Word Count: 7700
“Hoss, you seen Little Joe?” Adam questioned bounding down the stairs.
“He sleepin’ ain’t he?” Hoss replied looking up from his afternoon snack.
“Well, he was suppose to be, but he’s not in his room.” Adam declared hotly, rolling his eyes at the question asked by his little brother. ‘Geez, don’t you think that’s the first place I looked!’
Hoss stood and joined his older brother in searching for the three-year-old human tornado known as Joseph Francis Cartwright. “Adam, he ain’t nowhere up here,” Hoss called from the head of the stairs.
“Let’s check the kitchen, it’s the only place left,” Adam stated making his way through the dining room, Hoss closely at his heel.
Entering the kitchen the boys were met with the obvious clue that indicated to the whereabouts of the youngster. The door was standing ajar with a small crate sitting alongside of it.
“That little brat!” Adam bellowed. “Pa and Mama are due back soon, and that’s just what I need. It’ll be my hide if something’s happened to him. Let’s go find him Hoss.”
The boys walked out into the yard and gazed across it taking in every inch. “What cha gonna do?” questioned ten year old Hoss. He was worried about his baby brother and what his older brother would do to the kid once he found him.
“Find him, make sure he’s alright and then put him over my knee,” stated the angry sixteen year old. He was worried about the little boy also, and what his Pa would think about him loosing the baby.
“No Hoss. The kids has been a real pain all afternoon, now he’s gonna have a real pain.”
Walking past the barn, the boys heard the unmistakable giggles of the wayward child. Knowing exactly where he was they took off at a run straight to the corral.
Coming upon the large area used for breaking horses for the army, the boys froze at the sight in front of them. There before them was the tiny little curly haired whirlwind perched on the top rail watching and clapping his little hands at the herd of wild mustangs.
“Stay here Hoss. I need to sneak up behind him. If we startle him, he could fall.”
“Hurry Adam, them horses are gettin’ mighty angry lookin’.”
Adam slowly and quietly eased himself closer to the corral, gasping once as the toddler shifted and almost toppled from the rail. Closing his eyes for a moment and slowly letting out the breath he was holding he began to quietly walk forward. After what seemed like an eternity, Adam finally reached up and grabbed Little Joe around the waist and pulled him into his arms. The sudden movement startled the child causing him to squeal.
Adam, holding the baby close to his chest, walked back to where Hoss was standing. “Is he ok, Adam?”
“He’s fine, Hoss,” Adam assured the boy as he knelt down and stood the child on his feet. “Just what do you think you were doing, little boy?”
“See horsies,” Joe declared with a big grin.
“Little Joe, you know you aren’t allowed at the corral alone, don’t you?”
Little Joe could see the anger in his big brothers face and looked away.
“You look at me and answer me young man! NOW!” Adam hollered, the fear of what could have happened weighing on his heart.
Little Joe looked up at his brother with tears filling his big green eyes. “Yes, A-um. Joe knows.”
“Then why did Joe sneak out of the house and go where he shouldn’t have?”
“Wanna see horsies,” the child mumbled.
“Joseph, those horses could have killed you had you fallen in that corral. What do you think Pa would do if he knew?” Adam questioned.
Tears slipping down his chubby little cheeks, Joe looked at Adam, “Papa ‘pank Joe.”
“Your right, pa would spank you for this, and you know what, big brother is going to spank you for it,” Adam said standing. “Hoss, go on inside and get your homework done and please lay my books on the table. Little Joe and I need to have a little talk then we’ll join you.”
Hoss watched as Adam picked the now crying little boy up and walked with him to the barn. Hoss knew that the only time Adam and he were taken to the barn was when Pa intended on using his belt. He hoped that Adam didn’t plan on using his on the little bottom of his baby brother. Sadly Hoss walked to the house and entered.
Adam had no intention of using anything other than his hand on the child. But he knew that Little Joe was aware of what happened in the barn when he or Hoss were taken there by Pa and hoped that by making a big issue of the spanking, he could get through to his stubborn little brother. The child had no fear of anything and this terrified Adam. Walking inside and closing the door, he made his way over to the bales of hay before standing the boy down in front of him.
Little Joe looked around the barn then glanced up at the face of the older boy. “A-um, no ‘pank Joe,” he said defiantly.
“Oh yes little boy, brother is going to spank you. Do you know why?”
Biting his little bottom lip, he said quietly. “A-um mad?’
“Why am I mad, Little Joe?” Adam questioned. He wanted to make sure the child understood what he had done, and what could have happened.
“Joe see horsies?”
“No, because you snuck out and went where you weren’t suppose to. Am I right?”
