Summary: A stage mishap. Is a son lost to his family forever? This story contains excerpts from the Season 1 episode, The Paiute War.
Word Count: 33650
Shots filled the air!
I couldn’t imagine, at first, why all the noise and commotion but unexpectedly, our peaceful world of casual banter and gentle laughter came to screeching halt. Before he pulled his gun, Pa grabbed hold of my arm, jerked me off the wooden bench of the fast-rolling stage and shoved me down on the floor. There was no time to protest, no time to dispute Pa’s instinctive reaction.
Adam, now balanced on a single knee, aimed and fired his Colt out the open window. The stage swayed relentlessly down the narrow incline while Hoss, tossing his hat aside, maneuvered quickly to the opposite window. It seemed Pa was more concerned about my whereabouts than shooting at any gang of outlaws since he never once took his eyes off me.
The stage rattled on faster, faster, bouncing over rough terrain, pitching me from one pair of legs to another. As soon as I lifted my head, dying to see some of the action, my father’s hand flattened me down once again.
“But, Pa . . .”
Pa’s voice was laced with panic and fear and it frightened me, knowing my father rarely showed signs of alarm. My father was strong and courageous, and I’d always known him to stay calm even if circumstances fell out of his control. But here I was, all four on the floor, clueless to everything except Pa’s hand hovering above me. I could hear the constant blasts from my brothers’ pistols, and the unmistakable rifle shots as they pinged and ricocheted off the sides of the stage. Both brothers were lunging back and forth, in and out windows, as we sped recklessly down the uneven mountain trail. I wanted to aid in this ongoing battle; I wanted to be part of the action, but I wasn’t even allowed to watch, much less carry my gun.
This gun business had been a matter of contention between Pa and me for at least a year. All my friends from school were allowed to wear their sidearm, but Pa only allowed me to wear mine around the ranch, and only when I was accompanied by him or one of my brothers. I was fifteen-years-old, nearly a man, and I was forced to the floor of the stage like a little kid when I could have been an asset and engaged in this battle for our lives.
“Apaches!” Adam shouted.
Apaches? I questioned why they were this far north. This was Paiute country, not Apache.
“They’re gaining!” Hoss hollered back to Pa.
Again, I started to rise off the floor. Again, I was crushed by my father’s hand.
The rocking and swaying became extreme, hammering me back and forth between seats. I could barely see Adam as he shimmied up through the window when Eddie, the driver, lost control of the team. Just as his boots cleared the window, my brother was thrown into oblivion. The stage tilted awkwardly on two wheels and then skidded and rolled, hitting the ground hard before it took a forward leap, now airborne over the side of the mountain.
I screamed for my brother as I reached up toward the open window just before my head slammed hard against the unforgiving wooden door. Pa was uprooted and crashed headlong into Hoss; the three of us shifting and hurtling against one another inside the soaring stage. Short and sudden glimpses of trees and boulders rushed passed the open windows. Sparks filled the air. The stage groaned and screeched as it thrashed, end over end, down the jagged ravine.
TERRITORIAL ENTERPRISE – July 1, 1857
EXTRA: Tragedy strikes near Pyramid Lake
The Overland Stage Lines has experienced a severe blow to its current six-week proclamation of safe travel through the Sierras. Yesterday, a most tragic event broke that record after one of their coaches encountered renegade Apaches while working its way down the treacherous switchbacks north of Pyramid Lake. The stage, due to arrive in Virginia City at 3:00 p.m. yesterday afternoon, was reported to have been savagely attacked at approximately twelve o’clock, noon. Gunfire exploded, and the coach, carrying the driver and four unsuspecting passengers, careened down the side of the mountain, killing at least one and injuring three.
An overly excited Chinaman, who worked for the four passengers, and had come to Virginia City to transport his employers home to their ranch, the Ponderosa, had been ranting for hours that the entire Cartwright family had been scheduled to arrive on the noon stage. By dusk, after the stage was undoubtedly hours overdue, a group of townsfolk formed a search party heading toward the scene of the accident.
It wasn’t until late evening when the rescue team finally arrived on site. Longtime Overland driver, Edward, “Eddie”, Owens and his team of six were killed on impact. The battered stage had served as a makeshift shelter for the injured passengers involved is this horrific accident.
By lantern light, three of the four passengers were quickly located and returned to Virginia City. A statement by the town’s medical professional, Dr. Paul Martin, gave an account of the injuries ensued. “Ben Cartwright and two of his sons, Adam and Hoss, suffered broken bones and various cuts and bruises but no permanent injuries. I’ve treated the three men, and they have now returned to their ranch for further recuperation.”
The youngest of Cartwright’s sons, fifteen-year-old Little Joe Cartwright, has yet to be found. After a long and tedious search, the team of disheartened volunteers returned to face the boy’s father empty-handed. No one has yet established a logical explanation as to why the young man was not discovered near the accident. A confirmed statement from Ben Cartwright states he will never give up the search. “The day I give up hope, the day I quit looking for my youngest boy, will be the day they lower me into my grave.”
The search will continue during daylight hours today for young Joe Cartwright, although being the smallest and considerably lighter in weight than the other men on board, it is highly suspected the boy’s body could have easily been dragged off by scavengers and may never be found.
Eddie Owens is survived by his wife, Loraine, 25, and their four children, ages 7, 6, 4 and 2. Our sincere condolences go out to the remaining family members. And, although we continue to hope the Cartwright family will all be reunited at some point, our heartfelt sympathy also goes out to Ben and his sons on the presumed death of Little Joe Cartwright.
In the midst of confusion, the mind tends to wander. Shapes move in and out, but they remain as distant as clouds in the sky; as the puffy white clouds I remember gazing at as a young child. I lay on my back in the soft grass next to the water and I see people and places float through the summer sky, but this world settled in the clouds is not clear. My body is broken and I fear any movement will cause more pain than I can endure. I’ve closed my eyes to the outside world; to the pain and to the voices I don’t understand.
Screams and cries surround me and I find my own voice is one that cries out, but it soon becomes a whimper and then stills. I have now returned to the soft grass and new voices surround me. They are not familiar and, just like clouds; they often take on new and different shapes as they pass overhead.
There is a deep roar of thunder and sudden streaks of hot lightning shoot down my leg, causing me to cry out to the clouds above as I thrash against the heavy weight holding me flat to the ground. My body contorts in an effort to escape, but I am weakened by my overall condition. The clouds soon vanish into a smoky sky and my mind finds peace in a land where I no longer have the strength to fight.
Flickering light bounces off rounded walls and even as I shiver from the cold, I feel the heat that surrounds me; a smoky heat; new smells, new surroundings and new grass beneath me. I run my fingers through the grass but it is not grass at all. Smoke rises from a fire built beside me. I look to the sky and the clouds are gone for there is no sky above me.
There is movement close by and I follow the shadows with my eyes until a tall, slender figure appears before me. She is not a cloud but a woman who is unfamiliar, but I have no immediate fear. I study her face and her clothing. She is not an old woman nor is she young. Her hair is shiny and long and is weaved into two plaits with strips of rawhide intertwined. Her dress is tan, only a shade darker than the distant walls surrounding me. Those walls are plain, but her dress had been skillfully ornamented with colorful beads and conches she’d intertwined in a decorative pattern.
I had many questions, but my voice fell silent. When I reached for my throat, she reached for my hand and placed it back in the grass, which wasn’t grass. I stared into her dark eyes; kind, gentle eyes and all was forgiven in this strange land of clouds and rising smoke. A bizarre twist of fate? Or was my mind playing tricks? I blinked my eyes repeatedly as she moved closer and then knelt down beside me. My head was on fire, but my body shivered. She pulled the blanket up higher over my shoulders and, as her hand lingered on top of my chest, she smiled. I wanted to thank her for her kindness; instead, my head became foggy as the clouds moved in to blur the one lucid moment I’d had. My eyelids fell closed. I was so very tired.
Time passed—an hour, a day, or a week—I would never know for sure. With my mind a constant fog, I tried to think, tried to remember. But my mind was an empty space where only the present was visible. I couldn’t work out my past or why I’d come to this place or why a woman I’d never met tended my wounds with love and with caring hands. Everything was a mystery.
Again, I reached for the tightness crushing my neck and preventing me from speaking. And again, my hand was taken away. My other arm, my right arm, was secured to my chest, and I was unable to use that hand at all. Bindings circled my ever-burning ribs along with shaved twigs and rawhide strips, which kept my left leg from movement of any kind.
A bright flash of light caused me to flinch and ball my hands into fists; I took in every new movement with suspicion and fear. When the doorway, a piece of buffalo skin, had been pushed aside, the woman walked in. She walked right past me and picked up a long pole and, raising it high over her head, she adjusted a flap in the ceiling, drawing smoke from the fire to stream more efficiently through a hole in the top of the teepee.
When she was satisfied, she laid the pole aside and came to kneel down beside me. I watched every movement she made, and after she touched the back of her hand to my cheek, she spoke to me as if I understood, but her muddled words meant nothing. When she nodded and then smiled, I understood she was pleased with the results. The fever, along with the constant chills I’d endured for so long, was finally gone.
There was a heavy iron pot hanging over the fire. I watched closely as the woman scooped up some of the contents into a wooden bowl before lowering herself back down to her knees. After stirring it some, and then tasting it herself, she held out a spoonful for me.
I lay flat on my back, sunken into some type of skin, bear maybe. It was soft to the touch and it cushioned me from the hard-packed ground, but I couldn’t begin to lift my head. The woman was quick to realize the problem. After setting the bowl down on the ground, she gently cupped her hand to the back of my head and again, she brought the spoon to my mouth. Although I couldn’t distinguish the taste, I didn’t much care. I was hungry and that’s all that mattered. Again, I wanted to thank her, but when I tried to make a sound, I discovered I still had no voice. With my eyes growing heavy, I gave up any effort to communicate. I ate the soup and again, I slept.
I woke to the sound of crying but in a way, I was grateful for the distraction from the ongoing pain of my injuries. A child, no, a baby I think and, even in the dim light cast by the ever-burning fire, I couldn’t make hide nor hair of where this child was located inside the teepee. The buffalo flap flew open, calling my attention to the woman sweeping through the doorway, and instead of moving toward me, she circled around the fire and reached down to the crying child.
I followed her with my eyes and as I’d suspected, an infant, not a newborn but one not yet a year old shared the teepee with me. And while the baby continued to fuss and holler, the woman, who’d gathered the child in her arms, sat down on a separate bearskin and quickly lowered her dress from her shoulders. Even though I should have turned my head, I found myself watching. It was only natural for her to nurse the child but I was taken aback by her lack of modesty with me lying so close by.
I watched her stroke the baby’s dark, curly hair and the simple action prolonged my unabashed stare. She had a loving way about her, but it wasn’t long before the woman caught sight of me and, with a startled look, she turned herself slightly, blocking my view of the baby’s head. It had been wrong of me to stare, and I felt ashamed. I’d been caught in the act and even if I wanted, I couldn’t really turn away. I closed my eyes and felt a pang of guilt for intruding on their private time together, and when I heard the woman moving around, I didn’t dare chance a second look. I assumed the baby was finished nursing and had fallen back to sleep. I kept my eyes closed, but I could hear the woman’s footsteps fly right past me and out through the teepee’s door.
I was an intruder. I may not remember anything about how or why I was here, but I knew this wasn’t my home. If I tried to think—tried to remember anything at all—my head nearly burst apart from the pounding it caused just to think. I tried to push myself up off the ground and immediately, I was caught off guard by how light headed and unsteady I felt. And then the room began to spin. I was gasping for air, and due to the searing pain in my side, I stupidly lifted my hand to wrap it around my ribs before crashing back to the ground in such an exhausted state, I didn’t know what made me try such a stupid trick in the first place.
The days passed slowly. I’d given up wrestling with myself over my surroundings. I was content to lie still and let my body heal, knowing I had no other option if I was ever to leave this place and find my way home. The woman, who, with all her other duties, managed to feed me and offer me water routinely. My wounds were cleaned and my bandages changed. Splints were examined although left in place for now.
The woman spoke to me often, and even though I didn’t understand a word she said, her voice was soothing and she showed no evidence of anger toward me. I was an outsider in this strange place and I still hadn’t spoken a word. How could I? My neck was bandaged and I still had a huge lump on the back of my head, and even if I wanted to communicate, I had no voice, besides, what could I possibly say she’d understand? I didn’t know the Paiute tongue. Yes, Paiute. At least I’d figured out that much. If she’d explain the things that were important to me—who was I and why was I here, it would be a start. Those were my questions. They were much more important than whatever gibberish she had to say.
At last, my head wound had healed, and the bandages from around my head and neck had been removed. I still had other injuries to contend with, although the pain was lessening as each day slowly passed. There seemed to be nothing to fear, but I still didn’t know what these people had in store for me when I was back to normal and able to stand on my own two feet.
The bearskin flap flew open. I turned my head immediately to see a man of great stature enter the teepee. He was big and dark against the backdrop of bright light, and even though I fisted my good hand, I was no match for a man his size. The woman followed, and as she walked behind this giant, she spoke softly. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly as I stared up at this bare-chested, swarthy looking Paiute, who’d crossed the tiny room and who now towered over me, blocking out any daylight from behind.
He grunted some words to the woman before he knelt down on one knee next to where I lay. He stared at the splint on my leg then gave it a sturdy tug. My eyes rolled back in my head and although I tried to hold back and not give him the satisfaction of crying aloud, a guttural moan from deep down inside escaped anyway. I felt beads of sweat collect on my forehead and my breathing was anything but normal. He grumbled more words, and she spoke softly while nodding her head. After making a face of displeasure, he slid one arm under my back and the other behind my knees. I knew this man could hurt me and, in the condition I was in, there’d be no fighting back.
The big man lifted me up off the ground and stood me upright, pulling me against his broad chest. He became my human crutch as together we ventured outside. He lowered me to the ground outside the teepee and onto a stretch of leather hide, which had been attached to a tall slanted back forming a makeshift chair. The back, also made of hide, had been tethered to side posts with long rawhide strips. It wasn’t a bad place to spend the afternoon and, since I’d been indoors for weeks, the inconvenience of trudging rather awkwardly into the fresh air and out of my smoke-filled living quarters was well worth the effort it took to get there.
After I was settled, I rested my head on the back of the chair and let the sun wash over my face. It was the best day ever after spending most of the summer months inside the woman’s teepee. The sun was brilliant in the deep, blue sky and I closed my eyes and let the noonday warmth heal my body and heal my spirit. So many questions. So much time had passed without knowing what my past or even my future held in store.
There were many noises within the camp and my eyes didn’t remain closed for long. I watched and I observed. I’d been placed a couple of feet outside the doorway, and I considered it a minor achievement and a true blessing to breathe in the fresh mountain air. I could picture in my mind another time, another place, where the fragrance of tall, majestic pines filled my senses, but where that place was or where my own people resided was still unknown to me.
The woman had followed me outside, making sure I was situated properly, and then she ducked back inside the teepee. When she returned, she carried the infant in her arms. I looked up and smiled but before I knew it, she’d sat the child on my lap, and when she took her hands away, I quickly braced him with my good arm.
She rattled off some instructions before walking away and leaving me to care for her baby. Why me? What the heck did I know about babies? And when I had the chance to look up, she was walking away, making her way through the camp to join several other women. One thing I knew for sure as I gazed at the men and women who busied themselves with their day’s work; these people were Paiutes, of this I was sure. And when the baby began to squirm on my lap, I didn’t let myself panic. The sun showed right on the baby’s face and I raised my splinted arm to shield his watery blue eyes. After we had that settled, he seemed quite content with me and with the world around him.
The woman didn’t return until she heard the baby’s cries. She leaned forward and snatched him up off my lap then carried him back inside. I filled my cheeks with mountain air and blew out a long sigh of relief. What the hell was I? A nursemaid? I think not. I was a man, just like any other man in this camp, and as soon as my leg was healed, I’d show them I could out0ride, out-hunt, out . . . anything they could do because I was, in fact, a man.
I was alone now, and the sky was growing dark. Earlier, the woman had placed a bowl and spoon on my lap, and this time I was expected to feed myself, something she’d done exclusively since I’d first arrived at this camp. I had no complaints about my time spent outdoors except being stuck with the kid half the afternoon. I have to admit though; I’d never seen an Indian child with blue eyes before. Someone once said all babies were born with blue eyes and maybe that was the case with Indian babies, too. Besides, who am I to know such things?
Days passed and the routine continued as if it was commonplace for me, an outsider in this camp, to sit and care for the child. The baby and I remained outside the tent together until it was time for him to be fed. I had been escorted to and from, morning and night, and I was beginning to feel as though I was good for nothing more than my current job as nursemaid. The woman would always come running after hearing the baby cry, and she’d swap me the kid for a bowl of food. So, while the kid ate, I ate. Soon after, he was back in my arms and in my care.
My voice was scratchy and rough, but during its gradual return, I practiced my newfound language on the kid. He wasn’t much help in the talking department. I knew more words than he did so I taught him everything I knew. It wasn’t much, but at least he wouldn’t take me for a fool.
My questions were many but I still didn’t have enough words to ask what I needed to know. I found myself watching these people and I listened to passersby, picking up bits and pieces daily. Even though their ways were unfamiliar, in an odd sort of way I felt at ease, as if this was where I belonged. These Paiute people were all linked together like one big family where everyone seemed at peace and content with their lives as they performed their everyday tasks. Even with the kid resting on my chest or sitting on my lap, I could see and hear most of the activity from my vantage point outside the teepee. Actually, the boy wasn’t too much of a bother. I think he enjoyed watching everyone, too.
As usual, the woman took the baby for feeding and again, I was left alone. This time though, when the baby had been taken from my lap, the man who carried me to and from walked up and stood directly in front of me. He grabbed hold of my good arm and hoisted me to my feet, and after grunting a few puzzling words, he handed me a stick—a crutch to be exact. Again, he tried to make conversation, but his hand signals meant more than his words. I think he wanted me to try his newly made crutch out for size.
I took a tentative step, then another, and another. I was proud of my newfound freedom, and when I turned around and grinned from ear to ear with arrogant pride over my accomplishment, the big man had already turned his back and was walking away. My smile quickly faded and my grand accomplishment seemed more or less childish in the eyes of the swarthy Paiute. At one point, I’d overheard someone call him Yellow Bear, and I was quite sure I was nothing more to him than a bothersome part of his day.
TERRITORIAL ENTERPRISE – September 3, 1857
Editorial: Is Hope fading for Ben Cartwright?
