The Golden Rule (by Judy)

Summary:  To do the right thing, Joe must disobey his father.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  16,555


 

“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law of the prophets.”
[Matthew 7:12]

 

Chapter 1

 

Adam and Hoss Cartwright rode into Virginia City about 1:00 pm and agreed to do their separate tasks and then meet in an hour at the Silver Dollar for a beer before heading back to the Ponderosa. Adam headed off to the office of J.T. Snelling, their local attorney to see if he had finalized the timber contracts. Mr. Snelling’s receptionist/secretary smiled when he walked in the door, “Hello, Mr. Cartwright, Mr. Snelling is expecting you. I will tell him you are here.” As she moved from her desk to inform her boss of Adam’s arrival, she turned to Adam and asked, “Did your brother come into town with you, Mr. Cartwright?” Now Adam knew she was referring to Little Joe, but he couldn’t resist teasing her a little bit, so he replied, “Yes, Ms. Jennifer, Hoss did come with me. I will be sure to tell him you asked about him.” His remark had the desired result, Miss Jennifer blushed and said, “Oh, not Hoss, Little Joe.” As he went into the attorney’s office, he said, “No, unfortunately, Little Joe was tied up at the Ponderosa.”

After leaving the lawyer’s office with the signed timber contracts, Adam went into the Virginia City Bank to deposit the funds from the sale of some horses to the army. He went to the first vacant teller, who happened to be Miss Susan “Susie” Parker. “Good afternoon, Adam, how may I help you?” she asked. Adam gave her the completed deposit slips and cash and asked her to please deposit them to the Ponderosa Horse-breeding account. As she was completing the transaction, she asked, “Did Little Joe come into town with you, Adam?” Adam smiled and said, “No, unfortunately, Little Joe is busy on the Ponderosa at the moment.” “Well, please tell him I said hello and I will save him the first dance Saturday night” she said, blushing just a little.

Hoss had gone to the mercantile to pick up some supplies for the ranch. He was carefully going over the list to make sure he got everything on the list so Hop Sing wouldn’t be upset with him. One of Hoss’ chief goals in life was to keep Hop Sing satisfied so he wouldn’t leave the Ponderosa. The mercantile’s owner’s daughter, Sarah Lawrence was helping fill the order. “Hoss, I am putting something in here for Little Joe, would you please make sure he gets it?” she said as she put a small blue package tied with white ribbon. “Sure thing, Miss Sarah, I will see that he gets it.” Hoss replied. Hoss’ next stop was the hardware store , where he had to pick up some roofing shingles and some nails for the barn roof they were replacing. The owner of the hardware store, Bill Johnson saw Hoss come in the door and said “Hello Hoss, how are things on the Ponderosa? I understand that Little Joe is back at home. I guess that sure had your Pa worried, didn’t it?” “It had us all worried, but he sure saved the Bristlecone mine from disaster, so I guess it was a good thing” Hoss answered. As they were talking, Sally Johnson came out of the back, when she saw Hoss she said, “Hi, Hoss, is Little Joe with you?” As she said this, she was smoothing her hair with one hand, straightening her dress with the other, and looking all around the store for Little Joe. Her father laughed and said, “You can stop looking, Sally, Little Joe is not here.” “Oh” she said, obviously disappointed. “Dadburn that little brother of mine, Bill, the ladies sure do like him!” Hoss said with a bemused expression on his face.

Adam and Hoss met at the Silver Dollar as planned before their departure. As they discussed their morning’s errands, Hoss mentioned that everywhere he went this morning, there was some pretty little gal asking about Little Joe. “Me, too, Hoss, everywhere except here.” About that time, one of the saloon girls came down the stairs, and like every other man in the establishment, Hoss and Adam turned to watch her come down. “I have never seen her, she must be new in town.” Hoss said. “I think I would like to get to know her a little better” said Adam. As she came down the stairs and came over to the bar, Adam introduced himself and Hoss. “Hello, I am Adam Cartwright and this is my brother, Hoss.” “Would you join us for a drink?” “Sure, Adam, I would love to; your brother has told me all about both of you.” The look on Adam’s face made Hoss burst out laughing. “What is so funny?” she asked. “Sorry, Mam, it is just that our little brother always seems to be a few steps ahead of us, that’s all.” Hoss said. “I don’t understand what you mean, but would you please tell Joe that Lila said hello?” she asked. “We sure will, Miss. Lila.” Hoss replied.

*****

When Adam and Hoss rode into the yard at the Ponderosa ranch house, they were met at the back door by the third Cartwright son, Little Joe. “Hey, little brother. How did you manage to get out here without Pa catching you?” Hoss asked. “Well it wasn’t easy,” Joe said with a scowl. About that time, Ben Cartwright came out the back door and called “Joseph?”. Joe smirked and said, “See what I mean?” “Listen, you two have to help me out here—break a leg, rob a bank, get married—do something to get Pa’s attention,” Joe implored Adam and Hoss, as Ben walked up to them. “Oh, here you are, Joe, I don’t want you to overdo it.” “Remember, the doctor said 2 weeks of rest before you resume normal activities and you still have a week to go.” Ben said, putting his arm around Joe. “How was the trip to Virginia City, boys?” he asked smiling at Adam and Hoss. “Did you get all your errands done?” “Yeah, Pa, we sure did” Hoss said. “Joe, one of your pretty little gal friends sent you a present” Hoss said, handing the blue wrapped package to Joe. Joe, planning to open it later, realized that all three pairs of his father’s and brother’s eyes were watching him and waiting for him to open the package, sighed and tore off the paper on the package. Inside was a tiny bottle of a fancy new eau de cologne for men. As he opened the package, a note fell out, which Adam managed to snag before Joe could get to it. He read it out loud, “Little Joe, wear this to the dance next Saturday night. I will save the first and last dances for you. Love, Sarah.”

Adam looked at Joe with a mischievous look and said, “By the way, Little Joe, Lila from the Silver Dollar saloon, said to tell you hello.” As he said this, Adam was watching for Joe’s reaction very closely and was not disappointed, as he saw Joe blush just slightly and his eyes open a little wider. Smiling more openly now he said, “Funny thing is, I could have sworn she was new in town.” Hoss was looking completely puzzled, but Ben was starting to get suspicious and ask just HOW did Little Joe know her, when Joe said, “I think I am going to go on inside now, Pa, I am getting a little tired.” Ben’s concern for Joe immediately wiped all thought of “Lila” out of his mind, and he turned to accompany Joe inside. He looked back at Adam and Hoss and said, “Come in for lunch as soon as you put your horses away.”

When Ben and Joe were inside, Hoss turned to Adam and said, “What was that all about, Adam?” Adam laughed. “That little brother of ours sneaked out of the house last night and went to Virginia City—that’s how he met Lila, Hoss.” “Adam, how did you know that?” Hoss asked, amazed. “I didn’t until I saw Joe’s reaction!” Adam said. “Don’t worry, Hoss, his secret is safe with me—at least for right now!” “I will save that information for future blackmail if I need cooperation from Little Joe!” “Adam, you know Little Joe well enough to know that by the end of the week, the threat of Pa finding out about something he did yesterday won’t faze him a bit.” Hoss replied, laughing. “How true” said Adam, “How true!”

*****

Chapter 2

 

Over the following weeks things finally got back to normal on the Ponderosa. Ben, finally satisfied that Little Joe was completely recovered AND was not planning on any more middle of the night vanishing acts, had allowed Joe to resume his normal activities. Although, he still tried his best to keep him out of Virginia City as much as possible. One morning just as the Cartwrights were finishing breakfast, Sheriff Coffee came to the Ponderosa. Over coffee, Sheriff Coffee informed the Cartwrights that there had been a series of cattle rustling going on recently, mostly herds from the small ranchers. Several of the smaller ranch cattle herds had been virtually wiped out. The small ranchers couldn’t afford these kinds of losses, nor did they have sufficient manpower to safeguard their herds or to track the rustlers. “Ben, I wanted to warn you about the rustling so you could protect your herd, but I also wondered if a couple of you might join the posse I am forming to try to track down the rustlers.” Sheriff Coffee said. “Of course, Roy.” He quickly added, “Hoss and I will join you on the posse,” avoiding looking at Little Joe, who clearly wanted to join the posse. “Pa, I will be happy to ride with the Posse,” Joe said. “Joe, I want you and Adam to safeguard our herd. You will need to have two riders on at night, rather than just one.” When he saw Joe’s face and obvious disappointment, he said, “Don’t you think protecting our herd is just as important as catching the rustlers, Joseph?” “Yes, Pa,” Joe answered, leaving little doubt that he didn’t really mean it. But just in time he remembered that he had promised himself to turn over a new leaf when he got out of the silver mine, so he did not raise any further argument.

When Ben and Hoss left to go join the posse, Joe said, “Adam, I will ride out and scout out some good spots for us to position the night guards tonight.” “That’s a good idea, Little Joe, I will make out a schedule for the guard duty while you do that.” Adam replied. Once Joe had Cochise saddled, he decided to give her a good run, so he raced to the pasture where the large Ponderosa cattle herd was grazing. He picked out four good spots to position guards so that every part of the herd would be visible.

