She Brought Happiness
The captain paced back and forth in front of his officers as a lieutenant attempted to explain why the Indians refused to walk. “It’s all because of one squaw, Sir. She’s about to give birth.”
“We don’t have time to wait. Winter is already upon us, and these poor souls will freeze to death before we get them to Indian Territory.”
“They won’t leave her, Sir. We’ve tried.”
The captain turned his back to them, but they knew by the way he clasped his hands behind him what he was about to tell them. They had seen it time and time again. The lieutenant held his breath as the major slowly turned around and gave the order. “Execute her. Then they’ll have no excuse.”
“Sir, the talk is that one of our men is the father.”
“I don’t care. I doubt whoever couldn’t keep his trousers up is going to claim the child with the possibility of court martial looming over his head.”
“But Sir, it’s a woman and a child.”
Relaxing his posture, the major gave the lieutenant a defeated glance. "She is only one among thousands. If she can walk or be carried…otherwise, carry out your orders.”
When the lieutenant and other officers saluted and left the tent, the captain sat heavily on his cot, hanging his head. Never in his life had he been given such a deplorable task. These people had little to cover themselves for the winter. Most were barefoot. Many were ill when they left the compound in Tennessee and were no better weeks later. The closer they huddled together, the more became ill. Burials occurred each day of the journey.
He was already doomed to Hell’s fire. One more wouldn’t make a difference.
Before the lieutenant went back to the lean-to the Indians had hastily built, he stopped by the rows of tents belonging to the enlisted men in their company. Walking around outside the tents, the lieutenant occasionally stopped to listen until he finally heard what he had hoped he eventually would.
“You shouldn’a messed with her. If they find out…”
“And just how do you think they’re gonna find out? She’s just a squaw. She ain’t gonna tell ‘em. Probably won’t make it to Indian Territory anyway.”
“All they have to see are the scars on your arm where she fought you. And it don’t matter none that she’s an Indian. It’s still a court martial.”
Hearing the confession, the lieutenant threw the tent flap open and ordered the two soldiers out into the cold night air. “If I had the time, I’d beat you near to death myself. Lucky for you, I don’t. Now, which one of you is the father of the child?”
Neither man spoke.
“It doesn’t matter. Each of you will be held equally responsible as criminal and accomplice. I heard the whole thing. I’ve been standing outside your tent for the last ten minutes. Now, if I have to order each of you to roll up your sleeves, I’ll see to it that you both face court martial.”
“It was Starr, Sir. He has the scars to prove it.” Starr glared over at his tent mate, who grimaced. “He was gonna find out anyway. At least this way, it’s a little less painful. I’m in as much trouble as you.”
“Men, I don’t want your heads,” the lieutenant said quietly. “But I will be taking your extra blankets, your burlap, and part of your rations. The woman and her child will not suffer because the United States Army has reprehensible blackguards among its ranks.”
"But Sir, if you take our burlap, our feet will freeze."
"Keep your socks darned, men, and you'll survive. The woman will not. She has no shoes." Turning to the sound of a distant shrill wail floating through the darkness, the lieutenant allowed himself a deep breath of relief. The child had arrived; a new life among the senseless death. With help, the woman could walk.
Ben Cartwright’s wagon, carrying his eight-year-old son, Adam, and his two-year-old son, Eric, traveled slowly through an early snow, taking a southern route to hopefully avoid suspending their journey west any longer. He stopped the wagon when they came upon what looked like a migration, only this wasn’t elk; this was a herd of humans.
The lieutenant rode up next to the Cartwright wagon. “Good morning, Sir. May I ask who you are?” inquired the lieutenant.
“I’m Ben Cartwright. We’re heading west. I was wondering if we could follow you. There’s safety in numbers, and I’m alone with my sons.”
“I see no reason you can’t, Mr. Cartwright. But I would stay away from the Indians. They tend to appropriate what they need from anyone they pass.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Ben said, nodding.
“You can fall in line between my men and the Indians.”
After several hours, the signal to stop was given and passed down the line of soldiers, who turned to face the Indians, raising their rifles over their heads. It was as if a wave moved onto shore, settling there instead of flowing back. Standing from the seat of the wagon, Ben looked over the throng behind him and slowly dropped his lower jaw. There must have been close to one thousand people gathering in as close as possible in an attempt to withstand the cold.
Adam crept out of the back of the wagon to the seat and leaned around the canvas top. “Pa, who are they?”
“They’re Indians who have been removed from their lands, Son.”
The lieutenant sat back on his horse waiting for the Cartwrights to turn back around. “Mr. Cartwright, we’ll be camping here. I suggest you and your son stay away from the Indians. Many of them are diseased.”
Ben nodded, but said nothing. He had heard of the removal of several tribes from their land in the South, but he had not known the conditions under which they traveled. He stepped down off the wagon, went to the back and began to remove what he would need to prepare his son’s supper. As he built a fire, he watched the Indians do the same.
Some of the men carried wood for poles. These were set into the ground, and skins they had carried on their backs were draped over to provide shelter for the young and the weak.
Holding a bucket for water, Adam stood next to his father as he knelt down over the fire. “Pa?”
“Why were they removed?”
Ben looked ahead into the darkness, the sadness on his face shadowed from Adam’s view. Should he tell his young son of gold…of greed, or should he shelter him from the disgrace. “I’ll tell you all about it once we get settled in. How’s your brother?”
“Climb into the wagon and bring out the kettle and the pot, and check on your brother once more before you come back.”
Adam set the bucket down next to his father and turned. “Yes, sir.”
