Summary: A number of times, Adam and Joe butted heads over the issues of the Civil War. With the surrender at Appomattox and the assassination of Lincoln, it is time for them to resolve their differences.
Word Count: 2,726
The first issue of the Territorial Enterprise had the banner headline that the War was over and Lee had surrendered. That made Joe quiet and the other members of the family were careful not to say anything that might set him off. They knew he was holding back his feelings on the issue out of respect for his father. The War was over so there was no point in rehashing any of the points of the previous discussions. Then a few days later, the banner headline was about Lincoln’s assassination, and Adam had that same hangdog look. The president had represented so much of what he believed and for him to be taken away so violently was a shock. The house was quiet with the two most contentious Cartwrights shaken by events in the east.
Hoss felt helpless. He couldn’t offer sympathy to one without the other likely feeling he was taking sides or so he thought. When Joe went up to his room and Adam went out to the porch, Hoss looked to his father.
“I cain’t help ’em, Pa. Ifn I say something ta one, the other is gonna take it wrong. I jest know it.”
“The whole nation is like that, Hoss. Thousands, hundreds of thousands killed and many more wounded, and lives ruined to settle an issue that reasonable men should have settled based on fairness and justice long ago.”
“So, you think slavery was wrong? Then why were you so set against Adam going off to serve in the Union Army?”
“Because I am just as much against settling issues by killing. There had to be a better way. I served aboard a ship. I cannot believe that a naval blockade and interdiction wouldn’t have had the same effect in probably about the same time frame to deal with the secession.”
“But they would have tried to fight that.”
“Yes, but their resources were just as meager. They would have failed. Some lives would have been lost, but far fewer than four years of a bloody invasion of the South with all the losses of that. Mark my words, Hoss, the losses aren’t over yet. There will be trouble for years to come because of what happened. Many are the hearts that are weary tonight, but sadly, there is little hope that they will get their rest any time soon.”
“When will things get better, Pa?”
“I don’t know, Hoss. It could take a hundred, or a hundred fifty years for the scars of what has happened to heal. Maybe it will take longer. Sadly, we missed our opportunity to work out a reasonable and just way for going forward. There were men who thought they were smarter than everyone else and had only contempt for the other side. Name calling and slogans took the place of reasonable discourse.”
“I hope someday folks can be smarter than that. I don’t know why some folks think that being white makes ’em better than everybody else. That’s what was at the root of all this trouble as I see it. Ifn we looked at everybody as being men and women just like us, we could settle our differences a whole lot better than we been doing it. It shur would make this weary heart feel better.”
“I hope so too, but like you say, I’m afraid the grudges over it all could last.”
Hoss was more worried about those in his home than those far away. A wrong word could set things off with his two stubborn brothers who both had volatile tempers. Joe blew up easy, but Adam was fiery too when he felt wronged.
Hoss wasn’t the only brother who knew how touchy the situation was. Both Adam and Joe were careful around each other expecting a reaction from the other for anything that was said about the War, so nothing was said. In town, there was quite a bit of discussion over what had happened. Not only was there celebrating of the end of the War, but there was mourning for the President who was seen as a hero by many. It was difficult to avoid being drawn into those discussions so Joe especially avoided going to town for a few months. Even that didn’t insulate the brothers from those comments about the War and the murdered President. For months, former Confederates had been drifting into the area looking for work. Some were deserters who had seen the cause was lost and didn’t want to die for nothing. Others lost their farms or other property to the war and economically devastated moved west to try to find new opportunities. Some of them were hired on the ranch.
Working on the schedules, Ben did his best to keep those former soldiers away from Adam and to keep Adam and Joe on separate tasks. It was too difficult to do though and when it was time to catch some mustangs and break them, it would have been much too obvious to keep them apart. Ben gave up and decided to let the inevitable happen hoping it wouldn’t be too harmful to the brothers’ relationship.
On the first day out, as the men made camp, Joe dropped his bedroll next to Adam’s surprising his older brother. Looking up at Joe as he paused in rolling out his own bedroll, Adam waited for what Joe had to say. He knew a dramatic gesture like that had to precede a statement. He was correct.
