The Christmas Gift (by Judy)

Summary:  The best gift ever.
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  19,366

The Brandsters have included this author in our project: Preserving Their Legacy. To preserve the legacy of the author, we have decided to give their work a home in the Bonanza Brand Fanfiction Library.  The author will always be the owner of this work of fanfiction, and should they wish us to remove their story, we will.

The Christmas Gift

December 21, 1864


The blizzard that had started in the high Sierra Madras was the biggest of the winter so far, and had caught many trappers, hunters, homesteaders, and ranchers off guard. The blizzard had dumped several feet of wet snow in the first hours of the storm, followed by ice, and then ending with more snow. By the time the storm abated after 4 days, the mountains and the higher elevations were completely snowbound, cutting off all travel between the remote ranches and the towns lying lower on the plains. Once the snows came, there was very little the people could do but to sit back and wait it out. Those who had planned well and were prepared for the winter, who had moved their herds to more protected areas where grazing was still possible or where there was a means to get feed to the cattle, they were undaunted by the storms. Those who had not planned well and were unprepared for the harshness of the winter storms, generally didn’t survive the winter, or if they did, they usually did so because of the largesse of the people who had planned and prepared well.

Springtime would see people in the former categories making one of either two decisions about their rightful place in this land of harsh winters. Either they packed up their belongings and moved on, hoping to find a climate less severe and less demanding, or they resolved that they would stay and battle nature and that next year they would have planned better and be prepared for the struggle to survive. Generally only people with strong determination, energy, and courage stayed around for that second year.

Benjamin Cartwright was such a man. The first year that he had staked the Ponderosa claim had been a constant struggle for survival. That first winter his family and his dream would not have survived had he not received help from good neighbors and friends. The next winter, he was ready for the winter and his family survived and thrived; within just a few years, he was helping other ranchers and homesteaders out in the same way that he had been helped. He never forgot the assistance he had received and he felt obligated to carry on the tradition of helping out neighbors. He provided them with food, grain, supplies, fuel for their cook stoves, and on many occasion manpower—either his own or that of his sons—to help those ranchers less fortunate than he. He provided them with advice, encouragement and hope for their battle for survival. If the ranchers or homesteaders decided that this life was not for them, he frequently bought their land from them come spring, at a fair price, giving them the opportunity to start over. He did this not because he needed the land, the Ponderosa was already big as an empire, consisting of over a half a million acres of prime Nevada land with good water, grazing, and timber stands. Instead he did this to prevent the rancher from losing their investment and more importantly, their dignity. He told his sons that the purchase of land to add to the holdings of the Ponderosa was always a good investment.

Ben reflected on the past as he surveyed the Ponderosa on his first trip out since the storm had come. It had been almost a week since he had been able to ride out and he was enjoying the fresh, crisp, cool air that smelled of pine trees, and clear melted snow from high in the mountains. He stopped Buck on a small ridge several hundred feet beyond the Ponderosa ranch house and looked around at the peaceful scene. His heart flip-flopped momentarily when he remembered that this had been one of the reasons that the Cartwright log house had been situated where it was. He had brought his then new wife, Marie, Joseph’s mother up here one day and it had been she who had pointed out that that would be the perfect location for the house they were planning. He marveled as he had done many times, at what an excellent insight it had been. He came to this site in all seasons and every time he came, he was inspired by the sheer beauty of the site. “You sure had a good eye, my love” he said out loud. The house looked especially beautiful at this time of the year, with the snow covering the yard, and the green pines standing out in stark contrast to the snow. The Christmas decorations were in place, with wreaths and garlands adorning every window and door. It was a sight that almost took Ben’s breath away. He would never lose his love of Christmas—it was his favorite times of year–made more enjoyable by his sons. They all enjoyed Christmas, especially his youngest.

As he was thinking this, he smiled and then frowned slightly, then smiled again, as he saw the child they had right after this house had been built, come riding into the yard on his pinto pony. Joseph was so much like his mother that he was a constant reminder of his late wife. He knew that through Joseph a part of Marie was still with him. The frown was caused by Little Joe’s habit of riding into the yard as if a whole tribe of scalp-taking Comanches were chasing him. As he rode up, he jumped off his horse in one motion, and when he was safely off the horse, Ben breathed a sigh of relief and smiled again. “Marie, I have tried to break that habit since he first started riding. I guess there are just some things that even a father can’t change.” As he continued to watch the ranch, he saw his youngest son take his horse into the barn, and fifteen minutes later, his two older sons, Adam and Hoss came riding in, at a more relaxed pace, and took their horses into the barn as well. Shortly after that, Little Joe came running out of the barn, chased by both brothers, who showed evidence of being hit by a blizzard themselves. Obviously Joe had lay in wait for them with a bucket of snow and dumped it on them. They attempted to chase him, but he had a head start and they still had their horses to tend to. Laughing, Ben Cartwright headed his horse for home to join his sons.

When Joe reached the house he was still laughing at the joke he had pulled on his older brothers. He was amazed at just how many times they would fall for the same old trick. It seemed to him that they would one day wise up and came in through the side door or back door to the barn. Then he would have to think of another way to trick ‘em. “Hop Sing” he yelled as he entered the door, careful to wipe the snow off on the mat before entering. He needed Hop Sing’s cooperation so he knew better than to get snow on the floor. “What you yell Hop Sing for?” Hop Sings asked as he came into the living room from the kitchen. “Hop Sing busy in kitchen. Make big supper for family. Family be hungry after day out in the cold.” he explained to his youngest charge.

“Hop Sing. Is there enough hot water for a quick bath?” Joe asked.

“What you want take bath for now before dinner?” Hop Sing asked suspiciously.

“I have somewhere I have to go tonight Hop Sing. Is there hot water?” “You go get ready. Hop

Summary:  Joe meets Billy the Kid.
Rated:  PG
Word Count: 20,500

The Brandsters have included this author in our project: Preserving Their Legacy. To preserve the legacy of the author, we have decided to give their work a home in the Bonanza Brand Fanfiction Library.  The author will always be the owner of this work of fanfiction, and should they wish us to remove their story, we will.

Inner Conflict

Chapter 1


Ben Cartwright stood in the shadow of the barn watching his youngest son ride a big, bucking black stallion around the corral. He watched with mixed trepidation and admiration. Joe was a natural horseman and at just 17, was the best bronc-buster on the Ponderosa. He had an easy rhythm and style that seemed to make him one with the horse, his movements graceful and rhythmical. On the other hand, he was also a risk-taker and sometimes took chances that made the ranch hands applaud, and his father and brothers cringe. Ben shook his head and swallowed with relief as he saw that the horse was wearing down and beginning to take direction from the rider, rather than continuing his attempts to dislodge him.

Joe carefully rode the horse around the corral several more times, then slowed the horse to a stop, then urged the horse forward and backwards several times. When he was sure that he had control of the horse, he rode up to the fence where the hands were waiting, jumped off the horse, and handed the reins to one of the men. He patted the horse and talked to him to calm him down.

“Give him a good rubdown and plenty of oats tonight. He’s earned ’em.” The Calvary can finish up his training. Looks like we finished a day early, Charlie, I do believe that is the last one.”

“That was some riding, ya done Joe. Four of those brutes in one day. My hat’s off to ya!”

Laughing, Joe said, “I don’t need your hat, Charlie, but some of that horse liniment might come in handy.” As he said this, he pretended to limp away from the fence. Just as he did this, he saw his father and saw the swift look of concern cross his face. He laughed out loud and said, “Hey, Pa. I’m fine. I was just joshin’ Charlie.”

“Well that was some ridin’ you did Little Joe. Mighty good riding, though I do wish you wouldn’t take so darned many chances.” When he said this, he noticed the almost instantaneous expression change on Joe’s face. Joe was just about to protest but his father held up both hands. “Never mind that, now Son. You’ve done a great job and way ahead of when the Lieutenant said they’d be back for them. I’m proud of you!”

As suddenly as his expression had turned stormy, it changed back to its natural good humor. Ben relaxed when he saw that the anger was past. He told himself again how much Joe took after his mother.

“You proud enough of me to give me tomorrow off, Pa?” Joe laughed as he said this.

“Why you little……..”

Before he could continue, they heard the sound of a bunch of horses and looked up to see the ranch hands and Adam and Hoss returning from their jobs for the day.

“Hey, wouldn’t ya know they’d get back just as I get finished!”

Hoss and Adam rode up to where Joe and Ben were leaning against the corral fence. Ben’s and Joe’s expressions changed when they saw the tired expressions on Hoss’ and Adam’s faces.

“What’s wrong?” Ben asked.

Adam and Hoss dismounted and one of the hands appeared to take their mounts for them.

“Ah, nothing that two more days of hard work won’t fix.” Hoss answered disgustedly. “We thought we was all done, Pa. We had over 200 head rounded up, they was all fat and sassy and we were getting ready to call it done, then one of the hands rode up and said he’d seen a whole bunch of cattle over in Three Rocks canyon.” Hoss said.

“Three rocks canyon! Why with all the places to hide in that canyon, it might take us three days to scare those strays out of there.” Adam added.

“In fact, if it weren’t so darned bare up there in the winter, I’d say just leave ’em there.” Hoss said, knowing that there was no way he’d do that really, but it made him feel better just to say it, to show his disgust with the change in the situation.

“Well we can’t do that—they’d never survive the first snow storm.” Adam and Ben said at the same time.

“Well, why don’t you three get cleaned up and we’ll have dinner and talk about it.”

“Now that’s the best idea I’ve heard all day” Hoss said.

“Hey, little brother, how come you didn’t come up there and help us? You ain’t gonna try and say you still got horses to break, are you?”

Before Joe could answer, Ben said, “As a matter of fact, Hoss, Joseph finished his job not only on time, but ahead of schedule. He’s earned himself a day off.”

He gave Hoss and Adam a momentary stern look, which caused Hoss to pause, then he and Joe broke into laughter, followed by Adam and Hoss.


Chapter 2


While his sons cleaned up for dinner, Ben enjoyed a few minutes of peace and quiet before the fire in the giant fireplace. One of the best things about living near Lake Tahoe was that even in the summer times, the air would be cool and crisp in the evenings. To his thinking, that was the way it should be—a man needed to be able to sit in front of the fire at night with his family. For him that meant his three sons. He was happiest when they were all home, safe and sound. He knew that eventually they would marry and start families of their own, so he savored this time. At times like this, when they were at home so that he wasn’t worried about them, yet they weren’t in the room with him, he found himself thinking about what it would be like when they did marry. His hope was that they would choose to stay on the Ponderosa and work with him and that there would be Cartwrights on the Ponderosa for generations to come. He smiled as he thought of future little Cartwrights, wondering what they would be like.

“Pa! Wake up, Pa.”

Ben opened his eyes and saw Hoss standing over him, his blue eyes shining and his face enveloped in a wide grin.

“I wasn’t asleep, Son. What’s the emergency?” He knew that the “emergency” was that Hop Sing had just called that dinner was ready. To Hoss—that qualified as an emergency of the highest order.

“Well I don’t want to make Hop Sing mad, Pa. I smell fried chicken and I saw him bring out a baker of hot biscuits. Ummm. Just smell it, Pa.”

“Hoss, you better not to eat too many of those biscuits. You remember what I told ya about foundering Chub, don’t ya?”

“Little brother, just ’cause you’re horse is a mite on the puny side, don’t mean Chub is. Chub ain’t in no danger—-unless he gets between me ‘n them biscuits. And that goes for you too, Shortshanks.” As Hoss said this, he put his arm around Little Joe’s neck and pulled him toward him in a make-believe chokehold.

“All right, all right, but don’t say I didn’t warn ya.” Joe laughed as Hoss pulled him toward the dining room table.

Adam came down the stairs in time to hear the hi-jinks of his two younger brothers and looked at Ben and they both grinned.

“I see that Hoss has recovered his good humor.” Adam said laughing.

“Yeah, doesn’t take long for him to get over a bad humor, does it?”

“Nope. Too bad you can’t say the same thing for your youngest son” Adam said with one eyebrow arched.

Ben started to protest, then thinking better of it, he said, “He does have his moments.”

Conversation at the dinner table was fast while the men filled their plates, then the conversation slowed down as they were eating. After they had worn the edge off their hunger, the conversation picked up again. At least for Ben, Adam, and Little Joe. Hoss continued to devote the majority of his attention to the steadily shrinking mound of fried chicken, the mashed potatoes and brown gravy, and the light, browned buttermilk biscuits.

“Pa, did you remember that we have to submit the bid for that timber in Carson City tomorrow?” Adam asked during a lull in the conversation.

“Yes, I put the finishing touches on it today while you boys were out and it was quiet enough to think.”

“I just wish I had gotten it done sooner; I hate to have to take the whole day to go to Carson City tomorrow, because I need to finalize the bill for those horses Joe broke for the army. But you or Hoss can’t go because you have to finish the round-up.”

“Well I might be able to get one of the ranch hands to help Hoss, though we are kind of short-handed right now.”

Neither of them spoke for a few minutes as they pondered the situation. Neither of them noticed that Little Joe was staring at them, his face tensed, his eyes flashing angrily. He didn’t say a word, but his face revealed his anger.

“No, I guess I’ll have…..”

“Did either of you even once consider that I could take the bid to Carson City?” Joe blurted out angrily.

Ben and Adam looked at him, startled. Truthfully, neither of them had even thought that he could do it.

“Joe, you can’t go all the way to Carson City with a bid….”

“Why not, Adam?” Joe’s face was taut, and his eyes were bright with anger and indignation.

“Well, Son, what Adam meant was…..”

“Oh I know what Adam meant, Pa. You too. You think I’m still a boy and can’t do anything without you or one of my big brothers to watch me like a hawk.”

“Now Shortshanks, Adam didn’t mean no harm……”

“You stay out of this, Hoss. You’re just as bad as they are.”

Joe pushed his plate away from the table, threw his napkin down, and started away from the table.

“Joseph! That is enough of that. Sit down, young man.

No matter how angry Joe was, he recognized that tone of voice and sat down, but his eyes were still blazing and he stared into his father’s face, his face white with anger.

“Joseph, your brother and I were merely discussing the issue. We didn’t mean to insult you; it hadn’t occurred to us that you would want to take the bid to Carson City.”

“That’s just the problem, Pa. You all still think of me as a kid and I’m tired of it.”

“Joseph, I think you and I need to discuss this privately. Adam……”

“Sure, Pa. Come on, Hoss let’s get the barn chores started.”

“Sure” Hoss said, grabbing the last golden biscuit off the plate as he got up from the table. He walked around and patted Joe on the arm and winked at him, in an effort to defuse the situation. Despite his anger, Joe half-grinned at him in return. He wasn’t really mad with Hoss anyway.

Ben waited until Adam and Hoss had gone out the door, then he turned his full attention toward his youngest son. As he did, he saw an image of his mother when she was angry and he almost smiled. Fortunately he was able to suppress the smile from his face. That would have really ignited the short fuse of his son’s temper.

“Joseph, those outbursts of yours do not do anything to make your case that you are not a kid.” Ben eyed him sternly as he said this. He held Joe’s eyes until he saw the defiance ebb and remorse take its place. Then he softened his look and smiled at his son.

Joe took a deep breath, then relaxed a little, “I’m sorry Pa. I didn’t mean to lose my temper, it’s just that…”

“Joe most people don’t ‘mean’ to lose their temper. You don’t get anywhere by losing your temper—you lose all control of a situation when you blow your stack like that. People learn to control their temper most times.”

“But Pa…”

“And you Joseph, have an even bigger responsibility to do that.”

“What does that mean?” Joe asked, his anger rising again.

“See? There you go again, Son.” Ben said calmly.

“What I mean is that since you have such a volatile temper—you have to work twice as hard to control it as other people.”

“Pa, I do try but sometimes I don’t have time to think about it—it just happens.”

“Son, what do you think would happen if your brother Hoss let every little thing rile him?”

Joe grinned easily at that, “Why’d he’d have clobbered over half Storey County by now. Probably half of Nevada.”

Ben laughed along with Joe and then said, “I suspect he’d have clobbered you more times than you can count, Joe.”

Joe laughed out loud and said, “Yeah I reckon so, Pa. Good thing he doesn’t have my temper.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes, imagining the consequences if the big, strong Hoss had the quick volatile temper of his younger brother.

“But Pa, back to the timber bid. You said I could have the day off tomorrow and I could take that bid for you. You wouldn’t give a second thought to Hoss taking it. Why don’t you trust me to take it?”

“Joseph, I do trust you son…”

“Well then, it’s settled, I’ll take it….”

HOWEVER, Joseph, that does not mean that I don’t have concerns. Carson City is a long way off and despite your assertions to the contrary, you are mighty young for a trip like that…” Joe tried to interrupt, but Ben held his hands up, motioning him to wait, “And son, you have certainly gotten yourself into some dangerous situations under similar circumstances.”

“Pa, I can do it. I’ll be careful. I’ll even come home tomorrow night if ya are worried ’bout me being in Carson City over night.” Joe, all anger aside now, was using his most persuasive voice on his father. His father was not easily fooled.

“Oh no you don’t Joseph, I won’t have you coming home at night. No tellin’ what you could get into.”

“Fine. It’s settled. I’ll take the bid and stay over night in Carson City!” Joe said definitively.

“Right!” Ben said, fooled.

After this exchange, neither of them spoke for several minutes. Joe was contemplating what kind of adventure he would find in Carson City after he delivered the contract. Ben was trying to figure out how he had gotten into this particular position. How they went from discussing whether or not Joe would go to Carson City, to when he would return.

Finally he sighed and said, “Well Joseph, now that you have once again bamboozled me into the decision you wanted me to make, why don’t you go help your brothers?”

He looked into his son’s eyes and saw the merriment there.

“You little whippersnapper, you. Get on out of here.” He made an exaggerated motion with his hands, waving Joe away from him.

With that, they both laughed and Joe jumped up energetically and moved towards the barn, the twinkle back in his eyes and the grin back on his face. As soon as Joe was turned away from him, Ben shook his head and shrugged his shoulders and laughed. Once again that youngest son had wrapped him all the way around his finger, and he didn’t even know how he did it.


Chapter 3


The Cartwrights were at breakfast the next morning as usual. Hoss was first at the table, followed shortly by Ben and Adam. They were surprised to see Little Joe coming downstairs fully dressed, if not fully awake, right after they sat down. It usually took second effort to get him up, but today he was anxious to be off to Carson City. He figured the sooner he got there and delivered the contract, the more fun he could have before he had to come home. As he walked down the stairs, however, he was yawning and stretching, evidence that he was not accustomed to such an early departure from bed.

During breakfast they discussed their jobs for the day, but most of the conversation centered on Little Joe’s trip to Carson City. He was anxious to be off and tired of the never-ending instructions given to him by Ben. Adam chimed in several times with instructions as well. Hoss tried to prevent Joe from getting riled up by kidding him about his motives for the trip. Ironically, as they were finally finished with breakfast and Joe was getting ready to go, it was Hoss who gave into his doubts about Joe going off to Carson City by himself.

“Hey, Pa, you know now that Joe got those horses finished, Charlie and his crew could help me out with roundin’ up them strays. We’d have enough help ‘thout Adam and he could ride with Joe to Carson City.”

Joe gave Hoss a killer look and spoke up quickly, “Nope, Hoss. Charlie and that crew have to keep workin’ those horses. I just broke ’em; I didn’t train ’em. You know that.”

“Yeah, Joe is right, Hoss. Adam’s gonna have to help you. Joe’ll be fine.” His words were meant to reassure Hoss but also to reassure himself. He was wondering why he hadn’t thought of that sooner. If he’d just thought of that last night, it might have worked. He knew that Hoss was worried about Joe, so he patted him on the arm and said, “You boys better get on out there, you’re burning daylight!”

Hoss sighed and said, “All right Pa. But Joe you be careful now, ya hear? I won’t be there to back you up if you call somebody a cheat at cards or steal somebody’s girlfriend.”

Adam sensed that Ben wanted to talk to Joe alone before he left, so he slapped Joe on the back, almost knocking him down, and said, “Stay out of jail, little brother. We got enough to do without you winding up on a wanted poster in the Sheriff’s office.” With that, he gently pushed Hoss out the door and said, “Let’s go round up them doggies, little brother.”

“Joseph, this is the bid. All you have to do is get it to the Carson City office of the Seattle Shipping Company by 4 PM today. Make sure you give it to the bonded agent of the company and get a receipt. You think you can handle that?”

“Sure Pa. Stop worryin’. I’ll be fine. The bid is as good as there, already. You can count on me, Pa.”

“I am counting on you Son. I’m counting on you for two things.”

Joe looked at him, a puzzled expression on his face.

“1. Get the bid in on time, to the right people.”

“I will Pa. I understand it is important. What’s number 2?”

“Ah, number 2 is the MOST important, young man.”

“The receipt?”

“Nope, that is part of number 1. Number 2 is that you get home before dark tomorrow, safe and sound. That’s most important of all.”

They were standing at the door by the credenza. Joe put on his gunbelt and buckled it on. Ben took the green corduroy jacket down from the peg by the door and handed it to him. Joe quickly shrugged into the jacket, grabbed his hat, and said, “Adios, Pa.”

Ben reached over and hugged him, quickly before Joe could get away. “Adios to you, Son. See you tomorrow.” Then to hide the tears that were almost on the surface, he said, “Now get along with you. I’ve got work to do.” Joe laughed and bounded out the door and vaulted onto Cochise. Hoss had saddled him and left him at the rail by the porch for him. With one quick look back at his Pa, he was off. Off to Carson City for the first time without his father or brothers!


Chapter 4


The sun was just coming up behind the mountains, burning the mist off and giving a irridescent glow to the forests and to the lake. He made a short stop at the lake, getting off Cochise and walking to the grave where his mother was buried. He kneeled down at the grave and removed a tiny weed that had grown since the last time that either he or Pa had been there. He then looked at the lake for a few seconds, drinking in the view as the sun rose higher in the sky, making the lake turn first pink, then orange, then as the sun reached beyond the horizon, a bright blue. Smiling then, he jumped on Cochise and headed to Carson City.

Joe set a steady pace for his ride to Carson City, resisting the urge to let Cochise have rein and run. As much as he enjoyed riding fast, he didn’t want to tire Cochise out this early in the trip. He laughed to himself as he recalled his conversation with Hoss yesterday about Chub and how Hoss had called Cochise “puny”. Cochise was everything but puny. He was a sleek black and white pinto, strong, muscular, and sleek. Pa had given him to him on his 12th birthday and Joe cherished the horse. He spent long hours training him to respond to his commands, but the horse actually seemed to anticipate his actions now. Any strangers passing by would have appreciated the picture of the horse and rider. However, they didn’t meet a single other soul on the way to Carson City.

