Summary: a story of captivity, survival and compassion
Rated: T – Word Count: 40500
He had waited too long. Logic had failed him, and he had made the fatal error by following it. His sons were men, he’d reasoned repeatedly, grown men who had lived in these same mountains for far too long for the father in him to worry like he had. So he had clamped down on the parental instinct that said his sons were in trouble. For three days, a crucial three days it turned out, he had merely gone about his everyday life. Later, he would look back on that time and, picturing what he had been doing, balance it against what his sons were enduring. Just the recurring thoughts were enough to make the strong man’s heart quake.
Part One: A Trade for Peace
The glowing coals made a bright spot of color on the dark mountainside that night. It was as though the men around it had made a beacon for the others to follow and find them. It was not the intention of either party, but a matter of happenstance. The Paiute braves, returning from a raid on the western slopes of the Sierras had come too close to the campfire to check it out. Their movements, cautious though they were, had aroused the men around it. The braves made a quick decision: the three white men around the fire would be taken captive. The skirmish, while hot and fierce, took little time to end. The three whites were bound, thrust onto the horses there and the camp ransacked. The only treasure the braves found were the men, and those they took away with them.
The whites made little trouble in the beginning of the journey. The biggest one was a mountain of a man but, with his hands tied tightly behind him, all he could do was growl at the braves. The man in black sagged in the saddle as he rode, the blood from a head wound making a red track down the side of his face. The smallest of the three whites had to be tied bellydown across the saddle for he was not conscious. For each white man there were two braves, one who led the horse and one who rode behind, his spear ready should their captives try to escape. Wisely, perhaps, they did not try.
When the sun rose over the far peaks the party stopped to rest the horses. The Indians roughly pulled their prisoners from the saddle, thrusting them together. The leader of the raiding party, a brave of twenty summers, directed that they be given water only. One started to cut their bindings to free their hands but he was stopped and told simply to pull the others’ heads back and pour the water onto their faces. When the one in black spoke the leader cuffed him hard, sending him sprawling. For good measure, and to make sure that he was not faking, the leader kicked the one who lay unconscious. That one continued to lay still but the one in black again spoke up. It earned him another blow, and this time he apparently understood that silence was demanded and expected. With eyes burning and full of hatred, the whites stayed silent.
After a brief respite the journey continued. Into the high mountains the party rode. At any other time the vistas presented would have been admired but not this trip. The white men, beaten, bruised and bloodied, barely clung to their saddles, dazed. Their captors wished to put more mountains between themselves and the rest of the white man’s world. They pushed on hard, not sparing their mounts or the whites.
Just as the sun was setting they dropped down onto a flat plain. Nestled between two high peaks, the space was barely ten acres in size, split in half by a snow-fed stream. Pitched there, however, were more than a hundred teepees. If the white men had cared to study them closely, they would have seen that the camp was not of one tribe but many, for this was the summer gathering where several tribes, Paiute, Shoshoni, Bannocks and others came together. For the space of a half moon old rivalries would be put aside. The wise men of each nation would sit and reason out what should be done with the ever-encroaching whites, the hunting grounds that shrank continually would be apportioned and trades made for guns, bullets, blankets and slaves. There would be games between the younger bucks, games of bravery and skill. Also games of luck and chance with wagers won and lost. Once the time was over each tribe would slip away into the mountains and deserts, back to their own ways.
Adam Cartwright couldn’t remember a time when he felt so miserable. His head pounded, making his vision swim and his stomach boil. When he was thrown to the ground, his shoulder impacting heavily, he could only roll to his chest. His hands, still bound behind him, were freed but without having any feeling left in them, Adam could do nothing with them. They were pulled to each side and again tied, but this time to wooden pegs pounded deep into the earth.
There was the sound of raucous laughter above him and Adam turned his head in time to see Hoss. For a split second, his heart lifted. Hoss’ hands were free! But then he watched as his brother was struck from behind at knee level and he pitched forward. When he hit the ground, Adam could see that he’d been beaten badly. One eye was nearly closed and a trickle of blood from his mouth mixed with the dirt. As he watched helplessly, his brother was tied in the same manner he was: spread-eagled, face down.
Hearing something to the other side of him, he tried to turn his head but an old woman grabbed his thick hair and held him. In her hand, she held a long bladed knife. Her intentions were clear: she intended to take a scalp. A sharp voice above him stopped her and Adam recognized it as that of the brave who had silenced him earlier. The words were strident and the old woman started to argue but the brave overrode her words with more harsh ones of his own and she backed away from Adam, releasing him.
Cautiously, Adam turned his head, searching for Joe. He had been right; the sound next to him had been the Indians staking Joe out beside him. He assessed the situation quickly: Joe was still unconscious and that didn’t set well. Out for almost a full day? he pondered. How bad a shape did that make Joe in? He wasn’t sure but at least he could see that he still was breathing. Like Hoss, his face was battered enough that Adam knew what it had taken to subdue him. Now relieved that both his brothers were alive and that they were together, Adam let himself fall into a dreamless sleep, the earth beneath him a unwelcome, rocky bed.
The air was growing chilly when the Indians returned to their captives, this time a large group of them led by an old man, hunched over and walking with bowed legs. With a quick gesture, Adam was untied and roughly pulled into a seated position. Before him squatted the old man.
“We have met before,” the old man said, his English thick with the sibilance of Paiute.
“Then you know that I am a friend of the Paiute, as are my brothers,” Adam replied, his voice cracking from disuse. He started to gesture towards Hoss and Joe but the slight motion brought a lance to his chest. The lance was held by one of the braves who had taken them captive.
The old man pushed the lance aside and said something to the brave. The brave looked to his feet, ashamed. Adam would have smiled if his swollen lips would have let him. It was obvious that the old man had chastised the younger one much the same way his own father would have Adam. But there all similarity ended.
“There are no white men who are friends of the Paiute now. Only enemies,” the elder spoke. “You now belong to us, as do your brothers. We are the ones who decide for you. Not you.”
“But there was never a time when the Cartwrights rode against the Paiute! You know that! And there were many winters when my father gave you beef so that your children would not go hungry!” Adam argued, his whole body given over to making his point as it leaned towards the old man.
“Silence!” the old shouted and rose to stand over Adam. “Do not look at the past for it is gone. As are many of the children of my people! And you have little time in the future so, if I were you, I would be glad for the breath you draw only now. My son made a mistake when he did not kill you where he found you. By the time the sun has set once again, a decision will be made whether you will die here or somewhere else, but you will die.”
Instinctively, Adam started to rise, grabbing at the old man who had turned to walk away from him. With a sudden turn, the young brave beside the elder raised his lance defensively. He thrust it at him, catching Adam in the shoulder with just enough of the point that it broke the skin and drew blood. There the brave held it while the silence drew out ominously.
“As I said,” the old one spoke softly, “we decide when and where you die. Not you.” Another sharp word and the lance was pulled back but held steady in front of Adam’s face. “If you try to run, we will catch you. But you will not want to leave without them.” The other gestured offhandedly to Hoss and Joe.
The party drew away towards the center of the encampment, leaving no guards other than the certainty of the old man’s words.
At daybreak, two young women, flanked by armed braves, came to where the Cartwright brothers sat miserably in the cold dawn light. In the night, Joe had come around and using numbed fingers, Adam had untied both his brothers. The old Indian had been right. He wouldn’t have left without them and neither one of them seemed capable of riding. They had come to the same unspoken conclusion: try for more time. The old man, whose name continued to escape Adam, was a leader and as such, perhaps he could be convinced to release them despite his words to the contrary. But first, they had to survive so they took the bowls of cold stew the women offered and ate hungrily.
Once they were finished eating, the nudge from a lance urged them to their feet and they were herded to the small stream. There they dropped to their stomachs and, using their cupped hands, drank the first water they’d had in nearly twenty-four hours. Adam saw Hoss doing the same thing he was: scouring the countryside. It was almost as if he could read Hoss’ mind: find an escape route.
“No,” he murmured and even that slight sound got him kicked by the closest brave. Still, the message had gotten to Hoss. It was too bad that it hadn’t Joe because in a flurry, he’d risen to his feet, quick as a cat, and started across the stream.
In silent horror, Adam and Hoss both watched as he was grabbed by one of their guards. Joe was wrenched from his feet and thrust face down into the cold swift-running stream. Both brothers started to rise to go help, but the remaining guards swiped at them both with their lances, cutting a narrow swath across Hoss’ chest. Others, hearing the screams as Joe was lifted and plunged again and again into the water, came to the bank to watch.
How long it would have continued would have been anyone’s guess for the brave who held Joe ‘s life in his hands appeared to want to prolong his sport as long as possible. He would hold his captive’s head under the water just long enough for the struggling to begin to subside then he would pull him out, letting his prey gulp for life-sustaining air. Then again, he would plunge him back into the water. As Adam and Hoss watched helplessly from the bank, they could see that each time Joe struggled a little less frantically.
“Enough!” came a shout from the back of the small gathering and the Indians parted, allowing the old man through. His admonition was heeded and the brave hauled Joe back to the bank and dropped him onto the grass at the old man’s feet.
Still gulping air wildly, Joe struggled to stand but the old one pushed him back down onto all fours. He would have tried to stand again but the knee against his back stopped Joe. When he looked up, water streaming down his face, he felt the blade of a knife against his throat.
“Move, young one, and I will end your life here.” The voice of the old man didn’t quiver and Joe felt the knife’s blade bite into the side of his throat.
For a few wild moments, Adam feared that Joe would try to out-maneuver the old one but with his chest still heaving, Joe remained as he was. Slowly, the old man backed away, taking the knife and its sure death with him. Adam watched carefully, his mind screaming at Joe to stay put. Beside him, he could feel Hoss’ presence and with one hand placed on the brawny arm there, held him back from moving as well.
“The young are foolish some times, are they not?” the elder asked and Adam merely nodded. “Take him, then, and teach him the wisdom you have. But be quick about it for he has not long to practice it. Nor you to teach it.”
Throughout the remainder of the day, the three Cartwright brothers found themselves tied and guarded once more. This time, however, they were tethered with a strip of rawhide around their throats attached to a four-foot lead pinned to the ground. Their hands were tied to their feet in a painful bent over position even as they sat in the strong sunlight. The guard had only to gesture once when Adam had asked Joe if he were okay for them to get the idea that communication was not allowed. Again and again, Adam ran back over all the names he could remember of the Paiutes he and his father had met and known over the years. No name matched the face of the old man who held their fate in his hands. After a while, he gave up trying. Instead he focused on what could possibly keep himself and his brothers alive another day.
The sun fell quickly there in the high mountains and with the darkness, Adam saw the center of the camp begin to glow. A large fire had been built there and just the thought of what might follow made his mouth dry. He tried to silently speak to his brothers just by looking at them but he wasn’t sure what he was trying to say. Hoss seemed to take heart from his prolonged eye contact and smiled tightly in return. Joe, on the other hand, simply looked away, the fleeting glimpse Adam had of his brother’s face showed him that Joe thought himself a failure. When he continued to stare, Joe finally turned his face back to his brother’s and Adam gave him the same tight smile Hoss had given him. He hoped it gave his youngest brother a little more courage.
Movement along the track that led to them drew their attention. From the torches held aloft, the brothers could see that a great many people were surging towards them, and at the front of the mass was the old man. As the Indians came to them, they made the Cartwrights the center of a pool of silence.
“The sun has set. Your lives are ours now. Have you taught this one?” the old man spoke to Adam and gestured to Joe.
“Your braves have not allowed-” Adam began but the brave standing closest to him grasped his leather collar, choking his words off.
“It does not matter. Take him.” Again he gestured to Joe.
Adam tried to lunge for his brother as did Hoss but the braves closest to them held them fast. The lead to his brother’s tether was cut, as was the strap that held him bent. Joe was jerked to his feet, his hands still tied before him. He twisted, trying again to escape but the tightening collar slowed him. The brave continued twisting it until he could no longer breathe and he stopped struggling.
“No, he has not learned. But he will now.” It seemed to Adam that the words were said with sadness, yet the elder again gestured and, as Adam watched, Joe was half-dragged down into the center of the village. Again and again, he saw his brother’s body thrashing and fighting and could only watch until he disappeared from sight.
In the darkness that remained, Adam realized that he and Hoss were alone for the first time that day.
“Hoss,” he whispered, afraid to let his voice carry for fear that there was someone close by to silence him again.
A scream split the night. Shrill, it pierced the darkness. It seemed to reverberate from the surrounding mountains.
“Shh,” Hoss whispered back and Adam could hear that there were tears in the sound.
Another scream followed. He buried his face in the crook of his arm, begging God silently for mercy. Beside him he could hear his brother’s shuddering breath.
Another scream, this one less forceful, was followed by another and another. With each one, Adam leaned harder into himself, curling into his soul, praying that it would end. Yet he knew what that would mean as well. Finally, there was no other sound except for a steady drumbeat from the village center. To Adam, it matched the same throbbing of his heart. He willed it to stop but it kept on long into the night.
The next morning was much the same as the morning before. The two brothers were fed a cold stew then taken to the stream to drink. Adam looked around and saw Hoss doing the same: searching for a glimpse of Joe but there was none. Their guards noticed their searching eyes and laughed at them. When they were returned to their places, the guards again tied their hands and feet but left them alone, laying in the dirt.
Once he was sure they were again alone, Adam spoke up softly. “Hoss, listen to me. When they come tonight, I’ll fight them. You take the opening and escape.”
“How?” Hoss asked, lifting his bound hands slightly. “Joe fought them.”
Adam swallowed hard. “Yes, he did. And we did nothing. Tonight, we fight back, just as hard as he did. Harder maybe.”
“Adam,” Hoss’ voice sounded hollow to Adam. “Adam, Joe’s dead, ain’t he?”
For just those few heartbeats, Adam felt as though he stood on the edge of a dark pit, the edge beneath his feet crumbling. He tried to take a step back but found there was nothing behind him either. Closing his eyes, he took the step forward and felt the nothingness beneath him. “Yes,” he hoarsely whispered. “At least I hope he is.”
Hoss’ “Adam!” was more of a curse that condemned his brother’s last words. Adam let it.
“You know what these Paiutes are capable of, Hoss. The torture, the pain. You’ve seen it the same as I have.”
“And he bore it well, did the young one.” With those words, both brothers looked up sharply. The speaker, the old man, was haloed by the sun as he stood over them. “Your brother?” He cocked his head to Adam for reassurance that he was right. Adam gave no outward sign so the other went on. “Your brother had much courage. He does not need it now. Do you have his same courage, big man? How well will you die?”
Adam saw Hoss’ chest fill, the shirt straining across the widening expanse. Slowly, Hoss stood on his own and seemed to tower over the wizened old man. Yet the old man did not step back, showing his own courage perhaps. Instead, he came forward and gazed up into Hoss’ eyes.
“Yes, you have the same courage. But tonight will be soon enough to test it.” The Indian smiled as he spoke and placing a moccasined foot behind Hoss’, pushed hard and Hoss went down. Adam scrambled to his feet, ready to launch his body into their tormenter’s but the old man had nimbly stepped out of reach. “Tonight, I said. Not now.”
Again, with the coming of darkness, all of the camp came, led again by the old one to circle around the remaining two Cartwrights. Hoss’ hands and feet were unbound and the tether cut from its holding pin. Knowing he was not to be taken, Adam threw himself at the braves and cried out for Hoss to get away. Even though he was still tied, Adam struck out at every bit of flesh he could. He bit what he could; he rammed his head into whatever it touched; he used his legs as clubs. In the end, held to the ground by many hands, his fight was futile. He watched as Hoss, his shirt torn nearly from his great chest, was pulled away. To him, Hoss appeared to have been knocked semi-unconscious and Adam secretly prayed that he had.
His captors again tied him spread-eagled and face down into the dirt. He did what he could to resist but there were too many. Ultimately, they left, laughing over the white man’s futile and continuing struggle with the rawhide that held him. It didn’t matter any more to Adam that the rawhide bit into his wrists, bringing blood to mix with the dirt. As much as he wanted it, the earth would not swallow him up that night and he was forced again to listen to the screams from the village. He told himself that they didn’t last as long as the ones he had heard the night before. All he really understood was that he had listened a long time. When they came no more, he still listened but this night, there were no drums to match the beat of his own heart. How could there be? Adam asked himself. He had no heart left.
They came for him the next morning. Hollow-eyed, Adam pushed aside the bowl of cold food the women offered him.
“You must eat for today we travel,” one woman said and again pushed the bowl back into his hands.
It took a moment for Adam to comprehend what she had said. When he did, he looked at her questioningly.
She nodded and said “Eat. We break camp and go. Soon.” Her hands made a motion of pushing something away.
“But, I thought,” Adam began and she shook her head. Once more, she gestured for him to eat. Adam wondered if it was because she understood so little English or because she didn’t want to talk to him.
“You eat. We pack up. Go. I come for you.” With that, she stood back from him and in a few words of her own language to the brave who had accompanied her, indicated that he was to stay and guard Adam.
Adam watched her as she returned to the tents. True to what she had said, it was apparent now that the camp was breaking up. Teepees were coming down in rapid order. The shouts from the village mingled with the neighing of horses, the barking of dogs and the cheerful calls of children. In the length of time it took Adam to finger the congealing stew into his mouth, the village disappeared into packs on horseback and on travois. Dust rose up as one line of horses moved off towards the east. Adam jumped to his feet when he saw one figure amongst them that he recognized. Stumbling behind a horse and pulling a load himself was Hoss. Adam was sure of it! He recognized that broad back and the white shirt that barely covered it. Forgetting about the guard and his own bonds, he called out. There was too much noise and he wasn’t sure if Hoss heard him or not. Still Hoss was alive and with that knowledge, Adam had hope.
His hope was short lived for when the woman returned and took him from where he had been held, it was not in the direction Hoss had traveled. Instead, with his hands tied behind him, Adam was tethered to the woman’s horse. They headed north, across the small stream. As long as he could, Adam looked east, hoping for another glimpse of his brother. It didn’t happen.
What he did see, there in the center of where the village had been, was a boot. A single boot. On its side in the dust was a white man’s boot. Joe’s boot.
Ben had awakened in the middle of the night, unsure of what had disturbed his repose. For a while, he had simply stayed in bed and listened to the sounds around him, searching for something out of place. Nothing odd came to him so he rolled over and sought sleep again. But it wouldn’t come so he rose. Wrapped in his robe against the chill of the night, he stood at his window.
Below his vantage point, Ben saw again the perfect peace of the small valley that climbed steeply into the mountains. With the full moon riding high overhead, the land lay like a jewel, colors shifting with the passage of a few clouds, but always coming back to its silvery sheen. About to turn back to bed, a motion caught Ben’s eye and as he watched, an owl, wings spread and talons extended, snatched up a rabbit from the edge of Hop Sing’s garden. As the owl rose into the air with its squirming burden, he was surprised to hear the death squeal of the rabbit, normally a silent animal. Its keening ripped through the night air, making his heart skip a beat for it sounded so human.
The days that followed for Adam Cartwright developed into a pattern. Pulled from a nightmare-filled sleep, he would eat with bound hands. If there was fresh water near by, he would be allowed to drink. If not, he would go without. Then his bound and tethered hands would be tied to the horn of the old saddle of the woman. Because of the size of the caravan, most of the time, she walked her horse and Adam was able to keep up, one plodding footstep following another. But she would catch him off guard and kick the horse into a trot, forcing him to run on weary legs or be dragged. After she had done this a few times, Adam determined he would not be caught so. On the third day, his right boot heel broke and in anger that her charge now stumbled, the woman made him remove his boots. That day, the rocks cut his feet as he walked beside her horse but he didn’t cry out when they did. Instead, he bit his lip and went on, surviving on courage alone.
The fourth morning, Adam awoke without the usual sharp kick to his ribs. They had traveled late into the night, pushing, Adam’d thought but for what, his pain-fogged mind refused to reason. That sunrise, as he rolled to one side, he saw only more tall mountains. All around them, mountains towered above. Raised in the high Sierras, Adam was accustomed to mountains but these were different. The mountains he knew were not sharp granite upthrusts with steep sides that were nearly vertical. Some of these were, yes, with the trees clinging to the sides as though for their very lives. As he stood, painfully aware of his bloody feet, he caught a glimpse of why they had stopped. Through a parting of the trees, he saw a lake that seemed like his own Lake Tahoe, to rise up from the very mountains around it. However, this lake was not the brilliant turquoise of Tahoe. Just as quickly as his hopes had swelled, they died. Unable to stand any longer, he dropped back to sit on the cold ground.
Her moccasin toes before him made Adam look up. She held out a bowl and for the first time, there was steam rising from it.
“We do not travel today,” she said in her clipped and uncertain English.
“Good,” he managed to say around the meat he filled his mouth with. A part of him feared that she would change her mind and take away the hot meal.
Instead of leaving as she intended, the woman nudged his feet with her toe. Adam looked up quickly.
For the first time since being taken captive, Adam studied the woman. Her face was unlined but at her temples, there was a hint of gray showing. Her eyes were dark and while she wasn’t a pretty woman, she wasn’t an ugly one either. There was a stern set to her mouth and down one side of her jaw, Adam saw a faint scar. She wore a long fringed dress over a pair of what Adam took to be leggings that were also fringed. Unlike other women he had seen on this trek, she wore no adornment either on her clothes or in her hair. Then it struck him. He had never seen her beside a man! Other women he had seen had at one time or another walked or rode beside a brave. But not this woman. Likewise she had handled everything herself while at other fires, a brave had done some of the heavier lifting or moving. Seeing her now in this new light, Adam had to give the woman a pinch of respect. She lived in a male dominated society apparently without one.
“When you are done, go there.” She pointed towards the lake. She took a long bladed knife from her belt and slit the rawhide that had bound his hands together for so long.
Adam swallowed the last of his meal quickly. “Why?” he asked, standing carefully.
“Because you stink.”
