Word Count: 4500
There was an unseasonable chill in the air as two strangers rode into Virginia City, tired from a long journey and hungry, having run out of food the day before.
As they arrived at the mercantile, the travelers dismounted and entered.
“Papa,” the young girl whispered, “how much money do we have left?”
“I think we have just enough, honey.”
“I’m gonna go stay with the horses, Papa,” she spoke with a strong southern drawl.
“I’ll be along in a moment.”
Turning abruptly, the young girl stepped onto the boardwalk just outside and ran into 15-year-old Little Joe, who was coming in into the store with his father to pick up supplies. She fell backward, landing on the boardwalk with a loud thump.
“Oh, excuse me, sir,” she apologized as she struggled to get back to her feet.
Offering his hand, Joe said, “No, excuse me.”
“Are you all right, Miss?” Ben asked.
“Yes, sir, I’m fine,” she answered as Joe, who was clearly admiring the girl, helped her to her feet.
As the girl was dusting off as best she could, her father exited the mercantile. “Are you all right, Jesse?” he asked with a frown.
“Yes, I’m fine, Papa,” Jesse assured her father. She gave him a small smile as she added, “I ran into these two gentlemen…literally.”
“I’m Ben Cartwright. This is my youngest son, Joseph,” Ben said by way of introduction.
“Very nice to meet you. I’m John Maxwell. My daughter, Jesse.”
“So where are you folks heading?” Ben inquired.
“West,” John replied.
“Have you been travelin’ long?” Joe observed. “Your horses look kind of…um…worn.”
“Yes, we’ve been on the trail about 4 months,” John admitted.
“Pa,” Joe suggested, “why don’t we bring them out to the Ponderosa? They can rest their horses and take supper with us.”
Ben grinned, knowing his son wanted to get to know the young lady, but he also had to admit both horses and travelers looked rather weary. “Well, Mr. Maxwell, would you be up for a home-cooked meal? I’m certain Hop Sing, our cook, won’t mind.”
“You’re sure it’s not an imposition?” John thoughtfully asked.
“Absolutely not; you are welcome,” Ben declared.
“Well, God bless you, Mr. Cartwright,” John said.
“Please, call me Ben.”
“And you may call me John.”
“Well, John, why don’t you put that sack in the buggy and when we get the supplies we came into town for, you can follow us back out to the Ponderosa.”
As John and Jesse Maxwell dismounted in the yard in front of the Ponderosa ranch house, they admired the beauty of the land.
“Papa, have you ever seen anything so pretty?” Jesse seemed in awe.
“It’s quite a magnificent ranch you’ve got here, Ben,” John acknowledged.
“Yes,” Ben agreed. “God has allowed us to enjoy just a little piece of heaven right here on earth.”
“Ben,” John asked, “you said Joseph was your youngest son?”
“Yes. My oldest son, Adam, and my middle boy, Hoss, went up to the north pasture to repair some damage to our fence line.” Looking north, Ben added, “They should be back very shortly.”
“Mr. Cartwright,” Jesse requested. “I wonder if I might get some water. I’m awful thirsty.”
“Of course; forgive me,” Ben said. “Little Joe, would you please show Jesse where she can get a drink of water?”
“Sure, Pa,” Joe eagerly answered. “Come on, Jesse.”
“John, why don’t you get your things and I can show you where to get cleaned up. How’s a hot bath sound?”
“Ben,” John smiled. “It sounds like a little bit more heaven.”
“I’ll have Hop Sing get it ready for you,” Ben laughed.
Meanwhile, Little Joe was being a gracious host to Jesse.
“So,” Joe began, “you’ve been on the road about four months. Do you miss your friends from school?”
“I was taught at home by my Mama…” Jesse waivered as her voice trailed off.
“You okay?” Joe asked.
“Yes,” Jesse answered, regaining her voice. “I’ll be fine, thank you.”
“What happened to your Ma, if you don’t mind my askin’?”
“No, I don’t mind,” she replied. “She died some months ago.”
“Oh,” Joe sympathized. “I’m sorry.”
“She’s in a better place and I know I’ll see her again,” Jesse told him as a single tear made its way down her cheek.