Ben had a warm fire glowing in the darkness, and had gone to fetch a bucket of water. When he came back, he expected to find Adam warming himself by the fire, waiting, but he wasn’t there. Setting the bucket down, Ben went to the back of the wagon and found Adam, standing with the kettle and pot in each hand, watching the Indians. “Pa, there’s a woman with a baby over there.”
Following Adam’s eyes, Ben watched as several women helped a younger woman, who was carrying a bundle in her arms, underneath one of the shelters. “She’s with her people. It’s none of our concern, Adam. Now, come along. I want to get supper ready before your brother wakes.”
Back at the campfire, the lieutenant had watched the young woman, too. “Mr. Cartwright, I was just checking to see if you had gotten settled.”
“We’re doing fine, Lieutenant.” Ben nodded toward the young woman. “She doesn’t seem well. Isn’t there a doctor who can see to her?”
Bowing his head, the lieutenant answered. “No. I’m under orders not to help her at all.”
Disbelief took over Ben’s face. “But why?”
“Mr. Cartwright, more than half of these Indians are sick and dying. Yet I can offer them nothing. I’m afraid our orders prevent it.”
“Orders!” Ben scoffed. “Do they at least have food and water?”
“They have whatever food and water they can gather.”
“Lieutenant, do you know anything about that young woman?”
“She gave birth to her child last night, Mr. Cartwright. The fact that she did and was able to get to her feet this morning is the only reason she is alive. The weak who cannot travel are....” The lieutenant brought his hand to his mouth in disgust. “Unfortunately, I don’t make the rules.”
“Well, I’m not under orders, Lieutenant.”
Smiling, the lieutenant quickly replied. “No, you are not, Sir. I have appropriated rations for the woman from the rank and file as well as blankets and burlap for her feet. May I bring them to you to give to her?”
“Why don’t you give them to her yourself if you have them?”
The lieutenant looked at Ben sadly. “I would face court martial for doing so. It will do them no good if I am removed from my post. They have no other advocate here. If you will help, at least two among hundreds might be saved. In another day, she will be too weak to carry on, and the captain will order her execution.”
“Execution?” echoed Ben incredulously.
The lieutenant stood up straight and looked ahead to recite his orders. “The journey will not be slowed or halted by the weak. Nor are they to be left to die in the elements.”
Normally, Adam would be sitting near the front of the wagon as the Cartwrights traveled. Doing so allowed him to watch his younger brother and listen to his father at the same time. But the events of the last night provided another distraction. Adam ventured nearer to the woman and the small baby, sitting as close as he thought he could without upsetting them. The young mother had already drawn the baby close in her arms and watched every move Adam made.
“I’m Adam. What’s your name?”
Moving her eyes to his, she studied him closely as she slowly sat up and leaned against the side of the wagon. “I am Daya.” Kissing her child, she added, “This is Ahyoka.”
For two-year old Eric, standing in the wagon while it was moving was an impossibility, so he crawled to Adam’s side and quietly sat next to him, watching the two strangers.
“Who is your young friend?” asked Daya, nodding toward the two-year old.
“He’s not my friend. He’s my brother. His name is Eric.”
Smiling, she said, “Your father seems to trust that I will do you no harm.”
“My pa says that a man should take another man at face value until the other gives him reason to distrust him. Besides, you just had a baby.” Adam looked down in thought, and then looked back at the woman. “Is there a reason we shouldn’t trust you?”
Daya laughed. “As you said, Little One, I have just given birth. I could not hurt you if I wanted to. And I do not.” Nodding toward the front of the wagon, she continued. “Your father…is he always so trusting of Indians?”
“No, not always. When they chase us and shoot arrows at us, he shoots back. Our mother was killed by Indians.”
Daya’s mouth dropped open slightly. It seemed to her that this man was one who did not judge all Indians by the violent acts of the few. When she was put into the back of the wagon, she had resolved that she would be silent and stay out of the white’s way. Now, after talking to the white man’s young son, she felt more at ease in the back of his wagon.
Adam and Daya spoke about many things as they traveled to Indian Territory. In the evenings when they stopped for the night, Adam made sure Daya and her baby had everything they needed to be comfortable, warm and fed. In time, Ben joined his son at the back of the wagon after the other Indian women had attended to Daya for the night.
When they arrived at Indian Territory and Daya was helped out of the wagon, she passed the baby to another woman and knelt down in front of Adam, removing a bracelet from her wrist. “Adam, I want to you to wear this to remember us,” she said as she slipped the bracelet over Adam’s hand. Holding up her other hand, she showed him an identical bracelet on her wrist. “This will bind our spirits wherever we go.”
25 years later…
Mornings in Virginia City were lazy for some, busy for others, but the basic routine was the same. The shop keepers moved a sampling of their wares to their storefront and turned their signs to ‘open’, after which they’d emerge with their brooms to sweep the ever-dusty boardwalk in front of their establishments and greet their neighbor merchants as well as those who walked or rode past.
The ritual changed slightly today when everyone stopped to watch a young woman walk into town, pulling a small cart. The sight in and of itself wasn't so unusual. Strangers came through Virginia City frequently. The woman was dresed in a brown skirt and white blouse with a dusty, deep blue jacket. Her hair was neatly pulled back into a pony tail. What caused the people of Virginia City to take notice was the papoose she carried on her back.
This woman was an Indian, but she wasn’t Paiute, Shoshoni or Washoe.
