Summary: This is an adaptation for Bonanza of a 1970-something movie called “Grizzly”.
Word Count: 7700
It had been a harsh winter in the Sierras. The longest and harshest in living memory. Finally, long past the usual time, the first mild spring breezes were felt and the deep snow cover began its slow melting.
Sitting alone in his lodge, the ancient Paiute sat contemplating his fire, his thoughts drifting to today’s hunting party that had returned empty-handed, as had the last several. They had brought back to the hungry camp the same tale of a land strangely devoid of game. Devoid of game, except for the bear signs that had been spied late in the day.
Empty stomachs had not kept the inhabitants of the camp from grouping around the men of the hunting party far into the night. They listened awestruck to the hunters’ description of the unbelievably enormous paw prints they had followed and the claw marks unnaturally high up on the trunks of trees.
Later, unable to sleep, Raven Feather recalled a similar tale from his boyhood, told to him by his great-grandfather, of an unusually harsh winter and of a legendary bear. His great-grandfather spoke hauntingly of the sudden disappearance of children, women and even full grown warriors. The memory of his great-grandfather’s words caused the elderly man to shiver as a chill slithered down his spine and he burrowed deep into his furs.
The grizzled old prospector struggled to tighten the rope on the bundle secured to the back of the equally grizzled old mule. “Hold still now, Lily! What’s the matter with you today? You’ve been jumpier than a flea. Well, Lily, now that the weather’s broke, we best get movin’ on out of here. Someone from the Ponderosa is bound to show up here any day now to get this line shack ready for spring. They might not take too kindly to us trespassin’ here all winter. I’ll go get my hat and rifle and then we’ll be off. We’ll start down the mountain to Virginny City . I hain’t had a sip of rotgut since I can’t tell you when. I’m sure lookin’ forward to it. Be nice to have someone to talk to besides an ornery old mule.”
The prospector retrieved his hat and was loading his rifle when the terrified braying of his mule caused him to sprint from the line shack. Across the yard, Lily was frantically trying to pull herself free from the lean-to pole her lead rope was tied to, while braying hysterically.
“What the devil is stirring you up, Lily?” the prospector yelled.
These were the last words the prospector would ever speak. He stopped cold as he felt an excruciating pain as a massive claw slashed his back and sharp fangs pierced his shoulder. Within minutes of leaving the line shack, he was dead
That same morning, two men on horseback were making their way towards the line shack. “One more line shack to go, then we can get home to Hop Sing’s cookin’”. Hoss Cartwright’s stomach rumbled and his mouth watered at the thought of the meals he had missed this past week. He and Joe were making a tour of the far-flung Ponderosa line shacks to see how they weathered the harsh Sierra winter.
“Yeah, but don’t look too forward to it, big brother”, Joe retorted, grinning and shaking his head. “Pa and Adam are making plans for the start of roundup. We won’t have our soft beds, but at least we’ll have Hop Sing’s cooking; even if it is out of the chuck wagon.”
“Yeah, Joe, I’m mighty anxious too to see how the herd wintered and see a tally. The herd looks too durn skimpy. Even as hard as the winter’s been, more head than what I’ve seen should’ve survived. Course, the herd’s pretty scattered and probably a lot of the critters are still stickin’ close to the sheltered areas.
“Dang, my head’s itchin’ again.” Hoss had removed his tall white hat and was scratching his head and looking around with a worried look in his blue eyes. “You know that when my head itches like this, it’s a sure sign of trouble”.
“Or you need to wash your hair.” Joe giggled and rolled his eyes at his brother.
Joe’s giggle faded as a sudden chill caused him to pull his blue wool coat tighter around himself. “I’ll agree on one thing. Something just doesn’t feel right, but I can’t put my finger on it. With the weather clearing and warming up, we should be coming across more game. Strange. I’ll be glad, for more reasons then a soft bed and Hop Sing’s cooking, to be done with this last line shack and get home. To tell you the truth, I’m getting a little skittish myself.”
“There’s the line shack, just ahead, big brother. I’ll fix lunch while you take care of the horses. You’re liable to eat everything up while you’re cooking it and I’ll end up having to graze with Cooch and Chubb.
“Cooch, what’s the matter with you?” Joe, who had been lounging in his saddle, was almost thrown as his pinto suddenly shied sideways, tossing his head and snorting. Cochise now stood stock still, ears pricked and nostrils flaring, as did Hoss’s big black.
“I don’t like this Hoss”, Joe said nervously. Things haven’t felt right since we came through Pinion Canyon. Now the horses are acting spooked. Maybe we ought to just head home and forget about the line shack up here. At least for now. What do you think Hoss? Hoss?”