It’s been over two months since that fateful day—the day an Overland stage careened over the side of a mountain, killing one and injuring three, and leaving one still unaccounted for. The youngest son of Ben Cartwright has yet to be located in the vicinity of Pyramid Lake where the accident occurred. No remains have been found, no lingering signs to indicate young Joseph Cartwright was ever a passenger on that stage.
Ben Cartwright is considered one of Virginia City’s leading citizens. An honorable man, who has been instrumental in guiding our small hamlet in a proper direction, has suffered a terrible loss. I recall Ben Cartwright’s statement concerning his young son as if it was only yesterday.
“The day I give up hope, the day I quit looking for my youngest boy, will be the day they lower me into my grave.”
Ben Cartwright has kept that promise. With his injuries healed, he and his son Adam have expedited their search for the missing boy. Broken bones, along with multiple scrapes and contusions marred the weary men two months ago. Eric, “Hoss,” Cartwright is still laid up with a broken leg and will clearly have to remain housebound while the rescue attempt continues.
Local teams of townsfolk combed the countryside for over two weeks while Ben and his sons were unable to join the daily pursuit of the missing boy. It is now up to family members if any headway is to be made at all.
Is it worth it Mr. Cartwright or is it time to make peace with your loss?
Today, both sets of splints were removed. The long narrow sticks, which had been stripped of their bark, along with thin strips of rawhide, securing my right arm and left leg for over two moons were a thing of the past. I was officially healed and, to prove I wasn’t a complete invalid, I hobbled around most of the day, using my crutch for support and balance. Soon, I would show the People what I was made of and that I was not merely an inconvenience.
Freedom was my first revelation and my mind buzzed with excitement and, at long last, I now had choices I had only dreamed of. I was free to leave; free to go anywhere. Free to find my own people. Free to— But who were my people? The Paiute had become my people, my friends. The real question was would they have me? Would they let me stay on and become an active member of this band?
Over the past several weeks, I’ve learned enough of their language that I was able to communicate my wants and needs. I’ve learned a few important things too. I’ve learned the woman’s name is Mina and her baby is the child of a white man. I’ve learned Mina has no man of her own. I don’t know and will never know the circumstances as to how the baby came about . . . well, if she was friendly with the white man or if she was forced, but what I do know is how deeply she loves the child. Oh, and one other thing. The baby is not a boy, she’s a girl, and her name is Unego, meaning white child.
Tsiishch’ili was the name the People gave me, and I suppose it was a suitable name. It means one with curly hair. That’s me and, unlike any other Paiute, I was the only one in camp with curly hair except for Unego. I couldn’t help but wonder if, like Unego, I was half white too. I had nearly given up thinking about my past life and, at this point, my new living arrangements and my new set of friends suited me just fine.
I owed the Paiutes my life. As I listened to Mina one night inside her teepee, she explained one possibility. She said there was a chance I’d been tossed aside by my own tribe because of my injuries. If I was not able to be of service, to help the community by becoming a great warrior, in all likelihood that’s exactly what had happened to me. If she was telling me the truth and I didn’t see any reason she would lie, then so be it. This was my family now. I didn’t need people who had such disregard for life—my life.
The days were growing shorter. With colder weather just weeks away, it was time to pull up stakes and move to lower ground for winter months. Now that I was considered capable of tending myself, I was expected to move into my own teepee when we arrived at our new camp. Just days ago, I’d been given newly tanned hides and it was clear, I was expected to construct myself a new home. I would also have to hunt for my own food and when possible, I would supply anything I could for Mina. It wasn’t expected of me, but I felt obliged to make sure she and Unego were taken care of. The People had accepted me, and they’d returned the gift of life to me. Also, the gift of friendship, a special gift I would treasure always.
From this day forward, I would be responsible for myself. I would need my own bedding and cook pots. I would hunt, collect pine nuts and berries, and chop my own firewood. I would also have to make some type of clothing for the winter months to come.
I sat and worked for hours every day while continuing to care for Unego. I was still healing, and the child and her antics kept me fairly entertained. She was growing and I was teaching her new things; we were both gaining a small bit of freedom and independence every day. She could sit on her own now, and she was learning to crawl—and escape. The art of escape had become an issue, so I’d cushioned a piece of rawhide with a wrapping of bearskin, attaching it to both her ankle and mine in case I found myself too involved in my necessary jobs and forgot she was my responsibility, first and foremost.
I’ll admit I was looking forward to living in my own teepee. It had become difficult living with Mina and Unego. I knew the child had to nurse, and I knew her mother was her only source of food, but Mina had become remarkably comfortable about exposing herself to me inside her lodgings.
Let’s just say there were many times I caught a glimpse of her full, dark breast and, what made matters even worse, was when my eyes focused in on her nearly-black nipples. The results of my lingering stare generally triggered a certain thickness in my groin, and no matter how hard I tried to control what was happening, I was indeed unable. Clearly, I was mortified with my behavior and fearful Mina would sense my reaction. In times such as these, I’d be forced to hide underneath my own bedding of bearskins. I seemed to be mesmerized by her nakedness. I knew it was wrong to watch but, for the life of me, I couldn’t turn my eyes away.
At times I felt isolated, even with everyone accepting me and taking kindly to me, this lonely existence caused me to fantasize about having a family of my own someday. A quick glance at Mina turned into a lengthy stare as she cupped and lifted her breast for the baby. I’d learned to be discreet, never wanting to embarrass her or bring attention to myself, but now and again my eyes burned with hot tears, wondering why my own people had discarded me; thrown me away as if I was nothing but garbage. How could a mother be so cruel or feel so heartless toward her own flesh and blood?
Tonight, as I watched Mina and Unego in the leaping shadows of the firelight, a sharp, stabbing pain forced me to press my hands hard against each side of my head. A flash of sorts, although unclear, shadowlike, presented itself in my mind. Like a faraway dream, there was a man—a white man with dark hair, neatly groomed and dressed in white man’s clothes—who was reacting to something I’d said with his hand covering the smile on his face. In the dream, he sat across from me in a big room inside white man’s lodgings. My comment seemed to humor him in some way but within moments, he was gone. He’d seemed so real even though he was unknown to me and when I tried to restore the vision, the man who I’d seen only briefly had vanished just as quickly as he’d appeared.
Could he have been my own father? Could he have been the one who cast me aside because I was not suited to live in the white man’s world? As much as I’d tried to move forward and leave the past behind, these visions persisted only to bring bouts of sadness and despair to my new life among this band of Paiutes.
We were set and ready to go. We’d loaded down our packhorses and we would move our homes and all of our belongings to the new camp. Nothing was left behind. This moving twice a year was commonplace for these Paiutes; they had made the trip many times before. I had no real belongings other than my teepee, and although my lodging wasn’t as large as some, I was quite proud of myself for studying first, and then lacing the multiple sides together. I was told the trip took nine to ten days.
I’d had a few more of those odd little flashes and, as always, pain seared through my head until it was over. Sometimes it was just a flash, other times the dream lasted longer, but whatever or whoever drifted into my mind, the sights and sounds vanished as quickly as they came. Once, when I was drawing rawhide strips through the hides of my new lodging, I caught a glimpse of a funny little man with only one braid rather than two. He wore an odd set of clothes and he was looking down, mending something he’d placed on his lap. And because he never looked up, his face remained hidden, distant, and because he seemed content and at peace, I did not feel threatened by his sudden presence. It seemed he was a man of good nature.
We left before the dawn of the new day. Everyone in the band had accepted the chosen route even though the narrow trail had turned rugged and nearly impassable by midmorning. We walked over pieces of shale, which became slippery when wet and with on and off again showers, we were careful to watch our footing. The undergrowth was thick and dense due to mid-summer rains, and the earth seemed to have exploded with heavy vegetation, making our trip down the mountain a test of everyone’s endurance.
As was tradition, Paiute men took the lead. The women and children followed in a long line behind. I was not able to ride with the men since I had no horse of my own, so I was left to walk among the women and children. At times, I wanted to shout to those nearby that I was a man, not a child and certainly not a woman. Mina carried Unego on her back for most of the trip. I was tempted to offer my services and carry the baby so she could have some relief, but I was no longer expected to be labored down with women’s work even if I was forced to keep in their company while we trudged down the mountain.
The first day’s journey ended early enough so small cook fires could be lit while it was still daylight and then stomped out before the long, cool night ahead. The Paiutes were a careful people. There were times we were forced to cross private land, white man’s land. Scouts would ride ahead, making sure we kept our distance from the white man’s homes and the evil he could inflict upon the People. We had many women and children to protect. There had not been trouble for many moons, but there was no reason to take unnecessary chances during our crossing.
Although my leg had healed, by day’s end I was limping and straining to take the next step. Rounding up a pony of my own would be first on my list of accomplishments when we reached our new camp. Then, and only then, could I prove myself a hunter and a warrior and not a man left to remain a boy and forced to walk alongside women and children.
This band of Paiutes had no chief within the camp. I would meet the chief known as Winnemucca as soon as the three separate bands gathered to live out the winter months. The packhorses were loaded down with nuts and dried berries, which had been gathered during summer months. Deer and elk had also been killed and hung high above indoor fires in the center of teepees for most of the summer. The smoke slowly cured the meat in order to preserve it for later use. The dried meat would become a major food source if winter proved harsh and unsuitable for hunting.
After setting up camp for the night, the women were expected to gather firewood and cook the evening meal. The only expectation of me was to bed down Mina’s packhorse for the night. With that simple task easily accomplished, my day’s work was done and I could rest my leg until morning. Mina often handed Unego over to me in the evenings, and I would entertain her with stories and games until bedtime. I never complained and it may sound odd, but I was beginning to find comfort in tending the half-breed child.
Our new camp was now within sight. Scouts held their lances high above their heads and cheered us on to the end of our journey. I admit I was bone-tired and thankful we’d finally reached our destination but as I took notice of the valley below, I was somewhat disappointed in what I saw. The area was rocky and barren with few trees, mostly sage and void of any other vegetation. The ground, which had been softened by pine needles and grasses, had been replaced by hard, cracked earth.
The desolate harshness was extremely unappealing after summering in the mountains and, as I glanced at Mina, she forced a weathered smile. It wasn’t her first trip to this barren landscape and her face showed signs of exhaustion but a determination to see it through. She was not an old woman although the lines in her face, after the journey down the mountain, proved otherwise. With heavy eyes and rounded shoulders, I knew the trip had been exceptionally hard on her even though I never once heard her complain. I reached out for Unego and pulled her to my chest, something I should have done days ago if my prideful ways hadn’t gotten the best of me.
Unego was a loving child, and I felt her wiggly, unbalanced weight as I held her in my arms. She wrapped her little arms around my neck for a big hug from her best friend, Tish. It had been a long journey for everyone, especially the women and children. I took Unego with me to unload the packhorses, leaving Mina a minute alone before she had to set up camp and prepare the evening meal.
By dusk, our lodgings were arranged in semi-circle fashion. Fires were lit, and a celebratory feast had been prepared. I was one of the men now. No longer was I expected to do women’s work. Tomorrow I would venture out to find a pony of my own. As soon as that was accomplished, I would be expected to carry my weight by fishing and hunting for food and, most importantly, perfecting my accuracy with a bow. Then, if the need ever arose, I would prove myself a great warrior among the People.
I rode out early the following morning. I rode a borrowed horse. This was a task a man accomplished alone and, if he was successful, he would return to camp leading in the most beautiful and most powerful mount from the gathering of wild mustangs that roamed free in this part of the Sierras. A celebration of high praise for his triumph and, to honor his expertise, would follow the same evening.
Nearly half the day had passed before I spotted the herd the People had talked about and as I gazed at their beauty, I also realized there were at least two hundred or more superb looking mustangs grazing without distraction in the meadow below. I’d been told these magnificent wild animals had been ridden into this country and then left behind by Spanish soldiers and were descendants of great Arabian horses. I wasn’t sure what all that meant, but what I did know was that they were strong, handsome animals and by the end of the day, I would have one of these beauties to call my own.
With the wind in my face, and knowing they had yet to pick up my scent, I eased down the sloping terrain toward the herd. It was only minutes before a dappled gray stallion reared up on his hind legs and the spell was broken. With the speed of arrows sailing through the air, they all took off running. I dug my heels into my borrowed horse. I became an arrow myself.
I grinned with satisfaction when I spotted the most beautiful horse I’d ever laid eyes on—a black and white pinto. His beauty and powerful muscles glistened in the bright sunlight as he ran with the rest of the herd. He was the first to catch my eye and if I knew nothing else in this world, I knew he had to be mine. No other pony captured my heart like the well-muscled paint. I was completely seduced and in total awe of the untamed beast.
I dug in my heels and raced against time, forcing my mount to gain speed. I rode hard and fast, my legs burning in anticipation as I advanced closer with every stride. The pony was near; the rope was coiled firmly in my hand. I veered left, cutting him off from the herd and when I succeeded, I tossed out the rope, missing, as he ducked his head and veered back in with the rest of the herd.
I grinned at his playful nature. The game was on. His pounding hooves took him farther from me so I kicked my heels, forcing ultimate speed, gaining on him once again. With my rope coiled, I let loose a wide arc and landed the loop over his head, drawing him away from the herd.
As he pitched his head back, thrashing and whirling with all his might, trying to dislodge the rough hemp, creasing his muscled neck, I kept a tight hold. The paint was a beauty, bright and flashy; his markings well defined. And as he reared up on his hind legs, I could barely hang on for his strength overwhelmed me, but I was more determined than ever.
Nearly spent, my legs trembled from exhaustion as did my arms. My borrowed horse pranced and shied away and with bleeding hands, I kept hold of the rope. What felt like hours of competition between horse and man was only minutes. I slid off the borrowed horse and, with both hands free, I gripped the rope tightly until the paint ceased his bucking and fighting.
Using the rope as a guide I took tentative steps, slowly inching my way forward and, with my palm facing up, I took one more additional step. He lowered his head and took in my scent before taking a step back and vigorously nodding his head up and down.
“Don’t be afraid,” I said softly in the Paiute tongue. “We’re gonna be best friends, you and me.”
I looked into his deep, dark eyes and smiled, more to myself than to him. There was no immediate rush to tame my new pony. I’d take it slow; take my time to gentle the horse. He was the most spirited animal I’d ever seen, and I would be highly praised when I returned to camp. A celebration would ensue for the outsider, the throwaway boy who’d become part of this band of Paiutes. Again, I studied his brilliance, and I knew we had a long and agreeable future together. Over time, the paint and I would become inseparable.
Five moons had passed. I was excited to leave the barren valley now that it was time to pack up our belongings and return to the high mountains. It had been a good winter. Food remained plentiful, and I had become an expert shot with bow and arrow. Often, other braves and I challenged each other in games of sport. I’d been included as if I was family; laughing and enjoying each other’s company, and sharing with my new friends all the game I’d hunted down and killed during the last few months.
One of the band’s braves had become my best friend. He was called Bruno, and even though he had a family of his own, he had accepted me as a brother. We often rode out together to hunt or just to explore our surroundings. But there were times my mind drifted, and even with Bruno by my side, I felt at one time I may have had blood brothers of my own. There were no faces, only images of a long-ago world when another assembly of men were part of my life. Although I had no real family of my own I had plenty of friends, but there were times when I still felt lonely and abandoned by those who’d thought me worthless.
It was either the blow I’d taken to the back of my head or the nasty gash I had in my neck, but it was weeks before I’d gotten my voice back, and although I’d slowly learned the People’s tongue, white man’s words often filled my mind. They came in waves, and I didn’t always understand. I’ve never let on to the People. I’m teased enough due to my curly hair—hence the name Tish—but still, I’m confused by my origins; where I may have come from or where I actually belonged. At night, when the whole world was sleeping, I frequently woke to glimpses of bizarre memories of a different life—a distant world—a world of the white man.
The move back to higher ground was successful and again, I set up my teepee, only this time I returned with belongings. I had winter pants and a shirt, (ones Mina had made for me) my own bearskin for sleeping and various sundries a man needed to get by in this world. I had to control my wild, unruly hair with a leather band since it lay just above my shoulders. I felt pride in its length; no more was I an outsider. I had been accepted as one of the People and that was very important to me. No longer was I an inconvenience. I had proven myself among the men of the tribe, and I was glowing with pride to be known as Tish, a young Paiute brave.
TERRITORIAL ENTERPRISE – June 30, 1858
Editorial: Could the young man known as Little Joe Cartwright be out there still?
We remember the anniversary of this fateful day with sadness. It was one year ago today when an Overland stage broke its six-week record of smooth sailing and plummeted down the mountainside. Ben Cartwright and his two eldest sons walked away with their lives while the coach’s driver was killed and unfortunately, Cartwright’s youngest son was never located, dead or alive. Since a year has passed without any sign of the young man whatsoever, most of Virginia City’s citizens presume Joe Cartwright is dead.
Along with his family, Ben Cartwright continues to search for any sign of life and, on a darker note, he diligently searches for the boy’s remains. He has sent countless telegrams to every major city and town and now, one year later, does Ben Cartwright regret his statement from a year ago?
“The day I give up hope, the day I quit looking for my youngest boy, will be the day they lower me into my grave.”
Is his young son lost to him forever?
Mina felt poorly. She’d suffered off and on throughout the tiresome winter and now, after the long journey home, she’d taken to her bed to recover from months of poor health. Her illness was beyond any medicine available and even the shaman’s spiritual endeavor to drive evil from her body had done nothing to aid in her recovery.
I cared for Unego as much as possible during the summer months. Obviously, it was considered woman’s work and at times, I was looked down upon for taking the child, especially a half-breed, under my wing. She was growing like a weed; into everything she could get her hands on and with Mina completely bedridden, I took the task of caring for Unego very seriously. The other women in the camp watched over her during daylight hours when I needed to leave camp to hunt or fish but generally, I kept watch over her whenever possible so Mina could continue to rest.
In the evenings, I’d strap the child to my chest and we’d ride part way down the mountain to a small, clear blue lake where I’d often come to fish. We would sit on its sandy shore, and I’d speak to Unego of legends—legends of the father of all Indians, legends my friend, Bruno, had relayed to me only a short time ago. I enjoyed the child, and she enjoyed me and especially, she enjoyed riding with me on my paint. I’d chosen a proud name for this extraordinary animal. I’d named him Cochise.
