Summary: The third story in the Traci series is about Adam’s trip to Arizona to bring his fiance home as his wife, but first he has to resolve trouble with the Apache when the Army is unable to help him.
Word Count: 12,468
First Love, and Tragedy (by BettyHT)
A Triangle (by BettyHT)
Another Angle (By BettyHT)
A New Angle (by BettyHT)
A Trust Broken and Fixed (by BettyHT)
I Still Love You (by BettyHT)
The Black Egg (by BettyHT)
Another Guise (by BettyHT)
Runaways (by BettyHT)
A Boy and His Horse (by BettyHT)
Frogs and Other Stuff (by BettyHT)
Hawthorne, Tonopah, Goldfield, Beatty, Indian Springs, Henderson, Kingman, and Seligman: Adam thought he might be able to recite the names forever. Finally he hoped to be in Flagstaff in one more day. Riding a stage to get his bride-to-be was only fun in the sense that he would finally get to bring Traci home and begin a life with her. Meanwhile, he was eating dust and getting calluses on his butt. During the journey, it had either been so windy that nothing could keep the dust out of the coach and out of every sensitive spot on his body, or there was no wind and therefore no relief from the unrelenting heat. He could swear the coaches they used for these out of the way routes were made without any kind of springs at all. That wasn’t the most irritating problem because he had to wait in each town, sometimes for hours, until packages and mail could be collected and packed on board after everything brought to these out of the way little communities had been offloaded. Apparently the schedule meant nothing as long as the stage left town on the same day it was scheduled to depart.
Therefore, it was no wonder that Traci had sent word that her father had not tolerated the trip well at all, and she would need to stay to help her mother longer than they had anticipated. Almost three months after he had last seen her, hugged her, and kissed her before watching the stage roll out of town, Adam had gotten a message that she was packing and ready to head north to be with him. He had said he would get her as soon as he got the word, and he had left as soon as he could despite his father’s objections that he was leaving them short-handed at a critical time. If all went reasonably well, he would be home in time to help with the fall cattle drive. He hoped that would satisfy his father even though it might upset his wife. He planned to ask her to marry him in Prescott so that her family could be present and so that her parents wouldn’t be upset about him traveling with her for up to two weeks to get home to Virginia City. Then to satisfy his family, they would marry again once he arrived back on the Ponderosa. Everything had seemed much simpler when he was making these plans. Now he knew it would be difficult to get hotel rooms for each night on the return trip as the stage lines were that unreliable. They would have to take what they could get whenever they reached a town.
The next morning, Adam was groggy from lack of sleep for the heat had been insufferable and the mattress in the shabby hotel was so uncomfortable, he had pulled the bedding and slept on top of it all on the floor. He grabbed his valise and headed to the stage depot and wondered at all the people in the street. Apparently something had happened, but all he wanted to do was get out of this town and head toward Prescott.
“Hey, mister, you ain’t gonna get to ride that stage today.”
Adam looked at the station manager wondering what the cause of the delay would be this time.
“Injuns, mister, we don’t want to send no passengers out. Just the stage and the mail are going.”
“It’s just like that Felix Ward case from sixty-one. Them Indians done kidnapped another boy. Them Apache just don’t learn. The Army already took some captives again to try to trade for him, but you know what happened last time.”
“No, I’m afraid I don’t. I’m from Nevada, and we don’t always get the details. What happened?
“Well, the Army had their captives from Cochise’s band so he took some white people hostage. Said he didn’t have Felix. Well the Army got impatient, and they hung them six Apache. So them murdering Injuns killed and mutilated the hostages they had, even the women and children. Nobody could tell if they cut em up before or after they kilt em. Never did find that Felix though.”
“What does that have to do with me not being able to ride the stage today? If the driver can go, why can’t I?”
“Well, Mr. Jeffords, he made a deal with Cochise, and they won’t bother no mail stage but if there’s a passenger, sometimes they don’t honor the deal. They already got those three Prescott hostages and might not bother to take another, but why take a chance.”
Adam felt like an icicle had just penetrated his chest. He knew the Apache would not have raided into the town itself so some ranch was the more likely target.
“Who did they take from Prescott?”
“Well they got the missus, and a daughter and a son from one of them big fancy horse ranches east of there, somewhere between Cottonwood and Prescott. I don’t know the names, but the people over at the newspaper probably have it if you’re so all fired curious.”
At a dead run, Adam went to the newspaper office that had been pointed out. He pushed his way through the crowd outside and asked to see a reporter. Finally, a young, thin, blond man stepped forward.
“Can I help you, sir?”
“Do you know the names of the people taken by the Apache? I was going there to marry my fiancé, and the description is too similar.”
The young man yelled back over his shoulder to someone in the back who yelled back ‘Maxim’ and Adam gripped the counter and dropped his head. He turned to leave when the young man called out to him.
“I’m sorry, but from your look, it has to be them. If you need help, the only person I would go to is Thomas Jeffords. He’s in town too. I saw him early this morning coming out of the stage office.”
“He and Cochise got some kind of arrangement. I don’t know all about it, but Cochise lets the mail stages through with no problem. If anyone can help you with this mess, it’s Jeffords. You can bet I wouldn’t trust the Army after what they did last time. Army can’t find the seat of their pants when it comes to handling these Apache.”
“What does he look like? How can I find him?”
“See those two boys there on the bench outside. They’re my sons. Promise the first one two bits to bring you to Jeffords, and they’ll find him.”
After making a deal with the two boys, Adam went to the telegraph office to let his family know the little he knew. The he went to the restaurant and ordered coffee only. He didn’t think his stomach could tolerate food. After less than thirty minutes, a slight but confident man walked in with one of the blond boys. Adam tossed two bits to the boy and to his brother who was dragging along behind in dejection. The two yelled thank you and ran off. After introductions, the two sat.
“I’ve heard a little of your story. Want to tell me the rest?”
“I was going to Prescott to marry Traci Maxim. Her mother Naomi and brother Darren are the other two hostages if my information is correct. I don’t know what happened to Max.”
“They left him behind because they thought he was crazy.”
“He had a mild stroke a few months ago. If he gets excited or upset, his speech becomes somewhat garbled. Otherwise, he’s pretty healthy although I don’t know what the stress of this has done to him.”
“How can I help you, Adam?”
“Can you get me to Cochise so we can talk? Maybe make a trade of some kind?”
Tom Jeffords leaned back to appraise this man. Several years before, Tom had made friends with Cochise by doing just what this man proposed to do: go into hostile territory and approach Cochise with respect to talk about how to resolve this situation.
“What makes you think that will work?”
“Cochise knows my father and brothers. His men shot me so I was unable to meet him personally, but I believe he saw me lying on a blanket while I was unconscious. My father was honest and forthright with him, and I’m hoping he will accept that I can act the same. My father said that the Apache respect those who keep the faith with them.”
“Well, I hope you have some money. You’re going to need a horse. Let’s go get packed up to go.”
“Where are we going?”
“I’ll let you know that when we are out of town. Too many ears here, and it’s too soon to let the Army have that information.”