“Uh huh,” Little Joe said between hiccups, rubbing his little eyes with the sleeve of his shirt.
Adam looked at the sad little face, wet with tears of regret and a little fear of what was about to happen. Steeling himself to carry through, he reached down and shocked the child by pulling his little pants down, followed by the long john bottoms. “NOOO!” Joe hollered, knowing what was coming next. His protesting was for nothing as he found himself face down across Adam’s lap.
Adam set to making sure he left a lasting impression on the child by delivering four stinging swats across his exposed backside. Finished, he stood the boy up and fixed the child’s clothes before pulling him close, rubbing Little Joe’s back while he cried out his discomfort.
“Joe, little buddy, listen to big brother, Ok?” Adam asked and was rewarded with a nod on his shoulder. “Brother’s sorry he had to spank you, but you scarred me to death. Little buddy, I couldn’t stand it if something happened to you. That’s why you aren’t allowed at the corral alone. Understand?”
“Hey it’s over now, brothers not mad at you. I love ya kid,” Adam said hugging him close.
“Love ya A-um,” Joe said squeezing his neck as they walked out of the barn.
Ben and Marie climbed down from the surrey as Adam exited the barn. Seeing the tear-streaked face and the little shoulders that trembled with each hiccup, they both hurried over to where the boys stood.
“Adam, what happened? Is he hurt?” Ben questioned as Marie took the baby, who was now crying again in his mother’s arms.
“No sir, he’s fine.”
“Then why’s he crying?” Marie asked.
“I spanked him…”
“You what? Adam, why? He’s only a little boy, you could have hurt him,” Marie said trying to sooth the child.
“I want an explanation, now Adam. And it had better be a good one or you and I will be in the barn,” Ben added.
“Pa, Little Joe was taking a nap, and when I went to get him up he wasn’t in his room. The kid snuck out and Hoss and I found him sitting on the top rail of the corral. Pa, he could have been killed. It scared the life out of me. I know what you would have done, so I took him to the barn….”
“Pa, I only used my hand, but I was hoping it would scare him a little,” Adam concluded, dropping his head. He hoped his father would feel the punishment was justified, if not he himself would have an uncomfortable night.
Ben looked at his son as a feeling of pride washed over him. He knew Adam was right to punish the mischievous little boy. Squeezing his eldest on the back of his neck, he smiled at the boy when their eyes met. “You did right, son. I’m proud of you.”
“Thanks, Pa, but I hope I don’t have to do that again too soon. I can’t stand to see him so upset.”
Ben looked over to where his wife stood cuddling the baby. “Marie, don’t pet the boy. He did wrong and he deserved to be punished.”
“But Ben, he’s just a baby,” Marie said kissing the top of his curly head.
Reaching out, Ben took his son in his arms. “Joseph, look at me,” Ben requested. When the baby’s eyes met his he continued. “I’m very angry with you. You know what you did was wrong, don’t you?”
Little Joe nodded, as he played with the ties on his father’s vest.
“Do you understand why your brother spanked you?”
Crossing his little arms over his chest and frowning, the child said, “A-um mean.”
“Wrong answer, little boy, and watch that tone,” Ben said firmly. “Now answer me.”
“A-um mean, ‘pank Joe!” Little Joe said louder and glared over at his brother.
Turning his little boy around in his arms, Ben swatted his bottom. “That’s enough. young man. Your brother was right in spanking you. You were a bad boy today. Now you apologize to Adam.
“Do you want another spanking?” Ben asked looking into the stubborn little face.
“Then tell your brother you’re sorry.”
“Sawy A-um,” Joe said quietly as the tears welled up in his eyes.
“Now, for the rest of your punishment, you will stay in your room until tomorrow. Your supper will be brought up to you.”
“Yes Papa,” came the small voice as he reached for his Mama.
Knowing the child was trying to get sympathy from his mother, Ben held him back, “Let’s get you upstairs. Come along young man.”
“Ben, is that really necessary?” Marie asked, rubbing her hand on the little boys back. She knew her husband was right, but the sad little eyes tore at her heart.
“Marie, he has to learn. He could have been killed today. It’s hard on me too, my love.”
Little Joe laid on his bed, holding his stuffed black and white horse his mama had made him. His little bottom was stinging, and his heart was breaking. His three year old mind couldn’t understand what was happening to him. He was mad at his brother for hurting his bottom, and mad at his Papa for making him stay in his room. He couldn’t figure out why his Mama wasn’t sitting with him. Clinging tightly to Paint, he poured out his heart. “A-um mean. Papa mean. No ‘pank Joe.” Carefully sliding from the bed, he stomped his little foot. “Joe go bye-bye.” Slipping down the back stairs, he quietly made his escape.
