Synopsis: With Army money in their saddlebags, looking for a faster way home leads Ben and the boys to Dead Man’s Canyon.
Word Count: 13,560
The rain was coming down so hard and fast that the four men riding into the small town of Wellington looked likely ghostly images emerging from the storm. The riders’ rain-slicked gray ponchos and sodden hats seemed to blur their forms and blend them into the darkness the storm had produced. Even their horses, with coats and manes soaked by the rain, looked a bit like caricatures of the powerful animals that they really were. The appearance of the four men would have startled the people of Wellington, had anyone been foolish enough to be outside in the driving rain.
“Not much of a town, is it?” Adam Cartwright shouted to his father, trying to make his voice heard over the noise of the rain hitting his slicker and hat.
Pulling his horse to a stop, Ben Cartwright studied the small collection of buildings which made up the town of Wellington before answering his oldest son. “There’s a hotel and a livery stable,” Ben yelled back. “That’s good enough for me.”
“I reckon they have some place where we can get some hot food,” Hoss Cartwright called from his horse on Ben’s right side. “After two days of cold beans, a hot meal is gonna be a real treat.”
“I see a saloon,” chimed in Joe Cartwright from his brother Hoss’ right. “I figure that’s as good a place as any to get warm – both inside and out.”
“At least you two are consistent,” Adam shouted from his horse on Ben’s left. “First thing you look for in a town is food and whiskey.”
“Well, we do our best not to disappoint you, older brother,” Joe called back with a smile. “Besides, what we use to fuel the inner man is a whole lot better than those books you’re always looking for.”
Ignoring the comments from his three sons, Ben chucked his horse forward and led the small band toward the livery stable. He had heard the jibes, or at least some variation of them, between his sons a thousand times. After two weeks in close quarters on the trail – the last two days of which had been spent riding through rain storms – he was just happy his boys were still teasing each other and not bickering.
The first stop in Wellington was at the livery, where Ben and his sons made sure their horses would be well cared for. Ben wanted to head for the hotel next, but was outvoted by his sons, who insisted that they needed a glass of whiskey in order to warm up. Although he appeared reluctant, Ben silently agreed that a shot or two of the liquor would ease the ache and cold in his old bones.
Settling at a table in the saloon, the Cartwrights piled their wet ponchos, saddlebags and rifles onto an empty chair. A small, 50-ish man wearing a white apron tied around his waist came around from the bar and walked over to the table and smiled at the foursome. “What can I get you boys?” the bartender asked pleasantly.
“A bottle of whiskey and four glasses,” Joe replied quickly.
“Sure,” the small man said agreeably. “You fellows just get into town?”
“Yeah,” answered Hoss. “We’ve been sloshing through the rain for two days and we’re looking for someplace to dry out.”
“Well, we have a fine hotel here in Wellington…” the bartender started. His expression suddenly changed from a pleasant smile to an anxious look as the door of the saloon opened and two men walked in. “I’ll get your drinks,” the small man mumbled and he hurried away.
Frowning, Ben looked around the saloon, trying to figure out what caused the bartender to leave so abruptly. He saw three men playing cards at table at the back of the building, looking less interested in who was winning than they did in passing the time with each other. Turning a bit, Ben glanced over his shoulder at the two men who had just entered the saloon and were sitting at a table behind the Cartwrights, Their wet slickers were draped over a nearby chair and water still clung to their hats. One was a big man wearing a checkered shirt, sprawled in a chair with a bored expression on his face. He appeared to be no threat. A thin man wearing a tan shirt and black vest was sitting next to him, nervously playing with two chips which had been left on the table. He also seemed unlikely to be the cause of trouble.
Shrugging, Ben swiveled around in his chair and faced his sons. “All this rain is slowing us down,” he declared. “I hate being away from the ranch so long.”
“Aw, Pa, it ain’t been but two weeks,” Hoss told his father. “Charlie can look after things for that long. Besides, there ain’t that much to do this time of year.”
“Nevertheless, I’d still feel better if we could find a faster way to get home,” Ben insisted. He turned toward his oldest son. “Adam, where’s that map of yours? There must be a better trail marked on it, one that will get us home sooner.”
Without saying a word, Adam reached for his saddlebag on the nearby chair and pulled open the flap. He dug his hand around inside the pouch for a moment, and then pulled a thick piece of paper out of the leather sack. Unfolding the paper, Adam spread the map on the table in front of him and began studying it. He didn’t look up when the bartender set the whiskey bottle and four glasses down on the middle of the table.
Hearing a voice from the table behind him, Ben glanced over his shoulder once more.
“Beer. And make it quick,” growled the big man in the checkered shirt.
“Sure, Frank,” answered the bartender nervously. “You want one too, Jess?”
“Yeah, as long as my cousin here is buying,” the thin man apparently named Jess replied with a laugh. “I ain’t got any money.”
“Um, you do have some money, right, Frank?” the small man in the apron asked in a tentative voice.
“I got money,” snarled Frank. He reached into his pocket and slapped two coins down on the table. “That satisfy you?”
“Sure, sure,” the bartender replied quickly. “I’ll get the beers.” The small man in the apron hurried away.
Once more, Ben turned back to the table. He could guess who was sitting behind him – probably the local bullies. He knew the type. They were men who spent most of their time trying to impress people with their toughness rather than gaining respect by their hard work. Knowing the Cartwrights wouldn’t be in town long enough to tangle with the men, Ben dismissed them from his thoughts.
Reaching forward, Joe grabbed a glass and the whiskey bottle from the middle of the table. He filled his glass from the bottle, then slowly sipped the whiskey, letting the liquor warm him as it traveled down his throat. “Ah,” said Joe with satisfaction. “Now there’s something to warm your insides.” He turned toward his father. “Pa, the next time you decide to sell a herd of horses to the Army, how about hiring some wranglers to get all wet and cold instead of us.”
“Joe, you know the deal,” Hoss told his brother. “The Army offered us a big bonus if we got them horses to Fort Churchill right away. We didn’t have time to round up any wranglers.”
“I know, I know,” Joe replied. “And all that money is going to be nice to have when we get home. But right now, those gold pieces don’t make me feel any warmer or drier.”
None of the Cartwrights noticed the two men at the table behind Ben sit up when Joe mentioned gold coins, nor did they note the look the pair exchanged.
Ignoring his brother’s complaint, Adam pointed to the map. “Pa, there’s a trail that goes northwest from here that might save us some time. It runs right through this canyon, and then cuts back to the west. It could save us a day, maybe two, if you’re that anxious to get home.”
“Oh, you fellows don’t want to go that way,” the bartender declared, stopping at the table on his way back from delivering beers to the men sitting behind the Cartwrights. “That trail takes you right through Dead Man’s Canyon. People riding into that canyon don’t always come out.”
“Why?” asked Hoss curiously. “What’s in there?”
“Don’t rightly know,” admitted the bartender. “Some people say it’s an old mountain man gone loco. Others say it’s some kind of monster conjured up by an old Indian medicine man. Some folks think it’s the ghost of one of them Spanish soldiers who supposedly died up in that canyon a long time ago. All I know is there’s something mean and nasty in that canyon and it don’t mind killing anything it can get its hands on.”
“Really,” said Adam with polite skepticism. “Has anyone ever actually seen this monster or is it all stories?”
“Oh, people have seen it,” the small man assured Adam. Then he shrugged. “Well, at least they’ve gotten a glimpse of it,” he amended his statement. “There was an old prospector in here last winter. He found this cave full of bones; ten, maybe fifteen skeletons. He figured that’s where the thing dumped the bodies of the people it killed. Then when he was riding out, something started chasing him. He didn’t stick around to take a good look at it. But he said it was big – ten feet tall at least – and roaring loud enough to wake the dead. The thing was pushing down trees like they was matchsticks.” The bartender looked toward the table in the back of the room. “Hey Abe,” he called, “didn’t your wife’s brother see that monster up in Dead Man’s Canyon?”
