Thanks to the people who read this and suggested changes and corrections. I considered all recommendations and corrected those portions that I felt were beneficial to the story.I did “untack” that horse, ladies.Special thanks to Gwynne Logan for her careful edit.
Disclaimer:I know they don’t belong to me, but I take very good care of them and return them in mint condition.I realize that Thanksgiving didn’t become a holiday until the time of Abraham Lincoln and that it’s very possible that the Cartwrights didn’t celebrate it with food and the story of the Indians and Pilgrims. I obviously took literary license.It fit with the story.
Hoss wiped the sweat from his florid face with a ham-sized hand. “Whew,” he muttered under his breath.“Finally. Thought I weren’t never gonna git all them axles done.”
Hoss had spent the last five days stoking the fire to shoe the remaining horses and make repairs to the ranch’s wagons.The list of chores to be completed before the onset of harsh winter had seemed endless.It was mid-November, fast approaching Thanksgiving, a regional holiday celebration Ben Cartwright had brought with him from his New England home.Adam and Hoss had spent the last two weeks in frenzied activity, trying to get everything done before the snow set in.Ben had promised his older sons time for a hunting trip in the high country if the work was done and the good weather held.
Looking at the clear azure sky, Hoss saw no trace of storm clouds building on the horizon. The temperature was moderate, requiring a jacket in the mornings, but warm enough for shirtsleeves pushed up by afternoon.A man slaving over an open fire got plumb warm. Finally, his list of chores was completed. Now the hunting trip depended on the results of Adam’s labors over the past two weeks.
Hoss knew his brother had been riding out early every morning to oversee the last of the cattle moves to lower pastures and to check the fences and roads.Then too, Adam had been staying up late every night to make sure the records for the ranch were up to date.Pa hated bookwork and had been happy to delegate it to his oldest son upon Adam’s return from college that summer.They had earned the time off by the sweat of their brows.
As Hoss turned to hang up his blacksmith apron, he heard an approaching horse.His sky-blue eyes smiled as his older brother rode into view, dust-covered and looking more than a bit worn.“Howdy, Adam”, he boomed and raised his eyebrows in question.Adam nodded tiredly and smiled at his “little” brother.Hoss was barely 17, but he was larger than most full-grown men. He was two inches taller than Adam and outweighed him by some 30 pounds, though Adam was by no means a small man at 6’2”.Both were muscular from years spent at hard ranch labor.
“All done, Hoss?”Wearily Adam dismounted, arching his back and rolling his neck.“That was the last of the cattle, and the fences are as solid as they’re going to be this fall.I think we just removed every excuse not to take our trip.Hope Pa sees it the same way.”Hoss joined Adam as he led Sport toward the barn.
“Yep, all my things are done.Let’s get to the barn chores, and then we can start packin’.We need to let Hop Sing know we’re goin’ too. He can pack us food for a couple of days.How long you reckon we can plan on bein’ gone?”
“Well, it’ll be eight days to Thanksgiving if we leave tomorrow.It’s a day’s ride up to the high country; then a day or so to track and kill the size elk we want.Take us half a day to dress it out properly.Better plan for six days on the trail with a little extra thrown in.We’d better not be later than that or Pa’ll have our hides for missing Thanksgiving,” Adam calculated as he pulled the saddle off Sport and prepared to groom his favorite mount.
“I ain’t about to miss Thanksgiving, Adam, no matter what.Why, can’t nobody set a better table than Hop Sing. It’llbe one of the best meals we’ve had for a long time.Besides,” Hoss glanced sideways at his brother, “we missed havin’ you home, and it’ll be extry special to have the whole family ‘round the table.Yur chair shore looked empty these past few years.”
Adam smiled at his younger brother, not that brief quirking of his lips that most people saw, but his real smile, the one that crinkled the corners of his eyes and lit his face, showing his usually hidden dimples. His eyes usually looked hazel, but the black shirt he wore made them appear brown right then. “I missed you at Thanksgiving too, Hoss.I missed all of you.Grandpa had always gone to visit one of his seafaring friends on Thanksgiving because the housekeeper was with her family.I didn’t want to keep him from his friends, so I usually accepted an invitation from a classmate to go home with them for the holiday. It was nice, but it wasn’t home.It’ll be good to hear Pa’s Thanksgiving prayer and watch you try to eat everything in sight.Does Joe still want the story of the Pilgrims and Indians told at the table?” Adam teased, wanting to ease the sentimental moment.
Before Hoss could comment, Adam continued, “By the way, where is the kid?He ought to be home by now and starting his chores.Pa‘ll be back from the Snyders in a while, and he’ll be upset if Joe is running late.He’s been kept a couple of days after school this week already, and Pa is getting fed up with Miss Jones’s polite little notes.”
“Yeah, I been watchin’ fur him too. I shore wish Pa hada told Joe we was makin’ this trip so he could get used to the idee.He ain’t gonna be happy cause we ‘re leavin’ and not takin’ him. I’da rather he had some time to get used to the idee’ and make some plans.This way, he’s gonna pitch a fit ‘cause we’re springing it on him so fast.”Hoss knew well how he caved in to Joe when the little boy worked himself up into a real temper.Joe was 10, the baby of the family, but he thought he was as grown as his brothers, and he frequently insisted on being included in adult activities, throwing quite a tantrum when denied his way. Then Pa would punish Joe for such behavior, and Hoss hated to see his brother so unhappy.Hoss knew the evening would be bad enough without Pa already being mad at Joe for being late for chores.
“I know.I asked Pa to tell Joe and got reminded, AGAIN, who’s the father and who’s the brother,” Adam recalled with a grimace.
Hoss nodded, remembering several of those occasions when Adam had expressed an opinion about Joe and gotten his nose bitten off.
“Oh, well.” Adam shrugged.“Joe will just have to get glad in the same pants he got mad in.Nothing we can do, and we sure don’t plan to take him with us.Let Pa deal with the temper and tears.”He turned back to Sport and the remaining chores.
“Hoss, if you get a chance, will you take a look at Sport’s front leg?I think he pulled a muscle, and I’m not sure he’s fit for the trip tomorrow.Let me know what you think,” Adam requested.Hoss had the gentlest hands and was the most knowledgeable person Adam knew about both domestic and wild animals.Adam was always happy to defer to Hoss’s skill with doctoring and trusted his judgement.Besides, Sport had been his from a colt and Adam would rather take another horse on the trip than risk permanent damage to the spirited gelding.
The brothers worked in silent harmony, completing their tasks and occasionally reminding the other of something to take on the trip. Hoss checked out Sport and turned to his brother. “I reckon he just pulled his hamstring a mite.I think you orght to leave him at home and maybe take Chocolate on the trip.She’s plenty big enough to carry you, but she’s also got a smooth ride and is real careful at pickin’ her way. “
They both lifted their heads as they heard the sounds of a fast moving horse entering the yard.Leading his pony, Joe rushed through the double doors and moved toward an empty stall, talking a mile a minute.
“Is Pa home yet?Man, I thought Miss Jones weren’t never gonna let us go today!” Joe’s words gushed out.“Hoss, how about lendin’ a hand with my chores?If I don’t get these chores done and get started on homework, Pa’s gonna have a few words for me.”
“What kept you so late, Joe?You’re just lucky Pa‘s not home from the Snyders yet,” responded Adam.“Were you kept after school?”
”I wasn’t paying attention to the history lesson and mean ole Miss. Jones made me stay and start some kinda essay on the first settlers in America, them Pilgrims.I like the way Pa tells the story, but I shore hate writin’ it down.Come on, Hoss, lend a hand, pleassee.” Joe begged.
“Not me, Shortshanks,” replied Hoss.“I got something to arrange with Hop Sing, and I need to clean up fur supper.”With a grin and a nod to Adam he left to make sure the cook would have their supplies ready for an early morning departure the next day.It wasn’t his fault if Joe got kept late at school.Besides, with Joe busy in the barn, he would have a chance to talk with Hop Sing and not be overheard.Let Pa be the one to tell the boy about the trip.With a brief nod, Adam moved to the corral to check out the mount he intended to take on the hunting trip.
Later, around the supper table, Ben detailed the results of his visit with another local rancher about breeding some of the Ponderosa cows with a new bull.Then he turned to family matters.“Joe, how was school today?Any problems?” he asked.
Joe ducked his head and replied, “Got an essay to finish and some arithmetic.Spelling test tomorrow, but that ain’t no problem.”
Ben winced at the language, but decided not to fight the battle of proper grammar tonight.He glanced at Adam to see if he was going to take issue with Joe, but Adam kept his eyes on his plate.Ben looked at Hoss and inquired, “Did you finish the blacksmith work, son?”Ben waited for the answer, knowing that the hunting trip would come up now for sure.
“Yep, Pa, all done,” Hoss grinned.“Reckon me and Adamgot all the winterin’ chores done for certain.”Ben looked at Hoss then at Adam, who lifted his eyes and nodded agreement.
Noticing the looks, Joe demanded, “What’s up?What’s it matter that the chores are all done?”Knowing how easily Hoss caved in to his begging, Joe gave his best puppy-dog look from his sparkling green eyes and asked, “Hoss, what’s goin’ on? You got some special plans now that the other stuff is done?”
“Adam and Hoss are leaving in the morning for a trip to the high country.They want to get in a short hunt before winter settles in,” Ben informed his youngest.