Within an hour, Adam had a horse and saddle and was headed out of town with Tom Jeffords to go to Sycamore Canyon to meet with Cochise. On the Ponderosa, Joe and Hoss had already left, heading south to help their brother or console him. At this point, there was no way of knowing which it would be.
By the end of the day, Tom Jeffords and Adam had nearly reached Sycamore Canyon where Cochise had his current encampment. There was no evidence of campfires, and Adam had to wonder if they were in the right place. After hours of riding and conversing with Tom, Adam was impressed with the man’s knowledge of the Apache especially the Chiracahua. However, there was so much at stake here, he couldn’t help but worry. Tom pulled up his mount at that point and looked pointedly at Adam.
“You can turn back now. If you go forward, you have to trust your life to Cochise and the Apache. They may kill you.”
“I have to do this. I can’t let Traci die because I did nothing. If I die, then that’s what happens, but I have to try.”
“You aren’t afraid of dying?”
“I don’t want to die, and I’ll do what I can to prevent it, but no, I’m not afraid of it any more here than anywhere else. I trust I know where I’ll be going next.”
“Interesting attitude. You have the type of character the Apache respect. Just hold true to your principles no matter what happens.”
With that, Tom nudged his horse into a fast walk. By now, they had been observed, and it wouldn’t do to be too aggressive or too timid. Adam fell in behind him. When they reached the outskirts of the camp, more than a dozen men materialized behind them out of the rocks and brush. They had been followed. Tom slid off his horse so Adam followed suit, but where Tom walked forward unhindered, one of the men hit Adam in the back with a war club. Adam slammed against his horse, and then with a fierce expression, he turned to face his attacker. He towered over the man, but took no action even though he made it clear with his stance and demeanor that he would not be struck by the man again. Some of the Apache men laughed, and one shoved Adam to encourage him to walk forward. They took his horse and Tom’s and tied them off to small saplings.
“Greetings, my brother. These are bad days.”
“Greetings, Cochise, my brother. Yes, there is sadness for many today.”
“Who is this stranger you bring among us, this man with the fierce face and anger in his eyes.”
“You know his father, Ben Cartwright and his brothers Hoss and Joe?”
“Yes, is this the brave one who was shot?”
“My father would say I was the foolish one that day.”
“Foolishness and bravery are not so different. If you had got the water, they would have called you brave.”
Nodding his head in agreement, Adam relaxed a little. If they were planning to kill him, it would likely have happened already. He looked around and saw a wickiup with a man standing guard and assumed that was where the Maxims were. Cochise saw his gaze.
“They are family to you?”
“The young woman is to be my wife.”
Cochise gestured and the man at the wickiup pulled the flap up and gestured to those inside to come out. Darren came first, and he helped his mother out as Traci helped Naomi from behind. It was clear that Naomi had been injured in some way. As Darren and Traci looked over to the group of men, Traci gasped to see Adam there. She was afraid he had been captured too but then realized he was still wearing his gunbelt.
“May I go to them?”
Cochise nodded and Adam put his hand on his pistol lifting it out to hand to Cochise. At least ten men had leveled weapons at him as he pulled the pistol. Once he handed it to Cochise, they relaxed.
“I trust you would not do something foolish.”
“Cochise, I would not, but I cannot vouch for Darren who would probably do anything to protect his mother and sister.”
Cochise accepted that because the young man was quite large and had been difficult to subdue. Adam walked carefully to where the Maxims stood. Once he reached them, Traci couldn’t hold back any longer and rushed into his arms.
“Why are you here? What is going on?”
“They’re holding you as hostages against four of their own who were taken by the Army who think they have kidnapped a young boy.”
All three of the Maxims went pale at that information. They were well aware of what had happened in the Felix Ward case. Things were looking very bleak for them.
“I’m going to try to work something out with Cochise. Tom Jeffords is helping me. You just need to stay strong. I will do anything to get you free of here. You have to be strong. Don’t show any weakness. They respect anyone who can take punishment and privation without complaint.”
Darren was maintaining a fierce look, but Naomi and Traci were looking almost blank. Adam sounded strong and resolute, but his heart was breaking. He couldn’t show emotion here but he wanted so desperately to do so. He wanted to grab Traci in his arms to hold her and reassure her he was doing everything he could. He hoped that the look on her face was because she understood and not because she thought he didn’t care enough.
Tom called to Adam that his time with the Maxims was up. He kissed Traci gently and could do no more. He had to be stoic. The three Maxims were herded back into the wickiup, and the flap was closed again. Adam turned and walked back to Cochise and Tom Jeffords.
“I need to bring this boy back to the Army to settle this. Do you have any idea where he is?”
Cochise was impressed that Adam was direct, and that he did not accuse them of this deed they denied.
“It is as before. The boy is with the Coyotero. They are camped on the other side of what you call Coconino Lake. There is good grass there now, and the lake has water in it.”
Adam looked at Tom.
“It’s a shallow lake, and dries up completely sometimes. But it’s a very big lake when it’s full like now. A good place to camp and let your horses graze.”
“How can we get them to give up the boy?”
“They will trade for him or you could challenge. Either way, you cannot be sure it will work.”
“Yes, but if we can find him there, however it works out, Tom can let the Army know that you do not have him so that the hostages and the captives could go free. What would they want in trade?”
“Rifles and ammunition would be their first choice, but they would know as I do that you could not bring them those. Bring them horses and bright cloth. They can trade them to the Aravaipa here or the Jicarilla in Mexico or to the Comancheros to get the rifles they want so much.”
Tom looked at Cochise and wondered what he wasn’t saying. His expression was always guarded, but those who knew him well knew when he was worried, and he was worried now.
“What worries you, my brother?”
“The Coyotero could kill you both. Then my men will hang at the Army fort, and I will have to kill these people I hold here.”
“Then send someone who will stop the Coyotero from killing.”
Cochise looked at his men and saw some support there. Warriors were hard to replace. If they could get the four men back without losing more, it would be an accomplishment worth some risk.
“Tomorrow morning, Taza and Naiche will meet both of you at the stacking rocks. They will give you safe passage to the Coyotero.”
Tom nodded and motioned to Adam that it was time to leave. Adam thanked Cochise who handed his pistol back to him. They had a lot of riding to do before darkness settled in and a lot of things to gather in Sedona. It was much closer than going back to Seligman or Flagstaff. As they rode out, Tom told them that Cochise had made a big gesture.
“Taza and Naiche are his sons. Taza will likely be chief one day. By sending them with us, he is giving a very clear and direct message to the Coyotero not to harm us.”
Adam nodded, but all he could see was that look of desperation and sadness on Traci’s face as she was herded back into that wickiup. Even if it meant his life, he had to free her from captivity.
Early the next morning as the hint of dawn broke over the mountains, Adam led a string of horses from the livery stable. The first in line had a pack across its back carrying bolts of colored cotton cloth. Tom Jeffords rode up as he was starting to ride out and the two continued on until Tom told Adam when to veer off to the left. Soon they passed a stack of rocks, and three riders pulled out to join them. Taza and Naiche had brought Darren with them. He was not armed, but he was not tied either. Taza spoke briefly to Tom.
