Summary: This is my March 2019 Chaps and Spurs entry. The words to be used are massacre, reconstruction, sewing, citizen, and oversight. A new hand at the Ponderosa stirs Joe’s suspicions but what he learns is not what he expected and is far more profound and life-changing too. In the second part, Joe learns why some think he is pro-slavery because he supported the Southern political position during the war.
Rating: PG Word Count: 4934
My Name Is Moses Lincoln
The young man wore a faded Union uniform jacket over more typical western wear. His horse was rather ordinary looking until one looked closely and saw the shoulders were set for speed and the powerful hindquarters were made for great agility. The horse’s eyes were alert and turned to survey Joe as he approached even as the man in the saddle did the same.
“Can I help you?”
“They said in town that you was looking for hands. I got experience.”
“Working cattle?” Joe was skeptical. “Most soldiers don’t have much time to work with cattle.”
“Worked cattle and with horses before the War. Been working ranches since I mustered out.”
“Any reason you worked more than one ranch?”
“You can see the reason. Color of my skin got me replaced as soon as a white man showed up and wanted the job. I figured this far west, maybe there might be enough jobs, I could keep one.”
As the two were talking, Adam and Hoss had come out of the house. Neither understood Joe’s reluctance to hire the man. Unwilling to start an argument with Joe in front of the man, Adam held his opinion, but Hoss intervened.
“Joe, why you jawing with the man so much. We’re short of hands. Give him a try. If it don’t work out, all it will cost us is a day’s pay.”
That earned Hoss a glare but a smile and a nod from the man on the horse.
“Thank you, kindly. My name is Moses Lincoln.”
“Welcome Moses. I’ll show you to the bunkhouse where you can stow your gear, and then you can come with me and I’ll get you started in to working.”
As Hoss led Moses away, Adam turned his attention to Joe. “Did you see a problem with the man?”
“Just not so sure of a man still wearing the uniform from the War. It’s been over for more than two years. He should be over it by now. I don’t want him starting any trouble here.”
“For him, it may never be over, Joe. The color of his skin will probably be a problem for the rest of his life. You heard him. It cost him jobs.”
“According to him. All we seem to hear about lately is reconstruction of the South and all the things they’re doing for people like him. He could have stayed and they would have taken care of him.”
By the end of the week, Hoss and Adam were telling their father what a great hire Moses was. An excellent horseman, he was also a talented wrangler and did excellent work with the horses. He got along well with the other men leading the men in song in the bunkhouse at night when he wasn’t showing them how to play some new game he had learned in his travels. Joe still wasn’t convinced.
“He must be hiding something. If he’s such a great worker, why would they let him go at all these other ranches? It doesn’t make sense.”
Frustrated that Joe couldn’t understand the problem of skin color, Adam turned away before he started an argument. Hoss shook his head knowing Joe would have to come to an understanding on his own because he never seemed willing to learn from the wisdom of others. Ben frowned guessing that Joe’s sympathies for the South were still coloring his opinions and not allowing him to accept what he could see or should know from what they had learned already. Somehow his youngest son was going to have to confront the reality of race relations at some point, and Ben guessed that Moses was going to be someone who might start him on that journey. Moses wasn’t one to back down so if Joe worked himself to the point where he was going to confront their new hand, he was likely to learn something important.
Before Joe learned that though, he sought Sheriff Roy Coffee’s help. “Roy, I think this new hand of ours is hiding something. He says he’s worked a lot of ranches on his way here. His name is Moses Lincoln. Now that kind of name stands out.”
“He seems an upright kind of man, Joe. He don’t make an kind of trouble when he comes to town. Fact is, he does his best to avoid trouble, far as I can tell.”
“Maybe he’s got a good reason not to come to your attention.”
“I suppose that could be true.” Roy prided himself on being a good judge of character though and Moses had impressed him as an honest forthright man. “What is it you want me to do?”
“I thought maybe you could send out some telegrams asking about him. I’d pay the cost. It would be worth it to me to find out his background.”
“Well, if it’s that important to you, I could make some inquiries to see what I could find out.”
The matter remained that way for weeks. Joe stopped by Roy’s office a few times but Roy had to tell him that he had gotten no responses. Three and a half weeks later, Joe was working with Hoss trying to replace an axle on a wagon when Roy rode into the yard. He had a large envelope in his hands. Ben and Adam came from the house greeting the sheriff and wondered why he was there.
