Summary: This is a prequel about how Ben found the spot for the Ponderosa, but it is told as a story about Adam and Hoss and how they met Young Wolf.
Word Count: 2,928
Hiding in the copse of pines, eleven-year-old Adam didn’t feel so brave any more. At least not as brave as he had been only a half-hour earlier, and he wasn’t that confident then. Yes, he had told his father he was sure he could get back to camp with Hoss and get a meal started. Yes, he had told his father he would take care of the horses and make sure they were watered and tied off. Yes, he had promised he wouldn’t fire the rifle his father had given him to use unless he absolutely had to pull it from that scabbard on his saddle.
Now, he wished he had insisted they stay with Ben Cartwright and ride home to a cold dinner of leftover biscuits and antelope jerky. Their father had trusted him, and Adam had let the two of them get into a terrible mess. Their father was still at the settler’s cabin bargaining with that man and a few of his neighbors over items he would bring to them the next day from their freight wagon. Ben Cartwright was finishing up a job of hauling freight to the settlers and trappers in this region. He had taken the boys with him because things were too unsettled in California. However the Washoe raiding party had made the situation even worse here. The terrain was difficult. The families lived over a ridge too steep for the wagon to get there. So all Adam had to do was ride up and over that ridge back to the wagon. It had seemed so simple at the time. But the raiding party had seen them as easy pickings and wanted their horses and probably them as well. Taking boys to sell as slave labor was fairly common in the region.
Pressed up against him, a terrified six-year-old Hoss was doing his best to be brave and not cry in a situation that had his older brother frightened too though he couldn’t show it. Putting on a brave front, Adam told him he had to be quiet and do all he could to help keep their horses from making any sound too. As they had ridden toward their camp, a group of Washoe young men had stormed out from the trees to surprise them waving at them to stop and whistling and whooping. Instead, Adam had turned and made Hoss turn so they could ride as fast as possible in the other direction. A better rider than the Washoe chasing them, Adam was able to put some distance between them and finally to get them into cover. He guessed they hadn’t had horses for very long because they rode much like men who were called greenhorns by other more experienced settlers.
At one point, Adam grabbed the reins of Hoss’ horse and told his little brother to hang on. Then, he kicked his horse back into a gallop leading his brother deep into the hills and trees. Eventually the sounds of pursuit were gone, but Adam didn’t know if they had given up or slowed down to be stealthier.
It was getting very dark, and the worst thing was that he had no idea where he and Hoss were and how to get back to their camp. He thought the best bet was to stay where they were until it was light again. It was going to be cold, but luckily they had their coats and each other.
“Adam, I’m hungry.”
The whispered complaint echoed Adam’s own condition, but he had no plan of what to do about that. All he could do was hug Hoss close and tell him they would go to their camp in the morning and have an extra big breakfast. That was a fib, and Hoss knew it, but it was a comforting one. Ben Cartwright had accepted a freight hauler’s job to bring supplies to settlers and trappers and traders in this area of wilderness. They had minimal foodstuffs for themselves and were expected to live off the land as best they could. It often meant light meals for days when the hunting wasn’t very good because Ben Cartwright was a hard worker, but his background and training had never prepared him to be a hunter and scavenger in the wilderness.
In the morning, Adam surveyed the area and realized he didn’t have the skill to retrace their flight from those Washoe ambushers. He had made a lot of twists and turns as he and Hoss fled. They had followed the terrain and cut through the trees as well as they could whenever they were able to do so. Now as he looked around, it all looked so much the same. It was beautiful, but he hardly saw the tall pine trees and snow-capped mountains in the distance because he wasn’t sure where to go that wouldn’t get them more lost. Then Hoss gave him information he hadn’t noticed.
“I smell smoke.”
Once alerted to that, Adam smelled it too. “I wonder where it’s coming from. I hope it’s not those men.” A little panicked by that thought, Adam had Hoss hide in the trees with the horses. He pointed down the slope. “If I don’t come back, get on your horse and ride that way. Pa will find you.”
“Are you sure, Adam?”
“Of course. Pa’s got eyes in the back of his head. Haven’t we said that a thousand times. He’ll find you.” Adam didn’t believe anything he said, but he needed to keep Hoss focused on the positive.
Reassured by Adam’s words, Hoss thought a bit and worried about something else because of what his brother had said. “Why wouldn’t you come back?”
“If it’s those men who were chasing us, they might not let me come back.”