Stopping her cart in front of Murdock’s General Store, she laid her sleeping child on skins in the cart and began to pull out others to trade for supplies. With her back turned and her attention on the contents of the cart, she didn’t see two men walking toward her from the saloon across the street.
Ben and Adam Cartwright had ordered parts for the repair of their mill and were just stepping out onto the boardwalk when the two men reached the Indian woman. One grabbed her arm and spun her around. “What kind of squaw are you? You don’t look like any of the Injuns that live around here.”
She glared at the man, trying to pull her arm away.
“Now don’t be that way. We just want to invite you over to the saloon for a little drink.” Each man took an arm and began to force her across the street, but were stopped cold by a voice that came from somewhere behind them.
“Let her go.”
The men turned, but held the woman’s arms. “Now, Mr. Cartwright, this ain’t none of your business. We just want to welcome the little lady to Virginia City.”
Adam took a step forward to the edge of the boardwalk, his hands hanging down at his sides. “Apparently, she doesn’t want to go,” he said with a stony look.
Not wanting any trouble with either Cartwright, the men released her and walked away. She hurried back to the cart, and after she had gathered her child and moved him to her back, she stood in front of the cart, facing Ben and Adam Cartwright, and muttered, “Thank you.” Taking the arms of the cart, she began to hurry down the street.
Ben and Adam strode in the opposite direction toward their horses, but before they could mount, another disturbance ensued. Several boys were following the woman, tossing firecrackers at her feet and at the cart. She ignored them as if she had borne this type of humiliation before. It took several minutes for her to realize that one of the firecrackers had ignited her cargo, but by the time she noticed, Adam had already reached her, pulling her away from the cart and running for a bucket.
When the fire was out, once again, she nodded and without looking Adam in the face, she said, “Thank you,” then took the arms of the cart to continue on.
The woman stopped, but continued to look forward indifferently.
“Where are you headed?” asked Adam.
Taking a deep breath, the woman answered, “Somewhere I can live in peace.”
“You won’t get anywhere in that direction. There’s snow in the mountain passes. You won’t make it through.”
“Then I will stop and prepare a shelter for the winter.”
“Miss, it gets cold in these mountains in winter. You should stay here in Virginia City until spring.”
“I am an Indian woman in a town of the white man. How do you expect me to stay here? Those men,” she said, pointing toward the saloon, “and more like them will take me and your law will do nothing to stop them. I have no money for shelter. Do you think they will let me build a hut here in your town?”
Adam held his hands up in front of him and slowly backed away. “I’m sorry. I was only trying to help.”
“If you know the land to the west of this town, you can help by telling me where I can go to build a shelter for the winter.”
“Adam, is there a problem?” asked Ben, walking up behind Adam.
“No. No problem. We were just discussing where this young woman might be able to build a shelter for the winter.”
“A shelter? You don’t want to go further into the mountains now.”
Adam shook his head. “Pa, we’ve already had that conversation.” Scratching the back of his neck, Adam looked from his father to the woman. “I have an idea. We have a ranch to the west; the last piece of land before California. Now, you don’t want to go into California because you’ll be stuck between mountain ranges in the Sierra for the winter, and that’s no place to be. Why don’t you come with us? You can find a place to build your shelter on the Ponderosa for the winter, and we can help you build it and give you some supplies.”
“Why would I trust you?”
Ben and Adam looked at each other unable to answer that question. “Alright,” said Ben. “What if we introduce you to the Paiute? We provide beef for their tribe for the winter. I’m sure they would do us this favor and allow you to build your shelter near their encampment.”
She thought about the Cartwright’s offer. If they did help the Indians in this place, perhaps they could be trusted. And even if the sheriff couldn’t be trusted, he would still know about the Indians. “Where is your sheriff?”
“He’s just down the street on the way out of town,” Adam answered. “Why?”
“Is he an honest man?”
“Why, of course he is,” said Ben. “He’s the law.”
“I will speak to your sheriff.” Taking the handles of her cart, she pulled it down the street toward the sheriff’s office.
Before she entered Roy’s office, she took her child out of the papoose and carried him in her arms. He was big for the papoose, but under the circumstances, carrying him on her back was the safest place for him.
Ben and Adam followed and stepped into the office with the woman. “Roy?” called Ben.
“Come on in, Ben. I’ll be there in just a minute,” answered Roy from the back room.
Adam motioned to the chair in front of Roy’s desk, asking the woman to be seated. When Roy came in, he stopped. “Well, who have you brought in here for me today?”
“Roy, this is…” Ben turned toward the woman. “I’m sorry. I don’t know your name.”
“My name is Rachel Starr.”
Looking curiously at Ben, then Adam, Roy slowly sat down in his desk chair. “Miss Starr, I haven’t seen you around here before. Where do you come from?”
She looked toward him, but didn’t look at him, not wanting to meet his eyes. Fear stiffened her body. “I am from…the East.”
“I am Cherokee.”
“Well, what are you doin’ way out here?”
“I asked to see you because I wanted to know if I could trust these men.”
“The Cartwrights?” Roy leaned forward. “Well, the Cartwrights are some of the most respected people in these parts.”
“To the whites.”
“And to the Paiute, Shoshoni and Washoe.”
She stood. “I will go with you to the Paiute.”
“Wait just a minute here,” said Roy, standing. “I need to know what you’re doin’ this far away from your reservation.”
Ben stepped forward to Roy’s desk. “Well, Roy,” he said, smiling at Rachel, but looking back worriedly at Roy. “What does it matter? There’s no law against her being here, is there?”
