Word count: 6650
The Battle of Pyramid Lake, as it was coming to be known, was over, and life was returning to what passed for normal in this western corner of Utah Territory in the year of 1860. The men who’d been pouring in from all over the country to try their luck at silver mining – men who had no appreciation for the beauty of the country beyond the blue sludge they dug from the hillsides, who had no care for anything beyond making money and destroying anything or anyone who got in their way – they seemed far distant on this quiet June morning in the high Sierras.
Adam Cartwright reined his horse around another storm-gray granite outcropping and mused on the ironies and idiocies of life. A few men hadn’t had the decency to leave a couple of Indian women alone, and now hundreds were dead, white and Indian, including the Paiute known as Young Wolf. That the women had been from the Bannock tribe of the Shoshoni hadn’t mattered to the drunken miners in town. The Paiute were handy, so they were blamed for the retaliatory raids.
Adam had grieved for the death of his childhood playmate, even though, as an adult, the son of Chief Winnemucca had made it quite clear that there could be no friendship between their peoples. Even if Adam hadn’t already seen the gap between them widening, he would have been convinced when the Paiute tried to slit his throat with the knife Adam’s father had given him years ago. That Young Wolf hadn’t succeeded was due solely to the intervention of Winnemucca, who wanted to use Adam’s life as a tool in his bid for a peaceful parley.
Adam wondered, as he carefully continued to make his way up a rocky path toward the high reaches, why he found this one death so hard to shake off. It wasn’t like he hadn’t lost friends before, hadn’t lost people he cared about. He’d known many of the men who’d died in this most recent fight with the Indians; some he’d called friend. And this new land was hard, with luck often more important for survival than strength or even preparation. He should be used to it by now, should be able to shed these feelings and move on, but a melancholy had fallen over him in the days since the battle, and he couldn’t shake it off.
He knew his father was concerned about him. Ben Cartwright wore a distinctive soft scowl when he was worried about any of his sons, and lately it had been directed at Adam more often than he was comfortable with. Hence his escape, yesterday along the shores of Lake Tahoe to Spooner Lake, then today up into the mountains, on the pretext of looking for strays. It would be a hardy steer, though, that made its way up to these craggy peaks. Breathing was hard at this elevation, even for a man and horse who’d lived and worked here for most of their lives.
The view was spectacular, though, and well worth the time and effort. Marlette Lake, a small indigo gem, lay a near-thousand foot drop directly below him, and Lake Tahoe was spread beyond and another fifteen hundred feet below Marlette Lake. The slate-gray mountains, still dusted with blinding white snow, rimmed the crystal blue water. The verdant pine forests were dotted with apple green meadows, all of it sweeping down to the shores of what was surely the most magnificent lake in the entire world – a sapphire jewel nestled in emeralds and set in brushed silver. It almost hurt the eyes in its beauty.
Adam remembered well the first time he’d seen it. Maybe it was because of the blisteringly hot and dry desert his family had just come through, but the water had seemed so cool and beautiful that he’d breathlessly told his father to stop, that this was where they should stay.
Ben had looked at the deep blue waters, had whispered to himself, “Like Inger’s eyes,” his wife who had just died, and Adam knew they’d found their home.
So many memories.
He continued riding north as his mind ranged back through time to his first meeting with Young Wolf. It had been in their first few days here, before they found the Lake, when they’d taken some time to rest up in the near-desert lands north and east of the Washoe Valley.
He’d been reluctantly gathering cow-patties to burn in the cooking pit, from where a small herd of cattle had recently been driven through the area. Having left the vast plains long behind where the endless herds of buffalo left ample evidence of their passing, Adam had thought he’d never have to gather this particular fuel again, but unfortunately there was nothing else. There were no more deadfalls from the piñon trees, and his father wouldn’t use the live wood. He’d been told it was a main source of food for the local Indians, and he wanted to start out on good terms with them.
