Summary: Hot weather and no rain create serious problems for the Ponderosa, but a renegade band on the run brings the worst trouble of all for a member of the family.
rating = T WC = 20,237
The ground shimmered as if waves of diamonds were washing over it, but unfortunately although it was beautiful, what it meant was unrelenting heat without rain had assailed the Ponderosa for weeks and those beautiful azure skies assured them that there was no imminent relief. Adam rode toward the ranch house looking forward to at least a change of clothing and the chance to sponge himself clean even though a bath was probably out of the question under the unfortunate arid circumstances in which they found themselves. Hoss had sprained an ankle and Joe had been called upon to sit through some negotiations with the Army over contracts for horses so Adam had found himself stuck with every hot and dirty job on the ranch. It had been a very hard time to be alone and working like that because only that month Howard Mead had gone to the gallows and Hilda Brunner had left town bereft with her brother’s death and having lost faith in people and in her future no matter what anyone said to her. Nearly as depressed as she was, Adam held his feelings inside but his surly disposition was enough for his family to know he was deeply troubled. However drought, heat, financial difficulties, and Hoss’ injury had left them little recourse except to lean on Adam’s strength. He didn’t have much left though. Because it was finally Saturday, Adam was looking forward to the respite of the evening and then a day off from the hard days. When he arrived home, somehow though seeing Hoss and Joe sitting with their father on the porch and studying maps had an ominous feel to it. After taking care of Sport, Adam walked to the porch where his family was still talking. His father addressed him first, and Adam guessed he wasn’t going to like what he was going to hear.
“Oh, Adam, I’m glad you’re back. We’re working out a way to manage our finances despite the drought. We think we’ve found a way. Hoss can’t do the cattle drive, but Joe has volunteered to do it in his place. It’s not going to be a big drive because we don’t want to try to take too many cattle with water supplies down like they are, but most ranches aren’t sending any, so the price is up. The final profit will be about the same.”
“I usually boss the drives. Is there some reason that I’ve been fired?”
Taken aback by Adam’s retort, Ben was going to respond in kind but recovered quickly enough to stop himself because he knew what kind of pressure Adam had been feeling recently. He was reasonably kind in his response. “No, you have not been fired. What has happened is that the Army has made us an incredible offer. They will take as many as two hundred horses from us even if all they are only greenbroke. They’re so short of mounts right now that they will pay us full price regardless as long as the horses themselves are of the best quality.”
“How does that mean I’m not fired as trail boss?”
Trying not to lose his temper with his oldest son as Hoss and Joe raised their eyebrows too at Adam’s surly response, Ben continued as if he had not been interrupted. “You are the one who has the contacts with both the Paiute and the Shoshoni horse traders. You’re the only one with a working knowledge of both languages.” Seeing the look he got from Adam, Ben raised a hand. “I know you’re not fluent, but you do speak reasonably well, and they respect that. We’re going to need their help in order to get that many horses in a month.”
“Yes, we’ll want them here by the time Joe and the hands get back. Then it will be a big job getting them ready and getting them delivered. We will be delivering them in bunches as they are ready. Between the drive and this contract, we’ll be back in great shape financially.”
It made sense, but it was going to be an especially arduous month for Adam who was already exhausted. “When do you want me to get started?”
“We were hoping you could leave tomorrow. We’ve already got three men picked out for you to take with you, and Hop Sing is getting supplies ready. For the next month, you can work the area from here to Reno trading for horses and bringing in mustangs. We aren’t taking as many cattle so you can use the extra to trade for horses. With the drought and the heat wave, the tribes may be very hungry and willing to made some good trades. If you can’t make direct trades, you can barter for their services to help capture the mustangs.”
Joe tried to make light of the challenge. “Yeah, Adam, it only works out to getting seven horses per day. You ought to practically do that in your sleep.” He got an especially sour look for that comment.
“If it’s so easy, I’m surprised you’re not jumping at the chance to do it.”
“That’s enough.” Ben wasn’t going to let the situation turn into a fight between the brothers. “The idea was mine. I suggested it as the best way to use our resources and work out way back from our current problems. If you have a better idea, we’re ready to listen.”
Of course Adam had no better idea, but that didn’t mean he liked the one they had. “Can I at least have a bath tonight then seeing as I won’t have a chance for the next month?”
“I’m afraid that’s a battle you’ll have to do with Hop Sing. He’s said the well is too low for any baths.”
Joe made light of his request which was the wrong strategy. “Besides, we’re all in the same boat. On the drive, none of us will get a bath either.”
“Until you get to the western slopes. They’ve had rain in California. You can wash, and when you get to a town, you can pay four bits and get a hot bath.”
“Geez, you keep bringing up the bad stuff for you and the good things for us. You would think we were punishing you with this.”
“Maybe because that’s what it feels like.” With that, Adam turned on his heel and walked into the house. He was surly and nearly silent the rest of the night. The next morning, he was the same at breakfast, and without saying goodbye, he grabbed his gear to head to the stable. Hoss followed him although at a slower pace because he was hampered by his crutches.
“Adam, I wish you wasn’t leaving with things in such a sorry state with the family.”
“It’s the way it is.”
“It doesn’t have to be.”
“It does if decisions get made without me being asked, if I get told what to do, and if I get treated like a resource instead of a part of the family.”
“Now that ain’t true.”
“Isn’t it? Decisions were made yesterday before I got back. My opinion didn’t matter. Then Pa called me a resource. What else am I supposed to think? When I get all the damn horses, maybe I’ll ride off to Reno and never come back.”
“Don’t you even go joking about that. It ain’t funny.
In a foul mood, Adam had a mean retort for Hoss that left both of them in a sour mood. “Who said I was joking.”
As the three men who were to accompany Adam came into the yard, Ben came out of the house to bid his son goodbye and wish him well. Adam mounted up and left before he could do that. Hoss made his way to his father who was upset by Adam’s abrupt departure.
“He’s had a harder time than the rest of us lately. He’ll be fine once we all get past this and he gets some time to himself. It’s what he needs, but he hasn’t had any.”
“I don’t know, Hoss. Adam doesn’t seem happy here at all. He seemed unhappy before all this trouble with Howard. Now it’s gotten so much worse. I wish he could find some peace, but I can’t even seem to find a way to talk with him lately. From the way you walked over here, can I assume you had the same problem with him this morning?”
Dropping his head, Hoss made it clear how much it hurt him not to be able to help his brother. He couldn’t share that pain with his father either by mentioning what Adam had said. Instead, he suggested they go inside and try to make sure that Joe at least was ready for his first trail drive as boss. It was going to be challenging for the young man to do this with neither of his brothers along to help. Sharing Hoss’ concern for Joe, briefly Ben considered going but then knew that leaving Hoss on crutches to manage the ranch was unrealistic. He would likely try to do too much, and that risk was too great to contemplate. Both Adam and Joe had good men with them who would help them with their jobs. In a month, Ben hoped to see the family reunited with some cash in the bank and a lot of horses that they could prepare for the Army. By the time winter arrived, they should be in good shape financially and the herds would be better too having been properly culled.
The men riding with Adam watched his back for the first few hours. He set a reasonable and steady pace and stopped at midmorning for a break so they could water the horses and rest them. He didn’t say anything that didn’t need to be said. They were used to a taciturn Adam so it didn’t bother them. Calling a halt again two hours later, he had them take an hour for lunch to cool down in the shade of a pine grove and to give the horses a longer rest. Then they rode two more hours until they reached the last pasture used by the Ponderosa. He called a break there and spoke to them as the horses rested once more.
“We’ll be nearing the Paiute lands by the end of the day and we’ll be on their land tonight. We’re going to cut out twenty head and drive them ahead of us now. Well, mostly I’ll drive them ahead as you have the packhorses. It’s possible that late today or early tomorrow, some young men will ride in among us to try to see if they can get a reaction. If they do, ignore them, and whatever you do, keep your hands off your pistols. If they don’t do that, there might be arrows shot close to us or other unexpected threatening things done. There won’t be any real danger. Things like that have to be ignored. Tonight, there will likely be an attempt to steal a horse or two or one or more of our packs. They are not to be allowed to steal anything. We’ll lose a lot of respect if they get any horses or packs away from us. You might feel a hand on your shoulder or back when you least expect it. Listen for sounds. Even the Paiute are not completely silent. If you can hear them coming and not react, you earn a lot of respect in their eyes. You earn some if you don’t overreact when they surprise you too.”
It did help Adam’s mood to see how vigilant the men became the rest of the day looking around and trying to appear not to do so. They stayed calm though. Nothing happened until the early hours of the morning. Adam heard them coming and alerted the other men. They had discussed what to do earlier so they followed those plans as they slipped from their bedrolls and took up positions with their backs to trees or boulders as Adam moved to the horses. In black, the young men didn’t see him there until he spoke when they moved in to try to get a horse. Startled, they retreated as silently as they could but it wasn’t nearly as quietly as they had approached. Adam grinned in the darkness. He was delighted with this game. At least he was a major player. In camp, the Paiute young men couldn’t get close to the packs because of how the men were positioned with the packs stacked in the center of the camp. The young men withdrew to rethink their strategy, but Adam called out into the darkness for them to take the cattle because he had brought them for their camp anyway. A short time later, they could hear the complaints of cattle being forced to move in the darkness and the hoots and hollers of the young men taking them home in triumph.
“They just took the cattle we were going to trade for the horses?”
“No, they took the cattle I meant to give them for their help, and I gave them permission to take the cattle. The camp will be happy to see the bounty they bring home, and the young men can be proud of that. Their men will understand what I did, and they will help us for a promise of a few more cattle. Everyone will walk away happy.”
The three men were a bit skeptical of Adam’s plan, but the next day when they rode up to the Paiute camp to be greeted by smiles and hollers, they shared a few looks and nodded. Ben Cartwright had told them that his oldest son knew how to deal with the Paiute and Shoshoni to get their help. It seemed to be working out well so far. Their concerns about being sent on this mission evaporated like the morning mist in the sun. Having some beef for breakfast helped too. Then Adam got into negotiations with the Paiute. The mixture of Paiute and English left them unaware of what was being discussed and the terms negotiated, but they trusted that Adam wouldn’t sign them on to any agreement that wasn’t reasonable. By the end of the day, they had more roast beef, and Adam gave them a synopsis of the agreement. The Paiute would trade them some horses for more beef, and they would help them capture mustangs as well for the next seven days to thank them for sending the young Paiute home with the cattle and their honor intact. It was a good deal.