“Yer’ right,” Joe agreed, trying to sound more cheerful. ‘There’s more to it,’ he thought. ‘Maybe she’ll share later.’ “You ready to get cleaned up for supper? We can ask Hop Sing to fix a hot tub. My brothers should be back soon, and I know they’ll be wantin’ to take a bath.”
“Oh, yes. I would love to get cleaned up. A hot bath sounds divine.”
“Let’s go talk to Hop Sing. Come on,” Joe said, taking Jesse by the hand.
“Adam, ya’ reckon we’ll be able to finish that fence line up Monday?” Hoss asked as he mounted Chubby next to his brother after making temporary repairs to the fence.
Adam thought for a moment, then said, “I don’t think it’ll be a problem, providing the weather doesn’t turn. The temporary fix should hold until we get those supplies.”
“It does seem a mite cold fer’ it ta’ only be September,” Hoss declared.
“Yep,” Adam, closing his eyes, imagined. “I can almost feel that hot bath.”
“Me, too,” Hoss grinned. “Race ya’ back. HAH!”
“Oh, why not,” Adam said. “HAH!”
When Adam and Hoss arrived home, they found Joe, Ben, and the Maxwells in the sitting room.
“Adam, Hoss,” Ben said as he stood up. “I’d like you to meet the Maxwells: John and Jesse.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Adam said, offering John his hand.
“Likewise,” John responded.
“Good ta’ know you folks,” Hoss smiled.
“Pa,” Adam requested. “We were going to clean up for supper.”
“Please, do, boys,” Ben agreed. He turned his attention back to John. “Where are you coming from?”
“Dawson County, Georgia,” John shared. “We left after Julia’s death.”
“Was Julia your wife?” Ben asked.
“Yes,” he answered as his eyes began to glisten.
“I’m sorry, John,” Ben explained. “I know just what you’re going through.”
“You do?” John sounded surprised.
“Yes, I’ve had to bury three wives,” Ben explained.
“Three?” John asked. “You mean your boys each have a different mother?”
“Yes,” Ben admitted. “There are 6 years between each of my boys.”
“Oh, I see,” John nodded, and then added, “I’m sorry.”
“Thank you,” Ben said. “I know it’s hard right now, but it will get easier.”
“I do know that,” John acknowledged. “But it is reassuring to hear someone who has been through the same thing tell me that.”
“So I understand things are getting pretty heated down Georgia way,” Ben stated.
“Yes,” John admitted. “Very heated.”
Joe’s ears perked up when John began discussing the south. “What are things heatin’ up over, Mr. Maxwell?” Little Joe probed.
“Joseph, some people in the south think they are being treated unfairly. They also think that some people can be owned as property,” John explained.
“Papa,” Jesse began, tearfully, “may I go outside for a little while?”
“Yes, sweetheart,” he said as he pulled her close and gently placed a kiss on her forehead.
Immediately, she fled from the conversation into the safety of the barn and up into the hayloft. As she sat against a large pile of hay, she pulled her knees to her chest, put her head down and cried; eventually, she fell asleep.
Waking in the loft about 20 minutes later, Jesse could hear two brothers arguing in the barn.
“Well, it is wrong, Joe,” Adam snapped. “Treating people like property is just plain wrong.”
“How do you know folks just ain’t workin’ for others?” Joe growled. “Like Hop Sing works for us?”
“First of all, Hop Sing is more than just an employee, and you know that. Second, he is not treated as a second–class citizen or worse, and beaten if something isn’t done.”
“It can’t be that bad; folks just don’t treat other folks like that,” Joe argued.
“Joseph, I’m not arguing with you about this anymore,” Adam said as though disgusted with his baby brother. “We need to find Jesse.”
With that, Adam stormed out of the barn, leaving all quiet except for a soft whimper coming from the loft.
“Jesse?” Joe called out. “Are you up there?”
Climbing the ladder, Joe saw Jesse crying. “Jesse?” he asked. “What’s wrong?”
Suddenly indignant, Jesse barked, “WHAT’S WRONG? I’ll tell you what’s wrong. You don’t have any idea what’s going on back home!”