At first, I was made fun of. “Why an Apache name?” I was asked. I didn’t exactly know how to explain the answer, but I had a distant memory of someone shouting the word “Apache”, and I often wondered if the Apache were my people. It was the last word I remember hearing before I came to live with the Paiute. Cochise was their leader—a very noble chief and a very noble name for my horse.
Cooch, as I often called him for short, had become a part of who I am. Together, we have rounded up more mustangs, singlehandedly, than anyone else in camp. He’s fast and he’s smart. He practically knows my commands before I do. As of now, we have enough mounts for everyone, including the women, so next time we travel no one has to march on foot to our new destination.
Unego and I walk, hand in hand, along the beach. We build simple structures in the sand only to watch them wash away. We both laugh, and she claps her pudgy, brown hands each time a gentle wave knocks her to the ground. She only learned to walk a few months earlier so the going is always slow, but what else did we have to do? What was more important than our time together? These were special times, as much for the little girl as they were for me.
I had yet to pick a wife, even though there were young Paiute women close to my age, I wasn’t ready to settle down and start a family of my own. It’s not that I couldn’t handle the added responsibility, as most men my age who were eager to take on wives; it was because Unego had become my responsibility, and she and Mina provided me with sufficient family for now.
The child often cries and she’ll carry on when I say it’s time to go home. “We’ll come back before long,” I say only this time, I realized immediately my words were spoken in perfect English. My head was pounding, and I dropped to my knees in the sand. With both hands pressed hard against each side of my head, I tried to stay the pain. When I was able to open my eyes, Unego had set herself down in front of me, upset and crying but loving her as I did; I was quickly brought back to the present and the pounding quickly faded to a dull roar. But unlike other times, this time the memory lasted longer than usual. Flashes of men—white men—flooded my mind. An old man with gray hair. Another, big and tall with a hat that reached the sky. I squeezed my eyes shut, not wanting to see more—more of a world where I did not belong, more of a people that were my sworn enemy.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered. “Sorry, little one.”
I had lifted my head from the sand and rose up enough to sit back on my heels. I held out my arms to Unego, and she lunged forward and into my arms, knocking me over only to roll onto my back on the sandy ground. I hugged her to my chest. This little girl had become my whole world, and I did everything I could to force the unwanted memories from my mind. The present, here and now, was my life. I didn’t want to deal with unexpected dreams that kept clouding my mind.
I strapped the little girl to my chest and launched myself up on my pony’s back. The pounding was gone, but my head still ached. I was thankful Cochise knew the way.
I was startled to find Mina, sitting at my bedside, gently stroking my arm when I woke. She said I’d mumbled words all night long; words she couldn’t understand. She leaned in close and whispered in her native language so no one else would hear. “I believe it was the white man’s tongue.”
Mina had asked Yellow Bear to carry me into her teepee the night before and to get me settled on the bearskin after I’d arrived back in camp much later than expected. Apparently, I’d handed the baby down to someone and literally fell to the ground from my horse. The shaman could explain nothing of my condition; no sickness and no wound, but he said I had the same dazed look as a young brave who’d gone on his Vision Quest, although that was not the case. I had not spent days in the wilderness without food and water. I had not wished for voices from earth and sky to show me the way. I had not spoken to the Great Spirit. I did not tell them what I knew. I did not speak of white men to my Paiute brothers.
Unego and I had only been gone a few hours but upon my return, I was exhausted and unable to bear my own weight. And so it was concluded, I may have ridden aimlessly without purpose and without seeking the Great Spirit at all. Unego, being young and without much speech, could provide no information but did not seem frightened by my peculiar night ride with her strapped against my chest. Mina thanked the shaman and asked him to go. She would look after me in his absence. In all the time she’d cared for me, there’d never been a harsh word; in fact, she had always defended me when others balked at my peculiar ways.
Mina was nine years my senior; too old for me to marry but not quite old enough to be my mother. Over time, we’d become completely devoted to each other but now, as she took special care, I remained silent, I would not confide in her my unusual dreams. I would confide in no one. I cared deeply for this woman who’d literally brought me back from death’s door, and who continued to care even after I was able to move around on my own two feet. We formed a partnership. I provided her with essentials such as food for her and Unego and enough firewood so they would stay warm during the winter months and have kindling for the cook fire. And Mina crafted clothing for me and would also do the cooking, which was a godsend for someone like me who knew nothing of meal preparation. In time, I would take a wife, but I would always remain loyal to my first Paiute family.
The strange and distracting visions I’d experienced on my night ride with Unego had faded and were no longer troubling my mind. It wasn’t the Great Spirit who sought me out, and it was not the earth and the sky. But I was not willing to discuss what I’d seen, what I’d witnessed in my mind or maybe my dreams because what I saw was not something I could be proud of. In my dreams, these men were white, not Paiute, not Apache, not Shoshone or Ute. They wore white man’s clothing and spoke the white man’s tongue. I had been frightened by their sudden presence. This was my home and my family and even if I was deemed a half-breed, this was where I belonged.
I was back to work now, leaving the events of an uncertain past behind. There was much work to be done. We would be traveling soon and readying ourselves with enough supplies for winter. Although I was learning the ways of the Paiute and was in complete agreement with most everything I’d been taught, I questioned why it was necessary to keep moving when we could just as easily enhance our lodging and offer up more bearskins to see us through the winter months.
There were many reasons for relocating and over time, I learned why the Paiute were always on the move. Their land and their way of life had been threatened by white men, who’d been lured to the area by findings of silver and gold. The white men now numbered the Paiute and, while both Indian and white had to eat, our food resources were dwindling rapidly.
White men were now feasting on Elk and Antelope, which were once our main food supply and truthfully, they’d just as soon shoot a Paiute as an elk if we got in their way. It had proved smarter to not have a permanent home, to keep moving enough so the white man wasn’t convinced of our location. Although we were many and the world around us had grown hostile, none of the People favored the onset of war.
TERRITORIAL ENTERPRISE – June 30, 1859
EDITORIAL: A Day of Sadness
Today, a stone marker will be erected in a small cove bordering Lake Tahoe on Ben Cartwright’s Ponderosa. Today marks the second anniversary of the day Little Joe Cartwright disappeared from sight after an Overland Stage lost control near Pyramid Lake.
A quote by Ben Cartwright the day of the tragedy. “The day I give up hope, the day I quit looking for my youngest boy, will be the day they lower me into my grave.”
Although this marks the end of a two-year pursuit to find any information concerning the boy, who would have turned eighteen-years-old this fall, our prayers go out to the family in hopes Ben Cartwright’s words aren’t a forewarning of yet another tragedy to come. A man without hope often loses his will to live. So, on this memorable occasion for the Cartwright family, we say a silent prayer, hoping each and everyone involved will be able to make peace with their ultimate decision to place a stone marker for their beloved brother and son alongside Joseph’s beloved mother.
Mina died last winter. It was a harsh winter, and we’d depleted our food supply long before it was time to travel back into the high mountains. She’d been my first friend, a loyal companion in a strange place, and I loved Mina and her daughter more than anyone else in the world. It took two days to prepare for her funeral. It was a festival atmosphere, much more involved than a wedding or any other type of Paiute celebration.
I hadn’t realized how much of my life had been spent conversing and learning all I needed to know until Mina was gone from my world. I was at a loss. She and Unego had become my family. After the burial festivities, I left Unego with the other women and rode off by myself to grieve for the woman I held dear. Loneliness rode with me. My heart ached and in turn, I rode like the wind. Tears of sorrow streaked my face but nothing, not even the power of my spirited horse eased my grief.
I sat high atop the great mountain. I gave my mind over to the Great Spirit and asked for his supreme guidance. And as fire lit the sky and his thunderous voice touched my heart I knew why the throwaway boy had been kept alive. I’d been given a purpose. I would carry sorrow in my heart forever, but I had been given a task to perform. I was the sole provider for Unego and if I failed her, I failed Mina, too. I vowed to all that was sacred, I would not fail.
I took much pride in my endeavor to educate and nurture this young half-breed child. We were different, Unego and me and above all else, I wished I could call her my own. I was convinced, just like Unego; we both had white man’s blood running through our veins. Although I’d been accepted into the band, it was not as simple for a female child. She would always be treated differently. She would always be thought of as lower class—an outcast—among the People, and even though they would never deliberately send her away, she would never be encouraged to marry nor would she have children of her own. Breed was breed and she was not full Paiute, therefore she must not carry on the lineage and the curse of being white.
I was beginning my third year with this band and the longer I remained with the People, the more I became part of their world. I was a hunter and a warrior. I was a man who’d become respected among his peers. I was of the age to take a wife but again, there was always that lingering question of my prior history before I came to live with the People. So, like Unego, my decision to marry would have to be taken into consideration by the great chief.
Springtime was a time of renewed awakenings and renewed energy. A time of wildflowers and budding trees and, in the ever-changing landscape, we longed for the promise of good hunting and good health. But life undoubtedly takes twists and turns, and where we hunger for peace and solitude, we find troubled times laced with danger and much concern.
Trouble was brewing between the white man and the Paiute. Immediate council had been called. Heads of Paiutes, Bannocks, and Shoshones had set up camp near Pyramid Lake to discuss what options were available in order to preserve and our way of life while preserving the lives of the People. Only one man spoke up against war. “They will come like the sand in a whirlwind and drive you from your homes. You will be forced among the barren rocks of the north, where your ponies will die: where you will see the women and old men starve, and listen to the cries of your children for food.” * Numago, the nephew of Winnemucca, had said these words, knowing our army of men could never defeat the enemy, the white man, in war. He demanded peace. But in no time at all, the lives and innermost feelings of the People had changed.
Council had been called again after two Paiute sisters, only twelve-years-old, had been kidnapped, raped, and their bodies hidden in an open stone grave. When Bruno, the girls’ father, realized his daughters were missing, he could only presume it had been an act of the white man; diggers, drunkards. Bruno was my friend. He knew I was the best in camp with a bow and with a rifle, but my heart filled with anger and my temper flared when he asked me to stay behind to protect the women and children. Only after he assured me, “If only one man be spared to stand guard, you are the man I trust most.” I felt proud to stay behind.
My heart broke for my friend when unshed tears filled his eyes. I would do as he asked without complaint. I would honor my friend’s request and make him proud. He carried a heavy weight on his shoulders, and I would not add to his burden. By the end of the day, after finding the three white men, who, in turn, boasted about their conquest with the young girls, did their prideful words force Bruno’s hand. Five white men lay dead, and their station burned to the ground.
“There is no longer any use for counsel: we must prepare for war,” Numaga, his mind now changed, insisted. *
We’d heard talk of a man called Ormsby, who, with his army of misfits from nearby towns, was geared up and anxious for revenge against the slaying of the men at the white man’s station. It looked as though many tribes would be banding together in a massive effort to ward off the coming attack. Life was sacred, and men on both sides would die. I was as prepared for battle as every other warrior under the watchful eye of Winnemucca. I would fight alongside men I called brothers. We armed ourselves for war.
TERRITORIAL ENTERPRISE – May 12, 1860
FRONT PAGE: Signs of War
Over one hundred men—diggers, mostly squatters—have formed a vigilante. Local men from Virginia City, Carson City, Silver City and Genoa met last evening to plan their attack on the Paiutes in retaliation for the deaths of the five men who’d been needlessly slaughtered at Wilson’s Station.
Ben Cartwright, along with other influential citizens of northern Nevada, pleaded with the disheveled group to think twice about what they were planning and let the proper authorities handle the matter of Indian affairs.
“This vigilante aggression of yours will do nothing more than declare all-out war with the Paiutes,” Cartwright stated during the melee of out-of-control-men who derived pleasure from forcing the onset of war with the Paiute Nation.
Cartwright continued, offering moral food for thought to the over-zealous crowd. “Silver and gold aren’t worth men’s lives. This attack on the Paiutes has nothing to do with the killings—it has everything to do with greed.” Although his words fell short, Ben Cartwright and his son, Adam, still eager for some kind of settlement between both parties involved, will ride alongside the one hundred men. Major Ormsby, who actively incited the angry crowd, will represent the government’s authority and supervise the men after they’ve ridden in for battle near Pyramid Lake; an area where the Paiutes have claimed this land to be their native soil and ancient burial grounds for decades.
Bruno is more than a friend. He is my brother. I’ve played sport with him and games with his daughters. I have come to despise the white man for what he takes without any sense of right or wrong. Now, alongside my brothers, I have a chance to prove I am great warrior. Today, a battle to block the white men from stealing what is ours is at hand. We will defend to the death our women and children and our way of life against the aggression of the white man, who steal our land but more importantly, we will strike back at the men who, without conscience, molested Bruno’s twelve-year-old daughters.
At Winnemucca’s request, we’ve all scattered and hidden in crevices behind tall rocks and low growing shrubs and we wait—wait for the white man to ride into the trap we’ve set. If possible, there will be talk—parlay between the two nations—if not, there will be only death for the white man. We’re armed with rifle and bow. Whatever it takes to win the battle, we will become the victors.
It was late afternoon. Troops of white men approached an open space where our chief, Winnemucca, his son and his nephew stood waiting. Our weapons were aimed and ready. Deep in my heart, I prayed for victory in battle. Deep in my heart, I wanted to kill every white man who was foolish enough to think he could win war against the Paiute even though some of the elders, who had fought in previous wars, thought different.
I hid behind tall rocks, high up the mountainside, along with many other brave warriors as Winnemucca, Young Wolf and others walked down a slight incline to meet with the white men. Although I was unable to hear the white man talk, there was no threat of gunplay, no reason to kill unless . . .
Suddenly, a shot was fired, and all hell broke loose. A white man, hidden behind rocks, fired at a Paiute brave and he fell from the mountain above. Gunshots began sounding from both sides. The white men who had come to parlay were clubbed over the head and fell to the ground. A man with dark hair was captured and taken away as gunshots continued. I watched closely as a bluecoat hauled the other man, an older man, away to the safety of the whites. I, and many others leaped up from our hiding places and charged down the mountainside. I looked into the white man’s eyes before I pulled the trigger; wounding, killing. White men tumbled to the ground. I reloaded more than once. I fired several times until white men—cowardly men—scattered into the darkness and I could see them no more.
Soon after the massacre, we returned to camp. Many white men had died. We had been prepared and, with much pride in our victory, I felt I had honored my chief when the white men retreated, running like frightened children to hide behind rocks and behind layers of dense brush. I was summoned to Winnemucca’s camp, and I rushed to be by his side. I would learn much this night.
We sat in small council discussing the day’s events. The dark-haired white man, with his hands tied behind his back, was dragged into camp and thrown to the ground at the feet of the great chief. The white man spoke without fear but as he spoke, I had to turn my head away. Although I was not afraid, I became anxious and I withdrew into the shadows. There was something about his eyes, his voice, which caused me to tremble and forced me to only listen and not watch as he spoke the white man’s words.
“Winnemucca—have you gone mad?” The white man was overly brave in the face of adversity. I remained in the shadows, but I turned back around at his uncalled-for comment, at his bravado.
Young Wolf, son of Winnemucca, kicked the white man in the side and he rolled into a tightened ball, his face pained and in agony. Without words or movement of any kind, I cursed Young Wolf for his action. But now, father and son were arguing. Forgoing their heated words—my eyes were focused on the white man as he rolled himself up off the ground and back into a seated position.
Winnemucca stood. He knew the white man by name. He called him Adam Cartwright. The white man talked of large armies, which would come from far away and kill many more Paiute. “The army will come—a hundred tens,” he said when Winnemucca asked how many would be sent to battle.
Young Wolf lurched forward, holding his knife at the white man’s throat, insisting he was a liar. I jerked my head away. My heart pounded like the deep set of a drum. Why? Why did I care about this single white man who spoke so boldly in front of our chief? I hated all white men. Was it fear of his words? Was it his voice? Was I going mad? When he spoke, his voice was calm but direct, and it was as though I’d heard this voice before. I stared at the man known as Adam Cartwright and, as I kept myself hidden in the shadows, I didn’t dare let anyone see the look of uncertainty that shown on my face.
Adam Cartwright spoke again. “Winnemucca,” he pleaded. “Speak to my father. There are men of honor in Virginia City. There can yet be peace. Next time you’ll fight many soldiers, not drunken diggers, and they’ll outnumber you two to one.”
Diggers. I’d heard the word before. These were the men who’d come on our land and dug in the ground for gold and silver—the white man’s wealth and prized for its worth.
Adam Cartwright again spoke of his father. I listened carefully. And when he spoke, I heard not the talk of wealth like the diggers proclaimed, but talk of respect and pride for a man who was worthy of honor—a man who Adam Cartwright spoke of with great admiration.
Winnemucca did not argue; he agreed with Adam Cartwright’s words, but soon there was anger brought on by Young Wolf. Father and son fought with words before Winnemucca turned and faced the white man. “Ben Cartwright’s words hang heavy on the ears of the whites,” Winnemucca said. “He will stop the army.”
Adam Cartwright argued that it could not be done. His father did not have the power to stop the army.
“I will send word,” Winnemucca said. “I will meet with Ben Cartwright. If the army from California moves in on the Paiute nation, his son will die.”
Adam Cartwright was hauled to his feet and, in a cloud of dust; Young Wolf dragged him to a nearby teepee. I watched until I could see him no more. I had remained in the shadows, not wanting Winnemucca or anyone else to see my confusion over this white man.
The father of Adam Cartwright would be summoned tomorrow.
I watched with great wonder. Adam Cartwright was dragged back out from the teepee and to the center of camp where he was thrown to the ground before the great chief. Winnemucca excused the guard and then lowered himself to the ground like a common man to parlay with this white man. The chief carried no obvious weapon and there was no sentry to protect him. Was he not the least bit suspicious of the white man’s motives? Did he trust this man as he would his own son?
They talked as men of equal value and even as I watched from a distance, there was a sense of mutual respect between both parties involved. Adam Cartwright was brave man, and maybe in his world, he carried more worth than I realized. When he’d spoken earlier, he spoke only truths, unlike so many before him. Again, I stayed in the shadows; too far away to hear their words, but when I saw the man called Adam Cartwright lower his head in a sign of defeat, I knew the conversation had ended.
Winnemucca stood, and I’d crept closer to hear his final words. “And even as you die, it will be like a small part of me dies with you.”
Tomorrow Adam Cartwright would die; it seemed a tragic waste of life. I wanted to interfere with the decision our chief had made, but it was not my place. I did not possess the wisdom of years. I did not know the right and wrong of such things. Who lives, who dies; it was not my call. But I knew in my heart, this man called Adam Cartwright should not have to die for the sins of other white men.