“Cochise thinks he may be of use to us with his size and frankly doesn’t want to have to deal with him in camp any more. He thinks the two women are sufficient hostages.”
“Darren, how are the ladies?”
“Adam, Traci is holding up fine but Ma is sick. She needs medical care soon.”
“We’re doing what we can to make that happen.”
As they rode, Adam filled Darren in on what they were planning to do. Then they rode in silence, and Adam’s mind was filled all too often with that last view he had of Traci with the fear in her eyes and the hope that he could do something. He had not slept that night for whenever he closed his eyes, he saw Traci’s face as he had seen her retreating back into the wickiup. Even if he died on this mission, Tom Jeffords would have the information to get the hostages released. At least that was his fervent hope, and hope was the only thing keeping him going. The five rode steadily to the east until Taza and Naiche signaled that they should ride south. The smoke of campfires was on the wind, and they knew they were close.
Suddenly they were surrounded by armed men. None were directly threatening them, but their looks were not friendly either. They rode slowly as the men flanked them and rode behind. In just a few minutes, they rode into the Coyotero camp. A man who had to be their chief was standing among the wickiups and had several men to either side of him. He did not ask their names as that would have given them status and recognition. Instead he demanded to know what they wanted.
“We have come for the white boy you took.”
“We have never taken a white boy. Look elsewhere for your lost pup.”
“You took Felix Ward five years ago and traded him to the Aravaipa who traded him to the Rope clan.” Tom Jeffords had given Adam some inside information.
The chief stood quietly.
“We brought horses and bolts of cloth for a trade.”
“It is not enough. You must win a challenge. When you lose, we get the horses and the cloth and if I let you live, you leave.”
“And if I win.”
The chief and most of the warriors present laughed at him for that statement. No white man who herded cattle and horses could beat an Apache man in a fight.
“If you win, then you get the boy, and I get the horses and the cloth in trade.”
“And I decide if I will let you live.”
Tom Jeffords thought he might have gone too far with that statement. The chief pointed to one of the warriors who stepped forward. He would be the one to fight Adam.
“Adam, let me do it. I’m bigger and stronger than you.”
“No, Darren, that isn’t what will win this fight.”
Sliding down from his horse without losing eye contact with the man he was to fight, Adam took off his hat and gunbelt. Then he moved away from the horses and the men as did his opponent. Within seconds, the man charged Adam and they began to wrestle. For the next fifteen minutes, they wrestled. The Apache man used his teeth to his advantage several times until Adam hit him square in the mouth bloodying his lips. Many blows were struck, and the worst for Adam were several blows to his back as well as a number to his abdomen. But Adam was taller and stronger with enough skills learned from his Paiute friends that he was doing quite well overall surprising the warriors there. Just when it looked like Adam was gaining an advantage, one of the other men stepped up behind him and kicked him between the legs. Adam dropped onto all fours. His opponent was ready to move in with a killing blow but when he raised his arms to bring them down on Adam’s neck, he was suddenly struck in the ribs by Darren’s arms in a savage blow. He crumpled to the side and then had trouble rising.
Then Darren glared at the other warriors daring them to interfere again. Adam slowly made his way to his feet but was still hunched over as his opponent finally made it to his feet. Darren was worried that Adam would be defeated but he noticed that Adam was standing oddly for someone who was severely injured. He was balancing on the balls of his feet. As his opponent rushed to him with another attempt at a killing blow, Adam exploded upward with a vicious uppercut to the man’s jaw that threw him on is back on the ground. Adam jumped on him and pulled him into a wrestling hold where he could not bite nor hit nor get his feet on the ground for leverage. Adam had won.
There were many menacing looks, but the presence of Taza and Naiche meant that the Coyotero had to honor their agreement. Tom nodded toward the horses and men were quick to take them into their possession. At a nod from the chief, the flap of a wickiup was pulled back and an eleven-year-old white boy was summoned from inside. When Adam saw him, he had a difficult time maintaining his stoic expression for it was obvious that the boy had been beaten. There were dark purple bruises and red marks as well as others that had faded to shades of green, brown, and yellow. In addition, there were numerous small cuts and abrasions that were red and fierce looking. Adam walked quickly to where the boy stood with Tom right there beside him within seconds.
“Hello, Timothy, my name is Adam and this is Tom. We’re going to take you back to your family.”
“Can’t. They shot my pa and burned up our house with ma and my brothers. There’s nobody left.” The boy had a neutral affect showing no emotion at all.
“That’s not true. Your pa survived his wounds, and your ma and brothers hid in the root cellar while the house burned. Your pa did a good job covering it with brush and they never found it.”
Tom stepped in quickly to give instructions to the boy on how to act. “Tim, we need you to walk out of here and show no tears and no anger. Walk with your back straight and your eyes straight ahead. We’ll be with you, and then we’ll ride out of here without looking back.”
Adam stumbled a bit as they walked to their horses, and Tom glanced at him. He was concerned that Adam was seriously hurt but knew this was no place to investigate that. Pale and sweating by the time they mounted the horses, Adam was well aware he needed help but knew as Tom did that any show of weakness at this point could be devastating. He simply said they needed to get moving, and the six rode out with Tim riding with Tom. Once back at the stacking rocks, Taza and Naiche left to let their father know the first part of the plan had worked. Now Adam and Tom had to get the Army to release the captives. That would turn out to be more difficult than anticipated, but at least they weren’t hanged yet so there was still hope that the situation could be resolved without any more death.
Once the riders reached Cottonwood, there was a huge gathering in the street as people were excited to see Timothy released and relatively unharmed. All of them hoped that this situation could be resolved without more bloodshed because five years earlier, hundreds of settlers and soldiers had died before peace could be restored. A telegraph was sent to Sedona to let them know that Timothy was safe and on his way to Fort Whipple with Adam and Tom. Darren headed for his home to see to his father. He would return to Sedona to meet with Adam and Tom and hopefully they would go to Sycamore Canyon to retrieve Naomi and Traci. Understandably Timothy wanted to go directly home, but they needed him to prove to the Army that the Chiricahua Apache had not played any role in his abduction. Adam was shaky in the saddle but managing to stay upright as the three of them headed to Fort Whipple. Once at the fort, they announced who they were and the guards let them in.
Tom walked with Tim to the commander’s office and Adam slowly followed. Once inside, they were greeted by the fort’s commanding officer. Adam had noted that some of the horses they had here looked like horses the Ponderosa had sold to the Army. He hoped that might ease their introductions and it did, but the commander harbored some suspicion of both of them anyway. He didn’t like Tom Jeffords relationship with Cochise, and now Adam had met with Cochise and negotiated a deal with the Coyotero. Neither of those actions fit with the commander’s view of what white civilians ought to be doing in Arizona Territory, and he told them that. Adam dropped his head and took a deep breath. He was trying to be diplomatic, but the commander’s attitude was making it difficult. He also had slept only a few hours in almost three days, had been pounded in a fight, and ridden over a hundred miles in a few days. He had spent more time sitting a saddle than doing anything else. He was sore, tired, worried, and now frustrated.