“As a matter of fact, Ben, yes, there is if she intends to stay. The Cherokee were moved to Indian Territory under an agreement with the government. They’re not supposed to leave.”
“Now Roy,” Ben argued. “Are you saying they’re prisoners on that land?”
“I’m not sayin’ any such thing. The truth is, I don’t know all the rules for the Indians in Indian Territory, but I do know they can’t own, squat or wander anywhere in a United States owned territory or state. The last time I checked, this is a United States territory.”
Scowling, Ben turned and looked at the woman, then turned back. “Well, I haven’t given her any land. And she’s an invited guest on the Ponderosa, so she’s not squatting.”
Adam interjected, “And she’s looking for a place to settle in for the winter, so she’s not wandering.”
“Well then, it seems there’s not a problem if she goes with you, Ben, but I still gotta notify the Army that she’s here. They may even send someone out to fetch her.”
Adam and Ben turned toward the sound of the door closing. “Adam, go after her. Roy, at least let me find out why she’s here before you send anything to the Army.”
“Ben, I’ll wait a few days, but after that, I have to send a notification.” Roy smiled. “But there’s no law that says I can’t send it by mail.”
“We’ll try to get her to stay on the Ponderosa, and then we’ll try to find more about her.” Ben put his hat on and turned toward the door. “I’ll let you know what we find.”
As Ben walked out onto the porch in front of Roy’s office, Adam ran up the steps out of breath. “She’s gone, Pa. She took the papoose and left the cart.”
“Well, keep looking. She can’t have gone far.”
“I’ll ride,” said Adam, mounting Sport. “She’s probably trying to leave town.”
“While you look, I’m going to rent a buckboard at the livery to haul her cart. I think the quicker we get her out of town, the quicker she’ll be forgotten.”
Each man went their separate ways. Adam began methodically riding through every side-street and alley, weaving his way through town. A movement in the shadows caught his eye, and he stepped down off Sport, slowly and quietly entering an alley. He looked behind crates and barrels, and as he looked on one side of the alley, Rachel shot up from behind a barrel on the opposite side, charging Adam with a knife. He heard her approaching, and just as she brought the knife down, he turned and swung his arm out. The knife sliced into his forearm even as the force of his movement knocked her to the ground.
Ignoring his arm, he pulled her up off the ground by her hands, one still clenching the knife. He easily took it away from her, and let her go. “That wasn’t very smart,” he said angrily. “Another man might have killed you.”
Rubbing her wrist where he had grabbed her, she spat, “I will not go back.”
Adam raised his fingers to his forehead and sighed. “Look, you don’t have to go back now. And if anyone comes looking for you, it won’t be for awhile. It’ll be too difficult to get through the passes. Right now, we need to get you out of town before someone decides to try to escort you back.”
“You said they would not come for me now because of the snow. Why would anyone try to take me?”
“They won’t have plans to get you back.” He took her by the arm and moved toward the street where he had tied Sport, but she pulled back.
“Wait, my baby,” she said, running behind some crates further back in the alley. As she moved the child to her back, Adam examined the cut on his arm, dabbing it with his bandana.
Rachel took the bandana from him, and wrapped it around his arm. “Why do you want to help me?”
Turning up one side of his mouth, he looked down at her as they walked toward the livery with Sport in tow. “Because you need help.”
Driving the buckboard by the sheriff’s office, Ben loaded her cart, and soon they were on their way to the Ponderosa.
Rachel had been silent for the entire trip, and when they pulled into the yard of the ranch house, she stood patiently by the wagon.
Smiling, Ben asked, “Would you like to come in for some coffee or hot tea?”
Casting her eyes down, she answered, “I would like my cart. I should prepare a shelter before the next snow.”
“Rachel, why is it so hard for you to accept help? If not for you, why not for your child?”
“White men usually want something in return that I am not willing to give.”
Ben took her shoulders in his hands. “There is no one here who will expect anything from you. You need help, and we want to help you.”
“It is the same as he said.” She turned and pointed to Adam, who raised an eyebrow at his father just as he pulled the saddle off of Sport.
“Please, come inside the house where it’s warm. You and your child can stay and have dinner with us, and we can discuss your shelter and supplies.”
“It will be dark soon. I must find shelter for the night.”
Adam had walked Sport into the barn and came back, slightly leaning toward her as he went by. “We do have guest rooms. You and your baby can stay here tonight, and we can get an early start tomorrow. By tomorrow night, you two should be comfortable in your own shelter.”
“I…I do not want to stay.”
Ben and Adam looked at each other. “Well, Pa we could take her up to the Paiute, though they may not let her stay.”
She looked anxiously at Adam, then at Ben. “Why would they not let me stay?”
Ben put a hand on her back and gently guided her to the house. “There isn’t much difference in the way your people have been treated, and the way the Paiute have been treated out here. Their lands have been taken and settled, and the antelope that were once plentiful are all but gone. That is why we give them beef to see them through the winter. If we didn’t, many would starve.”
“Is there no place I can go to live in peace?” Before she knew it, she was at the front door, and realizing it, she began to back up, but ran into Adam.
He turned her around to face him. “Rachel, the West is being settled. More and more people come from the East every day. Soon, there will only be the reservations for the Indians. If you continue to travel west, you’ll end up in California, and that’s no place for an Indian woman and her child. This is last of the land that hasn’t been ruined by men looking for gold and silver.
“What if I go north?”
Adam smiled sympathetically. “There is land to the north, but it won’t be long before it’s like the rest of the land. It will be settled by white people from back East. Now, come on,” he said, turning her back around. “Get warm, have a hot meal, and we’ll help you figure it out.”