“A hunting trip!What you hunting?Can I go?Oh, please, let me go too!I don’t got to go to school; I wanta go hunting.It’ll only take me a few minutes to pack, and I promise I won’t eat much.I…,” Joe sputtered to a stop as Pa’s hand covered his mouth.
“Joe, I said Adam and Hoss.You’re not going, son.You’re too young for such a long trip, and you can’t miss that much school either.You’re going to stay home and keep me company.On Saturday, we’ll go into town for haircuts and maybe lunch at the hotel.How does that sound?Just you and me,” Ben coaxed.
“I wanta go with Adam and Hoss.I ain’t never made a trip with them, and I’ve never gone huntin’ yet.You always say when I’m bigger, and I’m bigger now.”Joe turned his most pathetic face to Hoss and continued, “Please, please, Hoss, take me.I’ll be real quiet, and I’ll mind you good. “Joe knew better than to try the begging act with Adam, who could be tougher than Pa in responding to Joe’s wheedling.
“Son, that’s enough.You are not going so you can stop asking.Eat your supper.”
Joe shoved his chair back and yelled, “You never let me do anything fun!You’re just being mean.”
Ben’s voice boomed, “That’s enough, young man.If you can’t behave at the table, you can go to your room.I’ll be there when I finish supper. We need to have a necessary little talk about manners.”
Joe bolted up the stairs, his “It ain’t fair”echoing in their ears.“That went well, Pa,” Adam’s cool voice observed.“Are we supposed to break down and let him go with us?”
Hoss glanced at his older brother, and Ben caught the exchange of looks.Obviously, Hoss had no intention of intervening for his little brother this time, which was unusual.Generally Hoss took Joe’s side and always hated to see the child unhappy.For some reason, Hoss and Adam really did want to make this trip alone.Ben sighed and dreaded the next few days.Joe could be impossible when he was thwarted in getting his way.He hated being denied an activity because of his age.He considered himself quite as grown up as his older brothers.
“Are you riding out at first light tomorrow?” he asked his sons.“Have you let Hop Sing know you’re leaving and how long you’ll be gone?I expect you home before Thanksgiving, with or without an elk.Understood?”
His sons nodded agreement and rapidly finished eating.They had several details to attend to before they left the next day, including cleaning their rifles thoroughly.Hoss suggested, “Pa, check with Joe after your talk.See if he wants to play me a game of checkers ‘fore bedtime.”
Ben nodded and sipped his coffee slowly, delaying the visit to Joe’s room.“Yes, sir, a long few days coming,”he mused.
Before sunrise, Adam and Hoss had eaten a substantial breakfast (Hop Sing was convinced Mr. Hoss would starve in the next few days) and were packing their saddlebags and the pack animal.In addition to bedrolls and camping supplies, the animal carried the generous supply of food that the two men, Hoss in particular, would need.Pa stood on the porch to say goodbye and good luck.He had gone into Joe’s room to wake him so he could see his brothers off, but Joe had pretended to be asleep.As the two departed, Ben looked up at Joe’s window to see him sticking his tongue out at their backs.He heard Joe’s muttered “Hope you don’t get nothing but trouble,” and shook his head at the ill-temper still on display.
Mostly the brothers rode in silence.The sky was sharp blue enough to disturb the eyes, and the winter sun shone brightly and warmly, once the morning chill and mist had burned off.They rode single file with Hoss in the lead and Adam following with the pack animal.The mountains rose in front of them, brown now with the beginning of winter grass and the pine trees reached skyward up the side of the mountains.The peaks were ablaze with the crystal light of the sun, reflecting off the rugged rocks and presenting a spectacle both of grandeur and inaccessibility.A light breeze stirred the air, and the rustling of the grass and leaves on some of the trees offered a hint of music in the air.The birds and small animals of the area gave little notice to the passing of the men, being somewhat accustomed to the brief intrusion of humans in their world.
Hoss’s gruff voice broke the silence. “You ever seen anything that beautiful, Adam? Them mountains and peaks make me feel real small and unimportant in the world.You miss this while you was in Boston?” he asked, trying not to let Adam see how the answer mattered.
Adam pondered for a minute. He could just give Hoss the assurance he wanted, and it would be true, at least mostly true.Or, he could try to explain to this large man/boy some of the wonders of the world beyond the mountains that meant HOME to both of them.Finally, he replied, “All the time I was gone, I wondered if seeing this view when Ireturned would be as wonderful as I remembered.You know how that is.Sometimes what you remember is better than the real thing, like thinking about a dance can be better than the dance itself.I was afraid that when I saw it again, it wouldn’t be as grand. But it’s more magnificent than I recall.”
Thoughtfully he continued, “I‘ve seen other sights just as beautiful.I often stood by the ocean at night, listening to the waves roll in and watching a full moon rise. The moonlight made a path like a string of candles on top of the water, and I would feel insignificant there too, so small in the scope of creation and nature.It’s a different sight but the same feeling. I loved that, and I reveled in the music that touched my soul and the great art work that filled me with wonder.And the books! I could find books anytime there.Life is full of grand things to see and experience.I don’t regret seeing them, and I can’t promise that I won’t ever want to see them again.But for now, this is where I belong, at home with the ranch, my family and the mountains.” He glanced at Hoss and saw his relief at the concluding statement.It wasn’t actually a promise, but Hoss knew it was the next best thing. Adam planned to stay, at least for awhile.
The two men rode upward, climbing slowly into the forest where larger game roamed.They made a cold meal break, allowing the horses a hour of grazing and water, while they ate the sandwiches Hop Sing had sent and drank water from their canteens.At night, they would take the time to build a fire and prepare hot food, but first, they needed to get closer to the better hunting grounds.Late in the afternoon, Hoss spotted the tracks of a large elk, and they silently began to follow the trail.Perhaps they would be lucky and find their game on the first day out.
Even as they cut the tracks of the elk, both men noticed that there were unshod hoof prints of several horses trailing the same path.Hoss dismounted, and as Adam watched, he knelt to carefully examine the hoof tracks.“Injuns,” Hoss stated flatly.“Looks like they’re stalkin’ that elk too.Might be best if we find us another trail to foller.I ain’t itchin’ to cross paths with any band of hunters.”
Adam nodded briefly, and the two men turned from the direction they were going and moved more north northwest, heading at a different angle toward the forested slopes of the mountain range ahead.
Hoss pondered, “Reckon it’s a band of stragglers rather than a large huntin’ party.Only about four sets o’ prints, and I heard the main band of Paiutes was winterin’ on the north side of the lake well away from any ranches.” He glanced at Adam and grumbled, “Been some time since you’ve gone runnin’ off to Winnemucca’s camp to see that friend of yourn’s, Young Wolf.Never could understand why you took so much pleasure in them visits.Spendin’ time with them murderin’ savages wouldn’t be high on my list o’ things to do.”
Adam was startled at the bitterness in Hoss’s tone and words.He had been aware that Hoss had no sympathy for Indians but hadn’t realized how deep the feelings ran in his younger brother.“I’m not quite sure what you’re asking, Hoss. Young Wolf and I made friends a long time ago, the first year we were in the area.He was real good to me, teaching me how to hunt, to move quietly and to live in the world around here. I found him and his people to be as kind and considerate as lots of white folks in the area.Savage is a harsh description of the village as I knew it.Winnemucca and Young Wolf judged things differently and followed customs strange to me, but they were as true and faithful to their way of life as I try to be to mine.”
Hoss burst into speech again.“Them savages killed my ma.You and Pa’ ve told me about that: plus, I hear lots of tales about them killin’ and stealin’.I call them like I see them.Lots of folks say the only good Injun is a dead one.I know you and Pa reckon some of them can be trusted, but I ain’t sure ‘bout that. Not after what they did to Ma.Anyway, best we get moving ifen we plan to make camp by a decent stream before dark.”He rode on, a little too far ahead for Adam to continue the conversation.
They found a perfect, flat area right by the stream, with wood close by for a fire. There was enough grass to both ensure that bedrolls need not rest on rock and to allow the horses to graze freely on a long lead rope.Both men knew better than to let the horses stray far with Indians in the area.Working together, they soon had a cheery campfire with coffee and stew bubbling over it.The horses were unsaddled, watered and tied down to graze.They spread their bedrolls on each side of the fire and ate.Hop Sing had furnished stew they could just warm and eat.The coffee too was left over from the morning.Tomorrow they would make coffee themselves from the beans they had brought, but the warmed over tasted good enough tonight.There was fresh bread for munching and cookies for after.The weather was cool enough that grub would stay good for a few days, which was as long as they intended to be gone.
Once the men had washed their plates and ground the coffee beans for tomorrow morning, they climbed into bedrolls and rested as the fire died down to embers, the moon came up and the stars came out.In the chilly night air, the bedrolls felt good, and both Adam and Hoss were tired enough to relish the peace and quiet.Then Adam broke the silence.
With a smile in his voice, he reverted to the prior conversation, “I remember the first time I saw a real Indian.We were on the trail in the middle of the plains.Pa and the other men had been scouting out ahead because we knew we were in Indian country.We had passed the remains of a small wagon train that had been caught by a band of marauding Indians.We were just a day or so behind them, and the blood was still dark on the ground. The smell of the burnt wagons hung in the air.Pa and others from our train helped bury the victims, and everyone was muttering about “murdering savages” and making all kinds of threats.The women and kids were kept away, so as not to see too much.Everyone was real upset.