Morning came all too soon to Ben and Adam, as they made their way down the stairs for breakfast. Still sipping their first cup of coffee, they were soon joined by Hoss.
“Pa, can’t I stay here and help you with the branding?” Hoss asked. It was no secret that he, unlike Adam, hated school.
“No son, you need to go to school. There will be plenty of time in the future for you to help out here on the ranch.”
“Ben?!” Marie called from the stairs.
“Is Joseph down with you?”
“No he isn’t. He should still be asleep.”
“Oh God Ben, he isn’t in his room,” Marie called as he hurried down the stairs and to her husband.
“Don’t worry dear; he couldn’t have gotten too far. Boys, you search outside and we’ll look in here,” Ben said dispatching them to find the youngster.
Little Joe had wandered around through the darkness, quickly becoming lost. Finally, his tiny legs could no longer hold him and he slumped down against a tree and fell into a restless sleep. He slept on into the morning, finally awakening to the sun on his face. At first he was confused as to where he was, until he remembered why he was alone in the woods. Paint grasped in his right hand, and his blanket in the left, he placed his left thumb in his little mouth and started walking.
“Pa, he’s nowhere outside,” Adam stated as he and Hoss joined their father on the porch.
“He’s not in the house either,” Ben said.
“Ben. Little Joes’ horse and blanket are gone, too. Ben what are we going to do?” Marie asked, giving into the tears that had threatened since she walked into the empty bedroom.
Taking her in his arms, Ben kissed his wife and looked into her eyes. “Marie, we’ll find him, I promise.”
“Pa, what do we do?” Adam asked, adding, “This is all my fault. He ran away because of me. I shouldn’t have spanked him yesterday.”
“Son, send one of the hands into town and tell Roy what has happened. Tell him we’ve started a search party, but could use his help. Then get the hands together and let’s find that little fella.” Ben said, clearing his throat. His emotions were about to get the best of him, and he knew he had to be strong for his family. “Oh and Adam, this is not your fault. You did the right thing yesterday; it was just what I would have done. Don’t blame yourself.”
“Pa, I wanna come along,” Hoss said, his blue eyes filling with tears.
Ben looked into the pleading eyes of his son and relented. He knew the bond between his two youngest was a strong one, and the boy was worried. “Ok, son, you can go to. Adam, tell whoever you send to stop by the school and let Mr. Jackson know why you and Hoss won’t be there.”
Within thirty minutes, Ben and his search party were on the way to bring the youngest Cartwright home.
The band of Paiute braves had spent the earlier three days hunting for food to feed the tribe. Winter wasn’t far off and food had to be stored to be used during the hard months ahead. Leading the band was their chief, Winnemucca. He was a strong leader that had dedicated his life to live in peace. He wanted no trouble with the white man and expected none in return. The camp had been made in a remote clearing next to the north side of Lake Tahoe. There they lived quite nicely and completely away from any exchange with white men.
“We stop here, rest.” Winnemucca stated, sliding off his horse.
The braves went about setting up camp and cooking a portion of the meat they had secured. Sitting around the fire they marveled at the large herd of cattle that grazed off in the distance. “The owner must be a wealthy man to have so many,” Lone Wolf said sitting beside his chief.
“I have heard this is true, but I have also heard that the one called Ben Cartwright is an honorable man. They say he treats all the same.”
“But he is a white man.”
“Yes, but there are honorable men among all tribes, as there are dishonorable ones.” Winnemucca concluded.
Little Joe was tired and hungry and his little legs hurt from all the walking he had done. He missed his family and wished he could see them again. Hearing voices, he smiled. His heart leaped at the thought of his family being so close. He ran toward the voices, unaware of the fact that the hunting party was so close. Never seeing an Indian before, he didn’t understand why the men were dressed like they were. The smell of the food being more than he could take, he slowly walked out from behind the tree and moved toward the group of men.
“Look.” said Lone Wolf, as he pointed to the child.
Winnemucca watched as the boy eased his way into the camp and stood on the opposite side of the fire. All the braves sat stunned at the sight of the white boy.
Little Joe stood staring first at the men and then to the food. Biting his bottom lip, he smiled at the one in the big headdress, “Joe, hun-gwy,” he said.
Winnemucca smiled at the boy, who showed no fear of them and gestured for him to sit. “Do you wish to eat?” he asked as Little Joe sat on the ground beside him.
Cocking his head up at the chief, and pushing his little hat back on his head, Joe nodded, “Uh huh.”