Having finished that, he decided to put Cochise through his paces. He hadn’t really had much opportunity to ride since he had been home from the mines, and when he did, he was always with one of his brothers or his Pa. It irritated him because he knew it was no coincidence, but he figured they would eventually get tired of it or get too busy to continue watching him every spare minute. In a way, the cattle rustlers had done him a favor, he thought to himself as he rode Cochise.

Joe had gotten Cochise when he was just 12 years old. He had spent a summer watching him with the wild herd of ponies he was with and trying to catch him. Unfortunately he had not been able to, not so much that he couldn’t catch him, but that he couldn’t stay out of trouble long enough to have a good opportunity to catch him. So, before he could catch him, the horse had been caught by some Indians. Joe was heartbroken when he heard that. As a birthday surprise, Pa had gone to the Indians and traded with them to get him and presented him to Joe. Joe had spent hours everyday breaking him, gentling him, and then teaching him all kinds of practical, as well as many just-for-show-off tricks. He named him Cochise, after the Chief of the Apache Indians. Today Joe practiced all the practical cow-pony movements first, and as usual, he and Cochise were a great team. The horse just seemed to know what Joe wanted him to do and did it with little or no urging. Then he practiced some of the fun tricks that he had taught her. He practiced mounting Cochise at a gallop without putting his foot in the stirrup, something he loved to do to impress girls. He got up on a large rock and whistled for Cochise to come trotting over and he jumped in the saddle, landing soft as a feather. He practiced some trick riding next, he would get off the saddle and hang onto one side of the saddle, crouched on the side of the horse. When the horse was viewed from the other side, he appeared to be riderless. After making sure that no one was around, he practiced standing up in the saddle and turning loose of the reins. This was a trick that he really enjoyed, since he had never seen anyone else do it, but his father would not approve, so Joe just practiced when no one was around. “Good boy, Cochise, you are the best!” he told the pinto, as he patted him on the neck. The horse gently, but firmly, nudged him trying to get into his pockets, until Joe reached into his pockets and gave him sugar cubes. “All right, all right, you earned ‘em, Coch.”

Since Joe had gone to the pasture at full speed, by the time he had finished practicing with Cochise, it was still only 10 am. He thought he would go over to his favorite spot on his way back to the ranch. He stopped at his mother’s grave and spent a quiet 30 minutes in the peaceful area, with the blue sky, framed with tall Ponderosa pines above, the clear aqua marine Lake Tahoe on one side and the other sides bounded by open meadows or pine forests. This was the most beautiful spot in the world to him. As he was getting ready to head back to the Ponderosa, he saw a rider in the distance. He noted that the rider saw him, and instead of giving a wave, as most ranchers or neighbors would do, the man seemed to start riding faster, as if to avoid being seen. “That man sure looks suspicious. I wonder what he is doing there. It isn’t Ponderosa land, but it sure is close to Ponderosa land. I think I had better go check it out.” He said to himself. “Come on Cochise, let’s catch up with him.” Joe saw the man urge his horse to go faster; however, the horse didn’t look as if it could go any faster. Since Cochise was one of, if not the fastest horses in Nevada, they caught up with the man in no time at all.

“Hold up, Mister.” “What’s your big rush? You seemed awful anxious to avoid me” Joe said, looking carefully and cautiously at the man, his left hand near his holster. The man was wearing old clothes that were practically worn out, worn-out boots, and Little Joe noticed, he was not wearing a gun. The man was tall, thin, and somewhat haggard looking, but he didn’t look dangerous. Joe thought that the man had an honest face but had had more than his share of hard times. “Why were you so anxious to try to avoid meeting me?” Joe asked the man, carefully studying his face.

“Well, mister, I don’t carry a gun and I thought you might be an outlaw.” I just figured it would be smarter to avoid getting myself into a dangerous situation.” He explained. Joe was impressed by the sincerity of the response and he believed that the man was telling the truth. “What were you doing over here?” he asked the man. “I have a small spread on the other side of the range. I was just looking to see if there was any good grazing and water on this side of the hills.” “My name is Hiram Miller.” Little Joe was convinced by this time that the man was telling the truth. “Well, you were probably smart to try to avoid a dangerous situation. My Pa is always telling me to do the same thing. Unfortunately, by the time he tells me that, I have already done it, so it is too late to help me,” Joe said laughing.

“My name is Cartwright, Joe Cartwright.” He said, extending his hand to the man. “Glad to know you, Mr. Miller.” “Mr. Cartwright how about you call me Hiram and I call you Joe? Mr. Miller said. “That is a fine idea, Hiram, cause if you were to call me Mr. Cartwright, I would think you were talking to my Pa, instead of me. Or at least to one of my brothers.” Joe said.

“You say you have a spread on the other side of the range?” Joe asked perplexed. He was familiar with the land on the other side of the range, and he sure couldn’t think of any one parcel of land that could support more than prairie dogs on the other side of the range. “Mr. Miller, how long have you been here?” Joe asked. Mr. Miller said “We just moved from Ohio about three months ago, Joe.” “Mr. Miller, I hate to tell you this, but I don’t see how you can graze cattle on land over there. I don’t think it is fit for grazing cattle.” How many head of cattle do you have?” “Well we have close to 50 head of cattle, Joe.”

On impulse, Joe said, “Hiram, how about if I ride to your ranch with you.” I would like to see your herd.” “I’d be delighted to have your company, Joe.” As they rode to Hiram’s spread, Joe and Hiram talked about their families, ranching, and generally got to know each other. By the time they reached Hiram’s ranch, Joe felt like he and Hiram were old friends. Joe had told Hiram about his father and brothers and the Ponderosa and Hiram had told Joe about his family and their move from Ohio to Nevada territory for a fresh start.

Joe was almost speechless when they rode into the yard at Hiram’s “ranch”. It was, at best, a bad piece of desert. There were no trees, no grass, and evidently, very little water. There was a small cabin and a slightly larger barn, both looked like they didn’t have enough timber in them to stand up. “There is my herd,” Hiram said, pointing proudly to a pen to the left of the barn. Joe was astonished when he saw what Hiram was pointing to. There was indeed approximately 50 head of cattle. They were sleek and well-fed, and Joe noticed, very dusty. Joe knew that there was no way that these cattle could have been raised on this dust bowl of a ranch.

“Hiram, where did you get these cattle?” Joe asked, half-afraid to hear the answer. “Well I bought them just two days ago from a cattle drive going through here. He said he had too many to safely manage so he gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse.” “What kind of offer, Hiram?” Joe asked. “Well I told him I didn’t have any ready cash so he said he would give me a year’s credit and I could pay him $2.00 a head this time next year when he comes back through.” “Hiram, what was the man’s name?” Joe asked. “Why, his name was Simon Toliver, Joe, what is the problem?” “Is there something wrong? Did I agree to pay too much?”

Joe, by this time knew that if he looked at those cattle closely he would see either the brand of one of the ranches that had been rustled, or a brand that had been altered. These cattle had undoubtedly come from the cattle rustlers. “Hiram, I think you have a problem far worse than paying too much.” Joe said with a grim look on his face. “Let’s go look at the cattle brands and I will show you what I am talking about.” They rode over to the herd and Joe, still on Cochise, lassoed one of the cattle, jumped off Cochise, and pulled him close enough to inspect the brand. Sure enough, it was clear to him that someone had used a running iron to change the brand from an X to a circle X, and not done a very good job of it at that. Only someone from Ohio wouldn’t have been suspicious of that, Joe thought to himself.

About that time, a woman came out of the house, followed by three small children. The woman was neat, clean, and friendly. She politely told Hiram that he should invite their guest into the house for the noon meal. The three children were shyly watching Joe from behind their mother, peeking around at him, then ducking behind her if he looked directly at them. Hiram introduced her as his wife, Annabelle and their three children, Dan, age 7, Mike, age 5, and Laura, aged 3. Despite Joe’s protests, they insisted that he join them for the lunch. The meal consisted of some type of stew, stretched to the limit to feed them all, and corn meal fritters. The food was meager, but Joe found their company to be quite enjoyable. The children, their initial shyness gone, asked Joe questions faster than he could answer them.

Throughout the meal, Joe was only half concentrating on the conversation. He was trying to think of how to handle the situation. It was obvious to him that Hiram had gotten the cattle from the cattle rustlers, who had stolen them from a small rancher near Virginia City whose brand was an X. Hiram couldn’t keep the cattle, because that wouldn’t be fair to the rancher. But if Hiram turned the cattle back over to the rancher or to the sheriff, he would likely be charged with cattle rustling himself or at the very least, receiving stolen property. Joe also knew that with cattle rustling on the upswing right now, the mood of the ranchers and the law would not be very lenient. Hiram could very likely get himself hanged for his ignorance. And then what would happen to his wife and children? “Joe, you have to think this through and come up with a plan before it is too late” he told himself.

He decided against telling everything to Hiram at this point. He felt it would probably just make Hiram that much more nervous and wouldn’t help in the long run. Instead, he warned him that he shouldn’t tell anyone about his new herd and he should wait for further information from Joe before he did anything else. “Did the man by any chance, give you a receipt or bill of sale?” Joe asked, knowing that the anwer would be no. “No, Joe” , we shook hands on the deal and he said he would give me the bill of sale next year when I pay up.” “Yeah, I just bet he will.” Muttered Joe, low enough that Hiram didn’t hear him. “Hiram, I am concerned about that man you bought those cattle from, let me check this out before you do anything else. I have some doubts about the transaction, but let me check it out before you start worrying.” Joe told him. “Do you have enough cattle feed to feed that many cattle” Joe asked. “No, I was counting on letting them graze.” Hiram answered. “Hiram, you are going to have to feed these cattle, there isn’t enough grazing to support them for two days, much less two months.” “I will bring you some cattle feed tomorrow to get you through until I figure out the right thing to do.” Joe said. “How in the world am I going to do that without anyone finding out?” he asked himself. “Oh, well, I will worry about that tomorrow” he sighed. “I will be back tomorrow with a load of cattle feed, Hiram.” “Tell your wife and children I said goodbye.”