After a few hours Joe stopped and dismounted to allow horse and rider to rest. He poured water into his hands from his canteen, allowing Cochise to drink his fill before he drank. First he looked all around the site where he had stopped, and listened for any untoward noises. Then he sat down, pushed his hat over his face and rested against a tree, enjoying the pleasant breeze and sunshine. He kept his hands on his gun and resisted the urge to go to sleep, however, thinking that it would not be safe.

“All I need is to be bushwhacked on my first real trip without my keepers” he thought to himself. After about 15 minutes, he remounted and continued the journey to Carson City. After a couple more hours of riding, he crossed the boundary of the Ponderosa.

“Hey Coch, guess what? We ain’t on the Ponderosa and it is just you and me—on our own. How about that boy? No Pa or big brothers to boss us around.” Soon the road took a turn and he began to see signs that he was approaching the town. Farms and small ranches dotted the countryside and he saw farmers in fields and passed several riders and some buggies. One buggy had been of particular interest to him. The occupants were a young man, about Joe’s age, a young boy of about 12, and the prettiest girl Little Joe had ever seen. Joe had tipped his hat to them, and caught the eye of the girl. She had dark shiny black hair that fell around her face in soft curls. Her eyes were blue and she had on a blue dress and bonnet. Joe was hoping he’d see her again while he was visiting Carson City. After the buggy had gone by, Joe stopped Cochise and turned around to watch it, and as he did, the girl turned around and waved at him. “Yes, sir, Cochise, I’m beginning to like this place already.” With that, he gave a gentle prod to Cochise with his left foot, causing him to rear up on command. The girl watched fascinated, as he then turned Cochise smartly and continued down the road into Carson City at a lively pace. He reached down and rubbed the horse, “You sure know how to turn a girl’s head, Coch!”.

Within 15 minutes of arrival in Carson City, Joe had accomplished his mission. The first building he saw as he rode into town was the Seattle Company’s temporary office. He reined Cochise over, jumped off, looped her reins around the hitching rail and dug into the saddle bag and extracted the sealed bid.

“Well would you look at that? Little Joe Cartwright? Is that you?” Joe turned around to see someone vaguely familiar to him, he just couldn’t quite place him. He was a tall, big man with gray hair and a neat, well-trimmed mustache. Joe stared at him for a minute and then it came back to him.

“Mr. Hubert. How do you do?”

“Your Pa or Adam not with you, son?”

“No sir, they were tied up at the ranch. Pa asked me to bring the bid today.”

As he said this, he personally handed the Ponderosa timber bid to the President of the Seattle Company.

“Well you sure have changed since the last time I saw you, Little Joe.” In fact, do you remember the last time I saw you?”

Joe tried to remember, but he really only had a faint recollection of the man.

“No, Mr. Hubert, I’m afraid I can’t remember exactly. I’m sure it has been several years though.”

“Well, Little Joe how old are you now?”

“Seventeen.” He said, trying to figure out what that had to do with it.

“Well then it was 5 years ago, Joe. On your 12th birthday—the day your father gave you that pinto pony” as he said this he was pointing at Cochise. “Is that the same one, Joe?”

Joe reached over and patted Cochise on the side of the neck and said,

“He sure is, Mr. Hubert. Cochise is the best horse in Nevada; in fact, he says he’s the best horse period.” Mr. Hubert looked at Joe, a mixture of disbelief and confusion on his face, until he saw the twinkle in Joe’s eyes. Then he laughed and said, “Well who are we to argue with the horse himself?”

He then clapped Joe on the back and said

“Let me get someone to make you out a receipt for that bid, so your Pa will know you got it here on time.”

Joe went inside with Mr. Hubert and collected the receipt for the bid. When Mr. Hubert found out that Joe was spending the night in town, he insisted that Joe join his family for dinner that evening at the hotel dining room. Joe really preferred to spend the evening in the saloon or in the company of some other young woman, but he couldn’t be rude to his father’s friend.

After leaving Mr. Hubert’s he went directly to the livery stable to make arrangements for Cochise’s stabling. He paused when he passed a saloon and heard music and laughter coming from inside, but he kept going. “I’ll get you fixed up first, Coch. Hey maybe there will be nice filly in the livery, boy.” The horse snorted and curled his lips as if to say, “Exactly my thoughts.”

“Give him a good rubdown and then give him a pail of oats and some fresh hay—none of that ol’ moldy stuff either,” Joe instructed the livery stable boy. Joe went about rinsing out and refilling the water bucket. He always made sure that Cochise didn’t have to drink water from a bucket that another horse had already drunk out of. The owner of the livery stable watched him and just shook his head, knowing that the horse couldn’t care less. He’d seen that boy in there with his father and brothers and every time he insisted that paint pony be treated special. But he was a fine horse and he appreciated seeing owners look after their horses, so he said nothing and always obliged the boy.


Chapter 5


Joe left the livery stable with just one thought on his mind—getting a nice cold beer. He went into the saloon where he had heard all the music and laughter, grinning when he got inside. Although it was only about 3:00, the saloon was pretty busy. There was a card game going on at one table, a few men sitting at the other tables and a younger man at the bar. As he walked up to the bar, he recognized the bar tender from previous trips with his family. He was relieved because although he wouldn’t admit it to anyone, especially himself, he’d been afraid they would think he was too young to even order a beer.

He was surprised when he got to the bar, because that was exactly what was being discussed by the bar tender and the young man at the bar.

“Listen, Son, you sure you’re old enough to be in a saloon, much less ordering whiskey?” the bartender asked the skinny, dark-haired man.

“I done asked ye politely, Mister. The next time I ask ya, it ain’t gonna be so polite. Now are ya gonna give me that whisky or ain’t ya?”

The bartender picked up the bottle and poured a shot of whiskey in the glass, shaking his head as he did so.

“Hey, I’ll have a beer.” Joe said. The bartender didn’t say a word; he retrieved a glass from behind the counter, wiped it off with the cloth in his hands, and drew a beer with a foam on it and handed it to Joe.

“Ain’t no skin off my nose. Iff’n your folks don’t care, why should I get shot for it.” He muttered to himself as he stepped to the other side of the bar. This tickled Little Joe, since he had no intention of shooting the barkeep if he hadn’t gotten his beer.

“You owe me fer that beer, fella. I done softened ‘im up fer ye.” The other boy at the bar said. Joe looked at him and smiled, “Yeah, I’ll tell you what, your next round is on me.” Joe stuck out his hand and said, “Cartwright, Joe Cartwright.”

“He…Bonney, William Bonney.” The man said, with a grin. Joe noticed a slight stutter, but thought nothing of it.

They eventually moved over to a table. Joe did buy his new friend another whiskey and he had one more beer, while they swapped histories. Joe felt instant liking for the man when he found out that he had two older brothers too. Joe had often wondered what it would be like to be the oldest instead of the youngest in the family. He was sure that it had to be easier to be the oldest than to be the youngest, at least in his family anyway.

“So where are you headed now, William? When you leave here, I mean?” Joe asked after William had told him of his travels from the family home in Kansas.

“I’m gonna go over to that hotel and have me a bath and then I’m gonna get me one decent night’s sleep, that’s what.”

Joe laughed and said, “Yeah I’m gonna do that too, but I mean after you leave Carson City, not after you leave the saloon.”

“Oh, Joe, I don’t make plans that far in advance. I’ll have to tell you that when I get to it.”

“Hey, while you’re making up your mind about where you want to go, what say you come back with me to the Ponderosa?”

“Hmm I don’t know about that Joe. I ain’t used to being with nobody. I don’t like answering to nobody but myself.”

“Well look you could give it a try. I’m sure my Pa would hire you, William.”

There was a momentary pause in the conversation as a saloon girl came down the stairs and walked to a back room behind the bar. Both boys followed her with their eyes all the way down the stairs, until she disappeared into the door. Then they took up their conversation right where they left off, without saying a word about what they had just seen.

“Naw, Joe, I ain’t no ranch hand and I sure ain’t no wrangler.” That just wouldn’t work. But I ‘preciate the offer, just the same.”

“Well if you don’t want to work on the Ponderosa, you could ride with me to Virginia City, it’s just as good as Carson City and we got lots of pretty girls in Virginia City. I could even introduce ya to some. And I know you like pretty girls!”

“Well I tell ya what, ask me again tomorrow and I’ll let you know.”

“It’s a deal!” Joe said. He looked at the clock on the wall and said, “Well, I’d better get over to the hotel and see about a room and that bath. I have to meet someone for dinner, but maybe after that, we could see what else there is to see in Carson City. There’s got to be more where that one came from.” William didn’t need an explanation of what Joe was talking about and Joe didn’t expect him to.


Chapter 6


Joe was thinking of excuses he could use to get out of this dinner as early as possible as he walked down the stairs. He was dressed in a clean white shirt and black string tie, thanks to Hop Sing, who had insisted that he should bring it “just in case”. His hair, still slightly damp from his bath was curling a little on the ends of his collar; he nervously raked his fingers through his hair again as he walked into the dining room. He saw Mr. Hubert rise and beckon to him as he entered the room. Mr. Hubert made the introductions as he was being seated.

“Joseph, allow me to introduce my wife, Sarah, my sons, Brendan and John, and my daughter, Amanda.”

Joe gave each of them a warm and friendly smile as he acknowledged the introductions. However when he got to the last introduction, his smile was positively beaming. It was the girl from the buggy. She was wearing a lighter blue dress, and her hair was hanging in soft curls down her back, but he would have recognized that face and smile and blue eyes anywhere.

“Pleased to meet you all.” Joe said, but it was obvious to all around whom he was MOST pleased to meet.

“Hey you’re the guy ridin’ that pretty black and white horse, ain’t ya?” John asked.

“John, please use some of the grammar you learned in school!” his mother scolded.

Joe laughed and said, “I sure am, John. That is Cochise and he is handsome, John, not pretty!”

“I thought he was awesome, too, Joseph” Amanda said.

“Please call me Joe.” He said, smiling and his eyes sparkling .

Conversation at the dinner table that night was friendly and exciting. Joe and Brendan chatted easily, although each was certain that the other one was wasting their life. Brendan, two years older than Joe was going East to go to college next month. Joe couldn’t believe anyone besides his brother Adam wanting to go to college, and Brendan couldn’t understand why someone as obviously bright as Joe was would choose to just be a rancher. But they were both too polite to voice their opinions. Joe couldn’t believe his good luck. And he was awe-struck when he found out that it was getting better and better.

“Joe, I saw a sign that there is a dance at the town hall tonight. We thought we’d check it out. We’d be happy for you to accompany us.” Mr. Hubert said.

“Oh please do, Joe. Then it’ll be fun!” Amanda blurted out.

Her mother gave her a warning look and she blushed. Her father and brother Brendan, who had caught the warning look and the following blush, both laughed, but they declined to say what they were laughing at. Joe was so excited to have an opportunity to go to a dance with the prettiest girl he’d ever seen didn’t seem to notice. However, when her family finally resumed their conversation, he caught her eye and winked, causing her to blush again. But she smiled at him the entire time she was blushing.

Joe and Amanda had a wonderful time at the dance. They danced every dance together, and only sat out a few dances to get something to drink or to talk. Other girls tried to get Joe’s attention and several boys tried to get Amanda’s attention, but they only had eyes for each other that night. Mr. and Mrs. Hubert watched them with amusement. “I think perhaps it is time for us to pay a visit to the Ponderosa, Sarah, don’t you?” Mr. Hubert asked. “Why you know, I’d love to see the Ponderosa. I’ve heard you talk about Ben Cartwright so much. Perhaps after Brendan goes off to college, we should pay a visit. I am sure that John and Amanda wouldn’t mind.” “Yep and I bet the Cartwrights might even consider visiting Seattle sometime in the near future—at least the youngest Cartwright, anway.” They laughed and then joined the other dancers on the floor doing a Virginia reel. The only person who wasn’t having such a great time was John, who was tired of all those sissy girls who kept looking at him and giggling. Brendan and Joe both heard him muttering about those “silly ol’ girls” and shared another laugh. “Just you wait, John, before long you want think of ’em as silly.” “Oh yes, I will!” he said emphatically.


Chapter 7


After the dance ended, Joe had walked Amanda back to the hotel, following as far behind her parents and brothers as they could possibly manage. When they got to the hotel door, Brendan took John on inside, and Mr. and Mrs. Hubert stopped to tell Joe goodnight. “You tell your Pa, that he can expect some visitors in the near future, Joe. I have a strong premonition that Amanda is going to want to see some more of the West before we return to Seattle.”

“Hot diggety!” Joe said and he beamed at the Hubert’s.

“Amanda, we’re going to go on up to our room. You can say goodnight to Joseph, but come right upstairs then.” Mrs. Hubert said, looking pointedly at Amanda.

“Well goodnight, young man. Give my regards to your father. Amanda, 5 minutes.” He said firmly.

After kissing Amanda good night and making some plans for guaranteeing that the Huberts’ would be visiting the Ponderosa before their return to Seattle, Joe escorted her to her room. When she was safely inside, he went whistling to his own room, earning him a yelled “Quiet out there!” from a hotel guest. He went to his room and changed clothes, putting on his regular pants and shirt, and decided to go see if he could find his new friend William for a beer or a hand of poker.

He went to several saloons, but didn’t see his new friend. The last saloon he went to was empty and the place had been wrecked. Joe noticed that the barkeeper was scrubbing the floor in front of the bar.

“Whoa, this place must have been hoppin’ earlier. Looks like I’m too late for the party.”

“Warn’t no party, sonny. What it was was a killin’. Be glad you wasn’t here. You mighta wound up like that other man did.”

Joe’s eyes widened in surprise. “Who was killed and who killed him?”

“Aw it was one of the local ranch hands. He accused some drifter of cheatin’ at cards and afore I knew it—we done had us a dead ‘un. That drifter was one of them quick draw gunmen.”

Joe, ever curious, asked “Well did the sheriff charge the man?”

“Sheriff didn’t have no chance. He high-tailed it outta here before the smoke cleared. He’s probably in the next county by now.”

Joe would have liked to hear more but decided he was going to have to go somewhere else if he wanted that beer before he went back to the hotel, so he said good night to the bartender and crossed the street, to go to the one saloon he hadn’t been in yet. This saloon was a little rowdier than the other one, but he didn’t see William. He ordered his beer, which arrived warm. He wound up drinking only a few swallows before he decided that he’d just head back to the hotel and try to find William in the morning.

He slept soundly that night and woke up later than he’d planned to. He knew he would have to leave right away so that he would get home soon enough that his father wouldn’t come looking for him. He was determined to give his father no ammunition to use against him the next time he had an opportunity to do something on his own. He got up and dressed quickly and went downstairs. He opted to forego breakfast and just go ahead and head home. When he was checking out, he asked the clerk if he could leave a message for Mr. Bonney.

“Mr. Bonney? We ain’t got no one registered under that name, Mr. Cartwright.”

“You sure?” Joe asked, incredulously.

The clerk looked at the register and then turned it around on the desk for Joe to see for himself. He quickly scanned the names of guests in the past week. He Evans, Johnson, Hubert, and McCarty, but no Bonney. “Hmm. Guess I just misunderstood him then or else he changed his mind.” Joe paid the clerk and quickly left the hotel for the livery stable.

“Hey Coch, how ya doin’? Did you find something to entertain yourself last night?” Joe talked to the horse as he quickly and skillfully saddled him and readied him for the trip, carefully checking to make sure that the horse was in top shape for the journey. He paid the livery stable owner and enthusiastically mounted Cochise for the ride home. They rode for a couple of hours, then Joe decided to stop and make a pot of coffee and get Cochise some fresh water at the stream they’d passed yesterday.

Joe went about making a small fire and putting on a pot of coffee. After giving Cochise fresh water using his hat for him to drink from, he sat down and leaned back against a rock, waiting for the coffee to boil. He appeared to be completely relaxed. Suddenly however, his gun was in his hand and he said, “You want to come out where I can see ya, or do you just want me to start firing into that bush, you’re hiding behind?” Laughter emerged first from behind the bush, then slowly William Bonney emerged, a grin on his face.

“Cartwright, you ain’t as dumb as I thought you were.”

“Well now and you aren’t as smart as you think you are, either, so that makes us about even, I guess.” Joe laughed and pointed to the coffee.

“You got a cup on that horse you got hid over there?”

William laughed and went over behind the brush and was back immediately with a tin cup. Joe took the cup and poured them both a mug of hot coffee. William took the first swallow and opened his eyes wide and shook his head, “What are you trying to do, Cartwright, poison me?” Joe laughed as he took a swallow himself and said, “My Pa always told me drinking strong coffee would put hair on my chest.” He was quiet for a minute and then laughed again, “Hasn’t worked so far though.”

“You still serious ’bout wanting some company to Virginia City?” William asked.

“Dead serious. I’d be happy for the company. Sure you don’t want to try working at the Ponderosa? My Pa is fair.”

“Trust me on this Joe. It wouldn’t work out. It’s better if we just see how it goes in Virginia City. I don’t tend to stay in one place too long.”

“Well suit yourself then. Finish up that coffee and let’s get going. I want to get home early. Hop Sing’ll have something special for dinner tonight. Hey now that’s an idea—you can have dinner with us before you go to Virginia City. In fact you can sleep there tonight and go on to Virginia City tomorrow.”

William started to protest but Joe said “Now I’m not taking no for an answer. You’re staying for dinner and that’s final.”

“Cartwright you are as stubborn a cuss as I’ve ever met. If you promise to quit harping at me, I’ll stay for dinner and then go on to Virginia City.”

“Deal!” said Joe. Joe got up and took what was left of his second cup of the strong chicory-flavored coffee and poured it in his hands and held it out for Cochise, who drank it up in no time flat. When he turned around, William was staring at him with something close to astonishment on his face. Joe looked at him, winked and said, “He’s a real bear ’til he gets his cup of coffee in the mornin’!”

“Cartwright, you do beat all.” William said and both of the young men laughed.

The rest of the ride to the Ponderosa was uneventful; they stopped briefly several times to allow the horses to rest or to drink and graze. Joe had noticed that William’s horse was not as sturdy and strong as Cochise, so he didn’t want to wear him out. Around about 2 o’clock, William said, “Joe when are we ever gonna get to this Ponderosa you keep talkin’ about?”

“We’ve been on the Ponderosa since right before I stopped to make the coffee” Joe answered. William’s eyebrows raised, but he didn’t say anything. “We’ll be to the ranch house in about an hour.” Joe said. By this time, they were both tired and a bit saddle sore, so their conversation was minimal, each lost in his own thoughts. Joe’s thoughts were of Amanda and her family’s pending visit. He and Amanda had strategized several different ways that Amanda could make sure that the visit would happen. She had assured him that she could handle her father. He had no doubt that she was right.

William’s thoughts were less pleasant; he thought of the events of the past few weeks and wondered what would be in store for him in Virginia City. But with the resiliency of youth, he determined to let tomorrow take care of itself. Right now he had a good friend, the promise of a hot meal, and open country all around him—what more could a boy from Kansas want?


Chapter 8


Shortly before 3:00, Ben Cartwright heard horses riding into the yard. He forced himself to remain seated at his desk, resisting the urge to rush to the door to see if it were Joseph. He had spent a very restless night and day, worrying about his youngest son. He went over and over scenarios of what could happen to someone as young and impulsive and hot-tempered as Joseph without the calming influence of him or his brothers. But he also knew that Joseph was getting older and that he wouldn’t be able to protect him forever; Joseph had to learn to handle himself on his own. He just hoped it was not at a price that would be too costly to pay.

He heard the footsteps of two people and let out a disappointed sigh. It’s probably Adam and Hoss coming to see if Little Joe were back yet, he thought. He was immensely relieved when the door slammed open and he heard Little Joe shouting, “Pa!” before he even looked into the room. “Joseph, for goodness sakes, is all that yelling necessary?” Ben said as he rushed forward to meet him. Now that he knew Joe was home safe, he didn’t want to reveal how worried he’d been.

“Pa, this is my friend William Bonney. He rode back from Carson City with me and I invited him to dinner. William, this is my father, Ben Cartwright.”

“Hello, William, nice to meet you. Do come in and have a seat. I’ll ask Hop Sing….”

“Little Joe! Come inside and sit down. Hop Sing bring cool drink. You eat lunch, Little Joe?” Before Joe could answer, Hop Sing looked around and saw William. “You sit down. Hop Sing bring refreshment.”

“Great, Hop Sing.” Joe saw the look on William’s face and with a deadpan expression on his face, said “he worries about me,” and laughed again. Ben smiled too. It was no secret that Hop Sing felt a special closeness for Little Joe, probably because he had loved Marie so much.

Joe reached into his jacket pocket and handed the receipt to his father. “Here you go, Pa. Signed by Mr. Hubert himself.” “Mark Hubert was there?” Ben asked in surprise, “I haven’t seen him since…”. “My 12th birthday, yeah I know.” Joe said. “But, Pa, Mr. Hubert said he would love to have a look at the Ponderosa again and see that timber and I invited them to come for a visit before they go back to Seattle.” Joe said, in a rush.

“Well that is fine, Joseph. You know that, but who is “they”?”

“Well his wife and children, Pa.”

“Oh yes, I recall that he had a daughter just about your age, Joseph. Was she in Carson City with her father, by any chance?” Joe looked at Pa with a wounded look on his face and then broke out laughing, “Yeah Pa and she sure is pretty.”

“Well I see, little brother that you managed to find a young lady to fall under your charms even in Carson City for just one night.” A voice interrupted. Hoss and Adam had come in the door quietly while the conversation was going on. “Hey Hoss, Adam. Meet my friend, William Bonney.” Routine pleasantries were made and no one except William Bonney noticed the expression on Adam’s face change when his name was mentioned. And it happened so fast, that he wasn’t sure that he saw it himself. “Be careful.” He warned himself.


Chapter 9


Just as the introductions were made, Hop Sing came in bearing a tray with coffee and sandwiches and cookies. Joe grabbed a sandwich and then offered the plate to William who also took a sandwich.

“William, if you think you’re gonna want another one, best get it now. Hoss has that hungry look in his eyes”.

“Well, dadburn it little brother, I haven’t had nothin’ to eat for two hours. I worked up an appetite doin’ your chores for you this morning.”

“William, where are you from?” Adam asked as the others watched Hoss wolf down a sandwich before they had even started theirs.

“Well, I guess you could say I was from Kansas; but I been travelin’ quite a bit in the last year or two.” William said cautiously.

“William, you look awfully young to be on your own for so long. Don’t you have any kinfolks?” Ben asked kindly.