TERRITORIAL ENTERPRISE – May 13, 1860
FRONT PAGE: Bloodshed on the Banks of the Truckee
Nearly one hundred brave fighting-men marched against the Paiutes yesterday in a bloody battle near Pyramid Lake. Savage Paiutes slaughtered two-thirds of the men, who’d formed the makeshift brigade headed by Major Ormsby, after encountering the brutal attack. Major Ormsby also fell to his death on the banks of the Truckee.
By night’s end, a crude and temporary hospital was set up in the Silver Dollar Saloon and was soon filled to capacity with injured and dying men. Some of the injured were coherent and were able to give their account of the bloody massacre; others, too weak or in too much pain never uttered a single word.
“We were surrounded. They come out from everywhere.”
“We was outnumbered and outgunned.”
“It weren’t nothin’ but a bloodbath.”
These were just some of the comments declared by men who’d had the courage to stand up and fight; to defend our country and put an end to the misery and chaos the Paiutes have caused.
With only one medical professional within miles of Virginia City, Hoss Cartwright was called upon to assist Dr. Paul Martin. It was a grueling duty for the young man who’d never experienced the casualties of war or anything this complex before. Arms and legs had to be amputated in order to save lives, and the offensive extremities hauled out to the back alley to be disposed of later.
Word today from Colonel John C. Hays, who, together with Captain Stewart and his regulars, will lead his volunteer militia from Placerville in order to restore peace to the area. Along with Captain Stewart, the U.S. Army is sending the much-needed artillery. With enough manpower, rifles and cannons, this will definitely put an end to the Paiute’s hold on this land which is rich in ore. Without Indian interference, extraction of gold and silver will bring insurmountable monetary gains and put this proud city of ours, which some consider nothing but a dirty little hamlet, on the map.
TERRITORIAL ENTERPRISE – May 14, 1860
Editorial: Another empty grave
As if Ben Cartwright hasn’t suffered enough, we find there is more distressing news after the dispute only two days ago, a dispute which turned into all-out war. After losing his youngest son nearly three years ago when Apaches attacked an Overland Stage, we are now informed that Cartwright’s eldest son, Adam, has been killed and his body taken by the Paiutes. Two son’s lives destroyed by Indian attacks. No wonder Ben Cartwright sits and stares; his mind despondent; his family—his legacy—hangs in the balance. Only one son remains to carry on the Cartwright name. Hoss Cartwright is the only remaining survivor; his brothers gone forever due to the cruel and vicious acts of savages.
Cartwright and his son Adam rode into the Paiute camp alongside Major Ormsby in hopes of coming to peaceful terms with Chief Winnemucca when, as some called it, “All hell broke loose.”
Another stone marker—another empty grave—will stand tall on the Ponderosa. Beside his youngest son, Ben Cartwright will mark a place for his eldest and, for a second time in this man’s life, he has no remains to bury.
Days passed. Scouts returned to camp and told of many soldiers marching in from the west. Again, we were prepared to fight. It was the nature of my people to test ourselves in battle. The fight would take place on the same battleground as before. Every available Paiute brave was scattered and in position, waiting for bluecoats to arrive. It would be a great battle, and I would make my people proud. Young Wolf, not Winnemucca, was in charge of this final battle.
Young Wolf had a second obligation. He kept close guard over Adam Cartwright. The white man’s hands remained tied behind his back. He could not escape death if the white man proceeded with the act of war. When the army realized Adam Cartwright would be the first to die, they would hesitate before drawing their weapons. If they did not turn back, Adam Cartwright would die. His father, the man of honor, would grieve his son’s senseless death. Winnemucca would also grieve as he would for his own son. I fear I will grieve for him, too.
As the army drew closer we lowered our bodies and our rifles even further, hiding completely from the bluecoats and other white men who marched toward us. The white man’s army had a strange way of coming to battle. They stopped their horses and dismounted in open land only this time, they did not announce their arrival with the sound of a drummer boy, but their presence was plain as day. The soldiers were obvious targets with no protection, but my eyes grew wide at the number of men we were up against. Just as Adam Cartwright had warned Winnemucca, they were many.
They marched forward on horse and on foot, but my eyes weren’t focused on the men wearing the blue suits; my eyes were set on Adam Cartwright, who constantly worked the ropes, scraping them back and forth against a rough-edged rock. This, Young Wolf could not see.
A horn sounded and caught my attention as the army marched up through the canyon. I was in complete awe of their stupidity. I glanced back at Adam Cartwright. The ropes suddenly pulled apart and he was a free man. A smile washed over my face and oddly enough, I wanted to cheer him on. Maybe this white man wouldn’t be sacrificed after all.
A sudden punch to Young Wolf’s jaw and Adam Cartwright took off running. Immediately, Young Wolf gave chase. Giving up my protection behind the rocks, I scooted down the gravelly side of the mountain, desiring a better position. Winnemucca stood high on a cluster of rocks, but when he turned toward Young Wolf, his son was not there—the son in charge of the battle was missing. A look of uncertainty showed in the chief’s eyes. He raised his lance to the sky for all to see.
The soldiers continued their march.
“Don’t fire! Don’t shoot!”
Adam Cartwright stood with both arms raised high in the air, shouting a warning to the bluecoats. I hesitated as he cried out words I wasn’t expecting to hear. He was a free man. He could have kept running and joined the soldiers, but to my surprise, he was trying to stop their forward progress and put a halt the impending battle.
With his lance high above his head, Young Wolf had reached the white man who’d shouted for peace. Young Wolf towered over him, but a sudden blast from a bluecoat’s rifle hit its mark. The lance fell from his hand, and Young Wolf tumbled to the ground. The son of the great chief was dead while Adam Cartwright lived.
Winnemucca looked on. His eyes blazed; signs of loathing and anger showed on his grief-stricken face. There was no time to grieve for a fallen son. Immediately, he took command. His taut and stringent movements were filled with much emotion as he raised his own lance high above his head before slicing it hard and fast through the air.
The time was now. Again, it was an all-out war.
Recklessly, and with only one thought in mind, I moved quickly to the base of the ravine and ran like the wind to where Young Wolf lay. Adam Cartwright had leaped forward only to be held at gunpoint by a white man, who was not a bluecoat soldier. This man I recognized as the one who took the first shot in the previous battle. He raised his rifle and took aim at Adam Cartwright.
There was no time to think. White men killing white men didn’t make sense, but I would deal with my confusion later. I aimed, fired and the nameless white man fell from his horse to the ground. Adam Cartwright remained alive. Winnemucca would not have to grieve a second son today.
The soldiers moved closer. Fighting men from both sides were falling all around me. A sudden explosion from the giant steel cannon killed many Paiute; they tumbled from crags and cliffs; my people, my newfound friends were landing hard on the rocks below. A second explosion, just like the first, blasted through the canyon walls.
Smoke billowed from the mighty steel gun, forming a cloud and blinding me from exacting my mission. Bodies lay everywhere, and when the smoke cleared; I saw the yellow shirt and black vest that marked the man I fought to keep alive. I flew like an eagle toward him and just ahead, standing alongside him, pulling him to his chest, was the grey-haired man—the father; the man of honor, the man of peace. As I reached my destination, I trusted my heart to do the right thing. I would keep these honorable men from harm’s way. I lowered my rifle to my side. Cautiously, I approached the two white men.
A shot rang out. And then there was silence . . .
TERRITORIAL ENTERPRISE – July 1, 1860
EDITORIAL: A Day of Miracles
Miracles do happen.
Three years ago to the day, friends and acquaintances of Ben Cartwright witnessed an extraordinary day of anger and loss. But today, we find Little Joe Cartwright alive and well, and resting in his own bed at the ranch known to all who reside in Western Nevada as the Ponderosa. Ben Cartwright will tell you straight out, miracles do happen.
Little Joe, the youngest son of prominent landowner Ben Cartwright, had been presumed dead when an Overland stage overturned after being attacked by Apaches on June 30, 1857. Even though his father and two older brothers left the scene injured but alive, Joe Cartwright’s body has never been recovered and eventually, a marker had been placed to honor the boy even without securing his physical remains.
The second miracle brings the eldest son, Adam Cartwright, back home to his family. Presumed dead only days before, he, too, returns home with his father and lost brother.
As we’ve all come to realize over the last twenty-four hour period, the boy, only fifteen-years-old at the time of his capture, has been imprisoned by a band of Paiutes since the day of that tragic accident. A barbaric and inferior life; three formative years of living in a hostile environment has undoubtedly had a tremendous effect on young Joe Cartwright.
We at the Enterprise appreciate the tough road Ben Cartwright has ahead of him, redirecting the boy in the ways of civilized and educated man. No telling what the boy has suffered and how his outlook on life, after living three long years with savages, has changed.
Our thoughts and prayers are with you, Ben, and yes, this truly is a day of miracles.
I imagined myself racing Cochise; the wind in my hair and the fresh scent of early morning dew as I swept through a summer meadow of green and gold. The hunt was on; a serious business but also a game of sport for my friends and me. We’d spotted a six-point buck earlier in the day but he slipped away into the trees and heavy brush and now, the five of us rode as fast as our ponies would carry us (Cochise being the fastest of course) to see who could take the first shot at the lone elk.
Unexpectedly, the game ended; a huge explosion interrupted the hunt. Instead of barreling down on the elk, I’d lowered my rifle to my side as I approached . . . no, there was no elk and, in the smoky haze, only white men stood before me. The elk had vanished; he was nowhere in sight, only smoke and dust and . . .
A deep sounding voice broke the silence, scattering and tangling my thoughts. Where was I, and who was behind this mysterious voice? I fought off images of unknown places before realizing those images were taking me far away from the battle and the constant roar of gunfire and blinding smoke. The voice sounded again, encouraging me to open my eyes. I tried to do as I was asked, but I was too tired for conversation, too tired to open my eyes.
Young Wolf lay dead on the ground. I ran down the slope—ran down to Adam Cartwright. I lunged forward when . . . a single shot . . . sudden pain forced my rifle from my hand . . . forced me to the ground . . .
Again, the voice, deep and inviting, pleaded with me, and even though I felt a calming sense of peace, I was frightened of the unknown. It was not the voice of Bruno; not the voice of Yellow Bear, but the voice kept calling and in the end, I gave into the agonizing request. I opened my eyes.
Lamplight flickered, bringing shadows of dim, yellow light. I focused on the man closest to me, the one who leaned forward in anticipation. And when he spoke again, my heart ached. My face flushed with sudden heat and my eyes burned as I stared into the eyes of the man before me.
His eyes became watery pools, and I felt his hand resting on my arm, stroking, soothing. I blinked repeatedly. He forced a smile. I closed my eyes momentarily and tried to make sense of things; of my surroundings and of this man who knew me, who called out with a gentle although commanding voice. I struggled to accept the visions, crowding their way into my head and forcing me to watch as they became clearer and more defined. Memories of the man before me flashed in rapid succession . . . old, very old memories of a different life.
“Joseph?” he said.
I opened my eyes to the voice. I stared in disbelief. Memories shot through my mind like a firestorm. This was my home, my family. My real family. I turned my attention back to . . . the man . . . the man I’d known all my life. My father. “Pa?”
“I’m right here, Boy. Right here.”
I stared into my father’s eyes. I stared at my surroundings and found no burning fire, no bearskin bedding. I stared passed my father, seeing walls and pictures and a window with lace curtains, and then I looked back at the man perched on the edge of the bed wearing a white shirt and tan vest. “Wh—” I had difficulty asking a simplest of questions. My throat was dry, and my eyes burned as I blinked back the tears. I started to push myself up when my father laid his hand on my chest, stopping any forward movement.
A fleeting memory of Pa pushing me down once before . . . the stage . . . the floor of the stagecoach . . .
“You have a bad wound, Joseph. You must lay still.”
Apaches . . .
Pa reached for a china pitcher and poured me a glass of water. He lifted my head and then cupped the back of my neck with his hand. The motion was familiar although another place, another time.
“That better?” he asked.
I didn’t answer. I stared in bewilderment. Lost . . . I felt very lost.
It was Mina who’d cared for me, and it was Mina who’d lifted my head so she could spoon-feed me the soup she’d heated over the open fire when I couldn’t tend myself. And I became healthy and, after weeks in her care, I could walk and take care of myself. And the baby cried . . . the half-breed child. And the pinto . . . my pinto . . .
I was so tired but my mind raced with unanswered questions.
My father sat the glass down on the side table and eased himself back into the chair next to the bed. It truly was my father speaking, but my mind was jumbled. I tried to make sense of the rapid-fire memories. “Cochise?” I softly mumbled.
“What’s that, Son?”
God help me. I couldn’t think straight. “My horse—”
“I’m sorry, Joe. I don’t know anything about a horse.”
Adam Cartwright sat with Winnemucca . . . my own brother. “Adam?”
“Adam and Hoss are just fine. Don’t you worry about anything right now except getting well. They’ll both be up later to see you.”
I closed my eyes. My mind whirled in a confused state. Adam . . . my brother. Yes. Adam was my brother. Adam Cartwright . . . Joe Cartwright. Yes. My brother. So why didn’t I recognize my own brother?
A unique life, distinct in so many ways, flashed through my mind like an urgent dream—days, weeks, months clocked by too fast for me to absorb every detail. But there was Mina, Unego, Bruno . . . all my friends . . . my family—a different family—a different home—a different way of life.
And now, I was here with my white family, the family of my birth. I reached up and stroked my hair, now long enough to braid. Curly hair . . . Tish. It wasn’t a dream. I was Tish—Paiute warrior. But now, in my father’s house, I was Joe Cartwright. I wasn’t Paiute. I wasn’t Apache. I wasn’t a half-breed. I was Joe Cartwright, son of Ben Cartwright, brother of Hoss and Adam Cartwright.
“What it is, Son?”
Pa’s voice was unsteady, and his coal-black eyes glistened in the dim light of the lamp sitting next to the bed. He’d taken hold of my hand and, as if he was caring for an infant, his strokes were gentle as he moved his thumb in a circular motion over my sun-worn skin. “I’ve been away,” I said, needing answers but also frightened to face the truth.
My father’s eyes closed briefly, and he took a deep breath before he answered. “Yes.”
It seemed Pa had to think before he answered my question. Was he confused, too? “Let’s talk about this later, Son. You really should rest.”
“No, Pa. How long have I been gone?”
Pa cleared his throat before he spoke. “Three years.”
Even in my weakened state, I know I looked surprised, but Pa didn’t flinch or turn away. He hadn’t had to think after all. He knew exactly how long I’d been gone.
“Years?” I repeated.
“I don’t understand.”
Pa sat back in his chair and crossed one leg over the other; his hands fell to his lap. “Tell me what you remember, Son.”
I lay flat on my back, so I rolled to my side, lifting my bandaged shoulder up off the bed, deciding I could think better in this position. I was facing my father now. I slipped my free hand under my pillow, under my head, and I thought about what Pa had said. I let my mind travel back three years to what I thought I remembered.
“She held my head up just like you did, Pa, so I could eat.”
“Mina. She saved my life. She—” It was all coming back, right from those first few days inside her teepee. But Mina was dead, and I had survived and somehow, I’d been returned home to my real family. This was my home; the one I couldn’t remember but the one that constantly flashed through my mind. “She’s dead now,” I said as an afterthought.
My father didn’t respond. He sat very still and he listened.
“I was all broken up; my arm, my leg. I had a gash on the back of my head and—” That’s why I couldn’t remember; that’s why I was so unclear. All this time . . .
I looked at Pa. I had to think things through. “I’m really tired. Maybe you were right. Maybe I should rest.”
Pa nodded before he stood from the chair. He touched the side of my face, and the palm of his hand lingered overlong. “You sleep now, and I’ll come back up after a while.”
“It’s good to be home.”
My father forced a smile. His chin quivered slightly and, as he tried to hide his rising emotions, he managed to hold back his tears before pulling the blanket up over my shoulders and straightening the edges like I’d remembered from when I was just a boy. “It’s good to have you home, Joseph.”
I slept through the night. I awoke to bright sunlight streaming through my bedroom window and Adam sitting next to my bed. He was awake and, just like the older brother I remembered from earlier in my life, he had a leather-bound book in his hand. He marked his place with his index finger and leaned forward in the chair.
“Good morning.” His voice was deep and easy. A smile hinted.
“Morning,” I replied although my voice was gravelly and my throat, dry. I cleared my throat. “How long have you been here?”
“I just relieved Pa a little while ago so he could clean up some.”
Just then the door opened, and Hoss entered the room. The gapped-tooth smile, which brightened his whole face, caused me smile back. “I just cain’t believe I’m seein’ ya for real, little brother.”
“I’m real all right.”
“After all these years. We thought you was—” Hoss caught the look in Adam’s eyes and cut his words short. “I’m just glad you’re finally home, Little Joe.”
“Help me sit up, will ya, Hoss?”
“Sure thing,” he said willingly. “Adam, give me a hand.”
Hoss lifted me, and Adam plumped up a couple of pillows and lowered them behind my back. I was settled in an upright position for now, and it was only minutes later before Hop Sing entered my room. He carried a silver tray with coffee for everyone. Pa, still buttoning up his clean shirt followed behind Hop Sing.
One braid. It had been Hop Sing in my dreams, never a whole person, just the single braid. Everyone I’d seen through the haze of remembrance was someone I cared deeply about but for some reason, they never appeared in clear form. Hop Sing bowed slightly and smiled before pouring everyone in the room a cup of coffee. He added cream and sugar to mine.
“Xie-xie,” I said, never having to think of the words but realizing I spoken in Hop Sing’s Cantonese.
“Hop Sing very glad number three son home where he belong.”
“Thanks . . . although I’m not sure where . . .” I glanced up at my father. “Thanks, Hop Sing.”
“How do you feel this morning, Joseph?”
“Pretty good,” I said, remembering how much pain I’d been in when I first arrived home. Home. The word still sounded strange. “I do have a question though.” All eyes were on me, including Hop Sing’s. “Why . . . or how did . . . I mean . . . I still don’t know how I ended up—”
“Ya mean the accident?” Hoss said.
“Yeah . . . I guess.”
Both brothers looked to Pa for answers. So, I did too. Adam stood and gave my father the chair. “I think we’ve got chores to do, Hoss.”
“Oh . . . yeah. Well, we’ll see ya later, Little Joe.”