The chief motioned for one of the other braves to fix a plate and hand it to him. Placing the plate in front of the child he watched as Joe ate nearly all of what was on it. “Good?”
“Where is your home?” he asked, taking in the beautiful green eyes that stared back at him.
“No home,” Joe shook his head. He had wanted to go home when he had been alone, but now, he was mad at his family again and figured he just stay with these nice men he’d found.
“You have no father?”
“Papa, mean. A-um mean. Hurt Joe,” The baby said frowning.
Having won the chief’s heart, the man guessed that the child had been hurt and abandoned. Knowing the child could never survive on his own, he decided to take the boy back to camp. His daughter Sara, was about the same age as the boy, and would like to have a brother to play with. “You come, live with me. My wife Wounded Deer and daughter Saratuchi will like you to be there,” the chief stated. “You rest, we leave soon.”
Joe had no problem with being told to rest, he was exhausted. Placing his thumb in his mouth he leaned over against the chief and was soon fast asleep, holding onto his horse and blanket.
Ben had been joined by Virginia City sheriff Roy Coffee and several of the men from town in search of the child. They had covered over half of the ranch by morning, starting at the house and working their way out. No sign of the child had been present, not even the slightest of clues had been found.
“Ben, I hate to bring this up, but you don’t think someone took the boy do ya?” Roy asked.
“That was my first thought, but his two favorite things are gone, too.”
“Ben, you don’t really think a three-year-old would run away do ya?” Roy asked.
“Well, with Little Joe, anything is possible. He was mad at Adam and me yesterday. Oh Roy I just don’t know what to think.”
“What did the two of you do to make the little fella mad?” Roy questioned, he as well as everyone else knew of Little Joe’s famous temper. He could just see the boy stomping his little foot and yelling NO, the thought bringing a smile to his face.
“He snuck out of the house and Adam found him at the corral. Well it scarred Adam so bad that he spanked him, then I made him stay in his room for being rude to his brother,” Ben explained.
Roy couldn’t help but smile at his friend. “I’m afraid you’re really gonna have ya hands full with that one.”
“I just hope we find him, soon. I’d rather fight that boy every day for the rest of my life than to live without him.”
“I know friend; come on let’s find the little scamp.”
The hunting party entered the camp, as the other members of the tribe watched. They stood in awe of the little boy that rode in front of the chief. His chestnut curls that peeked out from under his black hat hung down just above his bright green eyes. Joe noticed that the others were looking at him and started to wave his little hand. Looking up at the chief he smiled, showing his dancing eyes, and was rewarded with a smile from Winnemucca.
Stopping in front of his teepee, Winnemucca slid down from his horse then sat the child on the ground. “Come.” he said and walked inside.
Little Joe followed his new friend inside, where a woman and a little girl sat beside a small fire. “What have you brought my husband?” Wounded Deer asked as she looked at the young boy that peeked out from behind his leg. She watched as the child mimicked his father and brothers by tipping his hat to her.
“The little one found us. He had no home. Father left him, the chief spoke.
Wounded Deer watched as the child smiled at her daughter and Sara returned it with one of her own. “You wish to keep the child?”
“Yes. I have decided to call him Dancing Eyes,” Winnemucca stated walking over and sitting beside his wife. Sara climbed up on his knee and leaned against her father, staring at Little Joe.
Little Joe watched as Sara sat with her father. He wanted so much for someone to hold him too, but was scarred to approach the man. Winnemucca sensed what the boy wanted and held out his arm to invite the boy to sit. Smiling Joe crawled up on his other knee and leaned against him, sucking his thumb. Soon both children were fast asleep.
Wounded Deer smiled at her husband, who cuddled both babies close and rushed around to prepare a second bed for the newest member of their little family.
Morning came and still the search party was nowhere closer to finding the missing boy than when they started. They had made it to the lake by dark the night before and knowing what they faced the following morning caused each of them to lay awake most of the night. Dragging the bottom of the lake was not the chore any of the men wanted. Charlie Devlin and Jack Pruitt offered to be the ones that did it and were joined by several other men in their offering. None of the men would allow Ben or Adam to join in, knowing how they would feel if it was their child.
“Ben, why don’t you, Adam and Hoss come with me. We’ll start searching the woods over there,” Roy said trying to put some distance between the distraught family and the unnerving chore at hand.
“Roy, I have to be here if they find my baby.”
“Ben, think about the boys, do you want them to see this? Come on Ben, let’s get them away from here, and pray to God, those men don’t find anything,” Roy said.
“You’re right. Adam, Hoss, let’s ride.”