If they didn’t have fuel for the fires, they wouldn’t have dinner, and Adam was always hungry these days. His father had said it was because he was beginning to grow, but all he knew was that he wanted a big, hot meal, and that meant gathering fuel. So that left cow-patties.
He knew from long experience on the trail which ones burned the best – if you kicked it and it spun and flipped and didn’t fall apart, it was ready – and he already had a half-full canvas sack slung over his shoulder. They needed over three bushels for each meal, so he kept on with his gathering, not realizing he was drifting farther and farther from camp.
He’d just picked up what he figured would be his last one for this bag when his eye caught a movement. A lively dog burst through the brush, its tongue dangling so haphazardly from its mouth that Adam had to laugh. The dog stopped and looked up at him, seeming to laugh in return.
“Hey, there, fella. Where’d you come from?” He was just reaching to scratch the animal behind the ears when he heard a soft brushing sound. He looked up and froze. He was almost face-to-face with an Indian. It took a heart-stopping moment for him to realize that his visitor was a boy, probably no older than himself.
Even so, he instinctively threw the cow-patty in his hand as a distraction and started to turn and run, but the dog had leapt from the ground, and with a powerful twist of his sleek black body, snatched it from the air. He trotted over to Adam and dropped it at his feet, then sat and looked up at him with cocked head that said clearly, “Oh, let’s do it again!” Adam was startled into laughter, and, to his surprise, the Indian boy laughed as well.
The grown man’s lips curved upwards in a sweet smile as he recalled how they’d taken turns tossing those old cow-patties over and over, trying to see how far the dog could run, how high it could jump. It had never missed, not once, until one of the disks disintegrated in mid-air. The dog’s shocked and confused expression sent the boys into gales of laughter, sealing a friendship that Adam, in his boyish innocence, had thought would last forever.
The sharp mountain wind tugged at his hat, demanding that he return to the present, and he turned up the collar of his coat, suddenly chilled.
He rode steadily along the mountain path, which now dropped down through the trees to a flat, sandy area, where he made a cursory search for cattle. It was barely conceivable that a few might have wandered this far, but he wasn’t surprised or disappointed not to find any.
He then decided to take the eastern route around Marlette Peak, and the lake disappeared from sight. Instead, he could look out over the Washoe Valley and nearly up to Pyramid Lake. From this distance there was no sign of the recent bloody conflict. The land was as clean and pure as if it had never happened, as it had been that day he and Young Wolf first met.
The Indian boy had helped him gather the cow-patties into his sack again and had turned reluctantly to leave, but on a sudden impulse Adam said, “Wait!” and carefully pulled a small sack from his pocket.
Curious, the boy waited patiently as Adam knelt on the ground and poured his treasure onto the dusty ground. A multitude of colors flashed in the sun as the small glass balls rolled from the leather bag. On a gasp of surprise, the Indian knelt next to the white boy, and he passed his hand reverently over the marbles as if he wanted to pick them up but dared not.
“It’s okay,” Adam assured him. “It’s a game.”
The boy raised a questioning eyebrow.
“A game,” he repeated. His brow furrowed, then cleared. He mimicked throwing a cow-patty and said again, “Game.”
The boy seemed a little less unsure but still hesitant. Adam wasn’t sure if he didn’t understand the language or if he was just shy.
“Here, I’ll show you.” Adam drew a large circle on the ground and arranged thirteen of the smaller marbles into a cross in the center. “Mibs,” he said, waving at the marbles that made up the intersecting rainbow lines. He then picked up his favorite aggie to be his shooter – a large blue with white swirls that had always reminded him of the prairie skies – and knelt next to the circle with his right hand on the ground, one knuckle touching the dirt.
He balanced the marble on his fingers, aimed carefully, and with a quick flick of his thumb, shot the aggie at the line of marbles where it hit a greenish-yellow mib and knocked it from the circle. “Here,” he said, picking out another aggie from his pouch, this one a dark, intense blue. He handed it to his new friend and said, “You try.”