Hoss had abruptly reined his horse to a stop and sat staring at the line shack.
The splintered remains of the plank door to the shack was hanging by one hinge, the floor of the small porch was covered by flour and cornmeal, the empty shredded bags laying tossed to one side. As Hoss watched, a tin can of peaches rolled lazily through the doorway. Across the yard, the lean-to for sheltering the horses was tilting drunkenly, half-pulled down.
Apart from the destruction, there was no sign of any living being in the vicinity of the line shack. The yard between the shack and the lean-to was empty and there was no sound except the wind and the nervous stamping and nickering of the horses.
Hoss and Joe, every sense alert, dismounted and tied Chub and Cochise securely to a tree. Cautiously, guns drawn, the brothers approached the line shack. As they got closer, they recognized the reddish-brown splotches of drying blood staining portions of the porch and side of the shack.
“Careful, little brother”, Hoss whispered as he led the way through the shattered doorway.
Entering the line shack, the two men almost dropped their guns at the shock of the chaos that greeted them. The floor was littered with sugar, salt, flour, and cornmeal from ripped-open bags and canned goods had been tossed haphazardly everywhere. Blankets had been ripped from the two bunks in the corner, and the few pieces of furniture the shack contained were in smithereens.
“What in the hell happened here?” Joe finally managed to speak. “Do you think that this mess has something to do with the blood on the porch? Think whoever did this still might be around somewhere?”
“Yeah, it sure does, all right, little brother. But danged if I know why someone would tear up the line shack like this.” Hoss shook his head slowly. “I don’t see any signs of blood in here, so whatever happened, happened outside. Come on, we better take a look around out there. If someone was killed here, the body is probably lying out there somewhere and should have a proper burial. That’s got to be what has the horses so spooked. I don’t think whoever did this is still around, but you never know, so keep your eyes peeled.”
“Hey, Joe. Look here”. Hoss pointed out drag marks in the mess of flour and cornmeal and dried blood on the porch floor. “They lead around to the side of the shack”.
Cautiously, guns drawn, the brothers followed the drag marks towards a pile of boulders behind the line shack. Ahead of Joe, Hoss abruptly stopped and, staring at the ground ahead of him, exclaimed in shock, “Oh, my god!” He turned to Joe and started to push him back towards the line shack.
“Hoss! What is it? What are you doing?” The pallor on his big brother’s face and the look in his eyes alarmed Joe. Determined to see what was causing his brother’s behavior, Joe pushed Hoss’s hands off of his arms and pushed past him to the boulders.
Joe wished whole-heartedly that he hadn’t done that. He was also glad that he had not eaten since breakfast. His stomach churned as he looked wide-eyed at what Hoss had tried to keep him from seeing. There on the ground in front of the boulders was an arm. A torn, bloody human arm.
The light from the blazing campfire illuminated two extremely shaken up men and two nervous horses. Eight ears and four pairs of eyes strained to pick up every rustle of a branch and any movement in the shadows beyond the fire.
Hoss Cartwright sat with his back against a large boulder, his rifle across his lap.
It was his brother Joe’s turn to sleep while Hoss kept watch, but Joe lay wide-eyed, having long since abandoned any notion of sleep.
“I’m sure glad we got through Pinion Canyon before dark. But I wish we could have kept going. I won’t breathe easy till we get to the house.” Joe moved over to the boulder and sat down beside his brother. “Hoss, what happened up there?”
“Dang, Joe. Wish I knew, but in a way I hope I never know. But I do know that we couldn’t have gone any further tonight. We can’t risk one of the horses getting hurt. It’d be foolish to be ridin in this terrain on a pitch black night like tonight. We’ll saddle up at first light.”
“Shhh! Hoss! Look at the horses! They hear something!” Joe grabbed Hoss’s arm and pointed towards where the horses were tied. Chub and Cochise were both staring, ears at attention, at the same spot beyond the fire. The two horses simultaneously began pawing the ground and nickering.
Someone or something was pushing through the underbrush towards them. The brothers stood side by side, rifles pointed at the rustling bushes. They didn’t know what to expect, but they did not expect the bedraggled and tired mule that stumbled out of the brush and brayed happily at finding humans, even if neither of them was her human companion.
Hoss and Joe stared open-mouthed at the mule before sharing a look of relief. Joe broke their stunned silence with a cackle of laughter. “You should have seen the look on your face, Hoss!”
“Me! You should have seen the look on your face, Joe.” Hoss was laughing as he led the mule further into the firelight by the rope dangling from her halter.
Their laughter abruptly stopped as they realized where the animal must have come from.
“Do you think the mule belongs to the fellow who was at the line shack?” Joe asked. He soothed the nervous horses while watching his brother examine the contents of the packsaddle which was still strapped to the mule’s back.
