” Adam moved to within inches of his younger brother. “And I hope you also come to realize sooner rather than later, little brother, that this family, the four of us, is a helluva lot more important than your thoughts about one part of this country. If you are ever in need of help you just think on who’s going to be there for you. If you want to hear all of Thomas Jackson’s story, I’ll tell it. But only if that’s what you really want. I won’t tell it if all you’re going to do is throw a fit and call it Northern propaganda.” Adam stood silent for a moment, glaring at each brother with his dark eyes reflecting his anger. As silence reigned he walked over to his bedroll and laid down. “I’m through talking. I’m going to sleep and I suggest you two do the same. We’ve a hard day of riding tomorrow if we’re going to catch up with that herd.” With that he rolled over and pulled up his blanket. Hoss quietly took the cue and moved to his bedroll.
As Adam and Hoss settled down to sleep, Joe remained rooted in place, chest still heaving from his fury. He was mad and frustrated with his brother but he was forced to admit that some of Adam’s words had gotten to him. It always seemed that Adam knew when Joe had crossed the line and was choosing to forsake his family over a cause. And boy he’d crossed that line quite a bit lately. Joe put the dishes away and dropped down on his bedroll hugging his knees to his chest. It was quite a while before he finally stretched out to sleep.
Across the way Adam still wasn’t asleep. Hoss’ request for the rest of the Jackson family story played in his thoughts and churned up unwanted memories. Turning onto his back Adam stared at the star-studded sky above him; the stars always seemed to bring him comfort. In the darkness as the stars lazily twinkled overhead, Adam tried hard to calm his roiling emotions. This last argument was one of many since he’d returned home and had introduced Thomas, Missy and Sammy Jackson to his own family. What with helping the Jacksons settle onto a nearby farm and Adam having to leave a week later to round up some mustangs, there hadn’t been any time to tell his family the entire story. If he could have perhaps Joe wouldn’t be so edgy now.
Adam’s thoughts began to slowly sort themselves out as he drifted off to sleep. The sounds of the crackling fire became sounds of footsteps and horses’ hooves on hard streets. Letting himself relax into the memory, he found himself back in Boston on a clear but cold Sunday in late February. He’d left home under emotional duress back in the Fall, yet found some amount of peace and healing during his time in Boston. When that bright Sunday morning dawned, it seemed like any other day, but by the end of it Adam found himself on a new path, one that would take him home but also one that would save three lives if they all survived the journey.
Late February 1861
Boston weather could be brutal in the winter, but Adam saw it as no different than what he was used to in Nevada. However, this one Sunday in late February, had dawned with a warmer breeze and promised a hint of the Spring weather to come. Adam felt it was perfect weather for a walk to church. Although he still wore his long woolen coat which he’d purchased last Autumn when he’d arrived, he had a pleasurable stroll to the little church a few blocks from the boarding house where he was staying. The service, and the sermon especially, spoke to his heart and made him miss his family all the more. In recent weeks he’d been considering that he needed to return home and make amends. In the time he’d been gone he’d had one letter from his father telling him of the demise of Frederick Kyle’s plans to get silver and gold bullion to support the Southern trade efforts to England. A letter from Hoss told him of the hole his leaving left in their lives, and that Joe was more settled and ready to talk about matters that were between them.
Being in Boston had also given Adam a chance to learn more about the different aspects of the impending war. Eleven states had seceded and more were threatening. The politics were so badly tangled that one could almost hear as many views as there were people to ask. Adam kept his personal views to himself as he had only wanted to gain a perspective, not fight any battles.
As he leisurely walked back to the boarding house after church, Adam mulled over the words of the pastor. He had spoken on the words of Abraham Lincoln’s speech in which the man said “a house divided cannot stand”.*
The Pastor announced clearly the words from the Bible:
“And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”**
The Pastor was addressing the fact that the war was dividing the nation and families. He called upon the Word of God to remind his congregation that unity was God’s way. Adam paused near a small park and recalled the passage that had struck a chord in his heart:
“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.”***
When he’d heard those verses, Adam found himself short of breath and his heart pounding in his chest. That seemed to be what was happening to the nation but was it also happening to his family, to himself? Were they, too, biting and devouring each other? All Adam could think of at that moment was how wrong he’d been to leave, to forsake his family, to forsake Joe. It was the pastor’s final words that solidified his decision to return home:
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”****
As Adam stared up at the blue sky and felt a cool breeze brush his hair, he knew right then what he must do. He would leave for home as soon as he could. With a lighter step, he made his way back to the boarding house.
As Adam left the park, dark eyes watched the tall man amble down the street. The eyes were pained and desperate. The young owner of those eyes also made a decision that afternoon, one that would hopefully save his family from certain death.
After a restless night, none of the brothers were up to the long day ahead. It took them all day to locate and corner the herd of mustangs and two more days to capture the ones they wanted for the Army contract. Despite the success of the roundup, the three brothers still had not settled their differences. Joe kept complaining about his ideas concerning the horses being ignored when Adam decided his plans were better. Hoss tried to keep the peace as much as possible, but his two hard-headed brothers both told him to “stay out of it”. So he did, and the only thing he did was whatever he was told to do.
It was a long trip home and was made even longer by the slowness due to driving nearly two dozen horses. Two more days of riding and they finally met up with the Ponderosa wranglers. The wranglers had been busy breaking other horses when the brothers left. Thus it had been decided that the wrangles would meet them part way and drive the horses the rest of the way home. After giving the wranglers their instructions, Adam asked one of them to let his father know the brothers would be home the next day. By the time the wranglers left with the horses the brothers were hardly speaking to each other.
On their last night of camping, a day away from home, the weary brothers went through the motions of the evening, talking only when necessary to complete a task. Once dinner and cleanup was complete, all three sat around the fire staring at nothing. After a while, Joe sighed, stood up and headed to his bedroll. He stumbled over the log he’d been sitting on and had to lean on Adam to right himself.
“Hey, watch it will you?”
“Well, sorry BIG brother. Guess you would have preferred I fall into the fire, huh? Anything to get rid of your stupid LITTLE brother!” Joe shoved Adam as he moved passed him.
“Hey, knock it off Joe. Leave Adam alone.”
In one fast smooth motion, Adam rolled to his feet, grabbed Joe by his jacket, spun him around and grabbed his shirt into a tight fist. His right hand was coiled behind him ready to strike Joe’s face. As he brought it forward, it was stopped hard by Hoss’ big hand. “I said ta knock it off you two. Adam, let go o’ Joe.”
Adam jerked his body, unable to free his hand from Hoss but effectively pushed Joe backwards over the log, then, with his free fist, rounded on Hoss and connected with his jaw. Joe regained his footing and tackled Adam to the ground just as Hoss released Adam and staggered back from his punch. At that moment it was a no-holds-barred fight, the anger and tension of the last several weeks were released in an all-out brawl around and through the campfire.
Nearly a half-hour later, Adam, Hoss and Joe Cartwright leaned, sat, or sprawled around the camp nursing their wounds. Still no one spoke as they dabbed at their cuts and bruises with strips of cloths and dribbles of whiskey, kindly provided by Hoss. Into the silence came a quiet giggle, then a chuckle, then a loud guffaw. Before long the three brothers had moved closer together, bandaged each other’s scrapes and sat by the fire sharing the last of the whiskey. Apologies were quietly spoken and accepted with each pass of the flask. It was Joe who finally spoke up as he handed the flask back to Adam.