“What do you mean?” Joe asked, taken aback by the anger evident in her voice.
“I had a good friend…my best friend. Her Papa had slaves…not employees…SLAVES! She took me down to where the slaves live…the shacks where the slaves live. Do you know what I saw there? I saw a man…a colored man tied between two posts wearin’ next to nothin’ and another man with a horsewhip…the overseer, that’s what he’s called. The overseer was whippin’ the slave with the horsewhip while the slave’s family was forced to watch. And do you know why it was happening?!? To discourage escape attempts. The man didn’t even do anything; he was just picked. It could just as easily have been his wife that was picked.”
Jesse paused for a moment, trying to fight back tears, then continued, “Do you have any idea what it’s like to try to close your eyes at night, all the while bein’ forced to see that scene over and over, to hear the horsewhip tearing into flesh while both the victim and his family scream.”
Losing the battle, Jesse’s tears were flowing freely now while Joe sat in stunned silence. He had no idea what to say as the argument raged in his head.
“You know what killed my Mama? HATE!” Jesse exclaimed. “My Mama and Papa talked against the poor treatment of many slaves. Told the bad folks they weren’t no better than the Egyptians and the way treated the Israelites; even worse some of them. They called us ‘sympathizers’. All my Papa cared for was how people are treatin’ other people.”
Wiping the tears from her eyes, she continued, “My Papa and I was over visitin’ old widow Mayberry ’cause she was ailin’. I’d made her a quilt to keep her warm. Mama would have come, but she had a cold. She stayed home and rested…”
Jesse’s voice became quiet and strained. “We saw the flames up the road. Papa and I rode quick as we could…but it was too late. Mama…we saw her…in the window upstairs…it was…stuck. I watched helpless…as my Mama…was burned with the house. There wasn’t nothin’ we could do. Then, when I tried to look away, do you know what I saw? ALL our livestock was dead. The chickens, Bessie, Mama’s horse…ALL dead! They would have killed our horses too except we was ridin’ them.”
She turned and looked in Joe’s green eyes, which now glistened with unshed tears. “The hate killed my Mama…it would’ve killed Papa and me, too. We fled back to widow Mayberry’s place. She gave us some food and supplies and told us to stay that night and travel west in the morning. We didn’t even get to give Mama a proper burial.”
Joe looked at Jesse and stammered, “I’m…I’m so sorry, I didn’t…I didn’t know.”
“Well,” Jesse, quietly sobbing, stated. “Now you do.”
“I…I guess we should go in for supper,” he suggested. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Just give me a few minutes.”
“Sure,” Joe smiled. “I’ll let your Pa know.”
“Thank you,” Jesse returning the smile.
When Joe entered the house, he was very quiet and sullen. Ben noticed Joe’s change in countenance.
“Little Joe?” Ben asked. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothin’, Pa,” Joe responded, and then turning to John added, “Jesse will be in soon.”
“Thank you, Joseph,” John replied knowingly.
“Pa,” Joe inquired. “Did Adam come back inside?”
“Yes he did, son. He went up to his room.”
Looking up the stairs, Joe said thoughtfully, “I need to talk to him. Will you both excuse me?”
“Of course,” Ben stated. “Hop Sing said supper would be ready in 10 minutes.”
“I’ll let Adam know, Pa,” Joe promised, and then started upstairs.
Arriving at Adam’s door, Joe took a breath and knocked, “Adam, can I come in?”
“Come on in, Joe.”
Joe walked in to find Adam sitting at his desk writing in his journal.
“Adam,” Joe asked contritely. “Can we talk?”
Sighing, Adam turned and asked, “All right, little brother; what do you want to talk about?”
Joe wasn’t exactly sure how to begin, so he simply said, “Look, I’m sorry I snapped at you earlier.”
Adam recognized the troubled look on his brother’s face and responded, “Apology accepted. Why the sudden change?”
“I…um…I talked to Jesse; or rather she talked to me.”
“What do you mean?” Adam puzzled.
“She was up in the loft and heard us arguin’. When you left, I heard her cryin’. When I asked what was wrong, she told me why her Pa and her left Georgia,” Joe related, fighting his tears.