“Then we ran across a small Indian band of mostly women and children, with a few old men, camped by the river side.They had practically nothing, only a few horses and a couple of teepees.You could see the kids’ ribs and could tell they were real hungry.Pa recommended that we simply steer clear of the camp and leave them be while some of the others thought we ought to do something to them to pay them back for the recent massacre.I remember feeling scared.I was scared that more Indians would show up to fight us, but I was also scared we might do something to the kids and women.
“ Ma…” Adam paused to make sure Hoss knew what he had always called Inger.He continued, “Ma started gathering some food from our wagon and I could tell she planned to take it to the other camp.Pa wanted to argue with her, but Ma said, “Ben, we don’t make war on women and children and we don’t let them starve when we have food.I will do this.”
And Pa backed off.When Ma got her mind set, nobody was going to change it. Besides, it hurt him to see the hungry kids too.So, he and Ma carried over some food; they didn’t want me to come, but I followed behind. They didn’t see me until they were in the camp.So, they called me in too, cause it was safer than leaving me alone in the dark.Those folks couldn’t believe someone cared enough to offer them food. Even though the kids looked starved, every one of ‘em waited for permission before they touched anything.I watched them stuffing food in their mouths.Ma pulled me into her arms.” Adam paused and a look Hoss never remembered seeing came over his face.It was a mixture of wonder and tender longing, as if his body still felt those loving arms.
He continued then, “Your Ma had the warmest arms and gentlest hands of anybody I ever knew.Even a hug from Pa never felt as good as when she pulled me close to her and I could smell the violet stuff she used on her clothes.She smelled like flowers and warm milk and fresh bread…I don’t know what all.” He caught Hoss’s eye and said simply, “She smelled like love.”
“Anyway, she held me tight and told me, “Adam, everywhere you find good people and bad people. Make not the mistake to believe all Indians bad because of what some have done.They have reasons for what they do, maybe reasons we don’t think are right, but they be right to them.Bad things have been done to Indians, things just as bad as some Indians have done back.Always take each person for himself.Color and goodness are not the same.Promise me, son, each person, one at a time.”
Adam looked at his brother and commented, “I promised to judge any man by his actions and not his race. Young Wolf and I gambled on each other, and we both found good friends. OurMa would’ve liked that.”
He dropped his eyes and continued.“That was only a couple of months before we got to Ash Hollow and …..”For a long time Adam was silent, and Hoss wondered if the conversation was finished.He still had questions but wasn’t sure Adam was up to more right now.He had heard the break in Adam’s voice at the final sentence.
Adam turned his back to Hoss with a long sigh and pulled his blanket up to his chin.Guess this conversation is over, Hoss thought, settling into his bedroll too.
More than I really expected, but I still got a couple ‘f questions fur later.He listened to his brother’s slow breathing, but somehow knew Adam wasn’t sleeping. It took only a couple of minutes before Hoss dropped into slumber.
Hoss woke first the next morning and started breakfast.Hop Sing had sent bacon, bread, and fixings for a hearty meal, and Hoss was ready for his food.The smell of coffee woke Adam, and he stretched his long body out, wiggling and arching his back to relieve the soreness from the night on the ground.Hoss wandered over with a cup of hot coffee in his hand to pass to Adam and grinned at his rumpled brother.Adam rarely allowed himself to be seen with a day’s growth of beard and his hair awry with small curls along the neckline and falling forward over his forehead.He knew his brother would be heating water shortly for a shave and would ruthlessly brush his short mane straight.Somehow the disheveled look made Adam seem very young, more like the boy who had gone away to college than the man who had returned.
Adam grunted his thanks for the coffee, took a swig and climbed out of his bedroll.Snagging some sliced bread with bacon between, he took a tin pan down to the creek to get enough water to heat for a shave.“Tastes good, Hoss,”he mumbled appreciatively, as he returned and put the water over the fire.Stroking his rough chin, he pulled his razor from his pack, along with a bar of shaving soap.
“Adam, why don’t you jest let your beard go for a couple’a days?I ain’t even shure I ‘member you ever having much hair on yur face.Seems a bunch ‘f trouble when there’s jest you and me and the horses to see.”
Adam grinned easily and ran his fingers gently over the light fuzz on Hoss’s face.“If mine was as light and fine as yours, I might, but the longer I go the harder it is to shave this stubble.You take your coloring after your Ma, blond and fair.Your beard doesn’t show nearly as much as mine and never will.‘Sides, I don’t think the ruffian look does much for me.It’ll only take a few minutes; then I’ll wash the dishes.Only fair after you did the cooking.”
True to his word, Adam was smooth-shaven, hair in place and clothes straightened in just a few minutes.Then he took the cooking utensils and cups to the creek for scrubbing and carefully extinguished the campfire.Hoss, in the meantime, had watered the horses, put their gear on and packed away the remaining supplies. Pa had always been insistent that a campsite be returned as much as possible to its natural state.The Cartwright family was steeped in the tradition that nature was a gift of God and deserved care.
Mounting, they set out, looking for signs of elk along the creek.It was a natural place for wild animals to water, and they felt sure they could cut tracks at some point.With one of them on each side of the fast-running creek, they rode slowly and steadily for a couple of hours before Adam called a halt.“See, Hoss, some big prints, leading toward that stand of trees.I think there is a pasture beyond where good grazing can be found.Let’s follow these for awhile.”
The men moved cautiously and silently through the trees to the edge of the flat ground covered with lush grass.Hoss led and held up a hand as he spotted a flash of brown in the middle of the meadow. Quietly they dismounted, pulling their rifles out of the sheaths as they came down.The horses were well trained and stood ground tied as the men dropped the reins and lifted rifles into position. Two pairs of eyes carefully picked out the three or more large animals in the pasture.It was fall, not mating season, and the elk were able to graze peacefully on the best grass they could find.
Adam’s sharp eyes spotted three does with half-grown fawns by their sides, as well as two bucks, one with a small rack of antlers and the other with a set almost twice as large.Gesturing to Hoss, he indicated that Hoss should move to the right to get a clearer shot.Hoss looked at his brother quickly; his gaze asked if Adam wanted the first shot.He got a negative head shake from Adam and knew his big brother was offering him the chance to bring home this particular buck.They would only kill one.The meat would augment Hop Sing’s supplies, but they were hunting for the pleasure it, not for the meat.Besides, the pack horse could carry only one carcass that size.
Man, oh, man, that is one beautiful critter!Hoss marveled at the majesty of the buck he had in his sights and hesitated for a second before pulling the trigger.During that time, the creatures, with a wild animal’s sense of danger, had lifted their heads and were just on the point of bolting for cover.Hoss drew a careful bead and gently squeezed the trigger.The buck jerked and fell as the remainder of the herd sprinted for the cover of the nearby trees.
Adam gave a brilliant smile and a thumbs-up with his left hand in congratulations for the clean shot. The two men strolled into the meadow and over to the fallen animal.Hoss had hit the buck in the head, resulting in instant death and very little damage to the hide.They would take the antlers for later carving as buttons, needles, or whatever Hop Sing wanted. They planned to make a beautiful piece of leather from the animal skin if they could collect one undamaged. They had agreed before departure to give a good pelt to Joe for Christmas.It would make a soft rug to put by his bed.He had envied Hoss his deer rug for several years and getting one of his own might make their little brother less resentful about not being allowed to hunt yet.
Gutting the animal was a messy job.They planned to hang the carcass high in a tree overnight, allowing the gore to drain out as much as possible. Tomorrow morning they would wrap the body in the cloths they had brought.They were less than two days from the ranch, and if they started early enough in the morning, they could possibly make home late tomorrow night.The nighttime temperatures were low enough to keep the meat fairly cool and even the daytime temperature today was chilly enough to ensure it stayed good for a day or two.
With the elk’s body secured on the pack animal, the two men scraped the skin as much as possible and left the remains in the meadow.Had they been closer to home or with more than basic cooking materials, they might have taken the liver to cook.Under the circumstances, they decided to allow the scavengers to polish off the leftovers.Then they set out to ride back to last night’s campsite.It had been a good place with easy water and would be far enough to ride and still have time before dark to set the carcass to drain. By the time they set out, the sun indicated that it was past the height of the day.
Both men were quiet on the trip back.Clouds had begun to move in, and the wind had picked up and now had a sharp bite to it.The shothad reverberated through the surrounding mountains and silenced the normal sounds of the wildlife in the area.Hoss kept thinking about how beautiful the creature had been before he shot him, and even the thought of the good meat to be eaten did not quite lift his spirits to a feeling of triumph.Adam too seemed pensive, even though he continued to gaze at the mountains and appeared to be watching the sky with an apprehensive eye.
Back at the campsite, it took the two men only a few minutes to gather more wood for a fire and to turn their hands to making the camp comfortable.Hoss chose a tree with high branches well away from the stream to use for the draining of the buck.He and Adam carefully tied a rope around the hind feet, then Adam tossed the edge over the branch and Hoss caught it on the other side.With ease, Hoss hoisted the elk high into the air, safe from predators and ready for discharge of fluids.Adam secured the horses on fairly short tethers, well away from the smell of the blood, and made sure they had water, sufficient oats and were able to graze.
