Pony Joe (by Cheaux)

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Summary:   Joe, eager to find something to call his own, joins the Pony Express with Adam’s help.

Aside from a passing reference to Ben’s investment in the Pony Express, this story is unrelated to the Season 7 episode “Ride the Wind” which was out of sync with history.  The Pony Express existed for 18 months from April 1860 to October 1861 when Joe was 18.

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author.  The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise.  No copyright infringement is intended.

Rating:  T  (5,700 words)

Pony Joe

 

Long as I can remember Saturday has been errand day. Before Mama died, we shopped at the settlement in Genoa. The discovery of gold and silver near Sun Peak birthed a new town and from then on, we spent our money in Virginia City. Pa never liked to stay long in town on a Saturday. Too wild with miners, and cowboys, he said. He split us up so we could finish our tasks quicker, but he never sent me alone to do anything lest I be tempted by the riff raff running loose. So on this particular Saturday while Pa signs contracts at the attorney’s office and Adam handles the banking, Hoss and I take care of collecting supplies and the mail. Adam would have taken me in tow, but big brother shows more leniency.

“Little Joe, you go to the Post Office while I load the heavy stuff. Then you can fill the spaces with the rest of our order while I go get me a beer.”

“Why am I always stuck with packin’ it in?”

Hoss throws his head back and laughs. “‘Cause you’re best at figurin’ where everything will fit.”

Before I could savor the compliment, he adds, “Besides, you’re the only one scrawny enough to fit in the crevices.”

“Har dee har har.”

I’ve tried all my life to measure up to my brothers, but I am neither as tall nor as broad shouldered. Pa keeps telling me I am still growing, but I know it won’t matter none. I will always be “little” Joe compared to them, and it rankles. I want—need—to be more. To do something neither of them can. To stand apart. To be someone admired and respected for myself and not the Cartwright name alone.

So, when I see the advertisement on the chalk board in front of the post office—

~~~WANTED~~~

Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over eighteen.

Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily.

Orphans preferred. Wages $25 per week

~~~APPLY WITHIN~~~

 

—I know that’s what I want to do . . . be a Pony Rider.

Okay, so I’m over eighteen . . . but not by much. And so what if I am only half an orphan. I inherited my horse sense from Mama, and I am a better rider than most anyone in the Territory.

Two men—Bolivar Roberts and James Kelley—are talking to a group of prospects when I enter the back room. Turns out most of the men already hired across the country are over eighteen, some as old as twenty-seven. We are told Pony Riders are tough, brave, and hard-working. Of course, the required pledge not to use profanity, drink alcohol, or get in fights gives me some pause. But when I think about it, Pa pays me the same wages as our ranch hands, $30 a month plus bunk and board.  So for $25 a week and $100-$150 a month in bonuses, I figure I can put up with a few restrictions. What could go wrong?

Nearly 200 men are lined up this morning. With the age restriction lifted, I reckon I can best half of them on size and weight alone. Sure enough, I make the preliminary cut and advance to the competition round held to select the best riders.

Hoss guesses my intent when he sees me come out the Post Office door.

“Are you thinkin’ of signing up?”

“I already did.”

“Does Pa know?”

“No.”

“Adam?”

When I hedge, Hoss pushes his hat back off his brow and whistles. “You’re plum crazy, you know that. You’re over 18.”

“They don’t care!”

“The ad also says ‘orphans’ and you still got a Pa that’s never going to let you do this no matter how old you are.”

I tap my index finger on the board. “Must be expert riders. That’s me and you know it.”

Hoss pounds the sign with his fist. “Willing to risk death daily. Are you ready for that?”

“It’s my life, not yours!” I elbow my way past him, jump on Cochise and head north on C Street. I expect to hear objections from Pa and Adam, but Hoss is usually my ally and his negativity disturbs me more than I care to admit. I make it as far as Six Mile Canyon Road before stopping. Shirking my assigned chore isn’t the way to get what I want. And I want this. I turn Cochise around and trot back to the supply wagon.

By noon, the Pony Express is the talk of the town. Pa can’t stop exclaiming about the prospect of mail from St. Louis to Sacramento in 10 days. I see the spark in his eyes, hear excitement in the raised timbre of his voice. On the ride home we talk incessantly about the adventure and I drop hints at every opportunity. I leave the newspaper clippings and maps Mr. Roberts gave me around the house and more than once I catch Pa looking at them.