“All we want you to do is to do what you promised. You said if the boy was released, you would release the captives. Tim is here!”
Tom was getting very worried. He wondered what the commander’s agenda was because he was obviously not ready to release those captives.
“What is it you want, commander?”
“I want justice. The Apache cannot continue to raid and kidnap, kill and wound, without consequence.”
“But the captives you have now were not part of these raids. The Coyotero did those not the Chiricahua.”
“No, but these men were in the raids Cochise led five years ago. No one was ever punished for those, and I have an opportunity to rectify that omission.”
Neither Adam nor Tom could believe what they were hearing. Adam responded first.
“You will be condemning two innocent women to death.”
“With what’s probably happened to them at the hands of those savages, they’re better off dead anyway.”
Tom grabbed Adam before he could assault the commander. The threat was enough and the commander yelled for his clerk to have guards remove Adam and Tom from the fort. They were forcibly ejected from the office, handed the reins of their horses, and escorted from the fort. Tim was left in the custody of the Army.
“If anything happens to Traci, I’ll kill that popinjay!”
“Adam, stop it. You’ve been reasonable and rational until now. Threats like that won’t get us anywhere. Get yourself under control and let’s figure out a plan.”
“Let’s go to the Maxim ranch. Darren is there and so is Max. Maybe they know someone who can help.”
Adam and Tom had to ride into Prescott to get directions and then headed out to the ranch arriving late in the day. Adam saw some familiar horses and had the first smile albeit small that he had been able to muster since he had been in Seligman and heard the news. Riding up to the ranch house, four men stood on the porch of the imposing house and waved greetings. Hoss came down the steps first and grabbed Adam in a bear hug.
“Boy howdy, I am sure glad to see ya. Joe made me ride faster than I ever did in my life. We brought extra mounts and that boy hardly let me stop long enough to unpack jerky.”
“Thank you, thank you both. We could really use your help.” Darren and Max looked especially concerned by that news. They had hoped to hear that Naomi and Traci were on their way back.
“But they got the boy back, why won’t they release the captives?” was the question voiced by all four once Adam and Tom started explaining. Tom told them he thought that the commander had a hidden agenda and that somehow these captives were important in his plans. All four also got quite upset when Adam told them through gritted teeth what the commander had said about the fate of the two women.
“I know some people but it could take too much time.” Darren had been in the Union military during the Civil War and had connections. “The commander I know is at Camp Colorado. He has been working to improve relations with the Apache in order to keep travel safe. He has friends in high places too because he served with Howard in the War. I’ll head to town and send off some telegrams. Then I think I’ll head to Camp Colorado to see if I can explain better in person. I hope someone can rescind that Whipple commander’s orders.” Darren mounted up and left.
Tom offered to head to Cochise’s camp to reassure the chief that all that could be done was being done. He knew that Cochise was likely to be more patient than the Whipple commander, but it wouldn’t hurt to let him know what they were doing. Of course, his presence in the camp would keep Naomi and Traci safer because Tom was confident that nothing would happen to them while he was there.
Earlier Joe had seen Adam grimace in Hoss’ bear hug. He could see he had been in a fight as well. “What happened to you? You look like you took on a grizzly and lost.”
“I had to fight to win Tim.”
“But you said you traded horses for him?” Hoss was confused.
“Yeah, they let me trade the horses for him because I won the fight.”
“Your brother fights dirty too. Those warriors appreciated that.” With that last comment, Tom turned his horse and left.
“Well, welcome to my home. I certainly wish it had been under better circumstances, but at least they didn’t burn the thing down. I guess them thinking I was crazy helped me out that way. You all need to get some rest. Inside, Minerva can show you to rooms. Adam, there’s plenty of food on the table as well. We had sandwiches before you arrived. The bedrooms will stay much cooler if you leave the doors open.”
Max was back to being in charge. Now that they had a plan, he was less worried but knew he wouldn’t sleep. He wondered at first how these three Cartwrights could sleep at all and then remembered they hadn’t slept much in the past three days.
As dawn broke the next morning, Hoss dressed hurriedly when he awoke. He expected that Adam would be up and anxious to go and didn’t want him riding off alone. When he walked down the hall and glanced in Adam’s room though, he was shocked. Adam was using the chamber pot and his urine was brown. He was naked and there were bruises all over especially on his back.
“Why didn’t you say how bad you was hurt?”
“I have to get Traci free. I can’t stop until she’s out of there.”
“Well, you’re gonna stop right now. Won’t do no good if she gets rescued, and you’re dead. You know as well as I do that the only place you should be right now is in bed. There’s no way I’m letting you get on a horse today so you better just lay back on that bed right now.”
Hoss put his hand on Adam’s forehead and was relieved that he was warm, but there was no sign of a fever. It was hot here so being warm was expected. Adam had jerked his head away as Hoss had checked for fever, but although Adam had the strength of will to resist Hoss, his body had nothing left to fight. Hoss pushed him on the shoulder, and he fell back on the bed.
“See there, you can’t even sit up ifn I give you a little push. Now just rest easy, and I’ll get something up here for you to drink.”
Leaving the room as Adam slid back and pulled a sheet over himself, Hoss stepped back in and picked up Adam’s clothes.
“These need washing anyway, and it’s more of a guarantee that you ain’t gettin outta that bed.”
“Hoss, please, I have to get Traci.”
“That’s what Joe and me are here to do. We’re gonna get that gal back for ya, don’t ya worry. Good thing, little brother made us hurry.”
“Why is that a good thing?” A sleepy Joe had emerged from his bedroom and only heard the last part.
“Our older brother has got some banged up kidneys and needs to stay in bed. I told him we’re gonna get Traci for him, and he needs to stay in that bed.”
Snickering when he saw Hoss had Adam’s clothing, Joe nodded.
“Don’t you worry, older brother, Hoss and I can do this.”
“Why does that not reassure me coming from you?”
“Hey, it’s only those schemes of mine that backfire sometimes.”
“Well, yeah, sometimes. Well, anyway, you know I’ll do what I say I’m gonna do when it’s important or die trying.”
“Well that’s got me worried too. This isn’t your fight or Hoss’. This is my fight and I ought to be the one risking my neck.”
“Now it’s a good thing Hoss is already downstairs with your dirty clothes because he would have been really hurt hearing you say that. Traci’s part of the family now, or have you changed your mind about that?”
“Of course not.”
“Well then, let us do what family does, and you just get ready to welcome her home. Tell us where to go, and we’ll go see to her.”
“Sycamore Canyon. Max can tell you how to get there.”
“Thank you, older brother, for trusting us. We’ll bring her back.”
