It’s Elementary (by BettyHT)

Summary: a prequel story with Adam at 26, Hoss at 20, and Joe at 14 on a trip to capture some wild horses when wind, earth, and water elements create havoc with their plans.
Rating: PG  Word count: 10,815

It’s Elementary

Chapter 1 Wind

Little Joe Cartwright grabbed the six canteens struggling to keep the leather straps from getting tangled as he did so in such a hurry. He wanted to make sure he got them all before either of his brothers could take any.

“I’ll get the water.”

“Joe, remember …”

“Hoss, I know what to do. Empty, rinse, fill, and make sure the outside is wet down.”

With a look to his brothers that would have been withering if he wasn’t fourteen and so boyish-looking, Little Joe headed to the stream down below. A week earlier he would have asked why they weren’t camping closer to the water, but he wouldn’t ask such a foolish question now. After listening to Adam’s long-winded explanation of flash floods with Hoss backing up everything he said, Little Joe was in no mood for any more of that. Well, maybe he didn’t know all of that stuff about flash floods, but he did wonder why everything sounded like school was in session when Adam explained things. Hoss had given him an explanation he wasn’t sure he believed until that day.

“Adam is a natural born teacher and tells you everything he thinks you need to know when he thinks you’re ready to hear it. It was a compliment to you that he explained it all like that. Pa would have told you that it was his decision and would have been upset you questioned his judgment. Later he would have told you it was because of flash floods but without the ways how to tell which areas are at risk for them. Adam told you how to judge for yourself in the future. It meant he thinks you’re smart. He figures you can use what he told you and figure it out for yourself from now on.”

It was the fourth day of looking for horses in the hills or low mountain slopes and Adam had asked Joe to pick out their campsite. Following all the advice he had gotten from his two older brothers, Little Joe had picked a site making sure it was near water but not in danger from a flash flood. There was an opening where a campfire wouldn’t ignite any nearby brush or trees, but there was also some shade if needed. When his brothers arrived, they dismounted without a word and began setting up camp. Little Joe had expected some praise for his choice. Watching his brothers, it took some time, but he realized their actions were his praise. Although he still would have liked to hear it, their quiet acceptance of his choice said as much. It was then that he volunteered to get their canteens filled. Three were for drinking, and they used three for their cooking and to make coffee. The horses had been watered before they rode to the campsite and would be watered again in the morning. As Little Joe hiked down the hill toward water, Hoss poked Adam in the shoulder.

“You could have said something to him.”

With a broad grin, Adam answered. He could tell by the way Hoss had said it to him that it wasn’t much of a challenge but more of a question.

“You could have said something too. Did you see how puffed up he was as we rode up here? I thought he might float up off his horse like a balloon there for a while.”

“Sure did. Then he stood there like a little puppy waiting for us to say ‘good boy’ or something. Don’t know why I didn’t.”

“Because you wanted to treat him like a man?”

“Yeah. What you said the other day about him not growing up unless we expected him to do it is probably true. The more we expect of him on this trip, the better he does. You ain’t coddling him like Pa likely would, and he’s done fine. You think maybe he can come on that cattle drive Pa wants to do?”

“I don’t know. It’s going to be dangerous.”

“I know. I’ve only been on short ones. You worked a couple of long drives already. What’s it like?”

“Unpredictable. You never know what a storm, or lack of water, or just a stray wolf might do to stir them up or even start a stampede.”

“So you’re always kinda on edge?”

“Yes, and the hours are long. All day every day and a nighthawk shift every two or three nights depending on how big the drive is.”

“Tough spot for an excitable kid. He usually sleeps more at night than the rest of us though. I don’t know how he’d do without a good night’s sleep. He gets kind of surly without enough sleep.”

“Yeah. Unlikely he could be ready enough for all that he would have to do.”

With a pause that indicated he had more to say that he didn’t want to say, Adam leaned back against a log that was on the edge of their camp. Hoss wanted to know so he asked.

“What is it you don’t want to say?”

“At his age, if we leave him home, could he get in worse trouble without any of us around to corral him?”

“Damn, hadn’t thought about that. You know, I bet he could. He’d probably try to do something big to impress us when we got back.”

“With no one there to help him when he got into a mess.”

“So there’s only one answer.”

“I’m afraid there is.”

Little Joe had walked back into camp with the canteens at that point.

“One answer to what? It sounded like you might be talking about me.”

“We were. Me and Adam were talking about the drive coming up.”

Little Joe dropped the canteens and stood with his hands on his hips trying to look intimidating.

“I suppose he thought I shouldn’t go just like he told Pa I was too young to come after horses. Well, I showed you I could do it. I could show you I could do a cattle drive too if you would let me. It’s not fair that I never get a chance to do anything. What gives you the right to decide anyway? Why does Pa listen to you and why doesn’t he make the decision himself?”

“Joe, you need to stop.”

“Why, Hoss? Don’t I have the right to talk either?”

“No, it’s because you’re talking nonsense, and you’re making a fool of yourself.”


Quietly, Adam responded.

“We talked. You should go on the drive.”

Then Adam stood and walked off into the trees perhaps to do his business, but under those circumstances, no one would follow. It was a strategic move leaving Little Joe to cool down and absorb the information and give Hoss time to work his magic. Hoss was so good at mediating, and this was one of those times that it was needed.

“Let’s fix dinner if you can get that boot out of your mouth. We can talk about what you’re going to say when he gets back.”

“I’ll say I’m sorry like I always do.”

“Yeah, and like always, it won’t be enough.”

“Why not? It’s all I have to do with Pa.”

“Pa lets you get away with that, and that’s a big part of what’s wrong with it. You’re getting away with things so you never have to change or get better at them.”

“I’m getting better at lots of things.”

“Yeah, but not at the things you really need to do like getting along with people. I know you do really well with everyone when things are good. You can charm the skin off a snake that just shed, but what about when things don’t go your way. Then all you got is your temper and pouting and tears. You don’t got a way to work things out.”

“It works for me a lot of the time.”

“Because you’re still a kid and mostly you’re working on Pa or Hop Sing or maybe Roy. I know you don’t like that, but if you act like a kid, people are gonna think of you as one. Getting your way with a temper fit or crying like a baby or sulking in a corner ain’t a man’s way.”