“Adam, Pa’s been keeping us apart like two schoolboys who can’t settle their differences without fighting.”
“Well, I just wanted to say, I’m sorry about what happened to Mister Lincoln. That was a terrible thing. He was a good man and should have finished the job he started.”
“Thanks, Joe.” After rolling out the rest of his bedroll, Adam unbuckled his gunbelt and laid it beside his saddle. “Maybe we can agree to let those old arguments rest in peace too. There’s no need to discuss those issues any more, is there?”
“Nope. I think that’s a good plan.” Grinning though, Joe had to add more. “We’ll find plenty of things to argue about. We don’t need to dig up any skeletons.”
Shaking his head, Adam had to agree. “Let’s get some dinner cooking. At least tonight we’ve got Hop Sing’s food so no one will complain.”
“Only if you burn it.”
“I’ll try not to.”
“I’ll get the firewood if you dig out everything else we need.”
Working as a team, the two brothers soon had dinner ready for everyone. As expected, there was praise and no complaints. Two men had clean-up duty and everyone else settled in for the night. The following day, they would be in horse country and would have to be more careful as there could be threats from others who wanted horses or from other predators. Where they were in the scrub brush, there weren’t any real worries.
The two men cleaning up watched as the others settled in,
“We could take them now.”
“No, it’s too close to the Ponderosa. They could still track us. Tomorrow night at the earliest.”
“If we get some horses tomorrow, I guess it would be even better.”
“Yeah, all these horses and gear as well as some unbroken horses. We’d get a nice piece of cash for all that.”
“I want that pistol rig the older one has.”
“It’s yours soon as his body starts turning cold. I figure on taking the one from the littler one as soon as he’s toes up.”
“It’s still four of them against two of us.”
“We get them by surprise and we can have two of them down before the other two have any idea what’s happening. I say we take the Cartwrights first. I don’t think the other two are as good with their guns, so they’ll be easy pickings with those other two gone. We gotta do it early enough in the day to get some distance between us before nightfall though. We don’t want to be too close to the bodies ifn anybody comes along.”
“So as soon as we get some horses then. There ought to be a lot of commotion then and they won’t be paying close attention to us.”
“Now that sounds like a plan. We’ll work out a signal in the morning. Make sure your gun is loaded and ready to go.”
“I especially look forward to killing that older one and the two hands, all Yankees from what I can tell. Kinda feel bad about the kid. Guess his ma was from New Orleans.”
“He ain’t such a kid. He was old enough and didn’t fight for the cause so he’s just like all the rest.”
“I guess you’re right. Let’s get this gear stowed away and get some sleep.”
Resting next to each other, Adam and Joe had a chance to talk too. Adam was concerned about two of their hands but wasn’t sure how to bring it up with Joe. It was his younger brother who forced the issue.
“All right, what’s got the burr under your saddle? You’ve had that look all evening.”
“Joe, I don’t want to get you upset. Things have been going well.”
“You can’t seriously be concerned about anything I’ve done?” Joe was shocked and on the verge of a temper.
“No, it’s not you. It’s the two new hands we brought along. I know you said they’re very good with horses, but there’s something off about those two.”
“Because they’re Southerners?”
“Don’t go there. I thought we agreed to let that all go.”
“Well, if it’s not that, then what is it? They seem pretty ordinary to me.”
“They watch us all the time. Every time I look at them, they’re looking at me or at you. It’s like they’re keeping watch on us.”
“Now what reason could they have to do that?”
“I remember when we hired them and they said they were mostly interested in working here this year and getting a stake to move on and get their own land.”
When Adam said nothing in response, Joe was upset at first but then thought about what his brother was suggesting. It did make sense even if he hadn’t noticed the same thing about those two. The Ponderosa had outfitted them with better horses and saddles, and now there were four other fine horses with saddles, two packhorses with supplies, and any horses they might round up. It would be worth a lot of money especially with the rifles and pistols they were carrying as well. With the eight horses, saddles, gear, and firearms, the conservative estimate of the value was still well over one thousand dollars. That certainly could be tempting to someone who didn’t have a moral regret about killing. They didn’t know these men so they had no idea if they could do something like murder for money. Joe looked back at Adam who was waiting patiently for his younger brother to process everything.
