An Unforgettable Son (by Lynnette)

Summary:   On his way home from a trip to Yuma, Arizona, Ben is ambushed and a blow to the head causes him to lose his memory.  Just hours later, a body is discovered on the road coming into Yuma. The man’s face is beyond recognition, but on the inside of his hat a name is distinctly printed: Ben Cartwright.  With Adam and Hoss on a cattle drive, Joe is the only one home when word reaches the Ponderosa of Ben’s death and burial in Yuma. Overcome with grief he sets off towards Yuma to investigate the circumstances of his father’s death.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:   5185

Joe couldn’t believe the news he had just received. It was too much of a shock for him to have to handle on his own. He wished his brothers were here. Roy Coffee had delivered the telegraph to Joe and said that he had already sent a rider out to catch up with Adam and Hoss and deliver the message. Joe hated the idea of his brothers having to find out about it so far away from home but at least they would have each other. Here he was at home…but alone.

He suddenly felt sick and he stepped outside into the fresh air. It was a gorgeous night and the stars filled the sky. Pa loved nights like these. Tears sprang to Joe’s eyes as memories of his father flooded his mind.

Somehow through blurred eyes, Joe made his way to the barn. His eyes scanned the stalls and came to rest on the stall with the buckskin horse in it. Ben had known it was going a long rough trip and he hadn’t wanted to risk anything happening to his beloved horse, Buck. Joe stroked Buck’s mane. Now all the horse seemed to bring back were more memories.

Suddenly grief overwhelmed Joe and he sobbed as he buried his head in Buck’s mane. Nothing would ever be the same again. That telegraph said that it had undoubtedly been murder. Joe knew that he wouldn’t rest, couldn’t rest until he found the murderer and saw him brought to justice. He would travel to Yuma.


The man awoke to a room he had never seen before. He had no idea where he was or why he was here. In fact, he couldn’t remember anything, not even his own name or where he was from.

An old kind looking man walked into the room and by the stethoscope hanging around the man’s neck, he guessed that he must be the doctor. “Well, glad to see you’re finally awake,” the doctor was the first to speak.

“How long have I been here?” The man asked. “About four days, For awhile there, you had me worried. Whoever bushwhacked you, hit you over the head pretty hard.”

“I was bushwhacked?” The man asked with a blank look.

“Yes, the sheriff found you on the side of the road a ways out of town. Don’t you remember anything that happened?” the doctor asked.

“I don’t remember anything about it,” the patient replied. He suddenly got a very strained look on his face as though he was trying to remember something. “In fact, I don’t remember anything. No matter how hard I try, I can’t even remember what my name is or where I’m from. I just can’t remember anything!”

The man laid back. Where would he go? What could he do? He had no identity….that was it! He suddenly sat forward, “Was I carrying any identification on me that might tell you who I am or where I’m from?” He enquired of the doctor.

“Not a thing,” the doctor answered. “It looks like whoever bushwhacked you stole everything from you but the clothes on your back.”

The man sat back defeated. What if he had a family out there? Maybe they were worried about him. He had to remember. But as he tried so hard to think, he realized he couldn’t remember anything.


It took Joe ten days of fast riding to finally arrive in Yuma. He hadn’t rested much in the last ten days and he certainly wasn’t going to get any rest for now. He decided to stop by the sheriff’s office first. When he stepped into the office, an older looking man about Ben’s age looked up from a stack of paperwork on his desk.”

“Hello stranger. What can I do for you?” the sheriff asked. Joe stepped in front of the desk.

“Good Morning, sheriff. I’m Joe Cartwright,” Joe replied. A flash of recognition crossed the older man’s face.

“Mr. Cartwright! Of course. Been expecting you. You did receive both my telegraphs?” The sheriff enquired.

“Both?” Joe asked with a questioning look on his face.

“I sent a second telegraph day after the first.” The sheriff answered. He offered Joe a seat and continued.

“It seems that two men tried to rob a bank in a small town ten miles from here. What they didn’t know was that two of the customers in the bank were the sheriff and deputy of the town. The men were easily captured and taken to the town jail for questioning.”

Joe nodded. He didn’t see where the sheriff was going with this. What he really wanted to know is if the sheriff had found out anything more about his pa.

“It seems that the two men confessed to the bushwhacking and robbery of a man from Yuma.” Joe sat forward suddenly very interested. The sheriff continued, “But what confuses me is their story. They said that they had hit the man pretty hard on the head but they hadn’t killed him. They had stolen a couple hundred dollars that the man had on him and had also taken his hat and gun as well.