The boy stared at the marble, rolling it between his fingers as he studied it. The way he was handling it, Adam wondered if he’d ever felt something so perfectly smooth and round before.
“Like this,” Adam coached, kneeling again.
The boy copied Adam’s posture, even down to making sure his knuckles were on the ground, and flicked the marble awkwardly into the ring. It rolled a few feet, but didn’t have enough force to make it to the line of marbles. Adam retrieved it and gave it back, then showed him how to balance the marble on his fingers. He picked up his own aggie and slowly went through the motions, which the boy copied. Adam nodded when it looked like he understood, and the boy tried again. This time his shooter jumped into the circle and with a solid thunk collided with a brown-speckled mib, but not with enough force to send it from the ring.
“That’s good,” Adam said, “but since you didn’t get it out of the ring, it’s my turn again.” He wasn’t sure the boy understood his words, so he pointed to the speckled mib, pointed out of the ring while he shook his head, then pointed at his own chest. “My turn,” he repeated.
He got down on one knee, lined up his aggie, carefully calculating angles and force, and let fly. A bright red mib jumped from the circle. He retrieved it and placed it on his side of the circle, then shot again, but this time missed. He gestured at the Indian.
The boy knelt and shot, and this time when his deep blue aggie found its target with a satisfying thunk, the second marble flew from the circle.
“You did it!” Adam yelled with a big smile. He set the mib on the Indian’s side of the circle and gestured for him to go again.
That was all it took. Soon they were in a heated competition that didn’t end until Adam suddenly realized the shadows were growing longer. “Uh, oh,” he said. “I gotta get back. Dinnertime.”
The Indian boy looked puzzled.
Adam gestured to his mouth and his stomach, the bag of cow-patties, and then back towards camp. “I have to go.” He loaded the marbles back into his small leather sack and was about to tuck it into his pocket when sudden impulse made him empty it out again. He searched for the deep blue aggie, and when he found it, tucked the bag away. He polished the marble on his shirt sleeve, then held it out to his new friend. The boy took it reverently and held it up to the setting sun where it gleamed a pure, intense azure in the desert light.
Adam felt a swift shaft of regret over giving up the beautiful marble, but it was gone as quickly as it came. The loss was small compared to gaining a friend. The boy tucked his treasure carefully into a small leather sack, similar to Adam’s, then pointed at his chest. “Young Wolf,” he said proudly.
Adam stood tall. “Pleased to meet you, Young Wolf.” He copied the gesture and said, “Adam Cartwright.”
“Pleased to meet you, Adam Cartwright,” repeated Young Wolf carefully, trying out the new words. He grinned.
Adam grinned back.
Then the boy whistled for his dog, and they were gone.
He’d gotten a tanning that night for being late, for not finishing his chores, and, when Ben found out what he’d been doing, for giving his father the scare of his life. His ten-year-old boy, off on his own, meeting up with an Indian. Ben had been torn between pride in Adam’s open acceptance of the native culture and terror that his son’s inquisitive nature would one day lead to disaster.
Adam smiled ruefully at his memories as he meandered through the mountains. It had been the first of many tannings he’d received over his friendship with the Indian boy. He simply hadn’t been able to resist his fascinating new companion, even when it meant missed chores and even missed dinners.
Looking back on those days from the perspective of adulthood, he sympathized with his father, but still felt he’d been right to learn something of the Paiute way of life. They were his neighbors, as much as Mr. Clark, who had the first house in Franktown, Old Man Rose, now settled on the Simons place, the miners Mr. Dodge and Mr. Campbell, Mr. Jamison, who lived up on the Truckee River, or the German, Christopher West.
In fact, since they’d been here first, Adam felt more of an obligation to learn from the Indians than from his own people. What did the white men know of this country – the best places to hunt antelope, find the wild berries, trap rabbits, or where the best grass could be found for the cattle Pa wanted to buy? He’d never been this close to a culture that lived in such harmony with the land, and he’d been desperate to learn.
