Summary: Sand Creek was a terrible tragedy, but all over the west, there were similar events. This is a fictional account of what could have happened in the world of the Ponderosa and the Paiutes.
Word Count: 6437
Two days before Christmas Eve in 1864 on the Ponderosa was a stressful time. The family was trying to complete all of the traditional decorations and plan all the usual festivities, but sporadic raids by roving bands of young Shoshoni especially seeking to prove their manhood had unsettled the entire region. No one had been killed and no property destroyed, but there had been a lot of hooting and hollering and the theft of a number of cattle and horses. With winter so near and food supplies scarce because of the hot summer and dry fall, the cattle were going to be essential to the survival of a number of camps in the hills and mountains of the Sierra. People were scared and a number had pulled their children from school early in order to avoid any risk to them traveling during the day. Rumors of kidnappings of children had been rampant for weeks, even though the authorities repeatedly reminded people that no such kidnapping had been reported.
Hoss had reported to his father that he had seen signs that one group of young Paiutes was probably camping in the high northwest pasture of the Ponderosa. The herds had already been moved down to the winter pastures so there was no problem with them staying there. However, in order to avoid a raid and the possibility of someone getting hurt, Ben suggested that one of his sons ought to go meet with them and offer them twenty cattle to take to their home camp. Adam saw the look of despondency on Joe’s face when he realized he might miss part of the Christmas decorating and celebration. Then he looked at Hoss and saw a nearly identical sad face.
“I’ll go. I don’t think I could bear to stay here and look at those sad faces and enjoy Christmas decorating anyway.”
Adam was being played and he knew it, but it was enjoyable to go along and act all put-out about it. In truth, he wouldn’t mind the ride. The weather had been mild, and he longed for a good excursion before the winter trapped him here at the ranch. Ben was happy to see Adam volunteer and it was for the same reasons. His two younger sons would miss being part of the Christmas season festivities terribly much, and he knew Adam needed an outlet for his restlessness. Sometimes Adam was like an oil lamp when the fuel got too low: sputtering and smoking and not providing much light. He needed to refill his fuel reservoir, and a good brisk ride and helping the Paiutes would likely do just that. He would miss one day but would be back by dusk so they could still sing songs together and enjoy some family time before Christmas Eve and all the guests they had invited for the afternoon and dinner on Christmas day. Ben informed Hop Sing that they would be eating dinner quite late in order to be sure that Adam was back to join them.
Hoss and Joe helped Adam cut out twenty head of cattle to herd up to the Paiutes. Then the two of them headed out to find a Christmas tree. Ben was already on his way to a nice grove of pines with the wagon so they could cut some greens for decorating too. The saws and axes they needed were in the wagon.
“Now, you two be sure not to hurt yourselves with those saws and axes. We don’t want to put a damper on the season with one of you lying in bed recovering from a wound or a broken leg.”
Adam laughed at his brothers’ expressions and headed out driving the cattle in front of him before his brothers could come up with a retort. Joe and Hoss spent the time riding to meet their Pa thinking of witty things they were going to say to Adam that night. They would show him.
The camp of the Paiutes wasn’t hard to find. It was clear this was no war party as they had no sentries and their campfire smoke could be seen for miles. Adam had ridden slowly for much of the early morning because there were a lot of icy patches. When he finally neared the camp, the young men, some of whom were still boys, came out to greet him.
“You are camping on Ponderosa land. I have come to offer you a deal.”
“What ‘deal’ do you offer, Adam Cartwright?”
“I’ll wrestle one of you. If you lose, you go home.”
“And when I win?”
“Then, I will give you ten spotted buffalo to take home to feed your camp.”
The young men conferred and then, using hand signals, indicated thirty cattle was the price. Adam sat as if in thought, and signed twenty. The young men agreed and then chose their champion. Adam dismounted and removed his jacket. As Adam expected, he lost, but he gave the young man plenty of resistance and it took the younger man nearly twenty minutes to defeat the older man. Adam packed some snow into his handkerchief and held it to his bleeding nose. He watched with some satisfaction as the young man who had defeated him had to wipe his bloody lip. Adam had given the young men what they wanted. They had won in battle and could now take their prizes home to be met with honor and gratitude from the other members of the tribe.