The next morning as I head downstairs, I hear Adam talking in a low voice—a sure sign that something is up, something I am not supposed to hear. I sit on the top stair and listen.

“—you thought enough of the company to invest in it, even without proof it could work,” says Adam.

“True,” Pa says. “It is a new company with no track record, no facts to back its theory. But then, Columbus didn’t have much more than that when he set sail for the new world.”

“Well, if it’s facts you need, I suggest we obtain some.”

“What do you have in mind?”

I can tell by the rustling noise that Adam is searching through the papers I left on the table under the stairs.

“From what Joe says, the district is split in two with local riders starting at the California state line and going as far as Buckland Station. Another group of riders will travel from there to Smith Creek.”

“Smith Creek? In the Shoshone mountains? That’s pretty desolate country.”

“Joe wouldn’t be riding that far. His segment would end at Buckland’s Station.”

“That’s still 75 miles,” Pa says.

“Yes, but swing stations have been set up roughly every 12-15 miles along the route. See here on the map? He would start at Friday’s Station at Lake Tahoe.  First stop is at the bottom of Kingsbury Grade at Van Sickle’s hotel in Genoa, then on to Carson City where he would change mounts, then east to Spafford Hall’s Station in Dayton, then Miller’s, and then Buckland’s. That’s it. The riders are fed a good meal and rest up overnight before making the return. Two days out. Two days in. Three days off for Joe to be at home.

“I don’t know, Adam.”

“I haven’t traveled east on horseback in some time. I could give it a go to observe first-hand the conditions the riders will face. Would that help?”

I can’t believe Adam supports me in this. Evidently, Pa doesn’t either.

“I’m surprised by your attitude, son. I thought you wanted Joe to go to college.”

“I admit I was disappointed he did not continue his education, but remember he wanted to quit school at sixteen like Hoss did. He stuck it out at our behest. Doesn’t he deserve some big adventure to bridge the gap from school to working full-time on the ranch?”

“He’d be all alone out there.”

“That’s my point. He’s never had to depend on himself alone. I hadn’t until I went to Boston.”

“You had your Grandfather—”

“—yes, but not until I arrived. The journey tested me at every turn. The experience—and lessons learned—is something I will always remember. Shouldn’t Joe have the same opportunity?”

“And what if it breaks him? He’s only 18.”

“And I was 18 when I traveled 3,000 miles alone. Joe would be going a fraction of that distance. What could go wrong?”

I hear Pa exhale and can imagine the look that passes between them. No more is said about the Pony Express and soon their voices return to normal volume when the subject changes to work schedules and contracts. I tiptoe back to my room and ease the door shut.

***

Next day I arise early and do not only my chores, but a portion of Adam’s and Hoss’s, too. I need my brothers with, not against, me in this endeavor, especially when I take off work early to take part in the trials. Adam has that holier-than-thou look about him but doesn’t say anything or stop me from going to town.

For the next three days the competitors face off in heats of five riders each. I win each of my heats even though one of the judges, Tom Mason, marks me down for one infraction or another.  Even so, I become one of the highest ranked Pony Riders in Division 5, securing a spot on the team.

I announce my victory and new job at dinner and am met with total silence. I thought Pa would be pleased, but his eagerness to invest $6,000 and serve on the board of directors, did not extend to having his youngest son ride for the Company.

“Why didn’t you talk to me about this before you participated in the trials?”

“Because I was afraid you would say no.”

“And do you think there is a reason for me to say no?”

“Yes, s—,” I begin, but he isn’t listening and blusters right on.

“—this ranch won’t run by itself, you know.”

“It ran just fine while Adam was away at school. Now that he’s back, you’ll still have two Cartwright sons takin’ your orders. And I’ll do my share whenever I’m not riding.”

It isn’t the workload and we both know it. After all, I’ve only been out of school a short time and my addition to the manpower around here hasn’t made a significant impact so far.

“Nothing’s going to happen to me, Pa. You told me the Pony Express was the biggest thing to ever happen to the West. Well I want to be a part of it. Just for a little while.”

Pa and I both glance at my brothers for support. While Hoss avoids eye contact with either of us and concentrates on eating his dinner, I can sense the wheels turning in Adam’s head as he weighs his response. Damn! Why hadn’t I talked to him about his little inspection tour? Because that would mean I had eavesdropped and only a kid does that. Double damn!