She glanced up at him, frowning, but reluctantly entered the house.
Joe and Hoss took quick glances at Rachel and her child as they ate. Ben caught their eyes, the look he gave them causing them to bow their heads over their plates.
“Rachel, what’s your son’s name?” asked Adam.
“His name is Ezra.”
“He’s about two years old?”
“Almost three,” she answered as she adjusted a spoon in Ezra’s hand.
“You’re teaching him the table manners of white men, yet you’re running from white men.”
"My people were...what you call civilized before...Tio va sa. They owned businesses, and lived in houses, and wore white men's clothes. Their claims on the land were ignored by white law, and that is why they were sent to Indian Territory...so that the white men could dig the gold from our ancestral lands. Some of my people were fortunate to have whites living among them who owned they land. They were allowed to stay.”
“Do you remember the trail?”
“No. I was born on Nunna daul Tsuny. I have never seen my ancestral lands.” Sitting back in her chair, Rachel watched her son eat. “My mother’s life was spared by an Army officer when I was born. My mother told me a man traveling with his small sons gave us shelter in their wagon. She said had they not, we would not have been able to continue and would have been executed.”
Adam quickly looked up and met his father’s eyes.
“Do you have a Cherokee name, Rachel?” asked Ben.
“My name is Ahyoka.”
Adam opened his mouth to speak, but Ben caught his eye and slightly shook his head. “Well, you must be tired. Why don’t I show you to the guest room and you and Ezra can rest.”
“I have not slept under a roof for…two years. I do not know if I can.”
Ben rose from the table, and held her chair while she took Ezra in her arms. “Why don’t you try? Perhaps you’ll be able to sleep in a nice, soft bed.”
The boys stood with them, and when they disappeared around the corner at the top of the stairs, Hoss and Joe both looked curiously at Adam. “You and Pa didn’t blink when she spoke Cherokee,” said Joe. “What’s goin’ on?”
“When we were traveling west...Hoss, you won’t remember this…you were only two; we saw her people on Nunna daul Tsuny, The Trail Where They Cried. Her people called it The Removal, Tio va sa.
“They called that The Trail of Tears. We read about it in school,” said Joe, sitting on the arm of the settee with his arms crossed.
Adam shook his head. “That’s what white men call it…not the Indians who had to walk it.” He stared into the fire, remembering. When Ben touched his shoulders, he jumped.
“Where were you, Son?”
Glancing back at his father, he replied, “I was eight years old again, Pa.” He paused, and then whispered. “Small world.”
Nodding, Ben took a seat in the leather chair across from Adam, and the two just stared at each other.
Hoss broke the silence. “So how’d you two come to learn Cherokee?”
Sitting with his elbow propped on the arm of the chair, Ben brought his fingers to his mouth, and without looking at anything in particular, he answered, “Her mother, Daya, taught us.”
“It was only a few words,” added Adam.
Joe looked at each one with creased brows. “Who’s mother?”
“Rachel’s,” said Adam, walking to the dinner table to retrieve his coffee. “That story she told about being helped by a man with his sons…that was us, Joe.”
“How could you know for sure just by that one story?”
Sitting in the blue chair, Adam took a sip of coffee. “The baby’s name was Ahyoka. We came upon them while we were looking for a southern route west. There was a lieutenant who allowed us to travel with them to Indian Territory where we could resupply and find out if there was a trail to the south or if we’d have to turn back north. In the end, we went back the way we had come. But the first night we camped, there was a Cherokee woman who had just given birth. The lieutenant wasn’t allowed to do anything for them, so he asked Pa if he would help. She and her baby…” he looked up at the ceiling, “Ahyoka…rode with us in the back of the wagon.”
If we hadn’t come along when we did, Ahyoka and Ezra wouldn’t be here today,” said Ben quietly. “We just need to find out what brought her here. I’d wager she’s in some kind of trouble.”
Looking at his arm and flexing his hand, Adam said, “That’s why she came at me with a knife. She said she wouldn’t go back.”
“You gonna tell ‘er who you are, Pa?” Hoss asked.
Ben shook his head. “No. I don’t want her to feel as if we’re taking advantage of her story. It doesn’t make a difference anyway. We’d help now even if we hadn’t known her before.”
“Well, it won’t be as uncomfortable with her in the house as it’s been with the other Indians we’ve helped,” said Joe. “She has manners like she was raised in a white home.”
“She probably was,” said Adam. “The Cherokee have intermarried with other races for a long time. Rachel’s father was white, though he wasn’t married to her mother. He was a soldier assigned to move the Indians from Georgia to Indian Territory. And by the looks of it, Ezra’s father was a white man. With that blonde hair, you can’t even tell Ezra has Indian blood in him. Rachel could probably pass for white as well. Based on the way she speaks, I’d bet she went to a white school.”
Hoss frowned. “So why’d they have to leave Georgia if they were civilized?”
“Simply because they were Indians, Hoss,” replied his father. “It was the same story then as it is now out here in the West. “White settlers wanted the land…wanted to dig for silver or gold, and the Indians were in their way. Those people had to walk a thousand miles in the worst weather with only what they could carry on their backs. Some of them caught diseases from the whites, and because they stayed so close during their journey, many died from illness. Just as many died from exposure to the cold.” Turning to look into the fire, Ben added, “It was a disgraceful thing; something the United States government should be ashamed of.”