After negotiating the deal and giving the news to the three men with him, Adam felt bad after seeing their smiles. He knew things had gone very well, and that was because he was the best man for the job. He shouldn’t have been so surly when his father had proposed this to him and in fact had no better option to offer when his father asked because it had been the best way to go. He had been unhappy about so many other things and exhausted as well that he had taken out his frustrations on his father and then compounded it by being equally surly with Hoss. He wished he could go back and change everything that had happened at home but couldn’t. There were some big apologies owed though when he did return. That much he knew, and that was the only consolation he could give himself as he rolled up in his blanket to sleep that night.
Forced to stay behind at the Ponderosa, Ben and Hoss were bothered by the surly go rounds with Adam much longer than Joe who had work to do from dawn to dusk. Roundup had to be done quickly and was because they were only taking cows that appeared strong enough to make the trip. A small herd of strong healthy cattle moving faster than normal would hopefully have enough water to make the drive across the dry Nevada lands and into California before the losses became too onerous.
Although Joe too was bothered by the exchanges he had experienced with Adam, he was too distracted by the problems and responsibilities of bossing the drive for the first time to dwell on those issues. He thought that perhaps by the time he got back home, things would be better. Being naturally optimistic, he always thought things would be better. However as he led the drive from the Ponderosa lands and up the eastern slopes of the Sierras on the first few days of the drive, he had an uneasy feeling that he couldn’t shake. He couldn’t put a name to it but noticed that the men seemed uneasy too. Without storms or other issues bothering them, he wondered why the men seemed on edge. Their new foreman was acting as ramrod on the drive so Joe pulled him aside to ask if he had noticed the unusual demeanor of the men on the drive.
“Yeah, I’ve noticed it too. Heck, I’ve felt it too. I’ve had this funny feeling like we’re being watched. Every now and then, I think I see someone, but when I look back, nobody’s there. It’s spooky.”
“If you saw someone, you should have told me.”
“Joe, that’s just it. Like I told you. I’d think maybe I did, but then I’d look, and there’d be nothing there.”
“Would you go ask some of the men if they’re having any experiences like that too. I’m thinking that maybe we’ve got some rustlers dogging the herd and waiting for a chance.”
“If they’re gonna hit us, I’d guess it’d be as soon as we start on down to the California side.”
“I think so too. Let’s double up the watch, but ask around for me too. I want to know.”
By that evening, Joe got the answer he had been expecting. Several of the men had similar experiences to that of the ramrod. No one objected to Joe’s precautions of doubling the watch and especially to his rule that no one go anywhere alone.
“I don’t care if all you’re doing is taking care of business behind a tree. Have someone nearby watching out for you. Nobody is more vulnerable than they are at that moment or when they’re sleeping. We’ll have men watching the herd, but I want guards on the camp at night too while the men are resting. I don’t want anyone to get their throat slit while they’re in their bedroll. Whoever this is out there, they’re biding their time. We need to be on our guard.”
For several days after that, as the cattle were pushed through the dry valleys and into the passes of the eastern Sierras, the drive was watched by twenty men who wanted to take those cattle after killing the men who drove them. They could eat well and sell the rest although money wasn’t usually of much importance to them. They seldom needed to buy anything. No, the blankets, bedrolls, food supplies, cooking supplies and other items in the wagon could have replaced the items they lost in their rush to escape the Army pursuit in Arizona. To get away without leaving a trail that could be followed, they had traveled exceptionally light leaving their hard won possessions behind them. Now those things had to be replaced. However, if they were too blatant about how they did it, their flawless escape would have been for nothing and the Army would zero in on them instead of blundering about Arizona and New Mexico wondering where they had gone. Instead the renegades waited for the chance to take a few cows but probably no more than five or ten. They could eat well, make jerky, and have some hides too. The increased precautions by the drovers made it even more difficult for them to approach the herd to do get those cows however. Finally the herd made it to the western slopes and more open areas frustrating the men. The next time they had a target in sight, they weren’t going to be so patient.
“Damn it to hell, Orly, it ain’t right that we got to eat lizards and skunks, and them cowboys are eating steak.”
“Listen, the Army has three different companies out looking for us. There are probably two hundred men each in those. If they find out where we are, we’re not going to be eating anything. We’re going to be swinging. So quit your bellyaching and figure out a way to get at least a cow or two.”
Unfortunately for the renegade band, that didn’t work out because Joe had his men too vigilant. The renegades were forced to make cold camps so close to the drive they could smell the food cooking and were even hungrier when they gave up their pursuit of the cattle and began moving further north hoping for an easier target. Used to dominating others, taking what they wanted, and always having what they needed as a result, the men were getting surlier with each day as they suffered through the trek north to escape the Army pursuit and certain defeat if they were found.
On the Ponderosa, out in the pastures with the hands working on trying to figure out a way to divert some stream water for the cattle they still had, Ben was at first surprised to see a large herd of horses headed out of the trees in the distance. Then he saw Paiute men helping to herd the horses with two white men riding among them and had a good idea what was happening. He had the hands hurry to the large newly fenced pasture near the stables and open the gates. Within the hour, seventy horses were milling about and getting settled in their new but temporary home. The horse troughs near the stables had been full, and the horses had moved to slake their thirst. Ben offered food to the Paiute men, but they were more interested in collecting the payment of cattle that Adam had promised. The two men who had ridden in with them accepted Ben’s offer of food though.
“Sir, your son is a fair boss, but as a cook, he does leave something to be desired. Course, to be fair, there ain’t a whole lot anybody can do with beans and jerky.”
“Hasn’t he done any hunting to add to your food supplies?”
“We’ve tried, but there ain’t much to find. We only had these Paiute to help for a week so we had to take full advantage. By the time we get back, we’re hoping they helped Adam and Trotter round up a whole bunch more, but I doubt it. We took two herds of mustangs and traded some from the tribe for this bunch. Ifn they get twenty or thirty more outta them hills, that’ll be good. Ifn they get any more’n that, it’ll be a big surprise.”
“What about further north?”
“According to what Adam got from the Paiute, the Shoshoni and the Bannock have all moved a lot further north because of the drought which is even worse north of here. Maybe we can find some in the mountains, but we ain’t likely to get the numbers we thought we could.”
“That’s all right. You can tell Adam that unless it starts raining, whatever you can do in the next few weeks is fine. We don’t have that much grass or water here for them anyway. I keep hoping it will rain, but if it doesn’t, we’ll have a difficult time keeping enough water and feed for them.”
“I’ll tell him, but you know how he is.”
Of course Ben knew so all he could do was to agree. Once set on a job, Adam hated to quit before it was completed. Sent to get two hundred horses, he would push hard to do that no matter how difficult it might be to accomplish. At least they had enough horses for a successful contract already though even if he had trouble bringing in more.
“Please tell him how happy I am about how well all of you did and offer my congratulations on a job well done already. If we have one hundred horses, we’ll have a very profitable deal. I’m afraid when I talked with him, I only talked about the top limit the Army set. They will take up to two hundred horses, but we’ll make a hefty profit regardless of how many we sell to them. Even with this seventy, we stand to make a lot of money. Please let him know I said that.”
With a smile, the men agreed, got their food, and then headed out with the Paiute to cut out the promised cattle and drive them to the Paiute camp. Heading to town the next day to get supplies, Ben wished that he had only found out exactly where Adam and those men were working. Sheriff Roy Coffee had some disturbing news that although given only as a precaution to Ben, it seemed that it was more than that by how worried Roy was when he delivered the news.
“Roy, you’re saying the Army can’t find those renegades and outlaws down in Arizona or any sign of them anywhere near there. They think they may have used the mountains to escape in this direction. They have no proof and it’s only a theory, but yet you are warning every rancher. If it’s not likely to be true, why warn everyone? What is it that you’re not telling me?”
“The Army is so sure they woulda found some sign if they were coming this way, but, Ben, I see it another way. One of the leaders is half-Paiute and a couple of them renegades is Washoe who got banned from the tribe. They know this area, or they know it a bit, and they know how to move through the Sierras without anybody being the wiser. Do you remember Charlie Red Bear?”
“I do. He was young but angry. He got in a bit of trouble here, didn’t he?”
“He did, and in every town he was in. I used to have wanted posters on him, but I think the ones from here are all too old to use. But now he’s wanted in Arizona for running with them renegades. In fact, he’s supposed to be helping to lead them. He’s working with a man by the name of Orly Bass. Between the two of them, they created some real big trouble down there.”
“And you think they’re in those mountains.”
“If I was a betting man, I would put a whole month’s pay on that; maybe I’d even put two months pay on it.”
“Roy, Joe is pushing a herd through those mountains, and Adam is up there collecting horses.”
“I’ll pray I’m wrong then. Nobody has seen them, and not even a small farm has been hit yet. The only thing this bunch worries about is the Army. They can’t take even small losses and the Army just keeps on coming no matter how bad ya sting ’em. Maybe they’ll keep on moving, but ifn I was you, I’d send word to Adam at least that there could be trouble.”
“I wish I could, but I’m not sure exactly where he is. I guess I’ll be praying that neither of them has any trouble, and I won’t rest easy until my boys are safely home.”
Nothing could stop Ben from worrying, and his sleep was troubled all week. At the end of the week, the two men were back with thirty more horses. “Adam said to tell you he’s got one more place to look to see if he can get more horses. After that, he said to consider the mission a failure because he won’t be able to get two hundred horses. He won’t even be able to get one hundred fifty horses.”
“Did you tell him what I said?”
“We did, but like we know, he still wanted to get all two hundred he set out to do. He doesn’t ever give up.”
“No, he doesn’t. He’ll fight to the end to achieve a goal. He doesn’t know what it means to quit a job.”
The two men weren’t needed any longer to try to round up mustangs that weren’t there so they began the process of sorting out the horses and getting them used to leads and halters. Adam had told them to tell his father that he would be home in a week regardless of the outcome of his latest quest to find more horses. In about a week, Ben expected to see Joe riding into the yard as well. He hoped that Joe had deposited the money form the cattle sales in the bank account and wasn’t carrying it with him. He couldn’t help himself because he would always worry about his boys. He looked to the north and prayed that Adam would soon ride out of those trees. He didn’t care if he brought any more horses home. He wanted his sons home safely. Freed from his crutches and nearly recovered from his injury, Hoss limped out as Ben stared intently at the trees in the distance.
“Pa, he’ll be back soon. So will Joe. Things are gonna start looking up around here real soon. I can feel it. I’m almost ready to work again and I kinda got the feeling that rain is on the way.”
“I hope so, Hoss. I hope your gut is telling you the truth.” Ben wrapped an arm around his son’s shoulders and they walked to the house worried but still hopeful.
