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.
Rating: PG Word Count: 1669
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.