“Sure did,” one of the men at the table called back. “He and another fellow was looking for gold in the canyon. Suddenly, all these rocks started tumbling down on them. They looked up and saw this big monster of a fellow at the top of the hill. He had a long brown beard and was wearing a coonskin hat. And he was throwing big rocks and boulders down at ‘em. He figured he was lucky to get out of that canyon alive.”
“See?” said the bartender. “I told you it weren’t just stories. You fellows take my advice and stay away from Dead Man’s Canyon.” The man turned on his heels and walked back toward the bar.
For a moment, the Cartwrights sat in silence, just looking at each other. Finally Hoss asked nervously, “Well, what do you think?”
“I think some prospectors had a little too much of this rot-gut whiskey,” noted Joe as he took another sip from his glass.
“I certainly don’t think some wild stories about monsters should keep us from following the trail through the canyon,” Ben asserted.
“I wonder what’s really in that canyon?” mused Adam. Seeing the puzzled looks on the other three men’s faces, he continued. “I mean, all legends and stories usually have some basis in fact. Take the story of King Arthur, for example. There probably was a king in England who had a group of men he used to keep order. But I doubt if they had a round table or spent time searching for the Holy Grail. Someone made up a story, and other people repeated it and added to it. Next thing you know, there’s a whole legend built up about King Arthur and his knights.”
“Yeah,” said Hoss, his face brightening with understanding. “It’s sort of like the time that prospector saw that little gal on the Ponderosa, and ol’ Sam Clemens wrote a story that turned her into the ‘Wildman of the Ponderosa’.”
“I remember that,” Joe added with a grin. “That was back when Adam had a hard time telling the difference between a boy and a girl. Sure hope you’ve gotten better at that, older brother.”
Reddening a bit at the memory of his mistake, Adam went on quickly. “The point is that there probably is someone or something living in that canyon, but people have used their imaginations to blow things all out of proportion. That cave full of bones could have been an old Indian burial place, for example. Somebody probably got a glimpse of a trapper or hunter and their imagination built it into a monster who uproots trees.”
“You’re not suggesting we go looking for whatever is in that canyon, are you, Adam?” Ben asked with a frown. “I want to go through the canyon to get home faster, not to lose time chasing some myth.”
“No, I’m not suggesting we go hunting for whatever is in the canyon,” replied Adam, but there was a hint of disappointment in his tone. “I was just saying that there probably is something in the canyon and we should keep our eyes open.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t go through Dead Man’s Canyon if there is something really in there,” suggested Hoss in a tentative voice.
“Don’t worry, Hoss,” Joe assured his brother. “There’s only one monster and there’s four of us. Ain’t no monster ever lived that couldn’t be beaten by four Cartwrights.”
As the four men at the table laughed at Joe’s statement, Frank finished his beer and nodded at Jess. The two men quietly left the saloon.
As he came to where the trail wound its way into the canyon, Ben pulled his horse to a stop. After being forced to stay in Wellington overnight because of heavy rains, he was anxious to get home as soon as possible. Yet something about the canyon looming ahead of him made Ben feel uneasy. Maybe it was the mist that hung low in the canyon, a fine cloud formed by the cool weather and damp air, which made the chasm seem eerily quiet. Perhaps it was the terrain — tree-covered hills that ended abruptly at the rim of the high rocky walls, as if a giant hand had slashed an uneven gash through the lush green earth. Or, more than likely, Ben thought, it was his over-active imagination, fueled by stories of monstrous animals, angry ghosts and missing men — and a canyon that held them all.
“What’s wrong, Pa,” asked Adam as he reined in his horse next to his father’s.
“Nothing, nothing,” Ben answered, but there was an undertone of doubt in his voice.
“Pa, you ain’t worried about riding through Dead Man’s Canyon, are ya?” asked Hoss from his horse behind Ben.
“Of course not,” Ben replied, but again, his voice lacked conviction.
“Don’t worry, Pa,” Joe solemnly advised his father from the back of his pinto which was standing next to Hoss’ horse. “We’ll protect you from those big old bad monsters.” Unable to contain himself, Joe began to snicker as he added, “I do think we should send Hoss in first, though, just in case.”
“Why me?” asked Hoss in a tone of mock injury.
“Because I figure you’re big enough to wrestle with whatever is in there long enough for the rest of us to get through the canyon,” explained Joe, now openly laughing.
Hearing Joe’s laughter seemed to shake Ben out of his nervous state. “Come on,” he ordered briskly. “We’re wasting time.”
As Ben led his sons down into the two-mile long canyon, he was unaware of the human danger that lay ahead. Jess and Frank had left town before sunrise, and now were positioned behind a large rock on a ledge in Dead Man’s Canyon.
“Here they come,” Frank announced, pointing to the distant riders working their way slowly through the canyon.
“We ain’t gonna kill them, are we, Frank?” Jess asked anxiously. “I ain’t never killed nobody before.”
“No, we ain’t gonna kill them,” Frank lied to his cousin. “All we need to do is throw some bullets in their direction. That’ll convince them to leave the money for us and ride on.” In his own mind, however, Frank was already forming the story about how four more men had ridden into Dead Man’s Canyon and disappeared. “Now get that rifle ready.”
Trailing behind his father and two brothers, Joe turned his head to look up to the top of the canyon walls. He didn’t really believe the stories about a monstrous beast living in the canyon, but like his brother Adam, he was curious about what was really making a home somewhere in the rocks. He figured it wouldn’t hurt to keep an eye out for a mountain lion ready to spring onto its victim.
As his eyes strayed to a ledge just ahead, Joe tensed as he saw some movement on the rocky shelf about halfway up the canyon wall. He stared hard at the outcropping, trying to see through the mist. Suddenly, thin clouds parted briefly, giving Joe the clear view of a crouching man pressed up against a large boulder sitting on the lip of the ledge.
“Pa!” Joe shouted in warning. “Pa! Up on the ledge!” Pulling his pistol from his holster, Joe fired two shots in the direction of the outcropping. He knew he was too far away to hit anything with a handgun, but hoped the shots would distract the ambusher.
His tactic worked. Startled by Joe’s call and shots, Jess quickly turned his rifle and shot twice in the direction of the youngest Cartwright. His hurried movement ruined his aim, though, and the bullets hit the ground in front of Joe’s horse.
At the sound of Joe’s shout and the ensuing shots, Ben and his two older sons grabbed their rifles and slid off their horses, keeping the animals between them and the ledge. As the frightened horses scampered away, the three men ran to the base of the canyon wall, crouching low and stopping behind a trio of large rocks. Joe, who had also grabbed his rifle and dismounted, ran across the canyon floor and drove behind the rocks, breathing hard as he joined his father and brothers.
“Where are they?” Ben asked as he looked toward the top of canyon.
“On that ledge right above us, behind that big rock,” Joe answered. “I saw two men.”
“Dagnabit, we can’t get at them from here,” complained Hoss. “Long as they stay behind them rocks, we can’t hit them.”
“And they can’t hit us as long as we stay where we are,” observed Adam. “The question is, who’s going to move first?”
“Adam, send a couple of shots up toward that ledge,” Ben instructed his oldest son. “Maybe we can get them to move.”
Up on the ledge, Frank was berating Jess for his unwise shooting. “Just what did you think you were doing?” Frank raged. “I told you to wait until I told you to shoot. Now they’re hidden behind those rocks where we can’t see them.”
“I’m sorry, Frank,” Jesse whined. “When the kid started shooting, I just shot back without thinking.”
Suddenly three bullets bounced off the rock in front of the two ambushers. Frank and Jess both ducked instinctively, even though the bullets had no chance of hitting them.
Jess raised up, preparing to fire back, but Frank yanked him back down. Two bullets whizzed over the top of the rock, splitting the air where Jess’ head had been only a moment before.
“They tried to kill me!” Jess said in astonishment. “If you hadn’t pulled me down, they would have killed me.”
“Yeah,” Frank agreed. “They’re shooting real bullets. Now shut up and let me think.”
On the canyon floor, the Cartwrights looked up at the ledge, hoping to see another head emerge from behind the rock. As they waited, Adam asked, “Who are they? What do you think they want?”
“I have no idea,” Ben replied in an even voice.