The water in the lake was cold but as Adam sat on the narrow ledge of rock, he found he could tolerate it in small doses. Cautiously, he had put his feet into the water and they were numbed almost immediately. He pulled them back and using small handfuls of water, rubbed some of the encrusted blood from the many cuts and bruises on them. Then he did the same for his wrists. He splashed some of the water onto his face, running his fingers through the dark beard growing there as he leaned over the rocky edge. Then he simply stretched out on his belly, looking out over the nearly circular lake.
“No,” her voice snapped behind him and Adam immediately came into focus at its sound. “Wash all you. Stink.”
He raised himself and sat up straight, looking up at her as he did. “Not with you watching,” he got out then saw her eyes narrow and feared he had pushed his new-found freedom too far.
He heard her take a deep breath then let it hiss out. “Do you know what we do to slaves who not obey?” she asked, dropping down to squat, her eyes at Adam’s level.
“I’ve heard stories,” he replied coolly. It was the truth, the awful truth, of a savagery born of hate.
“Did you believe them?”
He chewed his lip, watching her closely. She didn’t flinch or look away from his direct gaze. He swallowed hard, trying to make this person before him into a woman, not something considerably more powerful than himself at the moment. From the corner of his eye he saw her fingers tighten on her knife. Even though she was a woman, she had the power of life and death over him no matter what else he might try to think.
“Yes,” he answered. Before his eyes rose the specter of a man he had seen once who had been skinned while still alive and left to die, his only company vultures lured by the smell of fresh blood.
She stood back upright, her hand never leaving the knife’s handle. “Good.”
Wondering where his courage had fled to that morning, Adam Cartwright striped himself naked on the rock ledge under to cool and calculating gaze of the woman. Self-conscious of his vulnerability, he turned in one smooth motion and dove into the water. When he surfaced and turned back, she still stood there, watching. He swam towards the shore. There, where the water was only a few feet deep, he stopped and used his hands to splash the water onto his body, rubbing at the dirt and sweat there. The niggling thought came to him that he probably did smell ripe since he had not had the occasion to wash for better than a week. Ducking under the water again, he ran his fingers through his stiffened hair, slicking it back as he came back to the surface.
Still she stood there, devoid of emotion unless, Adam decided, smug superiority was an emotion. He swung back onto the rock shelf and stood. Again, he used his hands to brush away the remaining drops of water from his lean frame and push back his hair from his face. When he went to pick up his clothes, she barked out a “no” that seemed to fill the countryside.
“Stink too,” she said and made a motion for Adam to proceed her back to the camp.
“I will not walk into that camp, before all those people, naked. Do you hear me? You can do whatever you want to me but that I will not do!” Adam contested and to show his determination, crossed his arms over his chest.
For a few heartbeats, she only looked at him with eyes wide in surprise. Then suddenly and inexplicably, she began to laugh. Not a gentle tee-hee but a bust-a-gut-and-roll-on- the-ground laugh. Flustered, Adam could not understand and his cheeks flamed red in anger. Ultimately, she stopped but wiped the tears of laughter from her eyes as she did then gave another little chuckle.
“Fine, wear smell,” she replied and said something in her own tongue that Adam did not understand but made her chuckle again.
“Turn around,” Adam called out and made the motion with his hand that said the same thing. The look she gave in response he took to mean that she did not understand his words so he repeated them. Her eyebrows arching high, she turned her back to him but kept one eye on him nevertheless as he pulled on his ragged pants. Again, she said the same words that he did not comprehend and laughed when she said them. When he shrugged into his shirt, she turned as fast as a mountain lion and grabbed the collar. In one fluid motion, she ripped the shirt from him and threw it into the lake. Reacting on instinct, he grabbed her arm. Between them rose her knife, in her hand, the blade pressing into his chest. He let go of her arm.
“To the camp,” she ordered, all mirth gone now.
With limping and halting steps, Adam preceded her.
Back at the encampment, she had him sit to the side of one of the tents instead of apart as he had done before. She disappeared for a few moments then returned, holding out to him a pair of leggings and a breechclout. Looking around him, Adam saw that they were very much the same as what the other men in the camp wore. He reached up and took them from her, his fingers shaking a little as he did. Once her hands were empty, she gazed levelly at him then slowly, deliberately, turned her back, saying again the words he couldn’t fathom.
It was obvious that she wanted him out of his torn and dirty pants. Reluctantly, he would oblige her but a part of him hated to give up that last tiny symbol of civilization he had worn into these wilds. When he hesitated and she felt the lack of movement behind her, she again fondled the knife at her side. Sighing, Adam shed the black cloth and pulled on first the leggings then stood and put on the breechclout, holding it up with the length of soft leather he found with it. When he was covered again, he tapped her shoulder to get her attention.
Slowly she turned and, walking around him, gave him that same cool gaze that both appraised and condemned. When she had come to stand before him again, she pulled her knife.
“Understand me, white man,” she hissed, pressing the knife blade against his chest as she leaned in to him. “You are mine. Your life, I saved in big meeting. You will do as I say or -” she paused as though looking for the right words to make him fully understand.
“Or what?” Adam challenged arrogantly.
With a flash of the blade in one hand, her other hand grabbed his crotch and with one clean downward slice, cut just through the leather covering his privates. Her eyes never left his face.
She had made her point abundantly clear. She would tolerate nothing less than his obedience.
For the next several weeks, Adam was kept under close scrutiny but not tied. Nights, however, his female captor would bind his hands behind his back and place him just inside her teepee at the covered doorway. There she could watch him by the glow of the fire. He tried to talk to her at night, to ask her things but she would only answer him with silence.
But during the daylight hours, he learned much of his keepers. They were a small band of Modoc Indians. This was their summer camping area. Come fall they would drift down from these high mountains into the great basins. There they would join with the other groups of Modocs and winter over. While not a purely nomadic tribe like their distant cousins the Paiutes and Shoshoni, they were also not the sort to stay in any one place. Also, the encroachment of the whites into their traditional grounds had forced them into a different lifestyle. They had signed treaties, Adam knew, but he also knew that his own people had broken the treaties. What happened following that was a repeated history: raids on white settlements which led to white reprisals on any Indian within rifle range, whether they were guilty or not. For the Modocs, many times they were not guilty but dead all the same. So, since the white man was far more adept at killing, the Modocs grew fewer and fewer in number.
As he studied the tribe, Adam also studied the land in which he now lived. Judging by the track of the sun and the amount of time and the direction he had traveled, he figured that he was now somewhere in either northern California or southern Oregon. Between himself and the Ponderosa lay some of the most mountainous and treacherous country known to either white- or red man. He knew that there were white communities interspersed between the high peaks and deep valleys but where was the tough question. If he could escape, he asked himself one afternoon while gathering wood for the night fires, could he make his way back to civilization? The arrogant part of his nature reared its head and claimed that of course he could! He was an intelligent, thinking and educated man! The pragmatic man within him shook his head and whispered “no.” Looking out over the rugged terrain, Adam pushed the two sides into a common spot: he would wait until the tribe moved down out of the high country then make his way home.
With just the thought of the word “home”, Adam’d drawn a shaking breath. His father was home, waiting for them to return from their camping and hunting trip. What would his father do when they failed to come back? Of course, Ben Cartwright would begin to search for his sons. He would find where they had camped that last fateful night. Although Hoss was the best tracker in the family, Adam knew his father could read sign almost as well. But how much sign would be left when Ben reached that last camp? They had ridden for more than a day before coming to a halt. Would his father find that small valley, split by the stream? Adam prayed that he would, then came to the sudden realization that what his father would find there would be crushing. Somewhere in that pleasant valley, Adam knew, were the remains of his youngest brother. Moreover, since Indians never buried the dead of their enemy, how much of Joe’s corpse would remain for their father to find? Enough to identify the body would be enough for his father to—
Adam refused to go on with his thoughts.
When he returned to the camp that afternoon it was in a different frame of mind. For all he knew, some of the braves he walked by had been part of Joe’s murder. The children he sometimes smiled at had watched as his brothers had both been tortured and done nothing. The old woman Adam made a special attempt to help stand, did she shout with joy when Joe had finally died? He all but threw the wood into the pile beside the central fire ring.
The suddenness and the implied violence of his act made everyone pause and look at him. Then they looked at the woman who claimed him, reproach in their eyes yet they said nothing to her. Then they simply went on with their chores.
As he stood there, his chest heaving with unleashed emotions and building anger, she calmly approached him.
“Come,” she ordered and gestured with a nod of her head to her teepee.
“NO!” he shouted.
Everyone stopped dead in their tracks and looked at Adam. Everyone but the woman, who grasped him about the bicep with the grip of an eagle. Fiercely, she pulled him to the tent. Once inside he whirled on her, striking her across the face with his fist. She fell to one side, blocking the way to door. When he reached down to move her, her knife flashed out, halting with its point pressed into Adam’s midsection just enough to draw blood.
“No,” she spoke calmly, the single word softly rising from her.
“Kill me or let me go,” Adam begged.
“No,” she replied in the same tone as before.
“Why not?” he screamed into her face, his breath hot on her yet she held her ground, the knife still pressed to him.
“Because we do not kill those within our circle of tents.”
The sincerity and the simplicity of what she said made him step back. As the dark thoughts of his brother’s death retreated, Adam looked at the trickle of blood running down his stomach. It would have been so easy for her to simply thrust the knife into him but she hadn’t. Bits and pieces of the last weeks flitted before him and he saw that time and again, he had prodded her to anger yet never had she gone for the kill. Even on the journey here, she had ample time and opportunity but all she had ever done was prick him until he bled.
Confused, Adam sat back on the fur-covered floor of the teepee, absently smearing the blood with his hand.
“Why?” he asked, not meaning anything that the woman would understand.
“At the big meeting, there was much talk of death. White men’s as well as ours. Few spoke of peace.” With her knife now resheathed, she crawled across to Adam.
“Did you, your people, talk of death? War with the whites?” Adam whispered, his mind returning to the nightly throb drums again.
“Our leader, Chief Kintpuash, you call him Captain Jack, he spoke of peace. He said that only a fool kills his prey at the entrance to the prey’s lodging. Those there who spoke of the ground running red with the white man’s blood were not Modoc.” Gently but firmly she pressed him back, making him stretch out so that she could see where her knife had cut. It was bleeding and for a moment, Adam saw fear in her eyes.
“My brother. His blood ran red on the ground that first night. You saw it and though you say you spoke of peace, did you, or any Modoc, try to stop his death?”
“Those of this camp were not there the first night. We were there the next night; the night the big man came into the circle. He lived. The Shoshoni took him when they left, headed into the morning sun.” Her hands, now covered with his blood, sought something off to one side.
“Why did you take me away? To be your slave? Or to kill me and leave my body where no white man would ever find it?”
She was pressing something soft onto Adam’s stomach but her motions barely registered with him. All he could see and hear was in the past: Joe’s face as he was pulled away, his screams as he died, the boot in the dust-clogged road.
“We took you so that you would live.”
In the days that followed, the people of the tribe stepped away when Adam approached, clearly fearful. But slowly, as the daylight hours shortened and he made no more aggressive moves, the people came to not fear him. They began to call him by the words the woman had first used down at the lake. He wondered what they meant and in his halting and stumbling Modoc, he asked the children. They laughed and ran away, leaving him with no idea whether he had said the words right or that the camp was in on the joke with the woman.
The woman. Adam learned that her name meant something about the sun rising over a tall mountain but hard as he tried, he could not manage to make the sounds fluidly enough that he was understood. Instead, he began simply to call her the common word he heard another brave in the camp use once when he spoke to a squaw. The first time he called her that, she turned in the shadows of the teepee and smiled at him. That night, she did not tie him.
There had come an understanding between Adam and the tribe. When they moved into the great basin for the winter, he would leave them. With his growing usage and skill with their language, he had told stories around the common fire of his family and his home. True, some of the stories were stretched a little in veracity but they were enjoyed for just what they were: stories. But after each telling, especially if he told of something his brothers had done, the woman would hear him in the night, restless and not sleeping. When winter beckoned, his stories and Adam would depart for that home he spoke of. And because he had spoken from his heart, no one would stop him.
In the month of fluttering leaves, as the Modoc figured the time and Adam would have called October, the nights grew chilly. The central fire was banked early each evening and all went to their warm tents. Some times there would be visitors back and forth but just before the fullness of the moon, a change fell over the people.
“Tomorrow,” she said, her voice lilting into the darkness. Adam turned under his warm furs and grunted. Across the way, he could see her eyes watching him, glowing and reflecting the small fire between them.
“Tomorrow, we pack and leave.” When he made no comment, she continued. “You will take my horse. By heading down the mountains away from the lake, you go. And quickly. We will go another way so that no one will follow you. Or us.”
“I had thought that I would go with you as far as the winter camp on the flatlands,” Adam countered, wondering why now she spoke with such a strange inflection.
“No, there is talk that Kintpuash will make trouble for you. That he will take you to the blue men and trade you for peace.” Adam heard her stumble over the words blue men, knowing that she meant soldiers. US Army soldiers. The enemy.
“I thought the Modoc wanted peace. I would gladly go with him to the soldiers if it would bring you peace.”
“Some fear that the blue men would not believe us or you. That they would find a reason to kill us for having kept you. No, I ask that you take my horse at dawn and ride away.”
In the silence that followed, Adam could hear her plainly. Even though she turned her face from the fire, he knew she was crying. He called to her softly but she did not respond.
Adam spent the long night thinking. By dawn he had decided that he would not take her horse and ride away like a thief but would meet with Captain Jack. He would go with the Modoc leader under a flag of truce to the nearest fort. He would make the soldiers there believe him and he would make sure that the Modoc’s plea for peace would be heard.
But all his plans fell apart that morning when a small party of braves rode into the camp. Adam, his height and full beard marking him instantly as a white man, was spotted at once and he found himself tied again. The camp leader, an old man Adam had grown fond of, pleaded with the braves to wait for all of them but they did not listen to him. Instead, they insisted that Adam go with them. They would not wait for the entire camp.
One brave, the leader of the group, stood broad shouldered in the thin morning light and spat into their fire. “While you have played here in the high mountains, down below, war has ravaged our people! The whites have again broken the treaty and come onto our lands! There is word that they search for a white man taken prisoner. It is this white man they seek and kill for!”
“Fine,” Adam shouted in his best Modoc. “Take me to the blue men! I will show them that I come of my own free will. I will tell them that the Modoc did not hurt me!”
Silence fell over the gathering then a whispered undercurrent began, washing back and forth through the people like waves on a distant shore. At his back, Adam could feel the woman as she came up behind him. Her breathing was erratic and he knew that she was afraid but as to why, he had no clue. Then she stepped around him and stood tall before the newcomers.
“You know me and know that I speak only truth. We knew not of the war below. If we had known, we would have brought him down ourselves – long ago! The sounds of battle do not rise to this ancient place. You say that they search for this man and this man alone. I do not believe this. There has been much killing of both red and white. Many captives, red and white, have been taken. Why this one man?” Her final words were shouted.
No one answered her, their fear of her now clear to Adam as they stood in the still cold light. She paced around the men who had come that morning, and as she came face to face with each one, her lips would twitch and she would almost snarl at them. Before her, the men shrank back.
“I will tell you why!” she snarled then finally stopped pacing and whirled to face them, her back to him. “Because he has power. He sees like I do, into the future. He knows what will happen tomorrow and all the tomorrows after that one. Like me, he can see the weakness in all men and it matters not if they are red or white. Yes, he has power and I have joined my power to his so that he may use his power to help us.”
A collective gasp went through the people. Adam, straining his knowledge of the language, understood most of what she said. And what she had implied. In a flash, he recalled the look in her eyes last night across the fire. My God, she loves me! he thought but before he could form another thought, she was speaking again. This time to him.
“I will untie you and you will go with these braves. I will come too. Together, we will ride into the blue men’s house. You will talk with the blue men and they will leave the Modoc alone.”
Solemnly, Adam nodded. What else was there to do? Still, he was confused. Why had she begged him last night to ride away from them? Now she was asking him to do the exact opposite! His confusion must have shown on his face for she gave him a sharp look. He tried to make his face impassive as she untied his hands herself.
The remainder of the morning, Adam felt estranged from the woman and the people he had been with for the past weeks. Before, they had finally come around to joking and teasing with him but that morning and all the other mornings that followed, they seemed to keep an extra step between Adam and themselves. Even though the newly arrived braves protested again that there was not time, the whole camp took down its tents and made up their traveling packs. Within the space of an hour, they were moving slowly past the lake. Adam and the woman, now mounted together on her single horse, led the way.
He spoke softly into her ear as he rode behind her. “What is going on? Earlier you said you didn’t want this. Now you do. I don’t understand. What is this business about power?”
“Later,” she whispered in English and would say no more.
Before dusk, they met with another small band of Modocs and it struck Adam how few in number these people were. Surely, he thought, up ahead they would meet up with the bulk of the tribe. When these two parts came together there were only thirty or so and most of them were old people. Where were the many braves? And the children? In all, he counted maybe five who were less than ten years old!
Finally the procession came to a halt and evening camp was made. No tents were raised even though the wind blew cold. Horses were hobbled and let out to graze on the brown grass. Fires were lit and meat roasted over the flames then passed around. When the meat was gone, the people seemed to melt into their furs and blankets, the earth their beds for the night.
“Come,” the woman called to Adam as he sat beside the fire, the last one there. She had spread her many furs off to one side where no one else had theirs and now she was motioning for Adam to join her. Seeing that there was nowhere else for him to go, he went to her.
“Lay close to me as though we were lovers,” she whispered softly and he complied. “I will tell you now.”
As the stars burst forth again into the black velvet sky above them, she whispered her story to him. She was what the whites would call a medicine woman. She supposedly had the power to see into the future. She had powers that the ordinary Modoc did not and as such, she was different from them. That was why she wore no adornment. That was why she had no man to help her. That was why they looked upon like they did. She was both a blessing and curse to them. No one would dare cross her nor make her displeased with them for fear that she could use her powers to bring disaster on them. At the same time, she was protected from outsiders, the words she used were “hidden in plain sight”. Another group of Modocs would come to visit those she lived with and never make mention of her.
To Adam, that explained a great deal but still he wondered aloud why she had changed her mind that morning.
“I didn’t change my mind. If it had been just me, I would have tied you to that horse and sent him on his way away from here. But I must think now of my people and what will be best for them. Kintpuash will take you to the blue men’s house and trade you for peace. Of this I am sure because it makes sense. But the peace will not last. Of this I am also sure.”
Adam chuckled, the sound coming from deep in his chest. Startled at the sound, the woman drew back and, raising herself up on one arm, looked down at him. He smiled and brushed his thick beard down with one hand.
“Your English is getting better than my Modoc,” he said lightly.
“My English has always been better than your Modoc,” she replied and dropped back beside him.
He sobered then, feeling the warmth of the woman beside him. She had been right, he was sure, when she had said that the peace would not last. But that night, beneath the blanket of stars, he prayed she was also wrong. Not just for the woman herself but for her people.
Within two days travel they finally met up with the main group of Modocs. In total, they numbered less than one hundred. Upon their arrival, Adam and the woman went to speak with the chief. As they ducked into the teepee, he was struck by the presence of the Modoc known to the whites as Captain Jack. There was nothing about the man that made Adam think he was important. There was no regal bearing, no chest pounding demand that he be seen as a chief. He wore a gray felt cap with an eagle’s feather stuck in it. He was a short man, with features that were gaunt. When he spoke to Adam, his English was rather good if a little strained. Once Adam had settled down beside him and asked a few leading questions, he found it hard not to sympathize with him. With his small band, he had escaped from the reservation where they had slowly been starving to death. Over and over again, Captain Jack had told the blue men that all they wanted was their ancestral land back. If the whites were there, let them pay rent for the use of it. Yet at the same time, within his own ranks grew the infection of dissent. Some of his followers longed for blood. It was as though it were all part of a balance, according to Jack and he, Adam, had become one of the weighing stones placed upon the pan.
“When the sun rises two mornings from now, will you go with me to the blue men’s house and help me talk of peace?” Jack asked, taking a draw on his clay pipe and letting the smoke rise into the stillness.
“That is why I have come here,” Adam admitted. As he spoke, he watched as the woman’s eyes dropped to the floor.
The night before it had snowed. As Adam had stepped from the tent that morning, the brightness that greeted his eyes made him squint. Across the circle, he watched as Kintpuash spoke with some of the other elders of the tribe. They seemed to be arguing but he only understood about one word in four. Finally, the other elders threw up their hands in the universal sign of disgust and surrender and stalked away, their moccasins making clear tracks in the snow.
Adam moved to the central fire and scooped up a horn-spoon full of thin watery stew. Kintpuash drew up next to him and did the same.
“Trouble?” Adam asked, noting that the chief’s eyes followed the others as they walked away.
“Always,” the chief muttered then chortling, scooped up more stew. “I did not know you spoke our language so well.”
Now it was Adam’s turn to chuckle. “I don’t do as good a job with it as you do English,” he admitted. He laid the spoon back on the rock where he had first found it then wiped his hands down the front of his leggings.
“Is that how Winema gets away with calling you that?”
“I don’t understand. Who is Winema?” Yet he knew. For the first time, Adam knew the woman’s true name, that what she had given him before was more akin to a title. He wondered why he had never thought to press her, or someone else even. Now, when they were about to part company, he’d learned her name and realized that it mattered to him that he should know it.
“Never call her that. She hates it but I have known her since she was a child so I can call her by that child’s name. She does not fool me. And I am not afraid of her. You must not either.”
“Not really,” Adam smiled as he thought of her. “But why do you say that?”
“Because of what you call her! Only a lover speaks that word. And usually only under the furs late at night when passions run high. But you, you call her that when all can hear! That means you do not fear what she could do to you. Perhaps it is in retaliation for what she calls you?” The chief finished by looking up at Adam inquisitively.
“I have never figured out what those words mean. Can you make them into English for me?” Adam admitted and then asked, his head cocking to one side.
“I can,” the woman interjected as she came to stand between the men. “Remember the first time I called you that? You were beside the round lake and I had told you to wash yourself. Kintpuash, you would not believe how badly – well, never mind that. Any way, he stood there and defied me. Said he would not walk naked back to the camp for all to see. That was when he got his name.”