Resenting what Hoss was saying to him but unable to argue against him, Joe couldn’t use his usual tactics either without confirming his brother’s words. He resorted to compliance.

“So what do I do when Adam gets back?”

“Tell him what you should have done. Tell him you know better than what you did.”

“All I did was say what I knew.”

“Except you don’t know what you think you know.”


“Yeah, Adam told Pa you were too young to do this when Pa said you were too young for it, but Adam reminded him that he had been too young to do it when he first learned and so was I. He said it would be better for you to learn with the two of us than with anyone else and it was time for the three of us to work together on something to see if you could handle being on the drive. Adam wanted you with us, and Pa warned it would likely be a problem making you follow his orders. Adam agreed, but thought it would be better to work it out here to see if it could be done. If it couldn’t, then it wouldn’t work on the drive either. Why don’t you think about that?”

“But Pa said Adam said I was too young to do this and Adam was worried I wouldn’t take his orders. He never said anything about it being his worry and not so much Adam’s.”

“Pa does that kind of thing. He pushes the responsibility off on Adam.”

“So I need to talk with Adam and not argue?”

Hoss thought it was a good plan, but it never happened. When Adam rushed back into camp, he ordered them to pack everything up to move the camp. Hoss began to grab things and stuff them into sacks and bags. Little Joe was resistant.

“Why should we move? It’s a great spot, and there’s no flash flood risk here.”

Grabbing his youngest brother by his collar and belt, Adam shoved him across the camp and bellowed that he needed to get to work. There were a few expletives before Adam returned to his feverish pace of work. Little Joe made exaggerated movements and mocked his oldest brother as he packed up the items he had been using as well as his personal items. He was accomplishing little in comparison to his brothers. Hoss looked at him and growled.

“Hurry up or we’ll leave you here.”

Little Joe was going to object again, but Hoss used a few words Little Joe had not heard before and launched his brother across the camp with a direct order to get to work. The youth wasn’t sure why his middle brother was so upset but wasn’t ready to challenge both brothers so he did as he was ordered. In short order, the camp was moved to where Adam directed them, a cramped area among some boulders. They got the horses and sheltered them in the rocks too. Then without talking, the three set about setting up camp again even as the wind rose and dust began to blow about. Hoss looked to Adam.

“How did you know?”

Little Joe was confused.

“Know what?”

“We’re probably facing a zephyr soon.”

“That’s crazy. It’s not the middle of summer any more. It’s September.”

“No, but it’s hot enough and the wind is already picking up.”

As if to prove Hoss’ point, the wind increased more and dust began to increase and soon there was even more. Adam cinched the food bag tightly and coved it with a tarp before seating himself and leaning back against it under the shelter of the rocks. He gestured to his brothers to do the same. Both moved to his side to get away from the wind’s fury as it rapidly increased. Quietly and because now there was time to do it, Adam answered Hoss’ earlier question.

“I felt the wind direction change and there was dust in the air. Mountain slope winds are usually upslope in daytime and downslope at nighttime. A strong downslope wind in daytime is unusual unless it’s a zephyr so it was time to take precautions. I knew the time of year was a little unusual, but like Hoss said, it was unusually hot today too and it was hot the last few days too. It must have built up enough heat in the basin to cause this. There wasn’t time to stand around and debate it.”

“You could have told us what you did now.”

Little Joe’s petulance was met with dead stares by his brothers. He knew he had messed up, but he didn’t know how. Thinking about it and remembering the earlier advice from Hoss, he thought he might have it.

“Am I supposed to just follow orders and not question anything?”

The dead stares softened a little with the eyebrows on each man arching up a little and it looked like perhaps a slight smile tugged each set of lips. Little Joe couldn’t be sure. Thinking about it, Little Joe guessed he might have the rest of the answer.

“I follow the orders and then I ask about them later?”

Both brothers nodded in agreement.

“But what if the order is wrong?”

The frowns were back.


“Not your call, little brother. The decisions have to be in the hands of the one in charge. The second in charge might question if it is really necessary, but nobody else ever should. It would be a mess if anybody could question a decision. Now, later like this, we can talk about things, but not when it’s happening. Wasting time getting here could have made things a lot worse.”

“Not that much worse.”

“And you knew that before it happened?”

Adam finally had a comment.

“Aren’t you two tired of swallowing dust?”

Hoss nodded and Little Joe had more questions but realized they could wait. Settling in next to Adam, he turned slightly to see his brother’s smile. He guessed Adam knew he would have more questions later. He nodded, and Adam’s smile was broader until he closed his eyes and pulled his hat down over his face. It was working well letting Hoss do most of his talking.

As the sun got lower and the air-cooled, the wind diminished. The brothers stood and shook off the dust and uncovered what they needed to prepare dinner. It would be dark before their meal was ready, but it wouldn’t be covered in dust. Hoss went to check the horses while Adam and Little Joe prepared the simple meal. As the three ate later, Little Joe was ready with his questions, but the answer to the first one stopped him from asking some of his other ones.

“So that’s what it will be like on the drive? Even though I’m your brother and one of the Cartwrights, I’ll have to take orders without being able to ask a single question?”

“Yes, because a cattle drive cannot be run by committee. Things happen too fast and delaying for even a short time could mean that someone could die. What you did earlier delayed us only a short time. Even if we had been forced to take more time, all we would have lost was a bit of hide scraped away by sand blown so hard it can clean rocks and take bark off trees. I would not have been happy, but I wasn’t going to die. On a cattle drive though, that same action could cost a life or get somebody hurt. It cannot be allowed.”

“What if you’re wrong?”

“Then I’m wrong, and I take the consequences.”

Because Little Joe couldn’t say the same for himself, he had no way to respond to that. Instead, he jumped ahead to another line of questioning he had that was more practical.

“What job will I have?”

Hoss raised his eyes to the heavens suspecting he knew the reaction that was coming when Adam answered that one.

“Like Hoss did, you’ll learn all the jobs on the drive from the bottom up so you’ll start as the cook’s helper.”

“What? That’s not fair. You’re being mean. You don’t really want me to come along so you want to make my life miserable while I’m there. Well, I won’t do that. I’m going to talk to Pa and I’m going to be a drover like I should be.”