*****

Chapter 3

 

Joe didn’t think about the time until he was almost back at the Ponderosa. He realized that Adam was going to be furious with him, for not being home by lunch time. Well, that wouldn’t be the first time he missed a meal, at least, though it would be the first time since he had been home. He was still not sure about how to help Hiram. He was trying to decide whether or not he should tell his family and ask for their assistance or if he should try to handle it by himself. He had made up his mind to tell the whole story to his family at dinner time by the time he got home.

Unfortunately, by the time he did get home, his family was not exactly in the best of moods. Hoss and Ben had returned from the posse two hours before Joe got home. The posse had not had good luck and had heard that another ranch, one close to the Ponderosa had been hit the night before, too, and one of the rancher’s sons had been shot and killed in the process. This fact nagged at Ben all day—what if it had been the Ponderosa and one of his own sons? The Cattlemen’s Association was considering bringing in a special lawman to hunt down the rustlers. Ben had succeeded in convincing them to delay doing that for a few more days, but he was sure that if one more ranch got hit, nothing would be able to prevent them from doing that. Ben was opposed to this, because in his experience, the men who did this resorted to any means to catch the rustlers and most of them never brought in a live suspect. The posse had stopped early that afternoon to let everyone go home and guard their own herds, but they planned to ride again the next day, with more men.

When Ben and Hoss got home, they were tired, hungry, worried, and frustrated. Ben’s first question was about the plan for the guarding of the Ponderosa herd. Adam showed Ben the plan for the guard shifts, but the locations for the guard positions were not filled in. “Where are the men going to be stationed, Adam?” he asked. Adam, not exactly trying to “cover” for Little Joe, but also not wanting to further antagonize his father said, “Little Joe rode out to check out the positions, he should be back soon with that information, Pa.” That seemed to satisfy Ben. Then Hop Sing came in to the living room and asked “What time family want to eat and how many will be here to eat dinner?” Ben, a little testy due to his tiredness, said, “Hop Sing, there will be four of us as usual and we will eat at the usual time.” “Hummmppph” said Hop Sing. “One here for lunch, nobody tell Hop Sing that Mr. Joe not eat lunch. How Hop Sing is to know Little Joe be here for dinner?” At that point, he went back into the kitchen, spouting a dialogue in Chinese.

Ben looked at Adam with his eyebrows raised and said “Well, Adam?” “Just how long has Little Joe been gone to check out the guard positions?” “Pa, he left right after you and Hoss and I haven’t seen hide nor hair of him since.” “I just didn’t want to upset you any more than you already were, that’s why I didn’t tell you before. I am sorry.” Ben looked at Adam and then at Hoss, and let out a big sigh. “I guess I don’t have to ask what he has been up to. He wanted to ride with the posse and since I wouldn’t let him, he went out on his own to look for the rustlers.” “What does he think he would do if he did catch them?” he said, exasperated. Hoss, always the peacemaker said, “Now Pa, you don’t know that is what Joe has been doing. For all you know he could have sneaked back into Virginia City to see that Miss Lila at the Silver Dollar saloon.” As soon as he said it, Hoss knew it was a mistake, but unfortunately, once it was said, Ben immediately remembered about the mysterious Miss Lila, new in town, but already acquainted with Little Joe. “Well, Hoss that is sure a comforting thought. Either your little brother is off chasing a gang of dangerous rustlers single-handed, in town with a saloon girl he met after sneaking out of the house at night, or for all we know, perhaps he decided to get a job in a silver mine!”

About that time, they heard the unmistakable sound of Cochise galloping into the ranch yard. They knew it was Joe, because no one but Little Joe rode into the ranch yard like that. Well, no one else except his mother, Marie, and that had led to her tragic death when Joe was just five years old. Ben had warned Joe about that on numerous occasions throughout his life; he only did it now when he thought Ben was not home. And it never failed to cause Ben an almost irrational fear every time he did it. So, when Little Joe came into the ranch house, all ready to share what he had found out and to ask his family for assistance—he came home to a less-than optimal environment.

“Adam” Joe called as the bounded through the front door. As he entered the door he saw Adam standing in front of the fireplace and said, “Here are the locations for the men.” “Do you want me to take the schedule out to the bunkhouse and instruct the men?” “Joseph, I suggest that you give that to Adam and let him take care of that, you and I have some things to discuss!” Ben Cartwright said in a stern voice. “Pa, I didn’t know you were home,” Joe started to say, but was interrupted by Ben saying, “Obviously not, from the sound of your horse riding into the yard as if you were on the Virginia City racetrack!” Ben practically bellowed. “And while I am on the subject of Virginia City, young man, suppose you tell me how it is you are acquainted with the new saloon girl at the Silver Dollar. That seems to be quite impossible if you were on the ranch every day and night for the past two weeks, Joseph.”

Joe was dumbfounded, for once almost speechless; however, he recovered his voice soon enough. In fact, he recovered his voice too soon, because before he had time to think, he said in a very sarcastic, biting voice, “Thanks a lot big brother, Adam, I suppose you are responsible for that little bit of information.” “What difference does it make where the information came from, Joseph, is it true that you sneaked out of this house and went into Virginia City despite my wishes that you stay at home?” Ben asked, his voice fairly shaking with anger. Joe just looked at his father and didn’t answer him, which was enough answer for Ben. “Don’t even bother to answer, Joseph.” he said. “Well, just to round out the conversation, Joseph, just what exactly were you doing today? Did it take you almost 8 hours to locate four guard positions?” Joe was furious by this time, stung by the unfairness of the situation and hurt by his father’s anger. He decided at this point that there was no reason to tell them what he found out, because they wouldn’t believe him anyway. So he looked at his father and said, “I prefer not to tell you what I was doing today, Pa.” At this, Ben, Adam, and Hoss were stunned. Never before had Joe refused to answer a question from his father outright. He frequently tried to evade the question or answer only part of the question, or pretend he didn’t understand the question, but this was the first time he was openly defiant. He and Ben stared at each other, neither inclined to give in, both with determined expressions on their faces, and both with clenched jaws. Adam and Hoss caught each other’s eye and slowly backed out of the room, and out the front door.

After a few more minutes of the uncomfortable silence between the two of them, Ben took a deep breath, exhaled, and said quietly, “Joseph, let me give you one last opportunity to explain your actions today.” Joe just continued to stare at him, then finally he said “No, Pa, you obviously think you know what I was doing, so I see no reason to explain my actions.” “So be it, Joseph. You are confined to the ranch unless you are accompanied by me or one of your brothers, until you are ready to tell me what you were doing today. And just for the record, Joseph, that specifically precludes sneaking out of the house!” “And since you seem not to want to be open with your family, I think it will be a good idea for you to remain in your room tonight. I will have Hop Sing bring you a tray.” “I will see you at breakfast, Joseph.” With that, he turned away from Joe.

Joe, stood there momentarily unsure of what to do. He had never seen his father this angry over something so minor. Usually when his father was angry with him, he deserved his father’s wrath. This was different, though. Sure he had sneaked out of the house, but that was just because his father was being overprotective. It wasn’t like it was the first time he had done it or the first time he had gotten caught, either. His father had never been that angry over that before. And everything he had done today was legitimate, had his father given him the opportunity to explain before he got angry. Finally, he said, “Good night, Pa,” and turned and ran up the stairs. He had to run so that he could get to his room before the tears that were welling in his eyes began to spill down his cheeks. Ben, still facing the fireplace had tears spilling down his face.

*****

Chapter 4

 

Dinner that night was a very somber, cheerless meal. There was no conversation other than “Pass the peas, please.” The most conversation came from Hop Sing as he carried a tray to Little Joe, speaking in English and Chinese, the gist of his monologue was that Little Joe should be eating dinner at table with family, not in his room. Hop Sing obviously thought this was Ben’s fault and he was not happy about it, and when Hop Sing wasn’t happy, he tended to let everyone know he wasn’t happy. Hop Sing’s tirade made Ben’s facial expression get even more grim. Adam and Hoss both thought that Ben had over-reacted and handled the situation with Joe wrong. They talked about the whole situation out in the barn and felt that if Ben had not jumped on Joe immediately he may have gotten an entirely different result. Hoss explained about the son of the neighboring rancher getting killed and that he thought that was partially to blame for Ben’s response. They both felt that there was at least a chance that Joe had gotten tied up with some legitimate ranching business that could account for his absence at lunch and his lateness in returning home. Hoss felt really guilty about bringing up the Lila situation. He had been trying to help, but made things even worse instead. However, in light of their father’s present mood, neither of them was inclined to try to intervene on Joe’s behalf tonight. From experience they knew that it would make things worse if they tried to talk to either one of them tonight—they were both too angry. Perhaps things will have cooled off some by tomorrow.