Frustrated at not being able to attack that cattle drive and forced to bypass rich ranches and towns with all their siren songs of luxuries, the renegades watched two men make camp unaware that they were about to experience the wrath of men forced to endure humiliation and deprivation. Those men needed an outlet for their frustrations, and although killing two men, and taking their supplies, gear, and horses would be a small compensation for what they felt they had lost, it brought feral smiles that would have made any normal person look for a weapon instead of returning those smiles.
Down in the camp, Adam was exhausted and not paying much attention to anything around him. That was a mistake any time men were camping but especially so in the mountains where itinerant travelers were prone to ignoring rules of society when there was no likelihood of being caught for their transgressions. Luckily, the one man still working with him was paying better attention.
“Adam, the horses are restless. Something or someone has spooked them a bit.”
Instantly alert, Adam moved to the cover of the trees with Cody by his side. Each man had a hand on his pistol and took their rifles from their saddles. Adam told Cody not to unsaddle the horses and to check the cinches to be sure they were tight in case they needed them for a quick getaway.
“What about our gear and packhorses?”
“We can always replace those. We can’t replace our lives. Now back your horse further into the trees. Sport is getting worse so whatever is coming our way is getting closer and coming down from up on that slope. I want more room to maneuver.”
“Should we just ride out now?”
“We don’t know what it is. It could be a cougar or bear, in which case, we’ll shoot it and be done with it. If it’s a man or a couple of men, the job is going to be a lot tougher.”
At that point, they heard sounds off to the right and to the left as well. The sounds were further away than from the slope above them, but the sounds were unmistakable. They were being flanked. It was clear now that their enemy was human and probably was a group of men. They still had no idea that they were up against a large force, but they knew that it was more than the two of them could face. There was no reason to suspect anything as large as the renegade group or any group like that up in these mountains. They backed away from their camp with their horses trying to find a defensible position and stopped when they thought they had one. Shots were fired then from multiple directions and let them know the dire straits in which they were and that they were nearly surrounded.
“Damn, Adam, that’s an army up there.”
“I think you’re right about that.”
“Is it Indians?”
“No, nothing about it tells me that. These are white men.”
“What the hell did we get ourselves into?”
“I don’t know that, but I know this area, and we’ve got one chance to get away. Hurry down this narrow trail.”
“It looks like a dead-end.”
“It does, but there’s a narrow opening at the end. We can lead the horses through and mount up at the other end. If they don’t know the area, they’ll think we’re trapped and be slow about pursuing us not wanting to get shot when they think we don’t have a chance. Now, no more time to talk. Get moving.”
As fast as he could, Cody led his horse down that path scraping himself on rocks and jabbing himself on thorny shrubs. His horse didn’t like it either and balked, but Adam slapped him hard on the hindquarters sending him forward. Shots were fired after them, and one unlucky shot for them knocked some shards of rock loose, and one piece hit Adam in the head. He went down and his hat went flying, but then Cody saw him stand, grab his hat, and wave him forward. Cody pushed on and soon came to where the narrow defile opened up enough so that they could mount up. Adam stumbled a bit so Cody helped him up onto Sport. There was blood on one side of Adam’s head, but the wound didn’t look serious.
“Boss, you gonna make it all right?”
“I have to. All right, Cody, let’s ride hard. And, Cody, if I go down, keep going. No need for both of us to be lost. We haven’t got a chance fighting this many.”
It was getting dark fast, but the two had to ride as fast as they could risking their lives in the process because the alternative was sure death. Cody knew he was outdistancing Adam and swore under his breath realizing that Adam’s head injury was more serious than he had thought and was hampering Adam’s ability to ride. Over the past few weeks, Cody had learned that Adam could ride faster than he could in any terrain. He looked back at one point and was horrified to see that Adam was being overtaken by the men chasing them. The next time he looked back, Adam had gone down and was surrounded by some of their pursuers. Cody could do nothing. There was still a group chasing him so he kept going thankful that they had been looking for mustangs in that area for a number of days so he knew the area well. He hoped those who were intent on killing him did not. When he made it to the tree line, he was forced to slow down and eventually had his horse walking. He kept on until he couldn’t even see the trees although his horse didn’t bang into any. He knew the pursuit couldn’t find him. He dismounted, gave the water in his canteen to his horse by pouring it in his hat, held the reins in his hand, and sat leaning against a tree. As soon as any light appeared, he planned to ride again. His life depended on it. He offered up a prayer for Adam as he waited because he assumed he had been killed by the marauders. He hated that he was going to have to tell his family that.
The next morning, Cody rode slowly as soon as the first hint of dawn developed, and rode faster as the light improved. About seven in the morning, he came upon an itinerant traveler who had broken camp and was headed toward California. Cody yelled at him to ride hard in the other direction because there were renegade killers headed that way. He didn’t wait to find out if the man believed him or not. About two hours later, the renegades found the same man. After they killed him, they scalped him, mutilated his body most gruesomely for having caused them so much trouble or so they thought, and took his horse and gear back to the main group thinking that they had caught Cody. Adam was still alive at that point and heard them say that, but he saw the horse and knew better although he wondered what poor soul they had murdered. He didn’t dare make any expression to give away anything, but he had hope that Cody would tell his family what had happened and that they might send someone to see if he was still alive. He guessed though that Cody thought he was probably dead, and he would have been except for the half-Paiute man who was one of the leaders of the renegades. When they had caught him, they had begun beating him and would have likely killed him in a most horrible and painful way, but that man had yelled for them to stop. The leader of the group beating him told the men to stop their assault and questioned Charlie Red Bear.
“Charlie, why would we want to stop? What makes him any different than any other man?”
“That’s Adam Cartwright.”
“So who the hell is Adam Cartwright?”
“He’s the oldest son of Ben Cartwright who owns the biggest chunk of Nevada that anybody has and is probably the richest man here too. Adam knows the Paiute well and he knows these mountains too. I’ve seen him around before I headed to California.”
“You’re Paiute. You must know these mountains.”
“My mother was Paiute. My father was a fur trapper. We traveled around a lot, and we ended up on the California side when I was very young. My father left us then, and my mother sold herself in mining camps and small towns to support us. We got back here to Nevada but I only saw the rough part of towns. I don’t know the mountains. You saw how he took that other one down the hill and right into that opening that no one could see until you were right on top of it. And who would know that it opened up into a wide valley that they could use to ride away? Do I need to tell you that he could be very useful?”
“No, you made your point. He’s hurt though. We’ll have to see if he lives first.”
“He wasn’t hurt bad enough not to try to fight. He’ll be fine.”
“All right. We’ll carry him back up that hill to where they were making a camp. That was a good spot. Let’s throw him over a horse but make sure he doesn’t fall on his head.”
The other men had been listening and had only one question. “Can we tie his hands to his feet to keep him on the saddle?”
“Sure you can. Nobody said he had to be comfortable for the ride. Hey, Charlie, good work. You’re a smart man. No wonder, Bass picked you to help run this outfit.”
Remaining conscious even after the beating, a bruised and battered Adam endured the rough treatment remembering his father’s words that where there is life, there is hope. He knew he was going to have to draw on his inner strength to hang onto hope in this mess, but his thoughts of his father helped. He kept a vision of that strong man standing tall in his mind and was determined to make sure his father would be proud of him for his behavior no matter what happened. Now he was glad he was the one chasing down horses for the Army contract because he wouldn’t have wanted either of his brothers to be in this predicament. His head wound was roughly checked, washed clean, and then bandaged. Once he was pronounced likely to survive, they tied his hands behind a small sapling and left him there until morning when the others returned leading a horse they thought belonged to Cody.
When it was time for breakfast, Adam was left tied to the sapling. After the men had eaten, they released him and told him to wash the plates and pots. Stiff, sore, and tired, he struggled to stand and moved very slowly. He was told he could eat anything remaining on the plates as the men laughed and went about their business. Bass told one of the men to put a rope around Adam’s neck and to keep it there effectively putting him on a leash. Knowing they would likely kill him if he gave them any trouble, Adam washed the plates and pot but refused to eat their leavings. He did the same at lunch and dinner so he had nothing to eat that day or the next. That went on for several days with him only getting water to drink when he washed the plates and pots after meals. In between, they sometimes amused themselves at his expense by tying his hands over his head to a branch and pulling them up until he was standing on his toes. Other than that though, Bass and Charlie wouldn’t let the men do anything to him. They needed him to guide them through the mountains, and if they could come up with a plan, he could be used to trade for something or someone. Finally realizing that Adam would get too weak to help them if he continued to refuse to eat their leavings, Bass changed the plan on the third day at dinner. Bass wanted to ride further north the next day and find a more defensible position. Spitting tobacco juice onto Adam’s boots to irritate him and try to get him to react, Bass stood a few feet from where Adam was tied to a small sapling. The man could sneer better than anyone Adam had ever met.
Refusing to rise to the bait, Adam instead asked a question in a reasonable tone. “Are you ready to ransom me yet? My father would pay well to get me back.”
“You kin see we ain’t got much need for money. No, we ain’t gonna hold you for that kind of ransom, but there’s bound to be some kind of deal that kin come up where Ben Cartwright’s son will make a nice package to trade for what we want. Meanwhile, we all kinda like having one of the high and mighty waiting on us and doing our bidding. Does us all good, dontcha know, to have the shoe on the other foot, so to speak, with the rich serving the poor. How does it feel to have to do real work for a change?”
“I’ve always worked. It seems to me I know a lot more about work than you do.” Intentionally baiting Bass was risky business, but Adam was getting irritated by everything that had happened and by the general attitude of these men.
Orly Bass was irritated, but he still needed Adam so he refrained from his first instinct which was to kill him. “Any other man, I’d kill for talking to me that way. Come a day I might still do that to you, but for right now, I still need you. Tomorrow I want you to lead us out of here. Charlie already told you what kind of place we need. I’ll give you regular food from now on, but you better keep your mouth shut or these men of mine aren’t gonna hold back much longer, and you’re gonna be riding mighty sore in that saddle.” Adam nodded agreeing temporarily to the conditions. Turning to his men, Bass gave them some orders. “Give him a plate of beans. And don’t spit in it or toss any sand in it either, or he won’t eat it. For now, we need him healthy enough to guide us, so just feed him.”
As Adam accepted the plate of beans and began to eat, Bass moved over to sit again at Charlie’s side. “He’s one stubborn bastard.”