“The quality of the stock impressed me during my trip to Buckland’s. They’re mostly thoroughbreds and fed grain for endurance. You’ve overnighted at Friday’s Station before on your way to or from Sacramento.  Well,  Buckland’s station at the other end is similar—restaurant, saloon, sleeping rooms—though not as large.  Transfer stations in Genoa, Carson City, Dayton, Miller’s, provide fresh mounts. The Pony Express employs a keeper at each home station to watch over the boys, and there is a stock tender and at least two horses available at all times at the transfer points.”

I catch my knee jiggling and I don’t want Pa to think I’m not mature enough to control my nerves. My request to be excused to do evening chores is ignored so I slip away quietly leaving Pa and Adam to wrestle.

The family is still at the table when I return, and the air is heavy. No one speaks and I’m afraid to ask why. I dish up the last of the cobbler but before I can raise my fork, Pa rests his hand on my forearm and his eyes bore into mine. Is this a test? What does he want me to say? I meet his gaze head on and realize he is searching. For what? The boy I was, or the man I am to be?

Pa blinks away a tear and squeezes my arm. “When you finish eating, pack your bags.”

“Thanks, Pa. I won’t let you down.”

***

I thought I’d be using saddle bags, but the mail is carried in something called a mochila. When I show it to Hoss, he marvels at the flat, heavily-tooled leather.

“What are these boxes for at the corners?”

“Mail. Three of them are locked and only the station masters in St. Joseph and Sacramento have a key. The fourth one is for the mail we pick up along the way.”

“There’s no cinch. How does it stay on?”

“See this hole for the horn? and here’s a slit for the cantle. It hangs half way to the stirrups on both sides.”

“Don’t it hinder your swing mount?”

“It did at first, but I got used to it. It’s not attached to the saddle in any way so transfers to the next horse are made in a matter of seconds. We gotta keep to the schedule, no matter what.”

“Dang, Joe.” I heard both admiration and worry in his voice.

“I’ll be fine.”

***

I start my run at Buckland’s Station grateful that I can adapt to the rhythm of transfers away from the watchful eyes of family and friends. Despite practicing, first day jitters get the best of me and I throw up out of sight of the station keeper, W.C. Marley, although I think he knew because he gives me a disgusted scowl.

I improve at each transfer point and by the time I gallop into Carson City to cheers and applause, I am able to swing the mochila from one saddle to another, grab a drink of water and some jerky in less than two minutes before galloping on. I don’t remember seeing Pa, Adam and Hoss, but I heard them yell and their hoots and hollers echo in my mind as I head to Van Sickle’s.

My portion of the Division 5 route is a treacherous one with steep grades, potential flash flooding along the Carson River, rocky soil, and hot desert winds. I love it. I am good at it. And I know it is something neither Adam nor Hoss can do as well given their size and weight. This belongs to me.

***

Routine settles in during April. Transfers lose their excitement. The cheers subside; the crowds are gone. Even my family stays away, the press of “real” ranch work taking precedence.

The first week of May I pick up an extra shift when one of the riders takes ill. Pa is not pleased that I spend less time at home but there is nothing I can do. I begin my 75-mile ride from Friday’s Station at dawn on May 10, already tired. When I stop to change horses in Carson City, Hoss is there with the news that Paiutes have killed five men at Williams Station, two stops beyond Buckland.

“Keep your eyes sharp and your head down, shortshanks.”

When I get to Hall’s Station in Dayton, Pa is there.

“I met with Winnemucca. He said if Pony riders cross his land, he will kill them.”

“Any chance for a treaty?”

“No. Son, I don’t want to forbid you to ride, but I wish you wouldn’t.”

“If I don’t make the run, one of the other fellas will have to. I can’t back out just because the going gets rough.”

I drink heavily from his canteen and place Hop Sing’s jerky in my inside pocket. Pa grabs my neck and gives it a squeeze.

“I’ll be fine, Pa.”

When I arrive at Miller’s swing station east of Dayton, I discover that all of the horses have been taken by the militia for use in the coming conflict. There is nothing I can do but coax another fifteen miles out of my tired mare. I lean over the horse’s neck and whisper encouraging words. The mare bobs her head and gives me all she has.

I continue east to Buckland’s, thankful that it is my home station where I will pass the mail to the next rider and get a good night’s sleep before riding the return route to Friday’s. Mindful of Hoss’s warning, I keep a sharp eye on the wooded hills around me as I ride along the Carson River. Nothing seems amiss until I near Buckland’s and blow my horn.