Breakfast the next morning did at least find all the Cartwrights in attendance. Adam and Hoss tried to carry on light conversation; however, Ben and Joe didn’t participate, so it was another mostly silent meal. Hop Sing again demonstrated his conclusion that Ben had been in the wrong the night before quite clearly by his manner of serving breakfast. Normally, Hop Sing would serve Ben first, then the boys would serve themselves. This morning, however, Hop Sing served Joe first then handed the serving platters to Adam or Hoss, totally ignoring Ben. He refilled Joe’s coffee cup, practically after every swallow, ignoring Ben’s empty cup. Rather than take on Hop Sing, Ben got up and poured his own coffee. If things hadn’t been so grim, they probably all would have thought it was funny. It was no secret that Hop Sing adored Little Joe, but he had never been so blatant in revealing it as today.

After breakfast, Ben looked at Joe and said, “Joseph, do you have anything to tell me this morning?” “No, Pa, I don’t.” Joe said, with reproachful eyes. “As you wish, Joe. You will stay on the ranch today, and Adam, I expect you to keep him busy. Is that clear?” Adam, not sure if he was talking to him or to Joe replied, “Sure Pa”, hoping to deflect attention away from Joe who was not going to say anything. “Hoss are you ready to go join the posse?” Ben asked. “Yes, Pa, I asked Walt to saddle our horses; they should be ready by now.” “Let’s go then”. Ben said and with one more look at Joe, he got up and headed for the door without another word. Hoss looking very uncomfortable, patted Joe on the shoulder, and said, “Don’t worry, Little Joe, he will get over it. You’ll see.”

*****

Chapter 5

 

After Ben and Hoss left, Adam went over to Ben’s desk to do some paper work. Joe continued to sit at the table, staring into his cup of now-cold coffee. He wasn’t aware that Adam had gotten up quietly from his father’s desk and walked back over to the dining room table and was watching Joe intently. Joe had lain awake all night last night, trying to figure out what to do about Hiram and also trying to understand why his father had been so upset last night. He hadn’t been able to come up with a reasonable solution for either problem. Now he had a real dilemma facing him. He had promised Hiram that he would bring a load of cattle feed over to him today. However, to do that, he had to leave the ranch house and/or barn, take a wagon and go get grain from the Ponderosa grain storage, and then leave the Ponderosa ranch to get to Hiram’s. No way could he do that without someone telling his Pa. But if he didn’t take it, those cattle would be hungry, after three days of that sorry grazing where they were. Plus, he had to figure out how to either catch the rustlers or to convince the sheriff that Hiram was an innocent, albeit naïve, bystander, and not a cattle rustler. If only Hoss were here instead of Adam; he could persuade Hoss to help him, or at the very least, he knew he could sneak off from Hoss. Adam was an entirely different matter. His internal struggle was clearly obvious on his face.

Adam spoke up calmly, “Joe, would it help to talk about it?” “And just for the record, I did not tell Pa you sneaked out of the house to go to Virginia City, though I had figured it out.” Joe was surprised at Adam’s offer, he had expected another lecture instead. He seriously considered Adam’s offer and decided to try to feel Adam out, without totally committing himself. “Adam, I have a real problem. I don’t know how to do what I know is the right thing to do, without disobeying Pa’s instructions.” He said truthfully. “What is this ‘right thing to do’ in relation to, Joe?” Adam asked thoughtfully. “It has to do with the cattle rustling, Adam.” Joe again answered honestly.

“Joe, DID you go tracking those rustlers alone yesterday?” Adam asked incredulously. “No, Adam, I didn’t, but I came across something that is definitely related to it, but it is complicated and I don’t know how to handle it.” “ I was going to tell you three last night and get your advice, but when Pa got so angry over what he THOUGHT I had been doing, I just couldn’t discuss it with him.” “If I had, he would have told the sheriff right away and I think an innocent man could get himself hung because of it.” “ I decided that it was better to have Pa mad at me than to risk getting an innocent man hung.” “As painful as that is for me and everyone else in the family” he added.

Adam was watching Joe closely during his semi-explanation, frankly surprised at how mature his decision had actually been. Joe had always been impetuous and impulsive, but what he just said actually revealed that a lot of thought had gone into his refusal to inform his father of his actions. Adam was surprised at the depth of Joe’s turmoil and realized that perhaps he and Hoss and Ben may not have been paying close enough attention to realize that Joe really was maturing and was capable of making decisions and of being accountable for them. He decided right then that he would do whatever it took to help Joe, to show that he did trust him.

“Joe, why don’t you tell me the whole story so we can figure it out together?” he said, motioning for Joe to walk with him over to the sofa. “Hop Sing, could we have another round of coffee? He asked. Hop Sing came immediately, filling first Joe’s cup, then Adam’s. When they reached the living room, Adam sat on the sofa and Joe sat on the big coffee table facing him. He looked at Adam thoughtfully and finally said, “Adam, before I tell you the whole story, I have to have some assurance that you will truly consider what I am telling you before you make a decision and before you tell Pa or the sheriff. It is important, Adam. If you can’t promise me that before I tell you, then I am going to have to try to figure out a solution by myself.” “I don’t mean that you have to agree with my opinion about the matter, just that you will be objective and look at all sides of the issue before you make a decision.” Joe said earnestly. Adam looked Joe directly in the eye and said, “Joe, I promise that I will be open-minded and objective and look at all sides.” “Now for crying out loud, quit talking in riddles and tell me what is going on.” Joe looked at Adam and saw only trust and a willingness to help and decided that he really had no other choice, because he needed help and he couldn’t risk trying to solve it himself and botching it, because either Hiram could hang, or he could get killed himself if he tried to apprehend the rustlers alone. So Joe, took a deep breath, then related all the events of yesterday to Adam, starting with his first sight of Hiram and ending with his decision to tell the three of them when he got home. Adam was well aware of the rest of the story. After hearing the story, Adam offered to go with Joe to take the grain to Hiram and to evaluate the situation himself. “I can’t promise that I will agree not to tell the sheriff, but I will consider all options first, Joe” he said. “That is all I ask, Adam. I trust your judgment.”

Adam accompanied Joe to the grain storage shed, and to deliver the cattle feed to the Miller spread. Adam was just as surprised as Joe to see that someone was actually trying to make a ranch out of the arid, grassless area. Joe introduced Adam to the Miller’s who again insisted that they join them for the noon meal, another thin, watery stew with corn fritters. Joe showed Adam the cattle, and let Hiram tell him of his bargain purchase of the herd. Joe listened as Adam asked the same questions that he had asked yesterday, wondering if he were reaching the same conclusions that Joe had reached. If it had been Hoss, he would have known he was, since Hoss was so tender-hearted, he would have believed Hiram right away. Adam was different, he was logical and needed a lot of facts to make up his mind. Joe wondered if the facts Hiram were presenting were sufficient for Adam. Joe tried to get a clue from looking at Adam’s face, but Adam’s trademark expression never gave anything away. Too bad I don’t have that ability, thought Joe, that sure would be helpful in poker. After talking with Hiram for about an hour, Adam said that he and Joe needed to go check the horses and that he wanted to discuss something privately with his brother. Hiram said he would go help his wife with the luncheon dishes and get some water from the well for her while they talked then.

As soon as they were out of Hiram’s hearing, Joe asked, “Well, Adam, what do you think?” Adam looked at Joe and said, “I agree with everything you told me already, Joe.” “That man is no more a rustler than you are, maybe even less”, he added, smiling. That smile brought a smile to Little Joe’s eyes that Adam was glad to see, since he hadn’t seen Joe smile since the day before yesterday. “ I also agree that we can’t just turn this over to the sheriff, because with the climate right now, they would hang Hiram without listening to anything he says, and I don’t want that on my conscience either.” “So what do we do, Adam? The only thing I can think of is that we have to find the rustlers before the posse comes across the Miller’s ranch and sees that herd of stolen cattle.” “Two of us is twice as good odds as last night when I thought it was just going to be me against them all.” Joe said.

“Joe, we can’t go after those rustlers alone, Hoss said there are at least 6 of them, maybe more.” “But Adam, you yourself said we can’t tell the sheriff, so what other choice is there?” Joe asked, confused. “Joe, we have to tell Pa and Hoss.” Adam said firmly. “Adam are you crazy? Pa is mad enough with me as it is. He will never believe me when I tell him how I discovered Hiram’s ranch. And what if his anger at me makes him not listen and he tells the sheriff and Hiram Miller gets hung—-all on account of Pa being mad at me because I sneaked out of the house!” Joe said heatedly. “You promised, Adam.” Joe reminded him.

“Joe, calm down and hear me out.” Last night, for the first time in your life, or at least as far as I know, you openly defied Pa. That absolutely shocked him, and Hoss and me too, little brother. But we all respected you for it. Pa, too. You didn’t make excuses, you didn’t try to pass the buck, you didn’t lie or stretch the truth—you merely refused to answer the question. Now I understand why and I think you were right last night.

You stood up to him, Joe, and you didn’t back down, because you believed in what you were doing. I think that gave Pa as much to think about as it did you. It has been a long time coming, little brother, and I don’t expect it to come all in one giant leap, but the truth is—-you are growing up and it has kind of sneaked up on all of us—especially Pa. It is hard for him to admit it and I think it will take us all some time to adjust to it, but you showed maturity last night, Joe, and Hoss and I are definitely proud of you. We talked about it last night, out in the barn. But now you need to go one step further—you have to give Pa another chance to hear you. You have to MAKE him listen to you, Joe”. Adam stopped to get his breath, wondering if Joe was listening.