“And?” Adam lingered over the word, using the language they shared instead of his own.
Captain Jack smiled. “It means little sparrow who fights with eagle. In this case, Winema, I think the sparrow has won.”
The two Indians laughed while Adam bowed his head and scratched at his jaw. Yes, he decided, they had gotten back at one another. From now on when he thought of her, Adam knew he would not think of her as Winema, nor as “the Modoc woman” but as what he had first called her, whatever it meant.
Adam was surprised when he was told that they would not ride on horseback to the soldier’s fort. “But it will take us longer to walk there!” he exclaimed and saw the ghost of a smile that Captain Jack used often.
“Among the whites, if one man steals another man’s horse, the thief will hang. Yes?”
“We do not wish to hang, Sparrow. Besides, the whites will fear us less if we walk into their house. Before us, we have sent a go-between. The blue men wait for us. We will talk long and come to an understanding.” With that said, Captain Jack picked up his pack and, leaning on his long lance, started the two day march through the calf-deep snow. Behind him, two others, younger men but men Adam knew to be of importance to their people also shouldered their loads and followed. Behind them, three of the other elders also fell in. The woman Winema did not pick up the pack she had set at her feet but walked by Adam, her stride sure and determined. Adam stood there, watching her move away, then leaned over and slung her pack over his shoulder and followed as well. With a wry smile hidden in his black beard, Adam knew that he was not a free man yet.
When the snow grew deeper they fashioned snowshoes from nearby pine branches, and by lashing them to their heavy winter moccasins went on. By midmorning of the second day, they were passing white settlers’ homes. At one, a rider flew in the same direction they were headed. Adam was certain that he took the message to the fort of the small Indian party’s existence.
On the small rise above the sturdy stockade not far from the Rouge River, they stopped and to Captain Jack’s long lance attached a piece of white fabric. Thrust into the snowpack, it stood stark against the skyline. There they waited, hunched down to make themselves smaller targets for the cold, blowing wind at their backs. Before long, Adam saw the gates swing open and from the fort, two lines of soldiers on horseback snaked out, making twin tracks in the snow. When the soldiers reached the rise, the Indians were quickly encircled.
“Well, Captain, we meet again,” a large ruddy faced man wearing the stripes of a sergeant greeted Captain Jack. The man did not dismount nor offer his hand and it struck Adam that the man was rude, even by white standards.
“We meet under a flag of truce,” Jack pointed to the fluttering bit of white above him. “And we bring a gift of friendship. Let us go to the house of the blue men and talk with your chief.”
Adam heard the comments whispered long before he and Captain Jack stood in the office of the commander of the fort. Before Captain Jack could even finish his greeting, the commander, a man by the name of Canby, exclaimed “My God, he’s a white man!”
Immediately, the Modocs were dismissed as so much chaff in the breeze. Adam was offered a chair by the fire, brandy to warm himself and peppered by a dozen questions. Embarrassed by the unfolding of these events, Adam tried to turn back to Captain Jack and the other Modocs, but Brigadier Canby demanded his attention most forcefully. Within the hour, a telegram was sent to far off Virginia City.
As night fell over the fort, Adam asked where his friends were and Canby bluntly informed him that they were in the stables. Under guard.
“They came to talk peace,” Adam said smoothly, looking down into the soup bowl on his china plate. There was more meat in that one bowl, he knew, than in the whole pot back at the Modoc camp. The thought made his stomach turn in guilt.
“And we will. We will but first things first, boy. I saw that you came in under your own steam but you can tell me honest: did they torture you? Tie you up? Keep you against your will?” Canby, his breath smelling of old cigars, leaned forward, his wineglass tipping and spilling without notice.
“No. The Modocs saved my life,” Adam affirmed. How could he tell this man that what had tortured him had been his own thoughts and memories? That the ties that bound him to those natives were ones of simple existence? Yet most of all, the reason he had lingered so long with them was what he still had to face: admitting to his father that one brother was dead and the other taken by another tribe. How could this man in his overheated cabin, reeking of cigar smoke, uncaring about anything other than his own hide be made to understand?
“No matter, boy. The answer to our telegram came pretty quick. Inside of a week, your pa’ll be here and you can head for home with him. You can put this all behind you.” Canby slapped Adam’s shoulder.
The bed he slept in that night was too soft, the room too warm, the blankets too coarse and scratchy. For most of the night, Adam tossed and turned, unable to sleep. Old memories and new ones warred within his mind and heart. Exhaustion finally won out and before day broke anew, Adam slept. In his dreams he saw her again standing above him there by the lake and heard her call to him but this time her tone was softer, the words mingled with those of love and desire.
The noise of the fort awoke him with a start and in a moment’s panic, he couldn’t remember where he was nor how he had gotten there. Hastily, he donned the warm Indian clothing, eschewing the stiff and cold cloth garments that Canby had procured for him the day before. Running his fingers through his now shoulder-length dark hair, he quickly made his way to the parade ground. What he saw there surprised him.
Captain Jack, Winema and the others were preparing to leave with an Army escort.
Breathlessly, Adam shouted for them to wait and saw only that the woman turned back at the sound of his voice.
“You’re leaving? Already? I thought you were going to have some sort of council. A powwow. What’s happened?” he demanded, clutching her arm tightly.
“We have talked. Or the truth is that Canby talked. They have given us passage back to the reservation. They have given us blankets to warm us and meat for our pots. They have also given us time. When we pass by here again, in one moon, will you be here?” Something about the humbled way she spoke made Adam’s heart constrict. The proud and defiant woman was gone. But then she smiled at him and he saw her come back for a brief moment.
In a month. He ran the time and distance over in his mind. “No,” he said softly. “I will be gone by then. My father has been told and has said that he comes for me even now.”
“And what will you tell him? Can you face the truth now?” she asked, her hands pressed against Adam’s chest.
He swallowed hard. “Yes,” he said, “because I live, I can tell him what he needs to hear. Thank you.”
She made a small face and closed her eyes briefly. A shout from one of the elders told her to come on but she stayed where she was.
“The words I called you, I do not mean them now,” she confessed and looked to her feet. “You are not a sparrow but an eagle.”
“What I called you before, those words I mean now.”
Another shout, this time from Captain Jack himself, and the woman looked up into Adam’s eyes and stroked his now clean-shaven face with a gentle hand. “No,” she sighed as she smiled. “My English is still better than your Modoc. Good-bye, Adam Cartwright.” With that, she turned and hurried after the small procession disappearing into the snowy field beyond the fort’s gates.
As he stood there, Adam raised his hand in farewell but she never looked back. Softly, he called her as he had before but now with new meaning. He understood perfectly what the word meant and used it on purpose. She was that place that made life come to a man.
When the telegram had come that dark November day, Ben Cartwright was a man nearly bereft of hope. For more than three months, he had searched by every means possible to find his sons but it was as if the earth had opened up and swallowed them whole. He had sent letters to every commander of every fort and garrison within three hundred miles of the Ponderosa. Every sheriff and town marshal had been notified, given clear and precise descriptions of his sons and the horses they rode. Ben himself had spent days and weeks in the saddle, following dead-end clues and false reports. Only one single piece of evidence had arisen. Sport, Adam’s handsome and spirited chestnut horse, had been found, still saddled but with broken reins, grazing in a farmer’s field near the northern California town of Averil. Had he known then how close he was to his eldest son, he might have traveled on north but he had no way of knowing. Leading the horse home, Ben had said many prayers; some were prayers of thanksgiving but most were not.
Now, as winter closed in, this word had come. He could not travel through the mountains, taking a direct route for snow already blocked some passages. Instead he went by stage, at first to Sacramento then north. Each day he filled his thoughts with how he would greet his lost son but each night crept back the memory that there were two others still missing.
When his rented horse and guide finally pulled to a stop in the parade ground of the winter fort, it was all Ben Cartwright could do not to leap down and run calling for his son. While the telegram had been clear and specific, he still guarded against an irrational false hope.
It was needless. At the muffled sound of the horses coming into the stockade, Adam had turned and looked out onto the snow-covered parade ground. Without even seeing the man’s face, he knew who it was. He dropped his plate of food to the floor of Canby’s dining room and ran, coatless, into the December daylight.
Ben’s feet had barely touched the churned snow when he heard Adam’s voice calling to him. At first, recalling that his son did not care for public scenes of affection, Ben extended his hand but Adam brushed it aside and wrapped his father in his own arms, all the while calling his name. Heedless of the stares of the emotion-hardened Army men around them, father and son reconnected with joy and tears.
Although his heart was full of gladness, Ben had to know. Taking Adam’s face between his hands so that he could look into the dark eyes, he softly said one word. “Hoss?” He saw the pain that flashed there.
“Taken by the Shoshoni. East of here. I’ve talked with Canby and he has sent word to the forts there.”
“And Joseph?” Ben queried.
Adam found he could no longer look into his father’s eyes.
continued in Hostage, Part Two: A Trade for Survival
A Trade for Survival
East of the Sierra Nevadas is a most inhospitable landscape. It is called the Great Basin yet that infers that there is water. There is – some, but not enough to make it worth the time and attention. It is sagebrush country;dry ground swept by dry winds. It is not flat ground. Instead, there passes through it, from north to south, many small mountain chains, ground smooth by the same wind that pulls all moisture from the soil. There are also formidable mountains that soar into the clouds, capturing the rain so that they can become covered with the green of life. This is not the land of the white man, for it is too hard to pull life from this earth while standing in one place. It is the land of the Shoshoni, the Northern Paiute and the Bannocks. Like the land itself, the white man called them and it “poor” and traveled on. The Indians saw the riches and stayed.
Hoss Cartwright had lost track of time. Gone as well was his sense of direction. All he could still lay claim to was his sole remaining purpose: to survive. At first, survival meant ignoring the pain in his body. He could recall much of what had happened to him the night they had taken him to the center of the village. There, to the great amusement of all, he had been beaten by the women, their weapons little more than sticks. But they knew where to strike to cause the most pain: the soles of the feet, behind the knees, the genitals, the buttocks, the elbow, the palms of his hands. Following the women had been the young braves. These were the ones willing to test their bravery against him. They wielded burning brands that once the fire died from their ends were hot pokers thrust into his flesh. He had fought back as best as he was able but his hands were tied together tightly and only a little slack was in the leather binding his ankles. Finally, tired of this sport, they had tied him tighter. Across the dwindling fire they brought a stout horse and secured the lead to Hoss’ now bloodied and mangled hands. It was clear what they intended: if he could hold the horse back, he would not be pulled into the hot coals. He held for as long as he could but the horse, whipped and frightened, ultimately became too much and Hoss fell into the coals then was dragged away by the animal. How far, he did not know, only that when he awoke he could barely move. But move he did. Senseless and oblivious to everything but the pain he felt, he followed the horse before him, a heavy weight on his back pressing into the many wounds there, igniting the flames of mind-numbing pain with each step. His hands, now covered in dried blood and festering burns, were tied before him, the lead going to a young brave who had but one eye. The other was an empty socket that continually wept, and it was not for his captive.
Reduced to the barest minimum of thought, Hoss slept when and where he stopped moving. When he came to water, he drank. When something was handed to him to eat, he ate. Devoid of emotion now, he felt nothing except the need to survive. Even as his body healed, his spirit did not, and he became as his captors used him: a simple beast of burden.
Once, as they came to another wild expanse of nothing, the caravan stopped. Numbly, Hoss had watched as his hands were freed from bondage and the rope around his neck removed. For the first time, he was put to other work – building small rough brush shelters with the one-eyed boy his teacher. When the short conical structure was complete, he was told with hand gestures to build another. This time, an old woman, toothless and wrinkled, piled her meager belongings into it when he finished. Hoss just stood there in that vast emptyness, looking out over the desolate landscape. There were no trees and nothing higher than the occasional tumbleweed. He looked to the ground. It was hard packed and scoured by the wind. He watched as the old woman made curious motions with her hands, covering her head and he shook his, trying to tell her that he did not understand her chatter. Did she want him to make another brush enclave?
The wind became all at once a howling demon, picking up the coarse earth and burning it into Hoss’ flesh. Then he understood why they had stopped and built these curious shelters. The thick brush would stop some of the dirt while letting the wind through and would not let the structure fall before its blunted force. But Hoss had no shelter and now no time to build one. Lost, he looked around for some shelter but there was none. From the brush pile before him, the old woman extended her hand and tugged at his tattered pant leg. Hoss fell to his knees and crawled into the cramped space. But the old one was no fool. She made him sit so that his back blocked out much of the wind and dirt that managed to get through the brush.
After the dry storm, the old woman seemed to be the one he found himself responsible to. She gave him orders, mostly through hand motions and a few select words that he began to understand. The one-eyed boy would snarl should they meet but otherwise seemed to have passed ownership gladly to the woman. As they neared the base of a mountain range, everyone in the party seemed to have a lift in their spirits, and Hoss found the old woman smiling more often.
Through one ravine after another they trailed, but slower now. Their horses, gaunt and weary like the people who rode them, were often allowed grazing on what little grass there was to be found. The people, stopping for longer periods, took the time to hunt, bringing in rabbits and all manner of small game. These were quickly devoured and their hides stretched on the ground to dry. Hoss was put to scraping the hides, pulling away the last vestiges of flesh and sinew. When the tribe moved on, it was his job to bundle the drying hides together and carry them until they stopped again.
What started out as a trickle of water in one particular canyon became a stream, then a small river. Deep within the confines of the canyon, a pool had formed eons before, fed by the snows of the shouldering mountains. Here the tribe of Shoshoni stopped. It was late summer.
For a few days, the people simply relaxed and did very little. Hoss did the same when he was able and not being worked. The sun had darkened his skin some and while he still showed some of the scars of his ordeal, his body was slowly healing. The old woman had given him a dull knife with which to scrape the hides; he used it to scrape away the irritating beard he grew. By now, his white man’s clothing was a thing of the past as well. The remains of his shirt had been torn to make a covering for his head from the hot sun. His trousers, torn and burned also from that night at the gathering, the old woman replaced with loose baggy leggings made from an old blanket. Like the other males of the tribe, he wore a breechclout. The first time he put it on, he smiled to himself, wondering what his family would say about how he looked. He lost his smile quickly. His body, once massive in proportion, was now dwindling away. The full belly he had always known was now a distant memory and with the walking he had done, nearly all of the roundness others associated with Hoss Cartwright was gone too. In its place still stood a big man by anyone’s measure, but a second glance would show that it was fading. And moreover, his face showed the loss of another sort, beyond the loss of the family he had loved, he was losing the will to continue in this monotony called survival.
The old woman, who he’d taken to calling “Granny”, smacked him on the shoulder, pulling him from his numbed mindlessness as he sat beside the canyon pool one afternoon.
“What you want now?” he complained bitterly. “I done stretched the hides again. I even went and caught a couple of ground squirrels for you to cook. Can’t imagine what else you want.”
She made a series of motions with her hands, most of them ending with a gesture back to the camp.
“All right,” Hoss sighed and, standing reluctantly, followed Granny back to the camp.
What he saw made his blood run cold for a moment. The braves of the camp were helping the women butcher a horse. Hoss recalled the animal clearly: a once sturdy brown mare who had been reduced on their trek here to nothing but skin and bones. Now, it appeared, even those were to be taken from her. For a people whose lives depended on the horse, the scene was one of somber desperation. Up to their elbows in red blood, the braves ate the meat raw. They tossed other smaller and less-choice bits to the women behind them.
Hoss, overcoming his inclination to turn away, lunged forward. He wanted some of the meat as well but a brave caught him before he could put his hand on any of it. With a snarl and an old pistol aimed at him, Hoss backed away. His mouth still watered at the sight of the meat, but it was clear that there was an order as to who would eat when. As the braves finished, the women and older children attacked what remained. By the time everyone else had taken their fill, all that was left was the hide. Scrounging on his hands and knees in the darkness now, he found a bone to break open and suck the marrow from. A little meat still clung to the hide and this he ate without reserve.
Without being told, Hoss gathered the hide and took it to where he had the many rabbit hides stretched on the ground and pegged down. He did the same thing with the horse’s hide, working in the bright moonlight. There was little left besides the white membrane to be scraped away but with his blunt knife, he began the process. He stopped only once and that was when he came across where the brand showed through to the underside. There he found the Army’s USA brand next to a crossed-out pine tree. For a long moment he let his finger trace over the simplistic pine tree. Then he looked to the west where the moon rode low in the sky.
“Home,” he whispered into the night and the word caught in his throat. He could get up from his knees and leave, he knew. The Shoshoni did not seem interested in restraining him any longer. They did nothing for they didn’t have to do anything to make him their prisoner. The wild barren landscape did it for them. Still, he could look towards where he thought home was and dream, couldn’t he?
Late in the next day, a shout rose up in the small encampment and it drew Hoss’ attention from the canyon’s pool where he had gone. Thinking perhaps the hunting party had been successful, he did not tarry but hurried towards the noise.
It was the hunting party that had returned but instead of meat, they returned with several others. One Hoss knew immediately was of the Bannock tribe, the clothing of rich leather adorned by intricate beadwork that set them apart from their Shoshoni and Paiute cousins. He appeared to be a brave of middle age, and Hoss dismissed all thought of him at once. What drew and kept his attention was the woman riding with him. She had red hair and her clothing seemed to be a mixture of Bannock and white women’s things.
The food the newcomers brought with them was shared, as was the custom of these people. It made what was there in the camp go a little further but it was plain to all that the camp needed more supplies, not more mouths. But no comment was made. It would have been in poor taste both for the visitors as well as the camp inhabitants.
He watched from the shadows. After he had his small portion to eat, he remained, watching and hoping for a chance to take the white woman aside and talk with her. To his surprise she stayed close to the brave, often turning to him and speaking low. It came to Hoss that the man did not understand the language of the Shoshoni and that she was his interpreter. That thought made Hoss look closer at him. When he did, he was shocked for the man was also a white man! He dressed in the manner of the Bannocks and he acted as an Indian but his green eyes gave him away. Curiosity rose strong in Hoss. For the first time since he had been taken captive with his brothers, Hoss let himself hope of going home. Perhaps this man had the knowledge that would set him in the right direction, would tell him to find the resources needed to survive the trek. So through the night he waited and watched.
At dawn the discussion broke up and all the participants crawled into their respective brush-covered hovels to sleep. He tried to approach the man and the red-haired woman but was pushed aside. Heartsick, he did the same as the rest of the people. Let there be time later, he prayed.
He did not have to seek out the green-eyed man and the red-haired woman. They came to him late in the afternoon of the following day.
“You still understand English, boy?” the man asked, his voice harsh now as it spoke the language it had first known.
A smile creased Hoss’ face and he held out his hand as though to shake hands with the other. “Sure do. Name’s Hoss Cartwright.”
“Jim Bridger,” the other replied and took Hoss’ hand in a firm grip.
The name rocked Hoss back a step. The Jim Bridger he had met as a child would be an old man now and this man appeared to be only in his early thirties. Hoss looked closer at the man to be sure.
“No,” the man with green eyes smiled and it reminded Hoss of the face of oily card-sharp. “Not the Jim Bridger but we don’t have to tell them that.” The jerk of his head over his shoulder indicated the Indians far behind him. He laughed nervously.
“Jim Bridger was a mighty well-known man in this part of the country, mister. I don’t know what game you’re playing, but the odds are pretty good that these folks knew him. And that means they know you ain’t him.” Hoss spoke lowly, his voice even. In truth he wanted to throttle the man before him. Here he’d thought the man could help him leave this wide-open prison when in fact he could very well wind up there with Hoss if the Indians suspected a lie. They lacked the white man’s tolerance of such and would punish the liar promptly, no matter what the lie.
“Easy, Mister Cartwright,” the fake Bridger crooned. “We can help one another here.”
“What is it you want?” Hoss spit the words out, instantly ashamed that he was entertaining the idea.
“Simple. These people left the reservation up in the Wind River area of Idaho. If they go back, they can claim their payments – ‘annuities’ the government calls it.” His hands now toyed with the ragged fringe on his leather shirt.
“What’s that to you?” demanded Hoss, now leaning into the other’s face.
“I’m gonna lead them back -”
“They hardly need a guide!” Hoss interrupted, watching the other man’s eyes shift and dart about, as if checking to be sure that they weren’t overheard.
“No, but they need safe passage. Lots of soldiers between here and the Wind River, friend. If I can convince them to go with me, that I can make the soldiers not shoot at them, they’ll pay me. I figure that their miserable lives are worth half of what the government gives them.”
Hoss swallowed hard. “How about if I tell you how you can make twice that amount?”
The imposter grinned into the big man’s face, his breath reeking as badly as his clothing did. “How, big man? What’s your plan? Should have known you weren’t here for the banquets.” He laughed sharply, reminding Hoss of a two-bit card-sharp again.
“Over there,” he said and gestured with one hand towards the west. “On the California Nevada state line, up near Lake Tahoe, there’s a ranch. Big place. Well known, too. It’s called the Ponderosa. Ever heard of it?”
Bridger, if that’s what he wanted to call himself, scratched an armpit and nodded his head.
Hoss took a deep breath and continued. “Man there who owns it, his name is Ben Cartwright. He’s my father. I was taken a while back on a hunting trip not far from there. I want to get back. I got it figured that my pa’d pay the man right well who could help do that. I don’t think these Indians would let me just walk away but they might sell me to you. Think about that, Mister Bridger.”
“You mean you want me to buy you, then help you get home?” Bridger’s eyes were squinted nearly closed. Hoss thought that if his eyes had been opened wider he could have seen the greed in them clearly.
“That’s right. I’m bettin’ that you’d make more money that way than cheating these folks out of what little they got comin’.”
“Actually,” Bridger turned to one side and considered the woman with him. “I could trade her for you. That way I would come out way ahead and even have time to come back and make my deal with ol’ Nine Toes.”
Before Hoss could make any comment at all, the red-haired woman behind Bridger went white beneath the dirt on her face. He watched as she backed away from the two men, her fist crushed to her mouth to silence any fearful protest she might have made. Hoss was tempted to smile and reassure her that he was only jesting but a thought fell into his soul that Bridger wasn’t fooling – not on any score. He meant what he had said. He would make the trade and Hoss would be powerless to stop him.