The young men broke camp and packed their belongings onto their ponies. Adam had retrieved his jacket and led the young men a few miles back to where he had left the twenty cattle he had driven up here earlier. The young man who had defeated him in wrestling looked at him with a quizzical expression. Adam nodded and he nodded back. They understood each other perfectly. Each had acted in an honorable way as men did with men they respected. The young men rounded up the cattle with whooping and hollering and started to drive them toward their home camp.
Adam didn’t know what it was, but something made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. There seemed to be something wrong, and then he realized how quiet it was except for the noises the young men were making. There were no birds chirping. Sport started to dance as he was prone to do when he was nervous and when his master was nervous. In this case, it was both of them. Adam saw the puffs of smoke from the tree lines at the same time as he saw some of the young men turn to him with anger on their faces. They thought he had lured them into a trap. One of the young men drew his rifle and fired at Adam, hitting his mark. Adam fell into a pile of snow near the trees, and Sport bounded away.
The firing and the yelling seemed to go on forever, but in reality was only about thirty seconds. Adam had been hit in the thigh. The bullet had traveled up his thigh and exited near his hip. The wound was extremely painful but had hit nothing vital. Adam pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and stuffed it in his pants at the exit wound where the bleeding was most profuse. His hands were covered in his own blood by the time one of the men in the civilian troop came over to check on him.
“You thought they was friends of yours, didn’t you? Well, you can see all the good that didja.”
“Why did you do it? Why?”
“We got ourselves our own little Anaconda Plan. We’re following what Chivington started out there in Colorado last month. We’ll wipe these thieving savages from this land so good folk can feel safe.”
“These boys didn’t steal anything. I gave them those cattle. These are Paiute, not Shoshoni.”
“Don’t matter. Injuns is Injuns. They’re all thieves. Besides, Natty Wallace is missing and those savages got her someplace. We aim to find her.”
“You know as well as I do that Natty leaves all the time. Find out what young man has been sparking her and you’ll find her.”
“Nah, this time her folks said she ain’t over to his place. Said she left riding and never came home. Those savages got her and no telling what they’re doing to her right now.”
More of the men had ridden over to see what Adam and their leader were saying. There was no point in trying to have a logical discussion with men in this lynch-mob mentality. Many had bloody hands, and Adam sadly could guess what they had been doing. One of the men dismounted and walked over to Adam. He dropped a wad of cloth in his lap before walking away.
“He ain’t gonna be able to stop us, and without his horse, he can’t warn nobody neither. Let’s go.”
“Stay here and we’ll see you get home later, even if you’re a damn Injun lover. First we got more business to take care of.”
After the dozen men left, Adam whistled for Sport but saw nothing. He took the wad of cloth and pushed it into his pants over the exit wound and used his bloody handkerchief to try to slow the bleeding of the entry wound. It hurt a lot but he knew he would be fine eventually. He limped slowly to where the seven boys were lying. He pulled blankets off the dead ponies and covered the bodies. He would have liked to pull them all into one location but knew he couldn’t. He hoped he could get something done before scavengers got to the bodies. Hopefully, with the blankets covering them, scavengers would first attack the dead ponies. Adam whistled again for Sport and this time saw the feisty chestnut come running out of the trees and then remain standing and snorting away from the scene of the bloody massacre. Adam knew he needed to walk to the horse so he wouldn’t shy away. He picked up a lance that wasn’t broken and used it to help himself walk. Once he got to Sport and calmed him down, he mounted up and followed the trail the mob had left in the light snow patches.
After an hour of riding, Adam came upon another horrific scene. A Bannock family must have been traveling home. The vigilante mob had come upon them purely by chance. The two males were dead as were the two women and three children. One was only an infant. From the way the women were laying and their torn clothing, it was clear what had been done to them. Again, the bodies had been mutilated. Adam dismounted and covered the bodies as he had done with the Paiute youth. Then he walked to Sport and retched until he thought his stomach might be the next thing that he threw out. Absolutely sickened and devastated by the senseless brutality of the morning, he mounted up to ride on.