Working as hard as he could to stay calm, Adam asked a question in response to the tirade.

“What does a drover do?”

That wasn’t at all what Little Joe expected. It caught him off guard because he had thought he would get an angry retort. Trying to think of why he had not, all he could come up with was an honest response.

“He herds cattle of course.”

“But what does he do? If he is a lead, swing, flank, or drag position, what are his duties? What are the responsibilities of the wrangler, the trail boss, the ramrod, the cook, and the cook’s helper?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never been on a drive.”

Silence greeted that response as they all knew Little Joe had talked himself into a box and given the answer that explained why he would start as the cook’s helper. Neither Hoss or Adam said anything until their younger brother had a chance to think about all that had been said.

“You told me I would start as a cook’s helper. How long would I do that and then what would I do?”

“Hoss usually works as our wrangler so you could be his assistant or you could ride with the drag crew. You might want to switch off on those jobs. Riding drag isn’t any fun at all and most of the men don’t like doing it every day.”

“What is it?”

“You ride at the end of the herd picking up stragglers and strays or any cattle that might get hurt.”

“What do you do with the ones that get hurt?”

“Hopefully there won’t be any, but if there are, we eat well for a few days.”

“I can see why no one wants that job.”

“It’s not that. It’s the dust. There’s a lot that’s kicked up by a herd.”

“Oh. So after that, what would I do?”

“When Hoss rides flank, you would ride with him and learn what to do. Otherwise you would keep working with him and the horses and taking turns on the drag crew and helping the cook as needed.”

“What about riding swing or lead?”

Hoss grinned at that and looked at Adam wondering how diplomatic he could be.

“Ah, those positions are filled already. Only the most experienced hands get those jobs.”

“Well, who will ride lead and swing then? And who’s going to be trail boss and ramrod?”

“Pa and I will be boss and ramrod, and I ride lead or swing and do that with the hands who have been with us the longest. After you get a few more drives for experience, you could move up into a swing drover and someday a lead.”

“Being on the drive and not being able to really do anything is going to make me miserable. Is that why you said I could go along?”

Looking over at Hoss, Adam raised his hands in surrender. Hoss shrugged.

“Never a horse trough around when you really need one, is there?”

“Nope. The kid could use a good dunking about now to cool down, couldn’t he?”

“I hope an avalanche comes down and buries you, Adam.”

With that, Little Joe stomped off behind some rocks and out of sight no doubt to pout for a time.

“Adam, you think one of us should go after him?”

“Nope, let him stew on it a bit. He’s smart enough. He’ll figure it out eventually and then say he’s sorry. It’s what he always does, isn’t it?”

“I wish he could get some control of that mouth of his though.”

“Yeah, I hope he does before the drive. You know what could happen if he doesn’t, and you know who’s going to get the blame for the damages.”

“Well, I need some sleep. If we’re going to get those horses into that box canyon tomorrow like we planned, it’s going to take some hard riding.”

“We have a good plan. Hopefully, not too much hard riding will be required especially if everyone sticks to the plan.”

Knowing who he meant by that, Hoss only responded with a grunt and then rolled into his bedroll. After finishing his coffee, Adam did the same. Nearby, Little Joe had hoped to overhear them talking and was disappointed that it was so matter-of-fact to them. He did wonder about the comment about the drive and damages and was a little puffed up about Adam saying he was smart and would figure it out. It was irritating though to hear him say he would say he was sorry like he always did. He resolved not to say it this time and make Adam wait in vain for it. At least he would be wrong about one thing. As for the rest of it, he knew they were right, and that rankled too. When he guessed they were asleep or nearly so, he walked softly back into camp and slipped into his bedroll.


Chapter 2

In the morning, Adam reminded both of them how important getting these horses was for the Ponderosa.

“We need extra horses for the drive. The ones we have won’t be enough for the hours of hard work on a drive. We also need to sell some if we can to get money to finance the drive to avoid taking out a loan.”

Hoss nodded. Rolling his eyes, Little Joe was going to tell Adam he didn’t have to tell them any of that when Hoss bumped his arm knocking his coffee to the ground and distracting him. Little Joe never saw the smile Adam had. By the time Little Joe was done complaining to Hoss, Adam’s smile was gone and Adam was busy packing things up. They were going to move all their gear and packhorses to the box canyon and then go out to round up the horses they had located. They had a plan of how they would drive them to the box canyon. If they got the stallion, it would be a bonus, but it wasn’t important to get him. They needed numbers so the mares were the main targets.

When they got to the area where they had spotted the herd grazing every day they had been there, they waited for their opportunity. Little Joe couldn’t help admiring the stallion.

“He sure is a beauty, ain’t he?”

“But remember, we aren’t here to get him, Little Joe.”

“Hoss, I know that, but do you think we might come back for him sometime?”

With a chuckle and a look to see how far away Adam was, Hoss whispered to his little brother.

“Oh, I think that’s a real possibility. Adam done named him already. He’s calling him Jupiter. I think that pretty stallion is gonna be on the Ponderosa someday.”

Little Joe’s grin could not have been wider. He had learned something about his oldest brother too which surprised him. They had a love of beautiful horses in common even if Adam didn’t admit it. Little Joe watched his brother as he gazed at the horses and saw that he spent a lot of time staring at the stallion. Guessing his brother wanted that stallion too, he slowly moved closer to Adam and asked a question but was wise enough by that point to whisper it.

“Maybe after the drive, if there’s time, we could come back and try to get Jupiter for you?”

Startled, Adam twisted in the saddle to stare at his youngest brother but then grinned.

“I sure hope so. I hope you’ll help too.”

“I will. I most definitely will be up for that.”

“Well, let’s go take his horses away for now. Then in a couple of months, we’ll see about getting him home.”