“Oh. Those men are bad, ain’t they?.”
“Yes, now you hunker down and remember what I said.”
Ten minutes later, Adam peeked out from some bushes to see a Paiute boy about his age staring right at him. Clearly he hadn’t done a good job of sneaking up on him. The boy had a rock in his hand, but Adam could see too that he had a severely injured leg. The boy sat by a campfire, and it looked like he couldn’t walk without a thick wooden staff at his side. Adam walked out and greeted him, but the boy only looked confused. After calling to Hoss to join them, Adam picked up sticks and chunks of wood and brought them to the boy who dropped the rock although he still looked wary. The offering of firewood was certainly a peace offering but the boys had no other way of communicating.
As Hoss stomach rumbled, he looked down to see that the Paiute boy was eating what appeared to be a roasted rabbit, and that made both Hoss and Adam even more hungry. Pointing at the rabbit, Adam tried to use signs to ask how the boy had gotten it. It took some time, but eventually the Paiute boy understood and picked up a snare that was on the ground beside him. He signed that the animal came to the small spring that was near him there and he caught him with the snare. It took even more time, but Adam got him to show how he made and used that snare. Hoss was impatient.
“Adam, I’m really hungry, and where’s Pa?”
“Hoss, he’s showing me how to get us some food so you need to be quiet.”
That got Hoss’ interest and he came to sit beside the two older boys. As they worked, they gradually taught each other a few words. The Paiute boy relaxed as he worked with Adam. Soon the two were trading some words too such as the words for rabbit and then their names moving on to all sorts of other names for physical objects. Drawings in the dirt allowed them to expand the vocabulary lesson. They got so tied up in that, Adam forgot about catching a rabbit. Hoss tapped him on the shoulder and reminded him of the original purpose of talking with the boy whose name Adam now knew was Young Wolf. It made communicating easier as they learned some of each other’s language, but Adam and Hoss needed food so Adam explained he needed to use the snare to get some. When Adam stood to go try setting his own snare, Hoss wanted to come with him.
“No, you stay here with Young Wolf. The less noise I make, the better. He told me what to do. Maybe I can catch a rabbit for us.”
Hoss was clearly not in favor of that idea until Young Wolf offered him part of the roasted rabbit. That did it. He was Young Wolf’s friend too. Adam shook his head at his youngest brother and how food could so easily win him over as Young Wolf laughed but then grimaced. His leg hurt him very much.
As Adam walked to the spring, Young Wolf snickered at the way Adam walked and called to him. He pointed at Adam’s toes until he had made it clear how he wanted his new friend to walk. Hoss thought it looked funny, but Adam was amazed at how much easier it was to be quiet by walking that way. Nevertheless, it took several snares and a few hours, but Adam got a rabbit. After skinning it and preparing it for the fire, he set it to roasting and filled Young Wolf’s water skin too. He had Hoss go collect more firewood as he went to get the horses. He came back with the horses to find Hoss sitting beside the fire relaxing with their new friend. Adam joined them and learned more words. Slowly, the two older boys worked out a system of communication based on words they learned and signs they could make. Young Wolf was especially interested in the two horses and the rifle Adam had. He wondered why Adam didn’t use the rifle, but it was too difficult a concept for the two to discuss.
By late that day, a deal had been made. Young Wolf knew where the white man’s camp was. He would take them there if they would make sure he got home to his family by letting him use one of their horses. Adam guessed his father wouldn’t like the bargain he had made, but he didn’t see any other way out of their dilemma. Then Adam pointed to Young Wolf’s leg and communicated that he wanted to look at the wound. By then, Young Wolf trusted him enough to allow it. Taking the bandage from the leg, Adam saw the wound needed to be cleaned. Wrinkling his nose at the smell, he did his best to explain that to Young Wolf before getting water and a clean shirt from his saddle bag. With a knife, he cut the shirt into strips.
“Pa ain’t gonna like that, Adam.”
“Hoss, I know, but Young Wolf needs this, and he has nothing else to use.”
When Adam pointed to the wound and made motions to show he was going to open the wound in order to clean it, Young Wolf nodded. Adam tried to be gentle, but the wound was already inflamed. Watching Adam’s every move, Young Wolf couldn’t help grimacing in pain but he fought not to make a sound. However when Adam finished and wrapped it in the clean cloths, Young Wolf nodded and forced a smile. His leg did feel better even if his stomach was rebelling. Seeing how pale Young Wolf was, Adam moved to have him lay back to rest. The Paiute youth didn’t want to do that. Adam offered him the knife in a show of good faith and friendship. It worked. Young Wolf lay back and closed his eyes. Later when Adam did have a rabbit, Young Wolf handed him the knife to use but wanted it back after he finished with it. They used it cooperatively until it was time to pack to leave. Then Adam had to let Young Wolf have it. The shirt and the knife were the cost of their rescue.