Lying back on the pillow, Adam nodded and then closed his eyes. He hurt all over and just sitting up had made him light-headed and nauseous. Although he knew his brothers were correct, he hated that they were. He wanted so much to be there for Traci when she was finally released. When he heard horses head out, he assumed his brothers were off on their rescue mission. Offering up some prayers that Darren had been successful in his quest as well, and that Tom had managed to keep things cool-headed in the Apache camp, all he could do was wait. He heard uneven steps coming up the stairs and down the hall and knew it was Max. He came in with a tray of Minerva’s tea and some biscuits. As he set the tray on the table by the bed, Adam looked at him and saw how worried he was suddenly remembering that Max was in the same situation: wanting so badly to rescue his love and helpless to do anything.
“Minerva will bring you clean clothes shortly, but your brothers had her hide your boots. I don’t even know where she put them, so you’re stuck here like me. She said the tea and biscuits would settle your stomach. How she knows what you need is beyond me.”
Accepting a cup of tea, Adam sipped slowly and found that after about ten minutes, the nausea was lifting. He asked for a biscuit, and then he and Max sat quietly for a time drinking tea and eating biscuits. Sitting, drinking, worrying, and waiting were about all they could do. Minerva brought more tea as often as she could. When Adam complained to her that it was too difficult to eliminate the tea and he didn’t want to drink any more, she said it would get easier if he drank more. He found she was correct. She was the Maxim version of Hop Sing. Adam did wonder why Minerva had been spared from the Apache raid.
“Why didn’t the Apache take Minerva?”
“They won’t take any black people. They know the whites won’t bargain for them, and somehow have a grudging respect for the ‘buffalo people’ as they call them. She’s been with us since we got here. She was a runaway from Texas and got caught up by the Comancheros. They sold her to us, but we told her she was free to go. She couldn’t believe that we would pay money for her freedom. She decided to stay and work for us. She had a husband for a time who worked for us too, but he ran off on her when he found out she was going to have a baby. The baby was stillborn, so we’re was left with us as the only family she has.”
Nodding in appreciation of the key elements of that story, Adam liked that Max called her ‘family’ because that was how he thought of Hop Sing too. Somehow that story brought the two men even closer together than the shared love they had for Traci and the shared torment over the captivity of the ladies they loved. Once Minerva brought Adam clean clothing to wear, Minerva got some men to help Adam and the two men moved to the porch and sat in the big rocking chairs there. Minerva brought them light snacks and more tea. As dusk descended, Max urged Adam to go in and lie down, but he refused. He would wait on that porch until the next day if he had to. Shortly after darkness had blinded them to any approaching riders, they heard horses. Adam stood but had to lean on the post next to the steps with Max at his side. Several hands came out of the bunkhouse with rifles to see who the riders were. The hands had been in town having a good time when the ranch was raided so now there were always at least two hands armed and ready at any time of day or night. The halloo from Darren made everyone relax their guard and start to smile. He would only be back if they had been successful.
Max went down the steps as fast as he could, and as the riders came into view in the dim light shown by the lanterns Minerva had set out on the porch, he nearly cried when he said ‘Naomi’ as she slid from the saddle. She ran to him. Traci dismounted and looked at Adam as he leaned on the post of the porch. He smiled at her but didn’t approach her. In her mind, she felt he didn’t want her because that is what she had feared all along since being taken by the Apache. She had seen other white women returned from captivity and their men had rejected them. To spare her worry, Hoss had only told her that Adam was exhausted and needed rest as the reason he had not come with them but now his absence in the rescue party only reinforced her fear. She rushed into her father’s embrace and began sobbing for all that she thought she had lost. Not understanding what had happened, Max held his wife in one arm and his sobbing daughter in the other and went into the house. As they passed Adam, he wanted to reach out to Traci, but she avoided looking at him. Hoss walked up on the porch next to his brother wondering what had happened.
“All the way back here, all she could do was ask about you or talk about you. Now she avoided you like you done something wrong. I don’t rightly know what happened.”
Dropping his head, Adam had nothing he could say. All he had wanted was for Traci to be found, and it seemed as if he had lost her anyway. Hoss put an arm around his brother’s shoulders as Joe walked up to them. Joe looked at Hoss wondering what had happened, and Hoss shrugged for he had no idea either.
“Hoss, could you help me down the steps and lean me up against a tree over there.”
At Hoss’ questioning look, he explained he needed to go and he couldn’t walk that far without something to lean on. His strength had been sapped by the kidney problem he had. Hoss did as he asked, and then Adam asked for some time as he said it took him a while to go because it was still difficult although not as bad as it had been earlier. Hoss walked inside and explained to Joe about Adam. Minerva came in the room and looked around.
“Where’s that sick boy I been nursing all day?”
Embarrassed to have to say where he was, Hoss finally stammered it out.
“Well he shouldn’t be out there all alone. Boy can hardly stand by himself, and I know he can’t walk back here by himself. Took two of us to get him down those stairs before and then back up to the porch.”
Not believing what she was hearing, Traci pulled free from her father’s embrace and raced out the door and down the steps. Looking to the tree that was off to the side, she could see Adam was kneeling there with his head down. Traci ran to his side, knelt next to him, and wrapped her arms around him.
“If I’d known that falling down would get me a hug like that, I would have done it before.”
“No one told me you were sick. I thought you didn’t want me any more.”
Looking at her like she was talking crazy, Adam touched her face with his hand cupping her chin and raising her to look directly at him.
“I would have given my life to get you back. I would have given anything I had. You are the most precious, most valuable, most beautiful woman in the world. All I want is to never be separated from you again.”
Traci kissed Adam gently then. From the porch, they heard Minerva call out.
“C’mon now child, we have to get that boy in here before he catches a chill on top of everything else.”
“It’s still hot out here. How could I catch a chill?”
“Lordy, you mountain boys don’t know a chill when y’all feel one.”
“Mountain boy?” In a whisper to Traci, he added “Will she always treat us like we’re seventeen-years old?” Traci laughed and Minerva heard the change in her. It was a laugh like when two people who are very close to one another are sharing a secret. It made her know that her Traci was all right.
Later Traci was sitting on the side of the bed where Minerva had instructed Hoss to put Adam. Hoss had helped him ready for bed, and then come out to tell Traci he wanted to see her.
After kissing him, she had asked one more question.
“Why were you barefoot tonight? It’s dangerous to be barefoot around here with the snakes, spiders, ants, and scorpions.”
“Hoss and Joe had Minerva hide my boots after she took my clothes so I couldn’t ride out after you.”
That brought a smile to Traci’s face that Adam enjoyed seeing even if he didn’t like why she was smiling. “Mama said she could tell how much you cared. You were so businesslike when we saw you at the camp that I thought you were just doing what you felt obligated to do, but Mama said it was how you had to act. She said it was an act, and that you were really hurting inside. I was so scared, and I wanted you to hold me, but you said to hold it all in. and I did.”
“You don’t have to hold it in any more.”
Traci dropped her head to his shoulder and the tears came. Adam shed a few of his own as he suffered with his lady love. He stroked her back and held her tightly, or as firmly as he could in his condition. After she had a good cry, she moved up to kiss him.
“Sorry about the salty kiss.”