The three brothers had specific roles to play in getting that herd into the box canyon that was prepared for them. First, Hoss, who was the slowest rider would come up on the high side to startle them and get them moving in the right general direction. Then Little Joe would ride in to tighten the herd into a more specific direction headed toward Adam who would take the role of the stallion by that point and lead them right into the box canyon. One could hope it would work that smoothly. Things never go quite that easily of course. The horses tried to turn a few times, and Hoss had to work with Little Joe to turn them back again. The stallion tried to intervene and turn the herd in another direction, and Adam had his hands full trying to make the herd keep going in the direction they wanted the herd to go. It took hours until finally the first of the mares rode into the box canyon with Adam and the others followed. The pack horses were already there, and their sounds and smells helped draw in the other horses. Once the herd was in the canyon, Hoss and Little Joe dismounted and began throwing barriers across the opening. The brothers had constructed those as soon as they had chosen the box canyon as their corral. They finished with those about the time Adam made his way back to the opening, and Hoss released a barrier enough to let him out. Adam slid from the saddle and plopped on the ground.

Hoss dropped a canteen in his lap. After taking a big swallow, he offered only one word.


Then he put a hand to the ground before putting his other hand to the ground. Looking up and around, he seemed to be looking for something. Hoss was curious. Little Joe thought he was being strange.

“Adam, what is it?”

“Have you seen or heard any birds?”

“Sure, this morning when I was having breakfast, I was enjoying listening to the birds.”

“No, I meant now or recently. Have you seen any animals other than the horses?”

Sport started acting up then, and Adam had to grab his reins and give all of his attention to his horse to keep him under control. Hoss began to get worried about whatever it was that was bothering Adam because he thought it was serious enough to have affected his brother’s demeanor enough that Sport was bothered.

“What is it that has you nervous as a chicken on Sunday morning when Hop Sing is planning dinner and we’re having guests?”

“Yeah, like Hoss said, you’re so jumpy you got your horse acting up too.”

“It’s not me causing him to act up. We need to get away from these rocks. We should push all these horses out of this canyon too before they’re trapped.”

Hoss was surprised, but Little Joe was shocked and then angry.

“Are you crazy? After all the work we did? You were the one always reminding us how important it was to get those horses. Now you want to let them go?”

“We could try to keep as many as we could herding them in the open valley. We had talked about trying that, and we would have to do it anyway on the way home.”

Hoss tried to be reasonable.

“Adam, we would’ve had lead ropes on at least some of them by then. Without that, we’re likely to lose a bunch of them.”

“We don’t move them now, we could lose them all and our packhorses too.”

When Adam started to pull the gate down, Little Joe rushed in to stop him. Hoss pulled Little Joe back which started a general melee among the three. Adam finally fought free and got on Sport to ride into the canyon to drive the horses out. Hoss and Little Joe had no choice then except to try to manage them when they came out, but it wasn’t planned and almost half were lost immediately. Before Adam rode out to join them, the ground heaved beneath them and trees rocked side to side. Little Joe experienced his first earthquake. For Adam, it was his third experience. September third of 1857 wasn’t so different than his first visit to this region in 1840 and then again only five years earlier in 1852 at Pyramid Lake. He didn’t cry as he did with his first earthquake but remembered well how the tears had fallen then.

“Pa, is it the end of the earth?”

“No, son, it is not the end of the earth.”

“But the preacher said if the men here didn’t stop their drinking and gambling and that other word I’m not supposed to say, God would end the world.”

“This is not the end of the world, but we do need to stay away from trees and rocks. I’ve never been in one of these either, but I think we need to get away from this slope too. You keep a good hold on Hoss and I’m going to go as fast as I can get these horses to go.”

With the earth shaking and Hoss crying, Adam had done his best not to cry but had failed. At almost ten, he wasn’t strong enough yet. His tears dropped onto the blanket wrapped around his little brother. Despite his terror, he held onto Hoss as well as he could even as he was bounced from side to side in the freight wagon and things rolled and tumbled. Although Hoss was only five, he was growing fast and had weird ideas about it. After what seemed forever, the wagon came to a halt and his father pushed aside the canvas to ask if he and Hoss were all right.

“We’re all right, Pa.”

His shaky voice must have said more than his words.

“I have to settle the horses and make sure this spot is safe enough. Once I have them calmed down and tied off, I’ll be back here to take care of both of you. I promise. Just take care for a little bit longer, son.”

The shaking of the earth had stopped, but Hoss’ wailing had not. Adam did his best to soothe the little boy, but it wasn’t until his father got into the wagon to take the child that Hoss quieted. It was then that Adam noticed how quiet it was outside the canvas walls of the wagon.

“Pa, I don’t hear anything. There isn’t any sound out there. Has everything died?”

“No, nothing has died. I’ve heard that animals and birds can tell when an earthquake is coming. I guess they knew about this one.”

“They’re still quiet. Does that mean there’s going to be more?”

“I don’t know, but I think we’re out in the open enough to be safe.”

But they weren’t. A crack in the earth opened almost beneath them and the force of the movement tilted the wagon sideways. The horses panicked and nearly pulled up the stakes Ben had used to tie down them down. Adam had started crying but his father had grabbed him and told him he needed to get control of himself so he could take care of Hoss. Meanwhile, Ben headed out to assess any damage and calm the horses again. He pulled the stakes and moved the wagon by leading the horses a quarter mile to what he hoped was a safer location. For the next day, smaller shocks followed but nothing that did any noticeable damage. In Adam’s mind though, the damage was done. The terror of the earth splitting with no warning cost him sleep for a long time, but he never let his father know. He had been told to keep control of himself so he did the best he could do with that. He told Hoss funny stories to cover what had happened and honed those story telling skills that served him so well in caring for his brothers. But he never found a way to soothe himself.

It was even worse now caught in a box canyon driving horses with rocks tumbling down around him. He knew he should have been in the open, but because of the delay with his brothers, getting the horses moving had been delayed. That had been costly. He was going in the right direction to get clear of the canyon when a small pinon tree was toppled from above. One of the branches caught him as it fell knocking him from the saddle. Rocks and boulders came tumbling down, and all he could do was try to find some shelter from them before he was crushed. Fate had more to do with that than his frail human body did against tons of rock.

From a short distance outside the box canyon, Hoss and Little Joe were busy herding the horses they had managed to control. Then they watched in horror as one side of the box canyon collapsed. A few panicked horses raced out as the brothers waited and prayed to see Adam emerging from the clouds of dust, but only a riderless Sport came out at a hard run.

“Go get him, Little Joe.”

Giving up on keeping any of the wild horses, Hoss went to get the packhorses and led them to the site they had picked for a camp. The ground had stopped shaking so it wasn’t too difficult for either brother to accomplish such simple tasks. They then stood at the opening to the canyon and wondered what the best course of action was.