Young Wolf had been equally fascinated by the white boy. Adam knew scores of stories of battles and heroes from far-off lands, he could tell where he was by the stars at night, and, to Young Wolf’s disgust, remained the better of the two at shooting marbles. Adam had tried to explain that it was all simply a matter of controlling angles and forces, but in this, Young Wolf had to acknowledge his superior skill. That Adam never begrudged teaching him what he knew, the Indian repaid by showing the white boy the ways of the mountains.
Adam knew, even if others in the community would never acknowledge it, that they owed a good portion of their survival to the Paiute.
His stomach growled, bringing him back to the present and reminding him it was past lunchtime. He hadn’t had much appetite lately, and the jerky he’d packed in his saddlebags didn’t tempt him. There’d been a time when he hadn’t thought twice about making his meals from dried beef and the water from a mountain stream. In fact, that’s just what he’d been doing the second time he saw Young Wolf.
Once again his father had pretty much left him to entertain himself while he went out to drive some cattle to new pastures, so he’d taken a few small chunks of alabaster he’d traded two rabbits to a peddler for and then squirreled away, leaped up onto his pony, and headed for the nearest waterfall.
He hadn’t thought twice about being left on his own – on the wagon train there wasn’t much for children to do beyond a few basic chores, so they learned early to be responsible for themselves while their parents took care of the animals, foraged for food, and did the multitude of other tasks that required greater strength and endurance than a child could manage. His family was off the trail, finally, but since his father often left his four-year-old brother, Hoss, with one of the women neighbors, Adam often had more free time than he could fill with chores.
He created a small bowl of granite rocks under the rushing water and tested it by dropping in a couple of stones. The first ones bounced right out from the force of the water, but he built up the sides until he didn’t lose any more. Then he dropped one of his precious chunks of white marble in the bowl. Heavier than the stones had been, it tumbled and tossed against the rock sides.
He watched it carefully for several minutes, chewing on some beef jerky, then pulled it out and grinned. The sharp edges were already smoothing out. It might take a while, but eventually he’d have another smooth, round marble. A real allie, of purest sparkling white.
“Adam Cartwright,” he heard.
He looked up into the dark, inquisitive eyes of Young Wolf.
“Why do you wash rocks, Adam Cartwright?”
Adam grinned. “I’m making a marble. You want to see?”
The Indian boy approached cautiously, for the rocks of these mountains were treacherous when wet. His moccasins made his going easier than Adam’s boots had, though, and he approached quickly and peered into the stone cup. He looked to the white boy for permission, and when Adam nodded, he reached into the small well of churning water and retrieved the stone. He rubbed the irregular edges and compared it to a second piece Adam held out to him. “How long?” he asked.
Adam shrugged. “Depends on a lot of things. The rocks you make the cup out of, how fast the water comes down, how hard the stone is. This is the first piece of alabaster I’ve tried this with, so I don’t know.”
“Huh,” the boy replied thoughtfully, dropping the stone back in the makeshift cup. “Grandfather says that is good answer. When you do not know, is better to say so.”
“My father taught me that, too. The last thing he wants is for me to make something up. I get in worse trouble with him for that than just about anything.”
Young Wolf watched the stone rattle around a while longer. “I came to hunt. Do you wish to come?”
“Oh, yeah!” Adam exclaimed. He retrieved the stone and shoved it into his pocket. “I can come back and do this any time. What are you looking for? Antelope? Bear?”
Young Wolf shook his head. “Not old enough. Must have five more summers. I hunt rabbit and birds today.”
“I laid some rabbit snares on the way out. Do you want to go see if they caught anything? I’ll share with you if they did.”
“Thank you, Adam Cartwright, but I must hunt my own. My family has enough food. This is . . .” he trailed off, searching for the right word.