“But, Adam, you saw him last night, I couldn’t get a word in, if I had wanted to. How can I make him listen when he is so angry at me?” “Well Joe, in the first place, I don’t think Pa was really all that angry at you. There were lots of things going on that you didn’t know about because you came in late. I think one of the major reasons Pa was so upset was that one of the Jefferson boys got killed by the rustlers the night before. They have the ranch nearest the Ponderosa. I am sure Pa was thinking that it could have been one of us, and since you were the one unaccounted for, naturally he would worry about you. He was also tired, frustrated, and worried about our own herd. And don’t forget, Joe, it was less than a month ago that you came back from your life as Frank Wells and from being shot. Then the sneaking out of the house to go to Virginia City alone and coming tearing into the yard riding like a maniac—all those things make Pa worried. So, if you add all those things together, maybe you can understand how Pa was feeling and you forgive him for it, but you don’t shut him out.”

“I guess I never thought of that, Adam, but I have never seen Pa like that before either. And it is not something that I look forward to seeing again any time soon.” He added with the slightest sign of a smile. “But Adam, are you sure that telling Pa tonight will have better results?” “Well, Joe, I am not sure, but I think we have to try. Pa has always been there when we needed him, we just need to let him know that now is one of those times.” “All we have to do is get Pa to come here and meet Hiram and assess the situation himself and he will agree with us. I am sure of that.” “Will you be there when I try to talk to him, Adam?” “You betcha, Buddy, I will be right behind you!” he laughed. “Behind me, heck, I want you in front of me, between Pa and me!” said Joe, really smiling now.

*****

Chapter 6

 

Adam and Joe agreed to discuss the Miller’s and the 50 head of rustled cattle with Hoss and Ben that night. Joe was very anxious, since he could still remember how his father’s gaze bored into him last night. He was not looking forward to facing that same man again. Adam was also nervous, though he attempted to hide it to keep Joe from being even more nervous. Joe and Adam were in the barn doing chores when Hoss and Ben rode in. Hoss took his father’s horse and his horse to bring them into the barn, and Ben went directly into the house. When Hoss came into the barn, Joe met him with a worried expression on his face, “Hoss, what kind of mood is Pa in today?” Hoss looked sympathetically at his little brother, “Joe, to tell you the truth, I ain’t never seen Pa in a mood like he was in today. He just wouldn’t talk and if you tried to talk to him, he seemed to just be looking right through you. I hope for your sake, Joe that you didn’t disobey him and leave the Ponderosa today” Hoss said, with a questioning look at Joe. Adam spoke up and said, “Joe was with me all day.” “That’s good, Adam, cause I sure wouldn’t want to be here if Pa found out otherwise.” Hoss said.

None of them had heard someone enter the barn and were shocked to hear Ben say, “Adam, Hoss would you excuse us for a minute? I need to speak to Joseph privately.” Adam attempted to intervene, getting out “Pa” before Ben said again, “I need to speak to Joseph privately, Adam,” firmly and leaving no room to debate the issue. Adam and Hoss gave one last sympathetic look to Joe, who had gotten quite pale and was anxiously waiting his father’s wrath, and left the barn. Once outside the barn, but still visible, Adam mouthed, “It will be all right.” Then he and Hoss went on to the house.

Ben walked over and softly closed the door and turned around to look at Joe. Joe was still currying Cochise absently, but his attention was 100% on his father, he was watching him out of the corner of his eyes, afraid to look directly at him. “Joseph, come over here, please,” Ben directed Joe to come sit beside him on a work bench. Joe very slowly and quietly came over and sat beside his father, still not looking at him. He was doing something he used to do as a child. Whenever he had done something he wasn’t supposed to and gotten caught, he had tried to imagine the worst possible punishment that his father could give him, then when the actual punishment was less, it was almost a relief. That strategy had come in really handy for Joe, since he was prone to getting into trouble. Now at 17 years he was having a hard time thinking of what he worst possible punishment his father could give him would be. That made his anxiety even worse.

“Joe, I was wrong last night. I treated you unfairly and I want to apologize to you and to ask for your forgiveness.” Ben said, watching his son’s face carefully. Joe’s facial expression changed from one of anxiety to one of confusion. He surely never expected his father to apologize and to ask for his forgiveness. That was uncharacteristic, primarily because Joe was usually in the wrong when his father was angry with him. “Pa, I don’t understand,” Joe said. Joe, yesterday I found out that Clarence Jefferson got killed by the rustlers just the day before. His father and I came here at the same time. I know you don’t know Clarence that well, since they live closer to Carson City than Virginia City and you didn’t go to school with him. But Joe he was exactly your age. His father and I were good friends, and your mother and Clarence’s mother were good friends. Clarence was guarding their herd alone that night and got himself shot and killed. All I could think was that it could have been you. So I was already on edge, then I find out about your sneaking into Virginia City alone when I thought you were safe in bed, and you come riding up on Cochise, just the way your mother did the day she died, and I took all my pent-up grief, worry, and frustration and packaged it as anger and took it all out on you.” “Will you forgive me, son?” Ben asked, his eyes brimming with tears.

“Pa, you don’t have to ask for my forgiveness, not with all the trouble I cause you all the time. I am sure I deserved it all and more. It is just that I usually have a good idea when I need to duck and last night, I was totally surprised.”

“Joe, I appreciate your saying that, but please I really do want to know that you forgive me. I don’t want anything to come between us, Joe, and I feel that I damaged your trust in me last night. I have to make it right, son.” “Pa, how about if I forgive you, will you forgive me for all the worry I have caused you in the last 17 years?” “That should more than balance out your side of the bargain, Pa.” That’s a deal, Joe.” Ben said smiling.

“But there is still one more thing that I want to try to explain, though I am not quite sure how to explain it, but I will make a stab at it, anyway.” “It has to do with all that worry you have caused me over the last 17 years, as you put it,” Ben said, looking into the sparkling green eyes of Marie from his son’s face. “This has to do with your zest for life or “joe de vive” (spelled as intended), as your mother called it. I know that you think your brothers and I are overprotective and sometimes we all three come down too hard on you for your high spirit and enthusiasm and knack for getting into mischief. Joe, your high spirits and ability to enjoy life and to help others enjoy life are rare gifts, that your brothers and I truly appreciate. But it is a double-edged sword, son. We are torn between just enjoying life vicariously through your eyes and between keeping your spirit somewhat under control so that it doesn’t result in serious injury to you—both physical and emotional. You see, Joe, you inherited that wonderful love of life from your mother. You are just like her in so many ways. When Adam and Hoss and especially I see that same spirit in you, we are both delighted by it and scared to death of it. We don’t want anything to happen to you, Joe, like it did to your mother. You were so young when your mother died, you don’t remember too much about her, or about losing her.

So, in many ways, Joe, you are the most intact of us all. The rest of us carry many precious memories, but we also always carry that sense of loss that makes us insecure about life. You have your joi de vive and all the confidence that comes from never having lost a loved one. Your brothers and I are at a disadvantage in two ways, we didn’t get that wonderful gift of joy of living from your mother and we all lost someone that we dearly loved—more than one time.”

By now, both Ben and Joe had tears streaming down their faces. Ben looked at his son and asked, “Son does that help you understand the origin of what you call “overprotectiveness” on your brothers and my part?” “So you love it when I am like my mother, but you hate it when I am like my mother?” Joe asked with a half-smile. “Exactly!” said Ben.

“So does this mean that you plan to stop being so overprotective, Pa?” “No, Joseph, I can’t honestly say that it will. But I will promise you that I will listen to you and to try to understand you better.” “I love you son and I am proud of you, don’t ever forget that. And don’t ever forget that you bring gifts to this family that are every bit as important as Adam’s and Hoss’s. Logic, intelligence, and hard work are vital, but we also need some fun in our lives. You bring the laughter and joy and hope that is the very heart of this family. We don’t ever want to lose that, Joe.” “I love you, too, Pa, even when you yell at me!” Joe said, smiling. Ben reached over and hugged his son, then ruffled his hair and said, “Let’s go relieve Adam’s and Hoss’ minds, I am sure they are worried about you, Joe.” “What makes you think they are worried about me? Could be they are worried about you!” Joe responded with a laugh. And father and son strode across the yard to the house, arm in arm.

*****

Chapter 7

 

Dinner was much different that night than the dinner last evening and much better. The four of them talked, joked, and laughed throughout the meal. Joe had attempted to tell his father and Hoss about the activities of the past two days, but Ben had said it could wait until after dinner. Hop Sing was definitely pleased that the whole family was back in harmony and he was very attentive to all 4 Cartwrights this time. At one point when Hop Sing had gone into the kitchen for more coffee, Ben looked at Joe and said, “I had to make peace with you or Hop Sing would have starved me to death, son!” When Hop Sing came back into the dining room with the coffee, all the Cartwrights were smiling and laughing. Hop Sing looked very pleased and said, “good for family to eat together and talk together.” Ben said, “How right you are, Hop Sing, as usual, how right you are.”

