Summary: Little Joe asks a simple question and gets a tall tale in response.
Word Count: 1085
Loud noises were coming from the stable on the Ponderosa, and it seemed that there must be a fight going on in there. There was no fight. Little Joe Cartwright was frustrated because he wanted that nice new saddle he had seen in town because he thought it would look great on Cochise. Doing his chores in the stable, he was taking out his disappointment on every available bucket and loose stack of straw kicking each one as often as possible while muttering various expletives as he did so.
“Any of that make you feel better?” Adam walked into the stable leading his horse hoping to calm his brother enough so that neither he nor Sport would become the unintended target of a flying bucket.
Halting his tirade, Little Joe snarled his answer refusing to even look at his older brother. “You wouldn’t understand. You’ve got that hand-tooled saddle already. I wish we had found that gold on the Comstock so we could buy things we wanted whenever we wanted, and then I could get that new saddle for Cooch.”
“We did find all that gold.”
“We found a lot of that gold, I should say. We’re the ones who dumped a lot of those nuggets into those streams and onto those stream banks that people found. Oh, the Paiute did too. It took a lot of years to get all that gold spread out over that much territory.”
“Adam, that’s crazy. And who’s the ‘we’ you’re talking about?”
“Pa and me at first.”
“If you and Pa had found that gold, you would have kept it, and we’d be rich.”
“Little Joe, we are rich, but we’re rich in a way that will last. You know what Pa says. We’ve got paradise on earth here. That’s why we did it.”
“You said ‘Pa and me at first’ so who was in on it after that?”
“Eventually when Hoss was old enough, he helped a lot. It didn’t take long. He was big for his age. With the three of us, we could haul a lot of gold and get rid of it.”
“You’re making that up.”
“No, I’m not making anything up. Why would I make anything like that up? You know that Pa worked for Sutter. While he was working, he found gold at Sutter’s Mill. I was with him helping as much as I could. There were a lot of them when he was cleaning out the tailrace and they were big. I could hardly hold some of them even using both hands. He shoved them in a couple of large bags, and we went to show John. Sutter was shocked, but then he asked Pa to keep it a secret. He told him he could keep all the gold that he had found if he told no one. Sutter said he had plans and needed time to figure out how to handle this new development. Pa knew how hard it would be to keep that secret with me around so he told Sutter he would leave so that I couldn’t tell anyone. We went right to our place and packed up Hoss, and Hop Sing came with us, and we moved here. We had a lot of gold and the Spanish thought the land here was nearly worthless so they sold the land that became the Ponderosa to us for the gold that Pa had that he had found. Then we heard what happened two years later when another man found more gold at Sutter’s Mill and didn’t keep the secret like Sutter asked him to. Sutter’s dream was destroyed when people overran his land looking for gold. They paid no attention to his rights to the land and to private property of any kind, and he ended up with nothing.”
“What does that have to do with the Comstock?”
“We were running trap lines here and found gold on every run. We were making a nice collection even if the gold nuggets weren’t the size of the ones Pa had found in California. But when we found out what happened to Sutter, we knew that if people found out there was gold on the Ponderosa, they would overrun out property and we would lose everything. Pa’s dream of creating this ranch here where the mountains touch the sky would be lost. We took those sacks of gold and dumped them in the Comstock. Every time we found more gold, we took it and dumped it down there. When Winnemucca’s people saw us doing that, they asked us why because they had heard that white people liked the yellow rocks so much. They wondered why we didn’t. We explained how it could make white men crazy and what they would do if they thought there was gold here. So they started doing what we were doing too so that gold seekers wouldn’t come onto their land and take it. For about ten years, we were all dumping all the gold we could find down on the Comstock. We didn’t know there was more gold underneath it, but it was a good guess there could be. I missed the four years I was away at school, but I kept at it when I got back. We kept it a secret with Pa, Hoss, and me only because we knew what would happen if the secret ever got out because gold can destroy dreams.”
“I’ve never seen a gold nugget anywhere on the Ponderosa.”
“Good, then that means we did a good job.”
While Adam had been telling the story to Little Joe, Hoss and Ben had walked in with their horses and put them in the stalls. Little Joe looked toward them for confirmation that what Adam had said was true. They nodded solemnly to him even if they smirked to each other when he wasn’t looking at them. Then Little Joe had a question for them.
“Hey, why didn’t you guys ever tell me?”
That was more than any of them could take. Hoss began with that rumbling belly laugh of his and Ben joined his middle son. Adam turned to walk to the house having finished with Sport, and Hoss slapped him on the shoulder as he passed. Ben and Hoss noted that full grin Adam was sporting. It was a wonderful way to end a workday.