Adam leaned forward, putting his elbows on his knees and asked, “Do you want to talk about it, little buddy?”
“She said she saw a man bein’ horsewhipped that hadn’t done anything wrong and his family had to watch,” Joe explained.
“Joe, why don’t you sit down?” Adam suggested, patting the chair next to him.
Sitting, Joe continued, “Adam…she said those kinds of folks killed her Ma. Set their house on fire while she and her Pa were visiting a widow lady.” He looked at Adam as he said, “She saw her Ma…inside while the house was on fire.”
Adam could see Joe was upset at this statement; the tears in his brother’s eyes began to stream down his cheeks. He reached out and pulled his baby brother into a hug, which Joe did not shrug off. Joe was glad for the comfort. The embrace was interrupted by a knock on the door.
“Adam, Joe, Pa said ya’ need to come on fer’ supper,” Hoss advised. “Hop Sing is threatenin’ to go back to China again.”
“Comin’, Hoss,” Joe replied as he got to his feet and wiped away the remaining tears that had been pooling in his eyes.
“You gonna be okay, little buddy?” Adam lovingly asked.
“Yeah, thanks, big brother,” Joe said, offering a weak smile.
During supper, John Maxwell talked about the journey from Georgia. He also explained that he was a minister and that he missed bringing the Word to his flock. Hoss listened with great interest while Little Joe remained reserved.
The Maxwell’s had been traveling for four months and endured some hardship in that time.
“Well, John,” Ben offered. “It sounds like you’ve been through a lot. You are more than welcome to stay with us for a while. We have plenty of room.”
“Ben, I appreciate that. Neither of us has been in an actual bed since we left Georgia.”
“Yes,” Jesse managed, forcing a smile. “Thank you, Mr. Cartwright.”
By nine o’clock, everyone but Ben and John had gone to bed.
“Ben, I’d like to tell you why we left home.”
“You really don’t need to, John.”
“I know, but I think I know why Joseph’s mood changed so quickly.”
“All right, John,” Ben was intrigued. “I’m listening.”
“As I’ve already told you, I am a minister of the Gospel,” John began. “I don’t know how familiar you are with the tension in the south, with some folks feeling their rights are being violated.”
“Well, yes. I experience some of that tension between my oldest and my youngest. Adam’s mother was from Boston and Little Joe’s from New Orleans. We have frequent quarrels about what ‘the north is doing to the south’.”
“Then you know about the slavery in the south.”
“Yes,” Ben admitted.
“I frequently spoke out strongly against the ill-treatment of many slaves. Some folks became…shall we say…less than happy with me. In fact, some were downright offended. My wife stood right by my side speaking against it, especially after Jesse was subjected to witnessing a brutal display while visiting a friend of hers. She had nightmares for weeks.”
John took a moment and then continued, “We had rocks thrown through the windows of our home and the church, things thrown at us. It all continued until the night we were forced to leave. My wife was home alone one night when we were visiting a widow from our church. While we were gone, some of the folks that were offended put fire to my house.”
Stopping here, John squeezed the bridge of his nose and wiped away tears that threatened to fall.
“John,” Ben comforted. “You don’t need to continue.”
“No,” John insisted. “I think it helps to talk about it.” Taking a deep breath, he continued, “Jesse and I had started back home when we saw the fire light in the direction of our house. When we got close, we saw the house ablaze. In the upstairs window, my wife…” He paused as tears began to fall. “She was trapped in our bedroom. There was nothing we could do…nothing I could do.”
“John, it wasn’t your fault,” Ben offered, understanding the pain he must be feeling.
“Not completely, no,” John admitted. “But I can’t help but wonder if there was something…I could have insisted she come with us…anything. I keep seeing that window in my mind.”
“I’m so sorry, John. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been for you.”
“Ben, you’ve known as much tragedy,” he stated. “My wife was so brave in the face of all the hatred. The one consolation I have is that she died for what she believed in. She had been teaching my Jesse sign language; she signed ‘I love you’ before disappearing from the window, to both myself and Jesse.”