A shout from the rocky shelf above answered part of Adam’s question. “You below, listen to me,” called the voice. “We don’t want to hurt anybody. All we want is them gold coins you got from the Army. Just throw them out on the trail where we can see them, and ride away. Nobody’ll get hurt.”
“Well, now we know what they want,” declared Joe. “I’m guessing the who is a couple of those fine citizens from Wellington.”
“Do you think they’ll let us ride off if we give them the money?” Hoss asked.
“Yeah,” replied Adam in a wry voice. “They’ll let us ride just far enough to get a good shot at our backs.”
“Pa,” said Joe suddenly, “see that path over there to the right? It leads up to the ledge. If I can get up that path, I can get a good angle on them and pick them off.”
“No, it’s too dangerous, Joe,” Ben replied, shaking his head. “If they see you, they’ll shoot you.”
“They won’t see me,” Joe stated confidently. “There’s plenty of brush to hide me. But just to be sure, why don’t you fire some shots up there so they’ll keep their heads down.” Without waiting for a reply, Joe got into a crouch and started moving away from the rocks.
“Joe! Wait!” Ben called but his youngest son ignored his shouts. “He’s going to get himself killed,” Ben muttered in a voice filled with frustration as he watched Joe disappear into the brush. He took a deep breath and turned to Adam and Hoss. “All right, boys, you heard him; start firing up to that ledge.”
The three Cartwrights behind the boulders had fired only a half a dozen shots when a loud roar suddenly echoed through the canyon. The men stopped shooting and looked up. Their mouths dropped open in astonishment as they stared at the figure on the rim of the canyon.
Standing on its hind legs at the top of the canyon was the biggest grizzly bear any of the Cartwrights had ever seen. But it wasn’t just the size of the animal which astounded the men on the floor of the canyon; the bear apparently had decided to dress for the occasion. A metal chain made of large links was draped around the neck of the bear, and the grizzly was sporting a coonskin cap with a badge or emblem of some type pinned to its front.
As the stunned men watched, the bear bellowed again and waved its paws threateningly in the air. Then the grizzly got on all fours and lumbered a few feet to its right, toward a pile of fist-sized rocks. With one swipe of its massive paw, the bear sent the pile of rocks tumbling down the wall of the canyon to the ledge below.
Crouching behind the rock on the ledge, neither Frank nor Jess could see what was standing on the rim above. But they could hear the roar, and they could feel the rocks which pelted them as the stones fell onto the ledge.
“It’s the monster!” Jess screamed in terror. “He’s after us! Let’s get out of here!!” He didn’t wait for Frank to answer him. Jess started skittering along the ledge toward a path hidden by rocks and bushes, a path opposite to the one which Joe was slowly climbing.
The trail led down to a small crevice between the canyon walls in which his and Frank’s horses stood waiting. Jess moved down the dirt track with the speed of a jack rabbit.
Back on the outcropping, Frank hesitated, torn by his fear of the creature on the rim above and his desire to get the gold coins from the men below. But his mind was made up when he heard another bellow from above and saw a log rolling over the rim of the canyon and toward the ledge. Frank got to his feet and ran after his cousin as quickly as his legs would move him.
Hidden in the bushes on the opposite trail, Joe also was frozen by fear. He could hear the roars and see the rocks tumbling down to the ledge, but couldn’t see the creature at the top of the canyon. He also saw the log fall and watched it hit the side of the stone shelf, bouncing off the edge in the direction of the path in front of him. It took a few seconds for Joe to realize the huge branch was coming right at him.
Getting to his feet, Joe started to run down the steep path, hoping to find a spot where he could jump out of the way of the lumber which was now rolling toward him. But in his haste, Joe tripped and his momentum sent him tumbling down the path, only a foot or so ahead of the log.
With a sense of horror, Ben watched as Joe rolled down the trail and landed at the bottom. Sprawled in the dirt, Joe laid still. Ben was sure the log was going to roll over his son, crushing the motionless figure which lay in its path. Miraculously, however, the limb hit a rut on the trail which sent it up and into the air. The log sailed over Joe, missing him by inches, before landing with a loud thud a few feet away.
As Ben got to his feet to rush to his son, he heard another roar. Looking up, he saw the grizzly bear was once more standing on its hind legs and waving its paws in the air. Ben hesitated for only a second. “Keep an eye on that thing,” he yelled at Adam and Hoss. “And if it comes any closer, shoot it!”
A knot of fear formed in his stomach as Ben ran across the canyon floor and knelt next to where Joe laid face down on the ground. He put his fingers on his son’s neck and breathed a sigh of relief when he felt a strong, steady pulse. After probing Joe’s neck to insure it was intact, Ben gently rolled his youngest son over.
Blood was splattered across Joe’s face; the red fluid was oozing from half a dozen small cuts on his cheek and chin. Ben could see the skin around a small cut on Joe’s forehead was already darkening into an ugly bruise.
Quickly untying the bandana from around his neck, Ben daubed the cloth over Joe’s cheeks and chin, trying to remove some of the dirt and blood. While he worked, Ben talked gently but urgently to his son. “Joe? Joe, can you hear me? Come one, Joe, open your eyes. You can do it, son. Just open your eyes.” But despite Ben’s pleas, Joe’s eyes remained closed and his body stayed motionless.
Putting the cloth aside, Ben began to run his hands over Joe’s arms and legs. He could see his son’s pants were ripped near both knees and a small patch of blood had stained the material around them. But thankfully, Ben felt no broken bones in either Joe’s arms or legs.
Just as he was beginning to unbutton Joe’s shirt to check for further injuries, Ben heard the sound of running. He looked over his shoulder and saw Adam and Hoss approaching with rifles held firmly in their hands.
“Pa, don’t move,” Adam shouted. “That bear’s coming.”
Twisting his head, Ben looked up the trail. He could see the strangely-clad grizzly lumbering down the path with the metal chain swaying gently around its neck. The tail of the coonskin cap had fallen onto the bear’s shoulder, and it jiggled a bit as the grizzly walked. The animal seemed in no hurry to reach its prey; the bear stopped and sniffed at the bushes for a moment before continuing slowly down the dirt track.
“Shoot in front of it,” Hoss advised his brother. “See if you can scare him off. Don’t hit him unless you’re sure you can kill him. We don’t want a wounded bear taking his mad out on us.”
As Adam nodded his head and raised his rifle, Ben moved quickly to position himself between Joe and the bear. He was sure that Adam and Hoss would be able to scare off or kill the grizzly, but just in case, he wanted to be sure the bear would have to get past him to reach his unconscious and defenseless son.
Aiming carefully, Adam fired two shots in the dirt about a foot in front of the lumbering bear. The grizzly stopped and looked around, as if surprised by the bullets being fired at it. The animal raised its head and sniffed the air, then slowly began walking down the path once more.
Adam raised the rifle a bit and began zeroing in on the grizzly’s head. But his finger froze on the trigger when he saw another figure coming down the dirt track.
Seemingly to have appeared of nowhere, a man was running down the path, shouting and waving his arms. Wearing a battered old hat, washed out blue shirt, and discolored dark pants, the man looked almost like a faded picture of a human being. The thick white beard covering the lower half of his face suggested an older man, but the figure running down the trail appeared spry and agile.
“Wait! Wait!” yelled the man, “don’t shoot! He won’t hurt you. I promise you. Don’t shoot!”
He halted in front of the now stopped bear, shielding the animal from Adam’s bullet, and continued to wave his arms and shout. “Don’t shoot! Please! Don’t shoot!” The grizzly, sitting on its haunches in the dirt, leaned forward and rubbed its face against the man’s leg.
Lowering his gun, Adam shook his head. “I don’t believe it,” he muttered. “I just don’t believe it.”
Up the trail, the man in the faded clothes took a deep breath as he saw the rifle below being lowered. Then he turned and faced the bear. “What do you think you’re doing?” he scolded the animal. “You know you aren’t suppose to come down the trail. You’re suppose to stay up there at the top of the canyon. You trying to get yourself shot?”
The bear lowered its head, and if it was possible for a grizzly to look ashamed of itself, this one did.