“Sweetheart, any kiss of yours is welcome.”
Naomi came to the door and told Traci it was time to let Adam sleep.
“You aren’t married yet so you’ll be sleeping in your own bed.” Max was right beside Naomi with his arm around her waist. He had not left her side since she had arrived home. Naomi felt a little sorry for Traci not having the comfort she so desperately wanted, but thought it wasn’t right to let them sleep in the same bed. Traci kissed Adam good night and whispered in his ear. He grinned at her, and she left with less sorrow than she had had. Once the house was quiet except for Hoss and Darren snoring, Traci put on her robe and went back to Adam’s room. She slipped into the bed next to him and rested her head on his chest. Adam wrapped an arm around her and kissed the top of her head. They had a short, whispered conversation and then snuggled in to sleep.
And that’s how Naomi found them the next morning when she went to Traci’s room and found that her bed had not been slept in. Max came up behind her as she stood with the door to Adam’s room slightly ajar.
“Let them be. I know how sick he is, and nothing is going to happen except he will give comfort to our daughter. Nothing happened last night except that too. Now close the door, and we’ll go have some breakfast.”
“Are they gone yet?” Traci whispered to Adam and he pulled her to him for a kiss as an answer. “I guess they’re gone.” And Traci kissed Adam and kept kissing and kissing. “Whoa, I may be sick but I’m not dead. If you keep doing that, there’s going to be a problem.”
“All right then. Last night you said you had a question for me and would ask in the morning. Well, it’s morning.”
“Yes it is, and aren’t you full of energy this morning.”
“Stop delaying. What were you going to ask me?”
“Will you marry me here?”
“Well of course I’ll marry you. I already told you that months ago. Oh, you mean like now, and here. Oh yes, of course.” And she began kissing him again.
“If your family can make arrangements, how about as soon as possible?”
“That won’t be fast enough.”
“Well, it will have to be. Now why don’t you go back to your room to dress and let me do the same here.”
“I could help you?” Traci had that impish grin she liked to use when she was teasing him.
“First, I need to use the chamber pot. I don’t think you want to be here for that. Then I need to shave. I’ll open the door when I’m ready, and we can go down to breakfast together and tell your parents the news.”
“Mama is going to be so happy. She was afraid we’d be married on the Ponderosa, and she wasn’t sure if Papa could make the trip again so soon.”
At the breakfast table, everyone had finished eating by the time Adam and Traci made it down the stairs. Adam did the stairs by himself but used the railing. At the bottom of the stairs, he put his arm around Traci so she could keep him steady as they walked at a slow pace to the dining table. Once they were there and while they were still in an embrace, they told Traci’s parents of the change in plans. Naomi jumped up and kissed Adam on the cheek. Minerva came in from the kitchen beaming. Max was happy because Naomi and Traci were happy.
Hoss said he had to go to town to send a telegram to their father, and Darren said he would ride with him and talk to the minister. Usually the groom did that but Adam still couldn’t ride. It was decided that Hoss and Darren would take the buckboard so that they could bring some supplies home for the wedding celebration that Max and Naomi hoped could be by the next day. Although there was a lot to do, it was for a joyous occasion and would help erase the trauma of the raid and captivity for everyone.
Decorating and cooking were done by Minerva and Naomi with the help of a young wife of one of the hands who lived on the ranch. The men cleaned up the yard and repaired some damage left from the raid. Luckily the Chiricahua had been worried that there might be hands coming in because of the gunfire, and they had left quickly without doing much damage to any of the buildings when they had kidnapped Naomi, Darren, and Traci. For the Apache, there was a distinction made between a raid and a war. A raid was to take what was necessary. The only damage done was to get whatever they intended to get or what they found they could get. In a war, hurting the enemy was the goal so anything that could be destroyed was and anything or anyone who could be killed was. That so little was done showed that the Chiricahua did not want war. Because it was a raid and not war, things were cleaned up quickly and preparations for the wedding proceeded rapidly.
There was a pre-wedding dinner where they had some of the dishes made from food that had been left over from baking and cooking for the wedding feast. The plan was to have the wedding in the morning and then the feast would follow. After that, there would be some music and dancing but everyone knew Adam would not be dancing at his wedding for he could barely walk on his own by that morning.
The following morning was cooler than it had been, but the heat was still intense. Adam stood by the minister’s side waiting for Traci who was walking toward him. He started to get dizzy standing for so long, but Hoss was there to steady him and Joe came up on the other side of him and gave him a glass of icy water supplied by Minerva. Adam drank it down and then nodded that he was better. The minister understood the situation and made this one the shortest marriage ceremony he ever did in his career. Once he pronounced Adam and Traci married, Hoss let go of Adam’s elbow and told him he was on his own to kiss the bride. Adam was highly motivated to do that right so he managed without assistance as Hoss mentioned later in his wedding toast to his older brother.
After sampling quite a bit of the punch, Joe had a few questions for Hoss.
“Now that Adam’s married, does that mean you’re next or can I go next?”
“Do you have someone in mind?”
“No, but I’m always looking. Now, this is Adam’s wedding night but he can barely walk so how’s he gonna be able to do anything?”
“Joe, walking and standing are not very important on your wedding night unless you got some mighty strange ideas about what people do on their wedding night.”
“Oh yeah, and no of course not. I was just wondering. This punch is really good, you know. I think I’m gonna go have some more.”
“Not too much more. We’re supposed to be leaving tomorrow. Pa needs us back at the ranch.”
“Well what about Adam? He needs him too, doesn’t he?”
“Of course, but remember what you said about Adam not being able to hardly walk? He’ll be traveling with Traci in a week or so they think. They’ll ride in a wagon or carriage to come back. Adam isn’t going to be riding a horse that soon.”
By early evening, it was clear that Adam had had enough activity. He and Traci were getting ready to retire to the house when they got a bit of a surprise. The ladies had fixed up the married hands house for Adam and Traci so they could have some privacy. The married hand and his wife would use a guest bedroom in the house for the next day. All of Adam’s things and those things that Traci needed had already been moved into the small house. It only had a small kitchen and dining area with one bedroom but it was all they needed. Some food had been set out there for them, and there was wine chilling for them as well.
Unable to carry his bride over the threshold, Adam hugged and kissed Traci as they stepped inside instead. They continued that way until they got to the bed and then collapsed on it. Adam didn’t have to stand up until the next morning. By then he was starting to feel quite a bit better. Adam shaved, and they both refreshed themselves using the scented water that had been left for them. He and Traci sampled some of the food on the table, and then went back to bed but didn’t sleep. Max had said they were expected for dinner, and they didn’t get out of bed again until it was time to dress to go to dinner with everyone. Except Hoss and Joe had said their goodbyes the night before and had already left early that morning. Any lingering concerns Max may still have harbored about Adam were gone when he saw how happy his daughter was when she arrived with Adam at the house for dinner.