“Well, you see, Joe asked me to check up on a hand you’ve got working here. He was concerned about him and wanted to know what I could find out about him. I got this in the mail today. It’s very interesting reading.”
Joe looked smug as Roy opened the envelope and pulled out some papers. Ben was surprised as Adam and Hoss frowned. Roy handed the papers to Joe because he had been the one to request them. As he read the first sheet, he looked up in surprise but Roy told him to keep reading. Ben reached over to take the first sheet as Joe finished with it and was going to put it behind the other sheets. Ben read it and passed it to Adam who shared it with Hoss. It was quiet until they read all the papers Roy had brought.
“He’s a war hero!”
“That’s not all. He was caught in that riot in Memphis when there was a massacre of women and children as well as men who were unarmed. He lost family members. He left there when his mother died as the letter from his former commander states. Moses was honest when he said he’d been moving on from one ranch to another. Several ranchers said they had been reluctant to let him go, but with some southerners especially former Confederates on the payroll, they couldn’t keep him and turn away white men. He wouldn’t have been safe there.”
Moses had come into the yard undetected by the men so engrossed in the letters Roy had brought. “My mother used to do sewing for white folks before the war, during the war, and after. That day, she was coming home with clothes to mend and projects to do. They shot her down in the street like some criminal. A woman who had never hurt anyone. She was born into slavery and freed when her master died. She carried scars on her body from those early years but bore no ill will toward anyone forgiving all for their transgressions. She tried to look to the future and told me to wait. She said we would one day be citizens. Then she said things would change. She was a wise woman, but I have to tell you I don’t think she was right about that. Here I thought I had found a place where some people had some decent beliefs. Now I find that you thought I couldn’t be decent because my skin color was so much darker than yours. I guess it’s time for me to move on again.”
“No, Moses, don’t do that. This was all my doing. My brothers tried to tell me you were just what you seemed. Roy told me you were an upright man. It was my oversight that my family didn’t even know what I was doing asking Roy to check on you. If you have a problem, it’s with me. Or rather, I’m the one with the problem.”
Looking at Adam, Hoss, and Ben in order and meeting their gazes, Moses had to ask. “None of you knew about him doing this?”
“I am sorry, Moses. If I had known my son was doing this, I would have stopped him. You gave us no cause to check on your background. I do hope you will stay and give us another chance.”
“Now that’s a switch. A white man asking me for another chance.”
Moses smiled then and shook Ben’s hand when it was offered. Adam and Hoss stepped forward as well. Adam asked if Moses would come inside for a brandy to show there were no hard feelings.
“Now that is an offer my Mama would have been pleased to hear. I hope she’s up there smiling now.”
Hoss slapped Moses on the shoulder and invited Roy to join them as well. The five men began walking to the house but stopped when Moses paused and looked back at Joe.
“Hey, kid, aren’t you coming with us?”
“I am, and don’t call me kid.” With a grin, Joe hurried to catch up. He had a lot of questions and hoped Moses would answer them, He guessed it was time the two of them did some talking.
Chapter 2 — Knowing Isn’t Understanding
Although Ben had thought Adam and Moses would make a good working pair, the opposite was true. Though both were among the most hard-working men he knew, together they weren’t. Too curious about the South especially about the lives of those who had suffered under the slavery system, Adam could listen all day to the stories Moses could tell. For his part, Moses loved having the opportunity to tell his stories. He had never met a white man who wished to not only know about slavery and the whites who lived with slavery and benefited from it, but he wanted to understand the experience and what it had done to the people who had suffered from it for generations. He knew he could never know what it was like so he deferred to Moses’ greater knowledge and wisdom on the subject. That too was something Moses had never before experienced. So despite the growing friendship between the two men, Ben decided that they needed to work with others. He brought up the subject at breakfast. He expected his younger sons to back his decision but was surprised when Joe opposed it.
“You know Moses doesn’t have any real good friends. Why take him away from the one person he really seems to like being with?”
“Moses can work with any number of men, and I have some other work I would like Adam to do. In a few weeks, Adam will be going to San Francisco anyway. It’s time for Moses to work with others here and get a good understanding of how to work with the other men.”