At this time there were three in the gang, Andy Walker and his younger brother Frank, which are the two captured. The third member is a good friend of theirs, or was a good friend. His name was Billy Burgus. The Walkers said that after they robbed the man, they dragged him up on his horse and rode several miles south where they left him on the side of the rode and took his horse.

They then rode back up north towards Yuma where they got into an argument. It seems that Billy wanted to take the money with him and meet the Walkers a couple of months later, after things cooled down, at a designated location. Well, the Walkers didn’t take to well to the idea and after a heated argument they killed Billy and left him there, took the horse along with all the money and rode ten miles north of here. I guess the amount of money from your pa was good enough because that’s where they robbed the bank and ended up in jail where they are now.”

“So you’re saying you think that the body that was discovered and buried was not my father but this Billy Burgus?” Joe asked. Hope was beginning to rise within him. Maybe his father was still alive.

“I don’t think,” the sheriff replied. “I know. By the description given by the Walkers of where they were when they killed Billy, it had to be him. They also said that they had taken the hat of the man they bushwhacked and as I said, a hat was found next to the body with the name ‘Ben Cartwright.’

“So the man they bushwhacked had to be my father. And there is another thing that can prove it to be definite. Do you have the gun that they had also stolen off of the man?” Joe asked.

“Yes, I do. It seems that Billy took a liking to the gun as well as the hat; it was found along with his body. I have it right here in my desk.” The sheriff reached in one of the drawers and placed the gun on the table in front of Joe.

 Joe picked it up. He’d recognize it anywhere. It had been one of Ben’s favorite handguns. “It’s his all right,” Joe confirmed

“We figured same as you,” the sheriff said. “So we headed out to where the Walkers said they had left your pa but there wasn’t a trace of him. I search some of the towns within several miles of here but my deputy and I have our hands full around here lately. With so many people coming through here on cattle drives this time of year, you can guarantee that means trouble. Sorry, I would like to help you out but my hands are tied at the moment.”

“That’s all right sheriff, I understand. But I think I’ll do a little of my own investigating though.” Joe said as he stood up, shook the sheriff’s hand, and headed for the door. He was in a rush to get started; a renewed hope filled his heart.

“Mr. Cartwright” a voice called from behind him. Joe looked back. “Good luck,” the sheriff said.

“Thanks,” Joe replied as he headed out the door.


The man, who the doctor and everyone else now referred to as Smith, was recovering remarkably well. He had been up and about for a few days and with nowhere to go he had decided to stay in the town at least for the time being. He had gotten a job cleaning the stable. Somehow it just didn’t feel right not to be working at something. No matter how hard he tried to remember he just couldn’t. The more he tried the more frustrated he became. He just couldn’t remember.


Joe continued to ride. It had now been over two weeks since he had received the telegram, six days since he had left Yuma to search the surrounding towns and he had found no trace of his father so far. He was once again beginning to lose hope. About the only place he could think to look now, was a little town about twelve miles south of Yuma.

Joe arrived in the small town by late evening and decided to call it a night. He could see the sheriff in the morning when he wasn’t so exhausted. He could barely hold himself up, he was so tired from the long hours of riding.

He was up bright and early the next morning. Joe stepped out of the hotel and into the dusty street. Not very many people were out and about and the street was fairly empty. He looked across the street and noticed what must be the town doctor’s office. Joe decided to check there first so that he could describe Ben to the doctor and see if he remembered treating anyone to that description. It was definitely worth a try.

Joe walked across the street and into the office. An older man with snow-white hair greeted him as he came through the door. “Good morning young man, is there anything I can do for you?”

“As a matter of fact there is. My name is Joe Cartwright and I’m looking for my father.”


Smith stepped out into the deserted street. He had made it a habit to be up bright and early to get a good start at cleaning the stables and tending to the horses kept there. His eyes scanned the buildings on the other side of the street and came to rest on the doctor’s office. Since he had regained consciousness and discovered his memory was gone, the doctor had been so helpful to him and the two had become very good friends.

Smith decided that the stables could wait long enough for him to stop in and say hello to his good friend. He made his way across the street but stopped as his hand reached for the knob, he could hear the doctor and another man talking inside. He didn’t mean to listen in on their conversation but one word had caught his attention- ‘Amnesia’.

Smith knew that amnesia was memory loss and he also knew that it was exactly what he had.  Maybe they were talking about him or maybe the other man in the office knew who he was and could tell him what he could not remember for himself. He moved to the window and listened in.