After another hour, Adam heard gunfire in the distance and feared what he would find next. After riding as hard as he could stand with his injury, he crested a rise and saw that the men he had been following had run out of luck. Their bodies were sprawled along the slope. Women were walking among the bodies and stripping them of anything of value.
A war whoop was the only warning Adam got before he was clubbed from his saddle. He rolled on the ground, and at the sound of another whoop, looked up and rolled out of the way of a second charge.
“Stop! It is Adam Cartwright. He is not part of this.”
“He is a white man. He is a part of this.”
“Silence! We will hear his words.”
Winnemucca gestured to Adam to stand and then to speak. Adam stood as well as he could and told them his story. He told them of the wrestling, the wager, and the honorable conduct of the young men. He told them he had covered the bodies. Then he told them of the Bannock family he had found not far away.
“It must have been those shots our hunting party heard. There were so many and so close, they came back here and we prepared ourselves. When these men saw us, they opened fire so we had no choice, and we killed them. What will you tell your army now, Adam Cartwright?”
“The truth. It is the only thing to tell. You have twenty cattle in the meadow where the bodies of your men lay.”
“We do not want your cattle. What good are cattle when our sons are dead?”
“The cattle were the last deed of your sons. I ask only that you honor their memory by accepting their last gift to you.”
It was a somber group that rode with Winnemucca and the men. They did a traditional burial of the Bannocks where they found them. Then they moved to the meadow where the bodies of their sons were. Each was carefully rolled in a clean blanket and placed on a pony for the return trip. They would honor them with a burial on the lands of their ancestors. Then the men rounded up the cattle that had scattered and herded them after the sad procession. Adam sat in his saddle until the last of the riders was out of sight. It was nearly dusk. He would not be home for dinner as he would have to ride slowly in order to avoid injuring Sport and himself. He turned his horse for the long ride home. At one point, he heard the howling of wolves. He hoped that meant they had found the feast of dead ponies and were not following the scent of blood. After a couple of hours of riding, he realized he might fall off as a result of blood loss, pain, emotional shock, lack of food, and general weariness. He pulled his lariat and tied himself to his saddle, believing that if he passed out, Sport would continue home. After about another hour, he slumped forward, and as expected, Sport continued toward home.
On the Ponderosa, concern had given way to fear. What should have been a five or six hour trip there with the cattle, and probably no more than four hours back, had become over twelve hours and then more.
“Adam has to be in trouble, Pa. We need to go find him.”
“Joe, I know you’re worried. We are too. But how will we find him in the dark?”
“Pa, there’s a full moon tonight and a clear sky. We could ride out a ways to see if we can meet him. We could carry a lantern and stay in the open. We’d be safe, and Adam could see us from a long way off.”
“Hoss, let’s just wait a bit more. If what you say is true, we’ll give your idea a chance.”
Ben got his coat and hat before leaving to stand on the porch and wait. He could no longer stare at the Christmas tree and envision the presents underneath it, hoping that his oldest son would be there on Christmas morning to open his gifts. Soon he heard the door open and his two younger sons stood at his side in a lonely vigil. They talked little and grew cold. Finally, Ben had waited enough. It was time to try to find Adam, even if there were risks to all of them. They rode out as far as they dared and saw nothing. They would have seen something if Sport had been moving but the horse was nearly done in by the strenuous day. He had not had food nor water since leaving the stable that morning. He had just stopped with his head down, miserable, and without the energy to travel any further. Then he heard a familiar neigh and answered it.
“Pa, I think I just heard a horse. It could have been Sport.”
“Joe, I didn’t hear anything except your horse.”
“It was just after Cooch neighed. I heard an answer. Cooch: do that again; come one, signal your buddy.”
Cochise swung his head around after being addressed by Joe. He didn’t know what his master wanted, but he had smelled his stable mate on the light breeze. When the smell came again, he turned back into the wind and neighed once more. He got an answering neigh and wondered why these humans didn’t start moving again.
“Pa, I think I heard it that time too. Sounds like it’s coming from straight ahead.”
“All right, let’s go, but be very careful. The footing around here can be treacherous and with these trees ahead, we won’t be able to see much.”