Dark was settling in, and Hoss started a fire, blowing gently on the embers to make it flare up and set the dry wood ablaze.Adam had returned from the creek with more water for coffee and for warming the stew Hop Sing had sent.There were biscuits left too for soaking up the gravy and cookies to polish off the meal. After finishing, the two men reclined beside the fire, watching the flames and sipping coffee.Finally, Hoss got up enough nerve to ask the question he had pondered for several weeks, ever since they had gone to Marie’s grave for the celebration of “All Saints Day” the 1st of the month.
“Adam, did you leave a headstone on my Ma’s grave?What kind of place was it, the place you left her?”
Adam’s dark eyes lifted from contemplation of the fire and met Hoss’s blue ones sadly.For a minute Hoss was sure his brother was going to ignore the questions.The desolate look in his brother’s eyes almost made him take the question back – almost, but not quite.
Following a period of silence, Adam finally replied.“You’ve been told the story about how we got to Ash Hollow and the Indians attacked us.We were a small party, and had meant to join a larger train there, but they had moved on.The guide we had, Rockwell, had tracked down a band of Indians a few days before.Those four or five Indians had pulled a night raid on the camp and stolen Rockwell’s string of horses, along with the liquor and trade goods in his packs.Anyway, Pa and Mr. Rockwell had tracked the group and found them drunk and making a bunch of noise.Before Pa could stop him, Mr. Rockwell had shot one of the thieves.Pa stopped him shooting the others, and they escaped.Rockwell warned Pa that they would bring back the whole tribe, but there wasn’t much Pa could do about it.
You were born while Pa and Mr. Rockwell were pursuing those Indians.I remember when Pa came back and they told him Ma had the baby.I was sitting in the wagon holding you when he pulled back the cover to see us.Pa’s grin would have lit up a whole town when he saw both you and Ma were safe.Ma said she wanted to name you Erik, and I reminded her of the promise to Uncle Gunnar to name a boy Hoss, cause it means a big friendly man.And you sure were big enough, even then.”
Adam’s voice trailed off because he knew he was repeating stories Hoss had heard before.Hoss nodded and waited to see if Adam would go back to the real question.
Taking a final sip of his coffee, Adam tossed the dregs aside and lay back on his bedroll, head pillowed on his saddle, and pulled his blanket up to his chin.Hoss figured they were finished for the night, so he put his own cup aside and crawled into his bed. After a couple of minutes he heard Adam’s quiet voice resume the story.
“After Ma died in Pa’s arms, and Rockwell went to surrender to the Indians, we came out of the cabin.Pa carried Ma’s body back to the wagon, and the other ladies from the train came to help get her ready.A couple of the men found some planks and hammered together a crude box to put her body in.I heard them talking and knew the burial would be early the next morning. It was vital that we could get a full day’s travel if we were to beat the snows.Before dark that day, a couple of Indians rode close and dumped a body where we could see.I knew it was Mr. Rockwell, but the women were kept back.Mr. Payne and Mr. Taylor went to check the body and cover it decent.Then they made another box for him.I never knew how they killed the man, never wanted to know. Figured it wasn’t an easy death.
Next morning, right after daybreak, Pa took my hand and everybody walked up to the top of a little rise behind the Ash Hollow cabin.Some good soul had already dug the holes and put the boxes in them.I had slept through them taking Ma’s body, but I could tell by looking that Pa hadn’t slept a bit.Mrs. Taylor had you in her arms, and her oldest daughter held their baby.I knew she was going to nurse you as well as her own child, least till you got big enough to take cow’s milk and mushed-up food.In spite of your size, you were still just about 6 weeks old, too little to wean.”
Adam’s quiet voice faded to nothing and Hoss heard his brother swallow hard.Then his brother’s baritone continued in almost a whisper.“After they read the Bible and prayed, the men shoveled dirt over the boxes and put up two wooden crosses.Pa knelt by Ma’s grave and bowed his head.The rest of the folks moved away, some back down the hill and others well behind, so Pa could have some privacy.I remember standing there with my hat in my hand, watching the slow tears roll down Pa’s face and seeing his lips move as he tried to pray or talk or something.He was too sad for words. I thought it was kind of a pretty place, with a few trees around and a nice view of the mountains and of the plains.Lots of sunlight and easy to locate again.
After awhile a couple of folks came back and lifted Pa to his feet.I wanted to go kneel for a minute too, but Mrs. Taylor took my hand and pulled me away, toward the wagons.I could hear Mr. Taylor telling Pa we needed to get started cause we was way behind the main train and had long days in front of us if we wasn’t to get caught by the snows.Pa looked like a cripple, barely able to walk. They tossed me up on the wagon seat, and Pa climbed up and started the horses moving.
I sat there for a few minutes, but I could tell he wasn’t seeing anything at all; he had such a far away look in his eyes.I climbed into the back of the wagon to change from my good clothes (I knew Ma would have scolded if I got them dirty or torn).I looked back, and there was only one other wagon following ours.Mr. Taylor was driving it and Ms. Taylor sat there, holding you.He kept looking back, and I wondered where the rest of the train was.We were moving real slow, so I scooted off the back of the wagon while I knew the Taylors weren’t looking, then slipped through the grass and rocks back to the hill.I wanted to tell Ma goodbye too.
I knew they had left the graves and crosses so that they could be easily seen, and I didn’t understand.When my friend Johnny had died, they had packed the earth, burned the grass around it and then driven the horses and wagons over it several times to keep the wild animals and Indians from finding the grave.Well, when I sneaked back, they were doing the same thing to Ma’s and Mr. Rockwell’s graves.Guess they didn’t want me and Pa to have to watch.I could smell the burnt grass and see how ugly it all looked.Ma was there all alone, and there wasn’t going to be anything left to show the way back. “
There was a long, poignant silence as Hoss tried to picture his brother, little and alone, watching them hide his mother’s grave.“Hoss, that was one of the hardest things I ever did, to turn around and leave Ma there, with no cross, no marker with her name, nothing to show where she was.“The deep voice faltered then continued, “All I had left of her was the memory of how sweet she smelled, how much she loved me and Pa, and you.You were the gift she gave us: me and Pa.She left us her baby to take care of and to help grow up to be the kind of man she would have been proud of.She would have taught you to be kind and generous and loving. So, sometimes, if I sound bossy or something, I really just want to teach you what she taught me in the short time I had her. “
Hoss heard his brother take a deep breath and finish his thought.“She is so proud of you, Hoss. I don’t know how, but she knows what a good man you are becoming.I wish I could’ ve done for her what we did for Marie, but sometimes things just don’t work out the way we want.I don’t think I could even find the place anymore, after all this time.”Adam’s voice trailed away, and Hoss let the silence envelop him.
He heard Adam’s half-choked breathing and knew his brother needed to be left alone.So, he rolled into his sleeping bag and whispered gently, “Good night, Adam.Thanks for telling me.”Hoss let his eyes wander across the cloud-ridden sky, seeing not even a glimmer of the moon or of stars.Long minutes later, he heard his brother regain control of his breathing, and finally he heard the slow, easy sounds that indicated Adam had fallen asleep.It was a long time before Hoss followed his brother into the arms of the sandman.
Next morning, Hoss was the last one up.When he finally poked his head out of his blanket, he saw Adam shaving and smelled the coffee brewing.The odor of the bacon made his stomach growl, and he climbed out of the bedroll, shivering in the cold.“Man, it’s turned off cold and damp, Adam,” he groaned as he poured a cup of hot coffee and turned the bacon.Them clouds look like a real storm is brewing.We best get a move on, if we ain’t gointa get soaked.”
“Right the first time, Hoss,” Adam agreed as he finished his ablutions and snagged his own cup of coffee. “We need to get moving as soon as we get packed up.I already got the meat wrapped in canvas and loaded on the pack horse.”He looked at the dark sky and the rapidly moving clouds and wondered what kind of storm was coming, rain or snow.With the rapidly dropping temperatures, it could be either or, worse, both.
Both men grabbed bread and cooked bacon and began to pack their bedrolls.As quickly as they could, they saddled the animals and loaded all the camping gear.Finishing their coffee and bacon sandwiches as they worked, they took the time to check the camp area for debris.Within 10 minutes they were on their way down the side of the mountain and toward home.Both men were sure they could make the trip in one day if rest stops were few and short.
Within a couple of hours, the wind was howling and rain was beating against their slickers.The animals and men were miserable in the terrible weather, and all were looking forward to finally getting off the narrow mountain path and on the flatter meadows ahead.Travel would be quicker and easier once they reached more level ground. By now, the rain had turned to sleet and fell in audible plunks against their backs.Both knew they needed to get off the mountain path before the ground froze. The horses could easily slip on the icy surface.
As they approached the final part of the trail, Adam turned to check on Hoss’s progress. Adam was riding in front of his brother, who was leading the pack animal.Adam gave a broad grin at the sight of his companion, thoroughly drenched and with icy slush dripping off his hat and nose.Hoss glared at his brother, who looked almost as miserable as Hoss felt. As Hoss watched, the mare’s foreleg slipped in the mud at the edge of the trail. Adam shifted his weight back and released control to the mare so she could regain her balance.Instead, the horse squealed loudly and allowed her weight to fall against the steep trail edge. In an instant of panic, Chocolate tried to rear back and her hind legs slipped too.Before his horrified eyes and before he could make the slightest move, Hoss saw his brother’s mount slide closer to the edge of the treacherous drop, then tumble down the mountainside in slow motion.He saw his brother kick his boots loose from the stirrups and leap backward off the horse in an attempt to escape being rolled on. Then the sleet and mist hid both from his view.