“He is, and we need to watch him tomorrow to be sure he isn’t leading us wrong. Keep an eye on the sun to be sure we keep heading north. I don’t want him leading us east at all. Tomorrow is a test of whether he’s going to cooperate to save his neck or try to doublecross us somehow.”
Seeing Bass and Charlie talking, Adam had a good idea that he was a subject of their conversation. He guessed that they were concerned about where he would lead them the next day. Charlie had already said they wanted a more defensible position with water supplies and protection from the weather. It was clear that they planned to spend the winter up in the mountains, and that likely meant he was going to spend the winter with them, which was a very depressing prospect to consider. Another issue was that they didn’t have enough supplies for a long Sierras winter so Adam wondered how they planned to take care of that. He worried that some innocent people were going to die so that these renegades and outlaws could have food for a few months. He planned to lead them as they wished the next day, but he also planned to leave marks for Hoss to follow if he happened to be in the vicinity. Adam knew he was walking a very fine line. He had to do what he could to keep these men from harming others and do whatever he could to see that they were apprehended, but if he was at all obvious in any of his actions, they wouldn’t hesitate to kill him. He was going to have to find the most subtle ways of resistance that he could imagine and use those as effectively as he could while he prayed his family would come to search for him so that they would find the evidence that he was still alive. He began by using a small sharp stone he was able to slip into his back pocket when he wasn’t observed. He guessed the back of that small sapling was a good place to carve a small message.
If anyone saw it, they wouldn’t likely think too much of it because he was tied to that sapling each night so some scraping was to be expected, but Adam had great confidence in Hoss. If he was ever there, he would know how to read the subtle message Adam was sending.
Further east, on the Ponderosa, Cody had made it back but found his reception was almost as frightening as his escape from the renegades as he faced a ferocious Ben Cartwright.
“You left a wounded man to face those renegades and outlaws?”
“Ifn I stayed, we woulda both been killed. It didn’t matter whether I stayed or left. Your son was gonna get killed. This way I kin tell ya what happened. There was only two of us, and there was probably ten or twenty or more of them. Once he was hurt, your son told me to go while I still could. I took him up on his offer and got out. He saved my life by telling me that and giving me his blessing. He said if he went down, not to stop. He said we didn’t have a chance fighting that many, and we should ride hard to get out of there. He saved my life.”
Ben knew that Adam had been taken by the renegades and probably killed, and he prayed that it had not been too horrible for his son, but in his heart knew that it must have been. Hoss and Joe stood by his side as shocked as he was. Joe had returned only hours before from a successful drive and had been happy to see that Hoss was finally off the crutches. They had thought that the family was finally going to be able to have some good times only to be hit with this devastating news. Hoss finally realized that Cody was exhausted and swaying on his feet. He guided him to the bunkhouse as Joe stayed with their father who slumped in his red leather chair with his head down unwilling to accept what he had heard.
Shaken himself and feeling empty, Joe waited silently with their father until Hoss returned. Joe had no words. He couldn’t believe that Adam was gone. He had never believed that anyone could kill his older brother. Somehow ever since he had been a small boy and Adam had been his protector, to him, Adam had seemed invincible. He had been shaken to see Adam cry when they had found him in the desert after his ordeal with Kane, but even that had not killed him. Paralysis, fever, torture, and more had never been enough. Suddenly though this news said he was gone. It was too much to believe. Still in shock, he listened as Hoss talked about what to do next.
Sitting with his head down and the pain in his heart nearly too much to bear, Ben didn’t hear Hoss speaking to him. Gently, Hoss had to take his father’s chin and tilt his head back to force his father to pay attention to him.
“Pa, we’ll find him and bring him back home one way or another. I already talked to the men, and we got a bunch who’ll ride with us. Joe’s gonna ride to town to tell Roy and get a posse to join us. We figure it’s gotta be them renegades. Cody Trotter will lead us to where it happened, and I can track them that done it from there too.”
Shaken from his emotional paralysis by the news that he was riding to town, Joe realized that having something like that to do was the best thing for him. Hoss had known it would be and saw the spark of life return to his little brother as he processed the instruction. Their father was slower to emerge from his shock though.
“Hoss, a son should never die before his father. It’s wrong. It shouldn’t happen to a man. It’s too hard.”
“Pa, we don’t know that’s what happened.”
“Hoss, you know what kind of men those are.”
“I do, but I got this feeling that Adam is still alive. I know I should think that he isn’t, but I can’t. I keep getting the feeling that he’s waiting for us to come get him, that he needs us real bad, and that we oughta be hurrying along.”
It was too much to hope for, but Hoss’ gut feelings were right so often that Ben allowed himself that tiny bit of hope anyway. “All right, Hoss. When do we ride?”
“We’re getting everything ready right now. We figure on riding out at first light. Joe and Roy kin join us on the way. We figure Roy’s gonna let the Army know so the closest garrison might be sending some men too.”
“So if Adam is alive, we should have a chance to rescue him?”
“Yeah, a real good chance. We sent a couple of men to alert all the ranches in the area. Everybody is going to be putting out patrols. Those renegades aren’t gonna be running loose around here.”
By the next day, there was a combined force of nearly thirty men heading to where Adam and Cody had been attacked. When it was nearly dusk and about time to make camp, they found the remains of the man killed and mutilated by the renegades. Cody told them then of the man he had warned to ride hard away from the area.
“It has to be him. I didn’t see anybody else. I guess he didn’t believe me. He should have. He must have seen how serious I was.”
“It mighta saved your life though.”
“Why do you say that, Hoss?”
“I’ve been wondering since you got back why they let you go. I mean, they been doing everything they can to keep their whereabouts secret and all but let you go then. But maybe they thought this was you. I mean, you said you and Adam hightailed it outta there when it was late, and then you rode out of here again at first light. They never did get a good look at you.”
“Well, now I feel awful. This man died because of me.”
Ben stepped forward then with Roy. Both told Cody the same thing. The man died because of murderous renegades and not because of him. It was small comfort to Cody though. He vowed to himself to stay with this pursuit until every last one of those renegades was caught. The next morning he led the group to where Adam and he had been making camp when they were attacked. The group moved slowly as they proceeded there looking for a body or any sign of a grave but found nothing. When they reached the site, Hoss quickly found signs of where the group had camped further up the hill from where Adam and Cody had been making a camp.
“They only just left here yesterday from the looks of it.” A short time later, Hoss called out. “Pa, Joe, Adam’s alive!”
“Hoss, how can you be sure?”
“He left us a message.” Hoss led his father and Joe to a small sapling. The lower part of it was scraped like something or someone had been tied there, but it was the backside of it that Hoss found most interesting. Someone had used a small sharp stone and scratched a rough AC in the thin bark. Ben was shaken because although he had hoped, he had also carried fear, and the fear had been greater. Joe noticed how pale he was and guided him to a rock and helped him to sit. Hoss was concerned.
“Gosh, Pa, I thought it would make you happy.”
“Oh, Hoss, you don’t know how happy it does make me, but it is a shock. No matter how much you reassured me, I was afraid I had lost him. To see those letters was a shock. He’s alive, isn’t he?”
Both Joe and Hoss nodded and couldn’t keep help their silly wide grins either. Roy had come over to see what was going on and heard what Ben said and their response. He was overjoyed as well to hear the news. Now it wasn’t only a posse, it was a rescue mission too. Roy went to tell the small detachment of soldiers of the new development. Soon the lieutenant was there, and he, Roy, and Ben discussed what they should do next. They agreed to have Hoss begin tracking and the soldiers would work with the Ponderosa hands and form two outrider groups to make sure they were not ambushed. As Hoss began tracking, he quickly found the small signs that Adam was leaving for him. Broken twigs, dropped bits of cloth or other small items, or even a few times, small stacks of stones or twigs marking a direction. Hoss estimated that they were gaining on the renegades who were unfamiliar with the territory. Up ahead, the renegades had scouts out watching who had drawn the same conclusion.
“How the hell did they know we were here and how are they finding our trail so easily?” Bass was questioning Charlie Red Bear. “You and the two Washoe were in charge of brushing out our tracks and cleaning up our camps so that there wasn’t much evidence for anyone looking for us, but they seem to have found plenty, and they’re right on our tail.”
“There’s only one answer for that, Bass.” Charlie wheeled his horse and rode to the head of their column where Adam was leading the way. He knocked Adam from his horse. “What have you been doing to let them know where we are?”
Laying in the dirt and staring up at Charlie, Adam had to hide the elation he felt. From Charlie’s words, he had to surmise that there was a posse on their trail, but he couldn’t let them know that he guessed that. “Let who know what?” was his indignant response.
“Whoever is back there coming after you.”
“How would anyone know I’m here? You killed Cody.”
That stymied Charlie, and Bass was there too by that point and had no answer either. The two men discussed it for a moment wondering how anyone had known they were there and decided maybe their pursuers had simply gotten lucky somehow in looking for them. A large group was hard to hide.
“Bass, maybe we ought to split the group. They can’t follow all of us. We could see which ones they follow and use the other group to ambush them, catch them in a crossfire, and see how they like that. Bunch of cowboys likely will scatter. They aren’t used to fighting a pitched battle like we can give them especially if we can surprise them.”
“That might work, Charlie. You go set it up with the men. I still don’t trust this one. I’ll stay here and keep an eye on him.”
Within an hour, the group split with Adam leading Charlie and Bass off on a tangent while the main group with the Washoe continued in the same general direction. Without Adam noticing, one of the men from the other group followed his group at a short distance. Adam couldn’t do anything while Bass was watching him so closely but thought furiously about how he could leave a sign that would alert Hoss that the group had split. He finally had gotten a twig in his hand and rather casually, he thought, twisted the twig in his hands as he waited. When the group appeared ready to move, he tossed it to the ground except he kept part of it in his hands ready to drop near where he the two groups split and hoped it wouldn’t be noticed. He had noticed that when Charlie and the two Washoe brushed out the tracks, they never removed anything from the trail so he had been leaving markers in the trail itself to guide Hoss or whoever was guiding the posse behind them. He did the same with the small piece of woven bark in his hands that he had taken from the green twig. It wasn’t noticed as he hoped. Later that day, he managed to set a few stones with a direction. However that was noticed and moved. Late in the day, he bent some small branches to point a direction too and that was noticed as well. That evening, they made camp and then the other group rode in shocking Adam. The men began to laugh as Charlie walked up to Bass with the information he had gotten from the man following them.
“He’s been leaving markers. We found them this time. He left stones in the trail pointing the way and bent small branches to point right at us too. He probably has done other things as well on other days.”