“Joe, I don’t know who else it could belong to, running loose up here like this. There’s a pickax and a spade on the pack along with some cans of food and a few clothes. You know it’s usual for a prospector to hole up for the winter in one of our line shacks. This mule was runnin’ somewhere in a panic. It’s plowed right through whatever brush was in its way. Look at all the scratches on its hide, and twigs caught in the packsaddle. We’ll take it along to Virginia City when we go report what we saw to Roy. Maybe somebody will recognize it or the belongings. Whoa, there. You’re all right now. Old Hoss won’t let anything get you.” Hoss patted the twitching animal and scratched behind her ears. “We’ll tie you up over here to get acquainted with Chubb and Cochise for what’s left of tonight.”
The next evening found the Cartwright brothers, Lily the mule in tow, riding up to the Ponderosa ranch house.
“I tell you, little brother, I don’t remember when I was so glad to be home. It sure will be good to have these strong walls around me tonight.”
“Same here, big brother.” Joe smiled happily at the thought. “The horses look as relieved to be home as we are.”
“Hey! Adam!” Joe called to his oldest brother as the Adam Cartwright strode across the yard to the barn.
“What are you two doing back so soon? Where did you get that sorry looking mule?” Adam asked, dubiously eyeing the animal in question. “I’ll help you with the horses. I can’t wait to hear the story. But, I am glad to see you fellows home. Pa will be too. He’s been worried about you being out there at the line shacks after hearing about the Piute troubles. He’s in town at a meeting with Roy Coffee and Charles McDougal, the new Indian agent and Col. Roberts from Fort Churchill. He said he’d be back by supper though”
“Paiute troubles? What Paiute troubles? When did this start? There hasn’t been any problems with the Paiutes since the new Indian agent came.” Hoss asked. Both he and Joe looked at their older brother with puzzled expressions on their faces.
“The problem isn’t the Paiutes. It’s the Paiutes that are having the problem. Pa will explain when he gets back.”
Adam got a good look at his younger brothers for the first time since they arrived. “Neither one of you look too good. Is that why you’re back already? Why don’t you two go get cleaned up. I’ll take care of your new friend, here.”
“Yeah, thanks Adam. We’ll both feel better after some rest. The horses need one too. We pushed them and ourselves pretty hard. We wanted to get home without having to spend another night on the trail. We’ll tell you and Pa the whole thing after supper.
“Come on Joe.” Hoss threw his arm around his younger brother’s shoulders, and together they trudged wearily to the house.
The Cartwright men sat gathered around the roaring fine in the great stone fireplace that dominated the main room of the ranch house. Ben’s cup of after-supper coffee grew cold as he paced back and forth recounting the details of his meeting with Indian Agent McDougal and Col. Roberts.
“McDougal told me that in all his dozen years of being an Indian Agent, first in Arkansas and now out here, that he’s never seen anything like it. He’s plain flummoxed. Colonel Roberts, too. Of course Colonel Roberts, like Charles McDougal, is new to the territory. He was just transferred here from Illinois. That’s why they asked my opinion. I had to admit that I’m just as puzzled as they are. And the Paiutes aren’t talking.
“McDougal went up to the Piute camp with a couple of packhorses with supplies. When he got to where the camp had been all winter, it wasn’t there. There was nothing there but the remains of the fire pits and tracks leading off towards Fort Churchill. When he went to the fort to consult with Col. Roberts, there was the entire Piute village, camped right at the fort’s gates.
“It’s too early yet for the Paiutes to break up their winter camp, and when they do, they should be heading up into the high country. Why would they be going to Fort Churchill? If it was some tribe other than Paiutes, I’d say that they were looking for a handout from the fort since according to McDougal game’s been unusually scarce. But the Paiutes are a proud people; they won’t look to the whites for handouts. They’d starve first.
“Like I said”, Ben continued, now rubbing the back of his neck as he paced, “McDougal and Roberts couldn’t get any kind of explanation from them. All they would say was that they came in peace and wanted no trouble with the whites, and that they would be on their way back up the mountain when ‘the time of bad medicine was past’. Whatever that’s supposed to mean.”
“So, that’s the situation.” Ben slumped into his leather chair with a weary sigh. “The Paiutes are camped outside Fort Churchill for no-one-knows-how-long, and everyone in the fort is on pins and needles hoping that no one from the town starts any trouble. Col. Roberts is keeping guards posted between the Indian camp and the town, but it’s still a ticklish situation. All it’s going to take is one trigger-happy fool to start the Piute Wars up all over again”.