“Practice?” asked Adam.
Young Wolf nodded once. “Yes. Practice. When I grow tall and strong, I will make a bigger bow, and my arrows will have eagle feathers. I will hunt mountain-sheep and antelope and deer. When I have fifteen summers, I will hunt with the men, and I will be a man. I must be ready.”
It made perfect sense to Adam. One day he knew he would put aside his snares and take out a rifle, like his father, and he would be a man as well.
Adam had passed Marlette Peak, and so Lake Tahoe had reappeared on his left. He rode easily, relaxed in the saddle and swaying with the motion of his horse, as he approached the overlook to Sand Harbor.
It was a spectacular spot, one that Young Wolf had showed him. They had climbed the last half-mile on foot to a ridge of jumbled rocks, then walked down a little way to an outcropping. The cliffs were as high above the lake as the Marlette Lake overlook, but this time it was straight down to the edge of Lake Tahoe. As a man, he could estimate the drop to be at least 2500 feet, but as a boy, he’d just known it was a long way. The shore jutted out into the lake a short distance, with the shallow bottom turning the water jade green instead of the intense blue of the deep center.
Adam dismounted and tied his horse securely, then walked carefully to the edge and looked down to the lake. He eased himself to the ground and dangled his legs over the drop off, just as he had so many times as a boy. Something else his father would have walloped him for, if he’d ever known.
Young Wolf had done the same, and neither of them had been concerned that a minor slip would send either or both plummeting to their deaths. They were young; they were invincible.
On their first trip up here, once Young Wolf had settled at his side, he started fiddling at his belt. He withdrew the marble Adam had given him and held it up in the air, then gestured at the lake. They were the exact same color.
“When you gave me this stone of water,” he said, “I knew what Grandfather said was true.”
Adam took a swallow of water from the canteen he’d brought along, then offered it to his friend. The boy drank long and deep, but returned it still with plenty of water. This Adam had noticed – his friend took what he needed, but never more. “What did your grandfather say?”
“The white man is our brother.”
“Why did he say that?”
“He told a story from long ago. The story says that in the beginning there were only four, two girls and two boys, and they were a happy family with their father and mother. One girl and one boy were dark, and the other two were white. For a while they got along together, but soon they disagreed, and there was trouble. Soon the parents saw that they must separate the children. The father sent the white children across the ocean, and told them not to seek out their brother and sister. After a time, the dark children grew into a large nation, one we believe we belong to. We have long believed that the nation that came from the white children would return and heal all the old trouble. And so you have.”
“I have a brother,” Adam began slowly.
“And I have a brother and three sisters, one brand new.” The Indian boy gazed out at the distant mountains. “But my cousins are the sons of the Chief as well, so they are my brothers.”
Adam worked it out with a frown. “And since I’m the son of the white children, I’m your brother, too.”
“This is so.”
Adam gazed at the mountains as well. “I’m glad.”
“Pa’s gonna have seventeen fits when I tell him where I found you.”
“Then don’t tell him,” replied Adam, still gazing off into the distance.
Joe Cartwright approached his brother, but not too close. He didn’t like heights. He hunkered down a good ten feet from the edge. “He’s worried about you.”
Adam sighed. “I know. That’s why I left.”
A quick grin flashed across Joe’s face. He knew exactly what his brother was talking about. He’d been the target of their father’s concern before, and it could try even the legendary patience of their other brother, Hoss. He sobered, though. If Adam was bothered enough to take off to the mountains, perhaps their father had cause for his worry. “Want to talk about it?” he asked.
“Not much to talk about. We were friends when we were children, then we weren’t, and now he’s dead.”
Joe knew full well there was more to it than that. He buttoned his jacket against the fierce wind, then inched a bit closer, settling all the way to the ground with legs crossed, but still a decent distance from the edge. “What broke up your friendship? Did you do something to make him mad at you?”