Why couldn’t he’dbeen riding Sport?Sport wouldn’t of slipped.The completely useless thought flew through Hoss’s mind as the animal’s scream of terror pierced his ears.
Hoss jumped from Chubb, and tied both his horse and the pack animal before he began to scramble down the slope toward where he thought his brother would land.Even before he found Adam, he heard the squealing sound of a fearful animal.Hoss slipped and slid his way down toward the dark bundle lying about half way down the mountainside.In his own fear, he was not as careful as he could have been, and just as he approached Adam’s side, he stumbled and cracked his head sharply on a tree trunk.With his head aching, he knelt beside his brother and began to run his hands carefully down the still body.
He could see the blood on Adam’s face; it looked like he had hit his head on a rock as he fell. He could see numerous scrapes and scratches, but hoped against hope for no broken bones. CheckingAdam’s legs and arms, he could find no obvious break on any of them. Scrapes would heal if he could get Adam home.
“Adam, Adam,” he demanded as he finished his body check.He could tell Adam was still breathing, and he needed to know what hurt, if possible.Adam lay perfectly still, breathing but unconscious.
Hoss took a look at the hill in front of him and knew he couldn’t carry Adam up to the trail alone, and it would be impossible to get the horses down to help.By now Hoss’s head was throbbing, and he was cold, wet and scared.What could he do?Always before, Adam or Pa had been around to take charge, to provide a plan.Hoss dropped his head briefly onto Adam’s forehead, just to feel the warmth and get a brief respite from his own pain.
There was a movement next to him, and he knew that somehow, someone was there.Hoss lifted his head too quickly, and his vision swan. Much to his horror, he saw two Indians standing beside him and his brother with rifles pointed. Hoss, in pain and fear, tried to stand and found his head swimming.His vision faded, and he knew no more.
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The smells were the first thing he noticed, along with his headache.The air was close and filled with mingling odors of unwashed flesh, some kind of animal fat, the smell of near-by campfires and a faint smell of something cooking, but not a very appetizing something.His head ached, but not badly;the worse pain was on his forehead, which he remembered banging into that tree on the mountainside.Injuns, he thought.That was his last memory.Adam was hurt and there was Injuns!
More aware now, he cautiously opened his eyes and saw the crossed poles of an Indian teepee with various items hanging down.Turning his head, he saw his brother across the way with an old woman kneeling beside him.He could see the deep bruise above the injured man’s brow and the paleness of his face. He watched as the woman forced Adam’s mouth open and tried to get something liquid into it.Adam coughed and moaned a little, and Hoss sat up.“What ye doin’? he demanded in what he hoped was a commanding voice.The woman turned her head briefly, then ignored his question and continued to drip something into his brother’s partially open mouth.
As Hoss rose unsteadily, the small woman stood and walked over to him.He looked at her face, trying to read intentions, but could tell very little from her blank expression.Close up, he could see that she was not really old but tired and gaunt. Then he looked at her eyes and thought he saw concern in the dark pupils.She put a gentle hand on his arm, shook her head and muttered something as she looked again at Adam.He had no clue what she was saying but realized that she had not been hurting his brother.He could not have said how, but he knew she meant no harm.
Still, he was worried about Adam.He took the couple of steps that brought him to Adam’s side and dropped to his knees.He put a big hand to Adam’s forehead and brushed the raven hair from the edges of the bruise.“Is he OK?” he asked, even though he was sure the squaw didn’t understand a word of English.Drat it, he shoulda listened more when Adam spouted off his Indian words.Might be useful right now.
“Adam,” he whispered.“Adam, come on. Wake up for ole Hoss and let me know you’re all right.”Adam remained unconscious, but his head turned toward the sound of Hoss’s voice.The woman knelt again beside him and continued to add small sips of liquid in his brother mouth, making sure he didn’t get too much at one time and choke.Looking at Hoss, she jerked her chin toward a bowl beside the skins Hoss had been resting under.Hoss looked and decided it was meant for him.About that time, his stomach growled loudly, and she tittered just a bit to hear it.“Beg yer pardon.”Hoss remembered his manners even though she didn’t understand what he said.
He picked up the bowl, lukewarm and full of a thin kind of soup or stew.Not much in it except liquid, but it didn’t smell too bad.He tipped the lip to his mouth and took a swig.Right poor excuse for soup, but he was hungry enough for it to taste purty good. As he finished the offering, a flap of skin was lifted, and a brave came into the teepee.He growled (at least it sounded like a growl) a question to the woman and considered her reply.Then he looked carefully at Hoss, gauged his size and held up his hand in the peace sign.Hoss made the same sign back and tried, “Speak English.”The man shook his head and returned, “Espanol, senor?”Hoss shook his head because languages, even his own, weren’t a strong point with him.
Now the brave gestured to the empty bowl and made a sign for more.Hoss wanted to say no but found he was still hungry and nodded yes instead.Motioning, the Indian led Hoss outside and to a campfire with a bubbling pot of the same stuff on it.Hoss noticed that the few other people in the camp were all eating the same puny soup.There were even a couple of skinny kids eating too. It looked like all of them were half starved. There was no sign of meat in the pot, just a few unidentifiable bits of something and a broth.Not very filling, Hoss decided.
Hoss looked around, seeing a very poor, small encampment with practically no sign of food for its occupants.At the edge of the camp, he noticed their two horses and the pack animal and moved over to check out Chocolate.He could see a couple of scraps and cuts on the horse, but her legs looked fine.Shaking his head, he marveled at the pure luck of no damage to the horse in that fall.Now if Adam was just all right, it would be one of them miracles the reverend preached about.
He saw the gear had been removed from the animals and was stacked close to the haltered horses.The canvas containing the carcass of the elk had been lifted above the ground to protect it from animals.Remembering the thin soup and the lack of food in the camp, Hoss motioned the brave over and gestured to the meat.He hoped he was understood as he offered the elk and the contents of their grub stakes, coffee, meal, some pork and mesquite beans to his host.For a moment the Indian looked like he would refuse, but glancing at the faces around him, he nodded acceptance instead and opened his hands in a reluctant gesture of gratitude.
One of the women came immediately and gathered the food stuffs, and another lowered the carcass and cut off some of the meat. Then it was carried off to Hoss knew not where because he had no idea how they preserved their meat.Very soon, some of the meat and meal had been added to the stock pot, and a rich, savory smell began to permeate the camp.
Hoss went back to the tent where Adam lay, white and still.The squaw was kneeling beside him, wiping his face gently with a wet cloth.Hoss knelt too and asked. ”Adam, you awake in there?Open your eyes and say something.”
This time he was rewarded with a flicker of eyelids opening and then shutting rapidly.Adam blinked a couple of times, almost as if his lids were too heavy to stay open, then he managed to look at Hoss.“You ok, Hoss?” were his first words.“Where are we?”
Hoss breathed a deep sigh of relief and asked, “How you feelin’?You took a hard tumble halfway down a mountain.I thought you and the horse was goners, but neither of you is too much the worst for wear.”
“Which of you is asking, little brother?” Adam managed with only a faint grimace.
Hoss’s heart dropped.If Adam was seeing two of him, he had what Doc Martin called one of the ‘concussion’ things.How bad remained to be seen.Hoss remembered well the one time he had hit his own head hard enough for the doctor to be called.His vision had blurred, and his stomach had roiled for two days.“Take it easy, Adam.If yer seeing double, you ain’t needin’ to be moving around much.”
Adam must have agreed because he closed his eyes and drifted off again.Hoss looked helplessly at the squaw, and she nodded back reassuringly.Then she went back to putting cool cloths on his brother’s head, which Hoss knew ached far worse than his own.
At least he woke up for a minute and made some sense, Hoss thought as he looked around the hut again.He knew he coulda’ insisted on nursing his brother himself, but the woman seemed to know what she was doing, and Hoss still had a headache.By now, even though he wasn’t fond of Injuns, he figured they were safe enough here. There was nothing threatening in this place, just poor hungry people who’d willingly helped him and his brother. He crossed over to the skins and blankets on the other side and rolled himself up for a short nap.Gotta get Adam home,was his final thought as he slipped into slumber.
When he woke again, Hoss pulled his watch out to check the time. Almost 3, and judging by the light coming through the door, it had to be daylight, afternoon most likely.Hoss wondered how much time had passed.Adam fell midmorning of the third day of the trip, which meant they had 3 days to get back before Thanksgiving.After a minute or so, Hoss gave up worrying about what day it was and looked at his brother.
This time, Adam was turned on his side in his favored sleeping position, and his face was not quite as pale.The woman was no longer at his side, so Hoss got up and moved over.“Adam,” he entreated.“Adam, wake up!”
Adam’s eyes opened and tried to focus on him, but they still looked funny. “You don’t have to yell, Hoss,”Adam admonished, putting a hand on his obviously aching head.
“Sorry, Adam, didn’t mean to make you hurt worse,” Hoss apologized. “Can I get you something to drink?”
“Not right now, Hoss.Are you sure you are all right?I can see the knot on your hard head.”
I’m fine, Adam, just bumped it on a tree coming down that dadburn hill to check on you.Plumb careless of me.”