“We should just go look and do it now.”

“Little Joe, we don’t know where he is and we don’t want to make things worse by doing something to make these rocks shift around anywhere.”

“Do you think he’s dead?”

“No, he ain’t dead.”

“How do you know?”

“I know. I just know.”

“I think he’s dead, and it’s my fault. I made him wait and that’s why he got caught in there. I should have let him do what he wanted to do. I don’t know how he knew, but he knew.”

“I wanted him to explain too. I guess it was all so odd. Damn, now I don’t know what to do. I guess, we have to pick our way in carefully.”

“Hoss, I should go first. I’m a lot lighter and I can test the way to make sure it’s stable.”

Little Joe could see the hesitation that meant doubt about what he would do.

“Don’t worry. I won’t do anything to put Adam’s life in any worse danger than he already is. I’ll be careful.”

In the canyon, Adam was making a survey of his body guessing he might have a broken left arm because he had trouble moving it, and trying to even manipulate anything with his fingers was too difficult. The nearly overwhelming pain in his hip and thigh made it difficult to feel any other part of his body, but he knew that he had a lot of places where he had been hit or where he had small cuts and abrasions. His head hurt too so he knew he had head injuries. As well as he could tell, none of his injuries were terrible, but together, they made a serious problem. He smiled then. No matter how big a problem they were, none were as big as the boulder that had him pinned. He knew he was lucky in that it had not landed on his chest or head because it would have killed him. Pressing down on his hip and thigh, it caused excruciating pain but nothing fatal unless no one came to free him. He had been thirsty and tired before he rode into the canyon. At this point, he was exhausted. He closed his eyes.

It took almost two hours of careful searching before the brothers spotted Adam in the jumble of rocks. Covered in rock dust with little of him showing, they had to get close before they saw him. Little Joe was true to his word and even after seeing Adam, he remained calm in his physical actions even as his voice showed his emotional turmoil.

“Hoss, I see him. It looks like he’s pinned by a boulder. He’s near the opposite wall and almost clear of the rock collapse. If we work our way to that side, we can walk to him.”

Although Little Joe’s inclination was to jump clear of the slide and run to his brother, he kept his promise to Hoss. He worked his way down the rocks showing a safe path for his big brother and carefully made his way to Adam. Kneeling by Adam’s side, Little Joe was relieved to see his brother’s chest rise and fall. He was covered in dust and had a number of abrasions but no active bleeding. Then Joe was startled when Adam talked to him. The voice was weak and hoarse, but he was coherent.

“I hope one of you brought water.”

“Ah, Hoss has a canteen. He’s right behind me.”

A slight sigh of relief was the only response. Little Joe didn’t know the depth of relief it conveyed. Adam had to hope they had survived uninjured but didn’t know. He had felt sharp bits of stone biting into his legs so he knew he wasn’t paralyzed, but in a way, that would have been a more painful prolonged death if they had not been able to find him. It had been some terrible dark thoughts that had dominated his mind until Little Joe knelt at his side.

When Hoss got there, Little Joe relayed the request prompting Hoss to open the canteen and dribble a few drops of water on Adam’s lips. Then when Adam opened his mouth, he dribbled a bit more and continued that for another minute.

“Why don’t you just give him a drink?”

“He’s got a lot of dust to get out of the way, and we have to find out how well he can swallow. Where he is, it would be a big problem if he started choking or coughing a lot.”

“We need to get him out of here then.”

Hoss was quiet. He had already assessed the situation and didn’t like the conclusions he had drawn. Seeing his expression, Adam guessed his brother had drawn the same conclusions he had.

“Can’t dig under me to pull me out because it’s bare rock. Can’t lever the rock because there’s not enough room and only two of you. It would likely do more damage than anything. Even if you freed me, the two of you can’t get me out of here over all those rocks. You need to clear a way, and again, it’s only the two of you. I’m on the low side of the canyon, and if it rains, the water could flood right over me here. Can you see a water line on the rocks?”

Hoss could and so could Joe. They said nothing because it was too high. Adam knew what their silence meant.

“I have to hope the elements have had their satisfaction with me.”


“Wind, earth, and water are natural elements. It’s elementary, and I hope they have done enough for now. At least I don’t have to worry about the fourth element. There won’t be a fire here.”

“Adam, I’ll have to go get some men and the tools and equipment we’ll need to get you out of here. It’s likely to be two days before we’re back. You gotta hang on until then. You hurting bad anywhere besides where you’re pinned?”

Hoss had been probing gently in that area as well as he could. Adam’s pinched voice told him that what he was doing caused a lot of pain to his brother. That hurt him too to know he was doing that.

“Sorry about that, Adam, but I had to check to see if there was any bleeding. It’s dry as far as I can tell. The skin is broke open some but nothing is bleeding now.”

Once Adam caught his breath and the sharp pain subsided, he answered the original question.

“Nothing else hurts like that. I got pounded pretty hard all over, but I don’t think the damage was too bad. I can breathe all right. My arm is stiff, but I got hit with a lot of things before I ended up here.”

“How did you end up here? Sport rode out all right.”

“Small tree came down and part of it caught me and took me out of the saddle. There was too much to outrun. I did my best to avoid getting crushed. This thing kind of snuck up on me. With all the noise, I didn’t hear it roll.”

“Well, I’m glad there was room under it for you. It’s big enough to crush. Anyway, I’ll be back and we’ll get you out.”

“Hoss, you know a lot more about taking care of him. You should stay, and I’ll go get the men and equipment.”

“Little Joe, he needs basic care, and you can do that. But do you know what kind of equipment and tools we need to free him and get him out of here? Do you know the shortest way home from here?”

Hoss knew he won that argument by the way Little Joe dropped his head in defeat without even trying to answer.

“Keep him warm. There may be more trembling, but it won’t likely be as bad as the big one. Adam will tell you what to do. Listen to him.”

Hoss helped Joe carry supplies and bedrolls to where Adam was pinned. The two carried in firewood for a two-day supply for campfires. Adam was likely to be chilled more than usual because of his situation. The lack of movement, shock, and pain were going to create that problem. Joe needed to keep him warm with a fire and blankets as well as hot food and coffee. Luckily, their supplies were intact after the earthquake. The horses were cared for so that Little Joe could spend as much time as possible taking care of his brother.