Seemingly mollified by the bear’s reaction, the man stopped his scolding. “I know you’re sorry,” he said in a gentler voice. “And I’m sorry I yelled. I just didn’t want you to get hurt.” Reaching over, he gently rubbed the bear’s nose and scratched the animal’s forehead, just below the hem of the fur hat sitting on the grizzly’s head. “You have to listen to me, you know. Otherwise, you’ll liable to get hurt. ”
As the Cartwrights watched in amazement, the bear rubbed its face against the man’s leg once more, then looked up expectantly. The man reached down and scratched the bear’s head again.
Turning back to face Cartwrights below, the man yelled loudly. “We’re going to come down. Don’t shoot. I promise he won’t hurt anybody.”
Too surprised to object, Adam merely nodded and called weakly, “Come on down.”
It only took a minute for the oddly adorned bear and man to work their way to the bottom of the trail. The man stopped a few feet away from the Cartwrights, and the grizzly promptly plopped its large body onto the ground next to the man.
“I’m real sorry about all this,” the man apologized. “We were just trying to help, just trying to scare away those bushwhackers who were after you. I didn’t know the boy was down there in the bushes. I would have never had Goliath push that log over if I’d known he was there.”
“Goliath?” Hoss echoed the name faintly. “Is that the grizzly?”
“Yes, he’s called Goliath and I’m called Henry,” the man said. He turned to where Ben was kneeling and checking over Joe. “How is the boy? Is he hurt bad?”
Ben continued to press and probe Joe’s chest and stomach before answering. “Feels like he’s got a cracked rib or two, and he’s got some nasty cuts and bruises. But I don’t think there’s anything broken. I can’t tell if he hurt himself inside. The worst is the bump on his forehead. That’s a bad bruise and he might have a concussion.” Ben stroked the side of Joe’s face gently with his fingers before continuing. “I can’t get him to come to.”
“I’m real sorry,” Henry repeated. “I never wanted to hurt anyone.” He turned to face Adam and Hoss. “And I’m real sorry about Goliath scaring you fellows like that. He knows he isn’t suppose to come down the trail. But he just loves it when he gets to put on his hat, and I guess he just got caught up in the excitement. He hasn’t had a chance to put on his hat much lately.”
“Put on his hat?” Hoss repeated in a puzzled voice. “What happens when he puts on his hat?”
“When Goliath puts on his hat, he knows he gets to go into his act,” Henry explained. “He gets to roar and act menacing, and then he gets to knock the rocks and things I put out for him into the canyon.” He reached down and stroked the nose of the bear. “Goliath thinks it’s a lot of fun.”
“What is he?” asked Adam. “A pet?”
“A pet?” replied Henry. He cocked his head and thought for a minute. “I don’t think I’d call him a pet. More like a friend.”
“We can talk about this some other time,” Ben declared with a sense of urgency. “Right now, we’ve got to help Joe, get him to a doctor.”
“There isn’t a doctor within a hundred miles,” Henry advised. He stroked his chin thoughtfully, then continued. “Look, it’s my fault the boy got hurt. The least I can do is help you take care of him. My place isn’t very far from here…at the top of the canyon and then over the ridge. If you can get the boy on a horse, we can take him there. I got water, bandages, and some medicine. We can probably do as much for the boy at my place as anywhere else.”
Nodding his agreement, Ben turned to Adam and Hoss. “Go find the horses. They’re probably only a little way down the trail. Bring them back here quickly.”
“Right,” Hoss agreed, but then he hesitated. “The horses…they’re not gonna like being so close to a grizzly bear.”
“Yeah, Goliath would probably scare them to death,” Henry said with a quick nod. He turned to the bear at his side, and pulled the coonskin cap off the animal’s head. “Goliath, the game is over. You go home now, you hear? Go on home.”
Moving slowly, the bear rose and took a step toward the path up the canyon. The grizzly stopped and looked over its shoulder, but when Henry waved it on, the bear lumbered forward and started climbing up the dirt track.
“Adam Hoss, go get the horses,” Ben ordered. “And hurry”.
As the two older Cartwright sons hurried down the trail, Henry walked over to Ben and Joe. He knelt next to Ben and his eyes seemed to sadden when he looked at Joe. “I’m real sorry, son,” Henry said softly. Then he turned to Ben. “What can I do to help?”
Sitting beside Joe’s bed, Ben lightly stroked the top of his son’s head and murmured words of encouragement. Joe’s ribs had been bandaged; his cuts and bruises had been cleaned and daubed with medicine. Ben could find no swelling on his son’s body and no hint of fever. Yet the youngest Cartwright still showed no sign of regaining consciousness. Ben held his son’s wrist, making sure the pulse he felt was still steady and strong. Joe was breathing easily and seemed to be sleeping comfortably on the soft mattress of Henry’s large bed. Ben could find nothing seriously wrong with Joe, except that his son wouldn’t wake up.
Before Joe was laid in the bed, Ben twice thought his son was regaining consciousness. Once on the trail, as he had held Joe tightly in front of his on his horse, Ben saw Joe move his head and heard his youngest son mumbled something. But almost immediately, Joe’s head fell forward and he lapsed back into unconsciousness.
The second time was when the small group reached Henry’s cabin. As Hoss had pulled Joe from the saddle of Ben’s horse and wrapped his massive arms around his little brother, Ben had heard Joe moan softly. But once again, Joe’s emergence from oblivion was brief. His youngest son was silent and limp as a rag dog as Hoss carried him into the log house.
Sighing, Ben looked around the cabin that was as strange as its occupants. Henry’s home was more like a barn than a house; it was twice as long as the average cabin and the roof was easily 15 feet over Ben’s head. The front door was double the size of any door that Ben had ever seen, and it made the shuttered window to the left of it seem even smaller than it was. A large stone fireplace had been built into the middle of the far wall. All the space from the fireplace to the front door was furnished like any home – a table, chairs, some cabinets, the large bed, and so on. A bookshelf filled with old books was attached to the wall, under which sat a long, narrow table cluttered carvings, and other odds and ends, including the coonskin hat that the grizzly had worn. All the furniture had been carefully placed to give the front of the cabin a “homey” look. But the area from the stone fireplace to the back of the cabin was empty except for a number of blankets and pillows scattered across the floor. It was on these blankets and pillows that the huge grizzly was now curled up, sleeping soundly.
“Any change?” Henry asked as he handed a tin cup full of coffee to Ben.
“No,” Ben answered, shaking his head slowly. “He’s still unconscious. I don’t understand it. He’s battered and bruised but none of his injuries are really bad. He should be awake by now.”
“Well, he took a pretty nasty fall,” Henry suggested, “and concussions can be tricky things. All we can do is wait.”
Looking up at Henry, Ben studied the man for a moment. Without the battered hat on his head, Henry looked much younger than Ben had originally thought. He guessed that Henry was in the age range that was considered neither young nor old – 40 or so – and the man’s blue eyes had a look of lively intelligence which Ben wouldn’t have expected to find in someone living alone in the woods.
Hearing the door open, both Henry and Ben turned toward the front of the cabin.
“We’ve got the horses all squared away,” Adam announced as he walked in carrying saddlebags and rifles.
“That little patch of grass Henry told us about was just right,” added Hoss as he dumped his load of saddle bags and rifles into the corner of the cabin next to the pile Adam had created. “We tethered them where they’ve got plenty of water and grazing.”
“I’m sure they’ll be much happier there than around here,” Henry affirmed. “There’s too much of Goliath’s scent around to make them feel comfortable being near the cabin.”
“Has Joe come to yet, Pa?” Adam asked in a concerned voice.
“No, he’s still unconscious,” Ben told his oldest son. “Like Henry says, all we can do now is wait.”
“You fellows want some coffee?” Henry asked. “I got a pot brewing.”
“Sure, if we’re not going to use up your supply,” Adam answered.
“No, I’ve got plenty,” Henry said with a smile. “Last time I was in Wellington, I stocked up.” He looked at the grizzly sleeping at the back of the cabin. “Goliath doesn’t like coffee, so I don’t have to share.”