“No, sir. My folks is dead. But I ain’t as young as you might think.” William answered. Ben could hear a hint of defensiveness so he didn’t press any more.

After an awkward silence of a few seconds, Joe said jokingly, “Don’t pay any attention to ’em, William. They treat me like a kid, too.”

“Well, Joseph, at the risk of treating you like a kid, may I recommend that you and William get cleaned up and then after you rest a bit, perhaps you could help Adam and Hoss do your chores. And by the way, Joseph, get your feet off the furniture.” Hoss, Ben, Adam, and even William laughed as Joe quickly got his feet off the table.

After they finished the sandwiches, Joe told Ben he’d take him up on the cleaning up part at least. Hop Sing came through just at that time and announced, “Bath water ready for Mr. Little Joe now. Mr. William want take bath?”

William would not agree to clean up in the house, he preferred the bunkhouse. Hoss showed him the way and tried to make friendly conversation as they walked behind the barn to the bunkhouse.

“Why do you keep going around, William. Didja ever think about settlin’ down in one place?”

“Yeah I’ve thought about it, just never works out that way.” The expression on his face showed Hoss that this was as much as he was going to get out of Joe’s new friend.

Dinner that night was a bountiful feast prepared by Hop Sing in honor of Joe’s safe return. “Hey Joe, I think we need you to go off more often, this is the best meal I have eaten since…….”

“Lunch” Adam interjected, to a round of laughter from the Cartwrights.

“What kind of work do you do, William?” Adam asked when everyone’s plates had been filled.

“Oh I do all sorts of things if I put my mind to it.” William answered evasively.

“What kind of things?” Adam asked.

“Hey William, we can always use a ranch hand or a wrangler on the Ponderosa” Joe said, “why not give it a try?”

“What was your last job, William?” Adam asked again.

William Bonney knew at that moment that Adam Cartwright was not asking random questions and he felt that tingling sensation on the back of his neck and down his arm that he always got before…

“Adam, good grief, what are you trying to do here? You sound like some lawyer asking questions or something. He said he’d done lots of things” Joe said, his facial expression tight and his jaws clenched slightly.

Ben saw the tension rising between his oldest and youngest son and started to intervene; Hoss, however, did it for him.

“Hey William, you’d better have some more of this roast beef and potatoes–finest beef in Nevada.” With this he passed the platter of meat to William, then looking at Adam he said, “Adam, would you quit hogging all them sweet potatoes and pass ’em down this way. Why Ihaven’t had but two or three of ’em yet.”

The remainder of the meal passed uneventfully. Adam didn’t ask any more questions, but he listened intently to the conversation. He realized as his brothers didn’t, that William asked a lot about them, the Ponderosa, Virginia City, etc, but he revealed nothing about himself. He determined to investigate his suspicions tomorrow, but he knew he would have to get facts before trying to talk to Little Joe, who was obviously blind to the inconsistencies of his new friend’s story. Hoss seemed to be just as taken with the mysterious “William Bonney” as Little Joe.


Chapter 10


“Pa, I have to go into Virginia City to check on something this morning.” Adam said as he and his father sat down at the breakfast table. Hoss and Joe were still finishing morning chores in the barn. Hoss had stayed to help Joe finish his chores, since as usual, he’d slept later than the rest of them.

“Fine, Son, but didn’t you go to Virginia City yesterday?”

“Yes, Pa, but I need to go again. I want to do some checking on…”

The front door slamming announced the arrival of the two younger Cartwright boys and Hoss and Joe quickly came over to the dining table.

“Hmm Hmm. I do believe I smell flapjacks! Hop Sing! You better start firing up that griddle, I believe I can all these here in one swallow.” Hoss said heartily, helping his plate as he talked. Just at that time, Hop Sing came into the dining room bringing a tray of piping hot flapjacks and bacon and placing it on the table in front of the family. He stood back and watched, his eyes pleased as he saw the Cartwright family dig in. Perhaps he had a particular fondness for Little Joe, but Hoss’ appetite was a great compliment to his culinary skills and satisfaction.

Adam’s comment was forgotten in the spirited conversation and hearty eating of breakfast. Soon they finished breakfast and started out to their day’s work.

“Pa, I won’t be home for dinner tonight; I’m going into Virginia City and I’ll get something there.” Joe said as he was buckling up his holster. Ben half-frowned but didn’t refrained from saying what he wanted to say. Instead he said, “well don’t be late, Joe, we have a lot of work to get done and you are hard enough to get out of bed these days.” He managed a light-hearted manner which made Joe grin. “Who me, Pa?” “Yes, specifically you, Joseph.”

Joe went to do a little bit more work with the horses that he had broken, wanted to make sure that they hadn’t backslidden since he’d ridden them. Hoss and Adam went to over-see the final count for the round-up. After they got there and got things well in hand, Adam rode over and grinned at Hoss. “Hey Hoss, would you mind finishing up here on your own? I have some errands to run in town.”

“No Adam go ahead. Nothin’ much left to do here but sign the tally sheet anyhow. I thought I’d go watch our little brother work with those horses some. He sure is a sight to see.” Adam raised his eyebrows at Hoss’ comment and then grinned, “I’ll see ya, tonight, Hoss. Thanks.”

“No problem, Adam.” Hoss said, then as Adam was riding away, Hoss looked back at him and said, “Hey Adam, what’s her name?” Adam, puzzled by the question, asked “whose name, Hoss?”

“Your ‘errand’s name, big brother. You don’t expect me to believe you ain’t going to see a girl, are you?”

Adam laughed, waved, and urged Sport forward, thinking to himself that it was no use in trying to explain to Hoss what his mission was. Besides, he thought, I just may have time to see Roberta Johnson while he was in town.

When Adam got into Virginia City he went straight to Sheriff Coffee’s office to talk to the Sheriff about his suspicions. Roy was not in the office at the moment and he didn’t want to talk to the deputy, because he was new and Adam didn’t know if he could be trusted or not. Adam was a cautious person and he didn’t “accept” people on faith–he always waited and let the person show their true colors before he trusted someone. Hoss and Joe on the other hand, were just the opposite. Hoss trusted everybody, which sometimes led to disappointment. Joe generally either accepted someone or formed an almost instant distrust for a person. Unfortunately, Adam thought, he seemed to trust William Bonney instantly. And Adam knew he had seen that name before and he was determined to get to the bottom of it.

“Where can I find Roy?” he asked the Deputy.

“He’s over at the livery stable seeing about getting the horse’s re-shod.” The deputy told him, as he leaned his chair back against the wall, flipping through wanted posters. “Hey let me have a look at that one” Adam said, reaching over to pick up a particular poster.


Chapter 11


Joe spent most of the day riding each of the horses they were selling to the army, making sure that the roughness was out of them and that they were ready for intensive training. He skipped lunch, much to Hop Sing’s dismay; though Hoss made up for it by eating double portions. When he had ridden all of the horses and assured himself they were ready, he headed to the ranch house to get cleaned up. He bathed, shaved, and even put on some of his bay rum. When he came downstairs Hoss whistled and said “you sure do look purty, Little Joe and you smell purty too.” “Why don’t you come to town with me, Hoss? It’ll be good for your reputation to be out on the town with me” Joe teased his brother.

“I think perhaps your staying home with Hoss would be good for your reputation, Joseph.”

“Oh, Hi, Pa. I didn’t know you were here” Joe said with a sheepish grin on his face as his father came out of the kitchen with a fresh cup of coffee.

“I gathered that, son.” Ben smiled at his son. “Hoss is right, Joe, you do smell and look purty.” Joe, in a good mood laughed with them.

“You coming, Hoss?”

“Heck no, Joseph. I don’t know what Hop Sing’s cooking, but it smells even better than you do. Besides, with you skipping lunch and dinner at home, his feelings is gonna be terribly hurt, Joseph. It’s my duty to stay here and make sure he’s appreciated. I’m doing it for all our sakes.”

Joe put his arm on Hoss’ shoulder and looked him seriously in the eyes. “I appreciate the sacrifice you’re making for us all, big brother. I won’t forget you for this.” Then with a grin and a wink, he grabbed his hat and hurried out the door, saying “Good night, Hoss. Good night, Pa. Don’t wait up!” With that, he went out and swung up onto Cochise and headed into Virginia City.

About a mile from the house, he ran into Adam who was coming home. “Hey big brother. Where’d you get off to today?” Joe said jovially.

“I had some errands to run in town, Joe.” Adam said, no teasing in his tone of voice.

“Yep, well I got some errands of my own and I’d better get a move on.” Joe said, not noticing the somber expression on Adam’s face. He started to move Cochise forward, but Adam put his hand on Joe’s shoulder, “Joe there is something I need to talk to you about.” He started.

Joe looked at him, his mind clearly already in Virginia City, and said, “Oh what is it Adam?” Adam could tell that his brother would not pay attention to him and perhaps he should talk to his Pa first anyway. Joe was always so difficult to know how to talk to, he thought again. “Oh, never mind, it’ll keep. Go on and have fun.”

That was all Joe wanted to hear, he looked at Adam and gave him a full smile, winked and laughed and said, “See ya, Adam.” And nudged Cochise to get going again. Adam sat there on Sport watching his brother for several minutes, wishing his suspicions had been groundless, but knowing that they were not.


Chapter 12


When Joe rode into Virginia City, he went straight to the Bucket of Blood, one of his favorite saloons. It was noisier and livelier than the Silver Dollar and he enjoyed the charged atmosphere and besides, they had the best looking saloon girls in town. He tied Cochise to the hitching rail, making sure he could reach the water trough and then quickly walked into the saloon and went up to the bar. The bartender, Pete, had drawn off a beer when he saw him at the door, and set it in front of him as he reached the bar. Joe smiled and took a long swallow, then wiped the foam off his mouth onto his green jacket sleeve. “That hits the spot, Pete.”

“Yeah, Joe there’s nothing better’n a cold beer to wash trail dust outta ya gullet.”

“Yeah, have ya got a cold beer?” Pete looked confused momentarily and then getting the joke, laughed with Joe.

Joe talked to several girls and the ranch hands who were playing poker for the next 30 minutes or hour. Then he began to think he should see if he could find William. “Hey Pete, has someone come in here by the name of William Bonney?” he asked. “Nope. Not that I know of anyhow, Joe.” Pete quickly disappeared into the room behind the bar before Joe could ask any more questions. Joe asked the men playing poker the same question; they seemed to get nervous, but he attributed it to a bad hand at the current poker game.

One of the girls overheard him ask and volunteered, “he was in here earlier today, but he ain’t been back since the fight broke out.” “Fight? Did the Bar B and the Lazy O boys get into it again?” Joe asked smiling. “No, Joe, Mr. Bonney started the fight, called someone a cheat at cards. He’d have killed ‘im too if the Sheriff and your brother hadn’t come in here and carted him off to jail.” Joe’s smile faded and was replaced by a tense look. “Whatta mean the Sheriff and my brother carted him off to jail?” “I don’t know Joe, ask your brother or the Sheriff. Just leave me out of it, all right?”

Joe put his half-full beer glass on the bar, dropped some coins on the counter, and turned to leave the saloon as quickly as he had come in. He untied Cochise and mounted him for the short ride to the Sheriff’s office.

Joe practically jumped off Cochise before he stopped and hurriedly hitched him to the rail in front of the Sheriff’s office. In two steps he was at the door and with no hesitation pushed the door open. Roy Coffee was pouring a cup of coffee when he barged in. “Hey, Joe, how ya doing?”

“Where is he? Have you got him in jail, Roy?” Joe said, his eyes narrowed as he looked from Roy to the door leading to the cells.

“Well good evening to you, too, Little Joe.” Roy said with just enough sarcasm to make Joe back down a little bit.

“Sorry, Sheriff. But they said you took William Bonney to jail just for callin’ someone a card cheater” he said, his temper rising again.

“Joe in answer to your question, the only person I got in my jail right now is Luke Taylor sleepin’ off a binge.”

“But they told me you…”

“Hold your horses, Son. I did bring Mr. Bonney over to the jail to ask ‘im some questions, that’s all. Now why is that any of your business?”

“They said Adam was with you, Roy.”

“Well as a matter of fact he was, but I don’t see that makes it yore business, Little Joe.”

“William’s a friend of mine and that makes it my business, Sheriff.”

“How long ya been knowin’ this so-called friend of yor’n Joe?”

“What difference does that make, Sheriff? He’s a friend now. What did you question him about?”

“Well now, Joe seein’ as how yore Pa is a friend o’ mine and I’ve been knowin’ you since you was a young ‘un, I’ll tell you.”

Joe stared at him without saying a word.

“Adam had some questions and suspicions about the identity of your friend and when he tol’ me about ’em, I agreed with him.”

“Well there’s been some talk about a young-lookin’ gun-slinger that fits the description of your friend Mr. Bonney.”

“Gunslinger?! Just because he got into a fight over a crooked game of cards don’t make him a gun-slinger, Roy.”

“Yeah that’s right, Little Joe and that I ain’t what I said neither. Now look all I did was ask your friend a few questions about his whereabouts for the last couple of weeks and then I let ‘im go.”

This statement defused Joe’s anger. “Well why didn’t you say so Roy?”

“On account of you was too busy leaping to conclusions, Joe, that’s why.”

“Well I’m glad that you are satisfied. Did he say where he was headed?”

“No, Joe he didn’t. But Joe, I still aint so certain he was tellin’ me the truth. I sent a few wires around to confirm his story and if it don’t wash, I’ll be talkin’ to him agin. I advise you to be careful getting involved with that feller, Joe. He has a bad smell to him iff’n ya ask me.”

When Joe left the Sheriff’s office he visited several saloons before he found William Bonney at one of the rowdier saloons in town. But once he went inside, he had no trouble finding William; he was the center of attention. He was at the bar telling stories and buyin’ drinks. “Hey, Cartwright, come on and I’ll buy ya a drink” he said when he saw Joe. Joe laughed and said, “You sure there’s any left?” referring to William’s obvious inebriation. “Heck ya, plenty enough left to drink with my friends.”

Joe accepted a beer and sipped it and listened to his friend continue telling tales to entertain the other patrons of the saloon and the women servin’ the drinks. William had a way with women and with words, Joe discovered. And as long as his money held out, he’d have lots of both, he reasoned.

“Mr. Bonney…”

“Why not just call me Billy?” William smiled at her and pulled the dark-haired girl close in an embrace, which she didn’t resist. From then on in the saloon, everyone called him Billy. Eventually Billy grew tired of entertaining his many friends, so he said loudly, “All right, the party’s over. Me and my friend Cartwright got lots to talk about. Come on, Joe, let’s move over there to a table where it’s quieter.”

Joe was halfway sorry to leave the merry crowd, but also wanted to find out what William had to say about his visit by the Sheriff.

“William, I’m sorry ’bout what Adam did.” He started, still steamed at Adam for trying to make trouble for his friend.

“Don’t worry bout it Cartwright. You’re big brother was just looking out for his kid brother the way I see it. And you know he was right.”

“Right? What do ya mean he was right?”

“I ain’t good company for ya Joe. He just wanted me to stay away from his little brother. That’s what he told me and he was right—I ain’t fit comp’ny for ya, Joe.”

“I’ll decide who my friends are, William.”

“Call me Billy, I’m tired of bein’ William–sounds too fancy. Aw, just forget about it, Joe. It don’t matter. I’m used to it.” And after that, no matter how Joe tried to bring the subject up again, Billy wouldn’t talk about it. Joe and Billy drank too much and as the night went on, their friendship strengthened.


Chapter 13


Ben and Adam and Hoss were having breakfast when Joe came downstairs. From the looks of him, they knew that he had stayed out too late and drank too much. Ben frowned, but didn’t say anything. He generally preferred to talk privately to his sons when he felt they needed counsel. Joe came and slid into his place and without speaking, poured himself a cup of coffee. Hoss passed a platter with crisp bacon and fried eggs; Joe took the plate, looked at it, frowned, and set it back down on the table.

“Well good morning Joseph.” Ben finally said as he realized Joe was not going to speak on his own.

“Mornin’” Joe mumbled and continued to keep his eyes turned from his father and to concentrate only on his mug of steaming coffee. Ben’s lips set in a tight grimace, and he stared at his youngest son. Soon Joe looked up at his father as if he had felt the look from his father. He halfway shrugged and said, “I’m sorry I was late to breakfast, Pa.”

“Joseph perhaps if you hadn’t been so late coming home last night, you wouldn’t have been late for breakfast.” Ben said tersely. Joe didn’t answer, just kept drinking his coffee, hoping it would make the pounding in his head decrease.

Ben sighed and got up from the table, “Joseph I’d like to talk to you this evening before dinner. Please be sure to be here. I’m going over to see Hank Naughton this morning, boys. I’ll see you this afternoon.”

“Hey Pa, wait up and I’ll ride with you. I’m going over to check that herd over near the dry ridge.” Hoss said, pushing back from the table and throwing the large checkered red and white napkin on the table. When he got up, he patted Joe on the shoulder and said, “See ya later, Shortshanks!” and laughed heartily when Joe groaned.

As soon as Ben and Hoss left the house, Joe turned to Adam and said, “Why’d ya try to make trouble for William, Adam?”

“Joe, I wasn’t tryin’ to make trouble for him, but I was trying to keep you out of trouble.” After he said it, he knew that the wrong thing to say to his volatile brother, but it was too late—the damage was done.

“What makes you think that I need you to keep me out of trouble, Adam?” Joe said heatedly, despite the pounding in his head.

Adam replied calmly, “Look Joe all I meant was that William Bonney’s name and face seemed familiar to me—seemed like I’d seen a wanted poster on him when I was in Denver, and I just wanted Roy to check it out. And if he was wanted, you didn’t need to be hanging around with him!.” By this time Adam’s patience was wearing thin too. After all, he had only tried to help Little Joe and despite Joe’s protestations–he was just a kid.

“Well I hope you’re satisfied now that the Sheriff let him go. I guess you were wrong about him, Adam. So how about leaving him alone. And while you’re at it—keep your nose out of my business too.” His voice was loud and harsh.

Adam took a deep breath and let out an exasperated sigh, “You are too stubborn for your own good, little brother and one day someone is gonna pound it out of you.”

“Do you wanta try Adam?” Joe said, looking fiercely at his brother, his dark eyes snapping with hostility.

“No, Little Joe. Not today; it wouldn’t be a fair fight.”

With that he turned and headed out the door, leaving Little Joe sitting at the table alone. When he got to the end of the dining room, he turned back and said, “And I still think there is more to your new friend than you think and if he is who I think he is—you oughta stay away from him.” He turned and grabbing his hat and gunbelt, he went out the door, slamming it as he did. When the door slammed, Joe held his head and grimaced. He was thinking that if his head didn’t already hurt so bad, he’d go teach Adam a lesson. But that would have to wait.


Chapter 14


Life on the Ponderosa went on pretty much as usual over the next two weeks. They were very busy on the ranch and none of the Cartwrights had much time to think about other things. Adam kept his distance from Little Joe, preferring to let him be as long as he wasn’t hanging out with that Bonney kid anyway. He did share his concerns with Ben and he agreed with him that it was wiser for Little Joe to stay away from him.

“Maybe we’ll be lucky Adam and the boy will be gone on by the time Little Joe can get off the ranch. I’ll do my best to keep him busy.”

Finally after the army came and picked up the horses and the herd was off on the trail drive and all the work was caught up, Joe figured he was due a night out. He came downstairs just as the others sat down to eat. Rather than coming over to the table, he headed to the door. He stopped and said, “Pa, I’m goin’ to Virginia City. I’ll eat something there.” Adam and Ben shared a look of concern, and it was not unnoticed by Joe.

“Joseph, I guess you are entitled to a trip into Virginia City, but please be careful.” Ben said, giving Joe a serious look.

“Careful about what Pa? Crossing the street? Getting run over by a wagon? Just what do you want me to be careful about Pa?” It was not unusual for Ben to tell Joe to be careful, he almost always said it when any of them went out. But Joe had seen the look between Adam and Ben and knew that Adam had been telling his tales to Pa and that irritated him to no end.

“Joseph! I mean for you to use common sense and good judgement tonight in everything you do—from how much you drink, to whom you drink with, and to when you get home! Is that clear enough for you?”

“Oh yes, sir, Pa. That’s good and clear. I can see Adam’s been stickin’ his nose in my business again.”

“Well somebody has to look out for you, you sure don’t do such a good job of it yourself” Adam interjected.

Hoss, the peacemaker interrupted at this point and kept the situation from escalating to a full battle between his older and younger brothers.

“Hey you two, you’re just edgy from all the hard work we’ve been doing for the past few weeks. Just settle down. Joe, I’m coming into Virginia City after supper, I’ll look for ya to buy me a beer. “

Hoss’s comment gave Ben time to regain his composure, settled Adam down, and gave Little Joe time to rein in his own temper some.
“Perhaps Hoss is right; we’ve all been working too hard lately. Joe, go on into town and have fun, Son.”

Joe said, “All right Pa. Sorry for losing my temper.”

As he started to disappear from view, Ben said, “Joe?”

“Yes Pa?”

“Be careful, Son.”

Joe chuckled, “All right, Pa”, and went out the door. Shortly they heard him riding off at a gallop.


Chapter 15


Joe was surprised at the lack of activity on a Friday night in Virginia City. There were only a few horses tied in front of the usually crowded saloons. He stopped at the Bucket of Blood, the one that looked the most active and went inside. There were far more saloon girls in the saloon than there were patrons. When they saw Little Joe, several of them said, “Hey Little Joe, you’re a sight for sore eyes. Come on and have a drink with us. We’re dying of boredom here.”

“What’s goin’ on in town? Where is everybody?” Joe said, accepting the proffered beer in one hand and sliding his arm around the waist of the girl who brought it.

“Well ever since that killin’ in here yesterday, business has been slow as molasses on a cold day.”

“What killin’?” Joe asked.

“Oh that boy they call Billy the Kid killed a man here yesterday. He claims it was self defense and I guess it was since the Sheriff let ‘im go.”

“Billy the Kid? Do you mean Billy Bonney?” Joe asked, a knot in his throat.

“Yeah that’s him, Joe. He seemed like a real nice feller too. He bought me a present even. But they say it don’t pay to cross him.”

Joe paid for the beer and despite the protests of the saloon girl he had his arm around, he said he had to go take care of something.

He went to the last place he had talked to Billy and sure enough, he was there. The drinks were flowing and the jokes and stories were rolling. Everyone was having a good time.

“Hey, Joe, buddy, come on in and have a beer on me.” Billy called out when he saw Joe.

“Hey Billy, how’re doing?” Joe said, watching his friend, looking for signs of —what he wasn’t sure. But surely if his friend were a gunslinger, there’d be something different in him. He saw nothing but a warm smile and laid back wit.