“I guess I’m ready to hear that story now, Adam. Will you tell us about Thomas Jackson and how you came to help him move west?”
Adam sipped from the flask, handed it to Hoss and seriously eyed his youngest brother. “You sure? It’s not a pleasant story Joe.”
Joe held his brother’s gaze. “Yeah. I want ta hear it. Since we haven’t been talking much lately, I’ve had a lot of time to think.” Joe suddenly jumped up and began to pace. Adam and Hoss couldn’t help but share a smile. Their younger brother never could sit still when he had something he needed to face up to. “I guess….well, okay….you’ve been right all along Adam. I’ve spent a lot of my life pointing out the differences between you and me, all based on where we were born. Well, where our mothers were from that is, considering I was born right here. And Pa’s been trying to tell all three of us that where we were born has nothing to do with who we are. We are Cartwrights, family, brothers. That’s all that really matters, isn’t it?” Joe finally paused in his pacing to glance at both his brothers, looking for…what? Reassurance? Confirmation?
Adam smirked and nodded, “Yeah, Joe, that’s right. We’re family first. Right Hoss?”
Joe smiled at his brothers’ quick responses but Adam could see it didn’t reach his eyes. Something was still unsettled in Joe’s mind but just what it was, Adam hadn’t a clue. Joe ran his hand through his hair and looked up to the black, moonless sky.
“Adam, I…I’m sorry for how things went when Mister Kyle was here. Pa helped me see that I got pulled in by his scheme but I have to say I still have opinions about how the South is being treated and I don’t think those will change for a while. I’ll just do my best to hear you out and try not to cause more trouble if we disagree.”
Adam took a slow breath. “Joe, I think you and I will always see things differently but that shouldn’t keep us from being brothers, and being there for each other.”
Hoss slowly released the breath he’d been holding. His brothers had finally settled things and he felt peace in his heart again.
Joe smiled but didn’t move. “Okay, so I have one more thing to say about that.” Adam and Hoss threw worried looks at each other. “I didn’t appreciate being overruled, on account of my position in this family, on some of my ideas concerning how to catch those mustangs. Pa sent all three of us to catch those horses and all three of us should have agreed on how to catch ‘em.” Joe waited a beat then returned to his spot by the fire.
Adam and Hoss took on expressions of being insulted, then quickly changed them to grins and gave Joe some hearty slaps on the back.
“Yer absolutely right little brother. From now on we’ll make sure we listen to your suggestions.” Hoss gave a wink to Adam which Joe caught just before he was shoved backwards off the log into the dirt. “But not till t’morrow, Shortshanks.” Laughter filled the night as the brothers settled back down to hear Adam’s story, and share another flask of whiskey, which this time Adam had produced, claiming he only carried it for medicinal purposes.
After each brother had taken their taste of Adam’s whiskey, marveling that he’d tapped into their father’s favorite supply, they grew quiet around the campfire. Adam stared off into the night in order to collect his thoughts and find the right spot to begin his story. Since his dream from the other night was still fresh in his mind, he decided to fill his brothers in on his time in Boston, ending with the sermon that Sunday in February which led to his decision to come home. He would continue his story by telling them how complicated that Sunday was to become.
After taking a final sip of whiskey Adam’s quiet baritone voice filled the night air, “I spent that Sunday afternoon sorting my few possessions, pulling out clothes to be cleaned and filing away papers and my journals. By dinner time I was prepared to leave as soon as I could procure train tickets to the Midwest. After that it would be stagecoaches the rest of the journey home. I hoped to be on my way by week’s end, but it didn’t quite turn out the way I had planned.”
After securing his room, Adam headed out for his weekly service to a soup kitchen. He’d started helping there around Christmas, after the pastor of his church asked for helpers to serve food and clean up after the meal. This night Adam would let the lady who ran the kitchen know he would be leaving. He’d enjoyed her company but also had met several interesting individuals and families who were down on their luck for a time.
The evening went well and Adam had had a chance to say his farewells to the ones he’d gotten to know. He helped the owner wash and put away the dishes while her son served the last of the soup and bread. It was getting late when they heard a commotion in the dining area. Tossing his dish towel aside, Adam ran out and found two men restraining a negro boy, preventing him from entering the room.
“Please sir, I gotta eat. I ain’t had no food fer days.”
“You don’t belong here boy. You go find food with your own kind. Now get out!”
“What’s going on here? Let the boy go.”
The men turned to see Adam standing near them with a dark look on his face and hands hanging tensely by his side. One of the men started to speak but Adam cut him off.
“I said to let the boy go.”
The men released the boy, angrily grabbed their hats and left the facility.
The boy stood in the doorway not sure if he should stay or run, his dark eyes darting between the tables and Adam. As the boy started to slink back into the night Adam realized his angry expression frightened him. He quickly softened his stance and spoke gently to the lad.
“Don’t leave. You’re safe here and welcome to eat your fill.” Adam had dealt with enough scared children to know not to approach the boy. He pointed to a table and with a glance over his shoulder, signaled for food to be brought out. He took a seat at one end as the boy slowly lowered himself into a chair at the other. They were left alone as the owner and her son watched from the serving window.
Adam let him eat all he wanted before engaging him. As the boy pushed the empty bowl away he began to relax. He looked up at Adam with a scared face and a plea in his eyes. Adam noted that his young face had seen too much strife and pain for his age.
“I’m Adam. Will you tell me your name?”
“How old are you Sammy?”
“Thirteen, sir.” He lowered his head.
“Do you live around here Sammy?”
Ignoring Adam’s question Sammy began looking all around him, as if checking to see who else was listening, then he spoke in a bare whisper, “I been watching you, Mister. I seen ya at the church an’ you seem a nice enough man. I-I need yer he’p. My pa and ma ain’t doin’ so good an’ it ain’t safe here for us no more. We wanted ta get ta Canada but ain’t got the means.” Sammy looked down in sadness but then raised his head and stared at Adam with determination on his face. “Will you he’p us mister? Can you get us to Canada? We’s in danger and if the men find us, they’ll kill us all. Please Mister, please?” Tears began to stain Sammy’s dark skin as his black eyes bore into Adam’s own hazel ones.
Adam took a deep breath and studied his laced fingers. This was a big and dangerous request from the boy. If they were runaway slaves and Adam, a white man, helped them….. He lifted his eyes and studied Sammy’s face. The boy didn’t flinch under Adam’s gaze. There was a strength within this young man that Adam felt he could identify with. Inhaling a deep breath he asked what had to be asked.
“Sammy, are you and your parents runaway slaves?”