“Amnesia?” the other man repeated questioningly. He was a young man not more than twenty-five years old Smith judged. “He can’t remember anything?” the young man continued.

 “I’m afraid so,” the doctor said gravely. “He took a pretty hard hit on the head by whoever bushwhacked him.”

 “And you’re sure it’s him?” Joe asked. He didn’t want his hopes to be dashed once again. Finding out that his father was probably still alive had given him so much hope.

“From the description you gave me, it has to be your father,” the doctor replied. Smith couldn’t help but let out a gasp. The young man inside was not simply a friend or acquaintance, this young man was his son.

“Well, where is he? Where can I find him?” Joe enquired of the doctor as he headed for the door.

“Wait,” the doctor said. “You can’t just walk up to him and tell him who he is.” Joe looked at him with a questioning look. The doctor continued, “It could be dangerous. In struggling for him, he could be lost completely. Every time he tries to remember, he becomes tense and looks almost as if he’s in pain and we don’t yet know what tensions can do to the human brain.”

Joe knew what the doctor said was true. He felt so hopeless. After weeks of searching, he had finally found his pa to only find out that his pa wouldn’t recognize or know him. Suddenly an idea came to his mind.

“Doctor, I have an offer from a man to sell me a string of horses. He lives not more than a couple of miles west of here. What if I were to hire Pa—-Mr. Smith,” Joe corrected himself, “to help me bring them back to the Ponderosa. I promise I wouldn’t put any pressure on him and it would give him a couple of weeks to be around things that are familiar to him. He should be given every chance to remember.” Joe said. He was desperate for a chance to help his pa remember.

“I suppose it wouldn’t do any harm as long as there isn’t any pressure put on him,” the doctor answered. He could see pain and exhaustion written all over the young man’s face. He knew that this Smith/Cartwright fellow obviously came from an extraordinary family and he deserved a chance to remember.

Smith quietly moved away from the window and made his way to the town stables. He had so many unanswered questions. He didn’t know what to do. Should he tell the doctor? He didn’t want him to know he had been listening. He thought for awhile and suddenly he knew what to do. When the young man asked him to accompany him back to this Ponderosa or whatever it was called, he would take the job. The young man could be right, maybe if he saw enough things familiar to him he would remember. He wouldn’t let anyone, the doctor or even the young man- his son, know that he had heard their plan. He had to remember for himself.


A loud knock on the door to the stable brought Smith back out of thought. He had been so deep in thought when he walked to the stable that he hadn’t even realized that he had shut the door. Smith knew that he could probably guess who was knocking. He slowly made his way over to the door. He didn’t know why, but he actually felt a little nervous.

He opened the door and stepped into the sunlight. The young man from the doctor’s office stood before him. In the open, he could see him more clearly. The young man wore a green jacket and a tan hat. From what he could see, he had dark brown hair and piercing green eyes. He looked as if he had ridden a great distance and by the look of weariness on his face it was apparent he hadn’t had a good night’s rest for some time.

“Mr. Smith?” The young man was the first to break the silence. Smith just looked up in response. “My name’s Joseph Cartwright.” Joseph Cartwright? Joe said to himself. Since when have I introduced myself as Joseph? His father often called him Joseph and Joe remembered how many times it was when Ben was angry. For a brief moment a slight smile crossed his face at these memories. How he longed to hear his father call him by that name again. He continued, “I have a string of horses I have to bring to my ranch. It’s a good two weeks ride from here, maybe even longer. Someone said you might be looking for a job to make a little extra money and I could sure use the help.”

The young man’s voice began to break up a bit and it looked to Smith as though he was using what was left of his strength to keep from breaking down right there.

“You’ve come to the right man Mr. Cartwright. I could use the extra job. When do we leave?” Smith replied. A look of relief flooded over Joe’s face. He wasn’t sure what he would have done if he had said he didn’t need the job. “This afternoon would be fine, and the name’s Joe.”

“Well Joe, this afternoon is fine for me. Gives me enough time to collect my pay. I was planning on moving on anyway, just took this stable job to get a week’s pay to take with me.”

“I’ll see you around 1:00? I’m staying at the hotel, room 7. You can just meet me there.”  Joe said, his voice still cracking with emotion.

“1:00 will be fine; I’ll meet you in the hotel then. Thanks for the extra job, I could sure use it,” Smith replied as he offered his hand out to Joe.

 Joe shook it. “Thank you; I could sure use the help.”

