Hangtown Nightmares (by BettyHT)

Summary:  Appropriate to the Halloween season, Adam has nightmares from a troubling experience he had while visiting Placerville.  It affects his relationships with his family, but the nature of the dreams means he cannot discuss them with his family and must face the issue alone.  Although there is nothing specific, there are implications of sexual behavior so this is a warning if that offends you.

Rating = R/Mature  Word count = 1888

Hangtown Nightmares

On the trip home from Placerville, Adam Cartwright didn’t sleep. He couldn’t sleep because every time he closed his eyes or let his mind wander, a horrific memory invaded his mind. He couldn’t seem to tamp it down no matter how he tried. It was so awful that his fellow passengers usually so willing to gossip about almost anything studiously avoided that topic especially with the two children among the passengers. When it was his turn to ride up top, he took it willingly engaging with the driver about all the things happening with the stage company now that the railroad spur line was under construction. It meant a lot of changes were going to happen, and both were curious as to how things would play out. When he arrived in Virginia City, Joe was there with his horse.

“Hey, Adam, we heard about the hanging in Placerville. It must have been something to see. Did you see it? I wish I could have seen that. Was it what they said?”

“Yes, if you mean did his head come off, yes it did. It was the most barbarous act I have seen fellow citizens ever perpetrate. It made me sick to my stomach and ashamed to be in the same country. If I could have shot every one of them, I would have. It violated every law and principle by which we are supposed to stand.”

“But he attacked that woman and killed her little kid.”

“Maybe he did. No one will ever know. He didn’t get a trial. He never got to defend himself.”

“We heard that they asked him, and he wouldn’t say where he’d been.”

“That’s no excuse, and you know it. He deserved a trial. Even if he was guilty, it doesn’t excuse murder.”

Disgruntled at Adam’s tone and demeanor as well as his responses, Joe decided to stop talking. He handed Sport’s reins to Adam, mounted up on his horse, and said only the obvious that their father was waiting for them at home. They maintained the silence on the ride, and the frosty manner each had was apparent to their father when the two arrived on the Ponderosa.

“Now what?”

“I only asked him about the hanging in Placerville of that monster.”

“It wasn’t a hanging. It was a lynching, and one of the most disgusting spectacles one could imagine. And he wasn’t a monster. He was a man. He had a name. It was Cletus Barth, and he had rights like any other man.”

With both sons all worked up, Ben knew there was no talking this one out. “All right, we won’t discuss it. Truce?”

Although both agreed, it seemed Adam was torn. Ben guessed he did want to talk about it, but he wasn’t yet ready to do so. He would wait until Adam had his thoughts in order. It was the only way it would happen anyway. Having overheard the conversation, Hoss was wise enough not to say anything at that point. He waited until the two were working together the next morning, and he saw how exhausted his older brother looked.

“Didn’t get much sleep last night? Bad dreams?”

Startled at the question, Adam nodded.

“Must have been a horrible thing to see. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of anything like that ever happening.”

“It has happened in the past but rarely. Executioners are careful so that it doesn’t. The man was a big man like you, but you could see he wasn’t used to working. He was flabby and weak. They used a wagon and piled crates up very high and forced him to the top. It was too high and the rope too long. When he dropped, the force was too much. There were a couple of us there who had hoped to stop it, but more and more people came it until it was clear that three of us had no chance to save the man without a lot of other innocent people being hurt or killed.”

“You’re not feeling guilty about that, are you?”

“Some, I guess. We didn’t act quickly enough. There was that doubt that maybe he did deserve what he was getting, and it made us hesitate. Because of that, we lost our edge. By the time we knew we had to act, it was impossible. We had waited too long.”

“You shouldn’t feel responsible. You can’t always do what you know is right especially when there are so many against you. You weren’t one of those who killed him. It wouldn’t have helped him none if the three of you got killed too.”

“I guess.”

“Try to put it out of your mind so you can get some sleep. You look terrible.”


Although he tried to smile, Adam couldn’t. It wasn’t the memory of that man’s death that had robbed him of sleep. He had dreamed of making love to Regan Miller. She had been in his bed and willingly giving herself to him over and over in his dream. Instead of denying her, he had enjoyed her voluptuous body, and she had done everything he had asked and many things he had not. When he awakened, he was filled with guilt and even now couldn’t admit to Hoss what he had done even though it was only a dream. Although it was hours since he had awakened, he still had vivid memories of her soft skin and the kisses and caresses she had used to entice him. Working to ignore those memories was difficult, but he had to do it. Any sign of the effect she had on him would only lead to more questions, and he had no good answers to give.

Then it got worse. Each night, Adam dreamed of bedding a woman who had been significant in the lives of his father or brothers. These were women they had loved and lost. The first of these was Katherine Saunders with whom he shared his bed several times abandoning all sense of decorum, and then over the next few nights, he exhausted himself with the passion of joining with Joyce Edwards. When he took sweet innocent Amy Bishop more than once as well and taught her everything he knew about making love, he wondered what was wrong with him and if he was losing his mind. Then when he took sweet and gentle Emily Pennington to his bed pushing her to unleash her wildest desires, he thought the guilt might overwhelm him. Fighting sleep at night until he was so exhausted he couldn’t put it off any longer falling nearly into an unconscious state, even then the dreams came. He couldn’t talk to his family about it. The guilt was overpowering everything else as his logic and rational thought deserted him leaving him with no plan of what to do. His father tried to open a conversation with him about it several times, but all Adam could do was rudely rebuff him.