Sammy blinked but didn’t look away. “My pa was freed, sir. He’s got papers. My ma and me, yessir, we’s runaways. Actu’lly they ain’t my real ma an’ pa. They’s just took me in and said we was family. I was taken from my real ma and sold to a mean man in Virginia. Some men bought at the same time were plannin’ an escape. They’d heard stories how this new master didn’t keep slaves long….said they kept dyin’. The men I was sold with ran one night and I followed ‘em. It didn’t take long fer ‘em ta be found…they’s was shootin’ and yellin’ then all was silent. I was hidin’ ‘long a river. I heard horses and men nearby afta all the noise but then they moved on. I waited there till the next night, then ran up the river. I don’t know how many days it was when Thomas an’ Missy found me. They took care o’ me and somehow we got to Philadelphia. After that some folks he’p’t us get to Boston. That’s when we used up all the money we’d been given, ‘cept it weren’t a lot to start with.” Sammy wiped his tear-stained face with his grimy sleeve and looked down to his hands. “In the market place we heard some men sayin’ they can get money fer us if they turn us in. We been hidin’ for a week. Please. Mister. Will you he’p us get out?”
Adam’s mind was in turmoil with the dangers involved but he also felt a calm inside. A verse his father had quoted to him throughout his life danced in his head and brought a peace to his soul.
“Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”*
Adam smiled at the young boy and nodded. “I’ll help you but it won’t be to get to Canada. I’m heading west by the end of the week. My home is in Nevada Territory. Will you and your family let me help you get there?”
Sammy’s face changed to worry as he thought about Adam’s offer. After a few moments he nodded once, rubbed his hand on his faded pants and held it out to Adam. “Yessir. We’ll go wherever you say.”
Adam took the boy’s hand in his. Dark skin and light skin blended together to form an accord, and a new friendship.
A loud pop and flurry of burning cinders in the campfire brought Adam back to the present. He watched as Hoss took a stick and resettled the logs. Glancing to his left he noticed Joe intensely studying the dirt by his feet. Adam rolled his eyes upward, noting the shifting of the constellations, and spoke quietly, “It’s quite late and I think we all should get some sleep. Pa’s going to expect us for dinner, and if we’re going to make it we need to leave by first light.”
Hoss stood and walked away silently to check the horses. Noticing Joe still had not moved Adam paused in his task of settling the fire for the night. “You okay Joe? What are you thinking?”
Joe stood then and stepped toward his bedroll. “I’m fine. I’m turning in.”
Adam’s concerned eyes watched his brother disappear into the darkness. When Hoss returned, Adam traded looks with him as they both settled into their bedrolls. It would be a peaceful night of sleep but both brothers were uncertain what the morning would bring with their younger brother.
As the predawn blackness slowly brightened to a silvery blue, Adam, Joe and Hoss were up and about. Each one did their tasks efficiently so that an hour later, when the sun’s golden light was breaking across the horizon, the three brothers were riding for home. They’d been riding in silence for a while when Adam began to hum a tune he’d recently learned. Hoss smiled at the jaunty melody. Joe remained quiet but began to tap his fingers on his pummel. After the last note faded on the air, Hoss asked about its origin and Adam explained it was an African song Missy had taught him on the trip west. For the next few minutes Adam and Hoss talked quietly as they plodded along to the rhythm of the horses and creaking saddles.
Joe listened to his brothers’ discussion about the song and the trip, and he realized Adam seemed awfully calm about the entire ordeal. He didn’t understand how that could be when he’d heard stories about what happened to fugitive slaves and those who helped them. He glanced sideways at Adam, took a breath and voiced his concern.
“Adam, weren’t you worried about helping escaped slaves? I mean you could have been caught and….injured, or even killed.”
Adam breathed deeply and seemed to be ready for this question. He answered quietly, “Yeah Joe, I could have been but I was careful. We all were. We knew how dangerous it would be, especially when we got to the Midwest states. We would be dodging slave hunters, and any law man could arrest us, too, if they had a mind to.*
“When Sammy took me to meet Thomas that Sunday night we spent some time talking. Thomas told me there were a few people in Boston who were connected to the Underground Railroad. One of them turned out to be the pastor at the church I attended. Thomas said they were planning to leave in a day or so but then some bounty hunters showed up and started asking about any escaped slaves. Someone evidently alerted them to the Jacksons and others as well, so the Jacksons went into hiding. The ones who were going to help the Jacksons escape felt they were being watched so all their plans had to be changed. That’s when the Pastor told Sammy how to find me. The next morning, I met with the pastor. He helped me plan our transportation routes west to avoid as many slave states as possible. He also told me of some safe houses to look for along the way in case we needed help. By the end of the week, we were on our way, riding in a baggage car toward New York City.”
Adam saw Joe tense at the last comments but Hoss jumped in with a question. “What’s the Underground Railroad, Adam? I ain’t ever heard of that.”
“It’s a network of people who help fugitive slaves reach freedom, with some of them going all the way to Canada. “Engineers”, as they’re called, offer safe places to hide and may include food, clothes and money. “Conductors” guide the slaves along their journey and work out their transportation. Thomas used it after he got to North Carolina, which is where he met Missy. Eventually they made it to Philadelphia and then on to Boston.”**
Hoss pondered that as Adam continued, “Our conductor, the Pastor, helped us plan our train route all the way to Missouri. We took a northern train route across New York, through Chicago and on to St. Joseph, Missouri. That way we remained in Union territory for quite a while. I dressed in nondescript clothes, let my beard and hair grow, and rode with the Jacksons in baggage cars or wherever we could get a place to sit. It was agreed, for my safety, that the Jacksons and I would act as if we didn’t know each other.”
Hoss smirked at the thought of Adam with a beard and long hair. “I bet you was quite a site with that beard and hair. Reckon we woulda recognized ya with it?”
“Probably not at first Hoss. Thomas had commented many times along the way how easily I blended in with our surroundings. He saw me change from a down and out cowboy to a formidable gunslinger to a homesteader getting food and supplies to move west. He even told me it made him kind of nervous when he saw me coming up the street in one town. But it was those changes that kept us alive and safe in many ways.”
Adam paused as the intensity of some of the memories threatened to overtake him. Not wanting to make eye contact with his brothers, he stared straight ahead as he continued his tale, “Over the weeks of travel, the Jacksons and I had gotten to know each other very well. We traveled mostly at night so that left the daytime for hiding. That gave us plenty of time to talk, allowing us to form a friendship and a deep trust with each other.”
“Adam, is that when Thomas told you how he got to be a freed slave? Ain’t that what Sammy said?” Hearing Hoss’ question, Joe nudged his horse a bit closer. He wanted to hear this part of the story.
“Yeah Hoss.” Noticing Joe’s movement off to his left, Adam shifted uneasily in his saddle as he thought about where to begin. “When Thomas was a slave he was married with a young son. They were on a plantation in Georgia. The owner decided they were no longer needed so he put them up for auction in Atlanta. Thomas’ wife and child were bought by a plantation owner from another state. Thomas fought to stay with them but he was beaten and forced away. He never learned where they had gone. He was eventually bought by an older man who had a small plantation near Atlanta. Thomas said the man was kind to him. His first jobs were working in the fields, but then the owner wanted him to drive his wagons and care for his stock. About a year later the owner died. He had no heirs for his estate so it had been part of his will that his estate be sold and all his slaves freed. Documents had been drawn up to be given to each slave. After he received his papers Thomas wanted to find his wife and son but when some men came to close up the house they also tried to restrain the slaves that remained. They claimed that no slave could be allowed to be free. Thomas managed to escape and had no choice but to head north. He’d heard of some people who could help him to freedom, if he could find them.”
“So Thomas never got to look for his wife and son?” Joe had asked quietly.