Adam’s eyes wandered around the tent, and he asked, “Where are we, Hoss?I can tell we are at some Indian camp, but I know Winnemucca’snowhere near here.How did we actually get here?Do you remember?Last I remember is the horse slipping and us both falling off the trail.You carry me out?”
Hoss reached out to check his brother’s temperature, and Adam pulled away, just like he did for Pa.Grinning, Hoss responded, “Ain’t too much wrong if you can ast that many questions in a row.Let me see,” he paused to collect his thoughts.“I ain’t actually sure how we got here.I ‘member looking up and seeing two Injuns with guns pointed at us.I kinda remember somebody pullin’ and pushin’ me up onto Chubb and draping you across Chocolate’s back.You was limp as a rag and had a bloody head.It’s more like a dream or a nightmare or somethin’ rather than a real memory.”
He looked at his brother and asked, “How are ye feelin’, Adam?You still sickening at your stomach.”
Reluctantly, Adam confessed, “I don’t think I could sit a horse right now; that’s for sure.Not planning on trying any food for awhile either.Any idea how long we’ve been here?” “Nope,” Hoss replied.“It’s bout 3 or so in the afternoon, but I ain’t sure what day.“We gonna need to get home next couple of days though, or Pa’s gonna have the whole ranch out lookin’ for us.Adam,” Hoss hesitated briefly.“These Injuns look half-starved to me. Even the young’ens are puny.I give ‘em the elk carcass and the rest of our grub.Figured it was the least I owed ‘em fur your life.”
Adam smiled gently at his “baby” brother.“Course you gave them our food if they were hungry.Wouldn’t expect anything different from you.Now, how about checking out the camp while I grab some more shuteye?I want to travel home tomorrow, if we can.”Adam’s eyes were drooping by then, so Hoss stopped talking and eased quietly away from his side, making sure Adam was covered before he left.It was just plain cold.
Walking into the open, Hoss noticed that there were a couple more men around now, keeping an eye on the cooking fire and the squaws tending it.At the edge of the camp, Hoss saw several boys playing with some sort of a ball thing and a scoop stick.Hoss watched as the boys scampered and tossed the thing and generally played, just like kids everywhere.He felt himself smile at the sight and even forgot to remind himself that these was Injuns, like killed his Ma.Folks, different but still just folks.
Hoss wandered toward their horses, wanting to check them over again and make sure they could be ridden when Adam felt good enough to travel. Hoss expected that to be real soon even if Adam wasn’t well.He knew his brother wouldn’t want to worry Pa more than absolutely necessary and wouldn’t rest easy until they got home.One of the younger braves walked over and, with gestures, showed Hoss where to take his horses for water.Hoss’s companion also took him over to where the horses for the camp were grazing.There were several beautiful mares and a couple of yearlings, all fine looking animals.Hoss was willing to bet they had been culled from one of the herds of wild mustangs that roamed the hills nearby.
Nobody paid him any mind as he sauntered through the small camp. Counting shelters, he decided it was probably only a couple of families plus a few spare huts.Good hunting was getting scarce in the area. Meat hunters for the hungry bellies in Virginia City were rapidly killing off all the game that hadn’t been displaced by the growing herds of cattle and horses on the ranches. He wondered if they had cut across the same Injun hunters on their first day out, but it really didn’t matter.There were no signs of abundant food supplies in the camp, so he found himself glad that Adam had understood about giving the elk.Adam would have offered it ifen I hadn’t, Hoss decided. Adam couldn’t stand to see people hungry either, as Hoss remembered from the days before college.
The days were shortening in the late fall, and dusk came early.Hoss watched as more fires were lit, and people began to gather around the cooking pot.He peeked inside “Adam’s” teepee and saw that his brother was still asleep, so he moved toward what he figured was the eating area.A woman stood up from the pot holding a wooden bowl piled with a savory-smelling stew and flat piece of bread on the side.Silently, she handed the food to Hoss and gestured that he should eat.He noticed that the men were fed first then the children given their portion.Apparently women ate last in Indian camps, but there was enough food left for them.
Hoss would’ve sworn that all Indians looked alike before today, but as everyone finished eating, he noticed “his” squaw take a bowl of stew and start toward the hut where Adam was sleeping.Quickly, he crossed over and lifted the hide door so she could enter.Stooping low, he followed and, to his pleasure, saw Adam’s eyes open and looking at him.“How ye doing?” asked Hoss as he knelt by his brother.
“A bit better, maybe,” was the quiet reply.“At least there is only one and a half of you now.”Adam blinked as if to clear his vision, and Hoss saw the furrow in the middle of his forehead, the only visible sign his brother usually showed of being in pain.He reached into the water still on the floor, wrung out a cloth and put it on Adam’s head.“Ummm,”The pain lines in Adam’s face relaxed.
The woman jostled Hoss a bit and knelt beside him.She touched Adam’s arm gently, and when his eyes opened and looked at her, she lifted a spoon of stew from the bowl and held it to Adam’s lips.To Hoss’s dismay, Adam lifted his hand briefly in a negative sign and mumbled something strange that Hoss did not understand.Apparently the Indian woman did because she did not offer any more food.
“Adam, maybe you better try to eat a bite or two.It ain’t bad stew, and you ain’t had nothing for a least a day.Ifen we’re gonna leave here tomorrow, you best have somethin’ to eat.”
“Probably not a good idea yet, Hoss, unless you want to clean up a mess.My stomach’s still turning cartwheels, and my head is aching too much to even try.”Adam was not one to complain, but he knew how to be honest about his condition when it was important.
Looking around the hut, Hoss knew being sick would be very unpleasant for both of them, so he stopped his urging.The Indian woman looked at both of them and then left, taking the stew with her.
Hoss stayed quietly by his brother watching as Adam closed his eyes briefly then opened them again and asked, “Are all three horses fit to travel, Hoss?I need to find out how far from the Ponderosa we are and how long it will take us to get back.I asked her to send in one of the braves.He can probably answer our questions.Did you get enough supper?”
“Yep, checked the horses over myself.Chocolate is bruised and cut a bit, but she ain’t hurt.You can ride her, no problem.That is assumin’ that you can sit a saddle.I miss all the grub Hop Sing can put on the table, but the foodt’wern too bad, and I got enough.I sure could use a cup of coffee about now, but ain’t no way I’d be able to ast, so I’ll do without. Adam closed his eyes in an attitude of waiting, so Hoss sat and waited too.In a few minutes the Indian woman came back into the hut; this time she carried a cup with something steamy hot in it.It smelled like the herbal brew Hop Sing plied themwith when they were sick.Hoss moved to rest Adam against his own broad chest so Adam could sip the tea, or whatever, without choking or spilling it down his neck. Slowly, as the woman watched, Adam drained the liquid from the cup and then thanked the woman politely in that language Hoss did not understand.
As the woman left, an older brave entered the teepee, walked over and squatted beside them.Adam kept his head resting on Hoss’s broad chest and spoke quietly to the Indian.The man nodded and gestured a bit as Adam struggled to remember the correct words.Hoss figured he was thanking them for the rescue and trying to find the location of the camp.After a few minutes, the conversation seemed to be finished, and the brave departed.
“You need any more to drink, Adam?” inquired Hoss.At Adam’s negative gesture, Hoss carefully lowered his brother and pulled the blanket up to his chin.“How long home?”
Adam looked up at Hoss and half-grinned.“These folks are camping in the wild area just beyond the far north fields.They figured we’d have all the stock closer to the ranch and they’d be safe here.We’re about 8 hours from home if we take it steady and not snail slow. I told them we needed to leave tomorrow, so he offered to send a couple of his young braves to make sure we got back safe.We leave at dawn.”
Hoss watched Adam’s eyes struggle to stay open, and he soothed, “Shh, go to sleep.It’s all right; I’ll take care of you.”A small smile flickered across Adam’s still pale face at hearing the words he had used in the past to soothe younger brothers’ rest.He slept.
Hoss stretched his aching body to its full height, almost brushing the top of the tent, and wiggled his shoulders to relieve some of the tension there.His fingers strayed to the bump on the side of his head, now a minor nuisance rather than a hard pain.Adam might be sound asleep, but Hoss still felt alert and unready for bed.He pulled the blanket high around his brother’s neck then left the dwelling to see what was happening with his hosts.
He watched several Indians slip into the largest of the dwellings and walked toward the entrance.Two youngster running through the camp bumped into his legs in the dark and stood gaping at the “giant” in their midst.Hoss had noticed most of the males were shorter than he was, trim and hard-muscled, so he figured his height was another reason for staring.The braver of the boys tugged at Hoss’ arm, his hand warm, and urged him toward the meeting place.A brave gestured him in, and after hesitating briefly, Hoss passed through the opening and found the band of natives seated around a banked fire -men on one side and women on the other.He clumsily lowered his frame, trying to fold his sturdy legs under him.
The oldest looking brave spoke words to him, probably words of welcome, but Hoss was clueless as to their meaning.The gestures that accompanied the speech made the welcome clear however, and the passing of a skin jug filled with a liquid Hoss couldn’t identify sealed the hospitality.Grave faces and dark eyes examined him closely.Gee, I thought Adam was a great stone face but these folks sure got him beat. Instead of worrying about it, Hoss allowed himself to gaze back with curiosity and began to recognize subtle differences in the faces; some were equally curious, others a little hostile, but none threatening.He began to notice the distinctive ways the eyes looked at him and the small variations in the way the individuals held their lips.