“Whatsa matter, Joe, you look plum’ troubled.” Billy said when he got a good look at Joe’s face.

“Can I talk to you Billy? Privately?”

“Sure, come on, let’s take our usual table.” He motioned to the bartender and he sent two whiskeys over to the table.

“Now what’s troubling you, Joe?” Billy said, looking genuinely concerned.

“Billy they said you killed a man yesterday. Is it true?”

Billy laughed and said, “Is that all that’s got ya upset? Yeah I did, Joe, but it was a fair fight and he drawed on me. I had to defend myself.” Suddenly, his eyes appearing more interested, he asked, “Is someone saying something different?”

“No, Billy, no one’s saying different.” Joe said, feeling somewhat better. After all, a man has to defend himself. That’s the law of the West.

“Sorry, Billy. I guess I just made too much of it. Tell me what you been up to while I’ve been working so hard. See, if you’d taken a job on the Ponderosa, maybe I’d get to come to town and court that dark-haired girl you seem to be so fond of over there.” Joe pointed to the same girl that Billy had been with the last time Joe was here. “Yeah aint she a purty thing, Joe?”

Hoss and Adam rode into Virginia City and went to the Silver Dollar, hoping Joe would be there waiting for Hoss. They knew it was a long shot, Joe generally went to the Bucket of Blood instead. They didn’t see Cochise but sometimes Joe took him to the livery, not liking to leave him on the street too long. Joe was a fool about that horse, they both thought.

“Hey Hoss, Adam. Haven’t seen you in a month of Sundays. What’ll it be?” Sam the bartender asked.
“Two beers, Sam. Have you seen Little Joe?”

“No, I aint seen Little Joe in two months of Sundays” Sam said.

Hoss looked around and commented on the lack of people in the saloon. “Man, Sam did somebody die or somethin’?”

“Well they’s been a few killin’s all right and they’ve got some people mighty scared as a matter o’ fact, boys.”

“Killings? You mean murder?” Hoss asked incredulously.

Sam quickly spoke up to correct Hoss’ assumption, “Oh no Hoss I didn’t say ‘murder”, I said ‘killings’. There’s a big difference. These were all shoot-outs and the dead men all drew first. Problem is they all drew down on the same person and he’s the one still walkin’ around.”

Adam spoke up, “I don’t suppose the fellow doin’ the killing would be a boy named William Bonney, now would it?”

“Well they ain’t callin’ him William, they call him Billy; but I guess that’d be the same man. He’s a young lookin’ feller; looks as young as Little Joe, come to think of it. They call him ‘Billy the Kid’, ‘cept not to his face. Most folks are afraid to talk to him outright.”

“Hoss, let’s go talk to Sheriff Coffee.” Adam said, throwing some coins down on the counter. “Thanks for the beer and the information, Sam.” He said as he hurried out the door with Hoss right behind him.


Chapter 16


Roy Coffee was coming out of the telegraph office as Hoss and Adam passed by.

“Hey Roy, we were just coming to see you.” Adam said.

“Hey, Adam, Hoss. Good to see you. Adam, looks like you were right ’bout that boy. Seems like he’s left several dead people in ever’ town he’s been in as far back as they can track ‘im.”

“Well Roy how come no one has put him in jail?” Hoss asked.

“Because he’s always got witnesses saying it’s self defense. Always a gunfight and the other person draws first. But more’n likely, he goads the other man into a fight.”

“What are you gonna do, Roy?”

“Not much I can do, but I can let him know that I’ll be keepin’ an eye on him and hopefully encourage him to move on. And how about doin’ me a favor—keep Little Joe away from him. I don’t want him getting’ involved in this. You know how he is.”

Adam and Hoss looked at each other and Hoss said, “Yeah, Roy, we know how he is and you know it aint gonna be easy. He thinks this Billy is his friend and well, you know.”

Hoss and Adam split up and went to all the local saloons looking for Little Joe. Unfortunately, Adam was the first to spot Cochise, hitched in front of one of the bawdier establishments where the liquor was watered down and the women were cheap. Adam reined in next to Cochise and went slowly into the saloon. He didn’t have to look long before finding his little brother. Little Joe and Billy were seated at a table with two saloon girls sitting in their laps. Billy was telling some funny story and the others were listening raptly, laughing frequently. Every now and then Joe would interrupt and add some embellishment to the tale.

Adam walked over toward the table and as he walked by, the noise of the saloon died down, as people watched to see what he wanted. He had never been in this particular saloon before and he looked very much out of place there. When he reached the table, he walked up right behind Little Joe and clapsed his hand tightly on Joe’s shoulder. “There you are, little brother. You about ready to come home? Hoss and I’ve been looking all over for you.” He tried to keep his voice light, but his grip was firm enough to convey to Joe that this was not a polite request.

“Adam whatta you doing here?” Joe asked, his hazel eyes blazing and his face tightly set. Adam could tell that once again, Joe had imbibed too much and although not drunk, was not completely sober.

“Like I said, Little Joe, Hoss and I thought you’d want to ride home with us and we been looking all over for you.” He tried to keep his voice level and even, but the tension was evident to others as they began to back away, not sure what was going to happen.

“Well you and Hoss wasted your time. I’m not ready to go home yet and I don’t want to ride home with ya.” Joe said, meeting Adam’s gaze. He reached up and tried to dislodge Adam’s hand from his shoulder, but rather than loosen his grip, Adam clenched tighter.

Adam’s voice got lower, steadier, and slower, “Joe, don’t do this the hard way. Come on out of here with me now.”

“Now, Adam, I believe my friend, Joe here made it clear he aint interested in goin’ with ya, so why don’t ya just get on outta here?” Billy said. His eyes were locked onto Adam’s and there was no trace of the humor or warmth present before, there was a coldness instead. Adam kept his grip on Joe, and stared at Billy, “Why don’t you mind your own business, Billy. This is my little brother and he’s goin’ home with me.” Adam’s eyes were determined and did not waiver.

About that time, a new voice joined in, “Joseph, there you are. I see you found ‘im, Adam. Now come on both of you, we got to make tracks and get home before that rain starts.” As he said this, he firmly took hold of Adam’s arm, which was still gripping Joe’s shoulder and began to pull them both away from the table. Joe by this time knew that if he stayed, it would cause a worse scene than had already happened, so he stood up, looked at Billy and said, “I’ll see ya tomorrow, Billy. I may as well go on home with these two. They won’t give me any peace ’til I do.” With that, he bent over and gave the girl he’d been keeping company with a swift kiss on the mouth, grabbed his hat and headed out the door. He jumped on Cochise and headed towards the Ponderosa, not waiting for Hoss and Adam. By the time Adam and Hoss got home, Joe had already bedded down Cochise and gone to his room, so Adam and Hoss could not talk to him that night.


Chapter 17


The next morning presented with dark gray skies, thunder and lightning, and a cool nip to the wind. The skies seemed to promise more where that came from, with no chance of it letting up. Ben declared the day a stay-at-home day, so all they had to do was routine barn chores. Joseph did not come to breakfast, sending a message through Hop Sing that he wasn’t hungry. Adam and Hoss took that opportunity and described what happened in Virginia City the night before, sparing no details, including the recommendation from Roy Coffee. Another man might have been offended by the Sheriff’s admonition about keeping Little Joe from becoming involved, but Ben Cartwright knew and respected Roy Coffee and knew that the message was well-intended—and right on target.

When Joe came downstairs a little later, Ben was waiting for him.

“Joe, we need to talk. Your brothers have been telling me what happened last night in Virginia City.”

Joe was immediately defensive, “Yeah and just what have they been telling you?” he asked, giving Adam a dark stare.

“Joseph, please watch that temper, young man. I’ve had just about all of it I am going to take!” Ben said forcefully. Joe bit his lip, but didn’t say anything.

“Now sit down and listen for once in your life. Do you realize that your brother couldn’t have gotten killed last night? Or had to kill Billy?” Ben asked.

“What? That’s crazy, Pa. What are you talking about?” Joe looked blankly at Hoss. “What’s he talkin’ about Hoss?”

“Joe your friend Billy is known as Billy the Kid now, but he has several other aliases too. And everywhere he goes people have a bad habit of winding up dead if they cross ‘im.” Hoss said.

“You mean that man in the saloon? That was self-defense, that’s all. The man drew on him, Pa. He had to shoot to defend himself.”

“Yes, Joe, but your friend apparently makes a habit of having to defend himself. Roy got answers to wires he sent and he’s been killing people everywhere he’s been—all the same, in self-defense.”

“Ah Adam, that’s ridiculous, he’s not like that. He’s funny and a little wild maybe, but that don’t make him a cold-blooded killer!” Joe was stubbornly defending his friend, refusing to believe that he could be wrong.

“Joseph, whether or not he does it on purpose or not, I can’t say. Only he knows what is in his heart. But I do know this; he could stop it by walking away or not wearing a gun.”


“Just a moment, Joseph, I’m not finished. I know one more thing. I do not want you hanging around with him. Roy said you and he were getting to be a regular at that Mexican saloon in Virginia City and I want that stopped right now. I do not want you to go back there, Joe. Is that understood?”

Joe stood there, his jaws clenched, his hands balled in fists at his side, his eyes blazing with anger. He said nothing.

“Joseph, I asked you a question. Do you understand?” Ben said firmly in a tone of voice that demanded an answer.

Joe stared for a few seconds longer, then swallowed hard.

“I understand all right Pa.”

“Good. Then let this be the end of it. William Bonney or whatever name he goes by now will move on in a few days and be out of our lives. You just stay on the Ponderosa ’til that happens.”

With that, Ben ended the discussion, hoping that he had handled it right. Joseph was so stubborn and so hard to deal with when there were conflicts over what they thought was right. After Joe had gone back upstairs and Hoss and Adam had wandered off to see if Hop Sing had fresh coffee brewing, Ben sat at his desk, staring at the picture of Marie. “Oh Marie, how would you have handled this?” he asked the smiling woman in the silver picture frame, not for the first time.


Chapter 18


Joe stayed in his room, pretending to read for most of the morning. He was actually trying to come to a resolution about what he was going to do about the afternoon. He went over and over the events of the evening before in his mind, recalling all the doubts he’d had when he’d first heard about the shooting in the saloon and what Billy had said when he’d asked him about it. He also went over what had transpired when Adam had come into the saloon to find him. Adam had told Pa that he thought he was going to have to have a gun fight with Billy if Hoss hadn’t showed up! Could that have been true? He wished he’d not had so much liquor so he could remember better. But the events were pretty fuzzy to him. All he could really remember was how mad he was at Adam for treating him like a little boy in front of Billy and the girl, Rosalita. He’d not paid any attention to Billy’s behavior at the time. But he did remember Billy saying something, but what was it? Adam must have been mistaken, that’s all it could be. Adam was just a worry wart, that’s all, Joe decided.

After he’d worked that out in his mind, he went on to the next problem. He hadn’t told Pa or his brothers, but he’d agreed to meet Billy up on Lender’s creek today. Billy said he wanted to find a place to get away from people and think for a while and Joe’d told him about the old prospector’s deserted cabin there. He’d planned to meet him at the creek and show him around. Billy said he just wanted some place to think and work out some problems in his mind. Joe certainly could understand that; he often had to do the same thing, though he generally went to visit his Mama’s grave to do his thinking.

He realized that since there was no way he could let William, or Billy or whatever his name was, know that he couldn’t meet him, without meeting him, that he would have to meet him. He knew he’d get in trouble if he got caught though; despite the fact that Pa hadn’t exactly told him not to see Billy. What he’d actually said was that he shouldn’t go back to that Mexican saloon and that he should just stay on the Ponderosa. Well that cabin was on the Ponderosa and he wasn’t going back to that saloon. A technicality, yes, but sometimes technicalities were the best you could get.

With his mind made up, Joe went downstairs at lunch and acted as if everything was okay. He wasn’t overly talkative, but he didn’t ignore Adam as he had been doing. He had found that when he changed his attitude too much at one time with no reason, that made his father even more suspicious. He had a lot of experience of dealing with his father on issues where his thinking and his Pa’s thinking did not mesh.

After lunch, the rain had stopped so Joe had no trouble getting out of the house. As he was saddling up, Hoss came out and asked where he was going and if he’d like some company. Joe knew that Hoss was looking for an invitation to go with him and ordinarily that would have been just fine. But he didn’t want to get Hoss involved if Pa found out about his meeting with Billy.

“Um, Hoss I’m going to go ride for a while to think a few things through. I think I’d better go alone.” Hoss’ momentary disappointment was replaced rapidly by understanding and he said, “All right Shortshanks, just don’t stay out there and brood all afternoon, ya hear?”

Joe grinned at his big brother, “Thanks, Hoss. I won’t. And I’ll beat you in a game of checkers when I get back.”

“All right, little brother, maybe I’ll practice while you’re gone so I can beat you for a change. Which way you headed, anyhow?”

Joe briefly considered lying, but he hated to tell an outright lie, especially to Hoss, so he just told the truth, “Gonna ride over to the creek and up to that ol’ prospector’s cabin. I’ll be back before dark.” With that, he swung into the saddle and with a wave to Hoss, headed toward Lender’s creek at a fast trot.


Chapter 19


When Joe reached the agreed-upon meeting place, he didn’t see Billy. Cochise was acting funny; however, giving Joe a clue that someone was hiding there.

“Billy? Is that you?”

Billy walked out from behind the shadow behind a rock, “Hey Cartwright, I was about to give up on ya. Figgered that high and mighty brother of yours wouldn’t let you come without him along as a chaperone.”

Billy’s words had the desired effect, Joe bristled at the thought of Adam telling him what to do. “Nope, Billy, I’m alone. You ready to ride?”

“Yep shore am. Let’s hit it.”

As they rode, Joe noticed Billy’s looking around nervously as if he thought they were being followed. Joe, reading Billy’s nervousness as being wary of highwaymen, reassured him “Billy, no one ever uses this place, ain’t no need to act so nervous—won’t be anyone around to rob you.”

“You never can tell, Joe. You never can tell. Don’t know who you can trust, ya know. Can’t trust friends or relatives.”

Joe ignored his friend’s gloomy philosophy and kept riding. Billy, however was in a talkative mood. “In fact, Cartwright, ya know the only people you can trust besides yourself?”

Joe just looked at him, thinking he must have been drinking all ready to be that talkative.

“The person you can trust more’n anybody else—that’s yore worst enemy.”

Joe looked at Billy, raised his eyebrows and made a disbelieving expression.

“Nah, Cartwright, think about it. You know an enemy is gonna be against you—always. No matter what happens, you can count on that. But a friend or family or somebody ya don’t even know—why they’s liable to act any such way. Can’t depend on ’em and you can’t trust ’em neither. Yep, that’s why I don’t trust nobody but my enemies. You understand that Joe?”

“I understand that you’ve been hitting the bottle awful early in the day, Billy” Joe said smiling ruefully at his friend.
“Come on, see there’s the cabin, right beside that little willow tree. I’ll check on the supplies to make sure ya won’t starve to death before you come to your senses and come on down to the Ponderosa and get a real job.”

With that, he reined Cochise to a halt, and loosely tied the reins to an sturdy bush, in the shade of an elm tree. He stood up straight, and stretched his back and then began unloading the supplies he’d brought for Billy.

“I didn’t bring too much stuff, Billy, ’cause I didn’t want to have to explain what I was getting ’em for.” He said as he unpacked flour, coffee, beans, and bacon. “You You can go down to Virginia City or come by the Ponderosa when ya run out.”

By this time, Billy had looked around the cabin and checked the doors and windows and commented that there was only one way inside the cabin and that way was a clear view from the cabin. Joe remarked “Yeah I think that ol’ prospector was always afraid someone would jump his claim. Pa never had the heart to tell him he was on the Ponderosa anyhow. He finally found himself enough gold that he retired. We hear from him every now and then. He bought a house right in San Francisco.”

“Hey Billy, why don’t we go fishin’ and I’ll show ya where ya can always get a fish for supper? I got some fishin’ tackle over here.”

“Fishin’? I aint been fishin’ since my Pa died…”

“Well come on, let’s see if you got what it takes to be a fisherman” Joe challenged.

“You’re sure it’s safe up here, Joe? You didn’t tell no one I was coming here?”

“Of course not, Billy. Holy Toledo, what ya want? A vow of silence. It ain’t as though you’re wanted for murder or bank robbery or somethin’.”

Billy was behind Joe when he said that. Joe didn’t see the surprise and then the amused look on Billy’s face.


Chapter 20


A couple of hours after Joe had left the Ponderosa, Sheriff Roy Coffee and a posse rode into the Ponderosa ranch courtyard. Ben heard the horses and came out the front door to see who it was. Adam had been in the barn and he also came out to see what was up, Sport in tow.

“Roy, what’s up? Did you come to arrest one of my sons?” Ben asked jovially.

“Ben, I need to talk to Little Joe. Is he here?”

“No, Roy, he rode off a little while ago. Why do you want to see Little Joe?” Ben asked, his voice betraying his nervousness. A sheriff’s posse wanting to talk to his youngest son was disconcerting.

“Well I got me a warrant for the arrest of that kid Joe’s been hanging around with. He robbed the bank last night and shot poor ol’ Mr. Chastain, the guard.”

Adam spoke up, “is he dead?”

“Nah, Doc says he’ll make it, Adam. The kid didn’t aim to shoot ‘im from I heard, sounds like Mr. Chastain tried to wrestle the gun away from him. Why that man must be nearly 90, you’d think he’d know better.”

“Why do you want to see Little Joe, Roy? You don’t think Joseph had anything to do with this, do you?” Ben asked, his voice higher than normal.

“No, Ben, but I was hopin’ Joe might have an idee where he might head. Cause of the rain, we don’t have a single track to follow, you see.”

“Adam, you don’t know where Joe went, do you?” Ben looked at his son.

“No, Pa, but I did see Hoss talking to him right before he rode off. I’ll go see if Hoss knows. He’s out at the back corral. Sport is saddled, I’ll go ask him.”

Adam rode briskly down the path that led behind the barn, past the meadow, and to the back corral. Hoss was watching some of the men teaching the younger hands how to lasso a young steer. He always enjoyed this, cause the green cowhands made it seem like it was an impossible task, where an experienced hand could do it in two shakes of a bob’s tail. He smiled when he saw Adam coming.

“Hey Adam, watch that ‘un over there in the blue shirt. He ain’t caught one yet.” Hoss said laughing, his blue eyes twinkling with mirth.

“Hoss do you know where Joe is? The Sheriff is looking for him.”

“Roy’s looking for Joe? What for, Adam?” Hoss said defensively. As always, he was getting ready to defend his younger brother.

“He’s got a posse looking for that Billy the Kid, they say he robbed the bank and shot Mr. Chastain last night. Roy thought Joe might know where he’d be headin’”

A look of comprehension came across Hoss’ face, “Adam, Joe said he was goin’ to ride out to Lender’s Creek to that prospector’s cabin. You don’t reckon he was goin’ to meet Billy there, do ya?” Hoss had a look of fear and disbelief on his face.

“I reckon he did, Hoss.” Then seeing the look on Hoss’ face, he said, “But I’m sure Joe knows nothing about the robbery. I’ll go back and tell Pa and the Sheriff. You catch up with us as soon as you get saddled up.”

Adam rode back to the ranch and told Ben and the Sheriff what Hoss had told him. Ben’s face grew pale as he realized that his youngest son was more than likely out there now with a fugitive and be in danger.

“I’ll get saddled and we’ll go find him.” Ben said grimly.

“Pa, the posse and I can go ahead and get started and you and Hoss catch up with us. We need to get there before Little Joe gets himself in more trouble than he can get out of by himself.”

“Go ahead, Adam. You’re right. But Son, be careful up there.”

Adam led the posse toward the prospector’s cabin by the most direct route, which was a little bit faster than the way Joe would have gone, since he didn’t like to take risks riding Cochise on the rocky, steep terrain.

“That’s one thing in our favor, Roy. Joe never would have brought Cochise this way. Not the way he pampers that horse.”

When they came to the last rise before they got to the cabin, Adam held up his hand and motioned for the men to stop.

“Roy, if all of us go riding in there, that kid is liable to panic and start shooting at anything or anybody in sight and my little brother is in there with him. See, there’s Cochise, right over there.” He pointed to the spot where Joe had tied Cochise earlier.

“Yeah you’re probably right Adam. I’ll ride in alone and see if I can talk ‘im out.”

“No, Roy, there’s better chance if I go first.”

“Now, Adam, that kid is armed and dangerous and I’m paid to face ‘im. You ain’t.”

“But that’s my kid brother in there, Roy. I’m going down first.” With that, he began to urge Sport forward towards the cabin.


After an hour of fishing, the two boys had a mess of fish, more than enough for a meal for one person. Joe was more than ready to go home, because Billy had been poor company all afternoon. Instead of the light and carefree friend that Joe was used to, he was morose, nervous, and spoke in riddles. His constant looking around and jumping at every little sound was enough to get on Joe’s nerves. The two headed back for the cabin. Joe carried the fish and the tackle, Billy walked behind them, his hand on his gun.

“Well, Billy, I guess I’d better be getting’ on home. Ya sure you’re gonna be all right up here?”

“Yeah, Joe, I’ll be fine. Thanks for helpin’ me. Just be sure not to tell nobody that I’m here. Will you promise me that Joe?”

“All right, all right for the 10th time, I promise. Goodness you’re getting as bad as Pa, telling me to be careful.”

Just as they got inside the cabin, they heard the horse.

“You told somebody, didn’t ya?” Billy yelled, reaching for his gun.

“No, Billy, I told ya, I didn’t tell nobody. What are you crazy? Put that gun down before someone gets hurt.” Joe said, alarmed at Billy’s behavior.

“Wait a minute, let’s just see who it is and what he wants. Probably just want to water his horse or somethin’” Joe said.

He looked out the window and said, “Put that gun away, Billy. It’s my brother, Adam.”

“Is he alone?”

“Yep. It’s just Adam. Probably checkin’ up on me as usual” Joe said, a little perturbed. Then he turned to face Billy who still had his gun drawn.

“Billy for the last time, put that gun down. I told ya, it’s my brother!”

By this time Adam had reached the clearing. He got down off his horse and keeping his horse in front of him, he yelled out, “Little Joe, are you in there?”

Joe swallowed, not sure of what was going on. “Yeah Adam. What are you doing here?”

Adam breathed a brief sigh or relief, at least his brother was all right.

“Ask him what he wants, Joe.” Billy directed, his gun still drawn. Joe stared at him in the face and finally said, “What’d ya do, Billy?”

Billy laughed. “I tried to tell ya, that ya can’t trust nobody, Joe. I had a little trouble making a bank withdrawal last night.”