Hoss did one last thing before departing. He apologized.

“Sorry, Adam. I should have remembered Pyramid Lake. If I had only paid attention instead of being in such an all-fired hurry to find you at fault in your decisions, I would have known too.”

Then Hoss headed for home to get help.

At first, Adam slept with the relief of his brothers finding him, water to drink, and then the warm soup Little Joe brewed for him. With a warm fire and a blanket around him as much as Little Joe could manage, he gave into the exhaustion and slept. Little Joe felt it was a reprieve. He sat and thought about his guilty feelings and how he would apologize. He wondered if it could possibly be enough and shed tears as he realized his brother could die because of his actions. It was a heavy burden to carry.


Chapter 3

Waking several times during the night, Adam saw Little Joe slumped by the fire dejected in most cases and crying at one time. He thought waiting until morning might be best and hoped nothing bad happened to make the situation any worse. After Little Joe helped him drink some coffee and have some thin stew, Adam decided it was time to tackle the tough subject.

“I’m pinned under a ton of rock. I’ve soiled myself and will have to do that again. I stink and it will only get worse. Although the pain isn’t too bad, I can’t move and if I try at all, it gets very bad very quickly. But you’re the one hanging your head and crying in the night. Care to tell me why?”

With tears threatening to fall again, Little Joe’s lip quivered.

“All of that is my fault. If I hadn’t tried to stop you, you would have been out of here before the wall collapsed. You wouldn’t be hurt.”

Fighting the pain and weakness, Adam still wanted to help his youngest brother. He thought he had to do it soon too for he felt the warning signs of fever and infection hoping that Hoss would bring back more than tools and men to work them. He had not wanted to say anything more, but he had seen Hoss’ face after he had felt around where Adam was pinned. He probably felt the heat from the area if the infection was brewing as Adam suspected it was. He was feeling chilled and then hot intermittently too. It wouldn’t be long before he was going to feel hotter. He was finding it increasingly difficult to accept the fluids and light broths and stews Little Joe was preparing for him. Claiming to be too tired was only going to work for a short time. Now was his time to talk before he was robbed of the opportunity.

“Yes, you delayed me, but that wasn’t the most important factor. I decided to go in after those horses. If I had stayed out of this canyon and we had taken the barrier down, maybe a lot of the horses would have gotten out anyway. Then I wouldn’t be pinned here. There wasn’t time to debate the merits of either way of doing it, and I made my choice. Choices have consequences. This is a price I’m paying for my choice. It was not because of you.”

“Why didn’t you at least tell us you thought an earthquake was coming?”

“What would you have done if I had?”

Although Little Joe generally hated it when Adam answered a question with a question, he couldn’t hold it against him considering his plight. He thought about what he had been asked and drew the conclusion he was sure Adam had in mind.

“I would have asked you how you thought you knew, and your explanation would have taken as long or longer as the fight we had.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t call that a fight. Mostly it was you pushing and shoving, and me tossing you aside so I could get to my horse.”

“Well, I didn’t want to shoot you.”

The brothers started to laugh, but that was abruptly halted with Adam grimacing and then a bout of coughing that brought moans and more grimaces. Once Adam was calm again although pale and lay with his eyes closed, Joe apologized.

“You don’t have to be sorry. I started it.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t have to say what I did.”

“It was funny though. I hope someday we can tell this story in the saloon. It ought to be worth a couple of free drinks.”

“Me too?”

“Maybe if we wait until Pa’s away on a trip.”

“That would be worth the wait.”

“It’s a plan then.”

“Adam, I have a question for you. How did you know it was going to be an earthquake?”

“I didn’t know. It was a good guess.”

“Well, how did you guess then?”

“I’ve been through two others. I saw things that looked the same.”

“Like what?”

“I guess because the earth moves before, during, and after. Remember how the first day we were out and Hoss remarked that a stream had moved and the old streambed looked like it had been used recently but now was too high to be of any use?”

“Yeah, and I thought he was joshing us.”

“No, it was the first thing that made me nervous. Then today all of a sudden there were no birds singing and none in sight anywhere. We had not seen any animals for hours and there weren’t any sounds even from squirrels or other small animals. Out horses were skittish or with mine, more than usual.”

“That’s it?”

Getting tired, Adam didn’t have the energy or the inclination to have a discussion and one that might lead to an argument. He closed his eyes. Little Joe got the message that his brother was weary which under the circumstances was understandable. He didn’t bother him for an answer. He busied himself with things he could do. As Adam slipped into sleep, Little Joe thought there was something he could do to help. He figured that his brother might lose some weight as he lay pinned and that the rock might settle onto him more as a result. He gathered stones to prop the rock up in hopes that he could prevent that. As he worked, he thought about the last of the conversation he had with Adam. He realized the answer or the question he posed was the same he would have given his brother if he had tried to explain it all originally. He knew he needed to work on trusting his brother’s judgment, knowledge, and experience more and didn’t know why he didn’t. When he saw Adam’s eyes open again, he explained his new insights. Adam nodded.

“You want to be your own man and make your own decisions. I understand.”

Then he closed his eyes again. Little Joe got worried and put his hand on his brother’s forehead. It was hot.

“Adam, you have a fever.”

“Yes, I do.”

“But I did everything Hoss said to do.”

“Yes, you did. I think I have an infection.”

“How can you tell?”

“Pain, feeling sick, fever.”

Resisting the urge to say ‘That’s it?’, instead, Little Joe asked what he could do.

“Nothing. There’s really nothing you can do you aren’t doing.”

“But it’s not enough.”

“It’s up to me and whatever help Hoss can bring.”

“He knew?”

Adam closed his eyes again. All he could do was conserve whatever energy he could. Then he heard what had worried him since he had been pinned. Thunder. It was distant but unmistakable.


“Don’t worry. That must be five or ten miles away.”

“Water runs downhill.”

All three brothers had noted on their first examination of the canyon that there was a pool near the mouth that was clear water but had no spring. There was a wash along one side with all the soil washed down to bare rock. It meant that water rushed through this canyon after rainfall and after snowmelt too refreshing the pool and keeping the vegetation green. But where Adam lay was in the path of that water. Water pouring down the rocks might be clean but he wouldn’t likely be able to keep his head high enough to avoid drowning in it.