Charlie waited until he saw the Cartwrights disappear out of sight with Roy, before giving the order to start the search. With a heavy heart, he wadding into the shallow water.
Little Joe awoke to the smell of food cooking. Sitting up, he was a little confused about where he was until he spotted his friend sitting by the fire. He saw the woman stirring the pot that hung above it and watched as the little girl sat down close to her father. Winnemucca spotted the boy standing beside his rug and motioned for him to join them “Come Dancing Eyes. It is time to eat.”
Joe walked over and sat down on the other side of his friend and took the bowl offered by Wounded Deer. “Eat little one.” she said, then turning her attention to her husband she added, “I will go see Moon Rising. She will have clothes to fit Dancing Eyes. I will make him more soon.”
“Yes. Running Wolf is too big for them now, and Dancing Eyes must have clothes,” Winnemucca agreed. Finishing his breakfast, he stood to leave. Little Joe stood to follow him but stopped when the man knelt before him. “You stay with Wounded Deer. I must go and help the others with storing the meat.”
“Me go too,” Joe said looking up at the Indian.
“No little one, you must stay here. Go, sit.”
“NO! Me go,” Joe said crossing his arms and stomping his foot.”
Winnemucca fought the urge to smile at the little boy. He could see fire that burned in the bright green eyes and thought of what a courageous brave the boy would someday make. He wanted the child to be courageous, but not rebellious. ‘Such spirit, like that of a wild horse. It must be tamed, but not broken.’ Turning the boy around to face his wife and daughter, he reached down and swatted the boy’s bottom. “You stay.” and walked out of the teepee.
Little Joe stood rooted to the spot for a minute with a shocked expression on his face. He couldn’t believe his friend had just smacked him. Looking up he saw and heard the giggles from Sara. This was too much, so he stuck his tongue out at her. “No, not nice Dancing Eyes,” Wounded Deer scolded.
Joe walked over and sat beside Sara, “Sawy Sara.” he said then looked up at the woman for approval and received a smile.
Wounded Deer walked the short distance to the teepee of Moon Rising and entered with the two children. Sitting beside the fire they talked while the children played. They watched as Sara played with Melting Snow who was close to the same age, and Dancing Eyes played with Running Wolf who was now four. “What do you need?” Moon Rising asked.
“I was hoping for clothes to fit the little one, until I can make him some,” Wounded Deer replied.
“Yes. I have some that should do,” Moon Rising said as she stood and retrieved the requested items.
“Come, Dancing Eyes.”
Little Joe had learned that this was the name they called him by and walked over to Wounded Deer. “Yes ma’am.”
“We change your clothes now,” she said pulling the child into her lap. Moments later, she completed the outfit by placing a colorful band around his head to hold his curls out of his eyes. Joe looked down and was pleased that he now looked like the rest of the people in the camp, with his buckskin pants and shirt that was trimmed in blue. The little moccasins Wounded Deer put on his feet felt soft and comfortable and he was happy for the band on his head, for now he could see without having to push his hair back all the time. Smiling at the ladies, he ran back to where Running Wolf sat and continued to play.
“He is a white child, where does he come from?” Moon Rising asked.
“He was alone, in the woods; his family did not want him. He is now our son,” Wounded Deer said with pride.
“Dancing Eyes is welcome to play here. Running Wolf has no one to play with, and seems to like the child.”
The search of the lake had revealed nothing. This was the only time in the search for the child the men were elated to find no sign. As the group met back up at dusk, the men made camp and set forth to put together a new strategy.
“Ben, what do you want to do now?” Roy asked, pouring himself a cup of coffee. “It’s been four days.”
“What? I want to find my son.”
“Ben, we all want to find the boy. We have to come up with something.”
“PA!” Adam called rushing to where his father and the sheriff sat.
Ben and Roy jumped up and stood in front of the boy, “Adam, what’s wrong?” Ben asked.
“Pa, Hoss and I were out walking around, and come upon and old campsite. Figure it to be about three, four days old,” Adam explained. “Hoss is over trying to pick up which way they went. Pa if we could find whoever it was, maybe they have see Little Joe.”
Ben nodded and ran with Adam to where they had found the camp. “Hoss, find anything?”
“Yeah Pa, over here, look,” he answered, pointing to the ground. There in front of them were the footprints of what seemed to be several Indians and one set of very small bootprints. “Pa, that has to be Little Joe’s.”
“Oh God, the Indians have him,” Ben stated, dropping to his knees.
“Ben, let’s get some sleep. We’ll start tracking at daybreak.” Roy said, helping his friend to his feet, and leading him back to the camp.