“We should let the other two men know. If we’re in danger, so are they.”
“My thoughts exactly.”
“I’ll go check the horses one last time and ask Mac to come with me to help. We can talk there. He’ll know something is up just by me asking and so will Charley.”
“Yeah, that’s true.”
When Joe walked off toward the horses with Mac, Charley looked over at Adam who only raised his eyebrows so that the two men to the side wouldn’t see any obvious sign of anything. Charley got the message and looked busy getting his bedroll smoothed out. He understood that Mac would fill him in when he got back.
The next day, when they took a break in the morning, Joe spoke with Adam. “You’re right. I’ve been looking around a bit, and they do keep watching the two of us like they always want to know where we are. When do you think they’ll make a move?”
“My guess is after we get some horses, but don’t take it as gospel. Those two are unpredictable.”
“So it could come at any time.”
“That would be my guess.”
The two were getting nervous as they noted that both Adam and Joe seemed to be suspicious of them. With that, they decided to take the first opportunity to take the two Cartwrights. It came up rather suddenly when Adam said he would ride up a ridge to scout ahead.
“From that ridgeline, I should be able to see for miles and spot any horse herds in the area. It won’t take long.”
As soon as Adam began riding up the steep slope, Joe turned to look at the two new hires and yelled for Adam to look out. The two men had drawn guns and were preparing to fire. There was no cover for Adam on the hill so all he could do was dismount hurriedly and try to get his horse between him and the shooters. It didn’t go well as shots hit the area where he was spooking the horse who slammed into him knocking him to the ground. However, Joe, Mac, and Charley opened fire on the two men and soon had them pinned down. Mac and Charley were far better with firearms than the two ex-soldiers had thought. Living in the west, they had to be. Soon, the two men were forced to give up. Joe ran up the slope to see how Adam was.
Groggy from landing on the ground and hitting his head, Adam wasn’t seriously hurt. He did have a scrape on his face and a large bruise was forming, but there were no broken bones and none of the bullets had hit him. Joe took charge then.
“I need to get Adam home. He’s not hurt too bad, but he shouldn’t be out here chasing wild horses either. Those two need to be in jail. We’ll head back to where we made camp and stay until tomorrow. Then you take these two to Sheriff Coffee for attempted murder and robbery and for what happened to Adam. I’ll get my brother home.”
When Joe finally got Adam home, Ben walked outside surprised to see them so soon, and then upset to see the condition of his eldest son. The bruised and battered face made him turn on his youngest son.
“Tarnation, I thought all that arguing and division could finally be behind us. Now this?”
“Pa, it’s not what you think.” Joe looked at Adam who was doing his best to dismount by himself. “Pa, can you help Adam into the house. He keeps telling me he’s fine, but you can see for yourself, he isn’t.”
“But what happened?”
“I’ll take care of the horses, and Adam can tell the story. He’s good at talking. It’s walking that seems to be a bit of a problem yet.”
As Adam raised his hands in mock surrender, Ben walked to him and offered a shoulder to lean on. Adam took advantage of it, and they walked in the house as Joe led the horses to the barn. By the time Joe got in the house, Ben had heard the story.
“Joe, Adam says you did a great job with everything.”
With a smirk, Joe took a seat by his father and Adam. “Did you expect anything else?”
“Pa, he’s still awful cocky though.”
“Who’s awful cocky?” Hoss had walked in then. “And why are you two home already?” Then he saw Adam’s face. “And what happened to you? You get run over by those horses you was trying to catch?”
So the story had to be told again, but this time Joe told it as Adam leaned back and relaxed. By the end, Hoss was as pleased as his father had been. He knew there was peace in the family again at least over the issues that had divided the country. There would be other problems, but at least one was resolved. In their house, the war had ended.