John took another moment to compose himself and added, “It was only after she disappeared from the window that I forced myself to look away. It was then I saw our livestock; our chickens, our milk cow, even my wife’s horse…all slaughtered. That was when I realized that the fire was no accident. I knew Jesse and I were in danger. We returned to the widow Mayberry’s place. She allowed us to stay there that night, gave us supplies, and helped us to leave before sunup the next morning. We’ve been running ever since, just praying that God would show us where he wanted us to be.”
“John, as I told you earlier, you are welcome to stay for as long as you need.”
“Thank you again, Ben,” John responded, fighting a yawn. “I think I’m about done for the night.”
Standing, Ben offered, “I’ll show you to your room. If you’d like, I can have Hop Sing launder your things.”
“That would be very nice, thank you.”
“You’re about Adam’s size; he’s probably got something you can wear tomorrow and I have my sweet Marie’s clothes stored. I think they will fit Jesse nicely. In fact, perfect for church in the morning.”
“Thank you, Ben,” John said entering his room for the night. “Goodnight.”
Ben then paid a visit to Adam’s room. Knocking, he asked, “Adam, are you awake?”
“Yeah, Pa. Come on in.”
Entering, he saw his eldest stretched out on his bed reading. “I’m glad you’re awake. I wondered if you would mind loaning John something to wear tomorrow.”
Putting his book down and rising, Adam went to his dresser as he said, “Sure, Pa.”
“Thanks, Adam,” Ben said. “Did Little Joe talk to you earlier?”
“Yes, after talking to Jesse.” Adam, while looking thoughtfully at Ben, added, “He was pretty upset.”
“I have a feeling I know why,” Ben said. “I’m going to see if your brother is still awake. Goodnight, Adam.”
Ben went directly to Little Joe’s room, lightly knocking and listening for a response.
“Come in,” Ben heard Joe say.
Ben found Joe lying on his bed with his hands resting behind his head. “Joseph, are you okay?”
“Just thinkin’, Pa.”
“Do you want to talk about it?” Ben offered.
“No, Pa. I mean…I talked to Adam earlier,” Joe admitted. “Jesse…she just made me think about things.”
“I know, son,” Ben explained as he sat on the edge of the bed. “Her father told me why they left Georgia.”
“Pa,” Joe began as tears fought to escape his eyes. “She saw her Ma…die.”
“I know, Joseph. What happened was tragic. Her father told me that she also witnessed abuse of slaves.”
“She told me he was tied between two posts bein’ horsewhipped while his family was forced to watch. She said when she closed her eyes for a long time; she saw that…and heard it. Pa, I…” Joe’s voice trailed off as the tears made their escape.
Ben pulled his youngest into a hug, and for the second time today, Joe willingly accepted the comfort for a few minutes.
Pulling free of his father’s embrace and wiping the tears from his eyes, Joe admitted, “Pa, I’m awful tired.”
“All right, son,” Ben conceded, rising. “Goodnight, Joseph. I love you, boy.”
“Goodnight, Pa. I love you, too.”
Walking toward the door, Ben turned to steal another look at his baby boy as Joe turned over.
Out of habit, Ben looked into Hoss’ room as well. Ben smiled when he saw Hoss lying on his back, arms sprawled out, snoring up a storm. He closed the door and went on to bed.
Sunday morning arrived with sunshine as the Cartwright’s and the Maxwell’s sat down to breakfast, everyone ready to head to Virginia City for church after the meal.
Jesse, who wore one of Marie’s finest dresses and a beautiful smile, gratefully said, “Thank you so much, Mr. Cartwright. This dress is absolutely beautiful.”
“It belonged to my Ma,” Little Joe said with pride. And then he added with a smile, “It looks mighty pretty on you.”
Returning the smile, Jesse responded, “Thank you.”
“Adam,” John said. “Thank you for the clothes. I’m looking forward to this morning’s church service.”
“Pa,” Joe suggested. “Maybe after church, we can take a picnic lunch over to the lake.”
“Well, Little Joe, that sounds like a fine idea,” Ben agreed. “When we finish breakfast, I’ll ask Hop Sing if he can fix up a picnic lunch for us.”