Ben turned, one bushy white eyebrow raised towards his two younger sons. “Now, why are you two home so soon, and who does the mule in the barn belong to?”
Hoss and Joe, sitting side-by-side on the settee had been eyeing each other thoughtfully during their father’s recitation of the events of his meeting with the Colonel and the Indian Agent. Hoss was the first to speak up. “Pa, sounds like the reason we’re home early is the same reason the Paiutes high-tailed it off that mountain.”
Hoss, with occasional comments from Joe, went on to tell about the eerie atmosphere on the mountain and the unusual lack of game. By the time he approached the point in the story regarding the condition they found the line shack in, Hoss was standing gripping the back of the settee with one hand.
Ben and Adam stared at Hoss during his tale, perplexed by his unusual agitation.
Hoss stopped talking and ran his fingers through his thinning sandy hair. Gulping in a lungful of air, he shakily said, “I need a glass of water. The inside of my mouth feels like cotton. I’ll be right back”, and retreated towards the kitchen, giving Joe a glance and a pat on the shoulder as he passed.
Ben’s and Adam’s gazes shifted to Joe who after a few comments had fallen uncharacteristically silent. He was sitting huddled at the end of the settee, his face pale at the thought of what was coming next in Hoss’s narrative.
Alarmed, Ben moved from his chair by the fireplace to the settee and sat beside Joe putting his hand on his knee.
“Joe? What is it, son? What happened up there?” Ben asked.
Joe looked at his father, then at Adam, and then towards the dining room, where Hoss had just emerged from the kitchen, two tall glasses of water in hand.
Hoss set one glass on the coffee table in front of Joe. “Here little brother, I thought you could use a drink of water too. I’m ready to finish the story now.”
Hoss drained his glass in a few swallows, fixed his blue eyes on his father’s dark ones, and continued where he left off.
“Well, that’s the story; I got from the boys last night, Roy. I tell you, I’ve never seen either of them as shaken as they were last night.” Ben Cartwright sat in Sheriff Roy Coffee’s office. Hoss, Joe, and he had made an early morning trip to Virginia City to report the grisly find at the line shack to the sheriff and to try to find anyone who knew who the mule and miner’s tools had belonged to. “I heard Hoss and Joe both up in the middle of the night, and they were both half-asleep at breakfast. Adam said he didn’t sleep much either.” Ben ran his hand through his silver hair and shook his head. “To tell you the truth, I didn’t sleep much myself. I don’t know what to make of it.”
“What do you think, Roy?” Ben glanced across Sheriff Coffee’s desk, where the sheriff sat, looking as perplexed as Ben felt.
Roy Coffee sat tapping his fingers together thoughtfully. “Ben, if anyone else came to me with a wild story like this I wouldn’t believe it. I’d say whoever told you that whopper was either drunk, crazy or playin’ you for a fool. But you ain’t no fool, and your boys wouldn’t make up somethin’ like that, and they ain’t crazy. Now I admit, I’ve seen ‘em drunk a time or two, but not so bad they’d be seein’ things. Let’s round Hoss and Joe up and we’ll all pay a little visit to the Indian Agent . I think you’re right. There’s a connection here somewhere between why the Paiutes are camped right outside Fort Churchill and what your boys found at the line shack.”
Two days later, Ben Cartwright answered an early morning knock on his door and found Charles McDougal, the Indian Agent and Roy Coffee standing there. A few hours later, the three men sat in the temporary Piute Camp outside of Fort Churchill, along with Colonel Roberts and several elders of the tribe, listening to a strange tale being told by an ancient Indian named Raven Feather.
“This was told to me as a boy by my great-grandfather, the medicine man Thunder on Mountain. He himself was a young boy during the “winter of the great snows”. He hoped that never again, as long as the rivers run and the sun and moon cross the sky, would such a thing happen. I am here to tell you, that such a thing has indeed happened again.
The snows came early that winter and the land was covered by drifts that threatened to bury our peoples’ lodges. The wind blew bitter. Our hunters had to travel further and further from camp to find game. . Our people were afraid that spring would not return to the mountain.
One morning our people woke to a warm wind. The drifts grew smaller, the river ran free, and game became plentiful again. There was much happiness.
The happiness disappeared as quickly as the snow drifts in the sun. Game became hard to find, as it had during the long winter and our hunters had to travel far from camp once more. A hunting party of four warriors never returned. Two women never returned from going to the river to bathe. The rocks at the river’s edge were red with blood.
One night during the bright moon the camp awoke to a woman’s shrieks of terror. A wall of her lodge was torn out and her youngest daughter was gone. A trail of blood led from the skins where she had slept.