It was clear that Bass was furious making Adam wonder if he was going to survive much longer. But Bass got a nasty looking smile and shoved Adam toward the other men. “You been wanting a chance at him, well, here he is. Remember that he has to be able to see and ride tomorrow. We need him too so nothing that could cost us our guide. That is until he proves that he isn’t useful at all, and that might be sooner rather than later the way things been going.” Bass started laughing with a nasty cackle then and turned away to find a comfortable place to watch. He turned to Charlie. “You think you found all the signs he left?”
“I think so, but he’s a smart one. Tomorrow, we need to tie his hands while we ride. I don’t think he can do much with his hands tied, but we’ll still be watching him.”
Behind them, Hoss was stymied in his tracking too. He had found Adam’s last surviving sign but hadn’t been able to decipher it. He had found that the group had split but couldn’t find much of any trail with the rocky terrain and found no more signs from Adam.
“Something’s happened. Adam ain’t leaving me no more signs as far as I can tell. I need more men to help me look for tracks. It’s gonna be a lot slower going now.”
The lieutenant chimed in then. “Up ahead looks like prime spots for ambushes too. We should probably think about making camp here and letting a small group go ahead and try to find the trail to follow. We can make good time in the morning then.”
Reluctant to stop, Ben still had to accept the logic of doing it that way. Roy concurred and camp was made. Hoss, Joe, and a few of the other men with some tracking experience went ahead and looked for trail signs until it was too dark to continue. Joe rode back to tell the rest that the men would have a cold camp further along and continue in the morning. In the morning, Joe planned to go to Winnemucca’s camp to see if he could get some help there. If this group got much further up into the mountains, it was unlikely they would be able to find them. That night, Ben and Joe sat with Roy and were mostly quiet except to try to reassure each other that Adam was smart enough to keep himself safe until he could be rescued. However the lack of signs from him that afternoon made them very worried about his safety.
That worry was well placed. Adam had a very unpleasant night. He endured a beating first, and then the men amused themselves by their old game of tying him to a tree so that only his toes touched the ground. However this time, they didn’t release him when it was time to sleep but left him there for hours until Bass told them he would need his hands to ride. When they cut him down, his hands were badly swollen and he couldn’t walk. They tied his arms together at the elbows and tied his ankles leaving him to lay in the cold night where he had fallen. He wasn’t badly injured, but it was a warning that his life was in their hands and could be ended with one order from Bass. If he wanted to live, he had to do what they told him to do with no more tricks. In the morning, the rope went back around his neck like a leash. He was denied breakfast as he had been denied dinner, he was helped up on his horse, and his hands were tied to the saddle horn. With Charlie holding the leash rope, orders were given that he lead them higher up into the mountains into a canyon with water and a defensible position. He didn’t have an alternative. He nodded and led them to what they wanted: a perfect outlaw hideaway many miles north far from the Ponderosa and the Paiute lands and into lands with which Hoss was unfamiliar. Adam knew the land from fur trapping with his father and with the Paiute when he was in his teens. The land hadn’t changed much from that time and was still nearly as wild and unsettled as it had been then. It was a perfect setting for the renegades except for the harshness of the winter and Adam could help them cope with that too teaching them to build proper shelters.
Although Adam didn’t want to do it, his survival depended on it as well. He led them as deep into those mountains and as far away from any settlements as he could. When the cold winds of winter began to blow and the first snows fell, he wished for some of that heat wave and drought that he had complained about so bitterly only a few months earlier although the snow did offer him the chance for some relief from the bruises he received from the abuse that never seemed to end. He was the unfortunate target of the frustrations of these men when they couldn’t get what they wanted. He knew he was part of the reason for it, but that didn’t make taking the blows any easier and then doing their work for them afterwards. At night, confined and frequently tied up, he did his best to think of his family. It was the memories of those good times and their love and support that sustained him.
While Adam dealt with harsh treatment on a daily basis and worries about how to survive, his family was frustrated. There was no progress by the Army in locating the renegades. The posse had been forced to give up as their supplies had dwindled to nothing and they had lost all signs of where the band had gone. The lieutenant had been bitter and angry.
“Your son seems to be doing a wonderful job guiding these renegades. It seems that he may have thrown his lot in with them.”
When he said that, it took both Hoss and Joe to hold their father back from attacking the man although both brothers would have liked to do what their father had intended. Roy stepped in instead.
“Now you see here. Adam Cartwright is the most upright man I know. He was doing his best to lead us right to these here renegades probably risking his life to do it. Ifn he stopped, it was because he couldn’t do it no more. Either they caught him at it and stopped him or they’re watching him too close and he can’t do it. One way or another, he’ll do what he can to help us bring these men to justice. You got no call to be blaming him for your failure.”
“Maybe not you personally, but it seems I been reading about the Army a chasing this band for over a year now and you ain’t caught ’em. It hardly seems fair to blame one man when you had hundreds of men and couldn’t do it.”
That seemed to make an impression on the young lieutenant. “I’ll have to alert the garrisons further north. I’ll ride to Reno before returning to my post. It’s much closer and I can get the word out that much sooner.”
“Now there ya go. That’s much smarter thinking.” Roy walked away with the young lieutenant.
Ben only muttered that the young man could have apologized for what he had said. Hoss and Joe agreed, but Hoss did mention that the shavetail was rather new to the west and Nevada so he probably didn’t know any better yet. It was small consolation to the family when they could only worry at what might be happening to Adam while they headed home without any idea where he might be. By the time they returned home, they no longer were as ignorant as when they had been in the mountains. The Territorial Enterprise was carrying stories of renegade raids on homesteads and ranches near Reno. A few weeks later, there were reports of similar raids up in southern Oregon. Then it was getting close to winter and there were no more stories. Hoss and Joe spent their days breaking and training horses which were delivered to the Army. By the time they returned home, they had found the hands there had the horses mostly gentled and ready for breaking and training to Army standards. It was a very profitable endeavor, but every day that they worked with those horses, they were reminded that it was Adam’s work that had brought those horses to the ranch. More than once, Hoss and Joe volunteered to go scout for the Army and each time, they were gently rebuffed because they had no experience with the area where the renegades were suspected of hiding. Ben thought he knew the general area where they were.
“Adam and I trapped up there one season. I know what kind of memory he has. He sees things like they happened. I’m sure he remembers canyons and caves that have long since faded from my memories. He probably led them to one of those and they’re using it as a hideout.”
“Pa, do you think Adam would help them knowing what they’re doing?”
“I doubt Adam knew they would do these raids and head back into the hills like that. I’m sure he has no choice in what he is doing. I only pray that he is still alive. In the spring, regardless of what the Army says, we’re heading up there. Nothing will happen while that area is snowed in, but come spring, we’ll be there.”
“That’s what I like to hear. Right, Joe. We’re gonna go rescue older brother soon as the snow starts to melt up in them mountains.”
Joe nodded, but none of them spoke at all that winter of their greatest fear, and that was that the band wouldn’t need Adam any longer. If that happened, he wouldn’t be alive in spring for them to rescue him.
However, the band still did find Adam useful. On each raid, he led them down out of the mountains. Then one of the men guarded him as the others went on the raid. When they returned, Adam guided them back to their mountain retreat. He knew then that they were raiding homesteads and ranches by what they brought back. He could only hope that they weren’t killing and assaulting women when they did it. He could hope, but he knew he was probably wrong. He tried to think of a way out of that dilemma and knew the best bet to do anything would occur when they were being pursued. Otherwise, any refusal by him to help would end with his meaningless death and the renegades would still be free to maraud and plunder at will. Existence with the band of marauders though was unpleasant at best and miserable most of the time. On one of the raids, some of the men had returned and gleefully paraded in front of Adam with a set of manacles.
“Look what we found!”
Bass had indulged them, and now Adam wore a set of manacles permanently attached because they had no key. Luckily they had not attached the matched set of shackles to his ankles or he wouldn’t have been able to ride. Although there were times he wished they had done that because he wouldn’t have been forced to participate in their raids. However the leash and the manacles gave the men hours of amusement, which only grew worse with the forced confinement of winter, the cold, and the heavy snow. The snows in the northern Sierras surprisingly were not as bad as the southern Sierras allowing more hunting and more outdoor activities. It was because of that that Adam got the only respites from the nearly constant abuse of normal days in the camp. He was watched constantly no matter what he was doing and pushed, shoved, tripped, and ridiculed. However, it was with great difficulty that he protected himself from the cold for he couldn’t put on a coat or jacket with the manacles in place. He had an old jacket, minus the sleeves, wrapped around him after it had been cut to fit. Otherwise, he had to use a blanket with a hole cut in it for his head and then a sash to hold it to his body. The wind and snow often blew underneath though chilling him. Despite that, he grew stronger and more lean as he was forced to do the physical labor of the camp and was fed only a simple diet as the more desirable food was consumed by the renegades. He did lose weight too however as he was often denied meals as punishment for infractions perceived or real, and if there was any shortage of food. Adam also got in the habit of appearing to sleep but listening and trying to learn as much as he could. He was surprised on night in late winter to hear Bass and Charlie talking.
“Bass, I’m worried. By now, they know where we are.”
“You said it yourself, Charlie, that they’ll never find this canyon.”
“No, not this canyon, but we can’t stay here. We have to leave to get stuff, and every time we do, they could be waiting for us.”
“Oh, yeah. What you been thinking?”
“We got garrisons to the west, south, and north of us as far as we can figure. We ought to head east and then south. It will be through country we haven’t seen before and mountains we haven’t seen before, but by now, we’re used to that kind of travel. I figure that we pick up a couple of women, and they guide us.”
“Yeah, we could use some women. What kind of women?”
“Southern Paiute or Ute would be our best bet.”
“What about Cartwright?”
“He leads us to them and then trade him or get rid of him.”
“Good plan. Soon as the snow starts to melt. The sooner we get out of these mountains for good, the better. Too damn cold for me.”
With that for his timetable, Adam had a lot to think about before he fell asleep that night. He began to plan how to do what he needed to do. It would be difficult with the manacles on and the leash, but somehow, he would manage. The leash was the most problematical. It was always a problem. He needed to find a way to get rid of that damn leash at least when they were heading east. If not, he might not be able to get out of the way when the shooting started, and he expected shooting to start. He began to make sure that there was plenty of smoke with the fires every day. He told the renegades that it was because they weren’t letting him go far enough to find dry timber to cut. As long as it was only during the day though they tolerated the smoky fires preferring that to trudging through the deep snow to where Adam claimed the timber was drier. It worked much as he wanted. Any Native Americans in the area would have a very good idea of where they were by the time anyone asked. They might not know the exact location, but they could certainly give the region to within a few miles. If the Army was still looking, the answers were there for the asking. Adam suspected of course that their scouts were out looking for the renegades and he was giving them as much information as he could without the renegades realizing what he was doing.