“You robbed the bank, Billy?” Joe asked, feeling sick at his stomach.

“Yeah, Joe and get that surprised look off your face, ’cause to tell the truth, it ain’t the first time. Though it was the first time that Billy the Kid robbed one; them others was done by William Henry McCarty.” Billy’s laugh was now cold and cruel.

“Why, Billy?”

“Why not? I ain’t had such a good life as I’ve had in the past year. I just ain’t cut out for workin’ hard, Joe. But I’m real good at shooting and bank robbing.”

“You tell your brother to get back on his horse and ride on out of here if you want to keep him alive.”

“Adam. I didn’t ask you to come with me, because I didn’t want ya around. Can’t you understand that? Now you get on out of here.”

“Joe, I know you’re in there with Billy, even after Pa told ya to stay away from ‘im, and you are gonna have to face Pa sooner or later. So come out and come on home with me right now.” Adam said, trying to pretend ignorance to Billy’s intentions.

“Adam, go on home and I’ll be home when I feel like it.” Joe said, desperately trying to get Adam out of danger. But Adam knew he was not going without Joe.

Adam began to walk quickly toward the cabin. Joe heard Billy’s trigger click and reacted instantly. He yelled “NO!” and lunged for Billy. The bullet intended for Adam, hit Joe solidly in the chest. Joe looked up at Billy, his eyes full of disappointment and disbelief.

“Sorry, Joe. I enjoyed your company; it ain’t nothin’ personal.” And as he said this, he jumped out the window on the side of the cabin and got onto his horse that he had hidden there, even before he’d met Joe there today. He’d found the cabin earlier, but wanted to get some grub before he left, since he’d had no time to do it last night. Since he’d not counted on anyone following Joe, he’d thought to have a little rest and time to think about where he’d head–no time for that now. However, one thing he’d learned was to always have an escape plan. His horse was saddled and ready, the money from the bank’s safe safely in the saddlebags. Although the bullet had been meant for Adam, the effect would be the same. Now Adam’d be too busy trying to save his brother’s life to chase him. With no remorse and not even a look back, Billy the Kid headed up the mountain pass, never to return to Virginia City.

Adam reached Joe in time to see Billy mount the horse and ride off up the mountain. He barely gave Billy a look as he knelt down beside his little brother. He saw that Joe was conscious but was losing blood. His priority was to get the bleeding stopped and then get him home and get the doctor to the Ponderosa. When he heard the posse come down he yelled for Roy.

“Roy I need some help in here. Joe’s been shot!”


Chapter 21


The Cartwrights waited impatiently in the big living room for Doctor Martin or Hop Sing to come downstairs. As they waited, Adam had filled the others in on what had transpired at the cabin. Sheriff Coffee had sent some of the posse to get the doc and some to help Adam get Joe home, but he and the rest had gone off after Billy. Sheriff Coffee had left the telegram he had received from the Sheriff in Carson City that said that “William Bonney aka Billy the Kid” was wanted for murder and robbery the night that Joe had met him. That was probably why he’d decided to ride out with Joe in the first place.

“If Doc Martin don’t come down here in the next 5 minutes, I’m goin’ up there.” Hoss said defiantly, as if he wanted someone to argue with him. Ben looked at him and sighed, “Maybe I’ll go with you Hoss.”

Before time for Hoss to follow through with his threat, Doc Martin came down the stairs. All three Cartwrights stood up immediately, then when Dr. Martin sat down, they sat down again.

“He’ll be fine, Ben. The bullet missed his lungs and heart—went right beside the heart, but missed it by less than a half-inch.”

The Cartwrights breathed a collective sigh of relief.
“Can we see him, Paul?”

“Yeah, give Hop Sing a few more minutes to get him cleaned up and comfortable. He’ll probably go right back to sleep; I had to drug him pretty heavy to keep him still. Fool boy kept sayin’ he had to go after Billy.”

The other three Cartwrights looked at each other and shared a look that was half grin and half amazement.

Horse’s hooves into the courtyard were rapidly followed by a heavy knock on the door. Hoss got up to see who it was and let Sheriff Coffee in. “Roy, I’d thought you’d still be on the trail. You don’t caught him?” Hoss asked.

“‘Fraid not, Hoss. That boy is a lot smarter’n he looks. He went up through Breaker’s pass and then set a fire after ‘im. By the time we got the fire out, him and any tracks he woulda left were gone. I sent a wire to the towns below, that’s all I can do. How’s Joe?”

“Come in, Roy. Doc says he’ll be fine. Hoss would you see about making a fresh pot of coffee?”

Just as he said that, Hop Sing appeared at his elbow. “You go see Mister Little Joe. Hop Sing make coffee. Stay out of Hop Sing’s kitchen.”

“Well, Ben, I’ll be out again in the morning to check on him. Just keep that young fellow in bed would you please?”

“Doc, I’ll just ride on back to Virginia City with you. I expect Joe’ll have enough company tonight.” Roy’s eyes twinkled as he made this comment, knowing that there would not be a single minute that Joe was left alone in that room tonight.

Ben shook Paul’s hand and escorted him to the door. “Thanks, Paul, for everything.” His look of appreciation conveyed more than his words. “Roy, let us know if you hear anything else.”

“Well boys, lets go see that younger brother of yours.”

The three Cartwrights trooped upstairs and then carefully opened the door to Joe’s room. His eyes were closed when they entered. He was a little pale and his chest was covered in bandages, but he looked much better than he had when Adam brought him home. Ben went over and pulled a chair up close to the bed; Adam and Hoss leaned against the dresser. No one said a word in fear of waking him up. However, within a few seconds, he opened his eyes, blinked a few times, then said, irritably, “What are ya staring at?”

Ben smiled, “How you feeling, Son?”

“Fine, Pa.” Then he added, “If you three’d stop starin’ at me, I’d feel better.”

Ben laughed and said, “All right son, we’ll promise to stop starin’ at you, if you’re sure you’re feeling okay. Do ya need anything? How about some water?”

Joe licked his lips and said, “Yeah.”

Adam poured a glass of water and handed it to Ben, who helped Joe sit up enough to take a sip of water. Ben could see the effort it was taking Joe to stay awake so he said, “Boys, why don’t you go downstairs and find out what is taking Hop Sing so long with that coffee and bring me a cup? I’ll sit here with Joseph for a while.”

“Sure thing, Pa.”

Hoss walked over the bed and leaned down close so that Joe could see him, “You get some rest, Short Shanks. I’ll be back to see ya later.” Joe nodded at him and attempted to smile.

“Yeah, little buddy, you take it easy. I’ll be back later too.” Adam said. Joe nodded, then said, “Adam, I…”

“You can talk later, Joseph. Right now you need to get some rest.” He motioned for Adam and Hoss to go on out. They went to the door and stopped in the doorway and stood for a minute, watching Joe as he dozed off to sleep.


Chapter 22


The next time Joe woke up, Adam was seated in a chair next to the bed, reading a book of Shakespeare. Joe watched him quietly for a few seconds, before Adam realized he was awake.


“Well, good morning, Joe. How are you feeling?”

“Okay, I guess. Adam, I’m sorry.”

Adam looked at him quietly for a minute, weighing his words before he spoke.

“Joe, I’m sorry that I was right about Billy. There was just somethin’ about him that bothered me about him from the minute I laid eyes on him. I can’t explain it, but it was there.”

“I know Adam and I should have listened to you. Instead I make a fool out of myself again and almost got you killed. I guess I’m not much good as a judge of character. Guess all I’m good at is getting in trouble. Just like you said.” He gave a grunt, which deepened as he attempted to turn over at the same time and pulled on the gunshot injury.

Adam stood up and helped Joe turn over and moved his pillow to help position him more comfortably on his side. He poured a glass of water and helped him take a few sips before either of them said anything.

“Joe, this time I was right and you were wrong; next time it could be the opposite. But Joe once you knew about Billy, you tried to get me out of danger—you stepped in and took a bullet that was meant for me, Joe. I can’t imagine anyone being any braver than that.”

Joe sighed and said, “But Adam, I thought he was like me. We laughed at the same jokes, we liked the same girls, we had so much in common. I just can’t understand. How could he be a bank-robber and a murderer and be so likeable at the same time?”

“Joe your Ma used to say that inside everybody must have a little bit of good in ’em and if you look hard enough, you might find it. I think you just found the good inside Billy while the rest of us just saw the bad.”

Ben had been standing at the door of Joe’s room for the most of this conversation, and he stepped into the room. He walked over to the bed and leaned over and took Joe’s hand in both his own.

“Joseph, Adam’s right, Son. You saw the Billy that the rest of us didn’t see. You can’t blame yourself for that; maybe if other people had seen it earlier, he wouldn’t have gotten to be the man he is now. Just put it out of your mind for now, Son. We’ll talk more about it later. In about 2 minutes, Hoss is coming upstairs with a breakfast tray for you. Let’s get you comfortable and see if you can eat something.” Seeing the reluctance on Joe’s face, he said, “Unless of course you’d prefer to tell Hop Sing why you aren’t eating the breakfast he made especially for you.” Joe smiled and said, “No, Pa. I think it’d be easier to just eat the breakfast than to face Hop Sing’s wrath.


Over the next few weeks, Joe healed rapidly and was begging to go back to work, long before the doctor or his father was willing. In the end, as always, Joe won out and was up and out of bed in two weeks, although confined to the house and yard.

A couple of weeks later, Joe and Hoss were playing checkers on the porch when Sheriff Coffee rode into the courtyard. “Hey Hoss, Little Joe. Joe, you look like you’re ready to go back to bustin’ broncos—or at least ready to go back to bustin’ up Virginia City saloons.” He said, laughing.

“Yep, Roy I think a night in Virginia City is just what the doctor ordered.” Joe replied in good humor.

Ben who walked out of the front door, overheard that comment and said, “Oh I doubt that Joseph. I think going to Virginia City is the last thing you need to do young man.” He and Roy and Hoss found this amusing, though Joe failed to see the humor in it.

“What brings you out here, Roy?”

“Well I thought you’d want to know about this.” He pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to Ben. Ben read it carefully then glanced at Little Joe, concern in his face.

“What is it, Pa?”

Hoss reached over and took the paper from Ben’s hand, read it and then he too, looked at Little Joe.

“What? Is that a wanted poster for me or something? I have an alibi.” Joe said, trying to ease the tension, for somehow he knew what that piece of paper said.

Ben swallowed and said, “Joe, this paper says that Billy was killed in a shoot-out with a lawmen, by the name of Pat Garrett.”

“When, Pa?”

“July 14 (1881).”

“That was just a month after he left here.”

“Yes, Son.”

“I just think I shoulda helped him, Pa.” Joe’s eyes were misty and bright with regret.

“Joe, I think by the time you met Billy, by the time we all met Billy—it was too late. His destiny had already been written—by him, Son.”

“I know….but…I still wished I coulda done somethin’!”

“Yes, Son, we all do. And that is what separates you from the Billys of the world–you want to help people.” Ben reached over and ruffled Joe’s hair and said, “That is what makes the human race worth saving, Joe.”

“Now, then, Roy, come on in and let’s get Hop Sing to round us up some coffee. Joe you’ve been outside long enough, anyway. Hoss, go tell Adam to come in and have some coffee.”

Ben reached over and took hold of Joe’s arm and helped him rise from the chair, then he put his arm around his son and said, “Come on inside, Son and we’ll talk about the possibility of a foray into Virginia City before long.”

Joe hesitated just a moment, before looking at Ben, then he looked at him and said, “umm, how about Saturday night, Pa? I hear there’s a big barn dance planned.” Ben shook his head at Joe and said, “We’ll talk about it later, Joseph!”



Joe and Emma had wonderful time at the dance, despite Ben, Hoss, and Adam hovering over Joe, making sure he didn’t overdo it.

***The End***


bring water.,” he said though he followed the statement by a dialogue half in Chinese and half in English. Little Joe just laughed at the barrage and ran quickly upstairs.

By the time, Adam and Hoss came in, Joe had finished his bath and was coming down the stairs into the great room. Right away they noticed that Joe was wearing a clean white shirt and tie and a leather vest. Hoss sniffed the air as if trying to figure out a particular scent. “Hmm Adam if I didn’t know better I would say our baby brother has going into town on his mind tonight.”

“Yeah Hoss I would agree with you, but surely little brother knows the weather conditions are still too rough to risk a trip into Virginia City.” Adam replied.

Joe, determined not to let his brothers get him riled up, just smiled and replied, “Maybe too risky for you old mother hens, but not for me. I am going to Virginia City for the barn dance tonight. I would ask you to join me, but I don’t think the ladies would be happy if they had to share me tonight.”

Adam realized that Joe was seriously planning to go into town, probably planning on leaving a message for Pa, instead of waiting ’til he got home. He also knew that his father would not approve and more than likely, hold HIM responsible for letting Joe leave. “Now hold up there, little brother. Seriously, it is still too rough to ride into Virginia City yet. Some of those passes are bound to be next to impassable.”

Joe, also realizing that Adam was no longer joking, escalated his resolve. “Adam, the roads are perfectly fine. I scouted all the way to Lambert’s crossing today and it is fine.” Joe replied, his voice rising.

Hoss backed Adam up, trying to de-escalate the situation between Joe and Adam, “Joe those girls have waited a week, they can wait another few days.”

Joe smiled at Hoss and said simply, “Maybe they can, Hoss, but I can’t. Now I am going to town. Tell Pa I won’t be late.” As he said this he started for the door. As he went by, Adam reached out and grabbed his arm and said, “No Joe, you are not going to…..”

He was not able to finish his sentence because just at that time Ben Cartwright strode briskly into the room. All three sons stopped talking and looked at their father, two faces showed their relief, one showed disappointment. Joe’s plan had been to get out of the house and leave before having to tell his father of his plans, because he knew, as Adam and Hoss did, that his father would not approve of them. As Ben came in, he was still shaking the cold and snow off, but he took in the situation very quickly. Joe dressed up, smelling of cologne, the determined look on his face, Adam gripping his elbow, and Hoss and Adam looking relieved to see him, Joe looking like he had been caught with his hand in the cookie jar . He continued to brush the snow off, then looked at the three of them and said, “Evening, Sons.” There was a chorus of “Hi Pas” from the three of them.

Joseph spoke up first, hoping to catch his father off-guard, “Pa I am going into town for a few hours tonight. I am supposed to take Jennifer to the barn dance. I won’t be late.”

Immediately Adam spoke up, “Pa, I don’t think the roads are…”

Little Joe reacted hotly, “Mind your own business, Adam. I told you I checked the roads out today and they are fine.” he said loudly, giving a scowl to his oldest brother.

“Pa, I gotta go along with Adam on this; them roads just ain’t safe.” Hoss put in, earning him a look of betrayal from Joe.

“Pa…” Joe began again.

Ben, who had heard enough already, raised his hands and said, “All right I get the idea.” He turned to Little Joe and said, “Joe, your brothers are right. The conditions are still way too rough and I think it is going to snow more tonight. I think your trip to Virginia City and to see Miss Jennifer will have to wait a few more days. There is no sense in taking unnecessary risks.”

Joe had been fuming during this pronouncement from his father, knowing that once his father’s mind was made up, there was little he could do to change it, but he thought it was worth a shot anyway. “Pa, I promise…”

Again Ben raised his hand and said, “Joseph you may not go into town now and that is the end of it.” “But Pa,” Joe began, but was silenced by his father, who put his arm around him and said, “Joseph, I won’t discuss this any further. The issue is closed. Now come on, boys, let’s see what Hop Sing has for dinner.” As he said this, he propelled Joe to the dining area with his arm firmly around his shoulders.

Joe, never one to give up without a fight, tried one more time, “But Pa,”

This time his father cut him off curtly, saying “Joseph, that will be all. Do you understand?” He asked, fixing Joe with a stare.

“Yes sir,” Joe replied, realizing that he had lost this battle. If only he had finished that last cattle check a little bit sooner, he thought, he would have made a clean get-away. “It’s going to be a lot more complicated this way” he thought to himself.

Dinner that evening started out on a somewhat somber tone, Joe was quiet, not participating in the conversation and the other three, figuring Joe was mad, were trying hard to make up for it by extra effort. In reality, Joe wasn’t really mad, at least not at them, he was mad at himself for stopping to eat the lunch Hop Sing had fixed for him. If he had just worked through lunch, he would have beaten them by a good half an hour or more and he wouldn’t be in this predicament. Whereas his outward appearance was quiet, inwardly his thoughts were racing, as he quickly ran through his options. The problem was, the way he looked at it, he really had no options. There was only one thing he could do—he had to go to Virginia City tonight.

Little Joe had been truthful about his intent to take Jennifer to the barn dance, but that was only half the reason he had to go to Virginia City that night. He had found the most perfect Christmas present for his father in town almost two months ago, a pair of dueling pistols that would be a prize addition to his father’s gun collection. At the time he had not had enough cash in his regular banking account to pay for the pistols. He had savings but withdrawal of money from that account required his father’s signature until he was 21. So he had negotiated with Mr. Barker the owner of the pistols to make a down payment and then to make the final payment no later than today. He had had the money two weeks ago but with ranch chores, and then the blizzard, he had not been able to get into town to make the final payment and claim his father’s gift. If he didn’t go tonight, Mr. Barker had another client, anxious to purchase them. He had told Little Joe that if he didn’t get there by midnight on the 20th, he would sell them to the other client. Joe had to get those pistols for his father—he knew he would love them. He had seen him look at similar pistols and point out the flaws in them and what a prize pair looked like. The workmanship in these pistols was exquisite and they both fired straight and true–a good feature in a dueling pistol, he guessed. Unconsciously, he chuckled when he thought that, causing the other three Cartwrights to look at him quizzically.

“And what is so funny, young man?” his Father asked smiling at him.

Joe realized he must have laughed out loud and replied, “Oh I was just thinking about how surprised Adam and Hoss were when that bucket of snow dumped on ‘em.” he said and laughed again. Ben laughed with him, thinking about how many times Little Joe had gotten them with the same trick. At first Hoss and Adam frowned, but then they looked at each other and laughed too.

“One of these days, little brother, one of these days.”; Hoss’s threat was implied, not real, and they all knew it.

After dinner they moved over to the living room and began a quiet evening. Ben worked on the account books for a short time, then retreated to his favorite chair with his pipe and a book. Adam read by the fire, and Joe and Hoss played checkers. Hoss sat on the sofa, while Joe perched on the table. Ben started to tell him to get off the furniture, but decided to not notice it instead. He was relieved that Joe had given in gracefully on the proposed trip into Virginia City; he could have remained sullen and withdrawn all evening and ruined a pleasant evening at home—he certainly had ways of showing his displeasure—just like Marie, Ben thought again.

Oddly enough, Joe was the first one to start showing signs of becoming sleepy, yawning and stretching at about 8:30. After a few minutes of that, Ben said, “Joseph, if you are that sleepy, why don’t you go on to bed and stop fighting it, son?”

Joe looked around and said, “Well Adam unless you want to give me a real game of checkers, I might as well.” hoping against all hope that Adam wouldn’t surprise him and agree to a game of checkers.

“Well I appreciate the offer Joe, but I am in no mood to be beat by my little brother at checkers tonight. Now if you want to play chess, that is a little more competitive.”

Joe breathed an inward sigh of relief and replied, “Nope, Adam, too boring. I might as well go on to bed.” With that he got up and headed toward the stairs, “Good night everybody.”


Joe went into his room and quickly glanced around, taking stock of what he would need for the trip to Virginia City. Unfortunately his warmest coat was downstairs, so he would have to wear another one. He put on extra layers of clothes to make sure he would be warm for the ride. He had to work quickly because he had to leave before his family went to bed. He usually waited until everyone else had gone to bed before he sneaked out of the house. Tonight however, he was going before they came up to bed. This of course meant that more than likely his father would be waiting up for him when he returned, and would be furious, but he knew that if he waited for his father to go to bed, he wouldn’t make it on time to retrieve the pistols. His father, out of long habit, continued to stop in to tell him goodnight, as he used to do when he was young. So his absence would be discovered quickly, but he figured once he was gone, his father would opt to deal with him when he returned, rather than go looking for him. AT least he hoped that he would. Well that can’t be helped, he thought as he eased the window open and slipped outside.

Once outside, he lowered the window, leaving it open just enough so he would be able to get it open from the outside. Then he quickly and quietly crept to the end of the house, down the column supporting the porch, and a short drop to the ground. This was old hat to Joe, he had been doing it since he was a little kid. He had gotten away with it for several years, but as he got older and started sneaking out at night and staying longer, his father had caught on and one night, the inevitable happened—Joe slipped out, went into Virginia City and came home and climbed into his bedroom window, and just as he was quietly closing the window—his father lit the lantern in his room. That had been a bad episode between him and his father. Joe continued to do it occasionally, but the memory of the anger and disappointment in his father’s eyes made him enjoy it a little bit less each time. Still, there were times that Joe felt compelled to do it because of what he felt were unreasonable restrictions placed on him by his father, and sometimes with the assistance of his older brothers, which really irritated him.

Joe quietly slipped into the barn and closed the door before lighting the lantern. He walked over to Cochise and gave him a sugar cube and patted his head. Speaking softly, he said, “Coch, I am going to ride Midnight tonight. I don’t want you out tonight after the work you did today. You just rest.” He looked at him as if to say, “Okay by me, I don’t want to go out in the cold again anyhow.” He chuckled and went and quickly saddled the black stallion he had named Midnight. Midnight was a bigger horse than Cochise and although he was slower and not as easy for Joe to handle, he would be fresh for the ride into Virginia City. Joe led Midnight out the back door of the barn and quietly mounted him when he was sure he was out of hearing distance from the house.

The ride into Virginia City was cold and long. Several times he had to stop and clear snow or ice from the pass before he could continue. He was glad that he hadn’t ridden Cochise, he wouldn’t want to risk him getting injured. He mentally apologized to Midnight, hoping Midnight didn’t get injured either. The trip took him about 2 hours longer than normal. He rode very slowly and very carefully, sticking exactly to the middle of the road, so as to minimize the risk of the horse slipping. He realized halfway there that he would not be taking Jennifer to any dance tonight. He figured that was just as well, because the closer her got to Virginia City, the more he thought of how angry his father was going to be, and the less he was looking forward to the inevitable encounter when he returned. He knew he would be even angrier since he couldn’t tell him why it was so important that he make the trip. His Pa wouldn’t look too kindly on this trip if he thought the only reason he did it was to take a girl to a dance. But he couldn’t tell him that wasn’t the real reason, otherwise that would spoil the surprise. “I will just have to take it like a man” he thought grimly. At least, he made it into Virginia City in plenty of time to meet his deadline. He thought to himself, “See I knew they were just being over-protective”.