They heard the water before they saw any of it. At first, it was pretty. It was a gentle trickle over the edge that became a steady stream and then a torrent in less than a minute. Adam was fevered but aware enough to be afraid. Little Joe stood up and ran for the mouth of the canyon. Adam closed his eyes expecting he might have to face death alone and in one of the worst ways possible. Then a minute later, Little Joe was at his side with reeds. He pulled a knife and began cutting one at each end and then tried to draw a breath through it. He failed. He tried another and another until he had one that worked.

“I remembered a story you told of some Indians hunting ducks this way and sneaking up on them by going under the water. It could work here, couldn’t it?”

“Yes.” Adam paused. “And thank you.”

“I’ll stay here and block as much of the current as I can. The rocks should help too. You’re not afraid of a little water, are you?”

Adam had to smile. Nothing could tamp down the spirit of his little brother. But after a pause, Little Joe had one more confession and apology to make. He was worried there might never be another time to make it.

“Adam, when I said I wanted an avalanche to bury you, I didn’t mean it. I was being stupid and mean. I’ll try never to say something like that ever again. I love you. You’re my brother. I never want you to get hurt.”

Water began to flow by them but rose only a little after the initial flow. At its high point, it was only about six inches which was not at all the amount they expected. Mostly it was only about three or four inches deep. After about a half hour, it was over. Little Joe went to explore and came back with his report.

“I didn’t know an earthquake could do that. It changed the canyon. Water flows down both sides now and there’s a new pool at the dead end. It’s full. It’s an even better place now to put horses. But that’s why there wasn’t much water here.”

Little Joe was ready to talk about that idea except Adam had closed his eyes again. He had gotten wet, and Little Joe guessed that wasn’t good for his condition. He built up the fire and pulled away the wet blanket. He pushed a dry wool blanket in its place and hoped it would be enough.

Miles away and fighting the muddy ground to make headway, Hoss was worried because of the rain. Even as he too struggled to push his horse forward in the challenging conditions, Ben saw the concern and asked why other than the obvious that Adam was exposed.

“Little Joe can rig a tarp over him, can’t he?”

“Pa, it ain’t that. Adam’s pinned in a wash in that canyon. If that storm dumps enough rain, I don’t know if it will reach that canyon.”

Ben’s look of horror was enough. Hoss knew he understood. Adam would drown and Little Joe would watch him die.

“Hoss, we need to go ahead and let the wagon catch up as soon as it can. We’ll take what tools we can but not enough to slow us down.”

Hoss didn’t state the obvious that it could already be too late. They did as Ben ordered and split the group. Doctor Martin was with them and gave up his more comfortable perch on the wagon to ride a horse so he could go with the forward group. If there was anything he could do for Adam, he wanted to do it as soon as possible. And if he couldn’t save him, he wanted to be there for the family. In less than two hours, they arrived at the mouth of the box canyon to smell smoke from a campfire and no signs of a ravaging flash flood. That was reassuring, but when they climbed through to where Adam was pinned, Little Joe’s tear-stained face told another story.

“Pa, he’s unconscious. He was doing all right, but now I can’t wake him up, and he got so hot. I didn’t know what to do.”

Adam was pale and still. Quickly moving past the others, Paul knelt by Adam’s side to assess his condition. After a few minutes, he turned to Ben and the rest of the men.

“He’s not so hot any more. He’s going into shock. He does have an infection in his leg too, and his arm may be fractured. The pain from his hip and leg may have limited how much he could feel that. The faster you can get him out of there, the better.”

Ben had been examining the situation and noticed the rocks placed under the corners of the boulder. He asked how they got there and Little Joe explained his theory.

“Son, I don’t think we can wait long enough for Adam to get thin enough to slide him out but you have given me an idea. Levering this rock out could end up crushing Adam because of the angle we would have to use. But if we could push it up like we do with any heavy weight and then stack more rocks like you have there, and then do the other side, we should be able to slide him out.”

Hoss turned to leave and Little Joe asked where he was going. He didn’t need to get an answer as Hoss soon picked out a large flat rock, hoisted it, and carried it back.

“Like this, Pa?”

“Yes, like that. You men collect some, and we’ll pick the ones that look like they’ll work best. Then we’ll get to work.”

“What do I do, Pa?”

Ben didn’t know what to say, but Doctor Martin did.

“Little Joe, I need your help. I need someone to help me get a blanket under Adam as soon as we can. It will be the best way to move him. I think you’re the best to help with that. You have the healer’s touch like Hoss but smaller hands like mine.”

“So Hoss couldn’t do this job you want done?”

“Oh, no, he couldn’t.”

It was the perfect way to get Little Joe to do a job. Make him feel important and in this case, indispensable. Despite the seriousness of Adam’s situation, Ben had to smile a little about his youngest son. Within a few minutes, they were ready to start. They had ambitious plans but all their strength could only raise the boulder about two inches on the first side they tried. It didn’t seem to make much difference in Adam’s situation, but if he had been awake, he would have told them it helped quite a lot. Then they worked on the other side and found it difficult to raise that side at all. But after several tries, they finally raised it there too about two inches.

“Is it enough to pull him out, Paul?”

“Probably, but without knowing the full extent of his injuries, I wish we could have a little more room.”

“I don’t know what we can do.”

“Pa, why don’t we try the other side again. Now that we raised that other side, maybe we can raise it a little more on this side.”

“Let’s try. It won’t hurt to try.”

They did, and after success, moved to the other side again and back and forth until a full four inches had been achieved. With Little Joe’s help, Doctor Martin slid a blanket under Adam and then Ben and Hoss helped them slide him out. Doctor Martin did a quick assessment and with no active bleeding and no sign of internal injuries, suggested they tie Adam into the blanket and carry him over the rocks out of the canyon. By then, the men with the wagon were there and set up a tent.

It took hours to get Adam stripped down, cleaned up, stitched, and bandaged as Doctor Martin dealt with each injury and wound starting with the worst and working to the least. It was sunset before he finished. When he sat down to accept a cup of coffee and plate of food, Ben couldn’t wait any longer. Paul knew it too but asked for a moment to sip some coffee first.