On a warm day in late winter, Adam was cutting wood wearing only his ragged shirt and his filthy pants when Charlie told him to quit. “We won’t be needing any more of a stockpile. Start cleaning up and packing what we’ll need for travel. We’re heading out as soon as the trails out of here are passable.”
For the next few days, Adam kept busy checking the hooves of the horses and making sure the tack and saddles were in good condition. He cleaned the saddle blankets and aired them out, groomed the horses daily, and made sure they had good feed for they would be working hard on the push out of the mountains. He checked their stores and packed up food for travel including all the things that Charlie and Bass told him to pack as well as using his best judgment as to what to include. The sun shone daily and the temperatures warmed. It might not hold, but if it did, Adam knew that he would likely be free or dead within a few weeks. It was a liberating but sobering thought. He had spent a lot of time thinking about his family. Memories of them had sustained him. He had replayed conversations with his father and Hoss quite often and had found himself smiling as he recalled some of the hijinks he and his brothers had done. He could smile at night with memories because he had nothing during the day about which to smile. The nights were his though and it was that respite and his family that sustained him. Soon he hoped to be reunited with them. Not one to hug or hold anyone, he longed for the touch of his father and brothers.
In the supplies, he found some syrup that he put away for good purpose. He knew he would need it and when. On the morning that he was ordered to load up the packhorses, he surreptitiously took the syrup. He guessed only a small amount would be sufficient. He was correct. His retching was enough to make the man on the other end of the leash let go. No one wanted to be near him when he was spewing his breakfast at regular intervals and then dry heaving later. Charlie told them to take off the leash not suspecting that Adam had made himself sick with syrup of ipecac.
“He won’t be running anywhere in that condition anyway. He’s sicker than a dog.”
“Yeah, nobody wants to be anywhere near him and catch whatever he’s got.”
Counting on the fact that once the leash was off, if he did nothing suspicious and acted weak, they might not replace it, Adam was as compliant as he knew how to be. For the rest of that day and the next, he led them out of the mountains to the east as they commanded. He did nothing to stir suspicion and followed every order. However, he did as he had done in the winter camp creating smoky campfires and doing nothing to hide anything that he did. He followed orders to avoid injury and waited for his chance to do something more, anything to help the authorities apprehend these killers.
On the Ponderosa, Ben and his younger sons were making plans to travel north to see if they could help find Adam and the renegades. They had not had any communication with the Army and had no idea that the Army had been busy preparing for a spring campaign against the marauders. Before they could leave however, several small problems developed on the ranch that Hoss and Joe had to handle. Before they were finished, Ben was summoned to a fort in southern Idaho. He was told that his son was under arrest there. Unwilling to wait for Hoss and Joe, Ben sets out on the journey telling his younger sons he would contact them as soon as he learned anything. None of them had any idea why Adam would be under arrest in a military facility.
For Adam, being under arrest was disappointing but a significant improvement over the circumstances in which he had been ensnared. Because of the story he told when captured with the renegades, he was kept separate from the other prisoners as the commander of the garrison did his best to try to sort out the whole story. He had the young lieutenant who had captured the band of renegades and was going to receive a commendation and most likely a promotion telling a tale quite different from that of the man in the cell with the abrasions on his wrists from the manacles that had obviously been there for months as he claimed. Adam Cartwright had been cooperative and informative telling names as well as details of what the band had done and where they had been. There was not going to be any difficulty in convicting those men of capital crimes and of executing them. The commander thought it was good riddance to be shed of these marauding murderers. However, he was still left with the dilemma of what to do with the man who had guided them and been taken into custody with them claiming to be their captive or hostage and yet when found, had been riding freely at the head of their column if the young lieutenant was to be believed.
The plan Adam had devised had worked well. He made sure their campfires were sufficiently smoky. He led them along trails that were visible for miles. If anyone was watching, and he assumed they were, there was no way to miss the movement of the group and the direction in which they were heading. It had taken only three days for the Army to swoop in and surround them. On the morning of the fourth day after leaving the camp, Bass and Charlie were on edge because they were in unfamiliar territory and out of the protection of the mountains. Adam had assured them that he had not seen the tracks of any other groups when in fact he had seen the occasional flash in the distance the day before that alerted him to the movement of a large group off to their north. He assumed it was probably an Army unit. He expected the assault that morning and was ready to dive for cover as soon as he heard the orders to surrender and the warning not to resist. He did that, but some of the men did fight back. None were killed as the trap had been well laid. However several were grievously wounded and most had some small wounds. Bass and Charlie cursed him as they were being led away in chains to wagons. He was shocked however when the commanding officer, a young lieutenant, addressed him as a renegade.
“So, you’re the turncoat who helped them elude me all these months.”
“I may have helped them but only to save my life. They would have killed me if I didn’t guide them. That’s all I did.”
“That’s enough. You’re under arrest for aiding and abetting the flight of wanted killers and interfering with the legal mission of the United States Army.”
“I didn’t interfere. If you had been better at your job, they never would have gotten this far north.”
“You already have manacles so that saves us the trouble. I’ll see you in the stockade.”
“If you put me with them, they’ll kill me. You’ll be responsible for murder.” That did make the young man pause, but it was Adam’s next statement that made him change his orders to his men. “I’m your best witness against them. I can tell you everything they’ve done and where they’ve been and when. If I testify, you’ll get convictions with ease. If you put me on trial too, I’ll be forced to invoke my right to remain silent. I certainly am not going to give you any additional information for you to try to hang me through some twisted sense of justice you have or is it revenge?”
The prospect of Adam as a cooperative witness was too good to pass up. The lieutenant told his men to remove Adam’s manacles but to keep him under guard. “You’re still under suspicion of aiding and abetting their escape. You’ll have to answer for that.”
“I can’t see any court taking that seriously.”
“You guided them up here, and I captured them. I say you are guilty. I think a jury up here is going to be more willing to listen to me than to you.”
Adam had been a little shaken by that, but then was a bit reassured by the conversation with the garrison commander when they reached the fort a few days later. He answered as honestly as he could when the man was pointed in his questions.
“You say you were their prisoner, and the marks on your wrists from those manacles does seem to support that. However, the lieutenant has brought a serious charge against you that you aided and abetted their escape. What can you say to that?”
“I did what I could to stay alive. I guided them as deep into those mountains and away from any settlements as I knew how to do. I also marked the trail so that it was easy to follow until they caught me doing that and tied my hands together and put a leash around my neck to control my movements.”
Wearing what amounted to not much more than a rag for a shirt when he was found, Adam had been given clothing from the soldiers. He wore the shirt and coat without any insignia, of course, but it was cold so he had it buttoned up tight too. Opening the collar of the coat and shirt, he showed the commander the abrasions on his neck from the rope leash.
“They had a rope around my neck for months no matter what I was doing. Despite that, I did what I could to let you know where they were. I built smoky fires during the day. As we traveled out of the mountains, I picked the trails that were the most wide open to anyone watching and again made sure that the campfires were as smoky as I could without making them too suspicious.”
“Who did you think would be watching?”
“I knew that the Army hired Shoshoni scouts up here. I guessed they would be watching or others would be watching and let you know. With everything they had done, I guessed you had to be waiting to move against them in spring. I only had to let you know where they were.”
Turning to the young lieutenant, the commander had tried to dissuade him from pursuing the charges, but the young man was too proud to back down. The commander told Adam that the charges would have to be filed and handled by a court.
“Could you please let my family know that I’m here at least? They’ll be worried, and I’d like to see them.”
“Where is your family?”
“Nevada. If you would send a telegram to Ben Cartwright care of the Ponderosa, Virginia City, Nevada, I would appreciate that very much.”
“You’re that Adam Cartwright? You’re the Cartwrights who sell horses to the Army? We’ve got some of your horses here on our post.”
“Yes, that’s what I was doing when I was attacked by these renegades. I was out trying to round up more horses for the Army.”
“That still doesn’t change what he’s done, sir.”
The commander shrugged, but did say that Adam should be held in the blockhouse and not the stockade. He would have a comfortable bunk at least and a warm place to stay until all of this was settled. That’s where Adam was when Ben Cartwright arrived and began to raise a ruckus that was only forestalled by his desire to see his son first. When Ben saw Adam, he was shocked a bit but overjoyed. Adam was healthy even if he was thin with bandages around his wrists and abrasions on his neck. Ben reached through the bars to touch his son and was pleased and surprised when Adam reached back to pull him closer.
“Pa, I never thought I would be as glad to see someone as I am to see you right now.” Adam’s grin was bigger and more joyful than Ben could remember seeing in a long time. He couldn’t imagine how he could be that way sitting in a cell in a blockhouse on an army post so far from home. Adam must have seen the look of consternation on his father. “Pa, this is so much better than it’s been, and now you’re here. I’m very happy.”
“Son, I must admit I’m confused though. Why are you locked up? You were their prisoner. You obviously were abused by them.”
“It seems there is a young lieutenant who holds some resentment about my leading the group up into the mountains.”
“Doesn’t he realize you led them into the most remote part of those mountains that you could? They were as far from any towns as you could take them. Surely they must appreciate that here.”
“I think the commander does, but the young man is a hero for bringing in the renegades, so politically, it wouldn’t be good for the captain’s career to overrule the lieutenant.”
“Balderdash, I’m sick to death of such things with the Army. I’m calling in my own markers. I’ll have you out of here as soon as I can get in touch with the proper people.”
“Pa, the captain here is already familiar with us. He knows about us selling horses to the Army. That may help.”
“Then he probably knows the officers that we know as well. I’ll drop a few names too to see if that makes a difference. If it doesn’t, I may have to pull rank on him.”
With Adam grinning again, Ben heart soared. He had thought to find his son depressed and beaten down after being held so long. He could tell that Adam had suffered abuse at the hands of his captors, but instead he seemed rejuvenated and in high spirits.
“Son, I don’t mean to seem at all critical nor at all unhappy with how you are, but I am surprised. I would have expected you to be, I guess, more, I don’t know, but perhaps, …” Ben struggled to find the words to express what he was thinking and feeling, but Adam had a good idea what the struggle was.
“Morose? Despondent? Yes, Pa, I guess you could have expected that, but I was already feeling a lot of those things before I was taken hostage by these men.”
“What happened?” Ben meant of course much more than what had physically happened although he wanted to know that too.