With that, Smith went back into the stables to finish his work, so that he could see his employer later and collect his week’s pay.

Joe stood as if frozen for a few minutes. It took all the strength he could muster to keep from rushing into his father’s arms. He needed his Pa. He wanted to feel the security of being in his father’s arms. So many times over the years had his father comforted him. From when he was just four years old and his mother had died and he couldn’t understand why she wasn’t there or when Adam had left for college and an eight-year-old Joe couldn’t understand why his brother was leaving. When Joe’s brother, Clay, had returned and then left again, Ben had held his son and comforted him.

All of these memories flooded Joe’s mind as he made his way back to the hotel room. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he suddenly began to lose composure. He kept seeing his father dark brown eyes, always filled with love and understanding, now when Joe looked at them they stared at him with a blankness Joe had never seen before.

Joe knew that he needed to be strong if he was going to keep going for the next couple of weeks. He laid back across the bed and his grief overwhelmed him as he wept for his father to return to him. He grew weary with his sorrow and soon sleep overtook him.


A knock on the hotel room door awoke Joe from his fitful sleep at 1:00 in the morning. He couldn’t believe that he had slept the whole morning. His lack of sleep had finally caught up with him. Even the night before he had been too anxious to talk to the sheriff to get any sleep. He had sat up in a chair all night looking at pictures of his pa and brothers he liked to carry with him as memories of his pa had filled his mind. He hadn’t even had the chance to clean himself up or get a nice warm bath since he had left Yuma. He was covered in dust from the many trails he had traveled in the last few days to the several surrounding towns. Joe opened the door.

“Sorry if I disturbed you Joe, but you told me to be here at 1:00.” Smith said.

“I was just resting for a minute and I guess I fell asleep.” Joe said bringing a smile to Smith’s face.

“You look like you could use the rest. Are you sure you don’t want to wait until tomorrow morning to leave?”

“I’ll be fine.” Joe replied, “And besides, I really need to be getting home.”

Smith watched the young man as he gathered the few things he had in the hotel room. Joe looked exhausted despite the couple hours of sleep he had gotten and Smith had noticed his tear streaked face when he had opened the door. He felt so helpless to help his son.


Soon Joe and Smith were on their way with the string of horses they had picked up. The sun was beginning to set, and with it the chilly evening air was setting in. Soon they would have to find a place to stop and bed down for the night.

Joe found himself slumping over more and more on his horse. He could barely keep his eyes open. He had gone two weeks with very little rest and it had taken its toll. He was glad when they finally found a good camping spot. Smith could see how tired Joe was and he insisted on tying up the horses and cooking them up some grub, which he had luckily remembered to bring. After they had eaten they bedded down for the night.

They arose at dawn and were soon on their way again. Smith gradually began to become close to Joe, of course he never told him why he was asking so many questions particularly about the Ponderosa and Joe’s brothers. It was still a bit awkward for the both of them; it was like they were getting to know each other for the first time. There was a definite bond between them and it was growing stronger every day.

A week into their trip, they had reached Nevada. They passed through a small town not far inside the border but they decided to go for about another hour and camp out again. Neither of them noticed the four men watching them from a side ally. The leader of the men, Jesse, spoke. “Looks like we have ourselves a couple of easy targets boys and we’ll be making a nifty profit. We can take whatever money they got on them and it looks like they’ve got about eight horses with ’em. Jimmy can ride on ahead and follow them and the rest of us’ll lag behind. Any questions?” The men remained silent. “Good, now let’s move.”

The four men mounted their horses and rode on out as Smith and Joe chatted and laughed as they rode unaware of the danger soon to be realized.


Two hours later they were camped down for the night. They hadn’t had much to eat that night and Joe promised himself that in the next town they would stop and get a decent meal. They had made sure to tie the horses securely and they had both decided to turn in early.

As they slept, they were completely oblivious to the four men who hid watching. Jesse knew that if they were going to do anything, now was the time. He sent two of the men to handle Joe and he and Jimmy decided to handle Smith.

Joe was totally unprepared for the two men who attacked him but he fought back with all his strength. Two punches to the stomach sent one of the men to the ground. Joe could see out of the corner of his eye that there were two other men fighting his father. Joe knew that his father didn’t have his full strength back yet and was still recovering from being bushwhacked only two weeks before. Through the past week Joe had actually gotten even closer to his pa then ever before, he fought hard not thinking of trying to save his own life but that of his pa’s.