A council of the chiefs and elders of the tribe was gathered. An ancient one lived alone in a cave by the great lake. He had lived so many seasons longer than any of our people that no one was alive who remembered his name or where he came from. He was known to be very wise in the ways of the land and of the creatures who lived on it. Some said he could talk with the animals and birds. He appeared at the council and told of a legend handed down to his line from the time of the first of our people.
His tale was of a tribe of mighty grizzly bears that lived far up in the mountains where men never traveled. The brutal winter caused one of their tribe to leave his mountain sanctuary and hunt lower and lower down the mountains. This had happened one winter in the ancient one’s memory. Hunting parties were sent after the mighty one. He was never found. Tracks disappeared into air. It was many winters after that before our people could stop looking fearfully for the bear to strike again.
As in the time of the ancient one, a large hunting party was sent out seeking any signs of the gigantic bear. Tracks disappearing into air and trees marked high up on their trunks with claw marks were found, but no bear was sighted. As spring turned to summer, the game returned and our women and children were safe once more.”
“Gentlemen, can I offer you some brandy for in your coffee?” Col. Roberts turned to the three men sitting around his desk. Ben Cartwright, Sheriff Coffee and Indian Agent McDougal had accompanied Col. Roberts back to his office after their visit to the Piute encampment.
Ben and the sheriff readily accepted the offer. The Indian Agent hesitated, then shook his head and covered his coffee cup with his hand. “No thank you, sir. I took the pledge when I was 21. You gentlemen go ahead. Frankly, I fervently wish that I could indulge just now. That was quite a tale we just heard.”
Col. Roberts sat the brandy bottle on his desk and looked at Indian Agent McDougal incredulously over his cup. “Mr. McDougal, don’t tell me you put some credence into that nonsense? Mr. Cartwright? Sheriff Coffee”? Surely you don’t?”
Charles McDougal drained his cup before answering. “Colonel, I’ve been around Indians most of my life. My father traded with and was friendly with the Iroquois in New York State. I traded with the Cherokee for years before I became an Indian Agent. I’ve heard many a tall tale, and I’ve found out that they all have a grain of truth behind them. You can’t deny that something has a whole Piaute camp spooked.”
Ben Cartwright nodded his agreement. “I’ve lived here for over twenty years, and I don’t claim to know everything about these mountains. There’s many still unexplored and unknown peaks and canyons in the Sierras. This was the worst winter I’ve seen in that twenty years. That weather would have driven game from the high country. A grizzly waking up early would be forced to forge lower and lower. A starving grizzly might just think anything looked good enough to make a meal of.
“I also know how shook up my two younger sons were. Hoss and Joe were raised here. Even Joe, at 17, has done his share of fighting off Indians, rustlers and miners trying to stake a claim on the Ponderosa. They don’t scare easily, and I know they’re not fools. Something mighty strange is going on up there on that mountain, and since that body was found on Ponderosa land, it’s up to me to find out what. We’ll be starting out at first light tomorrow, if you want to join us.”
Ben and Hoss Cartwright, Sheriff Coffee, Indian Agent McDougal, and Col. Roberts stood on the porch of the ravaged line shack while Adam, Joe, and 2 soldiers scouted the area.
“Well, Pa, everything looks the same as when me and Joe left here the other day. Doesn’t look like anyone or anything’s been here since then. All we did before we left was bury that fella’s arm. It didn’t seem fitin’ to just leave it lay there. At least part of him had a decent burial. To tell you the truth, we didn’t want to stay around here any longer than we had to.” Hoss nervously glanced around him at the underbrush that grew close to the shack, glad that he had his Sharp’s rifle in his hand.
Adam and Joe joined them on the porch. “Pa, we found what looks like bear tracks around the back side of the line shack where the spring is.” Adam reported. “I’ve never seen bear tracks that size. There’s something else you have to see too”.
The members of the hunting party gazed at the claw marks high on the trees surrounding the spring. The claw marks of bears marking their territory was a familiar sight to each of the Cartwrights, but not at the height these appeared. The Cartwrights looked back and forth from the huge tracks to the marked trees to each other, each doubting what they were seeing indicated, but knowing there could be no other explanation. The horrifying story that Raven Feather had told them was no mere legend.
Joe Cartwright eyed his plate of beans disgustedly. “We’ve been on the trail of that darn grizzly for three days now, and that’s all we’ve been seeing, its trail. We haven’t seen hide nor hair of it, or any game, for that matter. I’m awfully tired of beans and jerky. I’m for heading for home in the morning. We should have just went back when Col. Roberts and the others did.”
“Joe’s right.” Hoss agreed. “That old bear is cleanin’ out the game as it goes along. And what it don’t kill is runnin’ away and hidin’. That critter knows we’re back here, all right. And I can almost hear it laughin’ at us. Joe, if you aren’t going to eat those beans, pass them here.”