With a calculating chuckle and sneer, Bridger walked away from them, headed towards the camp.
“I didn’t mean no harm,” Hoss tried explaining but the woman remained as she had when Bridger left: wordlessly, soundlessly screaming in terror. “I know you understand me,” he tried again, this time making his voice low, barely above a whisper.
She dropped her hand from her mouth and leveled her gaze upon him, blinking slowly. “Yes,” she said, the single word halting and unsure.
“You been with him long?”
The nod she gave was accompanied by a lower lip caught between her teeth.
“Before him, you with the Bannocks?”
Again she nodded.
When the silence stretched itself thin between them and Hoss was about to ask her something else she stepped closer. “Name,” she began and followed with an ‘s’ sound drawn out as though she were struggling to remember.
“Susan? Sharon?” he prompted but she shook her head and in the dimming light, he saw pain in her eyes.
“Sis…Sis..Sis…y,” she finally stammered out and looked up at him with relief written on her face. “Sissy.”
“My name is Hoss, Sissy. Glad to meet you.” Even as he spoke brightly and cheerfully, the pain came into her eyes again. He thought he understood where it came from. “I won’t let Bridger trade you to these folks, Sissy. It ain’t right. Tradin’ folks like they’s horses.”
“He trade then take you.” The words were flat, hollow, coming from her.
“That’s what he said,” Hoss began but Sissy started shaking her head violently. “What is it? What’s the matter?”
Her face contorted, she struggled to find words he would understand. Several times she opened and closed her mouth until finally the words came, halting and awkward. “No. He trade. He take. He offer to..to..fath…er. Get what want. He kill.”
“You mean that he’d like ransom me back to my own pa then kill me once he had what he wanted?” The idea repulsed him even as he said the words. He wondered if she knew of him having done this before but decided quickly that she must because she seemed so sure of it.
Slowly, she nodded. “Use words don’t know but think, yes.”
The innermost part of Hoss Cartwright believed in the good of all mankind. People were inherently good as far as he was concerned. True, life had taught him that there were some who were different but he would not easily give up his belief. If given half a chance, folks were decent. When called upon in an hour of need, most would extend a helping hand and not think twice about it. Even now, held captive without bars, Hoss had seen some of the good in his captors. They had shared what they had, both in food and in shelter. The only difference had been in the quantity and quality of both. Once he had learned his position in the tribe’s ranking, that as the lowest member, the beatings had all but ceased.
But this man Bridger, and Hoss swallowed hard at just the thought of his name, Bridger was one of the different ones. He would take and use for his own benefit. He would lie while looking into your face and feel no remorse. Bridger would cheat anyone if he thought it would move him ahead. Hadn’t he as much as said so when he was talking about helping the tribe get back to the Wind River? He had little regard for other people, offering Sissy against her will. No, Hoss thought as he shook his head. There was no good in this Jim Bridger.
At daybreak, Granny came to the hovel where Hoss slept and with shouts and gestures, made him to understand that he was needed. With a gnarled finger, she kept pointing towards the center of the encampment, yammering. Hoss shook the sleep off and went, Granny trailing him, striking at him with her ever-present switch and fussing at him as if he understood every word she said.
There in the center of the camp, Bridger sat with Sissy at his shoulder, using her to translate as he spoke with the Indian Hoss had figured out was Nine Toes. The Indian was tall for his race, his shoulders wide but age was beginning to stoop them. A while back, Hoss had noted that he walked with a slight limp but had passed it off as nothing special. Now Hoss knew differently for by paying closer attention, he saw that one moccasin was worn oddly. But Nine Toes was talking now, his voice sibilant, pleasing of tone, almost conciliatory in the thin air of a cool morning.
Sissy listened, then spoke softly to Bridger in words Hoss could not understand. He did catch the meaning. They, Bridger and Nine Toes, were bargaining. The white man spoke sharply to her and Hoss saw Sissy flinch as though she had been struck. Hoss understood then that Bridger spoke some Shoshoni but not enough to make himself clear to the tribe.
Nine Toes turned his attention to Hoss and Granny as the crowd parted before them. The hush that settled over them was thick and smothering. He said some words, just a few to the old woman and she returned them tenfold, ranting and protesting. More words followed that Sissy translated into Bridger’s ear. Once, she glanced towards Hoss and he could have sworn he saw her almost smile. Then, mindful of her place, her demeanor changed and she continued translating, her face a carefully molded mask of nothing.
Suddenly, all sound ceased and Hoss found himself standing in the center of a growing pool of silence. Every face was turned towards him; every eye gleamed appreciatively.
“What’s goin’ on here?” he asked even while his heart fell to the dust.
“Little tradin’ is all,” Bridger snickered and rocked from side to side. He let his eyes travel the height and breadth of the other man before they glazed over. “You gonna bring a fair price, boy.”
Sissy spoke up, her words now directed to Hoss. “He,” she gestured to Nine Toes, “wants to know if it is true. You have many cat-cat-cattle?”
It was as though a door had opened for Hoss that he hadn’t known was even there. But now, with the crack of light around it, he could see it and the way home. Yes, that way was the way back to the Ponderosa. The shell of despair he had worn since that first night began to crack open.
“That’s right. I do. I get back to the Ponderosa and there’s enough cattle there to feed all you folks through the winter. You wouldn’t have to go back to the reservation. Ain’t no need for you starve. I’ll see to it you get plenty.”
Even as she translated his words, Hoss saw the changes washing across the people. And Bridger. Hope came to many but anger to the one. Hoss wanted to laugh in his oily face; wanted him to know he’d been beaten and by his own making to boot.
“No!” Bridger shouted and the gathered crowd quieted once more. “This man lies. What man wouldn’t to save his own life? You get him close to the white villages and what will happen to you? He’ll call out and you will be killed. One and all simply because you are Shoshoni and have this white man among you!”
The murmur washed through the camp like an ocean’s tide. Hoss turned from one to another and saw stony expressions surrounding him. From the one-eyed boy who had first held him captive to Granny to Nine Toes, Hoss saw the distrust come to them. It was the same distrust based on their past history with the white man and had nothing to do with the man they held hostage. He wanted to tell them how many times his father had seen to it that their neighbors, the Paiutes, had made it through long cold winters of little game. How could he convince them that he could do the same for them? He couldn’t.
The head Indian spoke, his voice challenging now. When he paused and Bridger began to speak through Sissy once more, his hand slashing down spoke volumes to Hoss. Nine Toes didn’t trust Bridger. Or was it that he didn’t trust Sissy’s translation? The Indian’s hands danced in the air in time with his words. Finally, Nine Toes made a dismissive gesture and Granny began pulling on Hoss’ arm.
Frantic, Hoss looked back towards Sissy but couldn’t find her in the crowd. He called her name and got a clout on his shoulder from the old woman for the effort. Ultimately, he saw her.
Nine Toes was leading her away.
Liar Jim Bridger was smiling.
Darkness fell swiftly and brought with it the first swirl of snowflakes. Winter had come and as Hoss struggled to stay warm under his ragged buffalo robe, he knew that unless he did something soon, it would not be a winter he would survive. Once again he tried to figure out where he was for if he knew that, he might be able to escape on his own. But northern Nevada is a place of cruelty. There one valley looks much like another, held by shouldering look-alike mountains. If you stood atop one mountain, what you saw were many others marching off. Hoss knew if he headed north he might possibly come across the Oregon Trail. Along the trail he might find people who would help him. Yet the reality was that the odds of finding someone along that torturous route in winter would be slim. South of these corrugated mountain ranges lay desert, alkali flats and the Humboldt Sink. A man alone, on foot, with no supplies….
“Come,” the whisper demanded. From the depths of his cold sleep, Hoss wondered if perhaps he had dreamed it, but the hand pulling at him was no dream. It was Sissy.
He could barely make her out in the darkness of the night. Only the snow gathered on her head and shoulders made her visible. Again, she demanded that he come.
“What? What’s up?” he questioned but even as he did, he rose and pulled the robe up to wrap around his shoulders.
“We leave. Now.”
From the edge of camp came the sound of horses. When the clouds parted briefly and the light from the sliver of moon came down, Hoss saw that they were the target. Three horses, all of them belonging to Bridger, stood waiting patiently. He pulled back, determined not to go any further.
“Come,” Sissy demanded once more and tugged on his arm.
“I ain’t goin’ with that scum, Sissy. You yourself said he was up to no good.”
“Come,” a new voice urged and it came from the direction of the horses. When the hooked nose roan moved to one side, Hoss recognized the speaker. It was Nine Toes.
By the time day broke over the cold landscape, the three were far from the camp Hoss had once thought of as his prison. Nine Toes had pushed relentlessly during the cold night. Hoss considered that it was possible that he feared Bridger would be hot on their heels. While the man might not mind giving up his woman, his horses would be another matter, Hoss was sure. When the theft of his trade was also discovered, Hoss doubted that the white man would dawdle. Like the Indian though, Hoss didn’t want to find out if his suppositions were right.
The panorama that greeted the sun that morning was breath-taking in its stark beauty. With the swell of one ridge of mountains behind them, the horses stumbled tiredly fown the skree-covered slope to a broad valley that lay before them. Hoarfrost rimmed the grasses and when the sun first struck it, cast tiny rainbows about freely. Just as quickly as they came, they left; the frosted grasses turning winter brown again. The dirt at the horses’ feet, full of mica, glittered for a moment, then, like the grass, became ordinary again.
Nine Toes pulled a water bladder from over his shoulder, drank then handed it to Sissy. She drank as he did, head thrown back and the stream of water jetting through the cold air to her mouth. When she had a mouthful, she handed it to Hoss.
“Some,” she cautioned and he understood. This was all they had and they must be careful with it. He took but a mouthful and handed it back.
“You want to tell me what’s going on here?” he asked but he got nothing in reply.
With wary eyes, Nine Toes moved out, his horse reluctant to give up the scant grazing it had stolen. Placing Sissy between them in the single file, Hoss followed. Knowing he had made the mistake of not paying attention before, now he watched the countryside carefully. If something happened, he would need this knowledge desperately. Yet there was little to note of permanence. A ripple in the soil might not be there again. The hawk flying high over their heads could not tell him the same thing tomorrow. Little by little, desperation was again chased away by depression in the once big Cartwright.
Only when Nine Toes’ horse stumbled for the third time did they stop to rest that day. Hoss understood the orders he gave for he’d heard them many times of late. While Nine Toes made a small fire, Hoss tended to the horses, hobbling them needlessly. Sissy pulled cold meat from a pouch at her waist and laid it beside the fire to warm. They ate without speaking and again shared the water. Unable to stay awake any longer, Hoss rolled into his stolen buffalo robe and in the scarce warmth of a winter sun, fell asleep almost immediately. He slept deeply.
The dream was pleasant. He was home once more. The fire in the hearth blazed, warming him through and through. There was food on the table, coffee in his cup and best of all, his father was there. Pa was smiling but as Hoss reached out to lift a platter of food, his father suggested he wait until all his brothers got to the table. The pleasantness of the dream dissolved and Hoss was catapulted back to the torture he’d endured as a captive. If, by some miracle, Adam had survived, where was he? Had the Indians who had taken him used and abused his brother the same way they had him? Hoss prayed not, knowing his ordeal had only been bested by sheer strength. As for Joe, he was sure of what had happened. In the dream he heard those screams become sobs. His own.
He awoke slowly, his dream, his sadness dragging him down. It was only because Sissy kept tugging at him that he finally opened his eyes to the waning light of day. Over her shoulder he saw Nine Toes, his captor. The Indian was hunched down, peeling the hide off a rabbit and then spitting it over the fire’s coals.
“We go soon,” she was telling him but Hoss only heard the soft humming sounds of the man across from him. Just the ordinariness of the scene made something snap in him. Shrugging off the woman’s hands, he stood then walked over to tower above the other man. Nine Toes didn’t look up. For some reason, this angered Hoss even more. He reached down and grabbed up the Indian by the throat.
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you right here and now,” Hoss growled, his face an ugly mask of hatred made strong by the fading dream. For emphasis, he tightened his grip and was strangely pleased by the frightened white-eyed expression of the Indian.
“Because he knows where we go,” the woman screamed, yanking at his arms, kicking at him, trying to break his hold on Nine Toes. Over and over, she shouted words he did not understand.
“You don’t understand!” he roared and flung her aside. “He killed my brothers! He’d kill me too, like as not!” Like a rabid dog, he shook the other man until the Indian smiled faintly and slumped. Stunned, Hoss dropped him and stepped back, narrowly missing the fire. Unable to move, to speak, to even think, he stood there, watching as Sissy went to the Indian’s side and tried to help him. Only when the buckskin-covered chest rose and fell did she look up at Hoss.
“You wrong. Brothers live, you live because of Nine Toes. I know. I listen in camp. They say many things, good things, about you. Other man he go north.”
“I had two brothers, Sissy. One of them they took and killed. Tortured him. Do you understand that? The night before they…” His words tumbled to a halt.
Looking up at him with flinty eyes, Nine Toes was smiling. “Brothers both live,” he rasped out. “Take back to them.”
For Hoss Cartwright, it felt as though someone had hit him in the chest with a ten-pound sledge hammer. His mouth worked but no sounds came out. He shook his head slowly from side to side, disbelief its message. As if suddenly weakened, his knees gave way and he fell to the earth upon them. His brothers were alive, both of them, Nine Toes had said yet Hoss doubted what he heard.
“Both of them? Adam, I can understand. They didn’t take him…”he mumbled.
Nine Toes pushed the woman’s helping hands aside as he sat up and rubbed his throat. With a curt gesture, he motioned to the rabbit now on the fire’s coals. She did as he asked and rolled it over then handed him the water. He drank sparingly but during the whole exchange, never took his eyes off the other man. Something that he didn’t understand was happening right before his eyes and he would take no chances.
“You speak English?” a dumbfounded and floundering Hoss asked.
“Better than you Shoshoni,” the woman answered as she positioned herself between the two men. She settled her shoulders and Hoss recognized the way she sat: it was how she sat in her role of translator.
“Ask him about the first man,” he whispered.
She glared at him for a moment then looked at Nine Toes and, shrugging, said one word.
His response was strained and he repeatedly rubbed at his throat. For many moments he spoke, his inflection barely rising. He finished and Sissy canted her head in his direction and grunted what was clearly a question. He nodded once.
“The first man lives. The man in black lives. He go north and…” Unable to find the right word, she pointed towards where the sun was dipping behind the far mountains. “Gather…stop…because…” She turned and asked a question of the Indian.
That answered many of Hoss’ unasked questions. The get-together of all those different tribes had been prompted by the increase of pressure from the US Calvary. The capture of Hoss and his brothers had been to keep the gathering a secret. When the army had drawn close enough, it had frightened the Indians into their sudden flight. Only two questions remained and Hoss asked one of them.
“Why didn’t they kill us?”
Nine Toes comprehended the query and waving aside Sissy’s words, raised his finger and said one word that summed it all up. “Brave.”
Hoss nodded then asked his last question. “The first man, the young one. Where is he?”
The raised copper-hued palms answered him. Nine Toes had no idea.
For two days, they headed westerly. On the second day, the bay mare Sissy rode stopped and as she dismounted, fell dead at their feet. Fearing only God-knew-what, they pushed on with the woman riding behind Nine Toes, her arms wrapped about his waist. This puzzled Hoss, this sudden reversal. Hadn’t he seen fear on her face when Bridger had first mentioned giving her to Nine Toes? Now she was certainly cozying up to him. When they stopped for the night, he asked her.
“He not have wife,” was the explanation and Hoss could get nothing more from her. That night, she curled beside the Indian and rested her head on his shoulder.
It was that night as they rested that it came to him. On the bitterly cold air, Hoss smelled it…pine. Deep within him, the memories rose with the moon, shedding light across his damaged life the same way it did the hilltop. He let those memories take him home. They played out before his eyes and he saw his father’s smile, felt his welcome, heard voices calling. Even as he watched the slow lazy spiral of snowflakes, he thrust his vision ahead to what the house would look like. It was there, just beyond his grasp, covered in a winter’s coat of snow as smoke curled from the chimney into the darkness.
“Home,” he silently called, willing it closer. “I’m coming home, Pa.”
Across the way, Nine Toes studied the big white man and saw the hot tears running down his face.
The snow covered the mountainsides, making the going difficult. Still, Hoss pushed, ignoring the trepidation screaming from his two companions. Since that last snowy night, he had started recognizing landmarks. They had crossed onto Ponderosa land, he was sure.
The roan he rode staggered in the snow and Hoss slipped easily from the animal’s back. With a groan, the animal sank to its knees then onto its side. Even as it died, Hoss tired to get it back on its feet.
“So close,” he cried in frustration, oblivious to the others with him and to the fact that he had ridden the horse to death. He would later justify it to himself that the animal had been half dead when they had left the Indian camp a week before. Then nearly cry because he finished the job without regard to another life.
“How far?” the woman asked from behind Nine Toes.
“‘Nother five miles,” he answered, shrugging his tattered buffalo robe a little higher onto his shoulders and looking in the direction he knew home to be.
The snow crunched and it drew his attention.
They had turned and were riding away.
“Wait! I told you! I promised you meat for your people! Nine Toes! Sissy!” he shouted and ran after them. He caught them easily. “I promised you and I mean to keep that promise.”
“No,” the man said and shook his head.
Sissy smiled as she looked down into Hoss’ face. “Bridger make promise. Not you.”
Confused, all Hoss could say was “I don’t understand. There’s more cattle here than your people eat in a year, Nine Toes. You’re welcome to them. They’re your part of the bargain.”
“No,” Nine Toes repeated then reached behind his leg and patted Sissy’s.
“Hoss, how we take cattle back? All that way? One horse? Two people?” asked the woman, a faint smile on her lips.
“I’ll get you another horse. I’ll find men to help you drive -” He pulled up short, realizing what he was saying, hearing the desperation in his words. “You don’t want the cattle?”
“We want no. Her, me, we go away. Far. No live in white man’s world. No live in Indian world. Live alone together. Understand?” Nine Toes asked, his broken words a singsong.
He did. “But Sissy, you sure?”
“All life but little live with Bannock, Shoshoni. There I belong. Not with Bridger. Not here. You belong here.”
Until the horse became a small dark spot on the white countryside, Hoss stood and watched them. He had said that he understood and perhaps, in time, he would.
“Meant to cut that branch off last summer,” groused Ben Cartwright as he listened once more to the scraping sound that came from outside.
“Well, when this storm blows over, we can do just that.” From his book and his chair beside the fire, Adam watched his father’s pacing and wondered why he was agitated. Sure, this was the first big storm of the year but he thought that it had more to do with the solemn and quiet Christmas they had just celebrated. Every time something came up- like the weather- that stopped Ben from getting into town to check for telegrams, he would get like this. While Adam felt much the same way, he tempered himself with logic. Logic, his mind skittered away from his reading, logic says that neither one – he made himself stop thinking that.
It had felt good to be home. The sumptuous meals Hop Sing had cooked Adam had eaten with relish. The bed, with its mountain of blankets and quilts, had been equally as welcome. The thing that he had luxuriated in most, however, was the hot baths he delighted in. His father had teased him just once then let it go for a strange expression had darted across Adam’s face.
From the moment he had reconnected with his father just a few short weeks before, he had put a look of expectancy on that face. The good face he called it. It showed hope that his brothers would come walking in the door. That they would be whole and hearty. That was the good face. It was the one he kept just for his father’s sake.
Behind closed doors, in private, Adam’s face was entirely different. From the one and only time he’d told his father about Hoss possibly being with the Shoshoni, he had allowed no other thought to be voiced. In secret, he feared the worst; Hoss and Joe were both dead and their bodies would never be found and his father would spend the rest of his life searching for them. Indeed, no word had come from any reliable source as to their fate.
There came again that scraping noise and Adam laid his book aside, preparing to go and find a saw and not wait until the storm was over. Before he could do anything else, a voice outside shouted, begging to be let in. Could it have been the wind playing tricks on them, Adam wondered and he looked over to see his father studying the closed door as well. Then the sound came again and both men moved towards it.
When the door flew open before him, Hoss had reached the end of his strength. He fell, expecting the cold of the wind-blown snow to greet him. What he got instead was his father’s arms catching him, holding him, his father’s surprised voice saying his name. Just before he lost consciousness he managed a single word.
“This came for you,” Adam spoke softly as he handed his brother the battered white envelope. Their eyes met for a heartbeat or two then Hoss took the envelope and opened it. Before he began to read, he looked over the back of the settee to where their father was busy sorting through the mail on his desk. “No,” Adam shook his head then sat down, yet leaned towards his brother.
In the weeks that had passed since he had managed to get home, a cautiousness had surrounded Hoss. When presented with that first full meal so lovingly made by a beaming Hop Sing, he had reached for it with eagerness for then suddenly pulled his hands back. A fear had washed over him and, with it in his eyes, he looked at his family. The dream had been real, he thought, and they would make him wait until everyone was at the table before he could eat. Yet the one chair remained empty and he feared it would remain so and he would starve, the food within reach but denied. The big man shook. Even though his father ladled food onto his plate and encouraged him to eat it, Hoss couldn’t bring himself to touch his fork. After many long moments, his brother and father began to eat, to talk with one another as though nothing was wrong. Hoss took up his fork and used it to stir his mashed potatoes and gravy together slowly.
He watched his hand and saw small things he wouldn’t have seen, or cared about, before. Carefully, he pushed the green beans and potatoes away from the slice of roast pork on his plate, leaving it separated. The memory of the slaughtered horse reared up before him and he touched the meat on his plate reverently, searching and seeing once more the Ponderosa’s brand crossed out. The mound of potatoes became the snow-covered mountains Nine Toes and Sissy had disappeared into. The green beans were pieces of wood, gathered to one side and hoarded against a time when there would not be enough.
“Enough,” he’d said flatly, softly, and while he sat looking at the plate, let tears trickle down his face and fall onto the table.