In less than a week, Adam and Traci were ready to set out for the Ponderosa. Max and Naomi had gifted them a pair of fine carriage horses and a covered carriage. They could travel to the Ponderosa in relative comfort. The horse that Adam had ridden down from Seligman was sold. Max sent two of the hands to escort the couple north because the Coyotero could still be a problem even though the Army had increased patrols all around the Cococino area. Once they reached Seligman, the two men escorting them returned to Prescott. Another week of travel at a reasonable pace was needed so they could arrive back at the Ponderosa, Adam’s home and now Traci’s too.
After a few days, a telegram arrived on the Ponderosa for Ben. He challenged his younger sons after he read it.
“Adam and Traci are in Beatty. Says that Adam needs to rest and they will be delayed. I thought you two said he was fine when you left?”
“Well, Pa maybe he can’t be in the saddle all day and then all night too.”
Hoss started laughing uproariously at Joe’s comment, and Ben had to stifle a laugh too for propriety’s sake at least.
“Joseph, your brother was injured, and I thought Hoss said he was taking a carriage or wagon to ride home instead of a horse or the stage?”
“That’s right, Pa. He was feeling better by the time Joe and me left, but you know how he pushes himself sometimes. Maybe in Beatty. Traci has reined him in so he don’t get himself sick.”
So Ben and his sons waited longer for Adam and Traci to arrive but after a week they still were not on the Ponderosa and there had been no more telegrams. Ben sent a telegram to Beatty and received a response from the hotel there that a Mr. and Mrs. Adam Cartwright had never been there. Ben rode into town after receiving that message and talked to Roy. Something was wrong. Roy telegraphed the sheriff of Beatty and was informed soon after that with the same message they had gotten earlier from the hotel that Adam and Tracy Cartwright had never been in Beatty. Alarm could not have been more pronounced in Roy and Ben when that reply came in.
“Now, how did he know that it was Adam and Traci Cartwright when I specifically asked about a Mr. and Mrs. Adam Cartwright?”
“Roy, he spelled her name incorrectly too like you would do if you only heard the name and didn’t see it written.”
“Now, maybe you and I oughta ride down there and talk to them folks in person. I’ll just wire the governor’s office to get me some authority in that jurisdiction, and we can be on our way.”
“Joe and Hoss will want to come too. I’ll ride home to get them and by then hopefully you will have your reply because I’m heading straight to Beatty as soon as my sons are ready to ride.”
Before Roy could caution Ben about taking the law into his own hands, Ben was out the door and riding out of town. He must have set a breakneck pace riding because before Roy expected him back, he was there with Joe and Hoss and three extra horses. They meant to ride hard and fast. Roy got his own horse and a spare, and the four rode out.
Camping just one night, they arrived in Beatty late the following day. They took rooms at the hotel and Ben and Roy looked at the sign-in ledger. The pages for the days when Adam and Traci should have been here had been torn out. Roy pulled his badge and asked why the pages were missing. The clerk said that he had spilled ink and the pages were ruined so he had to pull them out. The man was looking everywhere but at them as he talked and sweat beaded on his upper lip. You didn’t have to be in law enforcement to know he was lying.
“Now, son, I got authorization from the governor to investigate the disappearance of two people in this town. Ifn I was you, I’d start telling the truth before I ended up in a cell.”
“I can’t tell you anything.”
“Can’t or won’t?” Ben’s temper was rising as was his voice. Joe and Hoss stood behind Roy and Ben making a formidable threat, but still the clerk seemed more afraid of someone else.
“Now, son, I’m the sheriff over to Virginia City, and these folks here are friends of the governor over to Carson City and he sent me here to help them. You don’t rightly want to have the government of the state of Nevada mad at ya, now do ya?”
“Can I help you folks?”
“Yes, and who would you be?”
“Well, I’m Sheriff Tomlinson. And who would you be?”
“I’m Ben Cartwright and I’m here looking for my son. Last we heard from him, he was in this town and now apparently he was never here.”
“I’m Sheriff Coffee from Virginia City.”
“Sheriff, you have no jurisdiction here.”
“Well, the governor of our fine state says I do. He sent me here as his agent to help find Adam Cartwright and his wife. I’m sure he’s expecting that you would be helping us.”
Watching the clerk as Ben and Roy were talking with Tomlinson, Hoss realized that he was even more frightened now that the sheriff was there. That didn’t make sense unless the sheriff was part of the problem. He leaned over and whispered his suspicions to Joe who also started watching the clerk. After just a few minutes, he looked at Hoss and nodded. The clerk was definitely afraid of the sheriff. The sheriff said he had checked with the clerk and there was no record of any Adam and Traci Cartwright staying there. Ben and Roy did not mention that he should not have known Traci’s name if they had not been there. Soon they took their leave and went upstairs to their rooms soon gathering in Ben’s room to discuss the situation.
“Well, we know the clerk’s lying. The sheriff is lying. Really got me worried, Pa.”
“Hoss, I know, I’m worried too. Something just isn’t right here but we haven’t got much to go on yet. Let’s get some sleep and Roy and I can nose around tomorrow and see what hornets we can stir up in this nest.”
“What are Hoss and I going to be doing?”
“Your going to be watching our backs so we don’t get stung.”
“Ya, boys, just do as your Pa asks and what ya done tonight. That was a good observation on the clerk and we wouldn’t have seen it as we was talking with the sheriff.”
Sleep was elusive but all got some rest. As they sat at breakfast the next morning, a large covered carriage pulled into town pulled by two matching black horses. Hoss almost spit his coffee out. He stood and stared at the carriage.
“Pa, that’s the carriage that Max gave to Adam and Traci. Those are the two horses he give them too.”
Joe turned and looked out the window and confirmed Hoss’ information. All four rose to find out who had Adam’s carriage. They were surprised and then not surprised to see the sheriff greet the man driving the carriage and assist the woman at his side in alighting from the carriage. The large M emblems that had been on the wheels had been removed but the outlines of the Ms were still there. They fanned out around the three people by the carriage as Roy approached.
“Well Sheriff Tomlinson, would you like to introduce me to your friends here? Maybe they have seen Adam and his wife.”
Adopting a friendly expression he clearly didn’t feel, the sheriff introduced his brother and his wife. They owned a large ranch outside of town.
“Now where did you get such a fancy carriage out here and with such a fine matched set of horses too?”
“Oh, we’ve had them for ages, isn’t that right, dear?”
Mrs. Tomlinson was looking nervous but nodded at her husband’s question.
“Well, you see that is right interesting cause that carriage was at Max Maxim’s ranch in Arizona just over a week ago and those horses too. Now he gifted them to his new son-in-law and well, it’s a mite strange that you have them now and saying you had them for quite some time.”
Sheriff Tomlinson and his brother both went to draw but had four guns pointed at them before they cleared leather. Seeing inevitable defeat, they raised their hands. At this point, all that could be proven was that they had the carriage and the horses without a bill of sale. Theft was the only thing they could be charged with and there was reasonable doubt they each thought. Hoss and Joe disarmed them and Roy marched them to the jail locking them in the single cell there. He knew they would try to match up stories so he had Joe sit guard next to the cell. Mrs. Tomlinson had stood and watched the whole thing. Ben escorted her to the sheriff’s office and had her sit in the outer room next to the desk and he sat there guarding her. Roy went to wire the governor’s office that he needed some legal help in Beatty after telling Hoss to bring the hotel clerk in for questioning.