However, they all turned their attention to a powerful looking, older brave who began to speak in measured tones.Hoss didn’t understand a word but decided the man was telling a story; he began to gesture with his hands and his tone rose and fell with the narration.Everyone gave rapt regard to the speaker, and Hoss learned to discern when something amusing was said because some individuals would say “Hoy” at a certain time while others would pat the ground.None of the faces broke into smiles, and no laughter was heard, but the amusement was evident.What was it Adam had said?Something about strange customs but just people anyway.
Before long, Hoss noticed one of the women slip from the group.He’d sworn it was Adam’s nurse, and he waited for her return.As she eased back into her position, she looked over at him and nodded her head.Adam must still be sleeping and all right or she’d figured a way to let me know. He turned his attention back to the storytelling and felt himself relax.
Next morning the camp was stirring before daylight.Hoss felt the cold of the outside as someone lifted the hide flap over the opening.The fire was stirred and flared up enough to cast light over the woman kneeling beside his sleeping brother.Hoss struggled from his cozy bed of animal hides and knelt by Adam’s shoulder as the woman gently shook him, speaking softly.Adam jerked awake, his eyes wide with a hint of panic until they met Hoss’s.He looked then at his nurse and replied in that guttural language.She shook her head in the universal language of “no” and felt to see if there was fever.Adam said something else firmly, and she nodded acquiescence, then rose and left the teepee.
“What was that all about, big brother?” Hoss asked as he replicated the gesture of checking his brother’s forehead.Adam pulled back again, but not before Hoss felt too much warmth under the hair on the forehead.“How ya feeling?”
Honesty compelled Adam to reply, “I don’t feel that good, but still believe we need to leave today.Pa will be fit to be tied if we don’t get home tonight. He’ll send out a search party.Worst still, Joe’ll come looking for us.”
Hoss grinned at the thought of his noisy younger brother, but his gaze at Adam was worried and apprehensive.He wasn’t sure the injured man was up to the long ride but knew nothing would keep him from trying.He’d best get some food and get the horses packed.Not that there was much left to pack: no foodstuffs left, no elk meat, only the bedrolls and few cooking utensils.
Hoss wandered outside to check the cook pot.No one was eating yet, so he strolled over to the tied horses and pulled the Cartwright three aside.He saddled the riding horses and loaded the pack horse.He knew he’d have to bring the bedrolls out of their tent because the blankets were mixed with the animal hides used as bedding.
Just as he finished, a young boy approached, tagged by a group of others about his age, and tugged at Hoss’s coat.Hoss smiled in a friendly fashion and followed his young guide to the cooking fire where he was offered a bowl of whatever the other men were eating.
At least he was fed and the horses were ready to travel.Now he needed to check on his brother.As he turned toward the tent, Adam stepped carefully out the flap, shading his eyes as the sun’s rays broke through the cloud-scattered sky.He stopped and seemed to need a minute to orient himself, get his balance.Spying Hoss, he shambled toward the fire and the waiting Indians.Hoss picked up a bowl of mush to offer him, but Adam barely shook his head to indicate no.
“The horses ready?”Adam stood gazing around the mean camp with its worn shelters and inadequately clad occupants.“Are you sure they have enough food, even for a few days?”
“Well, they got more than they had ‘fore they found us.There’s been real meat in the pot, and I see some of our bacon and flour around.Reckon we helped ‘um some with our grub and the elk meat. “Just then, one of the squaws walked over to Hoss and handed him a rolled hide.Hoss flicked it open to see the skin of the animal he’d shot, carefully scraped and ready for stretching.“Hey, Adam.It’s the hide for Joe’s rug.Guess we got his Christmas present anyway.”
Hoss beamed at the woman while Adam tried to thank her in her own language, struggling to remember the proper words.Least Hoss figured he was expressing appreciation as she nodded, and he could see a satisfied gleam in her eyes.Humm.Reckon I’m getting’ better at reading these folks.Ain’t really all that hard, just gotta look careful.He nodded over and over to her, and she covered her mouth as if to hide a smile, but nothing else showed on her face.
The old man Hoss figured was the chief walked over to Adam and gestured to two braves with him.He appeared to introduce them, and Adam lifted his hand in the universal sign of peace and replied something.Then the four men walked toward the waiting horses as Adam summoned Hoss to follow with the lift of an eyebrow.Hoss felt a hand on his sleeve and stopped to find “his squaw” standing there offering the canteens, filled with water and a cup filled what looked and smelled like more herbal tea.She turned her head to follow Adam and indicated the tea was for him.Hoss was willing to bet Adam hadn’t dared take food yet because of his rebellious stomach, so he took the cup.
“I’ll make sure he drinks it ‘afore we leave. Thank you, ma’am.”He knew she didn’t understand the words but hoped she heard his gratitude.She shook her head slowly then lifted the bead necklace from around her neck.She handed it to Hoss, but unsure of what she wanted, he tried to return it to her.
“She’s offering an exchange for the food, Hoss.They don’t have anything else, and pride demands something in payment.Take it and put it on.It’s a beautiful thing.”
The instructions were issued in Adam’s quiet, but commanding voice.Hoss held the adornment and before he could move, she took it and standing on tiptoe, slipped it around his neck.It felt funny wearing a necklace, but Hoss trusted Adam’s knowledge of Indian custom enough to wear it. The woman gave a slow nod of approval, patted his big arm and stepped back.Her face was unreadable but Hoss was sure he saw regret at their leaving and pleasure that they were well enough to depart. I ain’t believin’ how kind these folks’ve been, ’specially to someone they ought to be mad at.They been driven from their usual winterin’ spots and can’t find enough to eat, but still they share with “the enemy.” Reckon Adam was right ‘bout the decency of people, no matter who they are.
“Ready, Hoss? We need to hit the trail if we’re going to make it home by evening.”Adam finished the cup of tea and without waiting for a reply, lifted his hand in farewell and followed one of the two braves accompanying them.Hoss mounted Chubb and trailed Adam with the other native bringing up the rear.
The mercurial weather of early winter had struck again.All the ice had melted, and the trails were muddy, but passable.The sun was shining brightly, and the temperature was merely cool, not cold.Hoss slung his heavy coat over the back of the saddle and saw Adam had done the same after a few miles.He kept a close eye on his injured brother, but Adam sat straight in the saddle and was alert to his surroundings.Occasionally one of the guides would utter a few words, and Adam would respond.Once, he laughed and repeated a cutting remark to Hoss for his enjoyment.
They’d ridden for several hours according to the sun when Hoss noticed Adam rubbing the furrow between his eyes.“I’m getting’ hungry and thirsty, Adam.How ‘bout a break for lunch?We can let the horses rest.”
Adam turned his head slowly and looked at his brother.“I think we’d be better off to keep moving.Do you know where we are?I’m not sure, so maybe it’s best to keep going till we get to familiar territory.Then we can let our guides return home.‘Sides, I’m not too sure I can make myself get back in this saddle if we stop.There’s only a little dried jerky to eat anyway.Bet Hop Sing’ll have us a good meal when we get home.”
Hoss understood and didn’t ask again.Adam was bound and determined to get home by tonight, and Hoss wanted his own bed enough not to protest unless he thought Adam was hurting too bad to go on.A rough camp with little food wouldn’t make his brother feel any better, and at home they could send for the doctor.
A little past noon according to the sun, they broke from the shadows and trees of the mountains to a small meadow that Hoss recognized.It was located at the far north end of the ranch, and he knew his way home for sure now.Adam looked at the far end of the small field and grinned.“Guess we must have missed that bunch.”
Hoss followed his gaze and saw a herd of 6 cows grazing in the corner.They’d tried to move all the cattle to lower elevations before winter so they could feed some of them if the snows got too high and stayed too long.I wonder…
Before he could open his mouth, Adam gestured to the cattle and said something to the guides.The one in front started to protest, but Adam waved away whatever he was saying.Then Adam said something else in an emphatic way and held up three fingers.For a minute Hoss thought there was going to be an argument, and he had no idea what about.Then the two men nodded, held up their hands in a gesture of farewell and rode over to the cattle.With soft yelps, they began to drive the cows back the way the four men had come, back toward the encampment in the hills.
“You offer them those cows, Adam? It ain’t that Pa is stingy, but you can reckon he’s gonna have something to say.”Glad it’s big brother gonna have to explain that action to Pa.I was ‘bout to ask, but he beat me to it.
“Made a bargain with them.In the spring, they’re to bring us three green-broke mustangs to add to our herd.Pa’s been talking about applying for a contract with the army to supply some horses, so I figured it’s a good way to increase the herd and get some new blood in it.I told them no stallions, only good mares.Just giving them the cattle would’ve made us seem weak and let them think we wouldn’t mind if they siphoned off a few.This way, it’s a bargain.We both get something we want and need, and they’ll have food for the winter.”
Hoss acknowledged his brother’s smarts with a quick admiring look and a muttered, “Still glad yer the one doing the ‘splaining to Pa.You reckon yer good for another couple of hours riding?I figure we can get home ‘fore dark if we keep going.”
“Sure thing.You don’t really think I want to spend a night out this close to home, do you?”
“Well, I could get to the house a lot faster if you stayed behind, and I’d bring a buckboard to get you home.”
“I’d rather ride than be jostled around in a buckboard.Besides, we may be late enough that Pa won’t insist on sending for Paul tonight.If you go alone, Pa’ll have the doctor there before you get me home in a wagon. No thanks.”