Adam shook his head slowly, sadly. “Not me. But it didn’t matter in the end. Young Wolf learned not to trust the white man, and I can’t say he was wrong. The things we’ve done to their people, all in the name of progress…”
“When did it start to go wrong?”
He looked upward, as if he could find the answers in the cloudless blue sky. “I think…the winter Chief Truckee took him and his family to the San Joaquin Valley. I don’t know much about what happened. I know he worked for a friend of his grandfather’s and came home with several horses as payment.”
Adam frowned. “But I noticed, after that trip, his sister, the oldest girl, was now afraid of white men, just like his youngest sister, Thocmetony, had always been. You remember her – she goes by Sarah now. Her older sister was just as beautiful as she is now, and you know how some men get.”
Joe snorted. “Yeah. Like the Wilsons.”
Adam winced. He’d been the one who helped his Bannock friend Bruno rescue his and another of his tribesman’s wives from Wilson station. Their chief, Ringnose, had led his warriors on retaliatory raids that had been blamed on the Paiute and were the beginning of the whole nightmare that had culminated in the death of, among others, Young Wolf.
“As if that wasn’t enough,” Adam continued, “when they came back the next spring, their tribe had been decimated by the white man’s diseases, illnesses we’d brought with us that killed off entire Indian families. When Chief Truckee came back, those who were left told him that we’d poisoned the Humboldt, but he wouldn’t believe it. He saw only good in us, wanted only to make peace with us and to learn to live together.”
He sighed, and when he continued, his voice was strained. “But Young Wolf started to listen to the other men more, and his grandfather less, and although we still rode together sometimes, he always seemed angry. Then I went East, and when I came back, it was as if we’d never known each other.”
Joe had scooted just a bit closer so that he now sat a little to the left and just behind his brother. Adam seemed almost oblivious to his presence, though. It was a measure of his distraction that he didn’t offer to move back from the edge; he knew well Joe’s fear of heights and normally would never have even implicitly asked Joe to do what he was doing.
“Adam, don’t do this to yourself. It’s not your fault, what happened out there. You and Pa did everything you could.”
“Did we? I don’t mean in the last few weeks, Joe. This has been building for a long time. I could see it in Winnemucca’s eyes when he came to me in the teepee, when he stopped Young Wolf from slitting my throat.”
Joe paled. He knew his brother had been in danger, but hearing how close he’d been to death tied his stomach in knots. Young Wolf had changed that much. He looked at his brother carefully and had no trouble reading his expression – Adam’s stomach was tied in knots, too. He had to get this out. “What did he say?”
Adam rubbed at his forehead. “I can remember every word, every gesture, every passing expression on his face…”
The chief sat before him, even at his age gracefully comfortable sitting on the ground with crossed legs. He spoke with no condemnation, just a simple statement of fact. “Once the wild bear knew Washoe. Now he is gone. The white man killed him.”
Adam knew he was right. There was no sense in trying to soften the truth. “That is so,” he answered.
“And then the antelope, who is the friend of the Paiute. He, too, is gone. The white man kill him.”
He answered with regret, “That, too, is so.”
“And now the Great Sun of the Paiute weakens. And as it crosses the sky…even today, will drop behind the mountains and be gone.”
Adam tried to instill some hope. “Perhaps my father will return in time.” Ben and Joe had ridden to Ringnose’s camp, to bring him to the soldiers and to tell them the raids had been by Bannock, not Paiute. Winnemucca had promised to hold Adam Cartwright’s life until the soldiers arrived, but no longer. And then the bloodbath would begin.
Winnemucca shook his head. “The soldiers already march along Chief Truckee’s river. Your father is in the land of the Bannocks.” His expression lightened for a moment. “I would like to see your father. A man should see his friends on the day of his death.”
A shaft of grief stabbed at Adam’s heart. Surely there was another way, something that wouldn’t end in the death the man before him saw so vividly?