Ben watched his son. Since he’d returned home Hoss hadn’t spoken of the ordeal that had taken more than half of him, reducing him to mere skin and bone. Paul Martin, summoned immediately, had likewise told them little. There had been even less that he could do for the middle Cartwright son since the many cuts, bruises and burns had healed. He treated him for frostbite and told the waiting family that what Hoss needed was food, warmth and time. At the dinner table that night, Ben longed for the cheerful outgoing son who would dig into the plate before him with relish. Instead, all he got was the fearful young man he’d carried into the house by himself.
“Yes, there’s enough, son,” the father encouraged. “Try some of these candied yams?”
In the strained silence that followed, Ben had looked to Adam but he’d only shaken his head, confused as well.
“No,” whispered Hoss. “There was never enough. And he was going to take half of what there was just because he could.”
Bewildered, Ben asked what he meant but Hoss only shook his head and, surprisingly, shoved back from the table.
“Help me, Adam?” he begged and, putting aside his napkin and fork, Adam helped his brother to stand then walk over to settee.
“I can bring your supper-” his older brother began but Hoss waved the words away as he settled there before the hearth, heedless of the tears he still cried.
“No, I need you to help me. I gotta know something, Adam.”
Adam took a deep breath and held it then nodded. “Sure, what is it?” Anything, his mind screamed, anything to bring his brother back to them in mind and spirit as well as body. This was harder than having the big man missing, this strange quiet about him, this fear of every small noise, this sadness that had wrapped itself about him
“I need you to help me write a letter.”
And now, the answer had come to the letter they had written. As he watched his brother’s face, his eyes running over the words written there, Adam saw the first change. For the first time since he’d come home, Hoss smiled.
“What’s it say?”
“Dear Mister Cartwright.” Hoss read aloud and over at the desk, Adam saw his father raise his head, listening. “In response to your request, I have checked. Yes, Nine Toes’ band made it to the Wind River Reservation. They came in of their own accord and were a sorry lot indeed! I asked among them for the man you wrote about but no one seemed to know about at white man by the name of Bridger. When I asked for Nine Toes, I was told that he had not survived the journey, having been killed along the way. Now perhaps the Army will stop hounding these people as Nine Toes was considered a wanted criminal by them. He had stolen food from the Army to feed his people when they were here last but even the Army can’t prosecute a dead man. I will use the money you sent to procure some foodstuffs for them but I can do no more. Thank you. Signed, Reverend Geoffrey Alcott.”
“Alcott. He’s that minister trying to help the Shoshoni, right?” their father asked, coming to stand behind the settee.
Slowly, Hoss folded the paper and tucked it back into the envelope. “Nine Toes and Sissy, they never went back to the tribe.”
Ben and Adam traded confused looks but it was Adam who asked, “Sissy?”
As though every word cost him dearly, Hoss told of the white woman. Of how she had feared Nine Toes then come to possibly love him. Or had she just resigned herself to life with the Indians because she had been with them so long?
“I don’t understand it, Pa,” he ended and sought his father’s face. “When Bridger was gonna trade her for me, she was scared. Really scared but then, on the way back here, it was like she and Nine Toes….”
“There’s always differences in the way things come about, son.” Ben sat down beside his eldest. “With what you’ve told us, it’s the difference in being forced to do something and in doing it on your own. This Bridger fellow, he was forcing her, right?”
“But then, when Nine Toes…aw, Pa, I don’t understand it at all. He could’ve traded me for a whole herd of cattle, right? Yet he didn’t. ‘Stead, he takes me -”
“He’d made the deal with Bridger by then?” Adam smiled. “He stole you away from Bridger. Then he leaves Bridger to face the tribe on his own. No cows to give them and no way to escape their wrath. That Nine Toes is one crafty fella, Hoss. He got everything he wanted the way he wanted it.”
“But he gave up-”
“Hoss, Nine Toes got a woman he probably wanted. Why else would he have taken her with you when you escaped? She got away from Bridger. You got home and his people, without Bridger’s meddling, got to their reservation. And thanks to you and Reverend Alcott, they’ll eat this winter.” To Ben, it all seemed so logical, so clear and so apparent.
Hoss forced himself to smile for his father. The letter, yes, had answered many of his questions but had given rise to others. He doubted that Nine Toes was dead. He didn’t want to think of him that way. He wanted to think that the crafty Indian was still riding towards that far canyon village with Sissy holding tight behind him.
And Bridger? Where was Bridger? Hoss hoped he was trying to dicker his way out of Hell.
End ~ Part Two
Part Three ~ A Trade for Compassion
Word had finally come. A young white man who appeared to be in his early twenties had been taken into custody by the US Army. The description had roughly matched, the telegram advised, yet asked for more information in order to make a positive identification.
Ben Cartwright’s positive identification would be made first hand. In person. Even as he and his two sons had packed for the trip south, he repeatedly told himself that it had to be Joseph. It simply had to be. The winter just passing had been one of waiting for just such a telegram and he was sure. His sons might not be, but he was.
A fool’s errand, Adam said to himself as he rolled his blankets around a change of clothes. The telegram could have been answered with a fuller description of Joe. A letter to the Army fort down in the Arizona Territory would have been wiser, but his father had glared at him then reminded him of his own rescue. What if he’d only written a letter to the commander of the fort where Adam had gone with the Modocs? How would Adam’ve felt? No, they – or at the very least, Ben alone – would go there, would see for himself. Fearing the worst, yet keeping it hidden within, Adam had said he would go as well. Hoss had made no comment at all; he’d just gone to his room to pack.
Two long weeks of pushing down the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountains, camping out most of the time, other times sleeping in shabby hotels had passed. Now they rode tiredly into Fort Grant. The early spring rains that had kept them miserable company for the last few days continued. It dripped down hat brims and rolled across slumped shoulders. Adam shifted uneasily in the saddle as they walked their horses into the gray, muddy parade ground that late afternoon.
As they pulled up at the hitching post, a motion off to one side caught Adam’s attention for a brief moment. It was a knot of three soldiers, dressed in oilskins. He caught a glimpse of something at their feet, something flesh-colored that seemed to disappear beneath a drenching of water from a bucket one of them lifted and poured. One of them said something that the others found humourous and they laughed and nudged whatever it was at their feet. Adam’s thought was that it was a poor dog to be treated as such, but then followed his father into the office of the base commander without further thought.
“My name is Ben Cartwright. These are my sons, Adam and Hoss. I sent a telegram to Captain Walters,” Ben began, removing his hat, letting the raindrops fall to the floor with a grimace.
The orderly there offered them a drink of hot coffee then abruptly went through the door at the back of the room, closing it behind him firmly.
“Might as well warm up a bit,” Hoss allowed and poured coffee for himself and the others from the pot on the round bellied stove. The heat from the stove made the windows white with steam and the three men found themselves shrugging out of their rainslickers as they waited.
Halfway through their cups, the rear door opened and the orderly preceded a thickset man into the room. With them both came the smell of food cooking, hot tallow candles, and a faint whiff of alcohol.
The other man left his uniform jacket opened, his paunchy stomach hanging loosely over his belt. The shoulder boards on that blue jacket showed him to be a captain, even if one was slightly cockeyed. Tall heels on his black boots lifted him to about six feet in height, but Adam doubted he would have made the mark without them. He swiped at his greying mutton-chop whiskers then ran his palms down his jacket sides before extending the right one.
“Mister Cartwright, I’m Captain Walters. Pleased to meet you.”
Ben’s head nodded and he shook the captain’s hand after setting his cup of coffee aside. “These are my two sons.” He introduced Adam and Hoss and the captain made it a point to shake their hands as well then directed them all into his office.
“Carter,” he bellowed just before he closed the door. “Get our guests some brandy to take the chill off the day.”
Taking the chairs he indicated, the three Cartwrights sat, opening their jackets as the warmth of the room reached them. The captain took up his place behind the massive walnut desk and folded his hands over his stomach.
“I am sorry that you’ve taken this trip for nothing. I really don’t think this young buck is your son, Mister Cartwright,” the officer began, his tone trying to be conciliatory.
“What makes you say that, Captain Walters? Your telegram said -” Ben had begun but the other man cut him short.
“I know what the telegram said but that was on first glance at the boy. Believe me, the fuss you’ve made this past fall and winter has put every post commander on diligent watch for….” As his words trailed off, Walters leaned onto his desktop. “Like I said, now that I’ve had the time to watch him, I don’t think he’s your boy at all.”
“Why don’t we get a look at him and see for ourselves, Captain?” offered Adam. Though he remained calm and even-toned, something about the whole scenario was beginning to make his skin crawl.
Walters sighed and looked away. He opened his mouth to speak but closed it when the orderly brought in a bottle of brandy and four glasses. “Tell Benson I want to see him, please.”
“What makes you think this ain’t our brother?” Hoss drained his glass swiftly then traded looks with Adam. Like Adam, he felt something wasn’t right but couldn’t put a finger on it.
“For one thing, the boy doesn’t appear to understand any English. We’ve tried everything we know, but he just looks at us. Cold little bastard, he is too. Tried to escape a couple of times. My guess is that he was taken when he was very young. The Utes and the Apache both do that. Take very young, white children and raise them like they were their own. Sometimes it’s to replace children they’ve lost, but who knows with a damn redskin?”
“Then you know he’s white?” Ben’s question chased the captain’s words, not answering the question but posing one of his own.
“He’s white all right. Sometimes, a half breed will have eyes his color. A green but not quite a green green. No, it’s more than his eyes. It was his hair. Brown, curly, thick. That’s what we spotted first off. Long, though. But even a breed can have that, too.”
“Then what was it?” Ben pushed, hoping that something the soldier said would suddenly make him sure, one way or the other.
“One of the marks on him. It’s the mark they put on slaves, Mister Cartwright. Utes and Apaches both take slaves…of whites. Not of each other. You put those three things together and you’ve got a white boy but one who’s more Injun than white. You’ve made a long trip for nothing, gentlemen. This boy, this young man, has been with the heathens long enough to be one of them. Not the months your son has been missing.” Yet something about the way the soldiers spoke made Adam doubt he was telling the whole truth.
A tap at the door was followed by it opening to admit one of the men Adam recognized from the group outside. Here, he snapped to attention and barked out “Captain wanted to see me, sir?”
“Lieutenant Benson, this is Mister Cartwright and his sons. They’re here to take a look at our prisoner. They think he may be one of theirs.” Walters tilted his chair back as he explained.
A word had snagged Adam’s attention and he repeated it. “Prisoner?”
“Yes, sir!” Benson barked again as he turned to face Adam.
Adam rose from his seat and set aside his empty brandy glass. “Prisoner?” he repeated. “What has this young man done to be considered a prisoner?”
“There were circumstances surrounding his capture that could be considered -”
“Lieutenant! That’s enough for now. You were directed to prepare for our guests earlier. Are those preparations complete?”
“Yes, sir! As best as we were able but that buck, he’s a mean one.”
With a wave of his hand, Walters silenced his subordinate. “Then get it over with. Mister Cartwright, if you’ll go with the lieutenant, you’ll see for yourself that this isn’t your son.”
Stepping back into the rainy dismal afternoon was somehow refreshing, considering the overheated confines the Cartwrights left behind them. As he tugged on the brim of his damp hat, Ben took a cleansing breath then followed the lieutenant off the porch and down into the mud.
“You know, I ain’t usually a body to snap judge anyone, but that captain made my skin crawl, Pa.” Adam agreed with Hoss as they slogged across the parade ground. Ahead of them sat a squat building, stoutly built without windows but with a solid door. At that door a miserable looking private stood, a rifle held before him as he obviously stood guard.
“Open the door, private!” Benson shouted when they were still some distance away. As it was, when the three Cartwrights got to the door, it was open. Beyond it lay darkness and a thick stench that made them think of what remained following a butchering: the tang of coppery blood and putrid, dung-filled entrails.
Adam saw the lantern hanging beside the door and, without a word, demanded a match to light it. When the wick caught fire and he’d lowered the globe, he held it high over his father’s shoulder. There in the back of the single room, a body lay, back towards them, in rotting straw and puddles of what had once been rain water.
“Careful, sir. Let me go drag him out here. He respects me, I think, but only because I’m stronger than he is.” Benson pushed by the others and made his way towards the body.
Just before Benson’s bulk filled his line of sight, Adam saw the body move. An arm, rail-thin, raised up as though to fend off a blow, the jangle of manacles and chain muted. On the back he’d glimpsed, Adam knew he’d seen the welts of a whipping. The stripes were vivid red even in the faint lantern light.
“Get on your feet, you miserable excuse for a human being!” roared the lieutenant and reaching down, seized hold of the chains that ran to a ring embedded in the wall. I t jerked the body upright to its knees but still it faced the wall, head down. “Come take a look, sir, but I warn you, this bastard will try just about anything to get away, so watch how close you get.”
With the damp rotting straw squishing beneath their boots and the lantern held high, the Cartwrights made their way cautiously towards the lieutenant and his captive. When they were nearly there, the soldier said something they didn’t understand then grabbed a handful of hair and jerked the captive’s head up, cruelly pulling it backwards until the chain around his throat was taut to the wall.
The battered face that looked back at them was that of Joseph Cartwright.
Before he could form a thought, the lieutenant was himself slammed into the wall by the biggest Cartwright son. “Unlock them chains,” he was ordered but could only reply that the captain held those keys. With a snarl, he was hurled towards the door. “Get ’em now!”
Over and over, all Ben Cartwright could say was his son’s name. Holding him felt like holding a corpse, so cold, damp, and lifeless was his body. Yet Ben held him close to his chest. When the light came close, he glanced up into Hoss’ pained face and saw his middle son stripping off his rainslicker to cover his brother’s body.
When the lieutenant returned, Adam whirled on him, demanding the keys.
“Captain Walters says,” he began but when the dark-hatted Cartwright son pushed him into the open yard, he raised his hands as if to fight.
“I don’t care what that son of a bitch says. I want the keys to those chains and I want them now or so help me God…” he left the threat dangling as the lieutenant stumbled over his own feet getting away. Hearing a noise behind him, Adam turned and pounced on the hapless private. “That’s my brother in there and I want him freed now. Understand that?”
“I can’t allow that, Cartwright,” spoke up the captain from behind him.
His shout tight with red-hot anger, Adam demanded to know why and, pushing the sentry away, turned his vehemence onto the superior officer. He was to the point that he would have struck the man but he held back.
“We’re holding him prisoner. He fired on my troops. It’s as simple as that.” Subconsciously, the captain hefted the keys he held in his fist even as he glared into the oldest Cartwright son’s dark eyes. It wasn’t a move he would make a second time since Adam balled up a fist and hit the captain square on the chin then took the keys from his fingers as he sprawled in the mud.
His own hands trembled with the cold as he tried one after another in the padlock that joined the manacles to the wall chain but finally Adam had it open. As his father held his brother, Adam brushed Joe’s wet hair from the side of his neck and used another key to open the iron collar. It fell with a thud to moldy damp straw. Down at his brother’s ankles, his hand shook so badly that Hoss took the keys away and unlocked the cuffs. Sitting back on his haunches, Adam wiped a hand across his mouth and was surprised to find himself looking directly into his father’s eyes.
“We need to get him out of here, boys,” came Ben’s whisper, so strained it hurt just to hear it.
Hoss moved closer and said, “Let me, Pa.”
He pushed back from the warmth of his father’s chest and, for the first time in what seemed a lifetime, Joe could see his father’s face, just there above him. He wanted to burrow like a small helpless child there in his father’s strong arms and would have except for a voice off to one side, the lieutenant’s, demanding that they step away from him. The rumble in his father’s chest and the tightening of the grip around him told Joe that his father was not about to comply with the other man’s order. Still, though, he made himself push away and with the help of his brother Hoss, he stood. Swaying, but he stood on his own.
“No,” Joe said, his voice rusty with lack of use. “I’m walkin’ out of here. You want me, you’ll find me but, like I told you, I’ll be waitin’ for you.” He would have said more but a strangling cough staggered him and he would have fallen if not for Hoss’ hands holding him up.
“Whatever it is my brother is being held prisoner for doesn’t merit being kept like an animal. There’s a town right outside this fort. When you get a court, a trial date and a judge, you’ll find him – and us- right out there. Now get out of our way,” was Adam’s demand and Benson wisely moved aside to let them pass, nearly upsetting the lantern where it sat forgotten.
“Here, Short Shanks, let me help you,” once again Hoss offered and went to pick Joe up and carry him but was stopped short by the same brother.
“No. I’m walking out of here. I told that son of a bitch when he threw me in here, when he shackled me like a dog, that I would walk out of here and I intend to.” To underscore his determination, Joe pulled his borrowed rainslicker tighter, hoping it covered his trembling resolve.
Ben had no idea where his son’s strength came from that cold, wet afternoon to walk the fifty feet or so that took them out the gate, but he did. He stayed close, a hand gently placed in the center of his son’s shivering back. Behind them, he heard Adam and Hoss coming with the horses but he didn’t look back. Step by slow step, Joe went, defiance personified to the watching soldiers until he cleared the gate. Only then did he turn and, with a fragile smile that broke even as it came, put out a hand and asked for help.
“The only doctor in town is the Army one and I’m betting you don’t want him anywhere close to Joe. You want Hoss or me to-” As Adam offered, he saw his father shake his head. “Okay; I guessed that, so I went down to the mercantile and bought out their supply of bandages and alcohol. You want me to help you?” Again, the silver head shook and the deep brown eyes looked away. “Pa?” With his softest voice and touch, Adam covered his father’s hand with his own. “You need to let us help.” When the silence settled heavily between them again, he begged. “Please?”
The first thing Joe wanted made his oldest brother smile. A bath. That was followed by a bed warmed by the management’s own hot water bottles on threat of dire consequences from Hoss. Then had come the difficult part. The manacles and shackles had rubbed his flesh raw beneath them; the conditions of his jail had infected them. As his family worked to clean and bandage his wrists and ankles, Joe didn’t make a sound. Just looking at the welts on his son’s back made Ben cringe yet he knew he had to touch them to cleanse them with the stinging alcohol. Several split even as he did so. Still, Joe only groaned deep in his throat. When it was over, he slept.
In the dark of the night, Ben arose, going to check once more on Joseph. His prayers were answered, he knew; his sons had come back to him. Yet, as he opened the door quietly, he had to make sure.
A motion in the darkness caught his attention and Ben’s first thought was that the Army had come to steal his son back in the middle of the night. A glance shot at Joe showed him to be awake and faintly smiling.
“It’s okay, Pa,” he said then said a few strange sounding words.
From the darkest corner of the room one shadow separated itself from the others. It coalesced into an old man, hunched over by great age and greater cares. He wore a mix of clothing, some of Indian design, other pieces showing it had once belonged to the white man. In his hands he held a battered hat yet in his iron gray hair was a single dark feather. The man’s bronze face was dominated by a large nose and cragged by deep wrinkles. But from within those wrinkles, a pair of dark, bright eyes twinkled. When he spoke, it was softly but even then the timber was full and resonating.
“Ben Cartwright, this is Nana We-so-taka. Nana, Ben Cartwright.”
The old Indian put out his hand and, across the foot of the bed, shook hands with the white man.
“Son, I think this needs an explanation.” Ben was surprised that the Indian smiled, showing a wide place where there were only gums in the man’s mouth.
“Nana is an Apache.”
Nana smiled hugely again and thumbed his chest proudly then spoke a few words to Joe that made him smile.
“He says he is the Apache, now.” This Joe chased with more words Ben didn’t understand but they made the old Indian chuckle.
“Joseph, an explanation, please. Your father is waiting,” Nana urged, and in as good an English as any one of Ben’s own children was capable of.
“Yes, Pa. He speaks very good English. Corrected me a time or two, too. I told him that Miss Jones would have – well, never mind. Nana, you explain to Pa what you’re doing here. I mean besides telling me that Yellow Bird has had her baby.”
At this, Ben raised a brow in the thin moonlight. “Is this something we need to discuss, son?”
“Yellow Bird is his grand-daughter. Oh, no, I get what you mean. No, Pa, she was married to his grandson and she was pregnant when he was killed. The child she carried is the last of Nana’s bloodline. Now Nana has another boy to raise. I’m glad to hear that, Nana. I was afraid it was going to be a girl and you would be forced to spoil her.”
Nana snorted then, settling himself cross-legged at the foot of the bed, chuckled. “Your father thought you had not been an honorable young man so it is good that we both know better. But he wants to know why I am here. Shall I tell him or will you? Ah, you are not feeling well tonight, I see. I shall tell him. I think I should start by explaining about the rendezvous. When the Ute, the Bannocks, the Shoshoni, the Modocs and the Paiutes all gathered together last summer, I was not there. Apache were not invited nor would we have gone so far from our homes. But the Shoshoni, Modocs and Paiutes are all enemies of my people so we needed to know what they were doing. We sent a spy among them. He was an old friend of mine who had lived for a time with the Utes, and their cousins, the Paiutes….”
Into the night, the old man spoke, his cultured tones and skillful storytelling weaving pictures that Ben found both entrancing for their beauty and repulsive for the horror and torment they spoke of for his son. Still, he listened. Long after Joseph had fallen back asleep, he listened. Even when he heard Hoss and Adam join him, wary but respectfully silent, he listened. And when the dawn broke over the gray landscape of a early spring desert and the old man disappeared out the window, Ben remained beside the bed, listening still to the old man’s story….
The spy they had sent to the gathering of the northern tribes was called Sha-tooka. He was an old man who had spent many winters with the Paiute as a child. He spoke the words and knew many of the elders, their families and the ways they lived by. Sha-tooka was accepted simply because he posed no threat to anyone since they saw him as only a mind-touched fool, a child’s mind in a man’s body. It was a part he played well. When the young braves had first brought in their captives, Sha-tooka had seen them and knew that their very existence was a danger to one and all present in the narrow valley. When the decision had come to torture them to death, Sha-tooka had spoken against it, saying it would bring bad things to those who participated. But because he was viewed as simpleminded, he was ignored. He had forced himself to watch the youngest white man that night, to hear him scream in pain, to smell the blood and fear in the same breath. When the man had fallen and no longer risen, Sha-tooka had hurried to his side, allowing the flowing robe he wore to fall across the younger man’s chest. It hid the fact that the man still lived. Sha-tooka began to dance crazily above and about the body and when he could no longer shout outrageous things to the sky, he fell in a heap on top of the still silent body. The elders of the tribes had laughed and when he’d begged them for the body, they had let him have it. He dragged it away by an arm, shouting that he was a mighty warrior and that he would feast upon the heart of his enemy. In truth, he pulled the body to a narrow ravine where he hid it for the remainder of the time the tribes were there.