After the clerk admitted lying about Adam and Traci being there, they had enough to hold the Tomlinson’s on a suspected abduction. Hopefully it was nothing more than that. The clerk also said that Mr. Tomlinson had repeatedly visited the hotel trying to get Adam to sell him the carriage horses. Adam had refused and five days earlier when he and his wife checked out of the hotel, he had gotten quite angry and shoved Mr. Tomlinson who had then threatened him. Mrs. Tomlinson admitted that her husband had arrived home about five days previously with the carriage and the horses. That same day, the sheriff had come to the hotel, checked the register, and torn two pages out of that ledger telling the clerk that he had never seen the Cartwrights. Well they had most of the story now but the huge question looming over all of them was where were Adam and Traci.
Joe was frustrated. “Where do we look? It’s like a needle in a haystack to find two people in hundreds of square miles.”
“Pa, I think we can narrow it down some. Adam and Traci left town, so that would have been north. The Tomlinson ranch is north and west of here. Likely they took them somewhere north of town and then took the carriage to the ranch. They gotta be out to the northwest somewhere. Likely they are stranded with no horses to use.”
What Hoss didn’t say but they all knew, was that if they had not been killed outright, they were out in the wilderness with nothing to help them survive and probably had been out there for almost a week now. The governor had sent some agents from the attorney general’s office but they still only had a small group who could help search.
There was the sound of horses outside and then a knock on the door of the sheriff’s office. Mrs. Tomlinson, who had been released with no charges filed, entered with two young men following behind her. They were carrying a blanket wrapped parcel and placed it on the sheriff’s desk. Inside was Adam’s wallet, his pistol and gunbelt, his saddlebags, Traci’s small valise in which she carried any items of value, and Traci’s purse.
“We found these items in our stable in a tack box. I am assuming they belong to the people for whom you are searching. My sons can help.”
“Ma’am, I thank you for a bringing these things to us. It’s more proof though that your husband committed a crime. I can’t rightly let his sons help in a search for his victims. I hope you understand that.”
“Sheriff Coffee. These are my sons, Robert and James. Mr. Tomlinson was their stepfather and I assume he will be going to prison finally as will his brother. My sons will run the ranch. His reign of terror over us and over this town is over. Several men who worked for us have fled. I assume they were part of his criminal activities. Those who are left can help search as well.”
Now that certainly put a different light on the situation. Roy and Ben discussed what Hoss had said, and the Tomlinsons agreed that it was the most likely scenario.
“Sheriff, my brother Robert and I hunt up that way a lot. There’s Apache who travel through there sometimes. There are some nice places to camp though so if they found one of those spots, they could still be alive.”
Riding north town, the riders began to fan out over the terrain. After several hours, they found the discarded luggage. It had been thrown in a ravine. Walking all around the area, Hoss found tracks of two people and that of an unshod horse. Adam and Traci had made those tracks but who was the Native American who was with them? Was he friend or foe or just a stranger? Hoss with the help of the Tomlinson boys started looking for more tracks. They spent most of the day tracking finding only a few tracks at a time in the rocky terrain and then spending a lot of time looking for the next set. Late in the afternoon, they approached a grove of trees. They saw a wickiup and assumed it was an Indian camp. However they also heard a man and woman laughing and talking. Ben, his sons, and Roy immediately recognized Adam’s voice. They knew he was alive and the relief was palpable. They dismounted at the wickiup and ground tied their horses. Then they went in search of Adam and Traci following the sounds of laughter and talking. They saw their clothing first thrown over bushes. Then they found the two of them in a pool of water.
“Adam?” Adam whirled at the sound of his father’s voice and pushed Traci behind him. Neither was apparently wearing any clothing. Standing waist deep in water, Adam answered.
“Oh, hi, Pa.”
“We thought you might be dead or injured. Certainly struggling to survive. Can you tell me why you appear to be perfectly healthy and you didn’t let us know you were all right?”
“Well, first of all, we washed our clothing today, and while it dried, we were washing ourselves. Now if you don’t mind, we would like some privacy to get dressed even if we have to wear damp clothing.”
“We have your luggage. Hoss, Joe, would you please bring those valises here?” Once that was accomplished, the searchers went back to the wickiup and waited. Soon, Adam and Traci joined them there. Adam was limping and using a wooden staff to help walk.
“Thank you for bringing our luggage. It sure feels good to have clean, dry clothes to wear.”
“What happened to your leg, and would you please answer my previous question?”
“Well we got bushwhacked for the carriage and the horses. They took everything we had and then made us ride out into the middle of nothing. They left us there with no food, no weapons, and no horses. I’m sure they expected us to die.”
Joe was getting impatient. “Then how are you doing so well? You don’t look hungry at all and you are here in this nice spot with water and a wickiup.”
Adam started to tell the tale. “Cochise sent Taza to watch over us. We didn’t know, but the Coyotero are apparently still upset with me, and Cochise wanted to make sure there was no more trouble. When Taza saw us bushwhacked, he followed along until they abandoned us. Then he rode up to us and helped us get here. It wasn’t easy with just one pony either. He helped us build this wickiup and hunted for us the first day. I’ve been setting snares and catching some fish too.”
“Is he still here?” Hoss would have liked to see him to thank him.
“Probably but I don’t know if he’ll come forward with so many strange white men here.”
Hoss got the hint and mounted up to ride further into the trees. He came back in a short time to say that Taza had taken his leave. There was nothing for him to do here any more. Meanwhile Ben still had more questions.
“Why didn’t you contact us?”
“Well, I couldn’t ride, and Taza could hardly go into town to send a telegram for us. I wouldn’t let Traci go by herself. So we waited. Sooner or later, we thought you would find us. And you did! Either that or Taza was going to have to get some horses for us.”
“You neglected to mention what happened to your leg.”
“Ah, oh that, well, Pa, I got shot. It went right through but it hurt a lot. Traci used some of her petticoats to bandage it, and Taza cut me a walking stick. He let Traci and I ride on his horse as he brought us here.”
“Can you ride now?”
“I’m certain I can. Did you get our carriage back?”
So then Ben explained the whole story of the Tomlinsons and what had happened including that the sheriff was the brother and in jail too. Charges of kidnapping and assault were added to the list the two men faced. Before going home, all of them made formal statements in Beatty and answered questions. With so much evidence, there was little doubt of convictions of the two Tomlinson brothers. Beatty was going to need to have another election for sheriff too. Then finally, many weeks later than expected, Adam and Traci arrived on the Ponderosa to begin their married life there.
Tags: Adam Cartwright, Indians
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- Traci series #1: First Love, and Tragedy (by BettyHT)
- A New Angle (by BettyHT)
- A Triangle (by BettyHT)
- I Still Love You (by BettyHT)
- A Trust Broken and Fixed (by BettyHT)