“Adam?” Hoss said, watching his father.
“Is Little Joe alright?”
“God I hope so Hoss. It’ll kill Pa if something happens to that kid. Hell, it’ll kill me too,” Adam said, fighting back the tears. Putting his arm around his little brother, they walked back to where the others were.
Little Joe kept watch at the teepee entrance, looking for his friend to return. He liked the others well enough, but felt a special bond with the one that took him in. He was a little confused about what had happened this morning. One minute the man was holding him and cuddling him close, and then just because he wanted to go along with him, the man had swatted him. But thinking on it, wasn’t that what his Papa did? And Adam? The thoughts of his family came rushing forth, causing tears to slip down his soft cheeks. His mind saw his Mama, cuddling him on her lap while she rocked him, his Papa giving him horsie rides on his back, Hoss tossing him in the air and catching him, Adam riding him in front of him on Sport, and Hop Sing handing him a fresh warm cookie. The memories being more than he could take, the child laid down on his rug, holding his horse and blanket. Slipping his thumb in his mouth, he cried as if his heart was breaking.
Wounded Deer heard her husband outside and went to discuss her concerns for the child with him. She couldn’t stand to look into the sad eyes and watch as he cried. “My husband, we must talk.”
“It is about the little one?” he inquired.
“Yes, he is sad. He cries and will not stop. I know not what to do.”
“Is he hurt?”
“Yes, I believe so. In here.” she replied placing her hand over his heart. “I fear he misses his family.”
“But they left him. It can not be helped. He will forget.”
“Talk with him. I believe him to be lost, not left.”
“I will talk to the boy,” he smiled. Winnemucca had wondered the same things his wife did. The boy was to well looked after, and his clothes were in good shape. Too good of a shape to have been alone for long.
Entering the teepee, he spotted the boy sitting on the rug, sucking his thumb, and tears still wet on his cheeks. His heart broke at the sight. Little Joe looked up and smiled at his friend. Standing, he ran over and climbed into his lap and cuddled close.
Hugging the child close, Winnemucca asked, “What is wrong Dancing Eyes?”
“Want my Papa,” Joe said softly.
“Your Pa-pa was mean to you.”
“Uh huh.” Joe replied. In his three-year-old mind, his Papa was mean to him for smacking his bottom. “Papa mean, ‘pank Joe.” he added placing his little hands on his hips.
Winnemucca stared into the angry little face for a moment before turning to Wounded Deer. Looking back into the eyes of the defiant little boy in front of him he asked, “You feel your father is mean to punish you?”
Nodding his head and feeling that he had finally made his friend understand is problem, he added, “Papa no ‘pank Joe. A-um no ‘pank Joe!”
“Dancing Eyes, did you leave home?” the chief asked.
“Your father not leave you in the woods?”
“Why you run away from family?”
“A-um and Papa mean, not let Joe out of room,” he said with a pout.
“Why you in trouble?”
“Joe sneak out, see horsies,” the boy said quietly, dropping his head.
“Who is this A-um?” Winnemucca asked after hearing the name several times.
“Big bruver,” the boy said frowning.
Leaning back and crossing his arms across his massive chest, Winnemucca frowned at the little one that stood in front of him. “Dancing Eyes deserved spanking from big brother, deserves another for sneaking away from family.”
Little Joe stood facing the man with his head down and tears slipping down his little face. Rubbing his sleeve across his eyes, he sobbed, “Sawy.”
“I am not the one to say this too,” he said looking at the crying baby in front of him, his heart melted. Reaching out, he picked the child up and sat him on his lap. Rubbing his back he soothed, “Shh. it will be alright, Dancing Eyes.”
“What will you do, my husband?” Wounded Deer inquired. She knew of her husband’s tender heart, and could see how much happiness the small child had brought to the man. She wondered for only a second if he would keep the child, but her husband was an honorable man. She knew he would make the right decision.
“I will go, find the boys father. If it is as I think, I will bring him here to the boy and let Dancing Eyes make the choice. If he is mean to the boy, the child will be staying.” That said, he and Lone Wolf set out in search of the boy’s family.
Hoss had been leading the party for several miles, following the tracks of the Indian ponies. Even at his tender age of ten, the young man had proven his skill at tracking several times. All anyone could do was to hope the Indians still had the baby with them.
“Hoss, can you tell which way from here?” Ben asked.
“Yeah Pa, looks like their headed toward the other side of the lake.”
“Ben, that’s Piaute country.” Charlie Devlin said stopping beside his friend.
“Well, at least there hasn’t been any trouble with them lately. I would be more afraid, if it were the Bannocks.”