“He’s going to be all right probably. I know, I know, but you know too what infections are like. The leg had good circulation though so there’s no gangrene. I was afraid with the pressure from the rock that perhaps gangrene might have set in. Where that was, it could have been, ah, devastating. However, the sum total of everything that’s happened means he will require a few weeks of bed rest.”

“Is his arm broken?”

“No, it is so swollen, I thought it might be, but it is badly sprained.”

“Thank God. We have a cattle drive in a month. I’m going to need him as ramrod. I don’t think I could do it without him. He’s as important to me as my right arm.”

Paul reacted with a smile, but inside he wondered how Adam would respond to hearing that kind of comment. He saw some of the men turn away too. They had heard the same thing he had heard. Hoss and Little Joe agreed with their father seemingly unaware how that comment made Adam seem more of an employee than a son. Paul didn’t say anything more and Ben went in to sit with his son. Paul followed to monitor Adam’s condition. He was pleased to see Adam open his eyes to his father’s voice. Adam asked only one question in a weak voice.

“Do I still have my leg?”

“Yes. Can’t you feel it?”

“So much going on, I can’t be sure.”

“It’s there. You’re going to be all right. Nothing is broken which is amazing. You’ll be up and around in time for that cattle drive in a month.”

Paul should probably have said something. Adam closed his eyes. Ben thought he was tired. He was, but it wasn’t the kind of tired his father thought. Adam kept his eyes closed and knew he would likely fall asleep or his father would assume he had. It worked, and Ben exited soon after. Adam had time to think. The next morning when Little Joe and Hoss came in to see him, Adam was ready to talk with them. He had made some changes in his way of thinking and wanted to let them know.

“So, Hoss, do you think you and Little Joe could gather up some of those horses if a few of these men stayed here to help?”

“You want me to be in charge?”

“Why not? You know the plan, and we pretty much practiced it already. You don’t have to take all of them. If you got half of what we took last time, it would be enough. If you got more, that would be even better.”

“And I could help?”

“Of course, you would help, Little Joe. You know the plan too. I was counting on you being the assistant to Hoss.”

“Thanks, Adam.”

“One other thing I’ve been thinking about. Hoss, I want you to start talking to Little Joe about your job on the drive. Tell him every little thing you think of. Nothing is too little to mention. On the drive, I want Little Joe to spend most of his time riding with you and learning to be a drover.”

Little Joe couldn’t help himself and jumped up and would have hugged Adam except Hoss held him back reminding him Adam wouldn’t likely appreciate that in his condition.

“What made you change your mind about me doing those other jobs?”

“I didn’t change my mind about those. I said most of your time. You will still have to take some turns at those other jobs to learn what they are. You need to learn all the aspects of a drive. But lots of drovers are your age or sometimes a little younger. You’re smart. You’ll learn fast.”

“I have to go tell Pa.”

When Little Joe left the tent, Hoss turned to his brother.

“Something happen I don’t know about?”

“Only that I had time to think, I guess. He needs to get ready to take over someday. No reason to wait in getting him ready.”

Ever since Adam had returned from college, Hoss had heard these hints that his return might not be permanent. He never followed up on them hoping that by ignoring them, they might go away. He wished his father would address the issue, but he seemed oblivious to it. It was one of Hoss’ greatest fears and he pushed it to the back of his mind and asked instead about how Little Joe had done. Ben came in about that time.

“He’s growing into a man. When the chips are down, he does better. Everything that needed to be done, he did and with no complaints. He was resourceful and showed what he is capable of doing.”

Adam recounted how Little Joe had handled the threat of a flash flood and how he had reacted to it as well as his ingenious plan to protect Adam. Both Ben and Hoss were impressed.

“Well, you boys handled it all, didn’t you: wind, earth, and water.”

“Like Adam said, Pa, it was alimentary.”

Adam and Ben began laughing with Adam grabbing his ribs with his one good arm.

“What? What did I say that was funny?”

elementary: relating to most basic part(s) of something

alimentary: concerning food, nourishment, and the organs of digestion


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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.

14 thoughts on “It’s Elementary (by BettyHT)

  1. I love the brothers together and especially when they choose to educate Joe rather than belittle him as too often happens with authors who don’t read between the lines of canon as well as you do.

    1. Thank you so much. I find Joe a bit tricky to write to keep those impulsive aspects of his personality but include empathy and intelligence as he works with his brothers who recognize the same in him. I’m glad you liked how this one turned out.

  2. Just realized my previous comment won’t pass review because I included spoilers. I apologize for that. I did enjoy this story. I thought the interactions between Adam, Hoss and Joe is well written. And I really liked the ending. Made me laugh. I hope this comment can go though.

    1. Thank you so much. I do appreciate that you wrote this one instead so that the ending can remain a surprise for other readers. I do like writing the prequels and how the brothers can act with each other more naturally at those younger ages.

  3. This is a good story. Kind of sad for Adam. I think the reason Ben said what he said about Adam was a way of protecting himself from the pain of Adam leaving again. He maybe thought if he thought of Adam as a ranch hand instead of son the pain in his heart for his son would be less when Adam left again. Thanks

    1. Thank you so much. That’s a good theory, but it’s a double-edged sword as it causes the thing it is meant to protect him from.

  4. Quite the adventure they all went on. Loved seeing the brotherly interactions. They’re lucky to have such a strong bond between them.

  5. A wonderful brother story. At their ages each was at a different stage in life and these events tested each one of them. I believe all three grew from the elemental experience. I was quite proud of Joe as the looked after Adam. Ben really should start thinking before he says anything about Adam. Perhaps he needs one of these ‘experiences’ to learn a few lessons about his sons (all three of them). Enjoyed the story very much.

    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting here too. The three brothers showed their best at times here, but Ben did not.

  6. A great story. What an adventure. The relationship between the brothers well written. The relationship between Ben an Adam at the end of the story make it clear why Adam was beginning to withdrawn from his family. Its a good story but it left me with a sad feeling for Adam..

    1. Thank you so much. Yes, I’ve had the thought that Adam didn’t decide to leave except after years of thinking about things like that and finally finding it intolerable. He had to give up a lot to leave so the scales had to balance for him.

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