I really knew how to clear a room fast. My brothers were leaving it up to Pa to fill me in and answer any questions I had. I’d already started remembering bits and pieces of that day we were on the stage. I was shoved to the floor, and then Adam crawled out the window and . . . and then I was lying inside a teepee.
Over time, I became an active member of the Paiute Nation. Was it by chance or was life predestined? And, after three long years, had the world I’d grown accustomed to thrown me away? I realized I had not been the Apache throwaway boy like I’d assumed, but was I a throwaway now? Was the Paiute community shunning me because I was a full-blooded white man?
I glanced at my chest, darkened by years of constant exposure to the sun. I glanced at my father—the father of my birth. My deepest feelings were tangled like tree roots, unseen by anyone but there just the same, hidden and wary of being exposed. Maybe Winnemucca, my chief and honored father figure, and Bruno, my brother, thought I had died in battle? Did they know I’d been taken away and brought back to live in the world of the white man? Were they happy to see me go?
The Cartwrights were my people, but why had the Great Spirit seen fit to take me from my home and my family for three long years? And why now—why was I returned to reestablish myself to this different way of life? I didn’t know my place in this world alongside Pa and my brothers. I was not the same little boy I’d been at fifteen-years-old. I’d found my way into manhood while living with the Paiutes.
Pa asked Hop Sing to pour us each a second cup of coffee before he left to do his chores, too. Hop Sing obliged and then excused himself from the room. I took a sip before I looked toward my father for answers. I was half scared to ask, but I had to have an answer to the first question that came to mind; the question that had haunted me since my return.
“Why didn’t you come for me?” I asked in a small voice, remembering the young man who’d been lost and afraid in a different world.
“Oh, Joe . . .”
Tears formed again in my father’s eyes and I realized at once, I shouldn’t have raised such a question. It was wrong of me to think Pa and my brothers hadn’t tried their best to find me, and I hadn’t considered the hell they must have gone through at the time. “I didn’t mean—”
Pa reached for my hand, holding it tightly as he relayed what he knew to be true. He began to explain everything, starting with the stage; the Apaches and the accident. He told me of the search parties who scanned the area for weeks while he and Adam and Hoss were laid up with their own injuries. He told me how he and my brothers had searched for months; how he’d sent wires to cities and towns, and how he’d done everything in his power but never once considered I’d been rescued and cared for by the Paiutes. And the further he went with the story, the more his voice began to alter in tone to one of emptiness and despair, apologies, and guilt.
“I’m sorry, Pa. I should have realized—”
“No need for apologies, Son. No need.”
“I couldn’t remember anything, Pa. I was scared of everything at first and I . . . I couldn’t remember you or Adam or Hoss. I never knew why or how I ended up with the Paiutes. I didn’t remember the accident. The only thing that made sense was I’d come from somewhere else, but I never knew where. I was under the impression I was a throwaway because I was injured and couldn’t—
“I had visions . . . dreams that came often, but nothing made sense.” I started to laugh. “Like Hoss’s hat or Hop Sing’s single braid, but you were all strangers to me and because you were dressed in white man’s clothes, I was confused even more. I honestly thought I was an Apache—a throwaway boy from some Apache tribe.”
Pa started to smile at the thought but as tears of joy and maybe sadness formed in his eyes, he remained still and let me finish my story.
“I didn’t know I was a white man. I thought I was a half-breed; that maybe one of my parents was white.” I quickly looked away, not understanding anything anymore.
“Why would you think that, Son?”
“I . . . I don’t know. I just did.”
I looked straight at Pa and seeing his dark, watery eyes and the tears, now escaping and running down his face, caused my own eyes to fill with tears. He moved from the chair and sat down on the edge of the bed. Hesitantly, I leaned forward and, forgetting about my bandaged shoulder, Pa pulled me tight against his chest, wrapping his arms around me until I could feel my father’s heart beating rapidly in rhythm with my own.
“Oh, Joseph,” he said, pulling me even tighter. “I thought we’d lost you forever.”
I don’t remember ever seeing my father cry but as he held me to his chest, he sobbed for a very long time. We both did. I was afraid to let go. I was afraid this new dream would shatter. But finally, I sniffed back my tears and, as my father leaned back and, after wiping his own eyes, he studied every feature of my face until we both began to laugh.
“We’re quite a pair, aren’t we, Son.”
I couldn’t get any words out; I could do nothing but smile and nod my head. Pa handed me his handkerchief and after I wiped my eyes and face, I kept it clutched in the palm of my hand. Even though the tears had subsided for now, our eyes were red-rimmed and our faces were splotched with color. I’m sure we both looked a sight.
“Think you can eat some of Hop Sings good cooking?”
“Yeah—that sounds pretty good.”
I looked down at my arm strapped against my chest and wondered who had shot me. I caught my father before he left my room to go downstairs. “Pa?”
“Who shot me?”
“Well,” he said, turning back around. “I’m not absolutely sure. I expect it was one of the soldiers who thought you were . . . well, a Paiute.”
“I am a . . . or I was a Paiute, Pa.”
“Well, you were dressed like one, and I probably would have made the same mistake had I been in that soldier’s place. Please don’t blame him, Son. He was only trying to protect your brother and me from being killed.”
“Killed by me you mean?”
“I’d lowered my rifle. I’d come down off the mountain to protect Adam from being killed.”
My father’s voice had changed somehow, not quite joking but simply matter-of-fact as he defended the bluecoat soldier. He believed what he’d said. I looked Paiute because I was Paiute.
“What’s the matter, Joe?”
I lifted my eyes and shook my head. “It’s nothing.” How could I make him or anyone else understand? I was Paiute. In every sense of the word, I was a Paiute warrior and, with that being fact, I was out to kill the white man. “I’m really not hungry just now, Pa. Maybe later, okay?”
“You should put something in your stomach.”
“Not right now.”
“If you’re sure.”
“You get some sleep then, and I’ll bring you something to eat in an hour or so.”
I heard the door close. I rolled back on my side and curled my legs up toward my chest. How would I explain the things I believed, the things I’d been taught during the last three years? It was a different way of life, a life of survival at all costs. It wasn’t that I didn’t love my father and brothers, but I had a second family I loved just as much as the first. And Unego. What lies ahead for her without me there to watch over her and act as her protector?
I missed breakfast altogether. After a quick knock on the door, Adam walked in carrying a sandwich for me and one for himself. He removed his plate and set the tray on my lap. I stared without speaking. Seeing him now, I wondered why I hadn’t known him when he sat with Winnemucca. My own brother.
“Penny for your thoughts, Joe.”
I had picked up my sandwich but without taking a bite, I set it back down on my plate. “I was there,” I said, dipping my eyes from Adam’s level stare. Embarrassed by the events I would now have to reveal, I found it hard to continue. “When Young Wolf brought you into camp to talk with Winnemucca, I was there, watching you.”
My statement took Adam by surprise. He’d already taken a bite of his sandwich, and he chewed slowly, his eyes narrowing as he contemplated what I said. “What? I didn’t see you. Why didn’t you say something?”
“I kept to the shadows. I . . . I didn’t know you, Adam. I didn’t know who you were.”
“But you were there?”
“Yes. I was there. I heard Winnemucca talk to you later that night, too.”
“And you had no idea who I was? I find that hard to—”
“Well, it’s true,” I said glaring at my brother. “And when the battle started, I aimed my rifle at the bluecoats, and I killed as many as I could because I was a Paiute warrior, and it was my job to protect and defend our way of life.”
“Joe, I don’t under—”
“I was a warrior—a proud warrior. It was my duty to protect my Paiute family. What’s not to understand?”
Adam looked away. He said nothing.
“Then, I left my post where I’d hidden behind tall rocks, and I slid down the side of a mountain to save the life of Adam Cartwright—the man who’d acted bravely in the presence of the great chief—the man who was not a coward and who spoke only truths. I didn’t want Winnemucca to mourn your death as he would mourn Yellow Wolf’s. It was for Winnemucca’s sake I tried to save your life, Adam. Not because you were my brother.”
“I’ll admit I don’t consider myself simple-minded, Joe, but you have to understand, I’m only trying to get a feel of what took place during the last three years. Did the Paiutes force you to stay?”
“Did they mistreat you? Hold you captive or threaten you in any way?”
“Did they ever tell you where they found you or—”
“No!” I said roughly. “I didn’t ask, and they didn’t offer that information. I was happy there, Adam. Don’t you understand? I’ve lived as a Paiute for the past three years because I wanted to, because they were my people, my family. That was my home and that’s where I belonged. That’s where I may belong still.”
There—I said the unthinkable. I’d let the tree roots surface without thinking of what it would mean to my family. Suddenly I felt guilty for speaking my thoughts aloud. I turned my head away from my brother.
“You don’t mean that.”
“I don’t know what I mean, Adam. I don’t know anything right now.”
Adam took a deep breath. “If you had any idea what Pa went through these last three years—what we all went through—you wouldn’t be talking like this, Joe.”
I dropped my head. I learned much from the Paiutes, but I still fought my nature; I fought my defiant will, but this time I held my tongue. “I know, Adam, and I understand what you’re saying. I’m just tired and confused is all.”
“Well, I hope you have the good sense to not repeat this conversation, especially to Pa.”
I wanted to speak my mind, to let Adam know he didn’t have any idea how I felt about such matters. Instead, I held my temper and my tongue, and I agreed to do as he’d asked. I dropped my eyes from his dark, piercing gaze, and I made him a promise. “I will not speak of this to Pa.”
Nearly a week had passed. I’d kept my promise to my brother. I hadn’t said a word; I left the tree roots buried deep in the ground as the Great Spirit intended. I was up and around although my arm was still held in place by a sling. I was on edge most of the time, and I feared my family would notice how restless I’d become over the past several days. I spent many hours on the front porch, recuperating, and letting nature’s sun and wind heal my body. Most of all, I feared speaking to my father. He would not approve of the decision I had made.
Between Hoss and me, other than that I was full-grown now and not the young boy he had to protect, it was as though not a day had passed. Even though I was thin, I was strong and muscular; my shoulders were wide for a man my age. Hoss was the first one to mention I didn’t look like the same Little Joe he remembered from three years ago. “You ain’t never gonna be my size,” he said when he took a break from his chores and joined me for a glass of lemonade on the front porch. “But ya sure filled out while you was gone.”
Hoss was always a candid sort, and he didn’t hold much back. If I needed to talk, he would be the first to listen. Today I needed to talk. I hoped what I had to say wouldn’t sound crazy or foolish. I hoped he’d understand.
“I need to go back.”
“To the Paiutes.”
“What in tarnation for, Little Joe.”
“I . . . um, I left some things behind.”
“What kinda things? We can always go to Virginia City and pick up whatever you need, like Pa did this week when he bought you them new clothes.”
“It ain’t those kinds of things, Hoss.”
“My horse is there.”
“You still got Frisco, Joe. We turned him out about a year ago, but you and I could find him. I’m sure it wouldn’t take much doin’.”
“No. Cochise is my horse now. He’s the most beautiful animal in the world. I scouted him out and gentled him myself. I want him back.”
“Well, Pa ain’t gonna be none too happy about you wantin’ to go back up that mountain just for a horse.”
“I know he ain’t, but you understand, don’t you, Hoss?”
“There’s more,” I said rather sheepishly.
“What’s that?” Hoss said without looking up.
I wasn’t sure how to say what needed to be said. I leaned forward in the chair and let my arms rest heavy on my thighs. I had a tendency to rub my sore arm, to will away the pain from the bullet wound and when I hadn’t answered right off, Hoss questioned me again.
“Well, what else is so all-fired important? What else could possibly make you wanna ride back up into Paiute country?”
Hoss stiffened and sat upright in his chair. “A what?”
“You heard me. A child. Her name is Unego.”
“Joe . . . you done lost your mind? What child?”
I shook my head. “She’s my responsibility, Hoss.”
“No,” I said, grinning, realizing what Hoss was thinking. “I’m not the father. But before her ma died, I promised I’d watch over her.”
“Ain’t gonna work, Joe. You made that promise under different circumstances. You cain’t bring no Indian girl here to live.”
“She’s a half-breed.”
My brother’s face fell flat. He knew exactly what that meant in the Paiute world. “I have to bring her here.”
I hadn’t heard his footsteps and neither had Hoss but, to my surprise, Pa stood directly behind us.
“Hey, Pa,” Hoss said.”
“Mind if I have a word with your brother, alone?”
“No, Sir.” Hoss stood from his chair and gave me a cursory glance before heading back to the barn.
“May I?” Pa said.
I felt uneasy as Pa came closer. Suddenly, I felt like Pa’s “Little Joe.” I’d hunted for food; I’d held off the enemy in battle. I’d cared for the sick and dying, and I’d helped raise a motherless child. My boyhood was lost the day the Apaches attacked the stage, and I’d had to grow up fast. I thought that was the case until I had to explain things to my father and, as much as I tried to be a man, that little boy always hovered close by. I needed to get my point across; I needed to be firm and hope Pa would understand.
“What all did you hear, Pa?”
“I suppose I heard most everything, Joseph.”
“Then you know what I have to do.” My eyes were focused more on the barn across the yard than on my father.
“Tell me more about this child,” he said.
I glanced up quickly and smiled. “Her name is Unego and she’s three-years-old. Her mother, Mina, was the woman who cared for me when I was . . . when the People found me and took me into their camp. She nursed me back, Pa. I would have died had she not taken the time to care for my wounds and make sure I had something to eat and drink. Don’t you see? I owe her my life and now I owe her—”
Pa sat listening. He didn’t agree or disagree so I continued.
“When Mina became ill, I took care of her the best I knew how. She knew she was dying, and she made me promise to watch over her daughter. I made that promise, Pa. To a dying woman, I promised.”
“But the child is Paiute,” Pa said softly. ”I don’t know how you expect to keep that promise now.”
“Unego is a half-breed, Pa. Her father was white. When I made that promise, I thought I was a half-breed, too. It made perfect sense for me to be the one to watch over her.”
“But things are different now, Son. You’re not a half-breed, and I just don’t see how—”
“Are you saying a promise means nothing? I gave my word, Pa, and now you expect me to . . . to what? Go back on my word?”
Pa gave a brief nod, and I waited patiently for him to speak. “Son—”
“Pa, you know I’m right. You know how the Paiute treat half-breed girls. She will never have the same advantages as a full Paiute. She will always be considered something less; she will be given jobs no one else wants. She may be laughed at and made fun of. I can’t let that happen.”
“I understand, Joseph, but let me say what needs to be said.”
I could feel heat rise within me. I knew exactly what my father would say before he even opened his mouth. I was right in what I thought and what I said, and this time I wasn’t backing down. If Pa wanted a fight, he’d get one from me.
“I know what you say is true, Joseph, but you have no business raising an Indian girl here on the Ponderosa. You’re no more than a boy yourself and, in good conscience, I can’t allow you to put your life on hold for a young child who will be no better off here than she will with her own people.”
I had been a boy when I’d left this world behind and gained insight into another. I’m eighteen now, and I’m a man. I felt my words were a man’s words and should be listened to as much as any other man. At some point, my father had to let go of the boy he once knew. That time had come.
“I promised Mina,” I repeated calmly. “I don’t know what else to say, Pa. I expected you, of all people, to understand what a promise to a dying woman meant.”
“I know what a promise means, Joseph, but what makes you think this child will fit in here with us and within this community any better than she would with the Paiutes? This is a white man’s world.”
“I didn’t say it would be easy.”
“I think that’s an understatement, Joseph.” Pa adjusted himself in the chair, leaning forward so he could see my face more clearly.
“Okay, Pa. What would you have me do?” I said, facing my father directly.
“Son, there’s no right or wrong here. I understand what you’re feeling, but I don’t believe you’ve considered the obstacles you and this child will face if she comes here to live.”
Right or wrong, obstacles or not, I had to try to make things work. “Would you have me break my promise?”
Pa’s face softened and a hint of a smile broke through. “You always did have a way with words. I see nothing’s changed in that respect.”
I hesitated to smile.
With a heavy sigh, Pa reluctantly gave in to my wishes. “When do you plan to leave?”
I smiled for real and swallowed the heavy lump in my throat. “Is next week too soon?”
“If Paul Martin says you can ride, I don’t see why not.”
“Um . . . Pa?”
“Can I take Adam with me?”
“You’ll have to ask your brother. It’s his choice to make.”
“Oh, and Joseph—”
I looked up at Pa as he stood from the chair.
“About your hair . . .”
A half-breed child is an unwanted child. There’s no place for such a child in the Indian world and no place in the white man’s world. But a motherless-child needs a home; she also needs the love and compassion of one who cares. I’ve chosen to be that person.
Tomorrow, Adam and I will ride onto Paiute land and we will request the privilege of allowing the girl, Unego, to leave the People and come live with my family and me on the Ponderosa. Winnemucca, who presides over all bands in the area, is who we will seek out in order to make this transition possible. Tonight, I stand at my window, and I pray to the Great Spirit for safe passage as my brother and I ride in and out of the Paiute camp. I also pray I am doing the right thing by this three-year-old child.
Even though Pa has given permission for me to go, and for my brother to go with me, he fears for both of our lives, and when I heard him go into his bedroom, and after assuming my brothers had both gone to bed, I crept down the hallway to my father’s room. I was eager to reassure Pa just one more time that we would be careful and no harm would come to either Adam or me. But as I stood outside his door, my hand fisted and ready to knock, I refrained. Two voices were in mid-conversation—Pa and my brother, Adam. I should have turned away; instead, I stood in the hallway and listened outside Pa’s door.
The words my father said brought to light a sense of what he had suffered since my disappearance. Feelings of loss and despair were noticeable in Pa’s tone of voice as he spoke of his new concerns to Adam.
“I can’t lose my boy again,” Pa said; his voice unnatural, revealing distress. “You must protect him, Adam. He’s just a boy, and I feel I’ve done us all a great disservice by allowing him, and you, to ride back into that camp. We know what’s been happening with the Pony Express. We’ve read articles about attacks on the outposts and various stations, and I fear you both may be injured or worse before you even arrive at your destination.”
“Pa, you know I’ll do everything possible to keep Joe safe.” Adam paused, and I tried to picture his face, determined as ever, trying to make Pa understand and somehow lessen his fear. “Winnemucca respects the Cartwright name; he always has. And even after all that’s happened recently, I still think he’ll sit down and talk to Joe and me. And when he realizes Joe and I are brothers, a fact he may already know, I have to believe he will be civil and understanding and in no way harm either of us.”