Adam and Hoss exchanged glances as Henry walked over to the fireplace. Neither could quite get a handle on the strange man. He seemed intelligent and well-spoken, yet treated the bear almost as if it were human.
Carrying three cups of coffee over to the table near the front door, Henry cocked his head. “Sit down, make yourselves comfortable,” he invited.
As he settled himself at the table, Adam could contain his curiosity no longer. “Henry, how did you end up out here all by yourself? And how did you hook up with Goliath?”
“That’s a long story, Adam,” Henry answered slowly. He glanced over to where Ben was sitting beside the bed in which Joe was laying. “But I guess we got nothing but time.”
“I was a teacher in a little town in Kansas,” Henry began. “I taught there for almost fifteen years. One day, an old man living alone on the edge of town died, and the sheriff asked me if I’d go and sort out his belongings. As I was packing things up, I came across this journal. It was old – pages yellowed, ink faded – and the writing was in Spanish. I asked the sheriff if I could keep it, and he agreed. It took me awhile to get the hang of the writing, but eventually I was able to translate it. It was the journal of a Spanish soldier, telling all about his travels out west. I figured it must have been close to a hundred years old.”
“How did the old man end up with it?” Hoss asked.
“I don’t know,” replied Henry. “Maybe he was a descendent, maybe he just picked it up someplace. He never said anything about it when he was alive.” Henry took a deep breath and continued. “Anyway, I was tired of teaching and looking for a little adventure. I had no wife or children, and I had put aside a little money. I decided to follow the trail the soldier had written about and see where it led me.”
“Did you think you’d find gold or treasure?” Adam asked.
“Well, maybe,” admitted Henry. “But it was more just that I wanted to see what the soldier had seen, kind of walk in his footsteps. About five years ago, I ended up here, in Dead Man’s Canyon. According to the journal, the soldiers had wintered in the caves around here, and a lot of them had died. I figured that’s where the canyon got its name originally. I decided to stay awhile and explore the caves, see what I could find. One day, I went into a cave and saw a grizzly bear laying in it. I started to turn and run, but then I realized the bear was dead. Suddenly, I heard this kind of yelp and saw something moving. I got closer and saw this tiny little bear cub hiding behind the leg of the dead bear.”
“And that was Goliath,” Hoss stated.
“Yes,” Henry agreed. “He couldn’t have been more than a couple of days old. I don’t know what happened to his mother. Maybe she was sick or she had some problem birthing him. At any rate, the mother was dead and this little cub wasn’t far behind. He was so tiny, so cute, so helpless…well, I couldn’t just leave him there to die. So I took him back to my camp. I figured he was probably going to die anyway, but I wanted to at least try to save the little fellow. I kept him warm, fed him some broth, and did what I could for him. And lo and behold, the cub didn’t die. He got stronger and started growing.”
“Why’d you name him Goliath?” Hoss asked with a smile.
“Well, at first it was kind of a joke,” explained Henry. “He was so tiny that I thought I’d give him a name that was just the opposite of what he looked like. I didn’t know he was going to grow into his name.”
Suddenly, there was a rustling from the back of the cabin. Goliath, waking from his nap, sat up and stretch a bit, then lumbered across the cabin floor. Ben watched warily as the bear passed the bed, and Adam and Hoss kept their eyes on the animal as it approached the table. But the grizzly ignored everyone except Henry. Sitting down on the floor near Henry’s chair, Goliath thrust his head on Henry’s lap. The man began to stroke the bear’s nose, and scratch the animal’s head.
“I know I probably should have turned Goliath out into the woods, but I just couldn’t,” Henry told Adam and Hoss. He chuckled. “You should have seen how cute he was when he was just a little fellow. I used to put in him in my pack and carry him when I went exploring. His head and front paws would be hanging out of my pack and he would be looking around at everything. When he got too big for me to carry, he’d trot along side me. I’d laugh watching him chasing butterflies and birds, and just having fun rolling in the grass. I figured one day he’d just wander off and never come back, but he never did. Everyday, he’d just wait around, expecting me to feed him. And I did. We’d have venison stew, or fried fish, or roast duck – Goliath loves roast duck, don’t you, boy?” Henry patted the bear’s head and stroked his nose. “I think both of us enjoyed having someone to eat with.”
“No wonder he’s so big,” Adam observed. “There aren’t many grizzly’s that get three square meals a day.”
“One day, we were out walking,” Henry continued, “and this elk came running out of the words. Something must have been chasing it because the elk didn’t see or smell Goliath until it was almost right on top of us. The elk took one look at Goliath and ran back into the woods. But then, Goliath took one look at the elk and took off running for camp as fast he could go. That’s when I realized what I had done. That’s when I realized Goliath didn’t know he was a bear.”
“Didn’t know he was a bear!” exclaimed Adam. “What does he think he is?”
“I really don’t know,” Henry admitted. “Maybe he thinks he’s human. All I know is I realized he didn’t know how a bear was suppose to act or what a bear was suppose to do.”
Lifting his head, Goliath began walking away from the table. He stopped in front of the door to the cabin, then turned his head and looked at Henry expectantly. Henry got up and walked over to the door, then opened it for the bear. Goliath walked slowly out the door.
“He’ll be back in a bit,” said Henry as he returned to the table. “Goliath just needs to take care of his business and probably wants to go exploring for awhile.”
“Take care of his business?” repeated Hoss in astonishment. “You mean he’s housebroken?”
“Yes, he’s housebroken,” Henry acknowledge with a laugh. “Darndest thing, isn’t it? I taught him that early on. I didn’t know if you could housebreak a bear, but it worked with Goliath.”
“Maybe he does think he’s human,” muttered Adam.
“Like I said, I don’t know what he thinks he is,” Henry replied. “But once I realized he didn’t know he was a bear, I tried to teach how to be one. I taught him to get up on his hind legs and growl, but Goliath thinks it’s a game. He won’t do it if he’s scared. He just runs away.” Henry shook his head. “Once I saw a female grizzly and her cubs over in a meadow not far from here, and I took Goliath over there. I figured if he saw another bear, especially a female, well, nature or instinct would take over. But the other bear terrified him. When he saw that female grizzly, Goliath turned tail and ran back to camp, and it was two days before he’d go out walking with me again.”
“So you’ve stayed here to take care of Goliath,” Adam stated.
“Yes, I figured I had to,” admitted Henry. “I mean it isn’t his fault he doesn’t know how to act like a bear. If I wasn’t here, he’d be dead within a month. Oh, he’ll eat berries and nuts when he finds them but that’s about it. When we go fishing together, he’ll wade out into the water and catch a fish, but he won’t eat it raw. He waits until I cook it up before he’ll even touch it. And the other animals in the woods scare him. He’s too afraid of them to hunt them down. So I built a place for us to live. Goliath has his half of the cabin, and I have mine. He comes over to my side to eat, and sometimes I go over to his side to give him a rub. But mostly, we keep to our own side. We respect each other’s living areas.”
“But what do you do up here, Henry?” Adam asked, clearly puzzled. “I mean, how do you spend your time?”
“Oh, I do some hunting and fishing to put food on the table,” answered Henry. “But mostly, Goliath and I go exploring. This whole area is full of caves, and we go looking to see what’s in them. Every once in a while, we find a few nuggets of gold – not a fortune, but enough to buy me some coffee, salt, and such when I go into town. We found one cave that had some skeletons and what looks like pieces of Spanish armor. Goliath didn’t like that cave, so I haven’t really had a chance to explore it properly. I think maybe the bones scared him, or maybe he just could tell something had died in there. At any rate, Goliath didn’t want any part of it.”
“Henry, you know he could turn on you one day, don’t you?” asked Adam gently. “There are very few wild animals that stay tame forever. What happens then?”
“I’d shoot him, I guess,” Henry replied, as an expression of sorrow crossed his face. “I mean, if he kills me, he’s going to starve, so I’d shoot him more to save him from that than to save myself.” The man lowered his head and looked into his coffee cup, as if the thought of killing the bear was more than he could stand.
“How did you come up with this monster thing?” Hoss asked quickly.