Adam sat back against his saddle, rubbing the bridge of his nose in thought. “The snow is melting in the high country by now, and they’ll be game and forage. It’s probably going back to where it came from. That grizzly probably doesn’t like being this close to civilization anymore than we like it being here. I think we should pack it in and head for home.”
Ben Cartwright looked at each son, in turn. “That prospector was killed on our land. We had a responsibility to look for what killed him. What if it had been one of our hands, or one of us? I’ve been thanking God every day that it wasn’t you Joe, or you Hoss. I thank God that animal was gone by the time you got to the line shack.”
Ben sighed in frustration. “All right, boys. We head for home in the morning. We better turn in. But, I agree with Hoss. That grizzly knows we’re here. We still need to be on the lookout. Joe, you take the first watch. Take Hoss’s Sharps with you. I want whoever is on watch to have that with him.”
“Come on you two. Up and at ‘em!” Adam Cartwright nudged each of his sleeping brothers with the toe of his boot. “Pa already has the coffee going.”
Hoss Cartwright sat up at the first nudge, yawning and stretching his cramped muscles. Joe Cartwright’s curly head was slower to emerge from beneath his blanket, but the whiff of coffee, helped along by a second, harder nudge from his oldest brother’s boot did the trick. He too sat up, yawning and stretching.
“We need to get these canteens filled before we start back.” Ben Cartwright gestured towards their empty canteens.
“Hoss and I’ll do it”, Joe volunteered. Joe tossed a canteen at his brother.
“Joe, you take the canteens. Hoss, you take that blunderbuss of yours. Keep your eyes peeled and your hands free to use it.” Ben looked uneasily towards the brush-lined stream. “That stream would be a good place to meet up with our furry friend. I wish we could avoid it, but all the canteens are empty.”
The two Cartwrights made their way a little upstream, Joe with the four canteens swinging and Hoss with his Sharps rifle at the ready, both with eyes searching the surrounding brush.
Coming to a break in the brush lining the stream, Joe knelt to fill the first of the canteens. “I doubt that grizzly is anywhere around her, Hoss. As big as it is we would have seen some kind of signs of it. The bear signs we did see are old ones. “
“Yeah, well, just get those canteens filled so we can get out of here, little brother. “Hoss shifted nervously, rubbing the back of his neck. “I ain’t as sure as you that that critter isn’t still around here somewhere. You saw what it did to that old-timer. I don’t aim to be breakfast for a bear. Course you don’t have to worry any. Any self-respecting grizzly would pass you up as too puny to……..”
Hoss stopped in mid-sentence, eyes wide and glued to the opposite bank of the stream. “Joe, put the canteen down, and stand up slow and easy. Work your way over towards them rocks and high tail it back to the camp. I’ll be right behind you”.
By now, Joe had caught sight of what Hoss was staring at. “Hoss, you can’t….”
“Joe, just do as I tell you. You ain’t got your rifle and your pistol won’t do any good against that thing unless you’re at point-blank range. And if you were, you’d be in pieces before you got a chance to use it.” Hoss’s calm tone belied the fear that hit him at the sight of the brown patch of fur he could see against the green brush. “Now go. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be right on your boot heels.”
Joe, reluctantly doing as he was told, made his way as quickly and as quietly as he could to the rocks that stood between the stream and their camp. Reaching the rocks, he looked back towards the stream to make sure Hoss was following. Joe’s heart leaped up into his throat and seemed to choke him and the hair on the back of his neck stood on end at the sight that met his awestruck eyes.
On the opposite bank of the stream a mammoth grizzly stood on its hind legs sniffing the air trying to locate the source of the scent that it had fleetingly caught on the morning air. A grizzly bear was no stranger to Joe, having spent his life in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but never had he seen one such as this. It towered feet over the largest grizzly that Joe could ever remember seeing.
With a growl, the bear dropped to all fours and splashed across the stream. Once again, the gigantic animal reared up on its hind legs to sniff the air.
Joe, realized with horror, that Hoss was nowhere in sight. Terrified, he searched with his eyes, desperate to catch a glimpse of his brother.
A movement in the rocks and brush a few feet to his right caught Joe’s eye. The movement also caught the eyes of the grizzly and it advanced towards the spot, still on its hind legs.
“Hoss! Look out! It’s right in front of you!” Joe yelled frantically.
Suddenly, the roar of a Sharps rifle split the air and red mingled with the brown fur on the grizzly’s chest.
The bear answered the Sharps roar with one of its own. Joe felt the angry roar in his gut, as well as heard it thunder in his ears.