“No Joe. He never did. It was all he could do to keep ahead of the slave hunters and the law. Even though he had legal papers saying he was a free man, he was in great danger as long as he remained in the South. When he finally made it to North Carolina he was in pretty bad shape – sick, exhausted, injured. A farmer found him and took care of him. That’s when he met Missy. She was also on the run from her owner near Wilmington. Since she was a good cook she worked in the main house. One day she had been accused of stealing food and giving it to other slaves. She chose to run away rather than try to prove her innocence. She had also found her way to the farmer and had been there for a couple of weeks when Thomas was found. Thomas and Missy remained with the farmer for several more weeks until someone arrived to guide them to Virginia.”
“An’ then they met Sammy.”
“That’s right. All three were smuggled in a cargo wagon up to Philadelphia. That’s where Thomas and Missy decided to get married and they took Sammy in as their son.”
Hoss shared a look with Adam, acknowledging the painful story but how it had turned out to create a new family. Joe kept his eyes on the horizon before them.
Adam decided to move on with his story before any more questions could be asked about the Jacksons. “When the train lines ended at St. Joe, I looked into purchasing a covered wagon and team of draft horses. The plan was for the Jacksons to hide in the back while I drove it as far as Denver. From there, since we would be far enough from any slave states, we felt it would be safe enough to ride the stagecoaches on to Virginia City.” Adam’s voice trailed off as he ended his story.
Joe listened but also watched his brother closely. He noticed moments when Adam was not as calm as he appeared. He knew the signs – darkening eyes, set jaw, a slight tension in his voice. Joe knew the trip could not have been as smooth as Adam made it seem. That made Joe more nervous. Yes his brother was safe at home now but just how close had he come to not coming home at all? These thoughts began to nag at Joe. Why did it bother him so much that his older brother had helped to save the lives of some slaves? It shouldn’t have, considering what all of them had been taught by their father. But something still bothered Joe about it and it kept to the shadows of his mind. The more he tried to figure out what it was the more elusive it became causing Joe to become more intense by the minute. While Adam and Hoss continued to talk casually, Joe found he couldn’t take anymore and kicked Cochise into a run leaving Adam and Hoss in the dust.
Hoss sidled up to Adam and gave him a worried look. “Somethin’s sure enough eatin’ at our little brother. Can’t figure what it is though.”
“Nah, me either.” Adam clicked his tongue and Sport leapt forward in an attempt to catch up to Joe.
Hoss quickly caught up then rode behind as he studied his brothers for a moment. Joe had slowed the pace of his horse but still rode with agitation showing throughout his body. Adam followed at a short distance but seemed lost in deep thought and almost oblivious to his surroundings. As they rode on, Hoss decided he might try to get his younger brother to talk to him.
Hoss moved Chubb closer to Joe, brushing against him to get his attention. “What’s eatin’ at ya little brother? Adam’s doin’ his best to tell us his story.”
Joe turned an angry face to Hoss, then looked away. “I don’t want to hear anymore. Adam was foolish to get involved in the first place. He could have been killed. And all for what, helpin’ escaped slaves?”
Hoss leaned over and grabbed Cochise’s reins, pulling him to a stop. “Now you hold on right there Joe. We’ve always been taught to help others in need and those folks were livin’ a bad life. They had no freedom, and their lives were even threatened. Adam did what he wanted to do and what he thought was right. Don’t you go and judge him for that! You know better.”
“Okay. Okay! I know better. But he still could have been…..”
Hoss suddenly realized that the idea of Adam being killed kept coming up every time Joe spoke.
Adam, overhearing the discussion, knew at that moment they had hit on what was bothering Joe and he also reluctantly acknowledged to himself that he was going to have to finish the story before they got home.
Adam rode up to the other side of Joe and looked at both brothers before fixing his gaze on the nearby hills. “You’re right Joe, I could have been killed and to tell you the truth it did nearly happen, in St. Joseph.”
Adam’s admission that he had nearly died stunned Hoss and Joe causing them to pull their horses to a stop. Before either could form a coherent response Adam rode off toward a grove of trees.
Joe was about to call Adam back but Hoss grabbed his arm and shook his head. “Leave him be Joe. That had to have been mighty hard for him to admit that. And you know Adam, he won’t tell anything till he’s ready. Let’s go. The area where Adam’s ridin’ to is a good place to eat lunch and rest the horses.” Hoss kicked Chubb into a trot to follow Adam.
Joe didn’t like it but he knew Hoss was right. He nudged Cochise forward and followed in silence. Soon the brothers settled near a stream to eat lunch and let the horses graze.
For the next hour, as they ate in silence, Hoss’ mind chewed on Adam’s revelation as he observed his brothers. The tension between them had returned but this time it was different. Joe had tried to engage Adam in conversation but was ignored each time. That made Joe tense and each word he said, though there weren’t many, was growing in anger and frustration. Adam was stiff and kept looking off into the distance as if he were somewhere other than the Ponderosa. Hoss shook his head as he reached out to pour himself more coffee. How could things have changed so quickly in just a few hours?
Adam was the first to move and began cleaning up the site. When he finished, he walked over to Sport and started to put his foot into the stirrup. Joe suddenly grabbed his arm and yelled at him, “Wait a damn minute. You tell us you were nearly killed and now you’re not talking? Oh no, older brother. You’re going to finish this story before we go anywhere!”
Joe turned to Hoss and gave him a pleading look as if to say ‘do something’. Hoss grimaced and took a deep breath.
“Adam, what happened in St. Joe? I’m thinkin’ it needs ta be said an’ now’s as good a time as any.”
Hoss could see Adam’s jaws clenching, and noticed his brother’s hands tensing as well. Adam shoved Joe away and tried again to mount Sport. “Leave me alone Joe, and you too Hoss. I’ve told my story and that’s all you’re going to get out of me! Now mount up and let’s get home. I for one don’t want to have to explain to Pa or Hop Sing why we’re so late.”
Hoss grabbed Adam and pulled him around until they were face to face. His voice was quiet but firm. “What happened Adam? You ain’t bein’ fair ta us. You say you were almost killed then you stop talkin’. I ain’t havin’ it an’ neither is Joe. You’re hurtin’ an’ I reckon you need to talk about it.”
Adam dropped the reins, took a couple of steps away and stared into the distance.
“Alright, but don’t tell a word of this to Pa. Promise me, both of you.” He turned to make sure his brothers agreed.
Adam squatted down and pulled up several blades of grass which he began running through his fingers. Joe and Hoss settled down in the tall grass and waited for Adam to tell the last part of his story. They listened intently as Adam recounted what happened at each step of the journey.
Out of Chicago, Adam had managed to get himself and the Jacksons onto an overnight train to Hannibal, Missouri. They’d stolen away in a baggage car right before the train pulled out. With help from a store owner, they had enough food to last until they arrived in Hannibal. As the train slowed to enter the station, the four jumped from the train. The landing was padded by the soft earth and grasses of a nearby field. The land was flat with few trees but the tall grasses provided coverage until they neared town. Thomas spied an abandoned house to hide in, and once the Jacksons were settled, Adam headed into town to figure out their next train and to get some food.