After dinner, Joe said, “Pa I would like to tell you what I was doing yesterday.” “Joe, we would be most interested in hearing what you were doing, if you want to share that with us, but it is up to you, Son” Ben said, smiling at Joe. “Pa, I need to tell you because we need your help.” “We, Joe, who is we?” Ben asked, a little puzzled. “We is Joe and me, Pa,” Adam interjected before Joe could speak. “Oh, were you involved in this, too, Adam?” “Just since this morning, Pa” he said. “But I totally agree with Joe.” “Well Hoss I don’t know about you but I am feeling quite left out of things” Ben said. “Please Joe enlighten us.” So Joe told Ben and Hoss everything that he had discovered from the point of where he first saw Hiram Miller through his earlier decision not to tell the sheriff right away. Adam took up the story from the point that Joe first confided in him, bringing Pa and Hoss up to date on what they had done that day.

When they had finished, Joe and Adam looked at Ben expectantly, wondering just how he would respond. For a few minutes no one said anything. Joe was starting to get anxious, afraid that Ben would insist they notify the sheriff and leave the problem up to the law to solve. Finally, he could stand it no longer and said, “Pa?” Ben looked at his youngest son and said, “Excuse me Joseph, I was just trying to figure out when you got so wise.” “You did the right thing, Joseph. I regret that I didn’t give you the opportunity to discuss this with me last night, but I am glad you discussed it with Adam today.” “I am sure that among the four of us we can come up with a good plan to set all this straight.”

The four Cartwrights discussed the many angles of the problem at length. They wanted to catch the rustlers, return the stolen cattle to their rightful owners, but also to help out the Millers and keep Hiram Miller from a hanging. That was going to be tricky. They decided that the the primary responsibility would be to catch the real rustlers, but since the men making up the posse were irate ranchers, they didn’t feel they could solicit any help from them. In order to track the rustlers, they would have to go right by Hiram Miller’s ranch and that should be avoided until the rustlers were caught.

The plan they came up with was to send two of the Ponderosa ranch hands with the posse to substitute for Ben and Hoss, so that the four Cartwrights could go and try to track the real rustlers. Ben picked two long-time ranch hands and asked them to try to keep the posse away from that area, just in case. They would ride out in the morning and head straight for the Miller’s and try to pick up the trail of the rustlers from there. When Joe told them how bad things were for the Miller’s, Ben asked Hop Sing to prepare some basic supplies to take to the Millers as a gift for new neighbors.

The next morning the Cartwrights had an early breakfast and headed toward the Miller’s ranch. As they passed the site overlooking Marie’s grave, Ben asked “Joe is this where you first saw Hiram?” “Yes, Pa.” Joe answered. Ben smiled at his youngest son and gently placed his hand over Joe’s arm in a show of affection and understanding. Joe, like Ben was drawn to that site where his mother was buried and which had been her favorite spot on the Ponderosa. It was Joe’s favorite spot now.

When they reached the Miller’s ranch, Hoss and Ben were just as surprised as Joe and Adam had been, that someone was actually trying to raise cattle on that barren spot. Up to this point, neither Joe nor Adam had told Hiram that the cattle they had “bought on credit” were actually stolen cattle. The looks on Hiram’s and Annabelle’s faces were sufficient to convince them that they had no idea. They were devastated. “But that means these cattle belong to someone else?” “Hiram, we have to return them today” his wife said. “No, Mrs. Miller, the boys and I have a plan. First we have to catch the rustlers and turn them over to the sheriff. Then we will arrange for the return of those cattle to their owners, after everyone is in a better, more forgiving mood. Hiram said, “Well Annabelle, I should have known nobody would treat a total stranger that good. I should have known it was a trick. I guess we will have to go back to Ohio and start over again.” He said dejectedly.

Joe gave his father a pleading look, which was echoed by Hoss and Adam. Ben said, “Well Hiram, I wouldn’t be too hasty, you may find that there are other people in Nevada who aren’t crooks who are willing to help people out. I think I may be able to help you find some better land and start you out with a small herd.” “Would you really do that, Mr. Cartwright?” Hiram asked. “Well, if you think I am going to disappoint all three of my sons at the same time, you have another think coming, Hiram,” Ben said laughing. “But first let us get to the business at hand—catching those rustlers!” Hiram volunteered to go with the four Cartwrights since he could identify them. Mrs. Miller served them coffee and fresh baked biscuits made from the supplies the Cartwright’s brought with them. “Mr. Cartwright, we sure appreciate your generosity and kindness” Annabelle said. “Mrs. Miller, it is our pleasure to help our neighbors. I guess Joseph was just instrumental in getting us together.” “Yes, meeting him was an answer to prayer, and to think I was trying to keep him from seeing me.” Hiram said. Hoss said, “Now that’s a switch, ain’t it Pa? Joe being an answer to a prayer, instead of the cause of one.” The Miller’s looked a bit puzzled, but all four Cartwrights laughed heartily.

*****

Chapter 8

 

The four Cartwrights and Hiram Miller started off together to track down the gang of cattle rustlers. Joe had brought along some extra horses, since he knew that Hiram didn’t have any good horses. He insisted that Hiram ride one of those horses instead of the horse he had been riding when Joe met him. Hiram told the Cartwrights that there had been five men with the man who “sold” him the cattle, so they knew there were at least six men, perhaps more, because some could have been staying behind to guard the other cattle they had stolen. By following Hiram’s directions to the spot that he had first encountered the rustlers, they were able to save a lot of time because they were sure they were following the right tracks. They were able to follow the tracks well until they came to the rocky area leading to the mountains passes. On that soil, even Hoss couldn’t make out the tracks.

“Pa, I know this area a little bit, I came here with Will Stone one time when we were tracking a mountain lion” Hoss said. “There are 3 or 4 canyons in there that they could easily hide 200 head of cattle in,” I bet that is where they are operating from.” “That makes sense when you think of the areas they have been stealing from—they are all easily accessible from here.” Adam added. “Pa, I am afraid that the sheriff and the posse will figure that out soon, too. Isn’t Will Stone riding with the posse, Pa?” Joe asked, with considerable worry on his face. He was afraid that the posse would head over there to look for the rustlers, but when they got to Hiram’s place, they would think they had found the rustlers and wouldn’t go any further. \

“Pa, we don’t have time to search all of those canyons as a group, we need to split up and check them out to save time” Joe suggested. Ben looked around at his group. He knew Joe was right, it would take them the rest of the day just to search one canyon if they rode as a group, but if they split up, they could check them all out. He was also concerned that the posse may come this way, or another possibility would be that the rustlers would hit another ranch tonight. Someone else could get killed in that case, since they had already killed once, they wouldn’t hesitate to kill again. However, he didn’t like the idea of them going individually, either. The odds would not be favorable in case they were detected, a real possibility.

Adam said, “Pa, I don’t think we have any other choice. We can split up, just go look for signs of horses or cattle, and then if we see something, come back and get the others before we do anything.” Ben considered this for a minute, then said, “All right, but I don’t want any of you taking any chances. If you see anything suspicious, turn around and come straight back for help.” “As I recollect now, Pa, there are 4 canyons in all, and I think we should have one of us go into each canyon, and leave Hiram here at the outlet, so he will know where we all are in case one of us comes up empty, so we will know where to go next.” “Hoss, that is a good idea, we will do that.” “Hoss, you point them out and we will each take one as we come to it” Ben said.

When they came to the first canyon, Little Joe volunteered to search it. Ben looked at him and nodded and said, “Remember, Little Joe, be careful, there are at least six of them. If you see anything suspicious you come back and tell Hiram, you hear?” “Sure, Pa, don’t worry ‘bout me” he said, and tugging sharply on Cochise’s reins, he made her rear up and paw the air, and then he headed off into the canyon, with a final wave at the others. Ben looked at Adam and Hoss who were both watching him, and sighed and shook his head. At the next two canyons, Ben repeated almost verbatim the same instructions he gave to Little Joe. Hoss and Adam, however, didn’t attempt to make their horses rear or paw the air as they entered the canyon. Instead they smiled and reassured Ben they would be careful. Ben quietly entered the last canyon, hoping that it would be the one occupied by the rustlers, so that none of his sons would encounter them alone.

But, as luck would have it, the canyon Ben entered was empty. It didn’t appear that anything larger than a lizard had been in that canyon recently. The canyon was not very deep and it had no grass or trees for shade. Just to be sure, Ben rode all the way around the canyon, looking for any hidden outlets or entrances to other canyons that could hide a stolen herd of cattle. In all, his search took about half an hour. Finding nothing, he went back to where they had left Hiram to see if any of the others had reported anything. “So far, Mr. Cartwright, you are the only person to come out.” “Well, I will go in the canyon closest by then and see if Adam found anything. When Hoss or Little Joe come out, send the first one out to go find the other one. I really don’t like anyone being alone in there against 6 cattle rustlers” Ben said grimly. “I will tell them as soon as they come out, Mr. Cartwright.”

Ben went into the canyon that Adam was searching. It was a much bigger canyon than the one Ben had searched, it had many smaller canyons arising from it that had to be searched. Ben met Adam after about 20 minutes and they completed the search together. Finding nothing, they quickly left the canyon to head back to see what Hoss and Little Joe had found.