But Winnemucca’s thoughts had turned in a new direction. “At the head of the California soldiers rides a man named…Hungerford?” he asked.
Again, Adam could only be completely honest. “I know him. He’s a soldier.”
With a hint of trepidation in his eyes, if not his voice, Winnemucca asked, “Is this the same Hungerford who defeated Shining Brow of the Cheyenne?”
Adam knew what he was saying. This was a death warrant for the Paiute. “It’s the same.”
Winnemucca knew. At that moment, with those words, the Chief of the Paiutes knew this would be the end. He struggled to understand. “A hundred tens of men and more and cannon. All this to defeat an old man, his son, and thirty tens of Paiute. Do our small lives mean so much to your people?”
Adam had to convince him, had to stop what was coming as irrevocably as the storms in the high Sierra. “Don’t fight them, Winnemucca,” he pleaded. “Wait. Surrender if you must, but give my father time enough to return with Ringnose.”
His words were useless.
Winnemucca’s words sounded with the knell of prophecy. “There will be no more talk, even though I willed it. If we must die, we must die. For the ways of the wild things are the Paiute’s way, and the wild things, too, are dead. I am sorry for you, Adam Cartwright, for you are a friend and the son of a friend, but the first shot that is fired by the California soldiers will be a signal to my son…and you will die.”
Adam’s heart sank, not just for his own life, but because his death would accomplish nothing except to give the whites another excuse to wipe out a great people.
Chief Winnemucca rose to leave, but stopped at the entrance to the wigwam and turned back. The grief on his face was terrible to see, all the more so because it was controlled, inevitable. “And even as you die it will be like a small part of myself that dies with you.”
“But you didn’t die,” Joe said.
“No, but he had a hundred sons that did.” Adam scrubbed at his face with his hands. “I wonder, can they ever forgive us? Can we ever learn to live together?”
Fear forgotten in trying to help his brother, Joe’s gaze swept the wild loveliness before them. “You’d think there’d be enough here for everyone, wouldn’t you?”
“We hold just as tightly to our piece of the woods as any of those miners,” Adam reminded him.
“But we help out where we can. No Paiute needs to go hungry in the winter, Adam. You made sure of that, convinced Pa it was good business – that it was better to give them a steer now and again than have them stealing – even though we all know that’s not why you did it. You and Pa know what they’ve lost, and you’ve tried to help them find their way in this new world. If some of them can’t change, can only feel blind hatred for everyone not like themselves, then there isn’t a whole lot we can do.”
Adam took a deep breath and blew it out. He tilted his head to the side, regarding his brother with an uptilted eyebrow. “How’d you get so smart, kid?”
Joe laughed once. “Runs in the family, I guess. But, Adam?” He hesitated.
“What is it, Joe?”
“Umm, can we…umm, move back a bit now?”
Adam’s eyes widened as he realized what Joe was saying. He leaped to his feet. “I’m sorry, I didn’t even realize—”
“I know, and it’s okay, really,” Joe interrupted as he practically climbed up his brother’s long body getting to his feet, chattering away his nervousness. “Aren’t you hungry? Hop Sing packed me a huge lunch, and there’s a great meadow down at Twin Lakes—”
“All right, you’ve convinced me,” Adam laughed. He slapped his brother on the back and led the way back to their horses, his heart lightened just a little.
It was a silent ride downhill since they had to travel single file, but for Adam, there was the beginning of a sense of peace in his heart, brought about by, of all people, the noisiest and most gregarious of the Cartwrights.
Since it was still early in the year and the ground was still boggy, they stayed on their horses’ backs as they took them to water at the lakes. Adam unstopped his canteen and let it down into the water to fill, then took a long, cold drink before closing it again and looping it around his saddlehorn.
Their horses soon had all they wanted, so Joe and Adam rode back to dry ground and dismounted in a grassy meadow. Joe was quick to unload his saddlebags full of food, and Adam suddenly found he had an appetite after all.