“Hey Pa, look over there. Someone coming this way,” Adam said noticing the two riders approach.
The group of tired men watched as the riders grew closer. It wasn’t long until they were recognized as being members of the Piaute tribe.
“I know Hoss. Everyone please remain calm. These men might know something about Joseph,” Ben stated, as they all waited patiently.
Reining up beside the group, Winnemucca took in the sight of the weary men, “You wish to enter our land?” he asked.
“Forgive us. My name is Ben Cartwright; we are in search of a child. We mean no harm,” Ben said, hopefully.
“I am Chief Winnemucca. This child, who is he?”
“My son. He’s three years old, green eyes, and curly chestnut hair.”
“Why is he missing?” Winnemucca asked.
“He ran away. He was mad at us for punishing him, when all we were doing was trying to protect him,” Ben replied.
“Protect him from what?”
“He snuck out to the corral. It was full of wild horses. He could have been killed.”
“You did not leave him in the woods?”
“No. We’ve looked everywhere for him, for days now. It’s as if he disappeared.”
“Do you care about this child?”
“The boy is my very heart. His mother, brothers and I would give our lives for this child.”
Winnemucca could see that the man was telling the truth, by the tears that built in his eyes. He could tell the man was honest in his feelings for the boy. Knowing what he had to do, he spoke the words that broke his heart, for he too loved the child. “My people and I live in peace. We want no trouble with the white man. Times are hard now with winter coming. Our hunting party was out searching for food to last through the long months ahead, and found the child,” he said taking in the smiles that crossed the faces of all the men.
“Is he alright?” Hoss asked, anxious to see his baby brother.
“He is well. He is living with my family.”
“You come with me. You will all eat with us and Dancing Eyes will decide where he wants to stay,” Winnemucca said turning his horse to leave. Ben and Adam exchanged looks before spurring their horses and following.
“Adam, you think Little Joe’s really alright?” Hoss asked.
“Yeah, sounds like the kid won over the chief,” Adam replied, smiling. He too was worried about entering the Indian village, but wanted to reassure Hoss.
“What was it he called Little Joe?”
Smiling, Adam recalled the words spoken by the chief. “Dancing Eyes. Seems right, doesn’t it?”
Ben had sent the others back to inform Marie that if all went well, the entire family would be returning by the following day. The small group consisting of Ben, Adam, Hoss, Roy and Charlie entered the camp two hours later, there eyes scanning the group, looking for any sign of the missing Cartwright.
“Broken Arrow, take the horses and see to them,” Winnemucca said as a young brave around Hoss’ age ran up to do as told. “Come with me.” he added to the group.
Coming upon a teepee, Winnemucca turned to the men, “Please, sit here. My wife will bring food and drink. I will go and get Dancing Eyes. I want you to know that the decision will be his. If what you say is true and the child wants to return with you I will not stop him, but if he wishes to stay, he will be my son.”
With this the chief left.
“Don’t worry Hoss; Little Joe will be coming home with us. He is my son.”
Wounded Deer saw the downcast face of her husband as he entered the teepee. She knew that he must have found the child’s family. She watched as he looked at the sleeping child and knew his heart was breaking. “You have found them?”
“Yes, they await the child at the fire.”
“Take him to them; he has cried himself to sleep once again. He does not belong here.”
“Yes, but I will miss him.”
“As will my husband.”
Winnemucca knelt down beside the little boy and ran his fingers through the long curls. Watching as the child slowly opened his eyes, he smiled. Little Joe smiled back and quickly jumped up hugging the man. Standing with the child in his arms, he followed Wounded Deer, who was holding Sara outside.
The men sat around the fire waiting and wondering what was taking so long. Each longed to see, touch and hold the little one again. They watched as Winnemucca walked toward them carrying a child dressed as the other Indian children. They noticed that the sleepy child had his head laid on the chief’s shoulder and his left thumb in his little mouth. Their hearts nearly stopped when the boy turned his head around and looked straight at them. “PAPA!” Little Joe shouted, squirming to get down.
“Wait,” Winnemucca said firmly, bringing the fidgeting to a halt. “Is this your family?”
“Yes sir,” Joe said smiling.
“Do you wish to go to them, or to stay here with us?”
Joe looked at his new friends, then to his family. He had been so mad at them for what he felt was mean, but he had grown to miss his family very badly and long to see them all. He wanted to go home, even if it meant getting spanked by them. “Joe go home.”
Hugging the child close, Winnemucca stood him on the ground and watched as he ran into his fathers arms.
“Oh Joseph, I’ve missed you so much,” Ben said holding the child close to his chest. “I love you boy.”