Hannibal, Missouri was bustling with union and rebel soldiers, residents, farmers and cowboys. In the weeks since leaving Boston, Adam’s hair had grown down to his shoulders and he had a full beard. Dressed in dark clothing, a duster and large brimmed hat he blended in easily with the cowboys wandering through town. His first order of business was to determine the next train they would need. He found a cargo train leaving for St. Joseph that night.
Next he had to find food for four people and not look conspicuous doing it. His duster gave him the ability to hide things under it. After buying small amounts from several shops and vendors, he had enough to see them to St. Joseph. On his way back to the abandoned house, Adam saw posters that made him nervous. They spoke of Missouri being a divided state, for and against slavery, despite it being a slave state. Other posters offered rewards for escaped slaves and those harboring them. Heading down an alley he found an old newspaper. Stuffing it into his small sack he made his way back to their hideout. That paper ended up giving them all a better understand of the dangerous atmosphere of the town.
During the rest of the morning Thomas and Adam discussed the news he’d brought back. They knew the danger level had increased tenfold. In the afternoon, he and Adam headed out to observe the train yard. They found the train they needed and planned to be on it when night fell.
That evening at dusk the four fugitives moved toward the freight cars. There was one that was loaded with crates so they climbed in and hid in a far corner. An hour later, the doors were closed and the train began to move. All four took turns sleeping and sharing food. Before dawn the train arrived in St. Joseph. They jumped from the car outside of town so that when the crates were removed at the station nothing remained to show that four people had hidden behind them. Finding an old barn at the edge of town they hid in the cellar behind the barn.
Adam changed clothes once again and headed out to purchase the wagon and team. After that he would begin buying supplies. The hope was that they could be on their way to Denver the next day, if he could avoid drawing attention to himself.
Purchasing the covered wagon and team proved easy. The livery man was helpful and kept questions to a minimum. Inquiring about the soldiers, Adam discovered they were trying to get equipment to take back to the south. The man also recommended a few stores for food and supplies.
Adam loaded the wagon with supplies first. Then he bought prospecting tools, building tools, a tent for camping out, bedding, and food storage containers, as well as a few supplies for maintaining the wagon along the way. His last purchase of the day was just enough food for the apparent two meals he would need, supper that night and breakfast the next morning. The next day Adam planned to load up on food supplies and head out, with three hidden passengers.
With permission from the livery owner, Adam stored the wagon behind the livery. He and the Jacksons returned to it around midnight to prepare the hiding places in the back. Since Adam had spent his younger years riding in the back of a wagon he knew how to pack it so people could be comfortable. Once in place Thomas, Missy and Sammy were well hidden under the tent and bedding. Despite their location they were warm and comfortable. Adam found a place to rest near the wagon until morning.
As Adam moved around town the next morning to collect food for the trip, he kept having a niggling feeling he was being watched. He couldn’t seem to locate any one person but the feeling wouldn’t go away. After buying the last of his food he spent a few moments packing it in the wagon. When he finished and turned around, a man was lazily pointing a sawed-off shotgun at him. He was dressed as Adam was, in a duster and wide brimmed hat but his most striking feature was his scraggly red beard. A second man came up behind the first aiming his pistol at Adam. A third man came around the wagon and yanked Adam into the street, restraining his arms behind him.
“What’s the meaning of this? Let me go, now!” Adam hissed as he struggled to escape the man’s iron grip.
The man holding the sawed-off shotgun spit tobacco juice on the ground near Adam’s feet. “Mister, you ain’t in no position to demand anythin’. We been watching ya all mornin’. You got a powerful lot of things in this here wagon fer one man. Might be you’re planning on having passengers waitin’ fer ya outside o’ town? We know you ain’t from here so’s perhaps you’re plannin’ on takin’ some slaves across inta Kansas, to he’p ‘em escape?”
“Slaves?! You’re crazy! All these supplies are to help me get out west. I’m planning to get some land and do some prospecting. I hear there’s gold in Colorado and good land too. So let me go and I’ll be on my way.” Adam struggled harder but the man behind him hadn’t loosened his grip.
The man with the pistol gave a mean grin, showing his black teeth. The apparent leader leveled his sawed-off shotgun at Adam’s midsection. “We know there are slaves hiding in this town, a lot of ‘em. We got descriptions and plan to find every last one of ‘em. Now you seem to be just the sort to hide a few and get ‘em out o’ town. We’re gonna search your wagon. If we find what we’re lookin’ for we’ll string you up for aidin’ and abettin’. Buck, get started.”
The other man holstered his pistol as he moved toward the wagon. Adam struggled once more and after slamming his boot heel into his captor’s foot he managed to get free. “No!! You have no right. Get away from my wagon.”
The man who had been holding Adam grabbed a rope off the side of the wagon and slung the loop end around Adam’s neck. He pulled hard yanking him backward onto the ground. He put his foot on Adam’s chest and drew the rope tight, almost strangling him. All Adam could do was gasp for breath and watch helplessly as his wagon was unloaded, items tossed everywhere. After a few minutes, screaming and yelling began, but it was coming from down the street. Buck stopped in his search and turned with the bearded man to look toward the noise. Several white boys were running up the street yelling for the men to come quick. They grabbed at the men, tugging them away from the wagon, pleading with them to come, saying that some slaves had been found in an old house. The men looked at each other, the one with the shotgun responding, “Let’s go boys. This one can wait. Cal tie him to the wheel real tight then get that team movin’. That’ll teach him a lesson about sneaking slaves out.” The leader and the one called Buck walked away laughing as Cal dragged Adam over to the wagon and tied the rope to the wheel. When he was done, Adam couldn’t move without strangling himself. Fear tore through him as Cal removed his hat and prepared to slap the back of the horses with it. Suddenly there was more yelling as two men tackled Cal to the ground, knocking him out, and a third cut Adam free. Grateful to be able to breathe again Adam looked up to find his savior was the livery man.
“Mister, you need to get outta’ here now. Won’t take long fer them to find out it was all a fake. Once you get across the river you can stop and resupply at Campbell’s supply and feed store in Elwood. Mention me, Liam Campbell, and he’ll keep ya safe an’ get ya on yer way.”
“Thank you,” was all Adam could croak out through a sore throat and deep emotions. He vigorously shook Liam’s hand and scrambled into the seat. Snapping the reins hard Adam got the team moving.
A short time later he was in Elwood, Kansas. Wes Campbell, the proprietor, turned out to be Liam’s cousin and a member of the Underground Railroad. Adam helped the Jacksons out of the wagon while Wes gathered their supplies. He was still shaken by the events in St. Joe but refused to discuss them with anyone. Wes supplied Adam with a map to more safe spots, telling him that if he could get to Colorado he and the Jacksons should be safe. He also gave Adam some salve to put on the abrasions on his neck. Adam knew the skin would take a bit of time to heal; he hoped all the marks would be gone before he reached home. Once the wagon was filled and the Jacksons safely hidden, Adam thanked Wes, telling him how grateful he was for his and Liam’s help.
The first night the foursome camped on a farm, with the wagon hidden in a large barn. The Jacksons and Adam ate a veritable feast provided by the family, though the conversation time was more solemn. All four of them were fully aware that none of them would be there if Liam hadn’t stepped up.
After the meal, Adam excused himself and went to the corral to watch the horses. One of the draft horses came over and pushed against his shoulder. He reached up to the tall horse and scratched under her chin.