The three men rode through the stand of trees and out the other side and still didn’t see Adam. But their horses smelled their stable mate, and all three snorted and neighed, anxious to move forward. Hoss pointed forward at what looked more like a boulder in this light than a horse and rider. Ben and Joe followed his lead down the slope. As they got closer, they could see it was a horse and that a rider was slumped over the horse’s neck.
Hoss reached them first. “It’s Adam. Sport is done tuckered out and Adam’s tied to the saddle. Hold those lanterns high so I can get this lariat off of him.”
Working as quickly in the cold as he could, Hoss pulled off his thick gloves and untied the lariat that caused Adam to fall into his arms. “He’s really cold and there’s blood stains all over his shirt and his jacket. I don’t know yet where he’s hurt.”
Ben had dismounted with his canteen. Hop Sing had filled it with boiling hot coffee before they left and it was still warm. Ben knelt next to Hoss and tipped the canteen to Adam’s lips to see if he would drink. Joe stood and held up a lantern in each hand so they could see what they were doing. Gradually, some coffee got into Adam’s mouth and he sputtered and then swallowed. Ben tipped the canteen to Adam’s lips again and he started to drink greedily. It was the moisture he craved and it was the warmth which he needed. Hoss shifted Adam to Ben’s grasp. Ben continued to give him coffee to drink as Hoss examined him for injury. Adam had worn a thick gray shirt that morning because of the cold. He had a blanket and slicker on the back of his saddle but had not used them.
“Looks like the only wounds are one just above his knee and one near his hip that’s still bleeding. There’s a lot of blood on his shirt but I don’t think it’s from bleeding. Probably wiped his hands there, ’cause they’re all covered in dried blood too.”
Hoss took his gloves out of his pockets and slipped them on Adam’s hands. The residual warmth should help. Then he stood and took the slicker and blanket from behind the saddle on Sport. He wrapped the blanket around Adam and then, with Ben’s help, slipped the slicker over that. They had him swaddled now but had to get him home soon. Joe suggested that he could hold Adam on Buck and that Ben should ride Cochise back and lead Sport. Hoss could lead the way with a lantern. They agreed to Joe’s plan and got Adam in the saddle so Joe could sit behind him. After just a short time though, they had to amend their plan. Joe couldn’t hold Adam on the horse and control the horse at the same time. Adam was unresponsive. Hoss took the reins and led Buck as Joe kept one arm around Adam’s waist and the other wrapped around Adam and holding tightly to the saddle horn to keep both of them in the saddle. The procession slowly headed home.
Once at the ranch house, Hoss and Ben carried Adam in and placed him in the downstairs guest bedroom. They wanted access to the warmth of the rooms downstairs and the hot water that Hop Sing already was preparing. Joe rode to town for the doctor. Hoss and Ben stripped Adam of his clothing as Hop Sing warmed bricks and wrapped them in flannel. They found a severe bruise across Adam’s back and discovered that the two wounds in his thigh were actually one.
“Pa, it’s gonna hurt him something fierce but we gotta flush that wound. There’s probably stuff in that wound tunnel from his clothing.”
“I know but let’s get him warmed some before we do it. He’s so cold and in enough shock already. I don’t want to make things worse.”
They washed Adam’s hands and face with warm soapy water. The warm bricks were placed by his feet and by his sides. Finally Ben knew it was time to deal with the wound. He explained to Hop Sing that they needed a carbolic solution, a funnel, and lots of towels. Hop sing returned within about fifteen minutes with the needed items as well as a separate herbal solution. Hoss held Adam down and Ben held his legs as Hop Sing poured the first solution into the exit wound. Adam was nearly unconscious but the severe pain caused him to scream out and try to escape the torment. Hoss had tears on his face feeling his brother convulse with pain in his arms. Hop Sing removed the towels with the bloody residue of the procedure. He replaced them with clean towels and picked up the second solution.
“This help with pain and help heal.”