“God, I pray you’re right, Son. Joseph doesn’t understand how delicate the situation is right now. He has one thing on his mind he may not be thinking straight. You have to be strong with him and hold him back if need be. This is no time for foolish behavior.”
“Pa . . . Joe’s not a little boy anymore.”
“Oh, Adam. He most certainly is a boy and you know as well as I, Joseph thinks with his heart and you’ll have to admit, he doesn’t always use his head. That’s where you come in.”
“Are you suggesting I have no heart?
“I’m suggesting nothing of the kind.” My father’s voice had grown suddenly loud. “I know Joseph. If things don’t go his way, he often tends to react without thinking. That’s all I’m saying. And this whole thing with the child. It’s not going to work, and I don’t know why I agreed to such a request to begin with.”
“You agreed because Joe asked you to let him go and, if you’d said no, he may have left for good, and that’s when he knew he had you. I’m sure he wore you down. I can just imagine the tactics he used, but I will say this for the kid. In his heart, he’s doing what he feels is right.”
“Am I that easy to read?”
“Listen, Pa. Three years is a long time. You only remember the boy. Little Joe’s not Little Joe anymore and for the most part, he’s a grown man. You’ve got to accept the fact that while he’s been away, he’s matured, not only in body but his mind, too. He thinks of himself as a Paiute warrior. He needs time to adjust to being thrown back into the white man’s world. Part of bringing the child here to live is what he must do in order to maintain his connection with the Paiutes.”
“Is that what you think?”
“That’s what I know, Pa, and you know it, too.”
“Oh, I know you’re right, and I know what you say is true. I can scarcely remember the boy who was lost to us so long ago. I can’t help but wish that fifteen-year-old boy, with energy to spare and enough charm to light up a room, was back in my life. I was robbed of three years of my son’s life, Adam, three long years. I know it doesn’t make sense, but I miss that young boy who it was my job to raise, not the Paiutes.”
“Give him time, Pa. Joe loves you. He loves this family and this land we call our home. He needs time to ease himself back into our way of life.”
“I’m trying, Son.”
“I promise I’ll keep him safe. I give you my word.”
There was another pause, and I wondered if my father was collecting himself. If I could only see his face I would know.
“Now,” Pa said. “Joseph knows nothing about the marker we put up next to his mother’s grave. Hoss and I will ride up and remove it while you two are gone. I don’t want Joe to know anything about it, understood?”
It seemed as though the conversation was ending, and I tiptoed back to my room and quietly eased my door closed. Tears burned my eyes, and I wasn’t sure why. Again, I stood by my window, staring in the direction of my mother’s grave and apparently, my own grave, too. There had come a time when my family had given up hope and, without any remains to be had, they’d put up a maker anyway and had finally declared me dead.
I’d never really taken time to think what took place around here while I was gone. The house looked the same and the barn, even Pa, except for his whiter hair, and Hoss and Adam looked and seemed pretty much the same. I had changed, not them. They no longer knew me. Not the real Joe, not the man named Tish, the Paiute brave, the hunter, the warrior.
I could never go back to live with the People and feel welcome now that it was clear who I was and where I actually belonged in this world. I’d been a welcome addition when I was thought of as a half-breed, but now I was nothing more than a white man—the enemy of the People.
I’d learned how to shoot a bow, and I’d perfected my skills with a rifle. I’d been praised a hundred times over for my competence with whichever instrument I chose. I was accepted as one of the People and now, what would happen when I entered their camp? Would they deny me rights to Unego? Would I have any say in the decision making? I sucked in a deep breath. My entire body trembled and tears fell from my eyes. Who was I? My God . . . who the hell was I?
I rose early. Adam and I had packed most of our supplies the night before, and we only had to collect a few things from Hop Sing before we rode toward Pyramid Lake. Pa insisted we eat breakfast before we left, but the conversation was practically nonexistent even though we all sat together around the dining room table together. Hop Sing had outdone himself, bringing out platter after platter of food. I still didn’t have the appetite Pa insisted I should, but this morning my father’s silence made my stomach revolt to the meager amount of food I’d set on my plate.
I was used to living on next to nothing. Our food source was mainly pine nuts and berries and a single meal a day, which consisted of venison or elk and at times, rabbit or squirrel. Much of the food we hunted and gathered was dried for winter months, so eating one’s fill was never much of an option. Three meals a day was unheard of, and Pa’s forcing me to eat had become a major contention between the two of us. It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate all of Hop Sings’ hard work in the kitchen, I just wasn’t used to sitting down to eat all the time.
I’d been home a few weeks now, and I knew Pa was anxious for everything to get back to normal, only neither of us really knew what normal should be. I spent more time away from my family than Pa preferred. I would excuse myself after dinner and although I couldn’t ride till this week, I would take long walks. I felt confined and unsettled inside the house and even though I expected they all knew my reasons for escaping their company, we didn’t discuss the matter. I appreciated that little bit of peace in my life.
There were many other things my father and I disagreed on. My hair, for one, was a constant source of contention between the two of us. My father was embarrassed by what my hair represented, but I was not ready to have it shorn up and over my ears. It symbolized who I was, and I could not even begin to make Pa understand. I rarely wore a shirt, but I was ordered to dress properly before I was allowed to sit down at the dinner table. I spent a lot of time alone and Pa, who always wanted to talk, found the situation insufferable when I didn’t have much to say.
I was anxious to get moving, to get back to the People, who, only weeks ago were my family. But, when I realized Adam had cleaned his plate while mine was still full, I managed a couple of bites if only for my father’s sake. Pa cleared his throat and the three of us looked up in anticipation, waiting to hear what he had to say. Pa took a deep breath and wiped the corners of his mouth with his napkin before laying it on top of his empty plate.
“Adam is in charge of this little expedition of yours.”
I could feel the blood rush to my head, but I held my tongue. This wasn’t a little expedition, it was a necessity.
“You will listen to his suggestions and you will do as he sees fit. You will not take any unnecessary chances. Do you understand?”
I wanted to run from the room. I didn’t want to be talked down to like a mere child who didn’t know his head from his tail. “Yessir,” I mumbled, unwilling to start an argument just before Adam and I left the house.
“Don’t let Joseph out of your sight. I don’t want you more than an arm’s length from your brother at all times.”
“Pa . . . I think Joe—”
“Son? Promise me.”
My father was giving orders in a stern fashion although I realized, once I looked into his eyes, it was his roundabout way of saying, be careful and come home safe. I smiled at Pa. I understood his curt behavior. I understood his fear. “Don’t worry about Adam and me. We’ll be fine.”
“You better be,” he said. A hint of a smile broke through the rough exterior, and I knew Pa was trying to hold back the anxiety he felt. For my sake, he was allowing me to return only because I’d pushed him, found his weak spot, and whether he thought so or not, I knew I was doing the right thing.
I picked up a piece of bacon and shoved it into my mouth then properly used my napkin and stood up from the table. “Ready?” I said to Adam.
“Let’s go,” he replied.
Pa and Hoss walked outside with us. I’d picked out a fine, five-year-old sorrel earlier in the week, and I would give her as a gift to Winnemucca in trade for giving me back Cochise. Pa let me choose one of his finest rifles to trade for Unego. Supplying the Paiutes with rifles was against the law and punishable by time served in prison but this, I assured Pa, was different. This was a gift, and Adam and I wouldn’t be looked upon as gunrunners with only a single extra rifle.
I was ready to mount the sorrel when Pa pulled me close and cupped the back of my head tightly to his chest. I felt a slight tremble within my father’s large, sturdy frame, and I knew his fear of losing me again had gotten the best of him. “Watch yourself, Joseph,” he whispered.
When I took a step back and looked into my father’s eyes, I knew he was doing the best he knew how to maintain control over a situation he was not at all pleased with. “We’ll be back, Pa. Promise me you won’t worry the whole time we’re gone.”
“I’m sorry, Son. That’s a promise I can’t make.”
I nodded my head, and I glanced up at Adam. He was mounted and ready to go. “See ya in a few days,” I said. I mounted the sorrel and turned halfway around in the saddle to wave goodbye to Pa and Hoss. Adam and I rode out of the yard together.
Rain began to fall. The early morning sun had vanished behind heavy gray clouds and yet only a slight drizzle had caused Adam to sigh heavily and pull his slicker from his bedroll. And when we found ourselves riding through one downpour after another, slicker or not, we were both soaked to the skin. The wind blew hard from the west and sheets of rain blasted sideways, enough to scare the horses and make for a miserable ride through the mountains. Nothing besides staying indoors and out of this on again off again rain would have kept us dry. Adam seemed to be more annoyed with the turbulent conditions than I. Over time, I had learned to withstand all types of weather. Things had to get done no matter what the Great Spirit had in store. Living under not-so-ideal conditions was part of each and every day. I smiled at my brother but only a scowl showed on his face. He was not happy.
Travel was slow, and when Adam suggested we find shelter from the storm, I agreed, knowing his temperament was growing worse by the minute. Within another half hour we’d discovered a miner’s shack just north of the Ponderosa line, and while I settled the horses under the lean-to, I suggested Adam go on inside and start a fire and a pot of coffee.
I hung our clothes up to dry. The two of us looked a sight in our long johns and boots, but our wet clothes were much too uncomfortable to wear. By mid-afternoon, we were settled, and there would be no reason to leave the cabin for the rest of the day. So, we sat back and watched the raging storm from inside the little shack where we now could stay warm and dry. We were fairly content to sip hot coffee and eat nearly all of Hop Sing’s biscuits as we waited out the storm.
“What?” I could see my brother’s mood hadn’t changed even though we sat next to a warm fire and were out of the rain.
“How long was it till Pa gave up on me? How long till he decided I was never coming back?”
“Well, there had to be a time when . . . you know, when you decided I was dead.”
“I don’t know that Pa ever really gave up, Joe.”
“Then why the marker? Why the grave?”
“Come on, Adam. You know exactly what I’m talking about.” My brother sighed and stared off across the room. I knew he’d promised Pa, but I needed to know.
“Two years ago?”
“No . . . two years after you disappeared.”
“What made Pa stop looking for me?”
“Do we really have to talk about this?”
I glared at my brother.
“All right. Hoss and me convinced Pa to stop searching, but Pa insisted on the marker when all was said and done. He’d worn himself out over that two-year period, Joe, and Hoss and I thought we might lose him, too. He’d lost weight, and there wasn’t a morning he didn’t come down those stairs when he didn’t have dark circles under his eyes. We had to put an end to it. Does that make sense; do you understand what I’m saying?”
I did understand, at least I tried to understand. It had hit me hard last night, knowing my family had given me up for dead. “I understand just fine,” I said.
“Yeah. It makes sense. I mean after two years . . .”
“It wasn’t just Hoss and me, Joe. Doc Martin saw signs too and so did Roy Coffee, and that was after only one year had passed. It took Hoss and me another year to finally put a stop to . . . well, you know how Pa can be.”
I smiled at Adam. “Yes, I know how Pa can be.”
“I wish you could have seen his face when he first laid eyes on you after three long years. I honestly didn’t know if his heart could withstand the sight of you, and then to see you lying there, unmoving. It was all he could do not to totally break down and—”
Adam cleared his throat before he continued. “We had to get you home. The bullet had to come out. I could barely get through to Pa—make him understand if we didn’t hurry, we might lose you. again I don’t know, Joe. Maybe Pa was in shock. In fact, I’m sure he was. He held you to his chest, and as he rocked back and forth on his knees, he sobbed with such force; his voice—his cries—took on the severity of a wounded animal. I had to pry his hands away and shake him hard to get his attention. We had to start home before the unthinkable happened.”
I closed my eyes and rested my head in my hands. I pictured what Adam had said. Suddenly, I felt like everything I’d done—everything I’d said over the past few weeks had been a slap in my father’s face. I hadn’t tried to get along. I’d done nothing but bring him pain when all he wanted in life was his lost son and, as time played out, I wasn’t even close to the son he’d hoped for. Time and again I thought of myself as a man, not a boy, but I was no more a man than the fool kid my father had lost all those years ago.
I had failed my father in many ways. I tried to remain Paiute, but why? I am the son of my father, a man who cares more about me than his own life, and I have bucked him at every crossroad our relationship has taken since my return.
I turned toward Adam. “Do you think it’s wrong for me to raise Unego on the Ponderosa?”
“Why all the questions, Joe?”
“I don’t know. I thought life would become easier the longer I was home, but I’ve only made things worse for Pa. I’ve treated him badly, Adam. I’m not a good son. I’m nothing but a disappointment. He wants the boy he lost. He wants that boy back and I—”
“Wait a minute. You heard last night’s conversation, didn’t you?”
I nodded, embarrassed by the fact I’d listened in, but I couldn’t deny what I’d overheard between Pa and my brother.
“Well, now you know how Pa feels and, may I remind you, he said nothing about you being a disappointment. Pa feels cheated and rightly so, but he’ll come around. These things take time. He loves you more than you know, Joe.”
“What should I do, Adam? How can I make Pa understand who I am? He doesn’t see the real me. He wants the boy. I’ve lived a different life. I can’t take away the years and to go back to being Pa’s Little Joe.”
“Unego may be the answer.”
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“With a young child living with us in the house, you won’t be the youngest anymore. You won’t be the baby of the family and maybe Pa will concentrate his efforts on the child rather than wishing you were still his baby boy.”
I grinned at Adam. “I always knew you were the smart one. “Maybe you’re right.”
“I’m always right. Now, how about some supper? We’re not going anywhere in this rain.”
“Sure. I’m kinda hungry.”
I didn’t sleep much during the night. I tossed and turned, and I thought about what my brother had said about Unego taking my place as the youngest. Unlike Pa and his reservations over having Unego live with us on the Ponderosa, Adam didn’t seem to mind her joining the family. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, and if Pa still thought of me as a child, he obviously didn’t think I was responsible enough to watch over her. Maybe in his mind, he thought he would be the one having to raise her and take on all the problems that came with bringing up a half-breed child, not to mention a girl child.
Adam already had the fire blazing when I rolled out of bed. The cabin was dark and damp and until I could dress, I kept the thin blanket wrapped around my shoulders. Heavily layered clouds blocked the sun and rain still fell. I knew Adam was already dreading the uncomfortable wet ride.
“What are you reading?” I asked. Adam sat by the fire sipping coffee and, as usual; he had his nose in a book.
“I doubt you’d be interested.”
“Okay . . . it’s a book of poems by Bryant. This one happens to be called The West Wind.”
“Well, don’t just sit there, read me some.”
“Beneath the forest’s shirts I rest,
Whose branching pines rise dark and high,
And hear the breezes of the West
Among the threaded foliage sigh.”
“Okay, that’s enough. Just be glad we found this cabin, Adam, or you’d be soaked to the skin, sleeping under them branchin’ pines.”
“Just puttin’ in my two-cents.”
“Maybe you should save your money and go tend the horses.”
“I can do that,” I said with lightness in my voice, a lightness my brother had yet to discover this morning.
Even though our clothes were still damp, they were drier than the night before. The horses were saddled and after we finished off a pot of coffee, we were riding toward the Paiute camp. I told Adam not to feel threatened if he saw Paiutes scattered through the high rocks or low-growing shrub as we rode in. It was only precautionary measures on their part.
“We can easily talk our way into seeing Winnemucca.”
Easy for you to say. You still look Paiute,” he said. “I don’t.”
“You’re right, so you better do as I say, big brother.”
Adam laughed quietly. “The day I take orders from you, little brother, is the day I—”
Before Adam could finish his charitable comment, Paiute braves surrounded us. I was impressed by their ease and soundless approach, but I knew my brother was not. His jaw muscles tightened although he remained amazingly calm. His eyes were fixed on the leader and, as steady in the saddle as a white man could be under the circumstances, he allowed me to do the talking. We pulled up our mounts, and we waited for the meeting to begin. And when Yellow Bear spoke, he directed his words to me. He was my Paiute brother, and I was not afraid. He spoke in the language I understood, but our brief conversation left Adam at a loss and relying strictly on me. I would translate as best as I could when I found out what I needed to know.
“We’ve come to speak to Winnemucca. I bring gift from my father,” I said in the Paiute tongue.
Yellow Bear answered, informing me Winnemucca was not seeing anyone. The chief was still mourning the loss of one-hundred sons by the bluecoat soldiers and no one knew of his exact whereabouts. Quickly, I glanced at Adam before wiping the rain from my eyes. Again, I stressed the importance to Yellow Bear and again, I was told it was not possible. To lose one’s temper was to lose one’s friend. I said no more.
“What’s he saying, Joe?” Adam had sensed the pleading sound in my voice, and even before I explained to him the situation with the chief, I think Adam already knew we’d come to a dead end.
“Who is this man?” Yellow Bear asked, pointing to Adam.
“He’s my brother, my white brother,” I said. “He will harm no one.”
Yellow Bear nodded his head. He trusted my words to be true.
“My horse,” I said, not wanting Yellow Bear to think this conversation was over and ride off before we got to one of the reasons I had come back. “I came to trade for my horse.” Again I wiped the rain from my face.
He laughed heartily and then joked with me about Cochise. “A fine pony indeed, but pony has strange name for Paiute horse. I have heard you talk to horse when you think no one else listens. Does horse answer back?”
“Always,” I said straight-faced. “Cochise is a proud name.” Even though Adam was left out of our friendly banter, he seemed to understand there was no threat, no cause for worry. “I bring sorrel for trade.”
“Paiute braves save you from renegade Apache. Apache have tomahawk to back of boy’s head. You die had Paiute not come in time to save life. And so you name horse after great Apache leader. Yellow Bear not understand.”
“You did not know?”
I shook my head. No one had ever told me when or how I’d been rescued and taken to the camp. This was not the time to discuss that part of my life. Adam and I had other things to concern ourselves with other than past history.
“Follow. I lead to camp. I find horse for Tish.”
I nodded my head at Adam. “Let’s go. We’ll follow Yellow Bear into camp.”
But as we rode in single file, following Yellow Bear, I thought back to his words about the Apache. Had Mina known all along? She’d been the one who’d suggested I might be a throwaway boy, and now to hear the real story was somewhat unsettling. Had she only guessed at why I’d been brought to her for care? The answer would never come. I had to put it out of my thoughts for now.
The camp was empty. There were no outside cook fires; no women or children. “Where is everyone?” I asked. I was confused when the summer camp had been deserted.
“Gone,” Yellow Bear said. “Not safe here. Too many bluecoat nearby.”
Only a small portion of teepees remained. When Yellow Bear stopped and dismounted, Adam and I did the same.