He stabled his horse and made sure he was comfortable, then headed over to retrieve his father’s Christmas gift from Mr. Barker. “Maybe I can just get it and get back before Pa knows I am gone” he thought optimistically, never one to dwell on the negative. When he got to the storefront, he found the doors closed and locked and the window shades drawn. He was a little alarmed, wondering if Mr. Barker had decided he wasn’t coming and had sold his father’s pistols to the other customer. He was about to go to Mr. Barker’s house to see if he could find him there, when he saw a flicker of light in the store. “That is strange, I wonder what he is doing in there?” he thought to himself.

He went back to the door and knocked loudly. At first there was no response, but seeing the light still moving, he knocked louder. Finally, he heard Mr. Barker say, “Go away. Can’t you see I am closed?”

After the trouble he had gone to get here and considering the trouble he would be in when he got home, there was no way he was going home without those pistols. “It’s Joe Cartwright, Mr. Barker. I came to get those pistols.”

“I said I am closed.” Mr. Barker said again.

“You told me I had until midnight, Mr. Barker, and I am not leaving without those pistols. Now you gonna open up and let me pick them up, or am I gonna break down the door?” Joe asked determinedly.

After another short silence, Mr. Barker said, “Alright, just a minute, Cartwright” and soon after that the door opened and Joe went in. When he got inside and his eyes adjusted to the dim light, he found himself facing two armed men, with one aiming a gun at him; the other gun was aimed at Mr. Barker, who was opening his safe. Joe immediately reached for his gun, but as he brought it out, he felt another gun pushed directly in his back.

“I wouldn’t advise it, boy.” the man holding that gun said. One of the other men relieved Joe of his gun. “You git over there where we can see you, boy and be quick about it.”

“Man, when will I ever learn to take good advice?“ Joe asked himself out loud as he was pushed over against the other side of the wall.

“I tried to send you away, son. I am sorry ‘bout this.”

“You shut up and get that safe open. We ain’t got all night.” one of the men growled.

About that time Mr. Barker clicked another number on the big combination lock and the door of the safe swung open. The man nearest him, shoved him aside and began rifling through the contents. He was excited as he found two bank deposit bags, both full of cash. He quickly withdrew them and put them in a saddlebag, then he turned back to look at the other contents of the safe. He pulled out jewelry, watches, and two matching dueling pistols and began stuffing them into the bag. “Hey, wait a minute you can’t take those” Joe said moving toward the man. The sudden, unexpected movement startled one of the men and he turned and raised his gun, hitting Little Joe over the head forcefully. Joe’s eyes opened wide and he took one small step toward the man, then crumpled to the floor. Mr. Barker moved to go toward him and one of the other men fired his gun, and he too, fell to the floor.

The robbers quickly scooped up their loot and said, “Let’s get out of here. Someone might have heard that shot.” They grabbed the loot and exited through the back door and went to the other side of the alley to a small shed where they had hidden their horses, mounted and rode away.


Sometime later, Little Joe became aware of being cold, then slowly he became aware of a splitting headache. Gradually he regained consciousness and remembered what had happened. He fumbled around in the dark and found a lantern and lit it and turned toward Mr. Barker. He was relieved to see his wound was in the shoulder and didn’t look too bad. Mr. Barker was still unconscious. Joe slowly rose and stumbled to the door and opened it, quickly scanning the streets, he saw they were deserted. He went back in and made Mr. Barker comfortable, covering him with a coat he found hanging on the coat rack, and told the unconscious man, “I’m going for the Doc, I’ll be right back.” With that, he made his way out the door into the cold night, still a little shaky on his feet. He went by the Doc’s office and there was no answer, so he headed toward the Sheriff’s office for help. He was relieved when he opened the door of the office because he saw the Doc playing checkers with Roy Coffee.

Both of them looked up and immediately rose and went towards Joe when they say his appearance. He was looking quite pale from the blow to the head. They helped him to sit down and the Doc grabbed his arm, feeling for a pulse. Joe roughly pulled his arm away and said, “You need to get over to Barker’s Emporium, he’s been shot, Doc. He’s the one who needs you, not me.”

Dr. Martin took a look at Joe, sizing up the extent of his injuries, and determined he could wait for further treatment. He said, “Alright, I will go on over to see about Barker. You wait right here ’til I get back. Roy, help him lie down before you come over. Wait right there, Joe,” he repeated once more, looking directly into Joe’s eyes. “You hear me?” He repeated.

“Yeah, yeah I hear you.” Joe said. “Hurry up, Doc, he is bleeding really bad.” Joe lied in order to get the Doc on his way. He knew the wound had already stopped bleeding.

Roy Coffee put his arm around Joe and led him to a cot in the nearest cell and forced him to lie down. “Now, Joe tell me what happened.”

Joe related the events of the robbery as quickly and concisely as possible. He was able to give a very good description of the men. “Roy, if you hurry, we can catch ‘em, they can’t have too much of a headstart” he told the Sheriff, although in fact, he had no idea how long he was out from the blow to the head.

“Joe what time was it when you got to the store?” Roy asked.

Joe, staring at the clock behind Roy, knew this was a crucial question. He knew if the Sheriff thought they had too much of a head start, he would not lead a posse out that late at night, but would opt to wait for daybreak instead. Seeing it was 1 am, meaning that he had been out a lot longer than he had realized, he made a decision. “Roy I don’t know for sure, I just had to be at Barker’s before midnight, and you know how I am about being late.” This of course was an evasion of the truth, but not a lie—not exactly, anyway.

Roy chuckled, “Yeah Joe I been hearing about your being late for everything ‘cept your birth your whole life.”

Joe again said, “Roy if we hurry we can catch ‘em.”

The Sheriff took in Joe’s appearance, he was pale, his eyes were a little glassy, and he was shivering slightly. “Joe I am gonna go over and see how bad off Barker is, then I will see about rounding up a posse to leave at daybreak. You ain’t in no shape to go on a posse. I am gonna send someone to take you home first thing in the morning. In the meantime, you just lie down and rest ‘til the Doc gets back. You hear me, Joe? You stay right here ‘til me and the Doc gets back. Ya hear?” the Sheriff repeated, loudly this time.”

Joe took a deep breath and sighed, “Why does everybody think I am hard of hearing? Yeah I hear you.”

Roy smiled when he heard that and said, “Why, indeed, Little Joe?” With that he went out of the cell for a moment and returned with a bigger blanket. “Here, you just lie back here and rest ‘til me and the Doc get back. We won’t be long.” He covered Joe up and thought how he was glad he wasn’t having to send someone to tell Ben Cartwright that his youngest son had been shot, just a few days before Christmas, at that.”

Joe lay on the cot until he heard the front door of the jail close, then he sat up slowly, to keep from aggravating the dizziness he was feeling. From experience he had learned that dizziness accompanied being hit over the head. He wasted no time, however, in getting up and going to the front door of the jail. He opened it cautiously, looking to see if there was anyone nearby. Not seeing anyone, he quickly left the jail and headed towards the stable where he had left Midnight. He found himself regretting leaving Cochise at home; he would have preferred to be riding him for the job of tracking the robbers. He knew Roy Coffee wouldn’t leave before morning and with the looks of the weather, there was more snow coming and any tracks the robbers left would be long covered by then. If he was going to get his father’s Christmas gift back, he had to leave right then. He had thought about leaving a note in the jail, but he knew it would have done nothing to decrease the worry or the anger his father would have and it would have just taken more time.

He quickly saddled Midnight, taking time to collect some extra feed for her, just in case. He then mounted and rode to the alley behind Barker’s Emporium. He was able to easily pick up the trail left by the men since there was hardly anyone out on such a cold night. He followed the tracks to the main road leading from Virginia City and continued following them on the road toward Placerville. He pulled his hat down on his head and buttoned his coat up all the way, and determined to ignore the biting chill to the wind. He knew his best hope was to catch up with the men before the snow started to fall. If he could figure out their likely destination, he might be able to find a way around so that he could there ahead of them and surprise them. He really didn’t spend too much time thinking of how he intended to get the pistols back—he just knew he would get them back, one way or another.


Ben and Adam and Hoss stayed downstairs for another 30 minutes, then Hoss decided that he would go on up to bed too. “Well Pa, I am going to turn in too. I will see you in the morning.”

“Good night Hoss. Sleep well.” Ben smiled at his middle son.

Adam said, “First one up gets to do all the chores in the morning.”

“Well big Brother, I think I will plan on sleeping as late as Little Joe tomorrow then.” Hoss laughed. It was a fact of life they accepted—Little Joe hated to get up early. He usually hated to go to bed early, too. Hoss decided to see if there was something bothering Little Joe that was his real reason for going to bed early. He walked up to the door, listened for a second, and not hearing anything opened the door and went in. He never felt the need to knock at Little Joe’s door–he knew he was welcome. What he saw though, caused a look of surprise and growing concern—-Joe wasn’t in the room, and the window was open just a crack. Hoss crossed over and looked out the window and could clearly see the tracks left in the snow going across the roof and then from the side of the house to the barn door. Little Joe had sneaked out of the house. Hoss berated himself for not realizing that was his plan all along. Joe was seldom deterred so easily from his plans as he had been that night at dinner. Hoss debated for a few seconds what he should do. He hated to go to his father and tell him what Joe had done because he didn’t want to get him into any trouble and he knew his father would be furious. But he also was worried that Joe was out in the snow alone and was afraid he could be in danger and he didn’t want the responsibility of worrying all by himself. Besides when his father came up to bed, he would undoubtedly check on Joe as he always did and not finding him, he would ask Hoss if he knew he was gone earlier. Hoss figured his best option was to go tell his father now.

Sighing, he turned back and headed down the stairs back into the great room. Ben and Adam looked up curiously when they saw him, unasked questions on their faces. “Pa.” Hoss began.

“Yes, Hoss, what is it?” Ben asked.

“Pa, it’s…well, it’s Little Joe.” he started again, not wanting to have to tell his father.

“What about Little Joe, Hoss?” Ben asked rising out of his chair and coming towards Hoss.

Hoss took a deep breath and let it out slowly, then looking his father directly in his eyes, he said. “Joe isn’t in his room, Pa. Looks like he went out the window.” By this time both Ben and Adam were off their feet. Adam took the stairs, two at a time, as if Hoss might have just overlooked Little Joe and he would find him sleeping in his bed. Ben just stood there, a look of shock on his face. Adam quickly rejoined his father and brother, shrugging his shoulders and shaking his head in response to his father’s look.

“Go look and see if Cochise is in the barn, Hoss, please. Though I suspect it is a foregone conclusion that your brother has gone to Virginia City per his earlier intentions. Why would I expect him to start listening to reason now, just because it is about 20 degrees outside with snow and ice on the ground and more snow coming?” Ben said, pacing the floor in front of the large stone fireplace. Hoss had already gone out to check the barn, and Adam stood by, trying to think of what he could say to calm down his father. He knew his father didn’t really expect an answer but he hated to see him so worked up. He knew however his father wouldn’t rest until Little Joe was home. It had always been like that, and unfortunately, Little Joe didn’t give any signs of changing anytime soon. He couldn’t think of anyone, young or old, more stubborn that his little brother.

Adam sometimes felt his father made it worse by being unnecessarily protective of him, making him more determined to go his own way. But tonight, he fully agreed with his father—it was too dangerous for anyone to be out there alone. His father was still pacing and getting angrier by the minute, Adam felt he had to try to say something to lighten the mood, so he said, “Well Pa, you know Joe and Cochise make such a good team, you know they will be alright.”

Hoss had re-entered the room just as Adam said that statement, and both Adam and Ben caught the look of dismay that crossed his face when he heard it. “He ain’t on Cochise, he’s in the barn in his stall.” Hoss said, not wanting to give the next bit of information.

“What horse is he riding, Hoss?” Ben asked. “Looks like he took ol’ Midnight, Pa.”

“Midnight!” Adam exclaimed, “Now why in the world would he take Midnight?” Midnight had a reputation for being hard to handle, and despite the fact that the stallion was big and powerful, he took a lot of attention to control.

Ben sighed and said, “Well I’m going after him. It’s up to you two whether or not you come with me.” There was no question they were going with him.

“Pa, we’ll all go with you. Just promise me one thing, Pa.” Adam said. “What’s that son?” “Can I have first crack at him when we do find him?” Ben looked a little puzzled, then broke out into a smile and they all laughed just a little.

The ride into Virginia City was cold and hard. Heavy wet snow began to fall about halfway there. They had been able to make out Joe’s tracks easily for the first part of the trip. They had seen where he had stopped to walk the horse through some treacherous places a couple of times but hadn’t seen any evidence that he had any real trouble. By the time they reached Virginia City, they were almost numb from the cold, despite being in their heaviest winter coats and being dressed for the weather. By the time they got there, it was close to 4 AM. They were unsure where to start looking for Little Joe, but Ben thought they should look at the hotel, hoping that after the dance, he had decided not to risk the trip back home and had checked into to spend the night. They rode up to the hotel and tied their horses to the hitching post and went inside, shaking the snow off as they entered. Adam and Hoss made straight for the fireplace to get warm, while Ben went to the clerk’s desk and rang the bell. After several minutes, a sleepy-looking clerk came out, yawning. He straightened up when he saw who was standing there. “Yes, sir Mr. Cartwright, may I help you? Do you want your usual room?” he asked. Ben or his sons frequently stayed here overnight when the weather conditions were considered too bad to make the trip home safely.

“Gus, I am looking for Joseph. Is he here?”

“No, sir, I haven’t seen Little Joe since the town social two weeks ago. Jennifer was awful put out that he didn’t get to come in to the dance tonight in fact.”

“You’re saying Joe wasn’t at the dance tonight, Gus?”

“No, sir, Jennifer was right put out, too. Said she was surprised that a little snow would keep Joe from coming to the dance.” But as he continued, Ben looked at Adam and Hoss who had come up behind him at that bit of news.

“Now what?” Hoss said.

“Let’s try the Bucket of Blood.” Ben said grimly. “Perhaps he made it too late to get to the dance, and decided to play poker instead.” His youngest son’s poker-playing hobby had been a bone of contention between him and his father since Joe had first learned to play by hanging out in the bunkhouse with the ranch hands. They remounted their horses and rode off toward the Bucket of Blood. When they got there, they quickly entered and looked around—the saloon was virtually empty. Two men were asleep at a table and the bartender was dozing in a chair behind the bar.

“Hank, Hank. Wake up.” Hoss said, impatiently, because he was getting worried. What if Joe had been thrown off Midnight and they had missed him and ridden right past him in the snow? He could be frozen to death by now.

Hank sputtered awake, and said, without missing a beat, “What can I get for you fellas?”

“We just want to know if you have seen Little Joe in here tonight, Hank.” Adam said.

“Little Joe? No I haven’t seen him since last Saturday night.”

Adam almost said something but caught himself and closed his mouth. He wondered if his father would remember that last Saturday night Joe has been restricted to the Ponderosa, or so they had thought.

“Thanks, Hank.” Ben said abruptly and he turned to leave, followed closely by Hoss and Adam.

“You boys go take the horses and put them in the stable. I am going to go see if Roy Coffee has seen that young son of mine. When I do catch up with him, he is going to have some powerful explaining to do. I just wonder if he EVER listens when I tell him something. I might as well be talking to myself as talking to him.” That answered Adam’s unasked question—his father remembered, alright. He was glad he wasn’t going to be in his little brother’s shoes when his father did catch up with him. He was going to be doing extra work for a long time and wasn’t going to be leaving the Ponderosa for a long time either.

Adam and Hoss led the horses across the street to the livery stable and Ben headed down the street to the Sheriff’s office. He opened the door and was surprised to see Roy Coffee and Doc Martin in deep discussion. They both looked up at him as if they had seen a ghost. Paul Martin recovered first, “Ben, we were just talking about you.” he started. Ben got right to the point,

“Roy I am looking for Little Joe. Have you seen him?”

Roy began to nod his head as he listened to Ben’s question. In fact, he and Paul had just been talking about Ben—they had been arguing about which one of them should get the unpleasant job of telling him what his youngest son was apparently up to. Neither of them had wanted the task. “Yeah, Ben I’ve seen him.” Roy responded, trying to buy some time while he decided the best way to tell his friend the circumstances.

“Roy don’t beat around the bush. Have you got my son locked up? Is that what you are trying not to tell me?” he asked, his voice rising perceptibly.

Roy shook his head and waved his hands at Ben, trying to head off another barrage of questions. “No, Ben, I wish I hadda locked him up—that’s what I shoulda done.” Roy said.

“Now what are you saying? Is my son in some kind of trouble?” Ben asked, his voice several octaves louder by now.

“Well, yes and no, Ben.” He ain’t in no kind of legal trouble, if that’s what you mean.”

“WHAT KIND OF TROUBLE IS HE IN THEN?” he was shouting at this point. Hoss and Adam had entered the jail to hear the last exchanges between Ben and Roy.

Roy looked pleadingly at Paul Martin, obviously wanting some help dealing with the distraught parent in front of them. Paul said, “Ben, Joe walked in on an armed robbery at Barker’s Emporium”. He was watching Ben’s face as he said this and he saw the color drain from his friend’s face. He wanted to reassure him. “I’m sure he’s alright, Ben” he said. This statement further confused Ben, what did the Doc mean he was “sure he was alright.”

Roy Coffee stepped in again; they were functioning as a tag team. “Clive Barker got shot, and Joe got hit over the head with a gun and blacked out for awhile. He was a little dizzy is all and probably has a bad headache.”

This time Hoss could stand it no longer, he interrupted, “Doc, where is Little Joe now?” Both Roy and Paul took a deep breath before attempting to answer that question.

Finally, Roy said, “Well Ben, Doc and me was playing checkers when Little Joe come in and said Clive Barker had been shot. Doc here looked at Joe and”….he looked at Paul to take up the conversation…”

“I looked Little Joe over, he had got hit over the head with a gun and knocked out, he had a lump the size of my fist and I am sure he had a concussion. I put him to bed in one of Roy’s cells, but he told me Clive was bleeding bad, so I went over to see about him. Ben, I told Joe to wait right here for me.”

Roy took it up again as the three Cartwrights waited, they figured they would get the whole story sooner if they let them tell it their own way, although each of them had already guessed what had happened, they waited, hoping that their fears would not be realized. “Ben, I made Joe lay down and covered him up with a blanket on account of he was looking a little peaked. An’ I told him more than once to stay right there ‘til the Doc and me got back. I told him I would send someone to ride home with him this mornin’. Ben I swear I told him to stay right here. I did everything ‘cept lock the cell and I wished I’d done that. I just didn’t think Little Joe would be so all-fired determined to go after them robbers—but he seemed to take it personally.”

Ben felt the need to reassure his friends that he didn’t hold them responsible for the impulsive actions of his youngest son. “Roy, Paul, I am sure you did your best to reason with Joe. I certainly know that talking to that young man is like talking to a barn wall sometimes. What else can you tell me about the whereabouts and the condition of my son?”

“Well, Ben, Clive Barker wasn’t hurt that bad, he was shot in the shoulder but it went clean through. I patched him up and sent Charlie to take him home, then Roy and I came back to see about Little Joe and, well, Ben, he was gone. Without a trace. He must have left right after we did.”

Roy interrupted again at this point. “I done had Clem and Charles out looking for tracks, but we got mebbe 4 or 5 inches of snow since then and there just ain’t no tracks left, Ben. It is my opinion that Little Joe went after those robbers, but I ain’t got no way of knowing which way they went. There ain’t no hope of following them. They could have gone in any direction. I just ain’t got no idee where they went from here. Now Doc here says I can talk to Clive come daylight and I can get a description from him and put out some wires and see if I can get any information on ’em. If I can then we will have an idea where they are headed and ……”

Ben interrupted, “And then we will know where Little Joe has gone.” he concluded Roy’s sentence.

“Yep, Ben, that is the way I figger it.”

Ben took another deep breath and closed his eyes briefly, as if the news were more than he could bear. Hoss and Adam looked at their Pa and then at each other, at a loss as to how to comfort him. “Dadburn that Little Joe, Pa. When I get home, I am going to nail that window shut with 10-inch nails and we’ll see if that’ll keep him from pullin’ this trick again!” B

Ben said, “Right now all I can think of is getting him home again. Then we will worry about keeping him there.” he said with a pained, worried expression on his face.


December 22, 1864


Joe followed the trail of the robbers all night, stopping only occasionally to rest his horse. He patted him and spoke to him, encouraging him and trying to keep him from becoming rebellious as he sometimes did. He knew that it was hard on the horse to be out in the cold and snow and he wanted to make it as easy on him as possible. He dismounted and walked the horse around any icy patches, trying to prevent the horse from slipping and injuring himself. He knew that if the horse were to become disabled and not be able to continue that likely he and the horse would freeze to death. He was glad he had gotten started as soon as he did. As it was, he figured he was not too far behind the robbers. They were taking their time, not expecting anyone to be following them in this kind of weather, so he was able to follow their trail. They had been headed towards Placerville at first, but had turned off the main road onto a trail that led toward the hills and a densely wooded area. Joe figured that they must have a hideout somewhere in the foothills, and realized that it would be a perfect hideout, because the sheriff would likely send wires to all the surrounding towns, but would not likely search all the trails leading off the main roads. Even if the Sheriff put together a posse, it was not likely that they would go off onto this trail as there were literally dozens of them between every main road in every direction leaving Virginia City. He doubted that the sheriff would even bother to put together a posse, since he knew that Mr. Barker was really not injured too bad; he had had shoulder injuries much worse than that of Mr. Barker, so he was sure he would recover. And if Mr. Barker was the only person robbed, there wouldn’t be too much incentive to track them down; it wasn’t like they had robbed the bank or the Wells Fargo office. Robbing the Emporium was a good idea, it gave them a reasonable haul and decreased their chances of being apprehended.

As he rode along in the cold, he thought of his family and the worry that his actions would undoubtedly cause his father and brothers. He regretted that, yet, he felt compelled to apprehend the robbers and retrieve those guns—he wanted to give his father a special gift. One that would show him how much he loved him and that his father would truly enjoy. Pa loved his gun collection, he kept them all cleaned and oiled and carefully protected. When something was worrying him or when he was sad, his father had a tendency to get out some of his prize weapons and clean them, his fingers caressing the fine etchings and carvings lovingly. Joe was determined his father would have a matched set of dueling pistols to enjoy come Christmas morning. He would retrieve those guns or die trying, he thought to himself. The irony of his statement did not register in his mind—that his father would much prefer to have his son at home and safe than to have him risking his life to give him a gift.