Hoss and Ben held Adam down again but after a moment of pained reaction, Adam began to relax. There were no more screams as he just groaned as the fluid poured through the wound. Once the fluid drained out, Hop Sing placed cotton gauze over each and then applied a thick pad of bandages which were tied in place. They pulled a sheet over Adam and then blankets as he sank into sleep. Ben moved to stoke the fireplace in the room even more, and Hoss did the same in the great room.
Then Ben sat on a chair beside the bed. “What happened out there, son? How did such a simple task lead to this?”
Hoss stood at the doorway wondering the same thing. Then he remembered that they had left the horses standing outside. With the hands gone for the holiday, he would have to take care of them. When he got outside, he realized how bad Sport looked, so he led him into the stable first — unsaddling him, watering and feeding him. Sport was slow to take advantage of the feed but drank a lot so Hoss gave him more water in the bucket. Then he brought the other horses in. When he lit another lantern, he saw the blood on Adam’s saddle. He needed to rub all the saddles down but he would have to do a thorough cleaning of Adam’s. Once he got to grooming, he found blood in Sport’s coat too that he carefully combed out. Hoss was just finishing with those horses when he heard a carriage arrive. Joe and the doc were hurrying toward the house when Hoss stepped out of the stable, so he just gathered up Cochise and took him in for care too. If the doc was staying, he would also care for his carriage horse.
Inside, Doctor Martin was pleased with the care Adam had received. Unfortunately, he had to cause him more pain by probing the wound for bullet and bone fragments. The wound bled freely again, including some large clots. The doc said they needed to apply pressure to the whole length of the wound so Adam’s entire thigh was wrapped in bandages with wads of cloth placed along the path the bullet had taken.
“There’s every reason to expect a complete recovery. He’ll have two small scars and that should be it, as long as there is no infection. He has a low fever but that is to be expected. Rest, fluids, and nourishment are all I can prescribe. All of you look like you could use some rest too. I’ll sit with him until dawn. Get some sleep.”
As dawn came, Adam awoke with groans. His leg ached as did his back. He felt wrung out. Doctor Martin asked him if he had any severe pain in his leg and he shook his head no. Doctor Martin checked his leg then and found the reflexes normal and the temperature acceptable. Doc said he would get Ben and left the room. Ben was already awake and dressing when he heard the knock on the door. He rushed downstairs leaving the doctor smiling gently in his wake.
“Adam, son, you gave us quite a scare. I never thought that delivering those twenty cows could lead to this.”
At Ben’s words, Adam’s face paled and he closed his eyes. Doctor Martin was there behind Ben by then and saw the reaction. “Not now, Ben. Just find out if he’s hungry or thirsty or wants anything else.”
Adam whispered quietly to his father that he needed the chamber pot. With Doc’s help, Ben got Adam to the side of the bed so he could relieve himself. Then they carefully settled him back in the bed and pulled the blankets over him. Adam closed his eyes and dropped into sleep again.
“Ben, I don’t know what happened to him out there. But don’t ask him about it yet. From that reaction, I have to think something terrible happened. Adam is a strong and courageous man, but he nearly passed out thinking about what happened. Give him some time to come to terms with it himself before you say anything more.”
Ben nodded. Adam’s reaction had unnerved him. His normally strong, resilient son had looked like he had seen ghosts when Ben had asked him what happened. As Hoss and Joe came down for breakfast, Ben informed them to be quiet, and when they sat with Adam, not to ask any questions about what happened. Paul went upstairs to get some sleep in a guest bedroom. He would sleep a few hours and then check on Adam again before returning to town.
At about ten in the morning, Paul awakened and came downstairs after refreshing himself and shaving with the water, soap, razor, and towels someone had thoughtfully put in the guest bedroom while he slept. He saw Ben and Hoss sitting at the dining table with coffee, and it smelled darn good at this point. As he neared the table, he noticed the bedroom door ajar and peeked in to see Joe seated at Adam’s bedside. Paul quietly pulled the door closed. Hoss poured a cup of coffee and held it out to Paul.
“Has he awakened at all since I saw him earlier?”
“Only to ask for water a few times. Then he falls back asleep. Paul, is there something more we ought to be doing for my son?”