“I came for the child, too. The half-breed. I brought fine rifle to trade with great chief.”
“She with women and other children.”
Yellow Bear shook his head. I knew he’d been sworn to secrecy and would not casually hand out any information as to where the women and children were hidden. And even though Yellow Bear and I were Paiute brothers, and we could joke and feel at ease in each other’s company, I was no longer accepted within the tribe. I was no longer a trusted Paiute brave. I was a white man now with white brothers, and I could no longer be confided in. Reluctantly, I would accept Yellow Bear’s wishes and not pursue Unego’s whereabouts, at least not at this time. When things settled down, when Winnemucca was finished mourning, I would try once again.
Fear and hate were revealed in Yellow Bear’s eyes and though in his heart he knew I could be trusted, it was forbidden to take a chance and bring possible harm to the People. Fear had sent the women and children into hiding, and hate had caused the Paiute men to retaliate against the whites. Pony Express stations were being burned to the ground. This was Paiute land and the white man had overstepped and had gone beyond the boundaries set by the white man’s own treaties. I understood, only too well, the People’s plight. I understood, but I could do nothing to help in their struggle to remain alive.
There were only three teepees left in the semi-circle, which used to house maybe twelve to fifteen homes. The women, now widows, and their children had left their lodgings behind. I feared without many men in their camp, there would be no hunting, no fishing and, in very little time, starvation would cause more deaths than even the bluecoats. I would talk with my father about providing meat. I would hunt deer myself and somehow, maybe with the help of Yellow Bear, I would make sure the widows and orphans had enough food to see them through the coming winter months.
“I go get pony now. Bring here. You and white brother stay in camp. I return with talking horse.”
I nodded my thanks. “My brother and I will stay.”
Adam stood alongside me as Yellow Bear and three others rode away. I knew he had questions, and I would provide the answers as soon as we got out of the rain. “Come on,” I said, leading him into the nearest teepee. “I’ll explain what’s going on.”
We ducked our heads through the doorway. I could tell right away this particular lodge had belonged to a young man with no wife or child. Everything he owned hung on walls or was placed in neatly stacked piles around the perimeter. He would never have left such things behind if he had not been killed in battle. Adam stood just inside the door. I knew exactly how he was feeling. There was a time I, too, felt like an outsider.
There was enough wood stacked inside to build a small fire, so I gathered up and armful and set it inside the small rock ring in the center of the room. “Come and sit down, Adam. I’m not sure how long Yellow Bear will be. He’s gone to get my horse.”
“He’ll be back today though, won’t he?”
“I shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t know.”
Adam was silent, but I could feel his eyes bearing down on me until I finally asked, “Something on your mind?”
“Yes,” he said. “Tish? Was that the name the Paiute gave you?”
“Sure was,” I said. “Means boy with curly hair.”
“So . . . what about the girl?”
I shook my head. As much as I wanted to explain the circumstances, my voice fell silent. I gave all my attention to building the fire. I may never see Unego again, and I couldn’t bear to share that with Adam. I never imagined I would live the rest of my life without her. To never again hear her giggle when I teased her or dry her tears when she cried for her mama. What she much think of me now. I disappeared from her life without even a goodbye.
“You miss this life, don’t you, Joe.”
“Sometimes,” I said, sitting back on the heels of my boots, waiting for the fire to catch. “This was my life for a long time, Adam. It was a good life although I don’t think there’s another white man out there who would agree.”
“I guess if you had no other choice, you make the best of any situation.”
“You’re wrong, Adam. I could have left any time I wanted. I wasn’t a captive, you know.”
“But where would I have gone and why would I want to leave? I was happy here. This was my home. My friends were here; people I cared about. Would you have left your home and the people who had taken you in as family?”
“You’re right,” Adam said. “I guess none of us really thinks of it that way. If you never knew any different; if you didn’t know where else to go then I guess I understand.”
“Yellow Bear told me something I never knew before.”
“What’s that, Joe?”
“The Paiutes saved me from the Apaches; the ones who attacked the stage. Yellow Bear said one of them had a tomahawk to the back of my head.”
“And you never knew?”
“No . . . not till just now. Yellow Bear was actually making a joke. I named my horse Cochise.”
“The last thing I remember from my old life was the word Apache. So when you see this horse, you’ll know why I gave him such a noble name. He’s a very noble horse.”
“I’m sure he is.”
“But now that I know it was the Apaches who wanted me dead, it takes some of the spark out of the name.”
“Life goes on, Joe. You have to let go of the past, just like Pa. He needs to get to know the new Joe and not dwell on the past and that fifteen-year-old boy he lost during the attack. We will always be grateful to the Paiutes for taking you in and for nursing you back to health. And, for some unforeseen reason, the white man’s God or the Paiute’s Great Spirit made it possible for you to end up at the right place at the right time.”
I listened to what Adam said and he was mostly right. “It’s more than gratitude, Adam, and that’s not why I stayed. Part of my heart will always belong here. And Unego. She’s a part of me, too. I love her just as if she was my own flesh and blood.”
I raised my hand when Adam started to speak. “Don’t say anymore. You may never understand and that’s fine. I don’t really expect you to.”
“Then tell me about her. Help me understand what she means to you.”
I didn’t think I could talk about Unego, but the words came pouring out like a fast running stream. I told my brother how things had been and why I felt as I did. “Okay, I said. I would start with Mina died. That’s the day my life changed—really changed—and Unego became my sole responsibility.
“Unego had no one after her ma died so it was up to me to do the best I could. I moved her into my teepee, and she and I became our own little family. I didn’t care for her alone, though. The other women in camp helped out when I had to be away, but when I’d ride back into camp and this tiny child came running toward me with her arms spread wide and an ear-to-ear grin spread across her face, I knew I was doing right by her. I couldn’t take the pace of her ma, but I was a darn good substitute. Maybe Mina knew all along her time had come and that’s why she made sure Unego and I had a complete understanding of each other.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because when I was healed up enough to stand with a crutch, I was taken outside the teepee to recuperate; to soak up the sun and the wind and let nature finish the healing process. That’s when I began caring for Unego while Mina was busy with other things.” I remembered those first days and how I resented being a nursemaid for the kid. “It was during that time that Unego and I got to know each other. She was just a baby then, and she did nothing more than sit on my lap and fuss and wiggle. She cried when it was time to eat and when she wet herself it ran all over my bare legs. But in time, we became pals and when Mina died, I was the one person she could trust to always be there. Kind of like when I was little. I always had you to take care of me if Pa wasn’t around. I always had you to look up to.”
“It was a promise I made your ma, Joe.”
“And it was a promise I made to Mina.”
Adam nodded his head. He was beginning to understand.
“When Unego had nightmares, I was there. When she cried for her mama, I was there. She became a source of energy for me, Adam. She was the reason I woke up in the morning and rode out to hunt for food. I would never have let her go hungry. I never wanted to hear her cry. Do you understand what I saying?”
“Unego and I would take long rides in the evenings, she’d chatter on about her day and tell me how she missed me when I was away. We built castles in the sand and—” I looked back to the small fire as it struggled to catch hold. Without warning, tears burned my eyes. “She’s lost to me forever, Adam. I won’t ever see her again.”
My brother didn’t respond but as his hand slid across my shoulder, I knew he understood. What could he say? Unego would stay with the People. She would live a different life than I had planned for her, and I could only pray the Great Spirit would watch over her and keep her safe. But I would miss her, and I would carry the memory of the blue-eyed child, my Unego, forever in my heart.
Adam and I sat together inside the teepee not really talking but comfortable in each other’s company. I started to untie our bedrolls, wanting to lay them out to dry in case we were to stay overnight.
“I’m not convinced we’re safe here, Joe.”
“What do you mean? We’re safe.”
“I just don’t think it’s wise for us to stay overnight in a deserted Paiute camp.”
“Who do you fear, Adam? The Paiute or the white man?”
My brother stared into the fire. “I’m not sure. Maybe both.”
Each of us looked toward the bearskin door when we heard men riding into camp. When I started to stand up, Adam grabbed hold of my arm. “We don’t know who’s out there. Wait and listen.”
The rain had stopped and the sun was just breaking through the clouds and, in the middle of what was once an active camp, I peeked out the flap covering the door. There stood Yellow Bear and my pony, Cochise. I smiled and nodded to Adam then pulled him outside with me.
“Ain’t he a beauty, Adam?”
“No doubt we’ll spot you a mile away on this one, Little Brother.”
“Yeah . . . pretty flashy, huh?”
“He’s strong and smart, too. He’s not just all looks, you know.”
I walked toward Yellow Bear and took Cochise’s rope in my hand. “Hi, big fella.” Right off, Cochise recognized me and pushed against my chest with his velvety nose. I rubbed my fingers behind both ears. I nearly cried at just the sight of my magnificent pony.
“I brought the sorrel for trade,” I reminded Yellow Bear.
“No need. No need for mare. You keep.”
“Okay. My brother and I will be riding out then; back to my home, the Ponderosa.”
“Watch for bluecoats, my brother. Soldier want see all Paiute dead.”
“You come visit sometime. I would like you to meet my father.”
“Maybe Tish and Yellow Bear meet again someday.”
“You watch your own back. You stay safe, Yellow Bear.”
“Goodbye, my friend.”
I swallowed the heavy lump in my throat as Adam and I stood side-by-side watching Yellow Bear and his friends, once my friends, ride off, leaving us alone in the Paiute camp. I admit, but only to myself, a part of me wanted to ride off with my friends and leave the white world behind. If not for Pa and my brothers, I would have gladly mounted Cochise and followed Yellow Bear to the new camp. But I was no longer a warrior. I was no longer a protector of women and children or a hunter of game. I was no longer a young Paiute brave.
When I hadn’t moved a muscle; when I continued to stare at my friend, I felt Adam’s tug on my arm. I closed my eyes and took in a final breath of pine-scented air. It was time to leave this life; time to be part of another.
I nodded my head and forced a smile for my brother. “Yeah . . . I will be.”
“I think we should be on our way, don’t you? Maybe we can make that cabin before dark.”
With a tight-lipped smile, I nodded at Adam. “Yellow Bear didn’t have need for the sorrel,” I said. “Guess we’ll take her back home.”
Cochise had never worn a saddle, never felt the heavy weight on his back or the pull of a chinch across his belly. I lifted the saddle onto Cochise. He was not pleased. I kept my voice calm, and I talked him through the entire ordeal while Adam kept hold of the rope and kept him from bucking this new burden off.
“He’s not too happy with me right now,” I said, still keeping my voice low and calm.
“Maybe you should ride the sorrel home, Joe.”
“No . . . he’ll be fine.” And he was. And when Adam and I were about a mile out of camp and I saw an open field, I handed my brother the sorrel’s reins.
I nudged Cochise gently behind his ribs as I whooped and hollered and, like a bolt of lightning, he and I sailed across the grassland together as one. I didn’t look back; my faithful pony flew like the wind across the open prairie. We were together again, and I couldn’t be more proud of my “flashy” horse. A stand of trees rimmed the open field, and I veered Cochise to the left. He’d run his heart out and it was time to cool him down. I kept him at a slow, gentle walk as we turned back toward Adam. What I saw across the open field could only mean trouble. My heart began to thunder rapidly against my chest. Cavalry soldiers surrounded my brother. With rifles drawn, they’d aimed directly at him. I could sense his fear and then my own. I nudged Cochise and rode toward the group of men.
“What’s this all about, Adam?”
“I’ve tried to explain to this . . . this Captain Remington who we are, but he doesn’t seem to want to listen.”
“You just rode out of a Paiute camp, Mr. Cartwright and I’d like to know why.”
“As I’ve already told you, my brother was trading the Paiutes for a horse. That’s all there was to it.”
“You’re saying this boy is your brother?” The captain was pointing at me.
“Yes, he is. His name is Joe Cartwright. Our father is Ben Cartwright and my father is good friends with your Colonel Hays. I suggest you let us leave before there’s any uncalled-for trouble.”
“I’d say the boy looks more like a renegade heathen than any white man I know.” Remington turned in his saddle to the men sitting behind him. “What do you boys think?”
“I guarantee he’s no heathen,” Adam stated firmly. “Now, if you’ll call off your men, Captain, my brother and I will head on home.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Cartwright. My orders are to bring in all the Paiutes we find. The boy will be taken to the fort on the south side of Pyramid Lake for questioning.”
“There’s no fort out there,” Adam said.
“There is now.” The captain turned again in his saddle. “Combs?” Hastings?” I want you to escort Mr. Cartwright out of the area. The rest of you will fall in and follow me back to the fort. Edwards? Secure the prisoner.”
I glanced quickly at Adam. I thought about outrunning the soldiers but Cochise had run his limit. I didn’t dare chance injuring him with a second long ride.
“You’re making a mistake,” Adam shouted as his two escorts took hold of Sport’s and the sorrel’s reins and led him forward.
“It’s okay, Adam. Tell Pa . . . tell him I’ll be okay.”
My head swam with pain. The ropes binding my wrists behind my back had no give whatsoever. I’d been strapped to a wooden chair in the center of a small, windowless room in the newly constructed fort. Captain Remington stood with his knees locked, staring down at me. Alongside the captain was his man, a private named Garth.
Garth was a big man, maybe a Swede. His blonde hair hung over his forehead and his blue eyes narrowed and glistened with malice when the captain nodded his head, giving him permission to proceed. He had plowed his fist into my face and chest so many times I’d lost count. He’d ripped the band from my forehead and removed my boots, leaving my hair to fall on my face and my feet bare and cold in this dingy little dirt-floored room.
I tasted blood, and I sensed more than felt it streaming from my nose and mouth. My ribs and my stomach burned with pain from the powerful blows, each one coming immediately after questions I’d refused to answer.
“You don’t want Garth here to use the whip now, do you, you mangy savage? He’s quite proficient. You know that word, proficient? Of course, you don’t. Let me explain. He’s very good at what he does. He’s a master at inflicting pain so I suggest you start talking.”
I sat with my chin hanging close to my chest as the Captain droned on with words I would barely make out.
“If you should refuse to tell us where the Paiutes are hiding, you’re signing your own death warrant. Garth has very unique ways to make a man spill his guts and cry like a baby for mercy. And before your life is over, you will beg him to end it, but he won’t. He takes orders from me, you no-account filth, and I will not urge him to kill you. I will only encourage him to make your final days on this earth more miserable than you could ever imagine.”
“I don’t know . . . anything,” I said breathlessly. “I don’t know what . . . you want from me.”
“The truth, Boy. Where are the Paiutes? Where have they gone?”
“I’ve told you . . . a hundred times before. I don’t know.”
Remington took a step forward and grabbed a handful of hair, yanking my face up to meet his. “Have you ever had a tooth extracted? I’m sorry . . . let me rephrase. Pulled from your mouth? It’s extremely unpleasant, and with no painkillers available for savages, you really don’t want me to instruct Garth to extract your teeth one-by-one, do ya, Boy?”
“I don’t know any . . . thing.”
My head dropped back down when the captain released my hair. I stared down at muddy black boots. He stood right in front of me. A sudden blow sent my head spinning and the wooden chair with me bound tightly to its form went crashing to the floor. There was uncontrolled laughter until the captain lifted his foot and kicked me square in the ribs. Remington and his man, Garth, walked out of the room together, laughing hysterically at my expense.
TERRITORIAL ENTERPRISE – AUGUST 16, 1860
EDITORIAL: A New Brand of Terror Sweeps the Territory
Over the past three years, the Enterprise has kept an ongoing calendar of events, so to speak, of the quandary facing one of our most prominent citizens, Ben Cartwright. As you may recall, we reported the Overland Stage accident, which involved Mr. Cartwright and his sons over three years ago. His youngest son, Joseph, was never located, dead or alive, after the accident. But, after a chance meeting during the Paiute uprising this past summer, the young man, who had been forced to live with those evil savages, by the grace of God was reunited with his family during the second battle at Pyramid Lake. Young Joseph was able to return to a proper home after three long years of living in squalor.
Now, in a surprising turn of events, Joseph Cartwright has been taken prisoner by our own U.S. Army and is being held as a traitor of the Territory of Nevada and of these United States of America. According to Ben Cartwright, his son was believed to be a member of the Paiute nation and is, therefore, being held against his will at the newly built army post south of Pyramid Lake.
“My son is not a Paiute,” Cartwright told the press earlier today. “Hasn’t my boy been through enough without having to endure this ridiculous arrest and suffer humiliation by our own United States Army?”
Today, Ben Cartwright and his two elder sons, along with the newly elected sheriff, Roy Coffee, are making their way to the fort to speak with Colonel Hays. With this current endeavor already underway, Cartwright will plead for the immediate release of his eighteen-year-old son, Little Joe.
During this recent struggle with the Paiute, the Bannock, and the Shoshone, we’ve come to fear their outlandish and sudden attacks. But do we now have to add the U.S. Army to the ever-growing list of what we, the citizens of this territory, have come to fear?
I must have passed out. I’d hit the ground hard and when I woke, Garth was setting me, along with the chair, upright. He walked behind me and untied the rope that bound my wrists. My arms were numb, and as I rubbed both wrists while flexing my fingers, I tried to ignore the pins and needles and lack of general strength I felt since Garth had begun his tirade against me. I was spent. Escape at this point was next to impossible.
Garth grabbed a hold of my hair and forced me to stare at the ceiling. “You don’t know half of what I have in store for you, squaw-boy.” I tried to swallow my fear of the unknown although the strain on my neck made it impossible to do anything but listen to this madman’s words. “Captain’s ordered me to take you outside.”
Garth grabbed my arm with his beefy hand and pulled me up from the chair. I was virtually helpless, and I stumbled alongside the big man and out into the muddy courtyard. The sky was slate gray and the drizzling rain had cooled the summer air, bringing a shuddering chill to my weakened body. With my boots removed, my feet were quickly saturated with mud left by endless days of wet weather.
When we got to the center of the courtyard, I heard the sound of a bugle and at once, the few remaining soldier of the newly–constructed army post surrounded Garth and me. Captain Remington stepped forward. He stood beside the two of us as Garth had to hold me in an upright position or I’d have easily collapsed to the ground. Could my fate really be determined by this captain alone? Didn’t I deserve a trial and more importantly, what exactly had I done to warrant this kind of punishment? My musings were interrupted when the captain spoke with a voice loud enough so every bluecoat assembled in the courtyard could hear his commands.