“Which makes it only right that we do whatever we can for Ahyoka and Ezra,” said Adam. Setting his coffee cup on the table in front of him, Adam pushed himself out of the chair. “We can’t do anything else for her tonight. I’m going to bed. I’m sure she’ll want to get an early start tomorrow.”
“That’s probably a good idea, Son. I think I’ll go on up myself.” He stood and started toward the stairs, but stopped. “Boys?’
Joe and Hoss stood to follow. “I’ll lock up, Pa,” said Joe.
Adam’s door was open when his father walked past. Ben watched as Adam pulled something out of the top drawer of his bureau. “You know you can’t show that to her. She’ll recognize it. She’s wearing the other one.”
“I know I can’t now, Pa. But I might have to at some point…to get her to trust us.”
“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Good night, Son.”
Having only slept a few hours, Rachel was already up in the wee hours of the morning, pulling the fire-ruined skins out of her cart and repacking it. She had left Ezra sleeping on the soft bed in the big house while she prepared to leave quietly without telling a soul. Even though she had moved downstairs silently, Adam stirred, sensing that something was afoot.
He stood in the darkness at the top of the stairs, watching as Rachel deftly unlatched the door, stepped through, then closed it without a sound. Walking back down the hall, Adam slowly opened the door of the guest room and watched little Ezra sleep peacefully on the bed. He watched only long enough to satisfy himself that the youngster had not been disturbed when his mother had left him.
Stopping in his bedroom, he took an item from the top drawer of his bureau and put it in his pocket; the same bauble he had taken out the night before, and then made his way down the stairs and out into the yard. Early morning light had not yet arrived, but it was easy to find his way to the barn where her cart had been stored for the night. He knew the way like he knew the back of his hand. Still, a faint light shone through the cracks of the barn door, marking the way.
Adam walked to the side of the barn and entered through the smaller side door, rather than opening the big front door. The light of the single lantern Rachel lit didn’t extend far into the barn, and Adam was careful to be silent.
Even so, she heard a slight noise behind her, and turning, peered into the darkness. Imperceptibly sniffing the air, she relaxed and turned back to her work. “You move more quietly than I would have expected.”
“I’ve had some good teachers and little practice,” replied Adam as he stepped into the dim light.
“I will be leaving before the others wake.”
“Where do you intend to go?”
“I will seek out the Paiute you spoke of.”
“They won’t allow you to stay.”
Confused, she stopped rearranging the contents of her cart and faced him. “But you said you would speak to them to let me stay near their encampment.”
"I will speak to them, but they won't let you stay if you go alone. They may as a favor to my father. He's befriended Winnemucca, their chief, for many years. And building a shelter here will be different from what you’re used to. You’ll need help.”
“I have built my shelters alone without help since I left Indian Territory.”
“You’ll have to build an even stronger shelter to withstand the wind and snow we get in these mountains.”
With a quiet fury in her voice, she countered. “It was because of a white man that I had to leave my home. I do not want your help.”
Adam’s eyes flashed anger. “Then you and your son will die. Forget about what you want for a minute. Do you want your son to die because you refused help?”
Turning her back to him, she clasped her hands and brought them up to her chin, speaking more calmly, almost defeatedly. “If there had not been a child, I would have stayed to face the humiliation the white man brought upon me. I have walked all these miles only to save my son.” With tears close to the surface, she took a deep breath. This white man would not see her shed them. But it seemed she had no choice but to allow him to help…for Ezra’s sake. She would watch this man carefully. Trust was something he would have to earn. “I will wait for you to speak to the Paiute.”
Adam reached out and touched her shoulders, but she stepped away. “You will not touch me again.”
“I’m sorry. I meant nothing by it. But I think you should come back inside the house. Hop Sing is probably already preparing breakfast, and I’m sure it won’t be long before Ezra wakes. He’ll be frightened waking up in a strange place without his mother.”
Brown eyes stared off into the darkness. Before he was two years old, Ezra Starr had learned to be quiet at times when he didn’t understand what was taking place. His mother was no longer beside him, and though he was comfortable and warm, he feared something was wrong. He listened, and when he heard nothing, he slowly ventured out from under the blanket that covered him, looking around the room. He knew he was in a room in a house. He had been in rooms before.
Turning over on his stomach, he dangled his feet and legs off the side of the bed, and when he didn’t find the floor, he let himself slide until his feet touched something cold and hard. Quietly, he toddled over to the door and tried to reach the knob, rising up on his toes and stretching his arm over his head, but he couldn’t quite reach it. At that point, the two-year old gave into his age, sat down on the floor next to the door and began to softly cry.
Hoss had just emerged from his own room and was walking down the hall when he heard a quiet mewling. He listened at the door of the guest room and realized the whimpers were coming from near the floor. Squatting, he reached up to the door knob, turning it and slowly opened the door a crack.
There in the narrow opening were the two wet, brown eyes of a cherub’s face peeking out. Little Ezra had held his breath and now let it out in an almost silent sob.
“It’s alright little fella,” Hoss whispered. “Is your mama there with you?”
Ezra sucked in another quiet sob and shook his head, but the knowledge that his mother was gone, and that he was facing a stranger made him crinkle his nose and eyes. Unable to hold his fear in any longer, his eyes closed, his mouth opened and a child’s cry filled the hall.
Reaching in, Hoss took the child in his arms, and when he stood, Ezra slowly quieted, looking at the big man’s face, a kind, almost childlike face much like his own. He looked around them in amazement. He had never been this high up off the ground.
“How ‘bout you and me go find Mama?”
Moving his thumb to his mouth, Ezra nodded.