The hairs on the back of my neck stand up when no one appears. Where is Billy?

Billy Richardson should have been mounted in front of the station, ready to receive the mochila and continue eastward. Instead, the station keeper steps out the door as I rein my horse to a stop.

“Inside,” Marley says.

I dismount, handing the reins to the station tender before entering the two-story frame house. Inside I find Billy cowering in the corner, his chin on his chest, arms hugging his knees.

“Why aren’t you ready?” I croak, my throat caked with dust. Marley hands me a wet towel to wipe the sweat and dirt off my face and sets a mug of coffee on the table.

“There’s gonna be a war!” Billy says. “We . . . we should wait for Mr. Roberts to tell us what to do. Whether we should ride—”

“—riding is what we do. No matter what, the mail must go through. Remember your oath?”

“There’s nothin’ ’bout Indians in that oath.”

My eyes narrow to slits and fix on Billy. “Get your ass out of that corner and mount up,” I growl.

“I . . . I can’t. It’s suicide!”

Marley steps in.  “No point in arguing. Fear’s got ‘im,” he says and then spits his chaw into the brass urn by the door. “Drink your coffee.”

I shake my head in disgust, grab the mug, and stomp outside.

Marley follows, his hands stuffed in his front pockets.

“Never cared for you much, Cartwright. Roberts wanted to hire you because of your ‘expert riding ability and fearlessness.’ I argued against it. I hope he was right.”

“What do you mean?”

“You finished your 75-mile section and are exhausted, but I have to ask you take over Richardson’s section.”

“It’s a hundred miles to Smith Creek,” I say.

“More or less.”

“More probably.” Pa will kill me. Still, what an adventure!

“I don’t know his section.”

“The horses do, give them their head and they’ll get you there. Besides, the dunes at Sand Station don’t appear the same way twice anyway so what you see today you likely will not see on your return.”

“Explain.”

“Wind reshapes the sand mountain every day. When it’s dry and moving down slope, you hear a sound like a pipe organ. The sand begins to vibrate causing the mountain to boom. Don’t get spooked. The horses are used to it.”

I hand Marley my mug. Then flash him a grin. “Sleep is overrated.”

“There’ll be an extra $50 in your paycheck.”

The stock tender has already transferred the mochila to a fresh mount.

“What do you have for me, Pete?” I ask, taking the reins.

“I know how you like ’em, Joe. Half wild and full of fire. She won’t disappoint.”

Sure enough, the horse rears back on her hind legs as soon as I leap into the saddle.

“Do me a favor?”

“Anything Joe.”

“Get word to my family.” Feeling the power beneath me, I urge the horse into a lope before turning to wave goodbye.

***

I leave Buckland’s and head east across the twenty-seven miles of rugged desert toward the Carson Sink Station. I marvel at the smooth gait of the high-spirited horse and lay low along her neck, urging the mare to stretch out her stride leaving a plume of dust in her wake.

The Sink of Carson.  I remember as a kid thinking the name was silly, like being told to “put your dishes in the Sink of Hop Sing.”  Pa explained the Sierra snow melt fed the Carson River, but when summer comes, the water dwindles to nothing and the river sinks into the desert.  I thought it funny that a river could disappear.  Now that I see the alkaline playa I won’t ever look at Hop Sing’s sink the same way again.

Station personnel are surprised to see a rider in a green jacket approach instead of buckskin clad Billy Richardson. I dismount and take time to whisper to the mare before turning her over to the stock tender.

I shake the station keeper’s hand. “Joe Cartwright. I ride the Friday’s to Buckland’s section.”

“Tom Mason. Thought I recognized you from the competitions in Carson City.”

“Good to see you again, sir. You were mighty tough on us.”

“Truth be told, I voted against you. I think you’re too cocky. This is a business, a damned serious business. No place for arrogance.”

So, another man who disapproved of me and my flashy pinto. My eyes narrow, but I take a deep breath before responding. “No place for fear either.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Paiutes are on the war path. Billy refused to ride, so I’m taking his section.”

I watch Mason stagger backwards obviously stunned by the news of Indian trouble. Then I see him do the math and come to the realization that I have ridden 75 miles since sun up and it is another 85 miles to the next station house and a relief rider. Let him chew on that.

***

I trade mounts at Sand Springs and again at Cold Springs.  Though fatigued, my nerves are raw.  According to Bolivar Roberts, this next bit is the most desolate and dangerous part—not only of District 5, but of the entire Pony Express route. I stay constantly vigilant for any sign of hostile Indians.