“So, who are you going to have him work with next?”
Ben got the distinct impression that Joe was worried about what the answer was going to be but plowed ahead anyway. “He’s so good with horses, I thought you and Moses could start working together today.”
“I don’t really need any help.”
“Whaddya mean, little brother? You been pestering me for two weeks for more hands to help with the horses so you can get them ready for all the contracts we got to fill.”
“Hoss, that was the last two weeks. That’s done now.”
It was a feeble explanation, and they all knew it. Ben simply repeated what he had already said and Joe nodded. Though his reluctance was clear, the reasons for it were not, and his family knew too that they would have to wait to hear those explanations when Joe was ready to share them. Lingering at the table until Hoss and Adam left, Joe wanted to talk to his father.
“Pa, I’m a little uncomfortable working with Moses.”
“Why is that, Joe? I thought you liked him. He seems to like you well enough.”
“Well, yes, I guess that’s all true, but, you see, I guess some of the hands told him about the disagreements Adam and I used to have about the War and stuff like that. Frank told me when we were working at the corral last week.”
“And you think Moses might hold that against you?”
“Of course he would especially after working with Adam for a couple of weeks now and the two of them probably think so much alike.”
“Adam told me that he and Moses had some disagreements. They discussed how Adam saw slavery and race relations compared to how Moses saw them. They found they didn’t always agree on things.”
“Well, Pa, if the two of them couldn’t agree, you could see how I could have trouble.”
“No, I don’t see it as trouble. I see the two of you discussing it as he and Adam did. Discussion doesn’t mean that you have to agree. You share your ideas and each of you helps to enrich the other’s understanding and knowledge too.”
“All right, I’ll do my best, but if we don’t get along then will you reassign him?”
“Let’s see how things go first before I make any kind of decision or promise.”
Although Joe didn’t like that answer either, he had no alternative. He got his hat and headed to the corrals to begin work. A short time later, Moses was there and asked what he should do first.
“Well, I think first we should clear the air. I heard that the men told you that Adam and I used to have some pretty heated discussions about the War.”
“They did make mention of that.”
“What did they say?”
“Well mostly they said your older brother argued in favor of the North’s position and was in favor of abolishing slavery. They said you took the other side.”
“We did argue, but I was never in favor of slavery. I always thought slavery was wrong. It’s just that I thought the South had a right to decide for themselves what to do. It’s called states’ rights.”
“Oh, I know what it’s called. I heard all those arguments for years when they debated new laws in Congress. Then I heard people use that very same argument you used. Never liked it then and couldn’t abide it. Feel about the same way now.”
“You’re a Union man then like Adam? You think the federal government should get to tell the states and the people what to do? I believe in freedom and independence more than that.”
“Oh yeah, over the years, I have heard lots of white folks who talked like that. No, I ain’t a Unionist, but I think people who say they believe in states’ rights don’t really believe in freedom and independence either.”
“Of course we do. We want the states and people to be free to decide their futures without the government telling them what to do.”
“Yes, like letting the South decide its future for itself.”
“Yes, like that.”
“They would have chosen slavery if you let them. Wouldn’t they?”
Joe didn’t like the way this conversation was turning. “Well, I suppose they would.”
“So, saying you want to let the South choose is saying you want to give them the right to choose to have slavery knowing that is what they would want? You are then giving them permission to enslave millions of people in a system in which those people have no rights not even to their own children. They have no hope for the future. No dignity. No right to even be a Christian and read from the Bible.”
“It’s not what I meant.”
“Maybe it’s not what you meant, but I have to tell you that a lot of powerful men meant exactly that when they pushed for states’ rights. They wanted slavery, and it was the only way they could keep it. It was their white man’s game of words to cover a shameful truth – the South benefited from slavery and didn’t want to give it up. So then how is being for states’ rights any different than being anti-abolition or pro-slavery? My mama had stripes on her back cause some white men said they had to have the freedom to choose what kind of state laws to have. She never knew her parents or any of her cousins cause some white men needed independence from the national government. You see, states’ rights to me means slavery.”
Silent, Joe stared at Moses. He wanted to argue, but words failed him.
“When me and my brothers in arms was fighting, we was fighting against slavery. There was no talk of us fighting against states’ rights. I never heard nobody in the Army ever talk about that.”