While Hop Sing fixed the picnic lunch, the Cartwright’s and Maxwell’s listened to the minister’s sermon: Lessons from Egypt.
After service, John Maxwell spoke at length with Reverend Daniels about his sermon while the Cartwright’s visited with friends and neighbors.
Little Joe was introducing Jesse to the young people of Virginia City. Joe’s best friends, Mitch and Seth, seemed quite taken with her.
Later, at the lake, after everyone had eaten, Joe asked, “Pa, Mr. Maxwell, would it be all right if Jesse and I go for a walk?”
“All right, boy,” Ben agreed. “Don’t be long.”
John watched as this young man walked with his daughter with a look of trepidation.
Seeing John’s expression, Ben reassured him, explaining, “It’s okay. I know right where he’s going. My Marie, his Ma, is buried just over that hill. He’s an honorable young man, my Joseph.”
“Yes, Ben,” John conceded. “I sense that about him.”
As Joe made his way with Jesse to where his mother rested, he didn’t say much.
When they arrived, Joe said, “I wanted you to see the place that my Ma is buried.”
“It’s a pretty place, Joseph. But why did you want me to see it?” Jesse inquired.
“I come here to talk to my Ma,” he began. “Well, I got to thinkin’ last night, you know, about what said about not bein’ able to bury your Ma proper. Well, I thought, what about havin’ a remembrance?”
“A what?” she was intrigued.
“A remembrance…you remember someone, good memories; plant a special flower or tree in honor of their memory; take some time to say goodbye. It even gives ya’ a place to visit where you can talk to her.”
Jesse’s face lit up at this suggestion. “Joseph, that’s a wonderful idea,” she excitedly said as she began running back to her father. “PAPA! PAPA!”
Her father and Ben both heard the Jesse yelling excitedly. “JOSEPH FRANCIS CARTWRIGHT!” Ben bellowed.
“JESSE!” John yelled.
“PAPA!” Jesse continued yelling until she nearly ran into her father. “Papa…Joseph…” her voice trailed as she struggled to catch her breath.
“Joseph what?!?” John looked angrily toward the boy now in sight.
“Joseph had an idea, Papa,” she continued. “He suggested a remembrance.”
Ben now wore a puzzled expression. Adam and Hoss, having heard the commotion, had come and were now standing behind Ben.
“Pa, Mr. Maxwell…I got to thinkin’ last night. Jesse told me that ya’ didn’t get a chance to give Mrs. Maxwell a proper burial,” Joe explained. “I thought we could have a remembrance for her; remember the good times, plant a special flower or tree in honor of Mrs. Maxwell, say goodbye.”
“Joseph,” John agreed, the anger having disappeared from his face, “that is a wonderful idea. I have some wildflower seeds that Julia had put in my saddlebag. Thank you, Joseph.”
“Pa,” Joe offered, “they can do it right over by where Ma’s grave is.”
Smiling with pride, an expression now shared by Adam and Hoss, Ben agreed, “Joseph Francis Cartwright, will you never cease to amaze me?”
“So that’s all right with you, Pa?”
“Yes, son. That’s quite all right.”
“Oh, Papa,” Jesse exclaimed. “Can we? Can we please?”
“Of course, darlin’,” John said, taking his daughter’s chin in his hand. “I think God is confirming that it’s time for us to stop running and stay right in this area. What do you think, Jesse?”
“Papa,” she beamed. “You mean we can stop traveling? We can start all over again?”
“Yes, baby,” he assured, pulling her into a tight embrace.
Later that afternoon, the Maxwell’s did indeed have a remembrance, to which they invited the Cartwright’s. They took the wildflower seeds, and planted them, setting stones in a neat pattern to mark the spot. Jesse fashioned a cross from some timber scraps Joe found. Hoss carved the cross board:
IN REMEMBRANCE OF
JULIA MARIE MAXWELL
JANUARY 17, 1823 – MAY 9, 1857
After supper that night, Ben and John discussed some good locations for building while Hoss and Little Joe played checkers and Jesse read one of Adam’s books of poetry.
The weekend had brought new friends together, united brothers, and had become a time to remember the past and look to the promise of the future.