Adam and Rachel came through the front door just as Hoss reached the bottom of the stairs. When Ezra saw his mother, he flung himself forward, reaching as far as he could for her.
Rachel pulled him from Hoss’s arms as she glared up into his face.
“Now, Ma’am, don’t go getting’ mad at me. I heard this little fella cryin’ at the door. We was on our way to find you.”
Looking back at her child and wiping the tears from his face, she examined him closely. Satisfied he wasn’t hurt, she stepped around Hoss and started back up the stairs.
“Rachel?” called Adam. She stopped, turning her head slightly. “Breakfast will be ready in a few minutes.”
“I must dress him,” she replied and continued up the stairs.
“That Ezra’s a cute little thing, ain’t he?” said Hoss, watching Rachel carry the baby up the stairs and around the corner.
“He is; a cute little blonde baby.”
Looking back at Adam, Hoss furrowed his brow. “What’s his hair got to do with anything?”
“I have a feeling the fact that he’s light-skinned and blonde has something to do with why she left her reservation.”
“Why do you think that?” asked Hoss, walking toward the dining table.
“Think about it, Hoss. Wouldn’t most white people be suspicious of an Indian woman carrying around a white child, even if he just looks white?”
Hoss lowered his voice. “You don’t suppose she stole Ezra, do you?”
“No,” said Adam, wincing. “But what if someone accused her of stealing him?”
Rachel came back downstairs dressed more warmly than when she had arrived. Ezra, too, was dressed to withstand the outside cold with his feet and legs wrapped in soft leather, fastened by thin straps crisscrossing over his feet and around his legs, and wearing a brushed leather tunic with a fur-lined hood. Sitting quietly at the breakfast table, Rachel looked from her son to the window and back. Heavy snow had started to fall.
After watching her for a few minutes, Adam said, “We should wait until this snowstorm is over before we head up into Paiute country.”
"No," Rachel answered emphatically, but with worry on her face. "I do not wish to stay here another night." The others at the table looked up from their plates, and Rachel bowed her head. “It is not that I am not thankful to you for sharing your home and your meals with us, but I…I must go.”
Adam wanted to ask why she felt she had to go, but he knew she wouldn’t give him an answer, especially in front of the whole family. “Travel will be difficult in this storm.”
“I have traveled through worse. If you do not want to go, I will understand.”
“Then you’ll wait?” Adam asked hopefully.
“No. I will go alone.”
Exasperated, he countered, “You’re giving me no choice. You and Ezra are not leaving here alone in the middle of a snowstorm.”
“Then we will wait for you in the barn,” said Rachel, standing. “I must finish packing my cart.”
Lowering his forehead into his hand, Adam clenched his jaw and took several deep, calming breaths before he spoke again. By that time, Rachel was on her way to the front door. He stood, walking after her. “Rachel, you can’t pull that cart all the way to the Paiute encampment. It’ll get stuck in the snow. You’ll never make it.”
She stopped at the door with her hand on the latch. “You have done nothing but tell me what I cannot do. If this is all you can offer, I do not want your help.” Opening the front door, she stepped through.
“Rachel, wait,” he said, but too late. The door had already closed.
Opening the door of the barn a crack, Ben stood watching Ezra entertain himself with what looked like a handmade doll while his mother rolled blankets inside skins, lining the sides of her cart with the rolls and leaving a small hole in the middle where she could lay her son to keep him warm.
He thought that if anyone could survive in the howling wind and snow, it would probably be her if only by her sheer determination. But he knew that, in reality, while her resolve might keep her son warm, it would not do so for her for very long.
Stepping into the barn and pulling the door closed, he approached her. “Rachel, I can’t let you leave like this. You won’t make it in this storm.”
“I have no choice. I cannot stay here.”
“Of course you have a choice.”
When she turned, he saw a deep sadness in her eyes. “No, I do not.”
Gently taking her arms, he leaned down to see her downcast eyes. “Whatever you’re running from, we can help you.”
“Do you abide by the white man’s law?”
“Yes, of course I do.”
“Then you cannot help me.”
Both looked up when Adam hurried through the barn door, fighting a gust of wind to close it. Rachel turned quickly, hoping that Ben would forget their discussion. “I must finish packing.”
While Rachel continued loading her cart, Ben pulled Adam aside. “Adam, she’s running from the law. We have to tell Roy.”
“Well, Pa we know that. Just by leaving Indian Territory she’s running from the law.”
“It’s more than that. She said the reason we can’t help her is that we obey the law. It’s more than just her leaving the reservation. Something much worse must have happened before she left.”
Looking down, Adam slowly turned his eyes up to his father’s. “Pa, what’s the point in going to Roy? We don’t have anything to tell him.” He studied his father’s face as Ben digested what Adam said. “Let me try to talk to her…find out what happened.”
Nodding, Ben eventually agreed. “But Adam, if she’s done something more than leaving her reservation, we have to take her back to Roy.”
“Pa, what if she had no choice? What if she did something trying to defend herself or Ezra? You know as well as I the Indians have no real protections under the law, even on their own land. I just don’t see her doing anything violent except to protect them.”
Taking a deep breath, Ben said, “Well, there’s one thing for sure. Whatever white men did to her at home and during her travels, it was bad enough that she’s willing to subject her child to the elements rather than stay in a warm house where there’s plenty of food. She thinks she has no choice but to be alone. She’s hiding…or she’s hiding Ezra.”
“We are ready,” said Rachel, turning to face the two men.
Adam tested the weight of the cart. “This is pretty heavy. You’ve pulled this cart all the way from Indian Territory?”