“But the fight was over secession.”
“Yeah, they seceded ’cause they was worried Lincoln would do away with slavery.”
“So that’s why some think I was pro-slavery? It’s because I took that side?”
“That’s about it. You side with the devil even if you got good reasons for what you do, and people gonna think you fighting for the same cause because you are. If you help evil, even if you didn’t mean to do it, then you part of it.”
Joe was left with nothing left to argue at that point.
“You come up with an argument against any of what I said, I’ll be waiting to hear it. Until then, we got work to do. Your father wants us to get this job done. I don’t mind you not understanding how I feel long as you don’t mind me not understanding how you can think like you do.”
“All right. Let’s get to work.”
The two men did work well together. It had helped for them to speak openly, but Joe still wanted to explain his position and get Moses to accept that he wasn’t proslavery. He couldn’t abide the thought that this man who was his friend could think that he supported the idea of slavery. When it was time to break for lunch, he tried again.
“Most of the men who fought for the South didn’t own any slaves.”
“I believe that’s true.”
“They were fighting because they believed in what they were fighting for.”
“So, they were fighting for states’ rights and not slavery. They thought the South had a right to secede.”
“Thinking it and believing it don’t make it true. I could think you got five thousand dollars in the safe that you have in your house. I could believe that’s true. That will not make the money appear in your safe.”
“That’s not the same thing. You’re talking about something like a magic trick. I’m talking about what made men willing to give up their lives. They were fighting for what they believed in, for their homes, and their ideas.”
“Maybe they was fooled into thinking that.”
“Maybe rich folks got them to thinking the only way they could keep what they had was for them to fight to keep the system that had slavery. Them that was greedy for money and for power took it from black folks but they took it from poor white folks too. They had them all bamboozled in a system that let a real small number of white men benefit from the labors of all the other people.”
“So all those men died for nothing?”
“I know that for the longest time they argued about slavery. They put the three-fifths compromise in the Constitution because of it. The electoral college was there to help protect it. The Missouri Compromise was to keep a balance between slave states and free states. The 1850 Compromise was cause they was so upset that California was coming in as a free state that they had to get concessions about slavery before they accepted that. Kansas-Nebraska Act was about slavery. They objected to Lincoln cause they said he was an abolitionist. That’s why they seceded. All the arguing was about slavery and then there’s a war and they say it’s about states’ rights. Don’t make no sense now, does it?”
Moses was quiet for a time. “Now they’re blaming the war on black folks. They’re saying if black folks hadn’t wanted to be free, none of this woulda happened. Seems like that’s admitting it was about slavery at the same time they’re revising the history to say it wasn’t. Of course, you see, they don’t want regular white folks to see that it was their greed that caused it. They still trying to set white against black because as long as that goes on, they keep the power and the money. They need them other whites to vote for the ones they say to vote for. Some people know how to use democracy to get what they want.”
“That’s a pretty cold way to look at the world.”
“It’s the way of things. Your family is rich but it ain’t ruined you. You still got a sense of right and wrong. We wouldn’t be talking like this if you didn’t. You and your brother wouldn’t have been arguing if you didn’t. That ain’t true of most rich folks. They think they’re better than the rest of us. I think you know that too by the look on your face when I said it.”
“Yes, it’s difficult. Sometimes, I want to yell at some of the people I meet. I want them to understand that they’re no better than anyone else and maybe worse because they don’t do anything to make the world a better place.”
“It especially hard to find the right gal?”
“One who can get along in your world but understands what it’s like to have a conscience and do the right thing?”
“I got an idea for you.”
“Next times you got any gals you thinking on maybe courting, you introduce them to me. If they say something like, “Hello, Moses, how are you?” and give me a real smile, then you know you got a keeper. If they nod and say something like, “Good to meet you.” without really looking at me, then you know that one ain’t gonna work out for ya. If I ain’t around, you just do the same with Hop Sing. He’ll know right off too if the gal is right for you.”
When Joe frowned, Moses could guess why.
“I suppose you usually check on how respectful they are to your father and maybe to your brothers, but you see that don’t mean nothing. Being respectful to somebody who can get something for ya don’t prove nothing. Now being respectful to the lowliest people around, now that tells you something about a person. Tells you what’s in their heart.”