After Missy got Sammy to sleep in the barn she joined Thomas at the doorway. Thomas put his arm around her and drew her in. She leaned into him as she watched Adam rub the horse’s neck. Though they spoke in whispers, Adam could still overhear their conversation.
“He’s a troubled man, Thomas. He’s hurtin’ inside, in his heart an’ mind. Go to ‘im. Tell ‘im we don’t hold no ill will.”
“He kno’ that Missy. I seen it in his eyes. He’s troubled ‘cause we almost got caught. He’s blamin’ hisself fer that, fer not bein’ careful ‘nough.” Thomas kissed the top of Missy’s head. “Go get some rest. I’ll be in soon.”
Wrapping her arms tightly around herself, Missy watched her husband for a moment then returned to the barn and laid down beside Sammy. Thomas walked slowly over to where Adam leaned on the corral fence, his chin resting on his arms.
Thomas stretched his arms across the top rail and stared straight ahead, watching the two horses nuzzling each other. “They’s good hosses, Adam. You got some like ‘em on yer ranch?”
“Not this big, no.”
“You anxious ta get home an’ see yer family? I’m lookin’ forward ta meetin’ ‘em.”
Adam straightened up and turned his back on Thomas. “Look Thomas I appreciate you wanting to help but I just need to be alone right now. I don’t really feel like talking.”
Thomas was not going to be dissuaded that easily. “Adam, why yer blamin’ yerself fer what happened back there in St. Joe? Weren’t yer fault. Ya gotta see that. Them men was lookin’ fer any trouble they could stir up. Ya kno’ that dontcha?”
“No Thomas. I became complacent. I was almost done, I quit watching my own back and let them sneak up on me. I’d be dead right now and you, Missy and Sammy would either be dead or heading back into slavery.”
“That might be, Adam’ but the way I figure it right now, you’s the one in slavery.”
Adam turned around to look at Thomas, not understanding what he meant. In the moonlight Thomas could see the pain and suffering in his friend’s eyes.
“Ya see, Adam, without faith, an’ friends, freedom’s jest another word. It don’t mean much if the heart ain’t free. If thay’s no hope, no faith, thay’s no freedom. Real freedom means people can grow, dream, live. That kind o’ freedom’s worth fightin’ for an’ what we need ta protect.* That’s what Mista Liam did fer us t’day. That’s what you’s been doin’ fer us since we met ya Adam. Ya think on that. I reckon yer’ll figure it out.”
Thomas smiled and patted Adam’s arm, then headed back to the barn. It was a long while later before Adam finally went into the barn to sleep. After he had pondered what Thomas had said, then what his family would say, he felt a peace fill his soul. Through Thomas’ wise words, he’d found his freedom.
Adam felt the cool mountain breeze brush his cheek, and noticed his face was damp as well. He quickly wiped it dry before turning to look at each of his brothers. Joe had misty eyes and was staring down at his hands. Hoss had found some grass to chew on and was staring off at the mountains ahead of them.
Adam took a slow deep breath, gently touched each of his brothers’ arms, and smiled at each one. “Let’s go home.”
Just as the morning had turned from a gray dusk to a golden dawn when the brothers had headed home, now it was the reverse. The late April sun disappeared behind the mountains and a gray twilight settled over the land. As three riders entered the yard of their Ponderosa home, a couple of ranch hands were lighting the outside lanterns. The brothers were exhausted. It had been a long week of chasing mustangs but also they had done a lot of talking. As they dismounted and headed toward the barn, three heads turned in unison when the front door opened and Ben Cartwright marched out. Nervous eyes flicked back and forth, eventually settling on Ben.
“It’s about time you three got here. You’re not only late for dinner, but a full day late. I want to know why you didn’t come home with the wranglers yesterday and why you’ve made Hop Sing hold dinner now.”
Adam’s face turned dark as he advanced toward his father, but a large hand rested gently on his shoulder to hold him in place.
“Pa, we still had some things ta work out ‘fore comin’ home. You said you wanted us all at peace with each other. Well, I reckon we are now. We’re sorry we’re late but if it’s alright with you we’ll tend to our horses an’ be right in.”
Ben calmed down with each of Hoss’ words. He’d nearly forgotten his command to his sons when they left.
“Alright, but hurry. We’ve got something important to discuss.”
The brothers nodded and headed to the barn. They worked silently caring for their horses and putting their gear away. In the house the brothers washed up and Ben indicated the table. “Let’s eat and then we’ll talk when we have dessert.”
The time at dinner was spent in light discussion concerning the mustangs and the upcoming cattle drive. Ben felt a relief come over him as he noticed how easily they all talked despite his sons showing their exhaustion. Afterwards, the four men settled by the fireplace with coffee and pie. The brothers looked at Ben, unsure of what he was going to say.
“I’m glad you three are home. I apologize that my greeting earlier was less than welcoming. I’ve received some distressing news from one of our hands, Zack, that especially you, Adam, will need to hear.”
Adam tensed at that comment but kept his eyes on his father. Joe and Hoss exchanged worried glances.
“Zack was in town a couple of days ago getting supplies for the drive. He stopped by the saloon for a quick beer and overheard three strangers say they were bounty hunters looking for runaway slaves. They said they had tracked some to this area and wanted to know where they were. Zack said they made threats saying anyone hiding them would be brought up on charges. Zack quickly left the saloon and went to tell Roy. Roy said he’d investigate it and told Zack to tell me. After hearing this news I sent him and Mike out to Thomas’ place to keep an eye on things there. They’ve kept me informed that all is peaceful there. Adam, Roy came out yesterday. He said he spoke to Thomas and needed to see you but wouldn’t say why. He said the men had left town but didn’t know where they’d gone. He’s sent telegrams to Carson City and Genoa, and some of the smaller towns, in case they show up there.”
Ben paused to sip his coffee. His dark eyes noted Joe and Hoss shifting uncomfortably in their seats and sending furtive looks at each other and toward Adam who remained unmoving.
“Alright, you three seem to know something. Mind telling me what it is?”
Another uncomfortable silence but now Hoss and Joe were looking at Adam, who was staring at the fire, seeming to be somewhere else.
“Adam? What is it son?”
Trying to give Adam some time, Hoss spoke instead, “Pa, did Zack or Roy say what the fellers looked like or where they were from?”
Ben shook his head. “Zack didn’t hear that part but got the feeling they had travelled a long way. He did get a good look at them. They were real dirty and wore dusters. The one that seemed to be in charge had a red beard and carried a sawed off shotgun. They disappeared before Roy could talk to them.”
Ben kept an eye on Adam and saw him visibly pale at the descriptions. “I think the three of you know something, and if it’s going to keep the Jackson family safe one of you needs to tell me what it is.”
As the long clock chimed the hour a lone figure in a dark blue robe sat in front of a dying fire. Adam knew it was well past midnight but after telling his father of the events in St. Joseph, and seeing him grow deathly pale, sleep had become elusive. After downing a couple shots of whiskey, combined with exhaustion, he finally grew groggy enough to drag himself up to bed. Dropping his robe to the floor, Adam crawled under the covers and passed out, unaware of a light down the hall finally going out.