Ben, Adam, and Hoss spent a restless few hours after they left the Sheriff’s office. They checked into a suite at the International Hotel, but neither of them even pretended to go to bed. They finally went downstairs to order an early breakfast and wait for 7:00 am when they were to meet the doc and the sheriff to talk to Clive Barker to see if they could get any ideas as to where the outlaws were going. They tried to make conversation as they waited, though none of them could think of anything except the one that wasn’t there. For the thousandth time, Ben said, “I just can’t understand what Little Joe was doing in Barker’s Emporium that late at night anyway. And why didn’t he go to the dance if that was why he sneaked out of the house. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Adam and Hoss were just as baffled as their Pa, “Me neither, Pa. I betcha Little Joe had a reason though.”

“Oh yeah, I am sure he had a reason–it probably only makes sense to him, but he’ll have a reason, I’m sure.” When they were served, they ate their breakfast in silence, each occupied with thoughts they didn’t want to share with the others, as if saying them out loud might make them come true. Even Hoss had little appetite that morning, but they ate because it was something concrete they could do to fill the time.

Finally at 6:30, they could stand it no longer and decided to go on over to meet Roy Coffee at the sheriff’s office. They met Paul Martin on the way and they all went in to Roy’s office. Roy was drinking the last of his morning coffee, and he said, “I’ll be right with you. Just let me get my coat.” Once he was dressed for the weather, they all again braved the cold and snow to make their way to Clive Barker’s house. When they arrived, they were ushered inside by a maid, but were met very shortly by Mrs. Barker, who led them into the parlor.

Doc Martin went back to check on Clive first, after about 20 minutes he came out and speaking to the maid, he said, “Margaret, why don’t you bring Mr. Barker some breakfast? He says he would like some of your sausage and biscuits.” Laughing, Margaret said, “Yes, sir, Doc, you tell him I am cooking them right now.”

Dr. Martin turned to the sheriff and said, “Roy, he’s fine. Go on in and talk to him. Ben why don’t you come, too? Boys, if you wouldn’t mind waiting…..” he indicated to Hoss and Adam, who had jumped up at his arrival into the room.

“Sure” they said, realizing that there was no need for all of them to go in.

“Pa, ask him what Little Joe was doing in there, anyway.” Hoss advised his father.

“Don’t worry, Hoss, I will find out everything I can.” Ben patted his middle son on the back and quickly followed the Doc and the Sheriff into the bedroom.

Clive Barker was propped up on pillows in the big four-poster bed, and his wife was handing him a glass of water. “Hello, Sheriff, I was hoping you would be coming by this morning. They cleaned me out last night.”

Roy Coffee waited until Mrs. Barker had made her husband comfortable, then said, “Clive I am glad you are gonna be okay. Did you get a good look at the robbers?”

“Yeah, Roy, I got a real good look at ’em.”

“Have you ever seen ’em before?” Roy asked, hoping he would be able to give him some names.

“Well they came in the store earlier in the afternoon and spent a lot of time picking out a gold pocket watch, then they said they would have to think about it and come back later.”

“Then just as I was coming back from dinner, they came back in. You know I have to stay open late the last couple of weeks before Christmas on account of the miners and some of the ranchers that can’t get into town earlier, so I didn’t think nothing of it. But before I knew what happened, all three of ’em had their guns out and one of ’em closed the door and pulled the window shades and turned down the light. Then they told me to open the safe and give ’em the money.”

“What did they look like, Clive? Can you describe ’em for me?”

Mr. Barker gave Roy a fairly good description of each of the three robbers.

“That should help, Clive. I’ll get wires out all over the territory as soon as the telegraph wires are working again. Somebody somewhere will know somethin’ about ’em.”

Ben could stand the suspense no longer, interrupted and asked, “Mr. Barker, how did my son get involved in this?”

Mr. Barker seemed to notice Ben for the first time and said, “Oh Mr. Cartwright, I didn’t notice you there. What happened to Joe? Did they shoot him too?”, as he asked this he was rising from the bed in his desire to hear news about Joe.

Doc Martin put his hand on his shoulder and pushed him back toward the bed. “No, Clive, they just knocked him out. He is the one who came and told us about the robbery.”

“Oh, good.” He said.

“Please continue Clive,” Roy Coffee said.

“Well I was opening the safe, I was just gonna give ’em what they wanted, you see…”

“And what happened?” Ben interrupted again. Roy gave Ben a “Be quiet look” and Ben returned his gaze with a “Not ’til I get my questions answered” look.

“Well that was when Little Joe came to the door. I tried to send him away but he said he wouldn’t leave until I opened the door.”

This time Ben and Roy both interrupted the story at the same time, “Why was he so insistent?”

Dr. Martin, concerned about his patient, interrupted before they got an answer. “Gentlemen, I am sorry but you are just going to have to wait. Clive needs to get some rest. You can talk to him again later on today. You have what you need to start working on don’t you?”

Ben started to protest, but looked again at Clive’s face and realized that Paul was right. And it really didn’t matter why his son had done what he had done at this point. The only important thing was to find him and bring him home. THEN he would deal with him about why he did such a fool thing.


Joe was beginning to think the men were never going to stop–he had followed their trail higher and higher into the rocky elevations and he and Midnight were exhausted. He was glad he had thought to get grain for Midnight, otherwise he never would have made it in the cold. Several times he had had to get off the horse and guide him through thick snow drifts. He was so cold he was numb, but he couldn’t turn back. He never even considered that. He wished he had thought to get some food for himself; he had a constant gnawing feeling in his stomach, reminding him that he had not eaten in almost 24 hours. He ignored this feeling as well, focusing only on following the men. He had gotten close enough to them now that he could hear them talking to each other. He made out two names—Mark and David—but he never heard the other man’s name. He followed them doggedly.

Just as he was beginning to think his horse would not make it any further, he realized that the men were heading to a little protected clearing in the cleft of the mountain side. Joe slowed down and went around and went a little higher so that he could see clearly what was going on. He found a sheltered area and tied his horse, first giving him the last of his water and the grain he had brought. He covered the horse with a blanket from his bedroll to keep him from chilling too much as he cooled down. Joe carefully eased around the rocks, keeping covered until he could see the clearing. There was a cabin built directly against the back of the mountain, sheltered by the overhang of the mountain. It was really ingenious, Joe thought, because the cabin was pretty much protected from the fierce wind and the heaviest of rain or snow. There was a small but adequate stable nearby and Joe could see that the men had stabled their horses there. He saw two of the men entering the cabin, carrying the saddlebags that contained the loot from the Emporium, including the dueling pistols. Since there was now a fire going in the cabin, Joe figured the other man had gone in ahead of those two.

Joe knew that at this time, he was not in good shape to take on three armed men. He knew that his best chance to take them would be tonight, when their guard was down and they were sleeping. However, he knew that he had to get some rest and some food in the meantime. He could not risk hunting for game because they would hear the rifle fire. He decided to snare a hare. Before he did that, he cautiously sneaked down to the stable and procured some fresh feed for his horse, then he rubbed him down good and tied him in a spot that was both sheltered from the elements but also hidden. He talked to the horse softly as he cared for him. Just because this horse could be a little testy and unpredictable, his family didn’t like him. In fact, Joe had had to stand up to his father and assert his authority as the designated manager of the horse business of the Ponderosa because his father had insisted that he be sold. That was one battle Little Joe had won, though it had not been easy. His father was a stubborn man when his mind was made up, Joe thought.

After Joe had cared for Midnight and made sure he was comfortable and safe, he set about setting up a trap for a hare. He had seen tracks so he hoped he would be lucky enough to catch one. He set up the snare near a little stream that had flowing water, thinking that would be a logical spot to catch something. As he was turning to leave, he spotted a magnificent buck with about an eight-rack antler. “Hmmm hmm” he said out loud. “I sure wish Hoss could have seen that beauty.” Thinking of Hoss made him momentarily sad, he knew his brother would worry about him and would wish he were with him. Sighing, he went back to where the horse was and spread out his bedroll and lay down for a nap. He didn’t plan on sleeping long, but he was so exhausted, that by the time he laid out his bedroll, after carefully scanning the area, he was asleep by the time his head hit the blanket practically.

He awoke suddenly, alerted by some sense, he quickly sat up and scanned the horizon. He saw a small herd of deer running through the meadow, that must have been what woke him. He sat back down once he saw the danger had passed, dizzy from the head injury, exhaustion, and lack of food. He sat still for another few minutes, waiting for the dizziness to pass, then he rose slowly. By looking at the level of the sun, he guessed that it was around 3 or 4 o’clock. He hadn’t meant to sleep that long, but the rest probably did him good. He went to check on the activity of the cabin and saw the fire was still going and there was no movement visible and no tracks outside the cabin—all was quiet. He then went to check his snare and was lucky because there was one limp, fat hare. He quickly skinned the hare and made a very small cooking fire, well downwind and out of range from the cabin, so the smoke could neither be seen nor smelled by the occupants of the cabin. While the hare cooked, he tried to warm his hands and feet by the fire. He would have loved to build a great big roaring fire, but he couldn’t take the chance of alerting the outlaws to his presence. As soon as he hare was done, he ate about half of it, electing to save the rest to eat later, in case he didn’t get an opportunity to build another snare or light another fire. After eating, he wrapped himself up in his bedroll and backed up against the mountain and tried to stay warm while he waited for the right time to try to surprise the outlaws. He thought he would try around midnight or a little later. Finally, huddled in a small crevice in the mountain, he dozed again.

After leaving the Barker’s house, Roy Coffee had checked on the condition of the telegraph service and was pleased to find out most of the surrounding towns had service. He sent wires to all the neighboring towns with operational telegraph wires and left instructions to send the same wire to the other towns as soon as they were functional again. In all he sent wires to 5 towns, and left instructions to send to three more, including Placerville. Ben, Hoss, and Adam had gone over to Barker’s Emporium and looked to see if they could find any sign that might have been overlooked. There had been so much snow since last night that there were no tracks of any kind visible. They had absolutely no idea in which direction the robbers or Little Joe had gone. By mid-day, the snow was coming down harder and outside conditions were dangerously cold. Sheriff Roy Coffee came and with the assistance of Adam, forced Hoss and Ben to go inside and warm up. Neither Hoss nor Ben was thinking logically at that time—their desire to find something—anything—that might lead them to Little Joe overcame their common sense. Finally Roy, Adam, and Doc Martin convinced them to come inside and get warm before they became ill or got frostbitten themselves.

As the daylight finally ended, and dawn came, the three Cartwrights had realized they were not going to be able to track Little Joe unless they received some answer from the telegraphs Roy sent that might give them an idea of which direction to head. Once again, the Cartwrights headed over to the International House after getting assurances from Roy that if any helpful responses came in to any of the telegrams he would send for them and from the Doc that if Clive remembered anything that would help them, he would send for them. They ordered a meal to be sent to their room; they were in no mood to be sociable to the occasional diner they might meet in the hotel dining room. Ben stood at the window for a long time staring at the falling snow, driven by a hard, northerly wind and wondered where his youngest son was. Hoss and Adam tried to comfort him and each other, but none of them was fooled. They knew if Joe was out in that storm, they would be lucky to find him at all, much less still alive. Finally they settled in for another long evening and night of worry and little sleep.


December 23, 1864


Joe again slept longer than he had planned and when he awoke, he felt more rested, but the cold was taking its toll on him. He was cold to the bone, his arms and legs were stiff. He forced himself to get up and move around to try to get his blood circulating. He estimated it to be about four in the morning and knew it was as good a time as any to try to pull off his surprise attack. He checked on Midnight and found him to be reasonably comfortable. He was not used to being out in the weather, but the mountain and outcropping of rocks and the blankets that Joe had covered him with, rather than using them himself, had been sufficient to ward off the brunt of the bone-numbing chill. Joe again fed and watered the horse, then saddled him and got him ready to ride. He thought about eating the cold hare but just couldn’t force himself to face it. Joe knew though that he needed to get himself and the horse to shelter before long.

He took a deep breath, burrowed deeper into his coat and started for the cabin. He sneaked down into the clearing and dashed into the stable from the side so that he could see the front of the cabin. He looked around, aided by the reflecting white of the snow and saw no foot prints around the area. He noticed that although still burning, the smoke from the fire had been allowed to die down some. He concluded all three men must be asleep. His plan was quite simple, and he would have liked to have a more elaborate one, but he honestly couldn’t think of anything else–there were three of them, they were obviously better prepared to wait him out, since they were warm, had food and fire, and were in no hurry. He on the other hand, was cold, had no food to speak of, and definitely was in a hurry. He planned to sneak into the cabin, get the drop on them, relieve them of the dueling pistols and the cash if possible, and get out of there, hopefully alive.

He walked carefully and quietly toward the cabin door. He was hoping the door would not be locked. He didn’t imagine they would be expecting anyone to be paying a call at this ungodly hour and in this ungodly weather. With his gun in his left hand, he cautiously tried the door latch with his right hand. Thank God, the door was not bolted from the inside. He carefully opened the door, holding his breath as the door squeaked just a little. He could tell where the three men were by the sounds of their snoring. Two men were on the left side of the cabin and one man was on the right side, near the fire. Joe wished they had all been on one side, but that couldn’t be helped now. He had a split second to make a decision and he thought his best bet would be to tiptoe over to the left side of the cabin so he would be behind the two men and facing the lone man. Just as he was about to put that plan into action, his eyes caught on the two saddle bags, laying in plain sight on the table in the middle of the room. Impulsively, he reached for the saddle bags and started backing out of the cabin. He made it all the way to the door when he stepped on a floorboard that creaked loudly, and one of the men stirred. “Hey, somebody’s in here” and he jumped up and started reaching for his gun. Then the other two men started scrambling up too. Joe held tightly to the saddle bags and turned and ran from the cabin, towards the spot where he had left his horse. Since the men were not dressed for the weather, he figured he had a couple of minutes on them. On impulse again, he ran into the stable and shooed their horses out of the their stalls, hoping they would run off, giving him another time advantage.

Just as he was leaving the stable and heading for Midnight, he heard a shot go whizzing past his left ear. He kept running and almost made it. Just as he was within 5 feet of his horse, he felt a bullet slam into his right side. He fell over with the pain, but fortunately he did not pass out. He struggled up and managed to climb onto the horse’s back, the two saddle bags still held tightly in his right arm. Riding low, to try to stay out of firing range, he looked back over at the cabin, two of the three men were now running out and the third man was going back inside, presumably to dress. Joe saw that the horses, aroused from their warm and cozy nap, had not gone far when he tried to scare them off. They were standing just on the other side of the clearing; it wouldn’t take them long to catch them. Joe knew that with his current situation his only hope was to keep the slight time advantage he had and to stay ahead of the men. He thought that they would surely come after him, not so much for the two saddlebags, but to keep him from giving away their hiding place. From what Joe had seen, they had a minor operation going here and they probably felt keeping it a secret was worth the price of one dead man.

The remaining Cartwrights were again up early that morning. None of them had slept and they couldn’t lie in bed any longer. They were all feeling a deep sense of helplessness and frustration over their inability to do something. Ben had spent many long nights worrying about all his sons. His love for them was deep and unconditional. Each of them in different ways had caused him to worry. Joseph, however, undoubtedly had caused more outright worry than Adam and Hoss put together. Joe had always been a challenge—headstrong, hot-tempered, impetuous, and always trying to get his own way. He had learned the hard way that he had to be very precise in what he told Joe to do and not to do. Joe was honest and he didn’t lie; however, he had learned that language can be tricky and can be misconstrued easily. Joe used that to his advantage. He had an infuriating way of doing exactly what he was told to do, yet, missing the entire meaning of the instruction. He had thought about his conversation with Joe about his wanting to come into town. His own last words to him had been, “Joseph you may not go into town now and that is the end of it.” That seemed perfectly straightforward to him. After going over and over it in his head, he had realized finally that one little word in that sentence had given Joe the loophole that he used to disregard his instructions. The “NOW” was the problem, Ben realized. Joe didn’t go “now”, he went “later”. If he had said tonight, perhaps. Then he thought, No, that wouldn’t have worked either. Joe would have merely waited until after midnight, then he would have gone, because technically, it wouldn’t have been “night” any more. Ben was becoming more and more worried and the more worried he became, the more exasperated he became with Joseph.

As he and Adam and Hoss sat down in the dining room of the hotel at 6:00, Sheriff Coffee came striding into the hotel. “Ben, I got telegrams from all those places yesterday with no luck.” Ben’s face fell, he had been hoping and praying that they would get an answer today that would lead them. “But this morning the telegraph over in Placerville came back up and I just got a response from them. They think that it’s a gang living over towards Ryder Ridge between here and Placerville. They tried ’em one time, but couldn’t make a case. They think they hit small stores, etc like this right at Christmas time, and right before some bad weather, so they won’t be followed. But after that one trial, they hit only outlying towns and don’t mess with the towns near them. He sent me directions to their cabin, and the storm has finally let up. I got Clem getting together a posse right now.

As Roy was still talking, Adam and Hoss jumped up. Hoss said, “Adam, let’s go get our gear and get the horses. Pa, we will meet you back here as quick as we can.”

Ben nodded and said, “I’ll see if I can get the kitchen to pack us some supplies.”

Roy interrupted, “Boys, Clem told the livery stable boy to get your horses and gear ready and Mrs. Grayson is packing supplies enough for us all. She said to tell you Hoss, that she was making sure you wouldn’t go hungry.”


Joe held tightly with his reins and his knees to Midnight and urged him to go as fast as he could. The pain in his side was excruciating, and he could tell he was bleeding with every motion of the horse, but he couldn’t take the time to stop and try to bandage the wound. He finally managed to get his handkerchief out of his pocket and pushed it against the wound. That increased the pain, but it did seem to slow the bleeding some anyway. Joe focused on staying on the horse and holding on. He looked back one time and didn’t see the men, and after that, he wouldn’t allow himself to look back. His only hope was that Midnight could outrun their horses. He hadn’t gotten a chance to see any of their horses running but they were not spectacular looking, but he was aware that they had made the same trip he had made out of Virginia City with no trouble, and they had been resting in a warm stable, instead of outside like Midnight.

Joe rode for a long time, he thought at least an hour had passed, he allowed himself to look around and he didn’t see anyone following him. The pain in his side was again becoming unbearable and he felt a deep thirst. He knew that both he and Midnight would need a rest. He started watching for an area where he could stop to rest yet still see a long distance behind him. Just as he was about to think he was not going to be able to stay on the horse much longer, he saw the crest of a small hill. He could stop on the downslope of the hill and by watching from the hill, he could see for several miles. Fortunately the snow had finally started slowing down, he actually thought maybe the weather was fairing off.

Joe came to the hill and painfully climbed off his horse. He took a long drink of water, which refreshed him a little. Then he gave the horse water from his hands. The horse was clearly not enjoying this experience and Joe rubbed him gently on the muzzle, talking to him in a soothing voice. Then Joe took off his coat, then tore the sleeve out of his shirt, and tied it tightly around his waist and over the wound, holding the neck-kerchief on. He clenched his teeth to keep from crying out when he did this. He did it as tight as he could tolerate it, then he put his coat back on. Just as he was starting to relax a little bit, he looked over the rise and he saw three riders in the distance. He remounted his horse and once again started back toward the trail to Virginia City.

The robbers and Joe went like this for several more hours. Joe would stop when he could go no further and rest for a few moments. He noticed at one point that the riders seemed to be gaining on him, but slowly and there appeared to now be only two riders. “I have to keep my eyes open” he thought, “one of ’em may be trying to outflank me”. Joe could tell that Midnight was tiring and he tried to loosen his load. Unfortunately he had very little he could leave. Finally he took the two saddlebags and took the box containing the dueling pistols out and put it in his saddle bags, then he discarded the two saddlebags full of jewelry and cash from Barker’s Emporium, hoping the robbers would turn back if they got what they came after.

Joe rode until middle of the afternoon. He had ridden in all about 8 hours with only a few minutes of rest and a few sips of water. He was very thirsty but there was only a little water left and he knew he should save it. He thought about eating some snow to slake his thirst but he knew he was too cold already and the snow would just make him colder. All his life his father had taught him that snow had to be melted and heated before it could be used for water. If only he had time to build a fire, he would do that. “If I had time to build a fire and some wood to burn in it, I would also warm my hands and feet” he thought ruefully. Joe pressed on until he found himself about to fall out of the saddle. He had to rest before he went any further. He also knew that Midnight couldn’t keep up that pace any longer. He may have already ridden the horse beyond his endurance. He slid off the saddle, took the saddle bags off to lighten the horse’s load, and took the horse blanket and spread it over the horse, then took his bedroll and laid it out next to an outcropping of rocks. He scanned the horizon and didn’t see the men following him, so he thought he could safely rest for just a few minutes. He sat there, holding Midnight’s reins since there was really nothing to tie them too and he didn’t want her to wander away.

Eventually the cold woke him up. He couldn’t remember ever in his entire life being so cold. It took him several minutes to realize where he was, then when he did, he tried to sit up quickly and the pain in his side reminded him of his situation. Then the horror hit him—Midnight was not there. He stood up slowly and scanned the horizon—nothing in all directions—nothing. He clearly saw Midnight’s tracks, he was headed in the right direction, but he had forgotten his rider. Joe knew that his situation that had been desperate before was now—what? “What is worse than desperate?” he asked himself. Then he mentally chided himself, “Come on, Joe, quit feeling sorry for yourself, You got your own self into this and now you have to get yourself out of it.” Joe wrapped the bedroll around him for extra warmth, and picked up the saddle bags and opened them. Finding the leftover hare, he forced himself to eat it, though he was barely able to get it down, due to the waves of nausea that had hit him when he stood up. Then he emptied everything out of the saddlebag, and taking the pocket knife, and the mahogany case containing the dueling pistols, he started walking, following the horse’s tracks. By looking at what was visible of the sun, Joe figured it was close to 5 p.m. and he was no where near any kind of shelter. He knew if he didn’t catch up with the horse or find some kind of shelter, he would likely freeze to death that night. His only chance he thought was to keep walking and hope he either found the horse or some place where he could take shelter, or as a last resort build a snow cave. His memory from the previous ride made him doubt this was going to happen, but he wouldn’t give up without a fight.

Joe trudged along following the horse’s tracks; the horse at least seemed to be going in the right direction. He hoped Midnight would make it back to the main road, at least there he would have a chance of being found and returned to the Ponderosa. He looked behind him a few times, but saw no one following him. He realized that the robbers had probably long since headed back toward their warm cabin, figuring he wouldn’t make it out alive anyway. He was determined to prove them wrong. He was not going fast, but he continued to make some progress. His thoughts of his family kept him going–he had to make it home for Christmas. In his whole life, he had never once missed hearing his father read the story of that first Christmas from the family Bible with the marriages of his father and his and Adam’s and Hoss’s mother’s, and the births of him and his two brothers, and the deaths of his own mother and Adam’s and Hoss’ mothers before that. His father always preferred the version told in Luke. Joe could almost hear his father’s strong voice ” In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus…”. He imagined his father sitting in his favorite chair, Hoss on the sofa, Adam in the chair across from his father, and him sitting, wrapped in his mother’s afghan, leaning against Adam’s chair. The memories of those Christmas’ past were so strong that Joe could almost feel the warmth of the fire. When he felt like stopping and giving up, he would hear his father’s voice and he would keep going.