He gave the unconscious man water, forcing it between clenched teeth, praying he would not choke on it. At nights, when it grew cold, he covered the other’s body with his own. He washed the body, straightened the broken limbs and held them still with stolen items from the camp. Sha-tooka used his limited healing knowledge and gave the young white man something others would not have: the possibility of life.
Word of the white man’s army being nearby came and the tribes hastily scattered. Sha-tooka stayed and waited, hoping the blue coats would venture close enough that they would find his patient. The blue coats came nowhere near and Sha-tooka was faced with a dilemma. He could easily leave and make his way back to the south where friends awaited his report. Or he could stay and die a long, slow death of starvation and exposure with the white man. Or, and this he finally decided to do, he could rig a travois and take the injured man with him. Traveling would be slow and time consuming. If the army caught him, he was sure that he would die before they would ask what he was doing. He had looked down at the battered body and remembered the night it had been tortured. He recalled that throughout the ordeal the young man had shown bravery and courage. The words he had screamed into the night sky, Sha-tooka had understood some of them. One was the white’s word for the Great Spirit, God, and the white man had been asking for His help.
“If your Great Spirit can’t help you, I guess it is up to me,” Sha-tooka mumbled then went about building a travois.
Sha-tooka traveled at night, making his way over the flat desert floor by the light of the moon. As he walked, towing his burden behind him, he talked to himself, the plant-life and the land itself. When his patient regained his senses, Sha-tooka spoke to him, too, but the young man didn’t seem to understand what he was saying. It didn’t stop Sha-tooka. He kept right on talking. And walking.
Near the end of the moon cycle, they reached the muddy confluence of two wild rivers. Here Sha-tooka set up his camp. He used one of the nearby caves for shelter and when a passing brave of the Utes stopped by, he asked him to take a message to the first Apache village. Carefully worded, the message made no mention that Sha-tooka had not come home alone, just that he would wait until Nana or the others came.
His charge was now recovering and was learning a few basic words. One leg that had been twisted cruelly still gave the young man trouble when he tried to walk for any distance. The other marks that attested to his bravery that terrible night were healing. Yet the young one struggled with a recurring fever and Sha-tooka knew of only one way to heal him completely.
He set about building and as he did, talked constantly to the other. With simple words and gestures, he showed him what he was doing. He was building a sweat-lodge, he said again and again. With scavenged wood from the rivers’ banks, he made a frame then took a long walk into the desert for sage brush. Sha-tooka showed his charge how to weave the brush in and about the frame, pushing each handful of it down until they formed a nearly impenetrable wall. The young one learned quickly. When the walls were done, the old man now began to gather fire wood but this he did carefully, choosing only that which was dry and would burn with little smoke. Then, he waited.
The other grew impatient, a sure sign that his body was healing. He tried arguing with Sha-tooka but it only made Sha-tooka laugh since the words he had mastered were not ones of logic and coercion. He was certain that if the leg had healed as well as the rest of him the young one would have walked away. Sha-tooka was glad it hadn’t healed well since if his young one walked off, he would have to follow him and rescue him again. That was the way of the young, that bull-headedness, no matter what color his skin.
Then came the day that Nana and his small band joined Sha-tooka at the confluence of the two rivers. At first, his patient was wary, clearly afraid, and Sha-tooka tried to console him and convince him that they meant no harm. Yet, it was in his best interest to stay quiet and, finally, Sha-tooka got through to him. It was either that or when the four braves dispersed to take the news to other parts of their world. Left behind was Nana, his old wife Rayana, his grand-daughter Delsea-ya and the other old ones of the clan. Sha-tooka felt the fear seep out of the white man like sap from a cut tree. To celebrate, he gave him a special drink.
With the drink within him making him sleepy and relaxed, they carried him into the small sweat lodge. Nana and Sha-tooka removed the last of his white clothing and laid him on the sacred blanket. With the rising sage-scented steam making his body gleam with sweat, the two old men sang holy songs over him. Every once in a while, they would use the sharpened blade of elk horn and scrape the ugly sweat from his body. Finally, when his pores ran clean, Nana said that it was time and between them carried the semi-conscious young man to the river and plunged him into the cold water. He arose between them, sputtering and shaking the cold water from his face. Laughing at his white man’s words of surprise, they helped him to the bank where Rayana wrapped him in a blanket of skins.
As he sat trying to dry his body, Nana approached him and squatting before him, patted him on the head. Rayana said something teasing to her old husband and he smiled back at her then shook his head no. Sha-tooka shouted something and they all laughed, even the shivering white man before them.
So it was that Ama-socha, meaning Old Child, was born into the Apache tribe, and became the son of Sha-tooka..
When Nana and his people had come to the confluence of the rivers, it had been the month of falling stars. It was called that because of the meteor showers, the ones the white man called the Leonides, racing across the late summer skies. Because of the location straddling the well-used trail of many tribes, the decision to move on was made quickly. One of the things Sha-tooka had told them about was that the white soldiers seemed to be increasing in number and who knew when they would find this camp?
All of the small clan drew together one evening, their meal of fish finished. For a while, they watched the stars, their silence making them one with the night sky. Then, slowly, Nana began to speak. He told of the old days when the Apache people were free to come and go as they pleased, like the stars above them. He spoke of rich hunting days when the elk, deer and bear were as plentiful as the stars as well. Now, and he took a deep breath, it was not the same. The white man had come and would continue to come no matter what the Apache did. Even when they fled into their mountain refuges, the white man followed them. And there was nothing there for the white man; there was no food he would eat, and no place for his cattle to graze. Only that strange yellow rock that he seemed to prize above all others.
“You, Ama-soucha, do you prize the yellow rock?” Nana asked, his Apache words understood by the white man.
“No.” The shaggy head shook as he said the word first in English and then in Apache. Then he looked to his hands, held loosely before him as he sat on the edge of the river, and would say no more.
“Tomorrow, we will begin preparations to go higher into the mountains. There we will stay the winter,” Nana announced. All about him was the palpable feeling of dread.
Delsea-ya, her hand pressed over her belly and the child within it, gave voice when no other did. “But, Grandfather, to go into the mountains in the winter is not done. It is not wise.”
Nana’s hand slashing down showed his frustration. “It is because it is not done that we must do it. This the white soldiers will not expect us to do. Don’t worry. We will travel slow. As we go, we will gather what we will need for the winter. The men will follow us. The other clans will gather with us and we will have a time without the fear of the white man and his greed.”
One by one, they drifted off to their sleeping places until only Nana and Ama-soucha remained. Nana sat beside him and in a motion another father far away would recognize, put his arm about the young man’s shoulders.
“You are quiet,” Nana said and in the moonlight, saw the smile come to the other’s face for he had spoken in English.
“You speak English?”
Nana chuckled and gave the neck he grasped a gentle shake. “Of course I do. Now, tell me, why are you so quiet? Usually on a night like tonight you would be laughing and teasing like a child.”
“You asked me if I prized the yellow rock – gold. No, I don’t but I do prize something else just as valuable. Home, Nana. You are going into the mountains for the winter. Let me go home.” The words tumbled out quickly as though a dam had broken.
“There is something you prize more than that, Ama-soucha. And that is why you cannot go home yet. You have heard Sha-tooka, my oldest friend, talk of how he saved your life; how he covered your body with his own to save it and then to keep it warm as you healed. Do you not value your life above all else? If not, Sha-tooka certainly does and I would not want to tell him that he did all that in vain.”
“All right, yes, I value my life, but still-”
Once again Nana chuckled. “You owe Sha-tooka a debt then.”
“No, it is true. You must repay that debt, Ama-soucha, and then you may go home.”
“How? How can you repay someone for saving your life? It’s impossible.”
“You repay by helping to save other lives. Look around you. What do you see?” Nana gave him a few heartbeats then he went on. “You see old men, and old women, a pregnant girl and that is it. If it were not for our horses, we could travel no more than a few of the white man’s miles a day. The mountains are far, even with the horses. And we must eat on the way and gather for the winter. You would have Delsea-ya have her child under those conditions? Even you, when you were reborn in the river, we wrapped you in a warm blanket and gave nourishing food to.”
“If I help you get to the mountains, then will you let me go?”
The old Indian closed his eyes for a moment before he answered. “Yes, then you may go.” The words, so simple and softly spoken, reminded him of another time and place when another young man had asked permission to go and he’d allowed it. That young man, his last son, had never returned.
They traveled slowly. Because of the season, hunting was plentiful. Several times they stopped and dried meat, gathered wild berries and herbs. Gradually, the packs on the horses grew full. The people carried about themselves an atmosphere of tranquility and hope. Yet, as the packs grew fat, the hope of the messenger braves returning grew thin.
The young man they called Ama-soucha grew stronger with each passing day. Rayana had presented him with a razor to scrape away any facial hair he might have grown but even she saw how seldom he needed it. Delsea-ya made a beaded band to hold his lengthening hair out of his eyes as he helped them gather herbs and fire wood. Sha-tooka was proud of his adopted son and his easy ways with both the people and the horse. His leg still made him limp sometimes but it didn’t matter when he rode. Yes, the young white man from the Nevada mountains known as Joseph Cartwright, youngest son of prominent rancher Ben Cartwright, was disappearing into the lean, well-muscled and bronzed Apache called Ama-soucha.
It was a good thing that he grew stronger because the day came when the little clan of elders met with another Apache clan. Nana alone went into their midst and spoke with them. They spoke well into the afternoon and both tribes made camp for the night, well apart from one another. Delsea-ya explained to Ama-soucha. They were not Mimbres. They were Apache, yes, but not of the same blood. They were the feared Chiricahua who could kill so quietly that their foe would not know they were there until he lay dying.
The sun was well down when Nana returned to camp and called his people together. In a low voice, he told them. Their messengers, sent out weeks ago, would not be returning. Their foe, the Paiute had captured one and killed him. Another had simply disappeared into the desert. The third and fourth had been captured by the white man and died rather than reveal the whereabouts of the tribe. As the fate of each brave was spoken, an old woman or old man would turn from the group, tears in their eyes and walk into the night to grieve.
Finally, only Nana and his small family stood with Sha-tooka and Ama-soucha. “Now,” the head man croaked and placed a hand to Ama-soucha’s shoulder, “you are even more important to us. We need your strength, your small ability with the bow, to see us into the mountains.”
How could a man, be he white or red, turn his back on old ones so desperately in need? Neither Joseph Cartwright nor Ama-soucha.
The cold in the mountains that winter was bitter, sharp and unrelenting. Before the longest night, two of the old ones had died. The number of Nana’s tribe now stood at eleven. Despite their age, the old men helped with the hunting and with Ama-soucha’s help, they ate well enough to survive. The gathered herbs and berries were carefully doled out, making an otherwise grave situation a little easier to bear.
Throughout the long winter, Ama-socha improved his Apache language skills and listened with relish to the stories told around the fires. These were stories his white up-bringing could understand. They were of the same gallantry and heroism of Sir Walter Scott; of sly tricksters like Coyote whose legerdemain was on par with Shakespearean characters. They explained much of the world of these people. Legends of how the world began would be interlaced with a story of a mother’s love for her child and Ama-socha understood why they felt about the Earth as they did.
“What do you see?” Sha-tooka asked him one cold afternoon as they stood on the highest mountain crest.
Ama-socha shook his head and looked away but his Indian father would not be put off. Finally, he pointed north where a clear blue sky and bright sunlight showed ridge after ridge of mountains. “If I could walk this ridge-line far enough and long enough, I would be back at my home. My name would be Joe Cartwright again.”
Sha-tooka tilted his head and stuck out his lower lip as he followed the mountain ridge with his eyes the way Ama-socha pointed his finger. “Then walk it.”
Again the old Apache looked into the younger man’s face, his own a question mark of wrinkles and bright eyes. “Yes, you can. Your leg is healed now.”
Leaning down, Ama-socha picked up the hindquarters of a deer they had shot and handed Sha-tooka the bow he had used to do it with. “No, I can’t.” He began to walk down the slope towards where the village lay nestled in the snow.
“Because for right here and now, my name is Ama-socha and I am an Apache taking care of my tribe, my clan, my family.”
At daybreak, Ama-socha stretched and sniffed the air. Rayana was already making something that smelled delicious and he thought about rolling out from beneath his sleeping robes and having some of it. Then a long, low rumbling sound came to his ears and his first thought was that of an avalanche. Frozen, he listened and the sound came closer. Suddenly a woman screamed and the word, her last, was not about snow.
It was “soldier”.
Quickly, he pulled on his mocassins and shrugged into his deer-hide jacket. In one smooth movement he was to the entryway of his teepee and looking out on sheer pandemonium.
It was the US Army all right. In the melee, counting was impossible but there seemed to be four or five bluecoats for every Apache. The Army, on horse-back, rode into the camp, pistols blazing. When they ran out of bullets, bayonets became the killing tools. Some simply used their horses to run the elderly down, crushing frail bodies beneath churning hooves.
He tore his eyes from the horrific scene before him and reached for his bow and quiver of arrows. With an arrow notched into the string, he stepped out into the fray. The arrow went wide, missing its mark of a blue chest but it got the soldier’s attention and he shouted something lost in the screams of horses and people.
His arrow had missed because at his shoulder, pulling on him, was Nana.
“Come,” he commanded and Ama-socha followed him. With bullets plunking into the snow around them, they climbed the steep mountainside, each helping the other. Below them, Ama-socha saw one after another calvaryman try to force his horse up the slope but it was too steep and covered too deeply by snow.
Once over the ridge, both Apache paused to catch their breath. Nana carried a rifle that had belonged to the tribe and he used it to hold himself erect now. “Come,” he ordered again and this time took off through the deep snow to an outcropping of rocks. Here, they met up with Rayana and Delsea-ya.
“Sha-tooka? Where is he?” the young man asked but the women were too frightened, too much in shock to speak.
From below them, the sound of guns firing stopped. It was replaced by an unearthly howl and it drew the attention of the few. In what remained of the small village, the bluecoats were going from body to body, stabbing repeatedly with their bayonets. Then, with roars of animal delight, they would scalp the dead. One old woman they found alive and dragged into the reddened snow, stripped her naked and raped her repeatedly. While she lived, one soldier cut off her breasts.
Sickened, Ama-socha turned from the brutality he saw and with a thickened tongue, asked again if anyone had seen Sha-tooka. Rayana pointed her finger and when he looked, he saw the old man who had saved his life being mutilated. He would have shouted out, screamed for them to stop, but Rayana pulled him back and pulled his head to her shoulder.
“We can’t stay here. Soon they will come.” Delsea-ya’s words were soft yet held a truth in them.
“Ama-socha, help the women. I will break the snow-pack. Hurry.”
For the rest of that day and into the night, the quartet struggled in the snow, slipping on cold-deadened feet. By moonrise, they had reached the desert floor but found the going no easier. Without food or shelter, the desert night was as cold as that in the mountains. They huddled together for a while then decided to push on. They stopped again at sunrise and ate the raw flesh of a hapless rabbit and used the liquid squeezed from a cactus to moisten their mouths. Then, once more, Nana led out and expected them to follow. They did.
And so did the US Army.
For two days, Nana and his people were harried by the army. For two days, they made progress further and further south.
“Where are we headed?” Ama-socha asked when they paused to again take moisture from the desert cactus.
“That way, ” he pointed south, “there is a river the blue coats must think is haunted because they will not follow us across it. Once over it, we will find others who will help us, feed us.”
“How far, Grandfather?” Delsea-ya asked
“We cross it today if we hurry.”
On they pushed, relentlessly dog-trotting across the open sand dunes, the women as well as the men. As they neared where the river must be, the land changed, becoming hilly and the soil, rocky. Looking over his shoulder, Nana swore briefly and colorfully in English.
“The bluecoats gain on us. Hurry….”
“From here on, I can’t tell you any more. Let him tell you,” Nana nodded to the sleeping Joseph and Ben smiled. The old Apache had talked nearly the entire night, telling his story but when it came to telling the end of it, he could not. Or would not? Even as Ben looked back to the foot of the bed, Nana had disappeared like a puff of smoke on the wind.
“That’s a hell of a story.” Adam’s voice took Ben by surprise, coming from a shadowy corner of the room.
“Sure is, but all that don’t tell us how Joe come to be in shape he’s in now,” whispered Hoss, afraid of breaking the spell cast by the Apache’s words and his quick disappearance out the window. As Hoss stood looking out that same window, now closed, he caught sight of a hunched shadow that made its way around the corner of the livery stable then was gone from view.
“No, it doesn’t,” Ben agreed, “and I am afraid that it has everything to do with the charges the Army wants brought against your brother.”
“Treason. The crime of betraying one’s country by attempting to kill its representatives and overthrow the government. In this case, the government is the United States Army. Do you understand these charges?”
Again, Joe said the single word. “Treason?”
At the foot of his bed stood Captain Walters in full dress uniform. Beside him was another soldier he had introduced as the Provost Marshal. The rain dripped from his hat brim onto the rolled paper he held open in his hand, making the ink run like tears of sadness down the paper.
“Treason, Mister Cartwright. It is only because of your current physical condition that we do not escort you back to the stockade and confine you there until your trial.” Walters leaned forward, his hands clutching the iron bedstead spasmodically.
“My son is a civilian, Captain,” Ben thundered but it had no impact on the soldier.
“He took up arms against the government. Treason is the charge. There will be an armed guard on this door twenty four hours a day. There will also be one at each door downstairs and another man patrolling front and back of this building. Should you try to escape, you will be shot. Should any member of your family attempt to spirit you away, they also will be shot. Do you understand me?”
“Yes,” Joe said, his voice shaking slightly.
“Do you understand the gravity of the charges brought against you?”By now, the captain was on the verge of losing control and he shouted his question.
“Yes,” whispered Joe then closed his eyes and ducked his head.
This submissiveness seemed to appease Walters and tugging on his uniform jacket hem, cleared his throat and turned to walk out. Blocking the doorway with his arms crossed over his chest, Hoss Cartwright towered above him.
“That business about the guards on this door goes both ways, Captain.” Hoss did not move.
“Same thing about getting shot, too,” added Adam, rolling his pistol’s chamber down his arm and sighting down the barrel at Walters. “Just in case you or your men decide to come in unannounced. You do understand that, don’t you, Captain?”
“Adam! Hoss! Let the captain leave, “ordered their father and the two brothers smiled grimly at one another then let the soldiers pass.
When the room was once again quiet, Ben turned his attention back to Joe. There was something about the way he sat, propped up by the pillows and staring into his hands that bothered Ben. He was about to offer up some lunch when Joe looked up and past him.
“Adam? Is that right? What he said about treason? Is that treason?”
Before he answered, Adam pursed his lips together and thought a moment. Then, “Yes. Treason is taking up arms against the duly appointed government. Why?”
“And the penalty for it? They hang you, right? Or do they line you up before a firing squad?” Oddly, Joe’s mouth quirked up on one side in a lopsided smile and he looked at his father standing beside the bed. “Would have been better if you hadn’t come, Pa.”
Ben sputtered, unsure of what he was hearing. “That’s nonsense. How about some lunch instead of this foolish talk?”
“Ain’t foolish, is it, Joe?” asked Hoss, seeing his brother as though for the first time as something other than just a survivor, something different, stronger.
Shaking his head, Joe looked into his father’s face once more and Ben saw the sadness in his son’s eyes. “No….I’m sorry, Pa…..if that’s the definition of treason, then, yes, I’m guilty.”
In the stunned silence that followed, Joe looked away and the shoulder beneath Ben’s hand was no longer rock solid. Adam and Hoss locked gazes but couldn’t hold them.
“Adam, Hoss,” Ben’s breathy voice came softly to them with his plea. “Leave us alone a bit, will you?”
In the adjoining room, Adam dropped into the chair by the window, all of his strength suddenly gone. His brother had to be wrong. There was no way Joe was guilty of treason. He was young; he didn’t know what he’d gotten into.
“Yes, he did,” explained Hoss and saw Adam jerk, for he had been unaware that he’d spoken aloud. “What that old fella, that Nana, what he told about Joe being reborn. I know what he was talkin’ about. I understand it, Adam. And I understand Joe right now.”
When Adam only raised a brow in reply, Hoss shoved his hands into his pockets and began to pace about the small room. At first, his words were slow in coming and Adam felt the pain behind them.
“When I came home, it was like I was being reborn. I saw things differently; I had lived another life. It’d been full of hunger, poverty, loss. I’d watched people die because there wasn’t enough food to go around. They were the elderly, the very young and sometimes, just the unfortunate who couldn’t get to what food there was. It changed me. It made me realize that the world can be a really hard place to live if you aren’t big and strong…. or fast…or just plain lucky. Back there, I’d’ve fought over a dead rat. I would have eaten it raw if I had to’ve! I slept where I could and when I was allowed to. Sometimes it was just underneath a tree. Other times, the only cover I had was the shirt on my back and I was grateful for just that small amount to shelter me. When I came home, I left that life behind me and came into the one I grew up in. There wasn’t hunger, or cold there. I didn’t have to worry about where or when the next meal would be. I didn’t have to brood about where I could sleep that night to stay warm, and stay alive. There weren’t people there who were going to hit me, beat me, make me work just for the right to continue breathing. I was home.
“The first thing I thought I wanted, yes, was a meal. I wouldn’t’ve care what it was, I just wanted to eat. You could’ve made me stand out on the porch in the cold and I wouldn’t have cared as long as I could’ve eaten. It took a while, but I came back to the understanding that I could have all I wanted. That I didn’t have to fight for it.