From Cold Springs, the trail climbs into the mountains. The narrow canyon is a perfect spot for an ambush. But the terrain also hides me from the large war parties I know must be roaming the desert below. My lively little mare knows her way along the trail. I give her easy rein and let her run while I scan my surroundings for any sign of danger.

It is dark when I near Smith Creek and it dawns on me that I have ridden more than 160 miles since morning. My body feels numb. Before my legs buckle, I tell Jay Kelley, the rider for the next section, and the rest of the men at the station about the Indian war to the west.  I watch Kelley gallop off into the darkness knowing he carries not only the mail but the news of the Paiute uprising to the states farther east.

The station keeper helps me into the cabin and fixes me a quick supper. I fall into the deepest sleep of my life. I have been in the saddle, riding hard, for more than 18 hours.

***

Before I know it, the station keeper shakes me awake. Didn’t I just close my eyes? The westbound rider has come in. I would have to carry the mail on without delay. I pull on my boots and splash my face with cold water. It doesn’t help.  Mechanically, I stuff some biscuits and jerky into my jacket. Outside Vic, the stock tender, holds the reins of a freshly saddled horse. No swing mount for me. I haul myself into the saddle, barely clearing the mochila.

I race out of the mountains, covering the 23 miles back to Cold Springs in less than two hours. Time is always a factor, but today it is more than just a matter of staying on schedule. I concentrate on the path ahead trying not to think about what is on either side or behind me.  ‘What could go wrong,’ I had said to Hoss and I wonder if he’ll forgive me.  This is not a place to linger.

As I approach Cold Spring Station, my heart sinks. From half a mile away I can see a faint wisp of smoke curling above the horizon, and I doubt it is from a cooking fire. As the distance closes, I can see the place is a wreck and there are no horses in the corral.

My hand goes to the handle of my Colt while I take in my surroundings. Everything is still—horribly still. When I reach the smoking ruins, I see the keeper’s body, riddled with arrows, lying in the doorway. My first instinct is to get the hell out of there, but common sense—and a lifetime of Pa’s training—prevails. I dismount to feed and water my horse first before finishing off the last of my jerky.

It is 34 miles to Sand Springs. I have no doubt the mare can get me there, but will she be able to outrun a Paiute War party after such a hard ride? And what will I find at that station?

I resist the urge to speed across the desert. It would be a disaster to wear out this horse and then run into Indian warriors.  The mare seems to know this and changes gait without instruction.

After three nerve-wracking hours, I reach Sand Springs.  Marley was right, the terrain is different from when I passed through before.  I am relieved to find the station undamaged with two fresh horses in the corral, but no station keeper. Frank, the stock tender, says the keeper had left that morning for Carson Sink where he hoped to find reinforcements.

After I tell Frank about the smoking ruins at Cold Springs, I have no trouble convincing him to saddle up the second horse and follow me to Carson Sink. I feed and water the mare who got me this far and leave her in the corral to rest up for the next rider . . . or the Paiutes.  At least they take care of their horses.

Inside the adobe station at Carson Sink, we find fifteen men from the surrounding region who had gathered there along with their mounts for protection. The men had just seen a scouting party of about 50 Paiutes, and they were terrified. I leave Frank with them and ride on alone. I know that the closer I come to the settlements in the Dayton valley and beyond, the safer I will be. But I am still in dangerous territory and news of the Paiute scouts have me spooked. I push my horse as hard as I can.

By the time I reach Buckland’s, I have depleted all reserves. Cranky old Marley has done a turnaround and is overjoyed to see me—or, more likely—to learn I got the mail through in both directions. In fairness, he does feed me and allows me to rest for a couple of hours before sending me on the last leg back to Friday’s Station. Normally a rider would overnight here to regain stamina, but he thinks it will be safer for me to ride at night and I am too tired to argue.

On a fresh horse, in the cool night air, I head down into the valley.  Mr. Roberts is waiting for me in Carson City.  Between gulps of coffee, I give him details about the condition of the various stations and personnel.  Lack of sleep has robbed me of civility, and I am less than gracious in my opinions.  Pa would say bad-tempered.  As I describe the situation, many men listen in on the conversation, eager for any news of Indian movement. This makes me nervous as speculation can make men do stupid things.