Joe was so cold he no longer felt his hands or feet. He was no longer thinking of reaching the Ponderosa, he was thinking only of putting one foot in front of the other. His stubbornness paid off in that, he never once considered just giving up. He would not quit. However, the cold, the blood loss, the lack of food and water, and the exhaustion eventually robbed him of the ability to stand, and he fell. Still refusing to give up, he struggled to crawl. He crawled a few feet, but the effort finally depleted his own inner reserves, and he drifted into the blackness, where cold and pain didn’t exist.


Within 15 minutes, the posse was ready. Roy Coffee and Ben Cartwright led the way with Adam and Hoss just beyond, each of them lost in their thoughts. They were not able to talk initially because of the wind, but as the morning wore on, the wind died down and the sun even tried to shine, although the temperature was still below freezing and there were high snow drifts. They continued to ride, following the directions given to Roy by the sheriff of Placerville. The Cartwrights hoped the directions were accurate and they were going after the right robbers and they were not going to be too late to find Little Joe. At noon, the Cartwrights didn’t want to stop, but Roy insisted the men and horses needed rest. They reluctantly agreed, but each of them worried about where Joe was and in what kind of shape he was in.

As the journey went on, Ben’s anger toward his youngest son evaporated, as it often did. Yes, Joe was extremely exasperating, but he was also a joy to have around. He was full of life, high spirits, and love of life. His mother had coined her own term to describe Joe’s exuberance when he was just a toddler, she called it his “joe de vive”, a pun on the French words meaning joy of living. That was what made Joe so special and so much fun, and yes, what made him worth all the aggravation and the language games, and his stubbornness. He couldn’t imagine life without his youngest son. He knew his brothers felt the same way. Hoss and Joe were very close and had a special bond that was open, uncomplicated, and easy to see–they literally adored each other. But Adam’s and Joe’s relationship was more complex. On the one hand, they frequently were at loggerheads with each other. Adam was logical, ruled more by his head than his heart, and methodical. Joe was emotional, guided by logic that made sense only to him at times, always ruled by his heart, not his head, and spontaneous. These differences in personalities combined with the 12 year age difference often times pitted them against each other. Yet, there was no doubt there was a deep love and mutual respect there that was unspoken more than spoken, but obviously there. Ben could not envision life without Little Joe. He urged his horse on, hoping that the others would pick up the pace. He wondered if Hoss and Adam had similar thoughts because they urged their horses on at the exact same time he did.

The posse had found the trail that led off the road and had started toward the hills as dusk was approaching. The men of the posse were looking around at the sheriff and deputy to see what they were planning. They were wondering if they intended to keep going in the night. They were cold, hungry, and tired and wanted to stop. Their questions were answered as the sheriff and deputy began pulling out lanterns from the pack mule they had brought along and handing them out. Roy knew if Little Joe was out in the weather, they may already be too late, but he couldn’t face that proposition himself and he knew getting the Cartwrights to call off the search would be futile. So he didn’t even bring it up. He figured his good friend needed his support now more than ever and the best way to give it, was to keep searching. So they rode on.

Later, they found they no longer needed the light from the lanterns, the weather was finally clearing and the light from the stars and the moon was so bright there was sufficient light to see. Hoss pointed out there was one particular star brighter than all the others, “that’s the one Joe always called the Christmas star” he told Adam. Adam, who had been wishing on that star, nodded in agreement. They continued to ride, their thoughts all on a single purpose and a single person.

Suddenly one of the deputies hollered, “Look, up ahead…” They all looked at where the man pointed, there was a black horse, slowly but steadily coming towards them.

Adam voiced what Hoss and Ben were thinking, “It’s Midnight”. They urged their horses on.

When they approached, Midnight, always skittish began to back away. Hoss quickly jumped off his horse and walked slowly towards the horse, talking to him. He got close enough to the horse and grabbed hold of his reins. He could see he had been worked hard but was in fairly good shape. He didn’t feel as if he had been ridden recently. He quickly remounted his horse and said, “Let’s follow his tracks, and we’ll find Joe, Pa. I’m sure of it.” Ben and Adam both agreed and they led the way. They rode steadily for another hour, closely following the horse’s tracks, hoping they would lead them to Joe, the starlight guiding their way.

They were almost on top of him before they saw him, lying covered with snow, just barely visible. Their hearts sank as they saw him. They were off their horses fast, but somehow Ben was the first to reach Joe. He pulled him in his arms, his heart breaking. Adam, who reached Joe only a split second later, felt his neck and said loudly, “Pa, he’s alive. He’s alive” Hoss immediately hollered, “Get some blankets over here and somebody get a fire built, he’s near ’bout frozen.”

Immediately the men of the posse began to move, the kindling and wood from the pack was used to start a fire. They quickly took extra blankets and made a makeshift tent and moved Joe into it and began to remove his wet clothing and attempt to get him warm.

As they did this, they discovered he had been shot and they covered the wound with a makeshift dressing. As they removed his boots and socks from his feet they were distressed to find that his feet were wet and extremely cold with no apparent circulation. Adam and Ben exchanged worried glances, and Ben quickly said “Get off his gloves and get his hands warm.”

As Hoss attempted to remove his gloves, he found that he was holding something clutched tightly in his right hand. “What in the world is this?” he said out loud.

Ben said “Never mind that, Hoss get his hands warm, as he and Adam each tried to warm one of his feet.” Hoss nodded his head in quick understanding pried the mahogany box loose from Joe’s hands and removed his gloves and began to rub them briskly, then he placed then inside his own gloves which were dry and furlined.

Roy Coffee came over with a mug of soup he had warmed over the fire. “Here, Ben see if you can get some of this in him, it’ll warm him up from the inside out.” Ben took the mug and cradling Joe’s head and shoulders in his arms, he was able to force some of the hot liquid into Joe’s mouth and Joe swallowed reflexively.

After they had removed Joe’s wet clothing and dressed him in spare clothes from Adam’s kit, they wrapped him in layers of warm blankets and continued to warm his feet. Ben was very worried over the condition of Joe’s hands and feet–they were cold, white, and almost hard to the touch. He had seen people lose extremities due to damage from the cold and Joe’s feet looked like what he remembered those frostbite injuries looking like. He also knew Joe had lost blood from his wound, but it was hard to determine how much since he was so pale and white-looking from the cold. Around his mouth and eyes looked almost blue, and his pulse was weak and irregular. They discussed the best course of action and decided the number one priority was to keep him warm and to get fluids in him. They knew they could not do this on horseback, so Roy sent several of the men to go back to the main road and go to the nearest ranch and borrow a wagon. They figured that would take at least a couple of hours. In the meantime, the other men set about keeping a fire going and cooking a meal for the rest of the men.

Ben and Adam and Hoss continued to rub Joe’s extremities to try to get them warm and they fed him the warm soup as fast as they could get it in him. They were very concerned because he showed no signs of regaining consciousness during this time. Yet they talked to him and continued to try to rouse him. When they felt they had done as much as they could do, Hoss and Adam got coffee and sandwiches for them and their father and as Ben sat still holding Joe’s head and shoulders in his arms, Hoss reached over and picked up the mahogany case and opened it. Unconsciously, Hoss whistled when he looked inside and saw the fine pair of dueling pistols inside. They were made of silver and steel with exquisitely carved mahogany panels on the side. He picked one up and felt the delicate, yet sturdy feel of the pistol. “That’s a real beauty, ain’t it Pa?”

Ben looked at the pistol Hoss held and said, “Yes son, it is.” Absently, his mind only on Little Joe at the time.

Finally the men arrived with a wagon, which was loaded with still more blankets and warming stones given to them by the rancher’s wife. They carefully warmed the blankets and the stones, then they made a bed in the wagon and placed Joe carefully inside the wagon, then they fashioned a cover with the remaining blankets to keep out the wind and snow if any should fall. With Ben and Adam on either side of Joe and Hoss driving the wagon, they began the long journey back to the Ponderosa. Joe never once made a sound or opened his eyes during the entire journey. Ben kept his eyes on his son, frequently forcing warm liquid down his throat, feeling his pulse, and watching for the rise and fall of his chest. He was encouraged that the strength and regularity of Joe’s heart seemed to improve as they moved slowly back to the Ponderosa.

As they neared the fork in the road that would lead to Virginia City or to the Ponderosa, the wagon turned toward the Ponderosa. Roy Coffee volunteered to go bring Dr. Martin to the Ponderosa. “Ben I’ll go get the Doc and we’ll head out over the Watson Pass, so we can get there just about the time you do or soon after.”

“Thanks, Roy” Ben said simply, but he meant for so much more than for going after the doctor. “Thank all of you” he added to the rest of the men.

“Merry Christmas, Mr. Cartwright.” They responded.

Ben replied “Merry Christmas to you and your families, too” . He then looked at his sons and with unshed tears in his eyes said, “Let’s get this young man home, boys. It is Almost Christmas Eve.


CHRISTMAS EVE? What time is it?” he said, his voice rising as he started trying to get out of bed.

“Now just settle down, Joe, you aren’t going anywhere.” Adam said, as he and Hoss both put a hand on Joe’s shoulder pushing him back on the bed.

Joe relaxed for a minute, his eyes closed, then he opened them wide again. “Where is Pa, Adam? And what time is it?”

“Pa’s sitting downstairs, Joe and it’s almost midnight. Why?”

“Listen Adam you have to go out to the barn right now and get that box and bring it inside to me.”

Adam was getting suspicious of what his little brother had in mind and asked “Why, Joe? Why do you need it now?”

“I just want to make sure it is alright. That is Pa’s Christmas gift, Adam. I just gotta have it. Please. Either go get it or let me go get it.” He fixed them with his own version of his father’s “look”.

Adam put up his hands and said, “Alright, Joe, you win. You just settle down and I’ll go get it for you. Now you just settle down.”

Joe smiled and said, “Sure, Adam. Just go bring it in for me.” As soon as Adam left the room, Joe turned his smile on his brother and said, “Hoss, I need your help….” Hoss eyed him suspiciously, but walked over closer to the bed so he could hear him clearly. His eyes widened as he heard Joe’s request.


Ben was getting ready to turn in for the night, but he was waiting for Adam to come inside. He had said he’d forgotten to do something in the barn and had rushed out of the house just a few minutes before, saying he’d be right back. He had told him to go on to bed, but Ben liked to have all his sons inside and safe before he went to bed. Even though Adam was a grown man, he still didn’t like having them out. As he was waiting for Adam he was reflecting on how different this Christmas was than others. He was not complaining, however, realizing how tragic this Christmas COULD have been, just made him appreciate this one a little more. Just as he heard Adam come walking up on the porch, he heard footsteps coming down the stairs. His eyes widened and his mouth dropped open at what he saw. Adam came in and seeing his father’s face, followed his gaze. Down the stairs came Hoss, carrying Joseph in his arms. He was walking slowly and carefully, trying not to jostle his brother and cause him any pain. Joe was wrapped in his mother’s afghan and was busily giving Hoss instructions.

Ben finally recovered his voice and boomed out, “Hoss what is the meaning of this? Joe is supposed to be asleep!”

“Pa” Hoss began, but he was interrupted by Joe.

“Pa, it’s Christmas Eve. We can’t go to bed without hearing you read the Christmas story.”

Ben started to send Hoss right back upstairs, but the look on his youngest son’s face prevented him from carrying out that thought. He sighed and said, “Joseph, you are a caution, son. Alright, I guess since you are already down here it won’t do any more damage. But after that you are going right back up to bed and you are staying there. Is that clear?”

“Sure Pa,” Joe smiled at him and said, “Adam, get Pa the Bible.”

Adam went over to his father’s study and quickly retrieved the treasured Bible. Ben sat in his chair and Adam sat across from him. Joe had to settle for sitting on the sofa with Hoss, as they would not agree to his sitting on the floor. They all became quiet as Ben started reading, ” In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus…”. When he had finished reading, they all had tears in their eyes, except for Joe, who was sound asleep. Ben and Adam helped Hoss pick him up and they carried him upstairs and put him in his bed and covered him up, and leaving the lantern on, they crept out, leaving the door slightly ajar.


December 25, 1864


As usual, Joe Cartwright was the first member of the household awake on Christmas Day. His family often made fun of him for sleeping late, but Christmas Day was the one day of the year that he was awake first. When he awoke, he sat up in bed slowly, careful to not put undue pressure on his side, which was still very tender. He carefully got out of bed and stepping gingerly on his still sore feet, he found his robe and a pair of slippers and carefully went downstairs, holding onto the railing and taking the stairs very slowly. He had seen where Adam had put the box last night, and the first thing he did was retrieve it. He opened it carefully to make sure the guns were there and not damaged. He couldn’t wait for his father to see these pistols. He slowly made his way across the room and placed the box under the tree with the other gifts already there. Then he went to the small crawl space behind the stairs and bending slowly and wincing a little, retrieved the two presents he had hidden there for Adam and Hoss. He knew every hiding place on the whole ranch; this was one that no one but he ever thought of. He grinned as he carefully placed these gifts under the tree. He knew that Hoss would love the new holster he had gotten him, with the engraved “C” on it. Adam had been harder to choose for, as he had different tastes. He had finally chosen a new book of short stories written by their friend Mark Twain. He had sent the book to Sam Clemmons and had it autographed. He thought Adam would enjoy that. He loved getting Christmas gifts, but he enjoyed giving them even more.

Finally his work done, he crept back up the stairs and got into bed, just as he heard his father’s bedroom door open. He hadn’t had time to take his robe or slippers off, so he just pulled the covers up over him and closed his eyes. His father came over and said, “Good morning, Son. Merry Christmas.”

He opened his eyes as if he were just waking up, yawned for effect and said, “Merry Christmas, Pa.”

“How are you feeling this morning, Joe?”

“Oh I feel fine, Pa.” About that time Adam and Hoss entered and another round of “Merry Christmas” was exchanged.

“Well what are we waiting for? Let’s go see what Santa left” Joe said, starting to pull back the covers.

He was stopped by his father’s arm, and voice saying, “Now just a minute young man, you aren’t going anywhere.”

Joe looked at his father, crushed. “Pa, come on. It’s Christmas Day, Pa. Surely you don’t mean…..” He looked at his father incredulously. “Pa, Hoss can carry me down, won’t you, Hoss? Please, Pa. It’s Christmas.”

Ben looked at Adam and Hoss and they all three started laughing, “Gotcha, Joe” they all said in unison. Joe laughed too.

Then Ben said, “Alright, Hoss let’s get your brother downstairs. You get him up and I will get his robe and slippers.” Instantly, Joe knew he was in trouble. “Hmm. Joe where are your robe and slippers….”

About that time, Hoss pulled back the covers and laughing, said, “Pa, I found ’em.”

“What do you mean ‘you found ’em’”, Ben asked, whirling around.

When they all saw Joe with his robe and slippers still on, they were all quiet for a second. Joe said, “Well I wanted to be ready’s all.”

Shaking his head and frowning, Ben said, “Joseph, one of these days you and I are going to have to reach an understanding about obedience.” Joe was not surprised to see that he wasn’t smiling. His father didn’t easily overlook outright disobedience.

Fortunately, Hoss came to his rescue, “Well, Pa, that will have to wait ’cause today is Christmas Day. Let’s go see if Santa came to visit last night despite all the carryings-on around here the past few days.”

Adam slapped his arm around his father and said, “Come on Pa, it is Christmas.”

When they reached the stairs, they saw Hop Sing setting up the usual Christmas breakfast in the living room, in front of the fireplace. He had known that one way or another, Little Joe would be joining the family downstairs, so he had prepared a place for him on the sofa with a pillow and blankets. Although Hop Sing did not celebrate the Christian Christmas, he did enjoy the celebration with his adopted family. He helped to settle Little Joe in and served coffee and Joe’s favorite breakfast, sausage and biscuits. After they had finished eating—although Hoss only stopped because Joe threatened to return his gift if he didn’t stop so they could open the presents, they turned their attention to the tree. Ben, as was his custom, played the role of distributing the gifts one at a time. Everyone watched the person open their gift, taking turns until they were all opened.

They each were as interested in watching the others open the gifts they had selected for them as in opening their own gifts. Joe was pleased that Hoss and Adam had seemed to appreciate his gifts to them and he was excited over their gifts to him as well. Joe’s last gift was from his father, and the size and shape of the package identified it as a gun, probably a new hunting rifle, which Joe had been needing for a while. He was ecstatic when he opened it. It was a fancy new breechloader, like the kind just introduced by the Calvary. “Thanks, Pa. I can’t wait to try this out.” Joe said, smiling broadly at his father.

“Now, there is only one gift left and there is no name on it.” Ben said.

Smiling, Hoss and Adam turned to Joe.

“That’s your gift from me, Pa. Merry Christmas.”

Ben picked up the box and noted that it was mahogany. “The box is a fine piece of workmanship itself.” He said, puzzled at what was in the box. He opened the box to see the most exquisite pair of dueling pistols he had ever seen. He picked one up carefully and the weight and feel of the gun was perfect. “Joe these are beautiful. Where in the wor……” He stopped, staring at his son, but hearing instead Hoss’s voice saying “What in the world is this?”. “You got these from Barker’s Emporium? That’s why you had to go to Virginia City and why you took off after those men?” Ben’s face was drawn and white as the realization that his son had risked his life, and had come close to losing his life, to get these pistols for him. He sat down, his knees too weak to support him.

Joe, who had been eagerly watching for his father’s reaction to the gift, was confused. “Pa, don’t you like them?” he asked alarmed. He thought his Pa would love them, now he wasn’t sure what to think. Did he make a bad choice? Is the work not really good? What is wrong? He asked himself anxiously.

Ben looked at Hoss and said, “Hoss would you carry your brother back to his room for me, please?”

“Sure, Pa” Hoss replied, every bit as confused as Joe was. “Pa” Joe said..

“Just a minute, son. Just a minute. Hoss settle him back in bed for me, please.”

Hoss said “Yessir” and reached over and picked up Little Joe in one swoop and carried him toward the stairs.

“Hoss, wait I have to talk to Pa. I don’t understand.”

“Ssh, Joe, it will be alright. Just calm down.” Hoss tried to calm his brother, though he was upset himself. He had never seen his father act that way before. He and Joe and Adam had probably all given him gifts that he didn’t like before, but he never once acted like that. And why didn’t he like them? They were beautiful dueling pistols and Pa loved dueling pistols. Hoss continued to try to calm Joe down as he settled him back into bed.

Adam was also puzzled, but he had an idea seeing the reason for Joe’s mission had brought the reality of how close they had come to losing him home to his father. He walked over and put his arm on his father and said, “Pa, you know he is going to be alright. He’s okay.”

“Yes, son. He is okay. THIS TIME. But I have to make him understand. He—we—may not be so lucky next time.” With that, he turned and went up the stairs. When he got to his son’s room, he opened the door and went quickly inside. “Hoss, I’d like to be alone with Joe, please.”

“Sure, Pa.” Hoss said and sped out of the room, he was glad for the chance to escape his brother’s hurt eyes, asking a question that he couldn’t answer.

Ben sat down on the side of the bed and said, “Joe, look at me”. His youngest son slowly turned his face toward Ben and he could see that in the short time he had been downstairs, Joe had shed many tears. Ben’s heart broke at the sight of the hurt and pain in his beloved youngest son’s face. “Joe” he smiled at his son, speaking softly. “I’m sorry for the way I acted down there. I love the pistols, son. I truly do. They are beautiful.” Joe looked at his father, more confused than ever.

“Pa, I don’t understand. If you like them, why did you look like you hated them, like you were repulsed by them?”

“Joseph, when I realized that the pistols were the reason you had sneaked out of the house in a blizzard and then had gone off into another storm following a gang of outlaws, got yourself shot and almost froze to death….. Son, the pistols are wonderful and I will always treasure them, but you have to understand Joe that there is nothing you could give me—nothing anyone could give me—that would mean as much to me as YOU mean to me, Son. I will treasure these guns, Son, but more for the reminder of what they almost cost you and me, son, than for their beauty. And I want you to realize that, too, Joseph.”

Joe was watching his father and trying to understand what his father was trying to say to him. “Pa, I don’t understand. What are you saying?”

“Joseph, what I am saying…. What I am asking, Joe, is that you realize YOU are my gift. You and Adam and Hoss. You are more important to me than anything else. And I want you to remember that from now on, every time you start to do something that places your life in jeopardy. Joe as much as I love those pistols, they would have been very little comfort to me if you had gotten yourself killed. Do you understand that Joe? It is important to me that you understand that.”

Joe had watched his father as he talked to him and saw his father was speaking from the heart and seemed to need something from him to relieve his distress. Joe knew what he must do. He looked at his father and said, “I understand, Pa. I promise to think about you before I do something dangerous again. I understand, Pa.” Tears were streaming down his face and as he looked at his father’s face, he saw that his father was crying, too.

Ben reached over and took his son in his arms and hugged him tightly. They kept the embrace for a few minutes, until Joe said in a small voice, “Pa, I can’t breathe.”

Ben loosened his grip and pulled back from Joe, but kept his hands on his shoulders and said, “I am going to hold you to that promise, Joseph.”

“Okay, Pa. I know you will”.

After Ben and Joe had regained their composure, Ben said, “Well, how about if your old Pa carries you downstairs this time and let’s go have some Christmas cookies and coffee?”

“Well Pa, I can walk you know, it only hurts a little” Joe started, but stopped when he saw the stern look on his father’s face. “I mean I bet it will only hurt a little, Pa.” Joe corrected, and held out his arms so his father could pick him up. Laughing they went back downstairs to join Hoss and Adam for Christmas Day.

***The End***


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Author: Preserving Their Legacy Author

2 thoughts on “The Christmas Gift (by Judy)

  1. Hope ChinWah,

    You are such a great reader/fan! It always makes me feel great when I see that you have read and commented on a story I wrote, because you are so kind and seem to understand and agree with my viewpoint of the Cartwrights and how they would react to a situation. Thank you for reading the stories; I’m glad you enjoy them.


  2. This is a great story. What a great family. I loved this story. There is so much love in this family. I think Pa is the best father his sons can have. He has three great loving sons. Thanks

    Edited to remove spoilers to the story.

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