Joe watched unbelievingly as the wounded animal, now on all fours, still advanced towards the place where Joe now knew his brother to be.
Joe drew his Colt pistol just as Hoss emerged from his cover ordering Joe desperately, “Joe, get back to the camp! Now! Get out of here!”
Hoss raised the Sharps to fire again, just as a huge paw lashed out and knocked the rifle from his hands and it tumbled away into a crevasse in the rocks. The razor-sharp claws caught the sleeve of Hoss’s heavy coat and ripped it away from his arm. Hoss tried franticly to scramble away from the grizzly’s reach as another swipe of the bear’s claws caught the back of his coat and ripped it from his body causing Hoss to go sprawling on the rocks. Hoss’s head hit hard and he was surrounded in a swirling blackness, his ears ringing with the angry roar of the grizzly and Joe’s anguished scream of “Hoss!”
The events after Hoss was attacked by the grizzly would forever remain a blur to Joe. Later, when questioned by his family, Joe could not tell them how he did what he did.
Joe watched in horror as the monster out of a nightmare ripped the coat from his brother and sent him sprawling unconscious.
There was a roaring in Joe’s ears and he could not hear himself screaming “Hoss! Hoss!” over and over as he clambered over the rocks, Colt in hand. All he knew was that he had to get to his brother.
Somehow, he found himself on the rocks above where Hoss lay.
The monster bear focused its attention on this new intruder above it. It turned towards Joe, raising itself on its hind legs, teeth bared, blood dripping from the wound in its chest.
The pistol in Joe’s hand fired. Blood spurted from the grizzly’s left eye. Roaring in pain and rage, the grizzly lashed out, but Joe was just beyond the reach of the lethal paw.
Joe, by now nearly out of his head with fear for his brother and rage at his attacker was heedless of the danger to himself. Joe, standing directly in front of the bear and yelling “Damn you grizzly! Leave my brother alone you stinkin’ bear!”, fired his Colt again, the bullet hitting the bear square between the eyes. With a final roar, the bear tumbled to its side and lay still.
Back at the camp, Ben and Adam were packing up, preparing to leave. Hearing the boom from Hoss’s Sharps rifle, the two men froze in their tracks. Adam dropped the saddle he was lifting to Sport’s back and turned to his father whose eyes were wide with the alarm that Adam also felt. There was no need for words between the two men. Simultaneously, they grabbed their rifles and sprinted from their camp.
Fighting their way through the thick brush and tripping over rocks and tree roots, father and son both found their blood running cold as they heard Joe’s screams of “Hoss!” and the sound of a pistol being fired, echoing around them.
Rounding a large boulder, Ben and Adam were confronted with a scene that would forever stay in each man’s mind.
Joe was sitting among a pile of rocks, Hoss’s head in his lap; Hoss’s brown wool coat lay shredded nearby. The body of a grizzly bear sprawled among the rocks; a grizzly bear larger than either man could imagine in his wildest dreams.
“No. Please no!” Ben pleaded as he made his way unsteadily across the rock-strewn ground, Adam right behind.
“Joe, son, what happened here?” Ben knelt, heedless of the sharp rocks digging into his knees and grabbed Joe by the shoulder. He wildly took in Joe’s blood-spattered face, and the unconscious Hoss, blood streaming from his head and right arm.
Joe looked at his father dazedly. “The grizzly. It, it knock….knocked the Sharps right out…out of Hoss’s h….hand”, Joe managed to shakily reply. “Pa, is Hoss…. is Hoss…..?”
“He’s alive, son. I can feel a pulse.” Ben assured Joe. “Now you just sit there quietly for now. You can tell us later what happened.
Adam hunkered down beside his father and brothers. “Pa, you see to Hoss. I’ll take care of Joe. I don’t think he’s hurt, just shook up. The canteens are down there by the creek. I’ll be right back. We need some water.”
Ben pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and tenderly dabbed at the blood on his middle son’s forehead. He stopped abruptly as Hoss moaned softly and rolled his head.
Adam had returned with the canteens. Ben hurriedly pulled his handkerchief from his pocket, wet it and wiped the blood from Hoss’s face and arm. “Looks like a deep gash, but I think it’s from hitting his head on a rock, not from that bear’s claws. He’s arm’s been clawed, but it doesn’t look deep. How’s Joe?”
“I was right. None of this blood on him seems to be his”, Adam answered. “Some of it must be from Hoss. The rest has to be the bear’s.”
Adam touched Joe’s shoulder. “Joe, I’m going back to camp for some blankets for Hoss. We’re going to use one for a litter to carry Hoss. You’re going to have to help us carry him. Think you can manage”?