“That was the other thing I found there: people who cared about me. Not just seeing that I got enough to eat but that the other necessities in life were given to me. I had a bed with blankets and pillows. I had warm clothes. More than anything, I had the right to say that I didn’t want to do something and not fear I’d get beaten for thinking it, much less saying it. But most importantly, what was given back to me was my dignity. I found I could make my own decisions and follow my own path. And without fretting about it.”
For a few long moments, Hoss was silent, standing and looking out the window, lost in another time and place, Adam was sure. Then, his voice trembling, he went on. “It just came to me that all the time I was gone, I was afraid. I was scared. Now I know it seems funny to you, a big fella like me bein’ scared but a big man dies the same way a smaller fella does. And when I come home, I didn’t have to be scared no more. There’s a sayin’ about a brother’s back is never bare, meaning that as long as he’s got family, someone is behind him, a brother is watching out for him. But, and I don’t mean no offense to you, big brother, but the hands I wanted feel on my back were Pa’s. When he stepped up to me and grabbed hold of me, huggin’ me, why it was the best feelin’ I ever had. Maybe it goes back to when I was a baby and that same man held onto me. He saw to it that I was fed, that I was warm and, most of all, that I wasn’t afraid.”
“Now I’m afraid all over again.”
The clock on the mantle ticked twice. Behind him, Hoss could feel Adam’s presence and then, surprisingly, a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it gently, warmly. “Me too.”
“I fell asleep so I don’t know where Nana stopped.” Joe’s nervous fingers picked at the quilt over his legs. He couldn’t bring himself to look at his father now and felt ashamed of the tears that dried on his face. Silently, he chastised himself but it had come hard to him, the thought of being put to death.
Ben shifted his weight on the side of the bed, turning so that he could see his son’s face. He put his hand over the nervous fingers and felt the cold in them. “You and Nana and the women, you were down at a river, I believe he said. And the soldiers were right behind you.”
The pain welled in his chest again and he felt threatened once more by emotion but Joe took a deep breath and thought for a long moment about what to tell his father and how. The warm hand covering his had raised him and, even as he felt the calluses there, he recalled that the first lesson had been about telling the truth.
“We were down by where the Colorado joins the Gila. I figured by what Nana had said that it’s the border between us and Mexico. We had just managed to get to the top of the rise and could see the river when I heard horses behind us….”
It was the Army. By the dust cloud raised, he figured they numbered about twenty. Because of the boulders, they would be forced to either go far to the east or west, or dismount and come through afoot on the narrow trail.
“Give me the rifle and you and the women get to the other side, ” Ama-socha demanded and took the old rifle from the chief.
“But there are few bullets. How will you…? Ah, I understand. Yes, your debt to Sha-tooka is paid. It was long before now.” Nana smiled, the dusty wrinkles in his face cracking.
“No, my debt to Sha-tooka can’t be repaid. Ever. Go. I’ll hold them off as long as I can.”
“I will see you again,” the old one said then scurried away to catch up with the women.
Ama-socha was watching as they began to ford the river, the water a little more than knee high. He smiled, knowing in his heart of hearts that they would make it. He wouldn’t, but that didn’t seem to matter.
A bullet pinged against the rock beside him and drew him back to his task at hand. He had seven bullets and he had to make them last until Nana and the women were hidden in the trees on the far bank of the wide river.
He jacked the first shell into the chamber and placed the rifle atop a rock then laid behind it. When he caught sight of the first army campaign hat, he aimed slightly to the left of it and let the shot go.
“God damn, Cap’n! Them savages got a gun!” came the wail of a voice thick with a southern drawl.
“That will teach you to be more careful,” Ama-soucha thought aloud and then realized he had spoken the words in good Apache. Over his shoulder, he looked for the others. They were not quite half way across the river.
Another shot from below broke a branch over his head and he chuckled. How tall did they think he was? He waited patiently as another shot cleared his head by a good six feet.
There was a flash of dark blue a little further up the trail than where he’d seen the hat and he levered his second shell into position. When the blue showed again, he put the shell about four feet above where he figured the man was. A yelp and curse told him that it had missed its target but that was what he had intended. For good measure, he put the third shell slightly lower.
“That bastard up there can shoot!” came another voice but it was countered by a third, more commanding voice that demanded that they fire.
As he crouched behind his rock, bullets shredded the tree leaves above him and chewed up the dirt beside his barrier. Again, he looked for his friends. They were a bit beyond half way.
“Time for another shot,” he chuckled and loaded the fourth shell. This time, he fired blindly and wiggled away from his rock then stood quickly behind the tree there at the top of the rise. Behind him, he could hear the water splashing and Rayana calling for him to join them.
Another volley of shots answered his, this time closer. He thought about trying to make a break for the river but knew it would leave their backs exposed. No, his first plan had been the right one: use the bullets sparingly and give them all the time he could to make their escape. When the soldiers found they had been shooting at a white man, the ensuing panic might give Nana, Rayana, Delsea-ya and her coming baby just that much more time to get away.
With sure, steady fingers, he loaded the fifth shell into the old gun and sighting along its rusty barrel, fired well over the oncoming soldiers. It had the desired affect in that they instinctively ducked.
He didn’t wait but loaded shell number six and fired again. A horse whinnied distantly and the soldiers’ shouted curses came closer. Somehow, he’d managed to shoot a horse. A barrage of shot surrounded him. One bullet creased his leg, cutting the buckskin trouser leg as neatly as a knife. He didn’t spare a glance at the wound, knowing it was superficial.
Now, with his last bullet rammed into the chamber, he waited and watched. On two fronts his attention was held. Just as he saw Nana pushing the women into the trees, the very rocks before him opened up and bullets thunked into his tree and kicked dust up around his feet. This time, when he fired, it was at a target: the hat on the first soldier who raised his head. It went sailing into the brush and the distraction gave him time to fall to earth spreadeagled.
The sound of more shells being jacked into firing position was loud about him as he lay face down in the dirt. The rifle was off to one side, too far from his hand to be considered a danger yet one soldier’s boot kicked it further away. A hand grabbed him by the hair and pulled back hard. In that instant, he found himself looking down the barrels of half dozen Spencer repeating rifles.
“My god,” the southern voice drawled once more. “He’s a white man!”
As they pulled him roughly to his feet, he saw the last of Nana’s blanket coat disappear into the far woods.
Why he decided not to speak with them, he didn’t know or understand. For some reason, he figured the longer he stayed silent, the farther away his friends would get before his captors went after them. As it was, they seemed fascinated by him and took every means to taunt him. He was searched for another weapon and the man doing it took delight in belittling him. Once again, his face was pushed to the ground and they kicked at him, demanding that he speak. They urinated on him, then, complaining about their own stench, dragged him to the river and threw him in. He thought about trying to escape but the biggest one, a sergeant by his uniform stripes, lassoed him and pulled him back to the shore.
Over and over again that afternoon, they demanded to know who he was. Who had he been traveling with? How long had been with the Apaches? They used rifle butts, stones and, in utter frustration, their fists, to make him open up. It all hardened his resolve and he remained mute.
That night they tied him spreadeagled to stakes pounded into the earth. All of them but the sentry and the captain had turned in by moonrise. He had let his mind and body go numb, trying not to fight the cold. The crunch of boots on stone made him open his eyes.
Squatting beside his head, the captain studied him, using his revolver to move long locks of hair out of the way then stroking it down his jaw.
“I know who you are,” the captain whispered hoarsely. “I saw you at the village. Tomorrow, we head back to the fort. If you’re smart, you’ll try to get away and get yourself shot in the process. Otherwise, it might take you a long time to die.”
“I will take you with me,” Ama-socha promised, the rich sibilant Apache words flowing smoothly from him just before the captain struck him with the gun.
The next morning he was given water just before he was chained. Because he had killed a horse, he was told, he would not be able to ride.
“I’ve heard tell that an Apache warrior can run seventy miles in day. That true, boy? What? You still won’t say nothin’?” the sergeant baited. “But then, you ain’t a real Apache, are you? Think you can keep up with us?”
With a noose around his neck and his hands chained together, he had no choice but to run, to keep up. Luckily, it became old quickly and while he was forced to keep at a steady dog-trot for long stretches of time, the calvary’s horses were too exhausted to do more than a shambling walk for most of the day.
They stopped at noon and he was given bread and water. That night, he was shackled hand and foot and staked well away from the warmth of the fire. It didn’t matter since the hate growing in him kept him warm and fed his spirit.
On the second day, he fell and the soldiers found a new sport in dragging him behind them. The sand and stones tore at his flesh and he would have gladly died but the captain saw the wish in his eyes and would not allow the new game to continue. Instead, he was yanked to his feet and again ordered to follow.
The afternoon of the third day brought them finally into the shelter of the fort. He was thrown into the stockade but not before others there saw that he was a white man. The lieutenant saw him and recalled a letter from a man in northern Nevada. He studied the new prisoner and decided that it could be the missing Cartwright. So, while his captain rested from his ordeal, the lieutenant went ahead and sent the fateful telegram.
“…and I never spoke a word to them except when I told that one that I would walk out of there. Wasn’t his fault he didn’t understand Apache, I guess. Probably saved myself from another beating because he couldn’t understand me.”
“There isn’t another one. At least not in this town. Closest town with any size to that might have a lawyer that’ll give us the time of day is -” Adam explained once more to no one listening but his father’s scowl brought him up short. Since they had been told that the civilian trial for treason would be held here and only here, he’d noticed his father’s temper growing shorter. Doubtful that Joe could receive a fair trial in this Army dependent town, telegram after telegram had dashed out, searching for help. But this was the Arizona Territory, not their home state of Nevada. Here they meant nothing. One lawyer only had agreed to serve them but when notified of the charges, quickly multiplied his fees by ten and then would only represent Joe if he pleaded guilty.
The trial would start in two days. And they had literally run out of options, and time. Tempers flared and each man would find something that would hold his gaze away from a family member. All the while, outside their hotel room doors, blue coated calvary men kept silent guard.
“There’s still time. Like I said, Joe’s fit enough to ride now. I’ll take care of that yahoo at the door. Adam, you take the man downstairs and -” Hoss offered only to find himself dealing with his father’s wrath once more.
“I will not have my son on the run from the authorities like a common criminal!” Ben roared but having been dealt this hand before, none of his sons even blinked.
“Oh, I suppose it’d look better to have me shot for treason.” Joe’s sarcasm cut across the room and he alone held his father’s eye, contempt clear on his face.
“Enough of that!” spat Ben, barely controlling his anger so that he didn’t lash out physically.
With muscles still sore and stiff, Joe gingerly rose from the chair he’d been relaxing in and went to the window. He moved the lace curtain aside and leaned on the sill. His eyes swept the still muddy street below, finally seeing what he sought. For the past week, every time he’d looked out this window, he’d seen him. He doubted anyone else did. At the corner of the livery, an old Indian sat every day, a liquor bottle close at hand. No one paid attention to him, thinking him to be one of the fort’s Indian scouts on a binge. Joe knew differently, having caught sight of the old one early one morning. It was Nana. And he was watching.
Absentmindedly, Joe touched the window pane as behind him his brothers stayed in wary silence and his father huffed, annoyed by it all. While with the Apaches, life had been empty of this sort of strife. There had never been any question as to what he would do in his mind. He just knew and did it. Even at the river when he had been taken captive by the soldiers, Joe had been certain of what would happen. He would live or die but either way, Nana and his family would escape to freedom. He’d been sure of it. Now there was no certainty, no assurance in his life.
“Adam, why don’t you do it? You can talk your way around just about anything.” Hoss’ words brought Joe back to the hotel room and he turned in time to see his oldest brother’s annoyed expression. From across the room, Joe could feel the answer Adam would give.
Before Adam could speak, Joe did. “Pa, if you don’t mind, I need to rest some.” It was a lie yet not a lie. It would clear the room, predictably, and as they left him, he called out to his brother, asking him to stay.
With a faint grin on his face now, Adam let Joe know he’d seen through his brother’s move. “I’m not sure I can do it the way it needs doing.” He paced the floor, his boot heels hollow echoes on the bare wood floor.
“It’s you or nobody, brother.” Joe twisted in the straight-backed rocker as he sought a comfortable way to sit. “I got faith in you.”
Adam snorted playfully and gave his brother’s head a gentle smack. Unable to pace now that his attention was captured, he sat on the corner of the bed and studied the slanted rays of struggling rainy sunlight across his boot toes.
“You wanna tell me why you don’t think you can represent me? Be my lawyer? What? You afraid I can’t – won’t- pay you for services rendered?” The mocking, teasing tone his brother used washed over Adam. He smiled into his palm but kept his eyes on the floor.
For a few moments as silence reigned in the room, it was like the past year had never happened. That they were all the same. But they weren’t and they knew it. The playful banter might be there yet beneath the surface smouldered something else. Had Hoss hit upon it when he’d spoken of the fear he’d felt? Adam shook his head, unsure that was what it was.
Once again, he bounded to his feet and began to pace the confines of the room. With his hands jammed into his back pockets, he circled the room, pausing to look out the window at the drab town. He finally came to a stop behind Joe and let an arm rest across the back of the rocker.
“No, I don’t think I can tell your story, Joe. When Hoss came home, I listened to what he had to say and it made me mad. Those people, Nine Toes and his band, had starved my brother nearly to death.”
“I think I’d be pretty mad about it too but what-?”
Interrupting him, Adam swung around the chair and again sat on the bed, this time leaning towards Joe, his hands braced against the chair arms. “But then again, I was mad because those people were starving too and that Jim Bridger was going to use them and their poverty to make money. The Shoshoni were surviving the best way they knew how…and helping Hoss to do the same.” He paused, drawing back now and straightening his arms.
“What about you? All you said was that the Modocs took you north and traded you to the soldiers for blankets.”
Adam drew a deep breath and leveled a stare at Joe. Joe stared back. There was no menace, no dare, no hostility in it. Just a searching probe that Adam knew he could not deflect.
“Yes,” he whispered now, afraid that to tell his story was to change it. “I was taken by the Modocs.” For the next hour, he told all that had happened to him. There were times when they laughed, other times when they both grew somber. Throughout the whole, Adam was secretly glad that their father wasn’t there to hear it. With Joe, he could let his guard down and talk of things he might have been a bit wary of sharing with his father, particularly when it came to the woman. Yet what he told was only half, the easy half to tell.
There was the other half of his story he longed to tell. The half that spoke of the uncertainty of living with a people not his own. Yet, like the Apache had Joe, the Modocs had accepted him. While there had been times of cold and little to eat, it was nothing compared to what Hoss had endured and Adam would only admit to himself that he wouldn’t have survived Hoss’ ordeal. In the end, there had been a tremor of betrayal he’d felt when the Modocs had taken him to the fort and traded him for blankets, food and passage to the reservation. Survival, he thought. Yes, you do what you have to in order to survive. Summoning his courage, he told of his own survival in cautious yet blunt terms.
When he finished, he found himself standing and looking out the window and wondering where Captain Jack and his people had gone once they’d left the fort with their winter blankets. Had they returned to their reservation? Had there been plenty for them to eat? Were they still arguing that the whites should be paying them rent for their land? Adam’s mouth drew up a tiny bit on one side, remembering the arguments as he once more took his place on the corner of the bed. Even as he smiled, he saw the doubt rightfully come to Joe’s eyes.
“That isn’t the whole story, Adam,” his brother said flatly and there was no denying the truth in his words.
Again, the day turned gray and dismal for Adam and the chill it brought to his bones could not be warmed away. “No, it…you have to understand because….because…” he floundered, searching for words to put to thoughts and emotions that up until that moment he didn’t know he had.
“What?” his brother’s tone was sharp, cutting, demanding and it sliced at him, wounding him.
“Most of the time I was with the Modocs, I had it pretty easy. I worked but it wasn’t nearly as hard as a day on the Ponderosa. I ate as well as the rest of the tribe. Granted, they didn’t set out the sumptuous feasts Hop Sing is known for but everyone shared. I had a warm place to sleep every night and I was treated with respect. Still, most of the time, I tried not to think of what had happened to you and Hoss.”
There it had come, the admission, the guilt. Yet he couldn’t simply leave it laying there between them like a flayed animal, dying. “I was certain you were dead, Joe. We’d listened that night…Hoss, I saw briefly as the gathering broke up so I knew he’d survived. Even so, when I would think about you both – when I would let myself – I’d get mad, angry, but those people…they wouldn’t let me stay mad. No, they didn’t try to humor me out of it. They just explained again and again that there was nothing to be done about it.”
“And you believed them.” There was a hint of bitter accusation in the words Joe used that snapped at his brother then fell away, unable to maintain their grip on his soul.
“After a while, yes. Could I have helped you and Hoss? Probably not and it hurts to say that to my brother. If I would have, what would it have changed? Maybe nothing but maybe everything.”
“It can change things now. We can’t do anything about the past but we can the here and now. It’s now that I need you, Adam.” Joe’s husky whisper hung in the air before them, the need, the desperation making it linger.
He ignored his brother and plunged on as if he hadn’t heard him. “Change. We’ve changed, Joe. I’m not talking about the physical body but within us. Something there has changed. It just came to me that while I was with the Modocs, I wasn’t Adam Cartwright. There I didn’t have to have all the answers to all the questions. There I was…free…freer than I ever remember being in my life. I was me but I wasn’t me. That doesn’t make sense when I say it-” He paused and looked into his brother’s face but saw that of the Modoc children instead.”Some thing took me over and I was happy. Yes, I wanted to come home but at the same time, I wanted to stay. I was at peace with them. I stayed because I wanted to; not because they made me.”
“And because of that, you don’t think you can help me? Jesus Christ, Adam, am I asking for too much? I guess I am if you’re so sure you can’t be my lawyer…that you’ll let me face a firing squad to keep that peace and happiness you’ve found.”
As if he’d been shot from a cannon, Adam was on his feet and both hands gripped the arms of his brother’s chair until his knuckles were white. He let his eyes bore into Joe’s, letting him feel the hated anger that had been slowly building within.
“No! Don’t say that! I don’t want to ever hear you say that again. Do you understand me?” he roared and for emphasis, shook the chair. “I will do the best I can to keep you alive but you have to understand something: All the absolutes in my life are gone. I have learned to let go of some things that I once thought were important. I have found other things to take their place. I’m not so sure about things anymore. Joe, listen to me! I am not the same man I was a year ago. So don’t put your trust in me!”
With one hand, Joe pushed him back, then slowly stood. “You may not be the man you once were but you are still my brother. I’m not the same man I was a year ago either, Adam…but I am your brother and I am asking – hell! I’m begging you – for your help. You don’t have to be sure about anything other than the fact that I did what I had to.”
Adam took a deep breath and let himself fall back onto the bed. For a few minutes, he lay on his back, studying the ceiling. When Joe couldn’t handle the sudden silence any longer, he dropped back into the chair and grunted so that Adam would recall that he was even in the room. Even so, the older brother only rolled up onto one elbow and glared at the younger.
What was there left to say? Nothing. What was there left for Adam? He sighed as the answer came to him then he smiled, finally sure of one thing. “Now then, you better get some rest while I go make some notes. Things start happening day after tomorrow and I need to be ready for this damn trial. So do you.”
He rolled off the bed and lifting his shoulders, headed for the door but there he paused. Turning back, he smiled. “Thanks.”
“For reminding me of one absolute that still remains: Family comes first, no matter what.”
The morning of the trial dawned clear and bright. For the first time since he’d arrived in the miserable town, Ben Cartwright felt the sun on his face instead of rain. As he stepped confidently towards the saloon where the trial would be held, other people took note of that confidence with which he walked, head held high with an air of assurance. He knew it was an act for within his gut, he could still feel the quiver that had come with the soldiers that morning. They had insisted on taking Joe with them, bound in chains as though they feared he would escape. Hoss, thankfully, had interceded and gone with his brother, leaving Ben and Adam to watch helplessly.
At first, Joe had stood stoic, defiant even as the soldiers snapped the manacles around his wrists. When they began placing the cuffs around his ankles, Ben had caught the fear creep into his son’s
eyes and flare there. He’d thought to say something positive to his son but the soldiers were there, in the way, using their rifle butts to move Joe as though he were something that would dirty their hands. With the clank of the chains reverberating down the hall way, they’d left. Hoss, promising to watch out for things, had disappeared with them.
The saloon still smelled like a saloon: stale beer and unwashed bodies competing with sawdust. The murmurings didn’t stop when Ben entered the impromptu courtroom. From the corner of his eye, he caught fingers pointed in his direction. Some openly stared. Others sneered. Ignoring them all, he took a chair in the front row.
The hubbub ceased as an older man dressed in a simple frock coat entered the room and took his place behind a table pulled into the center of the room. Twice he hit the table with his fist, demanding silence. When he got it, he cleared his throat noisily.
“District court for the territory of Arizona is now in session. Honorable Judge Winslow Taylor, that’s me, presiding.. As is the accused’s choice, the verdict will be decided without the benefit of a jury. I shall decide guilt or innocence, depending on the facts and testimony given before me this day. Bring in the prisoner and let’s get this done” When he finished his opening speech, he spat loudly into a convenient spittoon then used his sleeve to dry his lips.
Repeatedly that morning, Ben found himself sitting with his eyes closed and a prayer on his lips. The military men were the first witnesses and the picture they painted wasn’t pretty. The prosecution attorney produced story after story from them depicting Joseph Cartwright as willfully and knowingly firing at them, his rifle blazing away until they heroically overwhelmed him. Even then, they said, he had fought them until they had to use force to subdue him. Several times, Adam had voiced his objection but the judge had denied it each time.
After the testimony of the last soldier, the judge called a short recess. Taken away still in chains, Joe had gone, all defiance now shattered. Against all common legal practice, Adam was not allowed to go with him. In the pool of silence the three Cartwrights found themselves, none could look the other in the eye.
Whispering, Hoss said it all. “We should’ve helped him escape. He’d’ve had a chance then. He ain’t got one here.”
For the remaining minutes of the recess, Adam Cartwright studied the papers he’d been handed. On them were written the charges against his brother: willful use of deadly force, consorting with a known criminal, aiding and abetting the escape of wanted persons, and on and on. He looked up just once, thinking that he’d heard something out of place in the uproar at the bar. It was just an old Indian trying to beg money from Ben for a bottle. His father gently pushed the old fellow away but Adam saw what others didn’t. He smiled for the old one then went back to his reading.