“Not at all, Ben, not at all. While I was shaving, I remembered something. Natty Wallace is missing again. Some men went out looking for her when her parents couldn’t find her this time. You don’t suppose Adam got caught up in that, do you?”
“Paul, I don’t reckon Natty Wallace woulda been up in our northwest pastures.”
“Well, Hoss, there was some talk that she had been kidnapped by one of those Indian parties. I know, I know, it’s just rumors, but some people believe that it is happening, no matter what Roy says.”
“I did send Adam to meet with some young Paiute. If that group of vigilantes was there, he could have been caught in the middle of something.”
Just then, there were sounds of a number of horses in the yard. Ben and Hoss grabbed their jackets and headed outside to see what the ruckus was about. Roy was walking to the front door as they emerged. Ben told Roy that Adam was hurt, and he would rather talk outside where it wouldn’t disturb his son’s rest. Roy had seen Paul’s carriage next to the barn and suspected that someone was hurt or sick.
“Well, Ben, now you see, Natty Wallace went missing again.”
“Now, if’n you would jest let me finish. She’s over to Carson City where she and some young buck up and got married. Her parents was gonna stop that but it seems the young lady is in a family way and the young man is probably the father.”
“Well, that’s a nice story, Roy, but you didn’t come all the way out here to tell us that.”
“No, no, I didn’t. Seems there was some men in town who was sure they knew where Natty was, and they rode out early yesterday a lookin’ for her. Now none a those men came back, and since they was a headed this way, we was wondering if you saw hide or hair of them?”
“No, we didn’t. We went out and got a tree early yesterday, and then we were home the rest of the day.”
“None of you was outside later?”
“Roy, last night we went looking for Adam ’cause he was overdue. Pa had us wait until we knew he was in trouble. We found him up the slope a ways, and he was shot. He’s inside resting now, but Doc ain’t gonna let you talk to him. He won’t even let us talk to him.”
Paul had come outside as the men were talking and concurred with Hoss’ statement.
“Now, Paul, I am investigating the disappearance of some twelve men. If Adam knows anything about them, we need to know.”
“He knows. He says they’re all dead. Pa, Doc, Adam wants to see you.” Joe had come outside after Adam had awakened and heard Roy’s voice outside. It didn’t take much for him to realize why Roy was there. Roy followed Ben and Paul into the house. Hoss and Joe offered to get the other men coffee, and they accepted. Snow had started falling so Hoss told the posse to go into the bunkhouse and they would bring them coffee. In the house, Ben, Paul, and Roy ringed themselves around Adam’s bed. Adam was pale but alert. Just to be sure, Paul checked his vital signs and nodded that all was acceptable.
“Adam, son, are you sure you’re ready to talk about this?”
“Pa, I’ll never be ready, but it has to be done. I only want to tell this story once, so if you could get Joe and Hoss in here, I would appreciate it.”
A short time later, with Hoss and Joe standing in the doorway, Adam told his tale. His voice was a bit weaker than usual but steady as he told the whole story from riding in to the Paiute camp of the young men and boys, of the wager and the wrestling, and then the massacre of the Paiutes when they went to get the cattle. He explained why he was shot and by whom. He told them of following the twelve men and what he found of the Bannock family who had the misfortune to be in their way.
As he described what had been done to the women and children, Adam’s voice broke. He had a hard time continuing the story. Hoss and Joe had to turn away. His tears were making theirs flow too. Ben, Paul, and Roy called upon steely resolve not to cry in order to help Adam finish the story. Finally Adam told what he had found on the slope near the Paiute winter camp and of retrieving the cattle for them. Then he told them that he rode home to be rescued by his family. He had only vague recollections of anything that happened on the trip home.
As Adam finished talking, Ben sat on the side of the bed and put his arms around his son. Roy and Paul left the room closing the door behind them. Adam sobbed into his father’s shoulder. Joe and Hoss were distraught. They had only seen Adam’s tears on rare occasions and always when he was overcome by so much that his usual stoicism broke down so they knew how horrendous his memories must be. They walked to the bed and sat on the opposite side and each put a hand on Adam’s shoulder. Finally, Adam regained his composure, and Ben settled him back in the bed. Adam looked at each of them and then said a simple ‘Thank you’ to show his appreciation for their support. Ben excused himself to see Roy and Paul out trusting that Hoss and Joe could care for Adam.