Joe looked at his unconscious brother and back to Adam. “I can manage, Adam. I can manage”, Joe answered determinedly.
Joe sat on a log beside the campfire silently watching his father tend to a still unconscious Hoss. Ben had cleaned the claw wounds on Hoss’s arm, and was gently daubing at the gash on Hoss’s head.
After getting back to the campsite, Adam had washed the blood from Joe’s face and made him strip out of his blood-covered clothes and took them to rinse out in the cold water of the creek. Joe now sat wrapped in a blanket, absent-mindedly sipping from the cup of coffee clutched in his hands.
Images whirled through Joe’s mind; the enormous bear roaring out of the brush, Hoss’s Sharps rifle flying through the air, Hoss sprawled on the rocks, blood exploding from the grizzly’s head.
Joe’s thoughts were interrupted by Adam sitting down beside him. Adam gestured with his eyes towards Hoss. “How is he?”
Joe sighed, and forced his eyes away from Hoss to look at Adam. “The same. He’s moaned some, but he hasn’t woke up any.”
Adam pulled Joe’s Colt from his belt and handed it to his young brother. “I found your pistol laying on the rocks. I couldn’t find Hoss’s Sharps. After your clothes dry we’ll go look for it. Hoss sets great store by that rifle.”
Joe nodded his agreement, smiling at the thought of Hoss’s attachment to the Sharps.
Adam continued, “I took a look at the grizzly’s carcass. Its left eye was shot out as neatly as you please and it had a bullet hole right between its eyes. That blunderbuss of Hoss’s wouldn’t do that. It would have blown the grizzly’s head right off. Joe, what happened out there?”
Joe slowly set his still half-full cup down and picked up the pistol laying in his lap. Joe looked at it intently, then to Adam. Hesitantly, he told his oldest brother of the events at the creek.
“Your pistol!” Adam was thunderstruck. “You got within pistol range of that monster and killed him with a Colt pistol? Joe, that grizzly could have gutted you with one swipe!”
“Yeah, I reckon.” Joe shrugged. “I don’t remember thinking about it. But, Adam, I had to do something. The Sharps was gone, you and Pa were too far away. At least it would have bought Hoss some time for you and Pa to get there with your rifles. How did you know to come running, anyway?”
“We would have been deaf not to hear the explosion that Sharps makes. Then we heard you shouting for Hoss at the top of your lungs. I felt like I had ice water in my veins when I realized what was happening. I don’t even want to imagine what Pa must have been feeling. Joe, I can’t tell you how proud I am of you, kid. I know Pa will be too when he finds out; not to mention Hoss.”
Joe just shook his head at the praise. “I didn’t do anything you or Hoss or Pa wouldn’t have done.”
Adam threw his arm around his kid brother’s blanketed shoulders just as their father turned to them from where he knelt beside Hoss on the other side of the fire. “He’s coming to!”
The first thing Hoss Cartwright was aware of was the throbbing pain in his head and in his right arm. He lay a moment trying to gather his scattered thoughts when a vision of a mammoth grizzly bear appeared before him, along with a glimpse of his brother Joe scrambling towards him over the rocks, yelling his name.
“Joe! No!” Hoss yelled and jerked upright. He clutched his head and sank back down as a shooting pain pierced through his skull.
“Hoss, son, shhhhh. You have to lay quiet. You’ve been hurt. Joe’s fine. Don’t worry about him.” His father’s soothing voice penetrated Hoss’s consciousness and he tentatively opened his eyes, and stared around in confusion.
Three pairs of eyes stared back at him; his father’s worried chocolate-brown ones, Adam’s steady gray ones, and a pair of tear-filled green ones above a shaky smile.
“But, that grizzly? How? What?” Hoss struggled to sit up, anxiously taking in his younger brother’s pale face and blanket draped figure.
“Easy, son. You’ve had quite a crack on the head. Ben supported Hoss against his leg while Adam held out the canteen. “Why don’t you drink a little water first. Then you lay back down and we’ll fill you in. It seems your young brother here is a match for an angry grizzly when it comes to looking out for his big brother”.
The next day dawned bright and sunny, with a hint in the air of the first really warm day of spring.
Four men, three on horseback, one on a travois, though under protest that he was fine and could ride, wound their way down the mountain towards their home.
Miles away, in a high secluded alpine meadow, a gigantic female grizzly sniffs the warming air as she leads her twin cubs to a deep pool where she knows she can provide them with a fine fish breakfast. Her nose picks up the scent of others of her kind on their way to the same fish pond. The time of warm breezes and abundant food is approaching, and there is no need now to leave the mountain sanctuary as at least one of their dwindling numbers had been driven to during the hard winter just past. But there will be other winters.