He ate the two sandwiches Joe passed him, then, after another long drink, lay back in the sun-warmed grass and tilted his hat down over his eyes. He woke after a while with the distinct feeling of being watched.
“Adam?” he heard his brother say softly. “We have a visitor.”
Joe’s voice wasn’t tense, so Adam raised his hat casually to see who it was.
“Thocmetony!” he whispered and climbed to his feet. Joe stood back, out of the way, but watched carefully.
“Adam Cartwright,” she said. The Indian princess known as Sarah Winnemucca was a beautiful young woman, but there was more to her than her looks. Her eyes were like her father’s, holding wells of wisdom and intelligence, as well as a powerful drive to accomplish something for her people. Adam had talked with her before, and he had tremendous respect for her, young as she was.
“How can I help you?” he asked, searching her face for grief and hatred and finding the first, but not the second.
The fringe of her dress fluttered in the breeze as she delved into a pocket. “It is what I hope to do for you, Adam Cartwright, friend of the Paiute people.”
His head dropped. “Not so good a friend, Thocmetony. At least your brother didn’t think so.”
“Young Wolf was our war chief. He had to see the evil in the world to protect us from it. When I was a little girl, I know he believed what Grandfather told us, what Father taught, that the white man was our friend. When he met you, his belief was complete, and Chief Truckee was happy to see Young Wolf and Adam Cartwright ride the Washoe together.”
She brushed away a strand of hair that had escaped from its braid. “Then things began to happen, and my brother began to question those thoughts. As he grew older, he saw our people betrayed again and again by white men, men his people had trusted and called friend. He could not bear the thought that you, of all people, would do the same. When you did not, his fear and anger grew, and so he sought to destroy you, before you destroyed him.”
Joe walked up behind his brother, put a supportive hand on his shoulder. “Why did you come, Sarah?” he asked softly. “Why did you seek out my brother?”
She took the object she’d been holding in her hand and dropped it into Adam’s. “To give him this.” She raised her eyes to Adam’s. “When we buried Young Wolf, it rolled from his medicine pouch. I knew what it was from when I was a child and my brother showed it to me. I know you gave it to him, and that he believed it held great medicine. Even in his anger toward the white man, he could not give up this gift of friendship. The gods chose that it not go with him, and so I have returned it to you.”
Adam opened his hand slowly, and there, warm on his palm, was a small azure marble, lit to brilliance by the bright summer sun. His breath caught.
She closed his fingers around it, held his large, strong, white man’s hand between her two slender brown ones. “Chief Truckee said these words: ‘Weep not for your dead, but sing and be joyful, for the soul is happy in the Spirit-land.’”
Then she raised her hand to his face and cupped his cheek in her palm. “But it is natural for man or woman to weep, because it relieves our hearts to weep together, and we all feel better afterwards. Go home, Adam Cartwright, and remember my brother and his people with tears if you will, but not forever. Do not forget the joy of two boys who discovered a lake – and a world – together.”
And as she melted back into the forest Adam opened his hand again, to gaze in tear-blurred wonder at the world, held in his palm.
Author’s Notes regarding Major Sources:
Life Among the Piutes, by Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins; Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1994; originally published New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1883. Sarah’s quote of Chief Truckee and her subsequent words regarding grief are taken directly from this book.
Mr. Dale Clark, Historian at the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer, Grand Island, Nebraska, from stories he told of trail life, in the summer of 2001.
“Tahoe Rim Trail: Spooner Summit to Mt. Rose” by Deanne Del Vecchio, Jan 10, 1998.
And a special thank you to Mr. Gene L. Coon for his marvelous script, “The Paiute War” on which this story is based, and from which the scene with Winnemucca was transcribed.
Some poetic license has been taken with dates, Chief Winnemucca did not have a son called Young Wolf, and there is no evidence that Sarah Winnemucca ever met Adam Cartwright.