“They found ways to degrade me, to humiliate me, to deprive me, and in every way they could think to make me less than they were. But Pa, I always had something they never would have. I have a family and a home. At night, they slept alone worried about who might try to kill them in their sleep or who would be chasing them the next day. I slept with the presence of my family and memories of my home. I thought about all of you every night. It comforted me knowing I had all of you. I wasn’t alone. Sometimes you have to lose what’s important and valuable to recognize how important and valuable it is because of the space there is when it’s gone.”
“I don’t know if I could have been that strong.”
“You could. You’re the one who taught me about strength and courage in the face of adversity. From a very young age, I learned those lessons from you.”
Choked up, Ben had little he could say for a few minutes. He broke the silence with a statement about what he planned to do next. “That captain is getting another visit from me. There is no reason to keep that cell locked. You’re in the blockhouse and you’re cooperating. In custody does not have to mean being in a cell. I’m going to go talk to him about that.”
“Pa, while you’re there, I’ve been thinking that the Shoshoni scouts must have seen me in the custody of the renegades. They could tell the captain that I was under duress and unable to act freely. They would have seen enough. Their word would back up my statements and hopefully get me out of here.”
“That’s a good thought, son. I’ll tell him. No, I’ll demand that he do that, and drop a few names and send off a few telegrams. I hope to bring enough pressure that he’ll feel that he can defy that young lieutenant and his ridiculous charge. Damn shavetail!”
Ben left Adam chuckling with the guard assigned to the blockhouse. The guard had heard the conversation and generally agreed with the assessment of the lieutenant whom he had not met until he rode in with the renegades and started making demands. He hoped the prisoner’s father got done what he said he was going to do.
It didn’t take long for Ben Cartwright to assert his commanding presence on the young captain in charge of the small garrison. He succumbed to the obvious influence that Ben had with influential people and to the logical arguments that Ben made that said that even if he wanted to keep Adam in custody as a witness, there was little cause to keep him locked up on a charge that was going to be dismissed. He did tell the captain about Adam’s suggestion to speak to the Shoshoni scouts about what they had seen. It was clear that the captain had not thought to do that. Like many easterners, he had a natural disdain for Native Americans despite the great help they were to his mission and to many in the west. Even without their testimony though, he ordered Adam’s cell opened so that father and son could visit freely as long as Ben surrendered his firearm. The guard remained, but Adam and Ben weren’t concerned about that. They talked for a time, but as Ben saw the obvious exhaustion in his son, he feigned a great desire for sleep for himself so that Adam would go to bed. It worked, and within minutes, he was asleep. There was an extra cot in the blockhouse and the guard told Ben to use that. Ben had thought he would probably have to sleep in a chair because he had no intention of leaving his son’s side, so the generous offer of the cot for sleeping was appreciated. The next morning, breakfast was delivered for father and son at the request of the garrison commander. Only a few hours later, the captain arrived in the blockhouse to inform them that the Shoshoni had confirmed everything that Adam had told him especially about the leash and about him being guarded at all times making it clear that he had been a prisoner.
“The charge against you is dropped. The lieutenant will have to swallow his pride and admit his failure was not due to you. However, I do need you to stay and testify against the renegades who were brought in. I wish I had better accommodations to offer to you and to your father, but this is about as good as it gets for privacy. I can let you have the blockhouse minus the guard, of course.”
“Could we walk outside? I would like the chance to walk freely. I haven’t been able to do that for a long time.”
“Certainly, you can do that, Adam. You and your father can walk to the mess for meals. You can go to the general store. A private contractor operates it. You could probably get some clothing there more suited to your status instead of those old uniform castoffs.”
“I would like another blanket and one for my father.”
“I’ll see to it and have my orderly over here to see what else he can get for you to make your stay here more comfortable. The Army is sending in a full legal team to handle the trial of the renegades. They should be here today or tomorrow. The trials would happen soon after they arrive. Once that is concluded, you would be free to go with our thanks.”
“But until then?”
“Until then, I must insist that you stay as a witness under our protection. Your father is welcome to stay as our guest too until you are ready to leave.”
“That sounds like an order.” Ben wanted to take Adam home and this sounded like he was being told he couldn’t; as if the choice wasn’t theirs to make.
“I would prefer you take it as an invitation and a request for assistance. You have always been a big help to the Army and to the citizens of this country. I know you would want to do so again.”
Suppressing a smile, Adam watched as his father had to relax his stern look and stiff posture. The captain had learned in a very short time how to appeal to Ben Cartwright in order to gain his cooperation. “Pa, I don’t think I’m ready for travel just yet anyway. I wouldn’t mind a few more days of rest. I worked hard the last few months. Maybe that general store has some cans of peaches and maybe someone around here knows how to bake biscuits that aren’t as heavy as a rock.”
Knowing that Adam did look like he could use some rest and good food, Ben relented. He wanted to get Adam home as soon as possible, but more than that he hoped to see him becoming healthy once again. The rest of the day passed pleasantly. The store did have some peaches, which Adam enjoyed with his lunch and his dinner, but probably didn’t enjoy them as much as his ability to walk about unfettered and free. That night he relaxed under a second blanket and felt warm although he wished the mattress was a bit thicker. They had their own chamber pot, washbasin, and small mirror though as well as a lamp and two extra chairs. The aide had found them an extra deck of cards and a checkerboard too although conversation filled their time and they didn’t need the extra distraction. Adam was able to tell his father about what had happened in the renegade camp but told it in such a way that his father wouldn’t feel too badly about how he had been treated or so he thought. Ben was very good at reading between the lines and could imagine the torment of the things Adam described so dispassionately. However it was how Adam needed to tell the story, and Ben was grateful that his son was able to tell the story and get it all out. He remembered the tortured soul Adam was after his ordeal in the desert with Kane and was grateful that he had endured this trial with less damage to his mind and spirit.
As soon as Ben knew that they would not be traveling home, he had sent a telegram to Hoss and Joe letting them know that and telling them they need not travel to the fort because Adam was fine. He guessed they might see them anyway. What he didn’t know was that Hoss saw the word ‘fine’ and immediately told Joe that they were going because fine meant things weren’t quite right and Adam and their father might need them. Hoss’ gut feelings were legendary in their accuracy, but in this case, they were psychic.
Trouble was brewing at the stockade and had been since the moment the renegades had been locked up, and the lieutenant and captain had no idea that it was getting close to a crisis. The renegades had started by regaling the guards with tales of their buried treasures up in the mountains that they had gotten from their raids and how it would all be lost now that they were all probably going to be executed for their crimes. They watched and waited to see which guards would show the greatest interest in their stories. They knew that there had to be at least a couple whose greed would be ignited by the tales they told. When they saw the first hints of it in the reactions of those men, they asked those guards who seemed to be interested if they might be able to get some whisky for a map to the treasures or at least some of it. Some of the guards were very reluctant looking around and wondering who might have heard the offer, but two immediately began to ask what the prisoners would need to draw the map and how the guards would know the map was genuine. Then the renegades knew they had the ones they wanted. They got the guards to get them pencils and paper and worked studiously at drawing a map of where they had been but didn’t put any markings on it except for where their camp had been located. Then Bass took over.
“Now you bring the whisky, and we start putting the marks on the map for where the treasures are buried. That’s all you have to do and then we hand over the map to the treasure. We got no use for it where we’re going, and I gotta say it’ll be easier to take that rope with a bellyful of whisky.”
The cover story made sense and the guards accepted it without questions. “It may take us a little bit of time. For so many of you, we’ll have to sneak a case out of the storeroom. We can’t do that until we’re off duty. Then we’ll have to get it over here so we can give it to you when it’s our shift again.”
“That’s good, but don’t wait too long. Won’t do us any good if we’re already swinging.”
That had all happened in the first twenty-four hours. Now the delivery of the whisky was about to take place, and Bass had his men ready for the rest of their plan. The guards opened the gate to push the crate inside and Charlie and two other men pulled the guards into the stockade and then pulled the gate closed making it look as if the stockade was secured. With speed born of desperation, the guards were silently killed and stripped of their uniforms. Two men of the same size and build were quickly dressed as guards and given the guards’ weapons. Stationed outside the gate within minutes, they were there when the regular guard patrol walked by. As soon as those men passed by a few feet in the dark, they were hit in the head, and the renegades had two more uniforms and two more rifles. Using those uniforms, they moved out into the garrison and subdued four more men standing at their posts not expecting any kind of trouble because there never was any kind of trouble. Complacency cost those men their lives. With eight men dressed as soldiers and with eight rifles, the renegades felt confident and abandoned the stockade in the darkness. Charlie wanted to head for the corral to get horses saddled and ready to go before they headed to the gate and freedom. Bass had one more idea though.
“That damn Cartwright ain’t gonna be alive when we ride on outta here. Where is he?”
“He has to be in the blockhouse. It’s where they put him when we were brought in here. But Bass, any shooting and we alert the whole post. It could mean we don’t get out of here.”
“All right. We’ll get the horses first and then stop there on the way out. You and me will go in there and smash his head in before we go. That all right with you?”
Less than a half hour later, the renegades were moving toward the gate. It was an unusual maneuver and drew the attention of several men. One called out asking what they were doing. One of the renegades shot him causing Bass to swear. He still wanted a chance at Adam but now they had to hurry. He told the men to storm the gate and get control while he and Charlie went to the blockhouse to kill Adam. Neither of them was aware that Ben Cartwright was there though and that he had his pistol back. Ben wasn’t the skilled shooter that Adam and Joe were, but at close range, he was effective. When Charlie and Bass came in with their rifles and loudly made their threats at Adam, he grabbed his pistol surprising them. Before they could swing their rifles around effectively, Ben fired. Both Bass and Charlie fired but Ben shot five shots and both men were down with mortal wounds. There was the sound of a pitched battle outside too so Ben reloaded and yelled for Adam to pick up a rifle. When there was no response, Ben looked to the cell where Adam had been sleeping and didn’t see him. He rushed there and found him sprawled on the floor. One of the rifle slugs had ricocheted and hit him in the side of the head. He was bleeding profusely and although stunned, he did recognize his father.
“Pa, please don’t let me die in a jail cell.” Adam’s eyelids fluttered then before closing.
Late the next day, Hoss and Joe arrived at the garrison. Hoss’ worst fears were realized when they were directed to go to the infirmary to see Adam. When they go there, they found their father sitting at Adam’s side once again sitting at their older brother’s side and praying for his survival. Adam had a large white bandage around his head and was lying deathly still.
“Pa, what happened? Your telegram said ‘fine’ and I know you’d never lie to me and Joe.”