As they rode up to Hiram, they saw Hoss ride up from the canyon he had searched. “I didn’t see nothin’ Pa.” “Neither did we”. They turned to Hiram, “Has Little Joe come out, Hiram?” “No sir, Mr. Cartwright, I haven’t seen him.” “All right, let’s go in and see what he has found.” “Mr. Cartwright, I’d like to come with you this time, since you will all be there, there is no need for me to be here anymore.” “Fine, Hiram, come along then.”

After Little Joe left his Pa and brothers, he settled down and started watching for signs of recent activity in this canyon. At first he didn’t see anything, in fact there were absolutely no tracks in the canyon at all. That was odd, he thought, usually there will be small animal or bird tracks, along with the occasional horse or coyote, but here the ground was almost smooth, like it had been swept. Suddenly Joe saw a part of a broken shrub branch lying in the middle of the canyon entrance. That’s odd, too, he thought, that was a mountain laurel shrub and there weren’t any mountain laurel shrubs for miles around. Now how did that get here? He asked himself. Then he remembered something he had heard that the Indians did when they were trying to avoid being tracked. They tied branches on the backs of their horses, so that the tracks would be wiped clean, leaving no visible tracks. Joe dismounted and got off Cochise to check out the ground closely. Sure enough, he could see small areas where the shrubbery branches didn’t touch that contained small parts of tracks in them. Probably one of the branches had come off and the rider didn’t notice it. He wouldn’t have paid any attention to that branch in the dirt, if it hadn’t been one that he recognized and knew only grew nearer the Lake Tahoe shore. “This is it!” he said out loud. He was getting ready to get back onto Cochise and go get the others when he heard the click of a pistol. He reached for his pistol, but he was too late, a man walked out right in front of him and said, “Go ahead and go for that gun, kid, and it will be your last move.”

Joe looked into the eyes of one of the meanest looking men he had ever seen. The man had obviously been posted as a guard for the canyon and he had seen Joe almost from the moment he entered the canyon. He had just waited until he got close enough to him to take him by surprise, before he made a move. The man looked to be about Hoss’s height, though not as large as Hoss. Joe briefly considered trying to jump on him, but he was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to get the upper hand in a fight, so he thought he would wait and try something else. Just once, he thought, why isn’t the bad guy someone my size? He thought if he could just get the man to lose focus for a second, he could draw on him, but so far the man had kept his eyes and his hand holding the gun pointed directly at him, steady. As if reading his mind, the man said, “Now then, hold your left arm up in the air and with your right arm, reach across and SLOWLY unbuckle your holster and throw it over there.” As he said this, he moved a little closer to Joe and pointed the gun directly at his heart with the trigger held back. Joe figured now was not the time to try to outdraw him, so he did as he was told.

Once the man had Joe’s gun, he made him hold his hands in front of him and he tied his wrists tightly together, and then pushing him to the ground, tied his ankles tightly together, too. He searched him thoroughly to make sure he didn’t have another weapon, taking his cash from his wallet. “You won’t be needing this, Mister,” he said. He searched the saddle bags on Cochise, taking Joe’s rifle and placing it on his horse. “Nice rifle, I needed me a new rifle. This is my lucky day.” “Well your luck is about to run out” Joe said. “Oh, yeah, why is that, Mr. Bigshot?” the man asked. “Because there is a posse out looking for you and they will find you eventually.” Joe said.

“Ha, some posse, they are looking in the wrong place. Besides, even if they do have enough sense to come toward this way, my boss fixed it up so they won’t even come this way.” “He “sold” some cattle to an idiot trying to raise cattle on the desert. Made him a real good deal, too. Now he will get hung instead of us, then we just move on to the next territory.” “What makes you think they won’t come looking for you?” Joe asked trying to keep the man talking and buy him some time. “You talk to much, kid, shut up. We are going to ride back into the camp and let Jeb decide what to do with you, though I wouldn’t be making any long range plans if I was you.” He said, laughing.

He pulled Joe roughly to his feet, untied his feet and made him get on Cochise. Then he retied his hands so that he could hold on to the saddle horn. He took the reins and got on his horse and rode that way into an almost hidden draw inside the canyon. There were 6 other men, all armed and all watching them enter. Behind them were at least 250 cattle. “Jeb, looky what I found snooping around the canyon entrance.” He said to one of the men as they came near the camp. The man called Jeb had come up to Joe and was examining Cochise. “I know this brand” he said. “This is the Pinetree brand of the Ponderosa. In fact, I know this horse, this is the horse of the son of Ben Cartwright himself. I saw him in Virginia City one time in the saloon.” “Jake you did find yourself a prize, this time.” “Ain’t that right, kid?” he asked with a sneer. “Yeah, that’s right, I’m Joe Cartwright, and my father is Ben Cartwright and if you know what is good for you, you better let me go and get out of here before he comes after you.” Joe said, staring at the man without blinking. Angered, the man grabbed Joe and jerked him off his horse, making him hit the ground with a thud. For good measure, he kicked him twice, once in the ribs and once in the abdomen. Joe heard as well as felt a rib break with the first kick. There was a sharp pain, but he managed to stifle any sound—he didn’t want to give the man the satisfaction of making him cry out in pain. “You keep your trap shut, if you know what’s good for you.” He shouted.

“You know boys, one thing he said is probably true, from what I have heard about them Cartwrights, you seldom see one of them, without the others somewhere close by.” “ I think we should go ahead and move this herd tonight instead of waiting until tomorrow night.” “We can keep this kid with us until we get clear, sort of like an ace in the hole. From what I have heard bout that Ben Cartwright, he would do just about anything to save one of his son’s lives. “Yep, Jake, you was right to bring him in here alive. That kid is our ticket out of here, for sure.”

“All right boys, let’s break camp and get out of here. Just leave the stuff around the camp, we won’t be needing it after we sell these cattle anyhow.” “Jake you stay here and keep an eye on our little ace in the hole and the rest of you men get ready to move out in 10 minutes.”

When the men told Jeb they were ready, he told Joe to get on his feet. Joe didn’t move fast enough to suit him so he grabbed him by the arm and pulled him up roughly. He made him get on Cochise, then retied his hands, behind his back. “How do you expect me to stay on my horse with my hands behind my back?” Joe asked the man. “Oh, I am going to take care of that for you, kid.” He then took a rope off his horse and put it around Little Joe’s neck, pulling it tight, like a noose. He then got onto his own horse, holding onto the other end of the rope. “You try anything, kid and I will yank this rope and break your neck. You better just try to stay on that horse”.

*****

Chapter 9

 

Just as the rustlers started to move the herd of stolen cattle, the Cartwrights came to the edge of the canyon and could see what was happening. They immediately identified Cochise and as they looked at Joe, they saw the situation at the same time. “Pa, what are we gonna do?” Hoss asked in anguish. “If we ride in there after them, that man could kill Joe!” “But they will kill him anyway, our only chance is to surprise them somehow. But we need more men to do that.” “Mr. Cartwright, if you will tell me where to find him, I can ride and get the sheriff and the posse.” “Thanks, Hiram, that would be a big help. Hoss can you tell him how to get to the posse?” Ben asked. All the while, he didn’t take his eyes off his youngest son in the distance.

“Boys I guess we just have to ride along behind them until the posse gets here or until we see an opportunity to take them without endangering Joe’s life.” “I hope Joe doesn’t try anything foolish” Adam said. Ben and Hoss looked at him and nodded their agreement. They followed the rustlers at a safe distance for about 30 minutes. Then the rustlers stopped and seemed to be discussing their next move. The Cartwrights waited just out of sight of the rustlers. Directly beyond the rustlers, the canyon seemed to get wider. “Pa, I just remembered that there is another exit from this canyon. That’s how they have been getting clear away, that exit goes right to the river and out of Nevada territory. I bet they cross ‘em right there or sell ‘em right there.” That was a frightening thought, because as the Cartwrights knew, Joe would not be useful to them once they made it out of the canyon and since he could identify him, they wouldn’t want to leave him behind—alive. The Cartwrights were desperately trying to decide what the safest course of action was when Little Joe decided to take some action on his own.

Joe had also figured out that they were almost out of the canyon and since they would be exiting from the opposite side, the rustlers could unload the cattle pretty quickly and ride away. He knew that they wouldn’t leave him behind to identify them and he would not be useful as a hostage once they got out of the Nevada territory. He figured his family was either close behind him or would be soon enough, but he knew that they would be afraid to risk a move because of his predicament. But he was determined that these rustlers were not going to get away, even if he had to risk his life to prevent that. He was racking his brain, trying to think of what action he could take to get out of the situation so that his family would be able to come and confront the rustlers. He looked around, the men were preoccupied with their discussion, probably deciding who gets to kill me, he thought. Although Jeb was still holding the rope, he wasn’t really paying any attention to it. Joe looked around and noticed that the men were not watching the cattle either. What he needed to do was to do something that would startle the cattle and cause them to stampede—that would take the rustlers by surprise and his family would be able to take them in the confusion. And if his luck was good, he thought he knew of a way to startle the cattle, start the stampede, and surprise Jeb enough to make him drop the rope he was holding. The only problem was, he wasn’t sure if he could do this with his hands behind his back. But he couldn’t think of anything else and he knew that time was running out. “I’ll just have to try. Come on Cochise, let’s do this together.” He said.