Early in the morning of the next day, they began their trek to the white man’s camp. Hoss and Adam rode on Adam’s horse and Young Wolf was on Hoss’s small horse so they had to go slowly. They never got to the camp. As they began to walk the horses through a grassy meadow, they realized there were armed men on both sides of them. Stopping the horses, they didn’t know what to do. Adam and Hoss heard their father call out to them to come to him. Young Wolf heard his father call to him to come to the other side. Adam asked his father a question instead of obeying because he was afraid of what would happen to Young Wolf if they separated.
“Pa, what’s going on?”
“Son, just come here. It’s too dangerous where you are.”
“Pa, they’re Paiute. They won’t hurt us. We brought Young Wolf back to them.”
As Adam was speaking, Young Wolf was having a similar conversation with his side. Ben and the white men weren’t accepting it and began to get upset with the Cartwright boys. Ben was afraid and embarrassed that Adam didn’t obey him.
“Adam, I told you to get over here. You’re endangering yourself and Hoss. These Indians are a raiding party who have attacked many whites over the last couple of days. They have killed some and kidnapped some children.”
“It wasn’t Paiute, Pa. The raiding party was Washoe. They came after us too. That’s how we got lost. They chased Young Wolf too and killed the men he was with.”
“How would you know this?”
“I know the difference between Washoe and Paiute, Pa. We’ve traded with the Paiute, and we always avoid the Washoe. And I can speak some Paiute.”
From the other side, Chief Winnemucca’s voice was heard in English because he had learned from the whites who had come into those lands. “The boy speaks the truth. Do you want to fight and kill so much you would not listen to the truth?”
Shocked, Ben took only a moment to make his decision. He trusted his son. With the agreement of the other whites, Ben made an offer. “Truce to talk?”
Ben and Winnemucca walked out then to where the boys waited. It didn’t take long to get an agreement. Young Wolf left with the Paiute, and a few of the Paiute stayed to help track the Washoe raiding party. The white men had worked with the Paiute in the past and traded with them. It wasn’t difficult for them to believe it was the Washoe especially with a white boy who swore to it too. When everyone had left, Ben turned to his sons.
“I suppose we ought to get to camp. I guess you boys must be very hungry by now.”
“No, Pa. We had a big breakfast, and Adam has more to fix later.”
“Young Wolf taught me how to catch rabbits. He told me how to catch fish in the streams too. I’d like to try that when we get a chance.”
“How did he tell you all of this?”
“Well, we signed and drew pictures in the dirt.”
“And Adam and Young Wolf jabbered away in that Indian talk too, Pa. I tried to learn it, but it’s awful hard. I only know a few words, but Adam was getting real good at talking Paiute.”
Looking around now that all the people had left, Adam had a question for his father. “The Paiute left and went to their home. The Washoe don’t live here. The other whites live further down the mountain and east of here. Pa, why don’t we live here. It’s pretty, but it’s got a lot of things we could use too. And it’s got the tall trees that touch the sky.”
“That it does, son. Maybe I could down to Mormon Station to see if anyone has claimed any of this land.”
“We could be good neighbors to the Paiute, Pa. Young Wolf and I are friends.”
“You’re more than that. You three boys stopped a battle that could have become a war. I’m proud of you, but we’re going to have to have a talk too about you listening to me. It worked out well this time, but that might not always be the case.” Seeing his son’s look of joy disappear to be replaced by that mask that hid everything, Ben relented. “It does sound like you helped each other out of trouble.”
Hoss looked up at Adam and then at his father. “Pa, are we home then? Is this where we’re gonna live and stop moving around? Are we gonna have a real house so I can have a bed? I’d like to have a bed, Pa.”
Ben looked at his sons and knew what he would do. He’d start some trap lines. He’d build a house for his sons so they could have real beds to sleep in and walls to protect them. He’d hire some men and perhaps take some furs to cities in the east to get more money for them. In time, he’d build up a legacy to hand over to his sons. They’d shown him it was time to put down roots. They were well suited to living in this land.