I wind my way through the rolling hills of Jack’s Valley before changing mounts again at Van Sickle’s.  My apprehension has eased but I cannot escape the overwhelming fatigue spreading like molasses through my body. Several times during the long climb up Kingsbury Grade to Friday’s Station, I nod off in the saddle.

I don’t know how, but sometime during the early morning I arrive at Friday’s station, exhausted and numb with cold and hunger.  I can’t even dismount.  I am carried inside up to the sleeping rooms on the second floor and stripped of my clothing.

“He’s convulsing.  Someone go for Doc Riley!”

“C-cold.  So v-very c-cold.” I whisper through chattering teeth.

Soon warm blankets are draped over me and the shaking subsides.  I hear other riders whispering, finding fault with my condition, calling me a loser and disgrace to the Company.

Am I? I got the mail through and warned the other stations. Could I have done more?

Friday Burke catches my eye.  He knows I heard what the riders said.  He clears his throat to get their attention but doesn’t yell.

“Young Cartwright left here two days ago at dawn.  He’s ridden more than 350 miles through dangerous country in the midst of a major Indian war with little in the way of food or sleep.  When one of you have done the same, then you can comment.  Until then, shut your pie hole.  Am I clear?”

Murmurs and shuffling feet fade as the riders return to their bunks.  Mr. Burke smiles at me and pats my arm.

“Get some sleep, Cartwright.  Food’ll be ready when you wake.”

I nod and close my eyes.   Damn.  350 miles!  I wanted an adventure and I sure got one.

***

Sounds from the saloon downstairs creep into my consciousness. I am too tired, and too sore to pull the pillow over my head. I hear the door creak open and an inadvertent groan escapes my throat.

“You okay?”

Adam.

In a way I’m glad it’s not Pa or Hoss. They would probably say “I told you so,” but oldest brother . . . well, he backed my play so that didn’t leave him much room to criticize. Still, he’s Adam, so I’m sure he’ll find fault with something I did. I take a deep breath and turn my head towards the door.

“Sore.”

“I brought you some soup in a mug. Figured it would be easier to hold.”

“Can’t. Too tired,” I manage to croak out.  I’m starving, but truth is I’ve gritted my teeth for so long against the alkali and sand my jaw hurts.  It’s hard to talk, much less chew.

“Just drink the broth. You’ll feel better with something in your stomach.”

He sets the mug on the floor and grabs me under my arms pulling me into a sitting position, adjusting the pillows before sitting down on the edge of my bunk. I hiss at the pressure on my backside.

“Saddle sore?” he muses. Those little dimples at the corner of his mouth deepen, and I groan again.

“You ride 350 miles in two days and see how you feel.” He hands me the mug and, although I manage to grasp the handle, my fingers ache, and they begin to shake at the strain. He puts his hand under the bottom of the mug to steady it and raises it to my lips. Vegetable beef.

I finish the broth and even manage to slurp down a few vegetables. Adam is right, I do feel better.

“Pa know?” I ask after he sets the mug aside and wipes my mouth with his kerchief.

“Not yet. On his way. Bound to hear about it though before he gets here. Seems you’re quite the celebrity. Marley can’t stop praising your work ethic and Bolivar Roberts is doubling your bonus.”

“I did my job.”

“And then some.”

“Just following my credo.”

“You have a credo?” He sounds incredulous or maybe bewildered. I can’t always tell with older brother.

“Yeah.”

“Care to enlighten me?”

I think about the men I’ve met over the last two days. Some were competent, others pretentious. Some cowards, some the bravest men I’d ever know. Most believed in something larger than themselves. Others were just in it for the pay.  What had I learned?

“Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Deliver more than you promise.”

Adam sits with arms folded across his chest and stares at me. I try to hold his gaze, but my eyes close involuntarily, and I begin drifting. Next thing I know, he takes hold of my feet and pulls me down flat tucking in the covers around me.

“Sounds like you had quite an adventure—and a journey you’ll always remember as I have mine.”

I wrinkle my brow as if I didn’t understand because I didn’t want him to know I’d eavesdropped.

“I’ll tell you about it sometime.  Meanwhile, Doc Martin’s going to want to look at those sores.”

I groan.  “Doc Riley’s already been here and slathered me with stinky salve.”

“Well, Pa’s not going to take anyone’s word except Paul’s as to your fitness for ranch work.”

“What about my job with the Pony Express!”

“They’re shutting down for the next few weeks to rebuild and restock the stations.  Service won’t resume until June.  You’ve got plenty of time to get caught up on work at home.”