Raising his head, Henry look at Hoss and smiled a bit. “One day, not long after I built this place, two fellows came riding up. I was outside chopping wood and Goliath was in here taking a nap. These fellows must have decided I looked like easy pickings, and wanted to rob me. I was standing outside with my hands in the air when Goliath came strolling out to see what was going on. He saw my hands in the air, and figured I wanted to play the game. See, that’s how I taught him when to get up on his hind legs and growl. I’d raise my hands to signal Goliath that it was time to act like a bear.”
“I never met a bear who needed to be told when to act like a bear,” commented Hoss with a smile.
“Well, you’ve never met anything like Goliath,” replied Henry with a grin. “Anyway, Goliath comes out of the cabin, sees me with my hands in the air, and raises up and lets out a bellow. Scared those two fellows near to death. They started running faster than I thought it was possible.” Henry stopped and chuckled as the picture of the outlaws running came into his mind. Then his face sobered. “One of them took a shot at Goliath as they were running. It didn’t hit him, but it got me to thinking how somebody might come across him one day and shoot him, thinking he was just another grizzly. Goliath would be an easy target; he’d just sit there, thinking they wanted to play or something. So I came up with this idea to keep everyone away, to keep people from doing anything more than riding straight through the canyon.”
“That’s when you created the monster of Dead Man’s Canyon,” Adam stated.
“Yes,” Henry agreed. “I had already taught him how to get up on his legs and roar, so I started adding a few other tricks, like waving his paws in the air, and knocking things into the canyon. Then I figured I’d dress him up a bit to make him even scarier. People’s imaginations have a way of making them see things which aren’t really there. So when they spot Goliath, they don’t see a bear in a funny hat and chain. They see some kind of monstrous beast.”
“Where’d you get all that stuff?” Hoss asked.
“I had found the chain in the cave where the Spanish soldiers died,” Henry answered. “It was lying among the skeletons. There were some other bits a pieces in there, like the badge and a metal helmet, so I went back and got some things. Goliath’s head was too big for the helmet, though. I made him the coonskin cap and pinned the badge on it. I cleaned up the necklace and hung it around his neck. Goliath liked the necklace so I left it on him. I put the hat on him whenever I wanted to scare someone away. Goliath has figured out that whenever he wears the hat, he’s going to get to play what I called the ‘scare ‘em game’. So he gets all excited every time I put the hat on him.”
“How’d all the stories get started?” Hoss asked. “By people getting scared out of the canyon?”
“Dead Man’s Canyon already had some stories associated with it, from back when the Spanish were here, I guess,” Henry explained. “Then when Goliath started scaring people, the stories about a monster in the canyon started popping up. I kind of helped them along, though. When I’d go into town for supplies, I’d stop in the saloon and start telling stories about the terrible monster in Dead Man’s Canyon. Wasn’t long before people started staying away. Every once in a while a prospector or hunter will start looking around in the canyon, and that’s when Goliath gets to go into his act. Goliath did his act once for a hunting party of Indians, and we haven’t seen a single Indian since then. We’re real careful not to hurt anyone, though. I always set up the rocks and things for him to swat into the canyon so that they can’t hurt anyone.” Henry looked over toward the bed on which Joe way lying. “We never hurt anyone, not until today.”
“Henry, we know it was an accident,” Adam said in a soothing voice.
“Yes, it was an accident,” agreed Henry. “But that doesn’t help your brother any.”
It was only a short time after Henry had finished telling his story when Ben saw the first movement from the figure on the bed. He had listened as Henry related his astonishing tale, but he kept his focus on the still figure of his youngest son. At first, Ben thought he had imagined the movement; the shrugging of Joe’s shoulders on the bed was so slight that Ben wasn’t sure it really happened. But then he saw Joe move his head on the pillow, and shift his body on the bed.
“Joe, wake up, son,” Ben said as he stroked his youngest son’s head. “Can you hear me? Time to wake up.”
A small moan escaped from Joe’s lips, and he moved his head again. Ben kept talking to him, and finally was rewarded with a fluttering of eyelids. Joe opened his eyes slowly, then winced in pain. He took a deep breath and then slowly lifted his eyelids once more.
“Pa?” mumbled Joe as he blinked his eyes. “Pa? What happened?”
“Everything is all right, Joe,” Ben crooned softly. “You took a bad fall, that’s all.”
“My head hurts,” Joe complained. He winced again. “It hurts bad.”
“You had a bad crack on the head,” Ben explained gently. He heard the scrape of boots against the wooden floor but didn’t bother to look. He knew Adam and Hoss, and probably Henry, were gathering behind him. “You’ve been unconscious for awhile, but everything is going to be all right now that you’re awake.”
“Last thing I remember is starting up that path,” Joe told his father. He raised his hand and rubbed his forehead, gently touching the tender skin around the bruise. “Did I trip or something?”
“Well, you had a little help, Joe,” Hoss said with a smile as he looked over Ben’s shoulder.
“We’ll explain it all to you later, Joe,” Ben interjected quickly. “The important thing now is for you to stay awake. “
“Here, give him this,” suggested Adam, thrusting a tin cup half full of cooled coffee into Ben’s hands. Ben nodded, then reached over to lift Joe’s head a bit from the pillow. He put the cup to Joe’s lips, and was relieved to see his youngest son sipping the liquid without any apparent difficulty. After Joe had finished drinking, Ben handed the cup back to Adam, then positioned the pillows under Joe so that his son’s head and shoulders were raised from the bed. Joe’s eyes seemed clear and bright, but Ben peered closely at his youngest son, looking for any signs of ill-effects from the blow to his head.
As Ben watched his youngest son anxiously, he heard the sound of the front door opening and the thud of steps accompanied by the scratch of claws along the wooden floor. Ben glanced over his shoulder and watched Goliath lumber by, as did Adam and Hoss. Used to the presence of the bear by now, the three men didn’t react to the grizzly walking by and turned their attention back to Joe.
Lying in the bed, however, Joe’s eyes grew wide with surprise and fear. He swallowed hard as he watched Goliath settle himself into his nest of blankets and pillows. “Pa…” Joe managed to squeak out. He swallowed again. “Pa, I must have hit my head harder than I thought. I thought I just saw a grizzly bear walk by.”
Unable to stop himself, Ben chuckled before answering. “You did, son. That was Goliath. He lives here with his friend Henry.”
“Goliath?” Joe repeated in weak voice. “Who…who…what is a Goliath?”
“Like your Pa said, he’s a friend of mine,” answered Henry as he joined the men standing by the bed. “My name’s Henry. Don’t worry, son. He won’t hurt you.”
“You sure?” said Joe as he kept his eyes glued on the animal at the back of the cabin.
“I’m sure,” Henry answered confidently. He cocked his head a bit and studied Joe. “You need to keep awake, so let me tell you all about him. I think you’ll find it interesting enough to keep you awake.”
“Yeah,” Joe agreed, still eyeing the grizzly with nervously. “I don’t think you have to worry about me falling asleep.”
The two men riding down the ridge cast long shadows in the mid-afternoon sun. One stopped his horse and dismounted, crouching down to get a closer look at the ground.
“The tracks still lead in this direction,” Frank told his cousin Jess. “They’ve got to be up here someplace.”
“I don’t like this, Frank,” Jess replied uneasily. “There’s four of them and only two of us. And there’s all them bear tracks around too.”
“I told you, the bear has to be long gone,” Frank said with more than a hint of exasperation in his voice. “The horse prints are on top of the bear prints. Besides, those four wouldn’t be coming this way if there was a bear around.”
“Let’s just give it up and head back to town,” suggested Jess. “We don’t even know how much gold they’ve got.”
“They’ve got plenty,” Frank snapped back. “The Army pays good money for remounts, and they got a bonus on top of it. All we have to do is find them. We’ll surprise them, take the money and ride out. It’ll be easy pickings.” He didn’t add that he planned to leave four bodies behind when he left.
“You’re the boss, Frank,” Jess acknowledged with a shrug.
“Yeah, and don’t you forget it,” growled Frank as he remounted his horse. “Now let’s get moving. I want to find them before it gets dark.”
Only fifteen minutes later, Frank and Jess halted their horses in some trees near the clearing on which the large cabin sat. Both men stared silently at the odd looking structure.