Up and dressed before dawn, Ben opened his bedroom door and paused for a moment. The silence in the hall was noticeable but it also brought a peace with it that hadn’t been there for a long while. He drew in a relaxing breath and continued toward the steps. A sound stopped him midway. He listened to see if it was one of his sons moving about. Hearing it again he decided it sounded like someone was in distress. Following the sound as it grew more distinct, he paused for a second outside Adam’s room before entering. Inside, in the dim morning light, he saw Adam thrashing under his covers and clawing at his neck. Ben rushed over and tried to awaken his son. Pulling Adam’s hands away from his neck, Ben called to his son several times before Adam opened his eyes.
“Adam? Wake up son. You’re safe, wake up.”
“Pa? Where…?” Adam continued to gasp for breath until he finally could make sense of being in his room. He took a shuddering breath and sank into his pillow.
Not knowing what to say, Ben settled on the edge of the bed, resting his hand on Adam’s arm. He knew it had to have been a nightmare of what had happened to him in Missouri.
As his breathing slowed Adam was finally able to speak. “I’m okay now Pa. You can leave.”
“Are you sure? Do you want to talk about it?” Adam gave his father a stony look. “I’m sorry. Of course you don’t. Alright, I’ll see you downstairs when you’re ready.” Ben squeezed Adam’s hand then stood and left the room. Adam took another deep breath hoping to chase away the ghosts and fears from Missouri. All the talk about that time had dredged everything up again but he had to admit he felt better able to handle those ghosts, than he had those first few nights after it happened. As the shadows of the memories were chased away by the rising sun, he rose and prepared for the day. He was going to need all his resolve today if he was going to find those men and keep Thomas’ family safe.
After a quick breakfast, Ben and Hoss headed to town to see if Roy had any news. Adam and Joe headed to the Jackson homestead about halfway to Virginia City. Joe kept silent for a while knowing Adam had a lot on his mind but he couldn’t stay quiet any longer. Slowing his horse just a little so the brothers could talk, Joe took a deep breath and began.
“Adam, I need to say something and I want you to hear me out.”
Adam slowed his horse to match Joe’s but remained silent.
“I want to say that I’m glad we got things worked out between us. I won’t claim to understand all the problems with the war, and I know we still have our different opinions about it, but, well, I’m just glad you’re home, and safe. I really missed you when you were gone. At first I was angry that you left but after we heard from you I found I missed you being around to tell me what to do and I didn’t have you to tease. It’s not as much fun trying to tease Hoss, you know?” That brought out a small smirk.
Realizing they were near the Jackson home Joe wanted to finish his thoughts. He stopped his horse and Adam did the same.
“Joe, we’ve got to keep moving.”
“I know but I need to say this. I was really scared that we, I, would never see you again. After Pa put Mister Kyle in his place he told me you were gone. I was shocked. I remember riding wildly out to the ranch, trying to find you. I looked everywhere I thought you might be, even though it was nighttime. I was so angry that you would dare to leave us. I thought you were a coward, not being able to face us but Hoss explained it all to me. You left to protect me, to make sure I stayed with Pa. Seems you had some half-baked notion I needed him more than you. Well, brother, I need you too. We all do.” Joe half smiled at Adam. “And, well, that’s all I got to say.”
Adam looked down at his hands as they played with the reins. He recalled that night and all the wild emotions. He remembered hating to leave but felt it really was best for the moment. He looked at his younger brother. Had something changed in Joe that Adam was just now noticing? He still seemed so young yet there seemed to be more of a maturity to him. Adam grinned and reached for Joe’s arm. He gave it a strong squeeze. “Yeah, I guess I need you too, little brother.”
The brotherly moment was shattered by a gunshot and a scream. With only one thought, horses and riders raced across the distance to the Jackson farm, guns drawn. A shot whizzed by them as they rode toward boulders near the house. Adam and Joe jumped from their horses, grabbing their rifles. Both hunkered down behind the boulders, pistols ready, as the horses ran a safe distance away.
“You see anybody, Joe? Where are Mike and Zack?”
“Can’t see anyone, but somethin’s laying out in the middle of the yard.”
Adam took off his hat and chanced a brief look around a large rock. He nearly took a bullet for his efforts. Joe saw the shock on Adam’s face.
“Who is it?”
“Sammy.” Adam holstered his pistol and took up his rifle. “The shooter’s on the other side of the barn. We need to move over to the wall by the house. It’ll give us a better view of the area.”
Joe nodded and prepared to move when they heard voices call out and two men ran across the yard, carrying what appeared to be large sticks, along with their shotguns.
“It’s them, the ones called Buck and Cal, from St. Joe. Where’s the third one?”
Adam followed Joe’s gaze and saw Missy and Thomas moving beyond the window. Buck and Cal were heading toward the door.
“I can’t get a clear shot from here. Joe we’ve got to get to that wall.”
“Wait Adam, look. The men…they’ve got torches.”
At that point the bearded man sauntered up behind his partners, dragging one of the Ponderosa ranch hands with a rope. He held his sawed-off shotgun casually at his waist. Kicking at Sammy’s body which didn’t move, he gave a nod for the men to torch the house. Buck and Cal grinned and struck their matches. The next moment the torches were ablaze and they ran into the house lighting everything they could on fire. When they ran out, the two men took up positions on either side of the house in case anyone ran out.
Adam couldn’t wait any longer. Dropping his rifle he pulled out his pistol and started shooting as he ran to the house. Joe was stunned by the action but quickly covered his brother and ran after him. The men took cover and returned fire. Someone shot from the barn and hit Cal in the leg. Adam ran into the house trying to find Missy and Thomas. Joe fired off shots from his position by the wall but they kept missing their mark. He hollered for Adam to get out of the house. When he didn’t Joe dropped both of his weapons and ran to the house.
Out of nowhere shots were firing from all directions. Joe heard horses, men shouting and he saw the bearded man fall. After that Joe’s only thoughts were to get Adam out of the burning house. As he neared the door, he had to jump back due to the heat. He tried again and realized hands were holding him back.
“No Joe you can’t go in. You’ll die son.”
Joe fought against his father’s hands and yelled, “Pa I have to. I just got my brother back. I can’t lose him again!!” He jerked hard, freeing himself. Before Ben could reach him again, Joe was gone, swallowed by the flames.
The smoke and flames were intense. Joe dropped to his hands and knees and landed on a lump on the floor. Feeling around he discovered it was a foot. Frantic and blinded from the smoke he felt around until he found the other foot. After that he pulled with all his strength, slowly making his way back to the door. Suddenly, hands were pulling him out and he tried desperately to hang onto the feet in front of him. Out in the fresh air Joe lost his grip on the feet, and someone was picking him up. In his head he was screaming for someone to get Adam but the only sound he could produce was hard coughing. He couldn’t get a good breath to say anything. He felt hands moving all over his body, removing his clothing, water dripping over his face. He couldn’t do anything to prevent it but in his mind he screamed and cried. He had failed to save Adam. He had lost his brother again, and this time Adam wasn’t coming back.
All Joe could hear were distant voices and his own coughing. He tried to sit up but someone held him down.
“Someone find Mister Cartwright and the Doc. Joe’s awake!” Joe thought that sounded like Zack, but then someone else came up and Joe felt familiar hands on his arm.
“Joe? Hey there buddy, jest lie still. Ole Hoss is here. Pa’s comin’.”
“Hoss?” His voice sounded so weak.