“The renegades attempted to escape but tried to kill Adam before they left. He got hit by a ricochet. It was awfully bad luck. The doctor said it isn’t just the wound. By itself, the injury isn’t that bad. He said Adam was exhausted when he got here, and he was undernourished for a long time. He said he saw all the bruising, both old and new, that Adam had from being abused by those animals. Now with this injury and the blood loss, he simply doesn’t have the strength. I should have known how weak he was. When he said he wouldn’t mind staying here to rest, I should have known. When did your brother ever voluntarily agree to stay in bed any longer than necessary? I was so glad to hear him say it, I never questioned why he said it.”
Joe moved next to their father. “Pa, you look exhausted too. We can sit with Adam for a while. Why don’t you lie down? When was the last time you had any sleep?”
The doctor approached them then. “He didn’t sleep last night and hasn’t left his son’s side since he was put in that bed. He hasn’t had any sleep then in almost two days. Mister Cartwright, your sons are right. You can take better care of Adam if you have some rest.”
“I’m not leaving him.”
“You don’t have to leave. We have some beds right next door. You and your other son can sleep there. If there’s any change, you can be summoned immediately. My quarters are right on the opposite side there. You can call me just as easily. Please?”
Hoss put a hand on his father’s shoulder. “Pa, what would Adam want you to do?”
With a small nod in appreciation of Hoss’ excellent use of logical persuasion and his sons’ concern for his well being, Ben agreed and went with Joe to get some rest. It didn’t take long for exhaustion to push him into a deep sleep.
During the night, Hoss and Joe took turns. Joe spent some time cleaning his pistol of the sand and grime accumulated during the trip. Hoss found a piece of pine and did some whittling while he spent three hours sitting by Adam’s side as his brother slept without moving or reacting in any way. Both brothers talked softly to Adam about what they were doing, about what had been happening on the Ponderosa in his absence especially how the rains and then the snows had obliterated the drought and heat wave of the previous year. They talked about the horses he had brought in and how much the Army had liked them. They talked of all sorts of ordinary things trying to bring their brother back into their lives by connecting him to them again.
In his mind, Adam had swirling images starting to coalesce but he was confused. He began to remember that he was on an Army post but he had visions of the ranch house, of horses bucking and jumping, of apple pie and pork roast, and of the promise of a big Christmas tree and presents that were still stacked by the fireplace waiting for his return. He could still smell his father’s pipe smoke but there was the smell of gun oil and too much bay rum, unmistakable smells of his younger brother as well as the smell of pine that he always associated with his brother Hoss and his carving of small wooden animals and birds. He wasn’t sure where he was any more. He felt his hand being held and wondered who that could be because the hand was too small to be his father’s hand. He opened his eyes and slowly was able to turn his head to see who was at his side. He tried to talk but could only rasp out a few guttural sounds. It was enough though. Those green eyes turned toward him and a big smile greeted him.
“Adam, Adam, you’re awake. Don’t you go to sleep now. You stay awake.”
Once more Adam tried to talk. He so desperately wanted some water. He did his best to point at his mouth and throat and hoped Joe would understand.
“I know you can’t talk. It’s all right. Oh, maybe you want some water? Right, yeah, I can give you some water.” Joe grabbed the glass and held it to Adam’s lips letting the blessed fluid pour into Adam’s mouth. Some spilled and he apologized, but Adam didn’t care. He was so relieved to be able to drink. He wanted more but Joe said he had to wait. He told him again to stay awake and then rushed from his side. A moment later, a groggy but smiling Ben was at Adam’s side. Once more, Adam asked for water but a bit more clearly. Ben did the same as Joe spilling some too, but Adam was so thirsty that he didn’t care. Hoss was next to greet his brother. They made so much noise that the doctor was soon there as well. He looked very surprised.
“You Cartwrights must be a very strong bunch. I must admit that I wasn’t sure he would ever wake with the condition he was in, and here he is awake and demanding water. That’s enough of that for now. As soon as the kitchen staff is up they should make him some broth and light foods. He must be hungry by now.”
The mention of the light food got a small crooked smile from Adam who closed his eyes then but didn’t fall asleep. He opened them a moment later and smiled again seeing the relieved looks he got from his family. The doctor noticed too.
“Don’t worry so much. He’ll be fine now. He’s going to need time to recuperate, but he’s made it through the roughest part. Now it’s a matter of rest and good food.”
With a very soft and raspy voice, Adam made his wishes known. “Hungry.”
The doctor got a small smile at that. “Yes, he comes from a very strong bunch indeed. Why don’t you go over to the kitchen and see if anyone is there yet. You can probably find something for him even if no one is there. Make sure he gets plenty of fluids with whatever he eats. I’ll leave him in your care now. I know you’ll take better care of him than any orderly I can call on duty.”
For the next several days, the family took over Adam’s care seeing to his every need. He let them because he couldn’t take care of himself and preferred his family to strangers. By the third day, he was getting stronger and wanted to do more for himself. He began sitting up in bed more and also taking short walks to start to regain his strength. On one walk, Hoss asked him something that had been bothering him for some time.
“One of the last things you said to me was that you might head on up to Reno and never come back. How you feeling on that score now? You still thinking on maybe leaving?”
“Oh, I may take a trip or two. There are some things I’d like to see, but no, those words were spoken in anger and frustration. They aren’t what I was actually planning to do.”
“You’re not angry and frustrated no more?”
“No, not angry and not frustrated in the same way surely. I do want to do some things, but I’ll talk about those things. I had lots of time to think over the last few months, and some of the things I realized are that my family is the most important part of my life and the Ponderosa is my home and always will be my home. That ranch is important to me. I put sweat and blood into it. It is a part of me as much as I am a part of it. I may leave for a time but I’ll always be back.”
“That’s real good to hear. Makes me feel a whole lot better ’bout things. It musta been real hard being with those people all that time yet you was kinda alone too.”
“Yes, it was lonely. I realized what it would be like to leave. I knew if I simply left, I would have regrets. I have enough regrets already. I don’t want any more.”
“What kind of regrets?”
“Oh, things I never did and now can’t do, ladies I walked away from and maybe shouldn’t have, and not being having a wife and maybe some children by now. Those kinds of things weighed on my mind. Some of it was knowing that my life could end, that there would be nothing on this world that had changed because I had been here. Hoss, I want to know I did something that mattered, that made a difference even if it’s a small difference.”
“I think you already done that.”
“I guess that would be a discussion for another time then perhaps when we get home.”
“I got another question, and I don’t mean to be, oh, I don’t know, maybe like I’m judging ya or something, but how did you do it? How could you stand living with those renegades all that time? Knowing you, there musta been a way you coulda escaped.”
“I might have found a way to escape until they put those shackles on me. There were no keys.”
“So you wouldn’t have been able to get them off. Ya, I can see that then. No way to travel through them mountains with your hands chained together.”
“It was hard enough to do the work they made me do. There was another reason though. I thought I could do some good by staying there. For one, as Pa has said, I led them into the most remote part of the mountains that I knew and as far from settled areas as I could. They did raids, but they didn’t have much in the way of easy targets. I also did my best to let the authorities know where they were.”
“Yah, I figured that’s why they wanted to kill ya then, I bet. They musta been able to work it out that you were the reason the Army was able to find them so fast and take ’em in. Do you suppose they guessed too that you faked being sick so you could get that leash off your neck?”
“I have no doubt that Bass and Charlie probably understood all that I had done to get them apprehended once they had a chance to think about it and discuss it.”
“They ain’t gonna hurt nobody again. The others won’t either. Any chance they had of getting a prison sentence ended when they killed them soldiers. They’re gonna all hang for that and probably pretty darn soon. The gallows is being built outside the walls already. They got them chained hand and foot. Ain’t taking no chances they’ll escape again.”
“How’s that lieutenant?”
“Not so good. Doc says that they got the bullet out all right, but he’s got some sort of infection thing that’s made his belly swell up. Doc says it’ll break open at some point and kill him real awful like.”
“It must be an abscess. I know that’s a fear doctors have about any shot to the gut. An infection there is something they can’t fight.”
“Darn fool running out into the night like that to yell orders. I know it was bad luck to take a stray bullet, but that was plain foolish what he done. The men knew what to do. He only took their attention away from what they had to do and put himself in danger to do it. Now it looks like he got himself killed doing it too. I knew when I was leading him and the posse last fall that he was gonna do something stupid as soon as he got the chance. Damn shavetail.”
“You sound like Pa when you talk like that.”
“Who sounds like me?” Ben walked into the room with Joe. Joe’s look told the two older brothers that there was good news. Ben saw their smiles and knew they had guessed. “Yes, the doctor agrees. If Hoss and Joe can buy a wagon and a team and fix it up like a hospital wagon, we can take Adam home as soon as the wagon is ready. That is, if Adam wants to leave here and take a ride for a few hundred miles with the three of us so he can lay in his own bed instead of this one.”
“There’s no question about that, Pa. When can we leave?”
Hoss stood, grabbed his hat, and took Joe by the arm turning him toward the door. “Time’s a wastin’, Joe. Let’s ride to town and see about doing some buying and some wagon building.”
They could hear Hoss talking about putting springs under the seat, figuring out how to put stagecoach style springs under the wagon, and putting an extra mattress on each of two bunks in the bed of the wagon as his voice faded away. Taking the chair recently vacated by Hoss, Ben sat by his son’s side. “You and Hoss had a good conversation?”
By that question, Adam knew that Hoss’ questions had not been spur of the moment. “You talked about what he would ask me, didn’t you?”
“Yes, we all had concerns about what you wanted to do. We wanted you to come home, but we had to know how you felt about that. Hoss seemed the best to talk it through with you. We thought we knew but needed that final answer.”
“Yes, Pa, up in that camp, it was memories of my family that sustained me, and I knew that it was my family by my side that makes my life most satisfying. When I apologized to each of you for how I had been acting before all of this happened, I meant every word.”
“You seemed so unhappy with the limitations of the Ponderosa before. Is that all resolved now because the Ponderosa can change some, but it is still mostly a ranch? It can’t be all the things that you probably want out of life or provide you with the opportunities you want to have.”
“Not all is entirely resolved, but there are other ways to address my concerns without me leaving. I told Hoss that I may take some trips. Actually, I know I will do some traveling. There are some places I want to go and things I want to do. Some of those trips might take some time. There are still some things I want to accomplish that I can’t do on the Ponderosa, but there are others that I can pursue while I’m home. And it is my home. I will never leave, and right now, the thing I want most is to go home.”
Tags: Adam Cartwright, Ben Cartwright, Family, Hoss Cartwright, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright
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