“Joe love Papa,” he said smiling. Dropping his eyes, he softly said, “Sawy.”
“Not now, there will be time for that later. I’m just so glad you’re alright.”
“Yeah Shortshanks, I missed ya,” Hoss said taking the child from his father and hugging him.
“Missed ya, Hoss,” Joe said hugging back.
Adam stood beside his father, looking at the baby. He wanted so bad to hold him and tell him he loved him, but he was afraid the child wouldn’t want him to. Adam still blamed himself for the boy running away.
Joe looked over his shoulder at his big brother. “Sawy A-um. Love ya,” he said holding his little arms out to the older boy.
Adam smiled and took the little boy and hugged him tightly. “Love you too, kid.”
Ben saw the look on the chief’s face and approached him. Holding his hand out to the man, he offered him his thanks. “I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done for the boy. You have taken wonderful care of him.”
Winnemucca had heard of this man and of how honorable he was, but the offer to shake his hand proved to the chief what he heard was true. Taking the hand he shook it, “Dancing Eyes is now a member of our tribe. I will always consider him my son. He and his family and friends are welcome here. You must stay and eat; it will be dark soon. You should not leave until morning.”
“Thank you, we accept,” Ben said, knowing that on this day one more step had been made to keep peace with his Indian brothers.
The evening was spent eating a feast of deer, and vegetables prepared by the women of the tribe, and talk of peace and what could be done to prevent any outbreaks of war. Ben had offered four steers to the chief as a gift and was given a beautiful hand carved peace pipe in return. The chief of the Piaute tribe and the chief of the Ponderosa had become fast friends.
Hoss had formed a friendship with Broken Arrow and Moon Dipping in the Morning Sky (Moon Dipping) for short. They had spent time tending to the horses and talking about animals. Adam had made friends with Little Cougar and his sister White Dove, who he found very pretty. Ben and Winnemucca watched as Little Joe (Dancing Eyes) ran around playing with Sara, Melting Snow, and Running Wolf. Ben wondered at Marie’s ancestry, for the child looked as if he was a member of the tribe.
“He is a good boy, Ben Cartwright.”
“Yes he is. A might trying at times, but I wouldn’t have him any other way,” Ben said as he watched the child run to him.
Little Joe stood in front of his Pa, with his head dropped. Playing with the strings on his shirt, he softly asked, “Papa?”
“Yes son?” Ben knew where this conversation was going and tried to remain firm and keep the smile from his lips. Looking over to his new friend, he could see the chief was doing the same.
“Gonna ‘pank Joe?” he asked biting his bottom lip.
“Don’t you think you deserve it?” Ben asked.
Nodding his head, he looked up at his father and saw the love in the man’s eyes.
“Son, I want you to listen to me real good. I am not going to spank you this time, but if you ever pull another stunt like this again, I promise you, you will not sit down for a week. Is that understood?”
“Yes sir. Joe not runaway again, ever,” He said with a smile.
“If so, when Papa is through, I will add another week, Dancing Eyes,” Winnemucca added, crossing his arms across his chest.
Joe looked at his friend and knew he was telling the truth. He didn’t ever want that to happen, he could hit as hard as his Papa and Adam. “I won’t, not ever.”
Ben smiled at the look on the child’s face, and knew that the boy must have already been on the receiving end of a smack or two from the chief. He promised himself to find out more about this at some time. “You run along and play. We have to turn in before long. Tomorrow’s going to be a long day.”
“Yes Papa,” Joe said and scampered off to his friends.
The following morning found the Cartwrights and their friends bidding farewell with the chief and the other members of the tribe with promises of visits to be made form both sides. Little Joe said his good byes to all of his new friends, ending with the chief. Standing in front of the chief, he held his little arms up to the man, who picked him up. Hugging him tightly, he whispered, “Love ya.”
Winnemucca hugged him close and whispered back, “I love you too, Dancing Eyes.” Handing the child up to his father, he crossed his arms and firmly stated. “Remember what I say. You mind father. If not, you answer to me.”
Swallowing hard, he quickly replied, “Yes sir.”
Winnemucca stood with his wife and daughter, watching as the men rode away with a piece of his heart. Wounded Deer slipped her hand in his and smiled. “You would like a son?”
“Maybe this is to be so. I am with child.”
Picking his wife up and hugging her, he smiled. “Yes, maybe a son this time. But Dancing Eyes will always be as my son.”
The routine of the tribe continued as normal as the proud chief watched. His life was good. A beautiful wife and daughter. The promise of another child. And good friends made. Due to a child that had stolen his heart with dancing eyes.