“Who do you figure lives in that thing?” Jess asked Frank in a wary tone.
“I don’t know,” admitted Frank. “But that’s where them four fellows have to be. The tracks lead right up to the door.”
“What are we going to do now?” pressed Jess. “That place is built like a fort. Ain’t no way to surprise them or get in without them seeing us. And if we start shooting, they’re probably just hunker down in there until we run out of bullets.”
Still studying the cabin, Frank didn’t answer for a minute. His eyes narrowed as he tried to think of a way to get the men inside the cabin to come out. He had no interest in camping in the woods until the men with the gold decided to leave. That could take days or even longer. But he also knew, as Jess had said, that shooting at the well-built structure wouldn’t encourage the men to leave it.
“You know, that cabin’s made out of wood,” Frank finally said slowly. “And wood burns. If we set fire to that cabin, they’ll have to come out. It’ll a be a turkey shoot.”
“But we’re going to give them a chance to give up the gold first, aren’t we, Frank?” Jess asked anxiously. “I mean, just killing them without giving them a chance to give us the gold ain’t right. We gotta give them a chance, Frank.”
Turning in his saddle, Frank looked at his cousin in disgust. He almost told Jess to ride out, to go back to town if he didn’t have the stomach to kill. But he stopped himself at the last minute. He needed Jess with him. For one thing, there’s no telling what the man might blab all over town if he wasn’t part of the robbery. Besides, his plan wasn’t foolproof. If there was some shooting or other trouble, Jess could be helpful. Frank decided it wouldn’t hurt to give the men inside the cabin a chance to give up the gold without bloodshed. He didn’t mind killing, but there was no sense taking a chance on getting killed himself.
“Sure, Jess,” Frank assured his cousin, “we’re going to give them a chance. But if they don’t give us the gold, we’ll have to set fire to the cabin and do some shooting.”
“That’s all right,” answered Jess, sounding mollified. “I just want to give them a chance to give up the gold. If they don’t, then whatever happens is on their head.”
Shaking his head at Jess’ odd sense of fair play, Frank dismounted. “Let’s go find something we can use to make a torch,” he declared. “We’ve got us some gold to get.”
Inside the log house, a contented air filled the cabin. While Adam and Henry sat at the table discussing books, Ben was rewrapping the bandages around Joe’s ribs, trying to make his son more comfortable. Hoss sat at the back of the cabin, near where Goliath was sleeping peacefully on the blankets, watching the bear with a fascinated expression on his face. Occasionally, Hoss would reach out and lightly touch the bear’s paw or run his hand over the animal’s fur. If Goliath felt the touch, he ignored it.
The quiet atmosphere in the cabin was suddenly shattered, however, by the sound of three gunshots, followed by a shout.
“You! Inside the cabin! Listen up!” called a voice from outside. “We want the gold coins you’ve got. You have five minutes to throw them out the door. If we don’t get the gold in five minutes, we’re going to burn you out.”
At the sound of the shots, Henry, Adam and Hoss had rushed to the front of the cabin. Ben quickly finished tying the bandages around Joe, and muttering, “stay here”, hurried to join his older sons and Henry. Goliath had lifted his head, awaken by the noise, but stayed in the back of the cabin.
Pushing a shutter on the window open a little, Adam looked out of the cabin. He couldn’t see anyone; the area in front of the cabin seemed deserted. His eyes strayed to a large rock about ten feet to the right of the cabin door. Small licks of flame and a curl of black smoke were drifting upward from behind the rock. Adam started to push the shutter open wider when a shot rang out and a bullet ricocheted off the front wall of the cabin. With a quick tug, Adam pulled the shutter closed.
“There are at least two of them out there,” Adam declared to the men standing behind him. “One is behind a rock holding a torch. The other one is somewhere near the side of the cabin with a rifle.”
“Persistent little cusses, ain’t they,” muttered Hoss.
“Do you think they’re the same ones who tried to ambush us in the canyon?” asked a voice behind Ben.
Turning abruptly, Ben scowled with displeasure as he saw Joe standing at his shoulder. Clad only in his pants, and with his right hand holding his bandaged ribs, Joe had a look of grim determination on his ashen face. His skin looked almost as pale as the white bandages wrapped around body, but his dark eyes showed nothing but resolve.
“What are you doing out of bed?” Ben demanded of youngest son. “Are you trying to hurt yourself worse?”
“I’m not going to just lay there and be shot or burned,” Joe answered in a firm voice. He raised his left hand in which he held a pistol. “I’m ready to fight.”
“There’s not much fighting to do,” Adam explained in a calm voice. “We can’t open the window to take a shot, even if we could get a bead on the one behind the rock. The one on the side will have a clear shot at anyone in the window. Same thing with the door.
“Three minutes!” called the voice from outside.
“Let’s just give them the money,” Hoss suggested. “Maybe that will satisfy them and they’ll go away.”
“It might,” Adam agreed. “But they also might burn the cabin to smoke us out anyway. Outlaws tend not to like leaving behind witnesses or people who can trail them.”
“If we throw out a saddlebag with the money, we might get a clear shot at one of them when they come to get it,” Joe pointed out.
“Yes,” acknowledged Ben, “if they are foolish enough to just march out in front of the cabin to pick it up. Somehow, I don’t think they’re that stupid.”
Another gunshot came from outside the cabin, and the men inside heard the bullet strike the front door. The shot was followed by a shout of “Two minutes!”
The thud of heavy paws and the scratch of nails on the wood floor announced Goliath’s arrival at the front of the cabin. The grizzly had grown curious about the noise and had lumbered up to the door to see what all the fuss was about.
“Goliath, get down,” Henry said sharply, gesturing downward with his hand. The grizzly cocked his head, seemingly puzzled by Henry’s tone, but immediately laid his massive body on the floor.
“You fellows are running out of time!” yelled the voice from outside the cabin.
“Let’s see what they plan to do,” suggested Ben. He walked to the window and pushed open the shutter just a bit. “We’ll give you the gold,” called Ben. “We’ll throw it out the front door.”
“So you can shoot one of us?” shouted back the voice. “No, one of you carry it out and give it to my friend behind the rock.”
“How do we know you won’t shoot the man with the gold?” Ben yelled.
“We just want the gold. We don’t want to kill anybody,” answered a different voice, this one coming from behind the rock.
“Well, now we know they’re not stupid,” Adam said with a shrug. “What do you want to do, Pa?”
“We know one of them is behind the rock and from the sound the voice, the other one is at the right corner of the house,” Ben replied thoughtfully. “If there was only some way to get one of us out to the left side of the house, he’d have a shot at both of them.” He looked around the cabin, as if hoping a back door or another window would magically appear. “But there’s no way to do that,” finished Ben in a discouraged voice.
Chewing his lip a bit, Adam looked at Henry. “How well will Goliath obey you?” he asked.
A frown crossed Henry’s face as he answered. “He pretty much does whatever I tell him. Why?”
“The last thing those men will expect when the door opens is a roaring bear wearing a coonskin cap,” explained Adam. “If you can get Goliath to go into his act, I’ll slip out behind him before those men realize what’s happening. I can get to the side of the cabin before they have time to gather their wits and start shooting.”
“They’re liable to shoot Goliath!” exclaimed Henry in alarm.
“Not if he’ll run into the woods when you tell him,” replied Adam. “Look, all we need is for him to stand in the door and bellow long enough for me to get by him and to the corner of the house. It will only take a few seconds. Then he runs into the woods. By the time those men get over their surprise and get ready to shoot, he’ll be gone.”
“I don’t know, Adam,” Henry muttered doubtfully.
“Are you coming out or do we start a big fire?” shouted the voice from outside.
“Henry,” said Ben in a gentle voice as he put his arm around the man’s shoulders, “if we don’t try this, we’ll all either burn or be shot as we run out of the burning house. That includes Goliath. At least this way, we have a chance. And Goliath will have a better chance than all of us by running into the woods.”
For a moment, Henry stood looking uncertain. Then he took a deep breath. “All right, it’s worth a try.”