“Ben, I’ll write up everything he told me and send it off to the Army. There’s probably not a chance that anything can be done about this now. The snow has started to fall and those passes are gonna be treacherous. Adam did say they was over the crest so there’s not anyway an Army troop is getting up there until spring. I don’t want nobody to say anything to anyone about what he said in there. We don’t need any more vigilantes thinking they’re gonna right some wrongs. And we don’t want the Bannock to get all het up and go for revenge neither.”
Ben and Paul agreed. The mystery of the disappearance of the vigilantes would not be made public until spring. By then, tempers would have cooled and the Army would settle the issue. It was not likely there would be any punitive action. The Paiutes had been on their treaty land and attacked by men who had no authorization to be there. There would be some hard feelings, no doubt, but the twelve men had created their own fate. The Bannock would have to be awarded some reparations, but the Army would handle that too. One last thought that Roy had was about Christmas.
“Is the invitation for Christmas Day still good? Mary and I would understand if you wanted to cancel this year’s party.”
“As of now, we will still celebrate with friends and family. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.”
Adam wanted to wash the stench away. He occasionally got whiffs of the smells from his hair and skin, and they triggered strong negative reactions. He wanted to be clean again. He couldn’t take a bath, but Ben helped him shave, and Hoss helped him hold his head over a washtub and wash his hair several times until he felt it was finally clean. Hop Sing provided lots of soapy cloths for him to wash himself until he felt clean all over. Then he wanted to get dressed, but the large bandage was too thick for him to pull on his black pants. Ben brought down a pair of his that were too large but did accommodate the bandage around his thigh. Joe helped him pull on a thick gray flannel shirt. He buttoned it up and tucked it in. Then wearing slippers, Adam was helped by Hoss out to the blue chair by the Christmas tree. Joe pushed the ottoman close and stacked two blankets under Adam’s leg to elevate it until he felt comfortable. Ben then put a warm quilt over him as he sat there.
“I feel a little like a sultan. Is this how the Three Wise Men were greeted, do you think?”
“Now don’t go comparing yourself to the Three Wise Men just because you got yourself shot, and we’re waitin’ on you hand and foot.”
“Hoss, I wouldn’t do that. I just meant that it feels so good to be welcome and feeling that I belong here. I think this year has really made me remember what Christmas is all about.”
“What is that, son? That it isn’t all about presents and celebrating?”
“Oh, that’s all good. But we need to remember why we give presents and celebrate. He got presents. He came here to save us from our sins. Even those men up on that mountain needed to be saved. I wonder if any of them repented their sins before they died.”
“I hope so, son. I hope the last words on their lips were the words of a prayer. Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors, and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever, Amen.”
“Deliver us from evil. Now those words have a meaning I never understood so much before. What Adam went through, and what those Paiute suffered just because some men let evil get in their hearts and souls.”
“Joe, you never said nothing as true as that ever before.”
“Thanks, Hoss. Just remember that the next time you accuse me of cheating at checkers.”
“You do cheat.”
“I do not cheat.”
“Yes you do, and everybody in this room knows it.”
“Well, Adam cheats at chess.”
“Hey, now, how did I get in the middle of this?”
Ben sat back in his red leather chair and smiled. Christmas was going to be a good time after all. He sipped his coffee, and refrained from saying anything to stop the brothers’ quarrel. It was like music to his ears on this day.
November 29-30, 1864
Scattered Indian raids in the West during the Civil War had caused much ill-will between the white settlers and the Native Americans. In the autumn, Territorial (Colorado) officers had offered a vague amnesty if Indians reported to army forts. Black Kettle with many Cheyennes and a few Arapahos, believing themselves to be protected, established a winter camp about 40 miles from Fort Lyon on Sand Creek. On November 29, Col. John Chivington, who advocated Indian extermination, arrived near the camp, having marched there from Fort Lyon. In spite of the American flag and a white flag flying over the camp, the troops attacked, killing and mutilating about 200 of the Indians, two-thirds of whom were women and children.