“Adam.”

“What?”

“Do me a favor.”

“If I can.”

“When you’re filling the work schedule for next week. Don’t.”

“Don’t what?

“Have me ride fence.”

I hear him laugh all the way down the stairs.

 

***The End***

 

March 2019

Author’s Notes:   In this story, the following people are real: Bolivar Roberts, Friday Burke, Jim Small, W.C. Marley, Spafford Hall, Henry Van Sickle, Johnson William, “Billy” Richardson and Jay Kelley.

As fantastic as it may seem, Joe’s feat was not impossible. The facts of this story are borrowed from “Pony Bob” Haslam’s incredible run on May 10, 1860 at the beginning of the Paiute War. It turned out to be the longest ride in the history of the Pony Express. Later, Bob would also make the fastest ride: 120 miles in 8 hours and 20 minutes, while wounded, carrying President Lincoln’s inaugural address.

The Pony Express lasted 18 months from April 1860 to October 1861.  Its usefulness was supplanted by the telegraph, but it captured the imagination of a nation and lives on today.    https://nationalponyexpress.org/annual-re-ride/current-reride/

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Author: Cheaux

A lifelong Bonanza fan, Cheaux began writing fanfic in 2009 after the 50th Anniversary convention. She lives in Nevada near Virginia City and Lake Tahoe.

33 thoughts on “Pony Joe (by Cheaux)

  1. Funnily enough, I read this story the day after reading an article about the Pony Express on the True West web-site. It had the poster with the ‘orphans preferred’ line. That speaks volumes of the danger involved. This is a marvellous take on what was an exceedingly brave profession, one which Joe was perfect for. His excitement, energy and exhaustion reverberated from the pages!

  2. Jeez – Thought I commented on this story a month ago. Must have dreamed my comment instead. Facts to the hilt! Now, we know the real story of the Pony Express. Well done, my friend.

  3. Joe always seems a perfect candidate for a Pony Express rider, but I like your story better than the “canonical” one–it’s an excellent blend of historic atmosphere and Cartwright characterization, and I particularly like how you handled Adam’s reaction to Joe’s “big adventure.” Thank you so much, Cheaux!

  4. Wonderful story, Cheaux! Vividly drawn, engaging plot, and true Cartwright characterizations. Thanks so much for bringing this to us.

  5. Wonderful story! Loved the history. I can tell you did your research. The Pony Express is popular out by me in Nebraska as well, so this story was a welcome comfort of a topic that’s familiar to me.

  6. Great job at putting and keeping Joe in the saddle for a most incredible adventure. An entertaining and informative read. Well done!

  7. Wow what an action packed story and I love how Joe seamlessly fit in to all these historical events. Your descriptions kept me on the edge of my seat all the way to the end. I could certainly see Joe’s livid expression at the rider who refused to go on. It was wonderful to see Adam supporting Joe and I enjoyed their scene at the end – a wonderful brotherly moment.

  8. Very nicely done. Loved the historic detail, of course. The pacing of the story matched the racing hooves of Joe’s pony, pulling me on throughout his journey, and the touch of humor at the end left me with a smile on my face.

    1. Thanks, Puchi. Had fun with the historical research since I live where Hall’s Station once was. Also love the Pony Express rider sculpture on the hill coming in to Dayton.

  9. You kept this fast-paced and the excitement and tension really comes through. Great sense of authenticity too. I did feel I was with Joe on his epic and dangerous ride. So in character for Joe to behave exactly as he does here, and the responses of the others to him made it even more real. Good tale.

  10. Love the history you incorporated into your story and how realistic you were in your presentation. It was like a journal drawing me in as I read until I felt like it was a true story. Priceless.

  11. What a story! I loved the factual side of this and could clearly envisage Joe’s journey. I don’t think he will want to see another saddle for a month or two!

  12. I like how Adam supports Joe in having an adventure that is all his own. The Pony Expresswas the perfect “vehicle” for Joe to excell. Good job!

  13. Cheaux, once again you’ve demonstrated your talent for weaving historical fact and fiction into stories that are concise, credible, and entertaining. I admire your skills with the first person narrative, because doing it well is a lot harder than most people think, and your Cartwright voices are impeccable as always. Great job. 🙂

    1. I love the historical fiction genre and try to incorporate local flavor into my stories whenever I can, always wondering what the reception will be. Your comments are much appreciated.

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