This time as he read the charges, he smiled. He had the questions and knew the answers that would free his brother. Now all he needed was the man to answer them.
The shot glass banging on the table brought the trial back to order. Still on the witness stand would be the sergeant who had ridden Joe and the Apaches down.
Adam rose slowly, hesitantly, his brow creased in thought. “You were present when my brother was taken?” he asked, careful of the words he used.
“Said so earlier.” The soldier snapped then smiled, pleased to be the center of attention once more.
“So you saw the rifle he had. Is that correct? And you say that is the only weapon he had?”
“Get on with it, Cartwright!” the judge demanded, pounding his table for emphasis.
Adam grimaced as he lifted the Spencer repeating rifle and sniffed the barrel. “This is the same one? No one has done -”
The sergeant narrowed his eyes and interrupted, “Yes, that’s the same gun. Ain’t no body done nothin’ with it ‘cept bring it along to this trial.”
“Hmm. Your honor, may I ask you to smell this? It’s been recently cleaned. Smell the gun oil?”
A muttering washed across the room as the judge did as Adam asked and wrinkled his nose at the scent he also found there.
“And, Sergeant, he had no other weapons, right? I know, you said so earlier. What was he doing?”
“Nuthin’. Just layin’ in the dirt. Guess we’d scared him purty good. When we tried to get a hold of him, he come up like a wild animal. A kickin’ and clawin’, he was. I hit him with m’ rifle butt a couple of times and he settled down.”
Adam pursed his lips and tapped them with his finger. “And on the way back to the fort, how did he act?”
“Wouldn’t talk to no body. Fought us ever chance he got so we chained him.”
“Did you give him something to eat? A drink of water, maybe? And you say that you were forced to make him run behind you because there wasn’t an extra horse. That true?”
“We didn’t have no extra rations but we did give him some water.”
A brief smile darted across Adam’s face and he told the packed room that he had no other questions except one. “Your men, Sergeant, how big are they?”
“Well, sir, I’m probably the biggest of ’em and I ain’t no little thing as you can see.” The crowd snickered. “But I guess that Private Carlisle is about the smallest and he’s about your size.”
He thanked the sergeant then waited for the room to quiet down once more before he called Joe to the stand. Adam made sure that the crowd saw him as he helped his brother to the witness chair, chains rattling. Even as he did so, Adam straightened his shoulders so that he would appear even larger than he actually was. Taking his cue from his brother, Joe seemed to shrink under the helpful hand.
Joe did as was asked, stating his full name and swearing to tell the truth and nothing but the truth.
“Tell me, Joe. Did you fire at that troop of soldiers that morning?”
“I had seven bullets and an old Winchester carbine. Never laid eyes on that Spencer until this morning.”
“Answer me, Joe.”
“The barrel of the rifle had rusted through in some places and been crudely patched.”
“Just answer my question, Joe.”
“The lever was busted so I had to put the shells in one at a time.”
“Answer me!” Adam shouted, demanding.”Did you or did you not fire at those soldiers?”
“Yes,” whispered Joe, “but I couldn’t have hit ’em even if I wanted to with that gun.”
“Why not? I know you’re a good shot.”
“Not with that gun. Sight was way off to begin with.”
“But they were shooting at you, right? Had they been before you took a shot at them?”
“Course they had…there was lead flyin’ every direction but I had to save my shells, time things so Nana and them could get out of range.”
“Nana? Who is Nana and who are the ‘them’?” Adam wanted to cross his fingers and pray that Joe would answer the right way.
“He was the old man who took me in when I was hurt. He and his wife, Rayana and their pregnant granddaughter. Three days before, the soldiers had ridden into their camp….” Slowly, deliberately, Joe told of the massacre of the elderly Indians. It had little outward effect on the whites gathered in that room.
“This tribe of old folks, what sort of weapons did they have?” asked Adam, his voice bold and assertive.
“Just the old Winchester I had when the soldiers found me. When I- we- ran away from the camp, we had nothing but the clothes we were wearing and the rifle. We had no food, no horses, nothing.”
Adam let that sink in for a moment then came back more boldly than before. “When the soldiers took you captive, did you fight them?”
“No, I didn’t. Would have been foolish to since they were armed, I wasn’t and ever’ last one of them was bigger than me.”
“But when you got to the stockade -”
“They’d had their fun with me. Tried to break me, I guess. One of them, a captain I think he was, told me it would be better for me if I tried to escape since then they would just shoot me and be done with me.”
“As it was, the treatment you received at the hands of the Army did not improve when you got to the stockade, did it?”
“No,” Joe let his voice drop to just above a whisper. “They fed me food a dog wouldn’t touch. Kept me in the dark, without a blanket or any way to keep warm. I was chained, hand and foot, to the wall. If I needed to relieve myself, there was no place other than the corner.” A gasp went through the gathering but quickly quieted.
“Son,” the judge piped up. “You got proof?”
The prosecution found its voice and called out but the judge held Joe’s eye, silencing the protest.
It was Adam, his eyes full of pity, who moved close to his brother and begged silently for permission. Joe dropped his face, unable to meet anyone’s glare. Carefully, Adam brushed aside his brother’s long hair – hair Joe’d refused to have trimmed because of what it covered – and showed the judge the marks that remained from the iron collar he’d worn in the stockade.
“There are others, your honor. His back, his legs…do you need to see the whip marks as well?” Adam asked so softly that only those in the front rows could hear him. Beneath his hand, Joe’s arm quivered.
The judge shook his head slowly, for the first time showing a hint of fairness.
Adam let Joe’s hair fall back and hide the healing skin. “One more question, Joe. Were you afraid for your life?”
“Yes,” came the shaking quivering answer. “From the time the soldiers began chasing us until the day you and Pa and Hoss came into that hellhole, I was afraid.”
Surprisingly, the prosecution had no questions. Or maybe, to Adam’s logic, they didn’t want to appear to be the bullies they were.
The closing arguments were brief. The prosecution continually hammered away at the idea that Joe had brought this on himself. That he had fired upon the soldiers with the intent of killing them even though it had been proven that the gun brought forth as evidence was clearly a lie. That he had fought the soldiers, trying to escape yet it had been testified to that he was chained and therefore not capable of fleeing.
As Adam Cartwright stood to give his closing argument he could feel the eyes of the packed room following him. He welcomed their close scrutiny, knowing that everything now rested on his shoulders. So that he would not miss any chance, he picked up the paper and read aloud the charges brought against his brother.
“Willful use of deadly force.” He paused and let the words flow about the room. “With a rifle in such condition that he had to put the shells in one at a time. The Army said he used this Spencer but if that was the case, why has it been cleaned recently? Never heard of an Indian cleaning his weapon. Any of you?”
He took a deep breath and went on. “Consorting with a known criminal. Anyone here able to tell me who this known criminal is? If it’s this terrible leader of the Apaches, what’s he look like? To hear tell, he must be seven feet tall and breathes fire. But when they found my brother, they didn’t make mention of someone like that, did they? Or is it because they don’t know who the Apache leader is? That they don’t know what he looks like. Your honor, if you are going to charge a man for consorting with a known criminal, then the criminal needs to be known. Right?”
“Aiding and abetting. Okay, so he was helping an old man and woman and a pregnant girl. Considering what the Army did to him after they caught up to him, wouldn’t you help them too? The Army says they were dangerous Apaches. One old man, his wife and a pregnant girl. Dangerous. So dangerous that they chased them for three days across hostile terrain. No, I think they chased them, wanted to kill them because they had witnessed a senseless massacre.”
“And lastly and most importantly, treason. He fought against the Army, the powers that be, the duly empowered government here. You saw and heard the sergeant describe his men. To a man, bigger, stronger, better fed and riding horseback, not running for their lives. Imagine yourself being suddenly confronted by this force, these huge men. What would you do? I can see my brother now, wanting to fight them because they were threatening him. But, no, what does he do? And the sergeant collaborated his testimony. When they came upon my brother, he was face down, prone, on the ground. His rusty and near-useless rifle thrown off to one side, out of reach. He had no other weapons. Treason, they call that. I call it begging for survival. And once they had him, it wasn’t enough. They humiliated him, beat him, starved him and left him to lie in filth. If you had a dog who you beat regularly and suddenly turned on you one day, what would you do? You would probably shoot him, never realizing you’d brought it on yourself. Is that what this court would do to my brother for defending his own life? That isn’t treason. It’s self-defense.”
The hush in the room was deep, thick, curling about every person there. As Adam looked out over the watchers, he saw the old Indian in the back nod once then slip out the door. He stood, one hand resting now on the table before his brother, unable to guess how his words would be judged. When he heard the chains on Joe’s legs clinking, he looked down. They were taking Joe away and for that split second, he feared that the judge had already pronounced him guilty but then the words came to him. A recess while the judge decided.
His father slapped him on the shoulder and Adam saw Hoss’ tight smile. The big man was nodding, his hat making circles in his hands before him. He knew what they were saying. Good job. Did what was right. Told ’em. Yet he couldn’t imagine that he’d done anything but fail and that failure would cost a man – his own brother – his life. He wanted to scream out that he wasn’t guilty of those charges, of treason! All he’d been doing was protecting himself and people he cared for. For that he should pay the ultimate price?
“Adam? Son?” his father’s voice, soft and caring, finally caught his attention and he turned to him. “Let’s get something to eat. We’ve got an hour or so, the judge said. Let’s make use of it.”
The hand on Adam’s arm urged him to move and he did, without thought, without purpose. Across the street and into the café where they were accorded a table in the back and segregated from the rest of the townspeople making this trial a reason for celebration. The meal, simple fare, was ordered and the three sat in silence until it arrived. His mouth dry, Adam didn’t think he could swallow but he did as his father would have wanted him to do and he began to eat.
Across the table from him, Hoss at first had picked up his silverware and prepared himself to eat. Then he stopped, laid the silverware back down and folded his napkin to one side.
“I – I- I can’t, Pa,” he mumbled and looked away. Adam saw the single tear running down his brother’s cheek then falling away into a ray of sunshine.
“Not right now, I can’t.”
Again, there was silence between the three men that spoke more than words ever could. After a few minutes, with no one bothering to even touch their meals, Hoss spoke once more, his voice the softest and most gentlest that Adam had ever heard.
“I sat there listenin’ to those words of yours, Adam, but I was thinkin’ of somethin’ else. I was thinkin’ of being with the Shoshonis. This here meal would have fed the Shoshoni tribe. The whole tribe. One cow could have saved the lot of them. A small herd, and they wouldn’t have had to go to that reservation to survive. Makes me sorry about all those times I turned up my nose at something I didn’t like when I was a kid. Makes me think twice now about taking a big plate of food, too. The scraps from all these folks’ plates would’ve made a banquet for Nine Toes and his bunch. Yet, when I was on the verge of being able to give ’em what they’d need to survive the winter, Nine Toes and Sissy ride off. I didn’t understand it then but I do now.”
“Same thing with the Modocs. They were going to the reservation, giving up their way of life. Their life was simple, easy, without all the white man’s things like greed, and envy. Their children were the happiest kids I’ve ever met, Pa. Why? Because they knew they were loved. Not by just their parents but by everyone in the tribe. And those kids, they were bright, eager; they wanted to learn everything but they already knew enough to survive on their own if they needed to. What will happen to them on the reservation? They’ll learn all right. They’ll learn the white man’s ways of lust, greed, sloth, pride, gluttony.”
Ben had been listening intently, hearing behind the words of each son the heartache that had been theirs. He could not help them. He knew that. The help they needed was within themselves and only when they were ready, would it come. Just as it was slowly coming to him.
“When it finally dawned on me that you boys were way late in getting home, I was angry. Not at you, but at myself. I ripped up the very countryside looking for a trace of you. I demanded things of people and places and things that were impossible. I tore up, destroyed beyond repair, old friendships. I called in favors older than you, Hoss. Why? Yes, because my sons are dear to me but until now I didn’t realize there was another reason. Without you boys, I am alone in the world. All the banquets, all the glittering things of the world, even the Ponderosa herself could not ease that pain of being so suddenly alone.”
He inhaled sharply and went on. “Now, as I listen to the two of you talking, I understand something else. The Indians who took each of you had something beyond, and far greater, than the white man. They took you in when you needed help the most; they shared what they had, in their way. And when it mattered the most to you- not them – they helped you get home. Honor, those people have an honor I haven’t seen in our own world for a long while. This trial today has proven that fact.”
“What about Joe, Pa? What if that judge…” Hoss began but couldn’t bring himself to finish.
“We have to pray that he has just a small portion of that same honor,” sighed Adam. “Time’s up, gentlemen.”
As Adam took his place beside Joe, he tried to project confidence. He gave him a tight-lipped smile and would have patted his arm had it not been for the armed guard, bayonet fixed, who would have intervened. I tried he thought and saw Joe nod in understanding. A glance into the back row of spectators and Adam saw the old Indian once more. Over in another corner stood another Indian, taller, and apparently younger, but who kept his white man’s hat pulled low. In the other back corner, wrapped in a Mexican serape that he was sure concealed a firearm, Adam figured was a third Apache.
Judge Taylor made his way to his table and this time didn’t have to bark for order. With a flip of his coat tails, he sat down.
“Get your brother on his feet, Cartwright,” he demanded. When Adam and Joe both were standing, the judge went on. “I’ve been judge nigh onto thirty years. For a long time, I was the only law down here in the territories. What I said and did brought peace and prosperity to this corner of the world. I’ve hung many a man. A few women, too. But before I took the jury’s decision and did something with it, I took my own and looked at it real hard. Weighed what I knew against what I’d heard. I did the same here as I have for any man. Well, enough of this verbal meanderin’. Joseph Cartwright, on the charges brought against you, I find as follows. On the charge of willful use of deadly force, I find you guilty as charged. On the charges of consorting with and of aiding and abetting a known criminal, I find you guilty as charged. On the charge of treason, I find you…”
With each pronouncement of guilty, Joe’s body had reacted. At first, his shoulders and head fell and Adam helped him to remain standing. With the second, Adam felt his brother begin to shake and knew he was crying. With the last, as the charge hung in the air and the verdict still lingered unspoken, Adam’s own determination to remain unmoved began to falter. Behind him, he could hear movement and for a brief moment, prayed it was not guns drawn in a desperate attempt to save Joe.
“I find you not guilty.”
The room exploded into angry shouts but the judge, banging his shot glass on the table called for order and slowly it was restored.
“I ain’t finished yet!” yelled the judge to the now quieted room. “Still got to pass sentence. I took into consideration certain things. Like how you been held by the Army, and such, young man. Seen with my own two eyes that it ain’t been exactly pleasant. On the guilty verdict of willful use of deadly force, namely using a gun – no matter which one it was, the old one or this here Spencer- I sentence you to a month in the stockade. As for aiding and abetting a known criminal, that’ll get you a month as well. Sentences to run concurrently. From the testimony given here before me, I see that you’ve spend better than three weeks in the stockade already. Seeings that you aren’t in the best of health now, I commute your sentence to time served, young man. I hope that you are well enough to leave here now.”
In the uproar that followed, as the Cartwright’s made their way through the angry mob only with the assistance of bayoneted soldiers, Adam had one last glimpse of the old Indian. He was slipping away.
Before night fell, the four Cartwrights were forty miles from the fort, headed north for the Nevada line. If there had been enough moonlight, they would have no doubtedly gone further but that night, clouds played tag with the sliver of the moon. Unafraid of Indian attacks, as they made their camp, they posted no guard so it was easy for Nana to join them just as they were about to turn in.
Joe greeted him softly and respectfully and as the others listened, they briefly spoke in Apache until Nana smiled and rested his gnarled old hand on Joe’s head and gave it a gentle shaking, clearly a rebuke.
“Nana has been to the other Apache tribes between here and Paiute land. They’ll look out for us, make sure the Army won’t be following us. All we have to do if we run into trouble is send up a smoke signal. They’ve marked a trail with plenty of water for the horses.”
“Should not take you as long to get home as it did to get here,” pronounced the old man, clearly letting them know that they had been watched before and found wanting when it came to choosing trails.
“Thank you.” Ben nodded then added, “For everything.”
Old Nana smiled in the dim firelight and dipped his head to one side, accepting. Then he turned and would have disappeared back into the desert night but Joe called his name once and joined him.
Adam and Hoss rolled into their blankets but Ben remained, watching the traded words between his son and the Apache. Hands went to shoulders and heads bowed together until finally Ben thought he saw Joe’s nod. Then they backed away, no longer touching. Again, Joe nodded at something said and, this time Nana nodded as well. One last time, they touched but this time in parting, the old man’s hands sweeping down the younger man’s arms. Then Nana was gone, the dark night whisking him away.
“You all right, son?” asked Ben as Joe finally gave up watching and rejoined his father.
“Yeah,” was Joe’s sigh as again, he looked in the direction Nana had disappeared. “You know what he said? Said that he was giving me back to you. Thought you needed me. And that I needed you.”
“Oh?” The rising tone in Ben’s voice was nearly ruined by some deep fear that his son would not have needed him. He knew differently, of course, on the level that only loving parents hide deep within their hearts even for their grown children.
Even as Ben watched, a change came over his son as he gracefully sank crossed-legged beside the fire. Joe ran his hand back through his hair, a subconscious move Ben had seen him do repeatedly. It was a clear sign that his son was thinking on something beyond the normal girls and horses. As he was about to say something to prod his son into speaking of what weighed so heavily upon him, Joe looked up sharply, his head twisting to one side as though he’d heard a noise.
Across the glowing coals, Joe caught his father’s worried expression and almost smiled. It would have banished that worry, he knew, but he held back. Instead he resettled himself, pulling his blanket closer about his shoulders. But the blanket could not warm away the chill he felt in his heart.
“I’m not afraid,” Joe began and, without realizing, echoed his father’s thoughts that his son was lost to him. “For a while, yes, I was. God, I was.” Even as he softly cursed, he looked away, perhaps hearing something once more in the night.
“It would normal, son,” was all Ben could think to bolster the conversation. As he sipped what remained in his cooling coffee cup and stared at his son across its tin lip, all other words failed him. He longed to reach across to him, hold him once more in his arms and tell him that he loved him. But he couldn’t, because the man who sat there didn’t seem to be the little boy he’d raised.
“No, not while I was with the Apache. There, after I got to understanding them, it was like being…in a family. Sha-tooka was as loving and patient a father as you, Pa. Nana was like a grandfather to me and his wife, Rayana, she used to pester me to eat more because…” There his voice faltered and only then was he able to face his father once again.
“Sounded to me like you needed someone to look after you for a while. I’m glad they did.”
“I’m sorry, Pa. I shouldn’t have said….”
Again, as the night wind spoke lowly in the surrounding brush, stirring the sand and sweeping the clouds across the moon, Joe’s attention was drawn away. This time, though, it was to within himself. “I was afraid among my own kind. Does that make sense? These people down here, they fear the Indian, trusting the Army. I was just the opposite. I had been handed nothing but kindness from the Apache. What did my own people give me? Kickings and beatings. Chains and squalor. Hate and threats.”
“They were afraid of you, Joseph. What mankind fears, they find ways to belittle so that they can appear to be bigger. Stronger. More-” Ben would have gone on but Joe snorted derisively.
“I have nothing but contempt for those people,” he spat out, edgy.
Ben’s brow twitched at his son’s tone. “I keep hearing words from you I don’t understand. My people, those people. What are you saying, son?”
“That I’m not sure I want… that I can go back…that I can be….” His words drifted down into silence.
“I understand,” Ben said softly even though he didn’t, couldn’t. “Want me to wake your brothers so you can tell them goodbye?” Even saying that brought thickness to his words and made his heart stop beating. Back, he said; he wasn’t sure, he said.
“No,” Joe whispered. “No, I’m going home, Pa. Back to the Ponderosa because that’s home-home. But here, this desert and the Apache…they’ll always be a part of me.”
His heart began beating again and Ben smiled for his son’s benefit. “I’m glad you got that figured out, son. There for a minute I was afraid myself.” The smile his son gave him answered that his fears were groundless.
Joe uncrossed his legs, stretching. “I made that decision a long time ago. At the river. When I was ready to trade my life for theirs. What happened after that has just been paying for it. And like Nana said, I realized I needed someone else. Something else.” He shook his head then levered himself to his feet and for one last time, his attention was snagged by what Ben could not see or hear.
Then it came. In the near darkness, a coyote howled, the mere sound of it stating boldly that this was his land, his life.
“Home,” Joe whispered.
The coyote’s long, singular cry faded slowly.
Several historical figures appear within the whole of this story. Captain Jack of the Modocs was real as was the woman. Although we did not give her name, her Americanized name was Mary Williams. She was a Modoc woman married at one time to a white trapper. When the Modoc Wars began in 1872, she returned to her people, using her language skills to help in negotiations. The negotiations failed and in 1873, Captain Jack was forced to surrender in order to survive. He himself was hung. Half of the tribe was sent back to their Klamath, Oregon reservation, the other half sent to Oklahoma.
Nine Toes of the Shoshoni was also real. His fight to keep his people from the reservations resulted in his death as well but there are conflicting accounts as to how it occurred. He and many other Shoshoni had white spouses, captives that had been taken young and raised to replace lost children. The Wind River Reservation honors his struggle as well as thousands of others who only tried to keep what they thought was theirs.
The most interesting of them all was Nana, born a Chiricahua Apache. Although he was in his seventies and suffered from near crippling arthritis, he led a group of forty warriors in the late 1870’s on a sweep across their tribal lands of today’s New Mexico to rid themselves of the white man’s influence. They eluded the Army’s hundred plus soldiers completely, seemingly disappearing and reappearing at will. Later, he joined forces with the renown Geronimo. He died at the Fort Sill Indian Reservation in Oklahoma at an advanced age.
Brigadier Canby in Hostage, A Trade for Peace, was real as well. He argued with his superiors concerning the manner in which the Modocs were dealt with and later became the Indian agent for the Klamath Reservation.
All other characters presented are totally fictitious.
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