Hoss looked carefully at his brother.Adam’s face was pale; there was a deep furrow between his eyes.There was a sheen of sweat on his face, either from the direct sun or from pain.He wasn’t sure which.He caught his brother’s reins for a minute and took the canteen from Chubb’s saddle.“Take a little water then.You look like you’ve been rode hard and put up wet.”Adam took the offered water and sipped only a little before returningthe canteen to Hoss.
“My stomach’s not jumping all over the place, but I don’t want to risk getting sick.Thanks.Let’s get going.”
Just as the short winter day was coming to an end and the hills and trees were growing purple in the waning light, they saw the lights of the house in the distance.Before Adam could tighten his reins, Chocolate broke into a canter, wanting the barn and her stall.Chubb followed suit, and Hoss heard Adam groan as he pulled the horse back to a walk.Hoss pulled Chubb up short to keep from running into his brother and shouted out, “Hello, the house.”Adam raised hishand to his obviously aching head, and Hoss apologized.“Sorry, Adam.Didn’t think about yer head.”
Light spilled out the door as Ben appeared.Joe rushed past his father and yelled, “Where’s the meat?Didn’t the big hunters find anything to bring home?”
Hoss jumped off Chubb and grabbed Adam’s reins.Joe tried to grab his brother’s arm, and Hoss brushed him off like a pesky fly.“Easy, Adam.Let me help.”
By then, Ben had gotten a good look at his oldest son and seen the bloodstained bandage on his head, the rips in his clothes.“What happened to you? Hoss, let me get him down.Joe, go tell Hop Sing Adam’s hurt.”His broad hand reached out to Hoss’s face, and he turned it to see the purplish bruise. “You all right?”
“I’m fine, Pa.Just a bump.Sure you can git him by yerself?”Hoss hadn’t tended Adam all that way just to have him hit the ground at home.Catching the determined look on his father’s face, he knew he was wasting his breath.
“I’ll git the horses put away and be right in.”As he turned away, he saw Hop Sing come to the door and motion Pa to get Adam into the house.Adam was leaning heavily on his father as they entered.Hoss snagged Joe’s shirt as he tried to follow them.“Come on, Joe.You can help me put up the horses.You and Pa have a good time while we was gone?Did he take you to dinner at the International House?”
Joe was busting with questions, but he wasn’t ready to tell the story yet, so he continued to quiz his brother as they removed the gear from the animals, gave them a quick rubdown, food and water. Joe happily told him all about school, the trip to town with Pa and the new puppies at Mitch’s house. Charlie, the stove-up ranch hand who did many of the yard chores, ambled in to finish putting away the horses.
“How’s Sport doing?You been putting the liniment on his leg and letting him soak it in the crick?”Hoss nodded his appreciation to Charlie for the assistance and went to check the front leg of Adam’s favorite mount.
“He’s doing good.Still skittish as a girl walking through a graveyard, but ready to be ridden again.I seen Adam looking right poorly.You reckon yer Pa’s gonna want the doc?I can send one of the boys ifen he wants me to.”
Hoss saw Joe’s mouth open and put his hand over it.“Later, Joe.We best wait til Pa and Hop Sing take a look at him. Adam’s be madder than a wet hen if we bring the doctor out.He’ll sit still if Pa orders him to, but we better wait and see. Thanks anyway.”
He pushed Joe out the barn door ahead of him.“How ‘bout givin’ me a hand getting water into the tub, shortshanks. I sure could use a bath.”
“Yeah, I thought I smelt something stinky.”Joe’s grin lit his face.“It ain’t Saturday, but I guess you’ve hung around with Adam long enough to like bathing better than I do.”They walked through the great room and kitchen to the bathing room.Hoss checked to see if there was hot water ready and wasn’t surprised to find Hop Sing had been prepared for their return and the inevitable bath that Adam would demand.
Hoss went up to his room, passing Adam’s and taking a quick look in.Pa and the cook were bathing Adam’s face and upper chest, and Adam had that patient, ‘What did I do to deserve this’ look on his face.The hazel eyes caught his and winked before closing again.
Reckon he ain’t too bad off if he’s winkin’ at me and lettin’ them get by with tendin’ him without a yelp.He’d know how worried Pa’s been and let him mess around for awhile ‘fore he kicks up too big a ruckus.
Hoss entered his room to gather clean clothes.He remembered the necklace and pulled it off. Carefully he placed it on his dresser in front of the picture of his mother.Then he grabbed an arm full of garments and went back for his bath.
Sinking into the deep tub of hot water, he felt the tension in his shoulders and the aches from rolling down the mountainside begin to ease.Joe sat on a stool in the corner and continued to describe the puppies and how wonderful each one was.His youngest brother had never given up the hope that he might someday be allowed a dog no matter how many times Pa had said no.Hoss wished Joe would go away and let him soak in peace, but he was too kind-hearted to tell him so.He knew Adam would simply have locked the door before he got into the tub, but he’d forgotten, and now his ears were paying the price.
For a brief moment, Hoss remembered the way they’d come to have a bathing room, then he closed his eyes and shut out everything except the warmth of the water.
In way too short a time, the water grew cold, and he emerged.Joe whipped out of the room as Hoss dried off and dressed.Wonder where’s he’a gonna.Hope he ain’t gonna bother Adam yet.Big brother’s headache is bound to make him a trifle short o’ temper, not to mention the coddling by Pa and Hop Sing. I better make sure Joe don’t pester him too much.
The house was filled with the smells of good food being prepared, and Hoss relaxed even more as he heard the sounds of Hop Sing clanging pans and muttering to himself.They must be finished tending Adam if the Chinese cook was getting ready for dinner. Hoss’s stomach growled loudly, and he felt his mouth water at the scent of the food.It wasn’t even Thanksgiving neither, so that meal was to come.Hoss wondered what day it was; they had probably lost at least one day between Adam’s fall, the travel to the village and the period of unconsciousness.
Hoss knocked lightly on his brother’s closed door and heard Pa’s,“Come in.”
Adam looked better now with a fresh, smaller bandage on his head and his face and hands clean.He was in a nightshirt and his closed eyes opened as he saw Hoss’s face peek around the door.Pa was sitting in the old rocker by Adam’s bed.That chair usually sat in Pa’s bedroom, but made its way to the side of an injured or sick son. Hoss knew his father had spent many a night in that chair, and it looked like he planned another vigil.
“You feelin’ better, Adam.You look a mite better.”He looked at Pa.“He was seein’ double earlier and ain’t had much to eat ‘cause it made him wanta puke.” Hoss saw his brother’s lips tighten. He had no intention of allowing Adam’s need for privacy risk his health.Besides, Pa was no fool; he knew Adam too well to take a casual ‘I’m fine’ from his oldest.
“I’m going to wait until tomorrow to decide about summoning Paul.If you,” he looked hard at his injured son, “can eat the broth Hop Sing is fixing and keep it down, plus take the headache powders and get a good night’s sleep, I won’t send for him.”Pa gave Adam a stern glance.“I trust you to tell me if you hurt too much or feel sick, just like I trust you to stay in this bed until I feel comfortable letting you up.” Then he smiled and relented a little. “At least tomorrow in bed.If you’re all right the next day, you can join us for Thanksgiving dinner.But no work and no reading for the next day or so.”
Adam groaned and covered his eyes, then lowered his hand and indicated agreement.Hoss knew his brother would keep his word and obey the rules, except maybe the reading one.Bet he’d cajole Pa into reading to him before tomorrow was over. Folks thought Joe could wheedle anything out of Pa, and he generally could, but Adam had a different style.Adam just lay back and looked resigned, not pathetic, but kinda wistful.Pa melted every time Adam did that -just like he usually surrendered to Joe’s puppy dog eyes and gave in to Hoss’s phrase of‘pleaseee.’Ben was a father who hated to disappoint his sons if he could help it, and truly, Adam and Hoss asked very little.Joe was still young and the baby, so they all tended to cut him slack and try to protect him from his own impulsive nature and quick temper.All in all, Hoss was very happy to be home and let Pa take over.
“I want to hear everything…”Before Pa could complete his request, Joe burst into the room; the beaded necklace swung from his left hand.“Hoss, what’s this doing on your dresser?Did you run into Indians?Can I have it?I sure would like to show the guys at school…”
Hoss grabbed Joe’s hand and removed his memento of their rescue. “It’s mine, Joe. Sorry, but it’s a gift.”He glanced at Adam.“Guess you could say it’s a gift from my mother, to remind me ‘bout good in all kinds of folks, ifen I give ‘um the chance.”
Adam intervened, “Lots of reasons for thanks, little brother.We’re home; we’re safe, and we didn’t miss the holiday.And you have something else to remember about your mother.The Pilgrims have nothing on us. By the way, Joe, did you get that essay finished?”In the burst of conversation that followed, it was possible Pa would forget about his and Adam’s strange remarks, but Hoss was willing to bet it would never happen.Pa never let anything rest ‘till he understood what his boys had been up to.
Thanks, Lord. Hoss knew he was grinning, but right now, life was just plain perfect and his heart swelled with appreciation for his family, all safe and here. Thanks, Ma, fur teaching my brother, who teaches me.
June 2003.This story was originally for a list challenge for Thanksgiving 2001.Nothing slow about me.
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