“This man claims to be a white man but as you can plainly see, he is a member of the Paiute nation. He thinks he can deceive the army by wearing clothing he undoubtedly stole off a white man after he’d put an arrow through the poor fella’s back. But it’s quite obvious to all of us here; this boy’s nothing but a filthy Injun. He has been questioned repeatedly, and although he seems to understand the English language perfectly, it seems the cat’s got his tongue. He claims to know nothing. He refuses to provide any information as to the whereabouts of his people. “Therefore,” he paused, but only momentarily, “this mute savage will be treated as though he’d been captured by one of his own.”
Soldiers cheered and raised their rifles above their head, encouraging the captain to get on with whatever punishment he found worthy. Remington nodded at Garth. My shirt was ripped from my back and since the captain had already confiscated my gunbelt and boots, I was left with only a trace of dignity. As of yet, neither the captain nor Garth had seen the need to remove my trousers.
I held my own even though I was sickened by Remington’s voice. Lies—nothing but lies—and I would die at the hand of this madman or rather his man, Garth, who enjoyed every minute of the pain he inflicted. The big man let go of my arm only to kick me behind the knees, sending me flying face first into the mud. In admiration of his swift action, the small crowds of soldier cheered once again.
I thought of my father, and I remembered the last thing he’d said to me the night we’d talked about Unego and how difficult her life would be living among the white man. He may have said it jokingly at the time, but deep down Pa was serious about me getting my hair cut so I’d fit in with proper society, so I’d become a white man once again. For my father, it would have turned back the clock, and I would have looked more like the boy he remembered from three years ago. But I had chosen a different route. I wasn’t ready to give up the only part of me that connected me to the People. I still looked Paiute, and between the length of my hair and my sunbaked skin, Pa knew in his heart it would bring trouble for me on down the road. It’s obvious to me now I had been a fool not to heed his advice.
Rain slid down my back and my trousers were soaked and covered with mud. I feared trying to stand, knowing Garth stood over me and would hurt me again if I tried to move without his say so. I turned my head to the side when I heard the big man hammering spikes into the ground next to both of my feet. Two more were drilled into the ground a yard out from each side of my body. Heavy irons were placed on my ankles and wrists and fit into rings in the stakes. I lay flat on my belly with my arms and legs secured, spread-eagle, to the rain-soaked earth.
Within minutes, I was struggling for every breath I took. My face lay in a pool of water and below was a sea of mud. I was forced to lift my head from the ground in order to breathe. The rain had stopped sometime in the night, but I was shivering and slathered in mud by morning. Despite my awkward situation, I was hungry and my stomach growled for food. This, I blamed on my father by forcing me to become accustomed to eating three meals a day.
My only hope was that Adam had been set free and had made his way home without incident. If he and Pa were on their way then maybe I stood a chance of leaving this place alive. If not, I would eventually be killed for nothing more than looking the part, at least through Remington’s eyes.
I thought back to the periodicals Pa and Adam had discussed during my childhood. Editorials had been written pertaining to the plight of Negro men and women who lived in bondage. Their stories were of no consequence to me at the time. I was young and carefree and really cared nothing about things that took place hundreds or thousands of miles away. I was so far removed from the situation; I hadn’t given the injustice of it all a whole lot of consideration.
But their plight was now my plight. I was considered a savage; a class below the white man. Just like the Negro slaves and the Chinese servants, who had no rights of their own, I was worth nothing in this fast-growing society, this land ruled by white men.
It had been hours since reveille and so far no one, not Garth or the captain or anyone else, had ventured out into the courtyard. The day was growing warm, and I was still staked to the sodden and uneven ground. By the time the captain sent Garth out to unchain me, the sun was high in the afternoon sky. And after he hauled me to my feet, he grabbed hold of my chin and forced me to look into his eyes.
“You’re all mine, squaw-boy. You had enough yet? You ready to talk?”
I didn’t answer the man. I couldn’t spit out a word even if I’d wanted to. My throat was raw and every ounce of my energy went to sucking in air to fill my starving lungs. Silence only made matters worse, but silent I would remain from now on.
Garth half carried me back to the windowless room. He sat me back down in the chair and retied my hands behind my back. He left the room unattended. I was powerless to honor myself and hold my head high. I’d succumbed to my grief and my head fell forward like a child’s rag doll. With no sign of Adam or my father, I was losing hope of ever leaving this place alive. Brave men held back their tears and concealed their emotions from the rest of the world. I was not a brave man.
Ben Cartwright left home before daybreak. He and his two eldest sons joined up with Roy Coffee in Virginia City and, after a few words to the press, they rode hard and fast toward Pyramid Lake. Roy was quick to inform Ben of the army post just recently built to house cavalry soldiers who would fight these newly proclaimed Indian Wars. After continuous raids on stations built for the Pony Express, a provisional fort had been sanctioned by the U.S. Army.
Colonel John C. Hays led his cavalry soldiers. The colonel and his men had camped overnight and were returning to the fort after being advised of a raid on the newly rebuilt Wilson Station. Hays had taken the bulk of his troops to fend off any more attacks, leaving only a handful of men behind. He’d left his personnel director, Captain Remington, in charge during his absence from the fort.
At a crossroads, just south of Pyramid Lake, Roy Coffee and the Cartwright men met up with the colonel and his men. After an unfriendly greeting by Ben, and with Sheriff Coffee doing his best to calm the distraught father, questions were asked but the answers Ben sought were not forthcoming.
“Where’s my son, Colonel?” Ben shouted. “Give me one good reason why you have Joseph in custody?”
“I’m not sure I understand, Ben. I thought the boy had gone home with you.”
“One of your captains—” Ben started.
“Remington,” Adam supplied.
“Remington,” Ben repeated, “is holding my son prisoner.”
Colonel Hays seemed truly confused. “Captain Remington is in charge in my absence, but I don’t understand what you’re implying, Ben. Why would he have Joseph in custody?”
“I suggest we ride to the fort and talk to this . . . this Captain Remington. And if anyone has laid a hand on my boy, I can assure you there will be hell to pay.”
“Ben—that’s enough,” Roy said, after placing his hand firmly on Ben’s arm. Let the colonel handle this. He’s a reasonable man and besides, you ain’t doin’ right by Joe, sittin’ here throwin’ out threats.”
Although Roy Coffee was new to Virginia City, he and Ben had formed a friendship right from the start. Ben was well aware the newly elected sheriff was only doing his job, trying to keep him in line before he got himself into more trouble than he knew what to do with. But Roy was not yet aware of the bond between father and son. Roy would soon learn Ben wasn’t about to hold back anything when it came to the welfare of one of his boys.
“Let’s ride,” Ben announced, shaking off the sheriff’s hand. Since only knowing the approximate location of the new fort, Ben was forced to let the colonel take the lead, but he rode alongside the man if only to keep the pace quickened and to have his son formally released.
As they rode into the courtyard, Ben let Adam explain exactly what took place after he and Joe had left the Paiute camp. Adam enlightened the colonel, his voice steady and his words precise. He told how he and his brother were treated by Captain Remington and his men. The colonel listened without interruption as he led Ben his sons and Roy coffee into his office. He immediately summoned the captain. “I assure you, Ben, we will get to the bottom of this and if apologies are necessary, I will be the first to—”
“Just find my son, Colonel.”
“I don’t believe this savage is ready to talk yet, do you, Garth?”
I heard the words plain and clear, but I could do nothing to protect myself from the captain or his man. I had remained silent and, therefore, the next punishment would be more severe. Remington had made it perfectly clear; I would suffer long and hard before I left this world. It didn’t matter whether I knew anything or not, it only mattered that I was Paiute. If either man had a brain in his head, he would see I had green eyes, he would take notice of the curly hair, he would know I was a white man. Mistaking me for a Paiute would be their ultimate downfall when my father arrived and took charge of the situation, but by then I would be dead and tossed into some far off ravine for scavengers to feast on my remains.
My father and brother had said goodbye once and again, there would only be a maker with no earthly body to lower into the grave. I prayed to the Great Spirit to ease their pain, to make their suffering short-lived and their minds content to remember me always, but not to dwell on my passing a second time.
“Untie the prisoner.”
Garth stood behind me and released the rope he’d used earlier to secure my wrists then pulled me to my feet. “We gonna flog him, Sir?”
“I think it’s best if we take him back outside,” said the captain. “I know the men are eager to see this renegade put to the test.”
Garth had just started to lead me out of the room when there was a knock on the door. A young soldier stood in the doorway, blocking Garth’s and my exit. “The colonel has returned, Sir. He’d like a word.”
“Take the prisoner on out to the courtyard, Garth, and assemble the men. I should only be a few minutes.”
Garth was not a civilized man. Before we moved any farther, he blindfolded me then proceeded to stick out his booted foot, tripping me, forcing me off my feet and onto the dirt floor. I could sense his satisfaction even before his laughter rang out. His chilling voice filled me with fear of what was to come. He delivered a kick to my ribs before ordering me back to my feet.
My trousers were encrusted with dried mud, and I was still not allowed the comfort of my boots so keeping a steady pace with Garth was next to impossible. After dragging me back into the courtyard, my wrists were shackled in irons and attached to a long chain which hung down for the top of a tall wooden flagpole I’d remembered from my trip out here yesterday.
When Pa and I talked about Unego, I’d reassured him the child would be more welcomed in a white man’s world than leaving her with the People. He tried to tell me different, but I kept at him until he finally gave in to my demands. I was wrong—dead wrong—and now I understood what my father already knew to be true. There was no place for a half-breed child in the white man’s world. While children in school would tease and taunt, civilized adults would point and stare and call her names behind her back.
What did it matter now anyhow? I no longer had choices; the soldiers made sure of that. I had succumbed to my fate, leaning the side of my face against the wooden post. I held the gift and the knowledge of the Great Spirit in my heart. My life was over, but Unego’s was just beginning. I did not pray for myself; I prayed for the child I’d left behind.
Soldiers surrounded me. There was activity in the courtyard, much more than before. Although I remained blindfolded, men’s low-pitched voices, distant but within range, were merely background noise compared to the beating of my heart. My arms had been pulled high above my head. Irons had been connected to separate irons so my toes barely touched the ground. One lash of the whip and I’d either bang against the post or whirl in a circle like a golden leaf in autumn.
Garth cracked his whip. The force, when the tip hit the ground, sent shivers throughout my entire body. It was only a practice round for him, but it sent my heart pounding twice as fast as before. Could I stay strong? Would I go mad or would I merely shed tears like a baby until my death?
From the day I entered this world, I was cursed with the sin of pride. I feared being publicly humiliated and losing control in plain view of these army soldiers. Garth would show no mercy; I knew the type of man he was. I gathered strength from the Great Spirit. I prayed to die like a man—a brave Paiute warrior—and not a whimpering child. And as sweat trickled down the small of my back, the whip sounded but this time only a wicked crack filled the air, breaking the silence and shattering my nerves. Men’s voices quieted. The show was about to begin.
“Hold up Private!”
A loud voice, forceful, but from afar sounded in the courtyard. The troops, whose murmuring voices began once again, stilled just as quickly, leaving a deadly silence to fill the courtyard. And because I was blindfolded, I could not see the face of the man who’d shouted the command. The whip lay silent. I listened to more than one set of footsteps as men approached the center of the courtyard.
This voice I recognized. This voice spoke to my heart. My eyes welled with tears, but I would not let them fall. I would not let them see me cry. Stripped of my strength, I let myself fall slack against the pole. My father had come. It was not my time to die but time to rejoice in the infinite ways of the Great Spirit and my father’s God.
“Pa,” I whispered, knowing he could not hear me but feeling comfort in saying the word aloud.
The sound of heavy footfalls came rushing toward me and at once, my father’s arms encircled me. He held me firm as the heavy irons were released from the center pole. Useless and drained of blood, my arms, still heavy with iron cuffs, fell to my sides. I’d lost the strength to stand on my own. The blindfold was quickly removed. I smiled inwardly when my father took over command.
“Get these fool thing off my son.”
A key was immediately inserted and turned the locks, releasing the heavy cuffs from my wrists. My father, whose eyes glistened as he held back tears of his own, held me to his chest. I should have jumped for joy at the sight of Pa and my brothers, but I was barely able to sport a weakened smile. And maybe I should have been embarrassed when I broke down and cried in front of the army of soldiers. But in all fairness, they were tears of joy. I wrapped my arms around my father’s waist. I sobbed like a baby.
Colonel Hays ordered my immediate release. With a fervent apology to me and to my father and brothers, we were told Captain Remington would be reprimanded for taking action without having the proper authority to do so. The colonel and my father had words, and when Ben Cartwright gets his feathers ruffled, there’s usually hell to pay. Colonel Hays got an earful but in the end, my father was a civilian, not army. Army was army, and it was the colonel’s decision alone as to how to handle the captain’s punishment. Pa was left with nothing more he could do or say. With Washington in turmoil over South Carolina and its threat to secede from the Union, the mistreatment of one young man, living in the wilds of Nevada, would not constitute a very high priority.
Pa wanted me to stay in the infirmary overnight, but I insisted we leave and make camp elsewhere, anywhere but the army post. I didn’t have to plead, I only asked my father once and we were on our way. Although I didn’t take another step before retrieving my horse, which Captain Remington was ordered to bring to the front gate; to have him fed, watered, saddled and ready to ride.
My boots and my gunbelt were returned to me. My shirt had been ruined but I didn’t much care about wearing shirts anyway. I stood alongside my family, and I felt a bravado I hadn’t felt before. I excused myself and walked up to stand in front of Captain Remington.
“There’s something I forgot, Captain.”
He looked at me strangely. I smiled. A right to his midsection and a left hook across his jaw sent him flailing in pain to the ground. I nearly cried out with my own pain but instead, I nodded my head at my father. “I owed him that.” I took Cochise’s reins and climbed aboard my beautiful horse. “I’m ready now, Pa.”
I hurt more than I let on. Less than an hour in the saddle and I was slumped so far forward, Pa knew it was time to stop and rest for the night. We had planned to reach the miner’s cabin, but I was never going to make it that far. I apologized for my weakness, but I barely got the words out before Hoss was helping me down from the saddle while Adam laid out a bedroll. Quickly, Pa was sitting down beside me, cradling my worn-out body against his broad chest.
“I thought I could make it farther,” I said.
“You just rest, Joseph. There’s no reason to push yourself. We’ve got all the time in the world.”
My eyelids were heavy and my body ached. Garth had not only been proficient with his beatings, he enjoyed every minute of his job. Yes, he was following orders like every good soldier, but his vicious cruelty made me wonder how many times he’d provided this type of punishment before. My father always said, “Practice makes perfect.” Garth’d had plenty of practice.
Pa eased me down on my bedroll before lying down beside me. Hoss sandwiched me in by nestling in on the other side. A campfire blazed, but I was cold clear down to my bones although the warmth of both bodies helped alleviate the night chill. By morning I was so stiff and sore, I could barely sit up. I tried to hide the fact, but it was obvious to all. I knew what Pa was thinking. We should have stayed at the fort for an extra day or two. I almost had to agree . . . almost.
The army doctor had wrapped my ribs after admitting to my father and me that, as far as he could tell, one rib was broken and two had been cracked. I could tell by the tone of the doc’s voice he wasn’t in agreement with the captain’s way of handling Indian affairs, although he may have been the only one in camp that day who thought Remington was abusing his power after being left in command.
I could still hear the men cheer at my expense. I could still see the look in Garth’s eyes. The cuts and bruises would heal, but it would take days, maybe weeks before I felt like my old self again. I was anxious to work alongside my brothers. I’d only been a “Saturday” ranch hand before the stagecoach accident. I was to start my final year of schooling that fall.
To make Pa happy, I would ride into Virginia City as soon as I can sit Cochise comfortably and have Frank cut my hair. I know this will please my father. It’s a big step for me but a natural progression if I plan to stay a part of this family.
In time, I will overcome my Paiute ways, but I will never forget their kindness and strength and the home I found with the People. I will always treasure the close-knit family and friends I made. Mina—sweet Mina—a special gift sent to me by the Great Spirit. She was a mother, a sister, a best friend. She taught me her language and the ways of her people during those long days I spent confined to her teepee. She taught me about love and friendship. She asked nothing in return until she knew her life would end.
She trusted me with her only child, and even though I balked at first, I was easily taken in by simple truths; compassion and unconditional love. And though my fears for Unego are great, I have to let her go. I have to trust she will be loved and cared for and, far enough away from the white man’s world, that she will thrive and have a decent life among the People.
Bruno and Yellow Bear will have to continue the fight without me. I pray I never have to go up against any of my friends in battle. It’s obvious to me now, the army will try to rid the territory of every red man he’s able to capture or kill. He will justify the reasons as sound and better for everyone concerned. What the white man doesn’t take time to understand is the Paiute are not the aggressors. They are peace-loving and only want what’s rightfully theirs. They will defend their way of life forever or die trying.
During the past three years I became a man, and throughout that process, I learned the true meaning of manhood. I learned how to provide for the people who depended on me and how to fight for what I believed in. These lessons will stay with me always. I will miss my former life, but I will never speak of it again with Pa or with my brothers. That part of my life had to be left in the past. I will work alongside Pa and Hoss and Adam, and I will ease myself back into the world of which I was born.
I’ve been lucky enough to escape death twice. Once, thanks to Mina and her extended family, and this time by my father, who wouldn’t allow his youngest son to be taken from him a second time. I had made a promise to Adam a few weeks ago. I promised not to bring up the subject of where I belonged. Did I belong with the Paiutes or in my father’s house? I was confused then—torn between two separate lives. It took time for me to find my place in this world; time for me to consider my options and be able to move forward.
I have found my place. My place is with my father and my brothers. I will learn from them and in certain ways, I will bring what I learned from the Paiute into their world. If only others could see and understand, we are no different from the red man. Our values of home and family are exactly the same.
I hope I can make my father proud. I am a young man and I still have much to learn. And as I gaze up from my musings and feel the morning sun warming my face, I see three sets of eyes staring back. I know I am loved and I will be well taken care of. I can rest easy and let my body heal. Like Pa said last night, there’s no rush to get home. We won’t leave this place until they’re certain I am ready to ride. But what my family may not realize just yet, I’m already home.
- Two direct quotes from Numaga, nephew of Winnemucca, of the Pyramid band. From the Paiute Wars of `860
- I fudged the year of the Territorial Enterprise by about 18 months. The first printing was actually Dec. 1858
- Quotes between Adam and Winnemucca were taken from the Season 1 episode, The Paiute Wars
- Bruno was actually a Paiute, not a Bannock as portrayed in the Season 1 episode