“Adam, I can see you’re troubled. Anyone who looks at you can see you are worn out from lack of sleep and worry. Can’t you let me help you?”

“Pa, I’m not a boy. I’m having some bad dreams. That’s all. I’ll handle it like any man would handle it. Now leave me alone.”

After weeks of suffering like that, Adam sat in a jail cell in Placerville. The sheriff looked at him and asked him again why he had returned.

“I figured out why Cletus wouldn’t say where he’d been. He had been with his brother’s wife. He couldn’t ruin his brother’s life so he said nothing. He wanted a trial because he knew there was no evidence against him. He had no way of knowing the people would go crazy when he said nothing.”

“And again, how exactly did you figure this out?”

“I guess because it was the only logical reason.”

As Adam said it, he knew it fell flat, but he couldn’t say the real reason. Cletus had come to Adam in a dream and told him that he had been torturing Adam because Adam hadn’t helped him when he could have. All Cletus had done was try to be honorable by remaining silent, and that had cost him his life because no one had come to his defense. Cletus had been almost eloquent in pleading his case and Adam had no good answer for him.

“What would you have done, Adam? Would you have told? You can’t even tell your family about your dreams? How could I tell them I was in bed with my brother’s wife when that woman and her child were killed?”

Then Adam and the sheriff heard the noise of the mob marching closer to the jail. What they were yelling was ominous, and the noise level indicated a sizeable number were there. Adam sat in a cell in Placerville because there had been another assault and murder of a woman. Some had yelled out that they remembered he had been in town the last time there had been one of those. The mob had surged toward him, but the sheriff had intervened and arrested him. That had been many hours earlier, and the mob had grown larger and had hours to drink and have their emotions escalate.

“I can’t say I’ll risk my life to save yours unless you can tell me a better story than that.”

Closing his eyes, Adam prayed that this too was a dream, and he would wake. Otherwise another innocent man might soon be swinging from the hanging tree.

Two weeks later, a woman stood at two new graves in the cemetery. A long black veil hung down covering her hair and her face. She stared silently at the two graves at her feet. Cletus Barth was the name on the marker closest to her. She had dropped a rose on the broken ground there that was already sprouting a cover of grass. The grave next to it was fresher and not yet settled. She shed a tear for the man there too. He had done some terrible wrongs but had died trying to do the right thing. A man walked up behind her and spoke in a raspy voice.

“Cletus died because the truth couldn’t be told.”

“Yes, but my husband knew anyway. Cletus could have lived. He could have told the truth.”

“You could have told the truth and saved his life.”

“Yes, and given up my own. You saw how they turned on me when I told them the truth. They were out for blood. You were lucky the sheriff cut you down before it was too late.”

“I’m glad your husband admitted the truth of what he had done and told the truth about Cletus and that you confirmed it. It meant they knew I had done nothing wrong. That saved your life and mine.”

“My husband was a murderer, and I am an adulterer. I got the man who loved me killed. I should probably ask God to strike me down right now.”

“No, live your life in such a way now to earn what you have been given.”

“What will you do?”

“Go home and try to explain to my family how I was almost lynched in Hangtown.”


Note:  The executions of Black Jack Ketchum in New Mexico and of Eva Dugan in Arizona resulted in decapitation so the horrific detail in the beginning of the story is not unfortunately a fictional creation but something that actually could happen in a hanging.


Tags:  Adam Cartwright, Angst

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Author: BettyHT

I watched Bonanza when it first aired. In 2012, I discovered Bonanza fan fiction, and started writing stories as a fun hobby. I have hundreds of stories now. If I am unavailable and anyone needs permission to post one or more of my stories on a site such as Bonanza Brand, AC1830 and/or Mo1427 are authorized to give permission in my absence.

12 thoughts on “Hangtown Nightmares (by BettyHT)

  1. Good one Betty. I love the way Pa knows his boys, when the right time is to talk and he knows pushing Adam will just shut him down even more. Good ending – thanks

    1. Thank you. Yes, Ben understands, but in this case he can’t help him as Adam doesn’t know how to get help in this situation.

  2. It was a startling story and while it was fiction, the reality of such murderous mobs and mindless unjustifiable killing is present today in our so called civilized society.

  3. Guilt plagues poor Adam. His upbringing is probably to blame. Some people (like a convent-educated person I know) feel peerpetual guilt, as if they’re to blame for all that goes wrong in the world. Adam’s awful close call may make him feel he’s paid for his “wickedness”.
    A striking story. I like the historical background info. Thanks.

    1. Thank you for reading. Those who want to do the right thing are probably those most plagued by guilt not accepting that they can’t be perfect and always do the right thing because circumstances get in the way.

  4. Wow, this story had some unexpected turns that come together in the end. I do think he can explain this to his family in a way that won’t have to include every detail…

    1. I do enjoy putting twists and turns in a story. Now Adam will have to put in a few to try to explain this ordeal to his family without giving away too much.

  5. What a horrific ordeal for Adam, first the lynching, then the aftermath, that was too close for comfort. I like what he told the lady. Telling his family will be hard but at least it will bring closure.

    1. Telling the story will be painful though reliving what was already an ordeal, but he must know they won’t settle for his silence on this one.

  6. A close call for Adam and he has quite the explaining ahead of him. Hopefully the family is ready and understanding.

    1. Hopefully, the family will understand the condensed version of the story Adam will have for an explanation. He’s had a most difficult time already.

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