Joe leaned forward on Cochise until he was practically lying down on her neck and managed to get her reins in his teeth. The he dug his heels into her sides as tightly as he could— the signal to Cochise to rear her head and paw in the air.

From their vantage point, the Cartwrights saw Joe lie down on Cochise and saw him trying to get a tight grip with his legs. They knew immediately what he was fixing to do. Ben yelled, “Let’s get down there boys, Joe is going to rear that horse with his hands tied behind his back! If he doesn’t get thrown off and killed, he will get himself shot and killed!”

Cochise did as she was expected and reared her head and pawed in the air. The sudden movement took Jeb by surprise and he dropped the rope that was around Little Joe’s neck. Now if he could just manage to get Cochise back under control and stay on, he could stampede the cattle. All the hours Joe and Cochise had spent practicing tricky maneuvers paid off, Joe was able to stay on Cochise by holding on with his legs and he was able to guide her entirely by foot movements. Joe headed Cochise in the direction of the herd and urged her to run at them as fast as possible. The cattle were indeed startled and did stampede. When the rustlers figured out what was going on and began shooting at Joe, their bullets only served to frighten the cattle more, adding to their panic and expanding the stampede.

About this time, the other Cartwrights came riding down, firing at the rustlers. Although there were more outlaws than Cartwrights, the advantage was clearly in favor of the Cartwrights. They had better horses, better aim, and also had the benefit of complete surprise. And they didn’t have close to 300 head of terrified cattle running directly at them. Four of the rustlers managed to get to the side of the canyon without being trampled. Hoss and Adam soon had them under control, tied up and out of the action. Jeb and Jake were not so fortunate. Jeb had been so intent on shooting Joe that he didn’t move to get out of the way of the cattle soon enough and he was trampled. Jake, also trying to shoot Little Joe was wounded by Ben Cartwright and fell to the side of the cattle. Hoss and Adam went to him saw that he had received only a minor gunshot and would survive. They pulled him over and tied him up, along with the others.

By now, the majority of the cattle had stampeded toward the front of the canyon. Joe was still on Cochise, trying to calm her down and slow her down. It took him some time since he couldn’t put too much pressure on the reins with them just held in his teeth. But he started talking to her, “Whoa, girl, whoa, Coch, good girl” and she began to slow down. Finally, he was able to bring her to a complete stop. He dropped the reins from his teeth and carefully jumped down, grimacing slightly at the pain in his ribs, and looked around to see if they had captured all the outlaws. His father and Hoss came running toward him. “Joe are you all right?” they both shouted. “Sure Pa, I am fine. I have been telling you all along that I could ride Cochise with my hands tied behind my back” he said, with a wide million dollar smile. Ben rolled his eyes and looked toward Heaven as if for divine patience.

*****

Chapter 10

 

As they were riding out of the canyon, with the outlaws in tow, the live ones riding upright on their horses, the dead one slung across the saddles, they ran into Hiram and the sheriff, riding toward them. “Well, Sheriff, we are glad to see you. We would like to turn these outlaws here over to you. That dead one there was Jeb Dutton, the leader of the gang. That wounded one there is Jake Dutton, Jeb’s brother and his partner. He can give you all the details.” Ben told the Sheriff.

Sheriff Coffee said, “Well, Mr. Williams here has filled me in on the rest of the story, too Ben. You know you could have come to me and I would have helped you with this. I ain’t partial to hanging innocent men myself.” “Yes, Roy, but what would you have told the posse if you didn’t go out with them?” Ben asked. “We just thought it was better if we rounded ‘em up for you and then let you sort out the rest of it.” Ben said. “Well what I want to know is how did you think of coming over here in the first place, Ben?” “We hadn’t seen any tracks coming this way.” Joe spoke up, “Oh, Sheriff Coffee I can tell you how they managed that—they used an old Indian trick to erase the horse tracks after they left ‘em.” “Almost fooled me, too.” He said with a grin.

Sheriff Coffee said, “Well the rest of the posse are trying to round up those cattle so we can return them to the ranchers. Mebbe we should go see if they need a hand.” Hiram spoke up and said, “Sheriff, don’t forget that 50 head on my place. Better get them while you are at it.” Sheriff Coffee said, “Yessir, we will do that.” “Hiram do you know that receiving stolen property is am bad an offense as stealing ‘em yourself?” The Sheriff asked Hiram. Little Joe spoke up, “But Sheriff Coffee he didn’t know they were stolen, he had just moved here and didn’t know that those cattle were stolen. You can’t arrest him, he has a wife and three kids to take care of. I will pay for the cattle myself, Sheriff.”

“Well now, Little Joe, I am glad to see you taking such an interest in this case, but that is something that has to be decided by the courts, not by me.” Joe looked at his father and silently pleaded for him to speak up for Hiram. Joe knew that his father could persuade the Sheriff to let Hiram go. He could be very persuasive when he wanted to be. Ben looked at Joe and winked, and turned to Roy and said, “You know Roy, how can you be sure that those cattle that are at Hiram’s place aren’t just some more of the stampeded herd? You know how cattle are when they stampede, you couldn’t really be sure that they weren’t, could you?” Roy looked at Ben and then at Little Joe with a twinkle in his eye, “Well Ben you are right about that and I can’t say that I noticed any cattle at Hiram’s place as we rode by.” “I guess I am going to have to just give Hiram a warning about buying cattle without a bill of sale and let it go at that, since I can’t prove for absolute certain that he did in fact, have those cattle, before the stampede.

Hiram couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He had been certain he would at least go to jail. “Oh, thank you, Joe, Mr. Cartwright, and Sheriff Coffee. You do not have to worry about that ever happening again. From now on I will insist on a receipt for everything I buy, just in case.” Ben said, “Adam and Hoss would you two mind going along and helping Sheriff Coffee and the others round up all those cattle and start them back toward their rightful owners?” “Joe and Hiram and I have a little business to discuss.”

Joe looked puzzled, but he was sure that his father was going to offer to help Hiram, he just wasn’t sure how. “Hiram, we didn’t get much of a chance to talk about your plans for this ranch of yours. I was wondering if you were dead set on making your home here.” “No Mr. Cartwright, this was the only land we could find that we could afford to buy.” “I am not sure we are going to be able to make a ranch out of this land, it is too dry. What we wanted was a small ranch and farm to raise a few livestock and grow a few vegetables and fruits. Nothing fancy, just something to call home.”

“Well if you are not deadset on living here, I would like you to ride over to our ranch tomorrow and let me or Joe show you some good bottom land that you may find more to your liking. If it does meet your needs, I would like to negotiate with you. I noticed that you or your wife had a vegetable garden. That is one thing that our cook, Hop Sing, just either doesn’t have the time for or doesn’t have the knack for, but we sure do need fresh vegetables. I would like to propose to give you some land, in exchange for a supply of vegetables every harvest. Would you be interested in that, Hiram?” Ben asked smiling. “That sounds too good to be true, Mr. Cartwright, if you are serious, you have a deal.” He said, offering his right hand. Ben and Hiram shook hands on the deal. “Mr. Cartwright, Joe would you mind if I rode back to tell my wife—she must be worried sick.” “You go right ahead, Hiram, we will be on shortly.” Ben said.

Ben and Joe rode in companionable silence for several minutes. Finally, Ben turned to Joe and said, “By the way, Joseph, I am very proud of you and of the way you handled this whole situation.” “Thanks Pa, I was just trying to do what I would want someone to do for me in a similar situation, you know the ‘Golden Rule’” Joe said. “So I see, son, so I see.”

When Ben and Joe got back to Hiram’s Hoss and Adam were waiting for them. All the cattle, including “Hiram’s cattle” had been rounded up and one of the posse had ridden on to alert area ranchers that the rustlers had been caught and that many of the cattle had been located. Sheriff Coffee had taken custody of the outlaws and was taking them to jail.

The Cartwrights made plans to show Hiram and his wife the land Ben had in mind the following day. The Cartwrights then said good bye to the Williams’ and started home. Joe filled them in on the details of how he found the rustlers and of his capture, omitting the rough treatment at the hands of Jeb. He didn’t want to give his father any reason to get more protective of him again. They took their time on the way back to the Ponderosa, a fact that was beginning to irritate Little Joe, who had to keep slowing down to let the others catch up with him. When they finally made it back to the Ponderosa ranch house, there was a familiar looking buggy parked in front of the house. “Hmm” said Joe, “that looks like Doctor Martin’s buggy. I wonder what he would be out here for?” Ben said, “I asked Roy Coffee to ask him to come out, Joe.” “What for, Pa, are you sick?” Joe asked, concerned. Ben laughed and said, “No, Joe, but I want him to have a look at your ribs.” Joe looked at Ben, astonished. “How did you know about my ribs? I didn’t tell anyone and you weren’t there—how could you know about that?” Joe was absolutely flabbergasted by this. “Oh,Son, will you EVER learn that you can’t fool your Father?” Ben asked, enjoying his son’s confusion.

*****

Epilogue

The doctor verified that Joe had two broken ribs-not that unusual for Joe.

The Sheriff notified the Cartwrights that there was a reward on all the rustlers that amounted to $6000.00. The Cartwrights of course, gave the reward money to the Millers who used it to start over on the new land that Ben gave them.

Ben and Adam and Hoss gained a new appreciation for Little Joe and listened to him more carefully.

Joe to this day can’t figure out how his father knew about the broken ribs!

***The End***

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