Joe delivered several blows to the other man, when he suddenly heard a click. Joe looked up to see Jesse with his rifle cocked at Ben. In this one moment of distraction, both of the men Joe was fighting were able to regain their strength. Now, burning with anger, they lunged at him.

All Joe knew was that he needed to get to Ben and at this point nothing could have held him down. He fought from their grasp and ran towards Ben. “Pa!” he cried as he flung himself in front of Ben just as the gun went off. Smith watched with horror as his son slumped to the ground.

Just as his eyes took in this horrific scene he suddenly felt a crashing pain in his head as Jimmy had come up behind him, smashing the butt of his rifle into Smith’s head. Smith fell to the ground and quickly succumbed to the darkness that pulled him in.


It was morning when Ben regained consciousness. He slowly sat up and took all of his strength to do so. His head was pounding from the hard blow it had taken the night before. He felt the back of his head for blood but all he felt was a nasty bump. All he wanted to do was lay back down and rest but he knew he had to figure out what to do next.

Suddenly he remembered his son. He started to frantically look around and he spotted him, unmoving on the ground a few feet away. “Joseph?” he called out as he groggily tried to get to his feet. His head was reeling and his eyes were having a hard time focusing. He managed to stumble the couple of feet the lie between him and his son and he knelt down beside him. He turned him over and was glad to see that he was still breathing though his breaths were short and raspy. He had been shot on the right side of his chest and Ben could tell from the warmth emanating from Joe’s body that he had developed a fever over night.

Ben pulled Joe into his arms as tears welled up in his eyes and streamed down his face. His son had been willing to give his life for him; he had taken a bullet for him. He couldn’t lose Joe now, not when he had so much to tell him. Like how proud he was to have him for a son, how much he loved him, and that his long weeks of searching had not been in vain. Ben realized now that his memory had returned to him, he could remember everything- the Ponderosa, Adam, Hoss,…. Joe.

Tears again filled his eyes and threatened to spill over as he held his son. How could he have ever forgotten such a remarkable young man? A young man so full of courage and strength. His son so loving and selfless.

The sound of approaching horses snapped Ben back to attention. Their guns along with all their horses were gone but thankfully both Buck and Cochise had been left at home. Ben prayed that it wasn’t the four men returning to finish them off. Relief rushed over his face and he released the breath he hadn’t even known he was holding at the site of his other two sons dismounting and rushing over to where Ben knelt holding Joe.

“We got both of the telegrams after we had returned to the Ponderosa and when we found out where Joe had gone and we didn’t hear from him we began to worry so we came out looking for him.” Adam was the first to speak.

“We’re so glad your alive Pa. What happened to Joe?” Hoss asked concern etched all over his face for his little brother, his shortshanks.

 “It’s a long story, boys. I think we’d better get Joe to a doctor right away, he’s got a bullet in him and his fever’s rising.”

Luckily Adam and Hoss had brought along an extra horse and because Ben could not be parted from his son, he mounted the horse and Adam and Hoss lifted Joe onto the horse with him. Ben rested Joe up against his chest so that the movement of Joe’s body with each breath he took assured Ben that Joe was alright.


Ben and his sons had stopped at the nearest town and got Joe immediately to the doctor. They had anxiously awaited the doctor’s return after removing the bullet from Joe’s chest. The doctor’s news had been very good. He said that Joe was strong and that he expected Joe to recover fully and quickly. The doctor also said that Joe was already awake and asking questions so the doctor had filled him in on the recovery of Ben’s memory. “He’s asking for his father,” the doctor told Ben.

Ben quietly opened the door to the room where the doctor had Joe moved to after he had removed the bullet from him. His son’s eyes were closed and the sound of his steady breathing caused Ben to think that his son was asleep so he quietly sat down in the chair next to Joe’s bed. “Pa,” Joe said softly, his voice barely more than a whisper.

Ben looked up and into his son’s magnificent green eyes. “Joe I don’t know how to thank you,” he began.

Joe reached out his hand and placed it on his Pa’s. “I’m just glad you’re all right and besides I didn’t do anything you wouldn’t have done for me.” Ben could hear Joe’s voice cracking with emotion and in the dim light of the room he could see Joe’s eyes glistening with tears. Tears were in Ben’s own eyes as he held tightly to his son’s hand. They both fell into silence. Nothing more needed to be said for the love radiating from both father and son was more than anything that could have been put into words.

Later that night, and only after Joe’s insistence that they all get a good night’s rest, Ben, Adam, and Hoss got a room in the hotel and for the first time in weeks, Ben fell into a peaceful sleep. He was finally going home.


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