“Now that’s something we can agree on.” After a moment, Joe had to say something more. “I still believe in states’ rights, but now I can see I need to give it more thought. There probably needs to be limits on what a state can decide for itself. I guess slavery was something that never should have been left up to a state to decide. I guess I’m not sure where the line should be drawn though.”
“I think it was already drawn, but some rich and powerful folks don’t like the lines. We got ourselves a Constitution and a Bill of Rights. They don’t like what’s in there though so they keep trying to find ways around the rules. You take a good look at those things and you’ll see that states got a lot of rights. They took away their right to have slavery now. Should never have let them have it in the first place, but they got lots of other rights as states.”
“How do you know so much?”
“I went to school. I’m more educated than most white folks you know, but I can’t do much with it because of my color. It’s the way of things. Someday when I’ve saved enough money, I want to start my own business.”
“Really? Maybe we should talk about that. I like planning and working on things.”
“Yes, I know. Your brothers already warned me about your money-making schemes.”
“Hey, that’s not fair.”
Moses laughed and said they ought to get back to work. They did but of course, their two long conversations had taken quite a bit of time and cut into the hours they should have been working. That evening at dinner when Ben asked Joe about how work had gone with Moses, he had to be honest.
“Not as well as you hoped, I guess.”
“Not as well as I hoped. Does that mean the two of you didn’t get along while you worked?”
“Oh, no, we got along real well while we worked, Pa.”
“So, you had problems when you weren’t working?”
“Oh, no, we got along real well when we weren’t working too, Pa.”
“You got along real well when you were working, and you got along real well when you weren’t working. Joe, will you please tell me then why or how things didn’t go as well as I hoped.”
“Well, we kinda didn’t get done as much as we were supposed to get done today.”
“And why didn’t you get done as much as you were supposed to get done today?”
“Well, we sorta got to talking a few times.”
Hoss grinned and Adam smirked. Before Ben could say anything though, Adam interjected his thought.
“Sometimes there are things more important than work.”
Ben was shocked into silence, and Joe was stunned. If Joe had said it, Ben knew Adam would have had a quick retort. Joe couldn’t even believe Adam had said something like that. Hoss waited for whomever was going to speak next. Adam had the floor apparently and kept going.
“Pa, I know you thought Moses and I talked too much, but he helped me to understand things I only knew about. I’m guessing he’s doing the same with Joe. He’s going to bring us closer together because he’s the one who lived what we could only talk about. Knowing isn’t understanding.”
“Are you telling me not to interfere?”
“No, sir. I’m only explaining what happened with me and what I assume is now happening with Joe.”
At that moment, Hop Sing made one of his strategic entrances with platters of food. It gave all of them a reason to shift into a different topic. At the end of the meal, Ben returned to the topic of Moses though.
“Perhaps, the discussions with Moses could occur outside of working hours. In fact, you could invite him to share dinner with us a few times and perhaps spend the evening here. It would be a time for a quiet discussion with one or more of us. I think I would like to be part of this too.”
Grinning, Joe offered to invite Moses in for a brandy that evening. “I know he enjoyed the brandy the first time he had one with us. I don’t think he would mind another.”
Adam suggested though that he make the offer as one of friendship for what he had already done. “We don’t want him to feel that he has to earn the right to be here with us. He is our friend. Like any of the others, he has the right to be invited inside on occasion to have dinner with us and to sit and talk with us. In fact, maybe we ought to make that a practice and start thinking about inviting the other hands in on occasion too, at least the ones who have been here a while and have become friends.”
Hoss and Joe endorsed the idea immediately. Ben was a bit more reluctant, but then admitted that it could be interesting so they decided that once a week at least, a hand or two would be invited to have dinner with them. That night, Moses came in and had a brandy and played checkers. There was no serious conversation other than when Moses asked Adam if they knew Joe cheated at checkers. That only started as a serious conversation but plummeted quickly into light-hearted bickering with Joe on the defensive against everyone else. Then a week later, two of the men nervously sat at the dinner table and started a new tradition. Although they were apprehensive at the start of dinner, by the end, they felt comfortable and welcome. They reported back to the others how it had gone, and in his bunk, Moses smiled. He like hearing the men talk.
“They’re just like regular people.”
Tags: Adam Cartwright, Ben Cartwright, Hoss Cartwright, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright
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