As Adam and Hoss went to the corner of the cabin to get the rifles, Ben went to the window once more. “We’re going to send someone out,” he called. “Give us a minute to decide who it will be.”
“You’ve got one minute,” the voice shouted back.
Turning back from the window, Ben grabbed the gun out of Joe’s hand. “You get back to bed, young man. Now.”
“And miss the show?” answered Joe with a cheeky grin. “I’m staying here.”
“All right, but you sit over at the table, away from the window and door,” Ben agreed. “I don’t want to have to dig a bullet out of you on top of everything else. Now move.”
As Joe made his way toward the table on shaky legs, Adam and Hoss returned to the window carrying rifles. Hoss handed his father one of the rifles, and then said, “I’m going with Adam, Pa. Two of us will have a better chance at getting those yahoos than one.”
Reluctant to send even one of his sons outside, Ben hated the idea of sending two of them. But he knew Hoss was right. Two men at the corner of the cabin would be able to fire at two different targets, increasing the odds of getting both outlaws. “Be careful, both of you,” he agreed with a sigh.
Seeing that Ben, Adam, and Hoss were ready, Henry walked over to long thin table on which the coonskin cap with sitting. Goliath watched Henry, and abruptly rose when he saw the man pick up the hat. As Henry walked toward the grizzly with the hat, Goliath began swaying and lifting his paws, as if dancing in anticipation.
As he knelt to place the hat on the bear’s head, Henry spoke directly to Goliath. “Now, listen and listen good. You’re going to get to do your ‘scare ‘em’ act, but when I tell you to run, you run as fast as you can into the woods. You hear me? When I say run, you take off and don’t look back.” The grizzly stared at the man with unblinking eyes, seeming to absorb the words he had heard.
Looking over his shoulder, Henry nodded at the Cartwrights. “He’s ready.”
Ben moved to stand at the window, ready to pull open the shutter and start firing as soon as Goliath was out of the way. Adam and Hoss pressed their backs against the front wall of the cabin, trying not be seen when the door opened. Henry stroked Goliath gently on the nose a few times, then stood up and went to the door.
Taking a deep breath, Henry pulled open the door and then raised his hands high into the air. “Now Goliath!” he said quietly.
Outside the cabin, Frank waited impatiently. He glanced over to the large rock and saw Jess crouching behind it, gun in one hand and torch in another. Frank decided to give the men inside one more minute and then signal Jess to throw the torch onto the roof.
Another torch, ready to be lit and pressed against the side of the building, laid at Frank’s feet.
Suddenly, the front door of the cabin opened. Frank tensed, expecting to see a man carrying a sack or some saddlebags emerging. But instead a large, dark shape emerged from the doorway in the doorway.
As Goliath roared and waved his massive paws in the air, Frank gaped at the sight. He had never seen a bear so large, and certainly never one wearing a coonskin hat and a metal chain. The bear roared again and Frank almost dropped his rifle in fright. His wide eyes were fixed on the massive grizzly; Frank never saw the two figures squeeze out from behind the bear and run to the side of the cabin. He heard a scream of terror from somewhere on his right but Frank never turned his head to look.
Two gun shots rang out, and Frank pulled his gaze from the bear. He saw Jess running, rifle and torch still behind the rock where his cousin had dropped them. Another shot rang out, hitting the dirt near Jess’ foot. Frank watched uncomprehendingly as Jess ran screaming into the woods.
Almost instinctively, Frank pulled his rifle up to shoot at the large bear. He heard a shout, a word that sounded like “run”, and saw the grizzly lower himself to all fours. The bear took off with incredible speed toward the woods. Without thinking, Frank took a step forward, wanting to get a better angle on the fast-moving animal.
“Drop it!” a voice shouted.
Frank swung around and saw two men standing near the other end of the cabin, both pointing rifles in his direction. A wise man would have dropped his gun, but no one ever accused Frank of being wise. Frank pointed his rifle and fired, but his bullet missed as the two men dove toward the ground. Another rifle fired, this one from the window of the cabin. Frank’s eyes widened in surprise as he felt the thud of a bullet hitting his chest. Then his eyes closed forever and he fell forward.
It was almost dusk when Adam walked into the cabin with a shovel in his hand, followed closely by Hoss. “We buried him in the meadow down by the horses,” Adam announced as he leaned the shovel against the right wall of the cabin.
“Yeah, it’s a pretty little placed,” added Hoss. “Probably better than he deserves”. He threw a leather wallet on the table at which Henry and Ben were sitting. “We found this on him. It’s got some papers in it.”
“Good,” said Ben, picking up the wallet. “I’ll take it to the sheriff in Wellington tomorrow and explain what happened.”
“Explain what happened?” Henry asked nervously. “What are you going to tell him?”
“The truth,” Ben replied with a smile. “Two men tried to ambush us. We killed one and the other ran away. The wallet was on the body of the man we had to kill.”
“Any sign of the other one?” called Joe from the bed to which Ben had persuaded him to return.
“No, I figure he’s still running,” Hoss answered with a grin. “I don’t think he’s going to stop until he reaches California.”
“Do you think he’ll talk about what he saw?” asked Ben with a slight frown.
“Talk about a bear wearing a coonskin cap living in a cabin at the top of Dead Man’s Canyon?” answered Henry with a smile. “I doubt it. Even if he does, who will believe him?”
“If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it,” admitted Joe from his bed. Then he grinned. “But I sure am glad I saw it. Goliath was a sight to behold. I almost jumped out of my skin when he let out that roar.”
Looking around the cabin, Adam asked, “Isn’t Goliath back yet?”
“No, but he’ll be here soon,” Henry predicted with a smile. “It’s almost dark and Goliath doesn’t like the dark. Too many scary things in the woods at night for his taste.”
Right on cue, a large figure appeared at the door. Goliath looked around for a moment, then lumbered into the cabin. Instantly, Henry got to his feet and rushed to the bear. He put his arms around the grizzly’s neck and hugged the animal. “You did good, Goliath, real good,” Henry murmured. He pulled the hat off the bear, and scratched the animal’s head.
Taking a step forward, Hoss cautiously put his hand on the grizzly’s back. He stroked the animal lightly. “Thanks, fella,” Hoss said softly.
After exchanging looks and shrugs, Ben and Adam also walked over to the bear. Adam patted the grizzly lightly on the back while Ben rubbed the animal’s head. Goliath stood patiently, accepting his praise with a low rumble of contentment.
When the four men finally finished their petting, Goliath walked slowly toward the back of the cabin. As the bear passed the bed, however, the animal suddenly veered and lumbered in Joe’s direction.
With wide eyes, Joe watched Goliath come toward him, but breathed a sigh of relief when the bear merely plopped himself on the floor next to the bed. Goliath put his head on the bed and looked up at Joe expectantly.
“So you want thanks from everyone, eh?” declared Joe with a smile. He reached forward and gently stroked Goliath’s head. “Good job, Goliath,” Joe murmured.
Apparently satisfied that he had gotten his just due from everyone involved, Goliath got up and walked away from the bed. The bear lumbered to the back of the cabin, and settled himself comfortably on the blankets and pillows.
Ben hadn’t realized until now he was holding his breath as he had nervously watched the grizzly approaching Joe. He let the air escape from his lungs.
“Adam, Hoss, I think you should ride on to the Ponderosa tomorrow,” Ben suggested. “I’ll follow along with Joe when he’s better.”
“Aw, Pa, can’t we stay?” Hoss complained. “Charlie can handle things at the ranch. I ain’t never going to have a chance to get this close to a grizzly again.”
“And I’d kind of like to take a look at the cave where Henry found the remains of those Spanish soldiers,” added Adam.
“Looks like I have a rebellion on my hands,” Ben answered with a smile. Turning to Henry, Ben inquired, “It will be three or four days before Joe is fit to travel. Do you think you and Goliath can put up with us for that long?”
“Sure,” agreed Henry with a smile. “We’d enjoy the company.”
From the back of the cabin, Goliath raised his head and snorted loudly.
“Looks like it’s unanimous,” declared Henry with a laugh. “You are officially invited to be the guests of the monster who lives in Dead Man’s Canyon.”