“Yeah, I’m here. Ya got bandages on yer eyes. They’re fine, just helping to keep ‘em that way.”
“Adam? I had him…I…” That dang coughing took hold again.
“Shh, son. Take it easy. Here drink some water. It’ll help.”
Joe shook his head. “No! Please, where’s Adam? Did he make it?” Joe become frantic. No one was listening to him. Ben and Hoss exchanged looks, and finally Ben nodded. Hoss shifted his weight and picked Joe up.
“Hang on Joe. I’ll take ya to him.”
Joe quit moving and waited until Hoss sat him back on the ground. Next Hoss picked up Joe’s hands and placed them down on a rough surface. Joe froze, fearful that he was touching his dead brother’s charred body, but then he realized the surface he was touching was moving up and down. As he began to explore he figured out he was feeling Adam’s chest rising and falling. He quickly moved his hands all around and discovered that all appendages were intact despite several bandages.
“Adam? Can you hear me?”
“He’s sedated Joe. But Doc Martin says he’ll be alright. He’s got some burns on his hands and arms but nothin’ too bad. After we got you and Adam outta the house it collapsed. You saved him Joe.” Joe heard Hoss’ voice break. Ben stood nearby gazing at his sons as Hoss put his arm around Joe and both brothers rested their hands on Adam’s chest. With tears in his eyes Ben looked Heavenward, acknowledging the blessing of his sons’ lives he’d received that day.
A gentle hand rested on Ben’s arm drawing his attention away from his sons and toward the dark eyes of a good friend.
“Thomas. What is it?”
“I jest came ta make sure you was doin’ alright, Mista Cartwright.”
“I’m fine, just fine.” Both men looked back at the brothers.
“The Sheriff wants ta talk with ya and with me.”
Ben was numb, and reluctant to leave his sons, but followed Thomas over to the barn where Roy had collected the bodies of those who had died.
“Ben, Doc Martin tells me the boys are gonna be alright.” Roy rested a hand on his friend’s arm and shared a smile with him. “Thomas, I hear tell you and your wife hid in that cellar.”
“Yessir. After seeing our Sammy fall, I tol’ Missy we had to hide.”
“Saved your lives. And Sammy playin’ dead saved his too. You speak to him yet?”
“Yessir. My Missy’s with ‘im now. Doc says he not hurt bad. That bullet didn’t go deep.”
Roy nodded and turned to the bodies behind him. “Well, we got the leader it seems and one of th’ others. The third one, Doc says will live but probably not fer long once we get all the information we need for a trial. Ben, I’m right sorry about Mike there. Zack said they snuck up on Mike and he didn’t stand a chance.” Roy looked sympathetically at Ben.
Ben took a deep breath. “We’ll take him back to the ranch and bury him. Being a loner he was most comfortable there.”
Roy made a note in his notepad. “Wal, I guess that finishes things fer me. I’m taken these bodies back ta town. Thomas ifn ya need anythin’ ya jest holler. Alright?”
“Yessir. Thank ya, Mista Coffee. Thanks to ya fer all ya done fer me and my family.”
Roy tipped his hat and moved away.
Ben walked with Thomas over to where Missy was sitting under a tree. Sammy was resting on his stomach. Thomas sat by his wife and Ben knelt down by Sammy.
“I want you folks to know we’ll help you rebuild here. In the meantime you’re welcome to stay at the Ponderosa.”
Thomas started to say that they’d be fine in the barn, but Missy’s hand on his stopped him. With a moment of silent communication Thomas stretched out his hand to Ben.
“We’s right grateful fer yer he’p, Mista Cartwright. We’d be pleased to take ya up on yer offer.”
Ben took the dark hand in his and shook it warmly. “It’s what friends do for friends, Thomas.”
“Yessir, that’s what freedom’s all ‘bout, ain’t it? Folks helpin’ folks.”
Ben nodded solemnly and he looked into the smiling black eyes. It was indeed.
Three months after the attack the Jacksons were back in their newly rebuilt house. When the Jacksons had moved into the original house Adam had drawn up some preliminary plans to modify it. During those first weeks while everyone recovered, Adam wasn’t cleared by Doctor Martin to begin using his hands so with Adam talking and pointing with bandaged fingers, and Joe doing the marking, the plans were completed and the house rebuilt.
Roy had his hands full with getting all the legal papers straight with the men who’d attack the Jacksons. The lone survivor, Cal, told all in hopes of getting prison time instead of hanging. It turned out all three were wanted in several states and territories for similar crimes – burning buildings, killing innocent folks, hanging any slave they could find. Adam had identified all three as his attackers in Missouri. Cal also told the Sheriff they had followed Adam from St. Joseph to Elwood, and with some rather violent persuasion got the information from the store owner on where Adam was headed. From there it was just a matter of time before they found him and his ‘cargo’. All that information along with the warrants ensured Cal of a quick hanging.
Once the Jacksons had moved into their new home, they held a party to celebrate with their friends. They found they were welcomed by so many folks from town and Missy’s cooking skills were becoming nearly as legendary as Hop Sing’s. She was asked by many ladies to give lessons, to which she readily agreed. With the help of the Cartwrights Thomas was going to grow several varieties of vegetables to sell in town as well as hay and alfalfa for the nearby ranches that couldn’t grow it themselves.
At the end of a long and joyous day the guests headed home. In the shadows of a Sierra sunset, the silhouettes of three friends could be seen sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch. Thomas, Sammy and Adam sat silently, watching the last of the sunset fade over the mountains. All three were peacefully reflecting on what had brought them together, and the friendships that had formed. Inside, Ben, Hoss, Joe and Missy carried similar thoughts as they cleaned and put away the dishes. Thomas smiled as he looked at the friend and the son he’d been given. He’d been taught by those in the Underground Railroad to “follow the star” meaning to follow the North Star to freedom. He had also learned to follow the One who placed the star there for all to follow. And for that he’d be eternally grateful, for that was the true meaning of Freedom.
He chuckled and shared a thought in his mind, “Freedom….ain’t just ‘nother word. By golly, it’s Life.”
Heads bobbed in agreement as rocking chairs began to creak on the porch.
* A house divided against itself cannot stand – Lincoln’s address to the Republican State Convention in Springfield, IL, June 16, 1858.
** Mark 3:24-25 KJV
*** Galatians 5:13-15 KJV
**** Psalms 133:1 KJV
* Matthew 25:40 KJV
A/N – While Boston was a safe haven for runaway slaves (they found support and jobs), slave hunters still made their way that far north and the city government was obliged by law to turn slaves over if they knew about them.
* Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 – Slaves could be captured in any state and returned to their owner. No trial, Law Enforcement Officers were to help Slave Hunters, Judges and Commissioners were to make the ruling to return the slaves, a fee of $10 per slave was paid to
whoever returned the slave(s) to their owners.
** Underground Railroad – History Channel
* Thomas’ comments about Freedom came from a paraphrase of an anonymous person’s thoughts on the line “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” from the song Me and Bobby McGee. She said: “Freedom isn’t despair and hopelessness; it’s strength and hope. Freedom is the rich soil in which a people blossom. Being free doesn’t mean you have nothing left to lose; it means you have everything to fight for, to nurture, to cherish.”
This is what gave me the idea for this story. Source: fuzislippers.wordpress.com – Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.