“Yes. At first it was difficult, but after a time, I grew accustomed to it.”
Looking at the contents, Adam could see she had only necessities. In the bottom of the cart were her pot and pan, a small assortment of tools and knives, twine, a water jug, and wooden needles of all sizes. The rest were blankets and skins, some woven together. Reed baskets hung from the sides containing fruit, dried beef, meal and beans.
“Rachel, come with me, please. I want to show you something,” he said, stepping toward the door and motioning for her to do the same. When they were outside, Rachel pulled the hood of her tunic over her head to protect her from the biting wind and snow. “Do you honestly think you’ll get up in those mountains pulling that cart in this storm,” Adam asked, pointing to the white-tipped mountain range where Winnemucca’s people camped. “Look around you. There’s already several inches here. You can bet there’s several feet up there.”
“I cannot stay here,” she said, looking down and fidgeting.
Adam took her by her arms and spun her around, and though she fought him, he held on. “Who are you hiding from? Who are you hiding Ezra from?” He knew he had it right when she jerked her head up to look him in the eye. What he saw there was terror. She tried to pull away, but he tightened his grip, causing her arms to move in, her hands falling on his chest. Her eyes darted everywhere searching for a way to free herself, but Adam pulled her up on her toes, leaning in to see her eyes. “Rachel, no one is going to come here in this storm. You and Ezra are safe here.”
“How do I know you are not keeping me here until he comes?” she asked as she continued to fight him. “Others have tried.”
When Ben walked out of the barn with Ezra, Rachel froze, her eyes wide and fearful. “We can’t stay out here and argue about this,” Ben said. “Let’s go inside,” he ordered without stopping to give Ezra to Rachel, knowing full well she would follow him into the house as long as Ezra was in his arms.
Adam released her, and as Ben had expected, she followed closely behind him.
“My father sends his greetings,” said Adam.
“Why does Ben Cartwright not bring his own greetings?” asked Winnemucca, sitting with his back straight, his eyes wary.
“Because he is…protecting…someone at home.”
“If it is the Indian girl with the white child you speak of, then he is right to remain in his home.”
Adam crooked his jaw and looked into the fire. “How do you know about the girl and the child?”
“We watch always so we will know when bad things will come to us.”
Letting out a loud breath, Adam imagined how the rest of the conversation would go. “Winnemucca, why do you think she’s bad?”
“An Indian girl with a white child can only be bad. She will bring the white man’s anger upon us if she is here.”
“She is the child’s mother.”
“It does not matter. The father is a white man. She cannot stay here.”
Rachel put Ezra down for a nap, and then wandered about the main floor of the ranch house. Whether the Paiute allowed her to stay with them or not didn’t matter. If the Cartwrights knew where she was, it would only be a matter of time before he would find her.
Her mother had told her about the boy, Adam, and about his father many times. Daya had said the bracelets had bound their spirits together. Rachel, however, had never believed in the spirits to whom her mother had always prayed. She had long ago concluded that even if the spirits did exist, they did not protect her people well. When Rachel left, her mother had encouraged her to go west instead of trying to find the Cherokee who had been allowed to stay in the East; to seek out the man and boy who had helped them on the trail, but Rachel had begun to believe no one would help her after so many had said they would, and then betrayed her. All of them had listened to the white man’s lies. Why would they believe an Indian’s story? Even so, she had no way of knowing that these were the man and boy who had helped so many years ago. She had told the story, and they had not responded.
She studied the map of the Ponderosa on the wall as well as the maps spread out on the round table, detailing the location of all the outbuildings. Her only chance to be rid of Ezra’s father was to disappear completely, and if she could reach one of the far outbuildings, perhaps she could hide there until spring when she would make her way northwest. She had heard of a place where the land drops into the sea; land that was worthless to the white man.
She glanced at the old man who was sitting in a chair by the fireplace reading a book, then quietly climbed the stairs and went to the room where Ezra was sleeping. Collecting the few belongings she had brought into the house, she dressed Ezra in warm clothes, and then lifted him into her arms. She went back to the top of the stairs, watching and waiting.
He lifted his cup, frowned, then sat his book aside and stood, walking into the kitchen.
Rachel silently trotted down the stairs and out the front door to the barn. There, she laid out the skins that were stitched together, placing only what she couldn’t do without in the middle, then closed and bound the skins with leather straps. She connected more straps to those that held the skins closed, fashioning straps to go around her shoulders. Taking a pair of leather, fur lined boots from her cart, she pulled them over her moccasins. Next, she took a blanket and wrapped it around her shoulders, tying it here and there to leave a secure sling in front where she sat Ezra and wrapped the loose ends of the blanket around him. Pulling the straps of the pack she had made over her shoulders, she walked to the barn door and peered out. Nothing stirred. She closed the front door and left through the smaller side door, stealing around the back of the barn and across the road into the woods.
When Adam came through the door, Ben looked up from his book, but waited until Adam had shed his hat, coat and gun. He couldn’t help but notice the scowl of disappointment on Adam’s face.
Placing his hands on his hips, Adam bowed his head and took a deep breath before he entered the sitting area and sat heavily on the hearth. “Winnemucca knew why I was there before I opened my mouth. It seems his people watch and listen for anything that might bring them trouble.”
“He said ‘no’.”
“He did.” Looking around the room, Adam asked, “Where is she?”
Ben nodded toward the stairs. “She’s upstairs with Ezra.”
Standing, Adam made his way to the stairs and proceeded up. “I might as well get this over with. Maybe now she won’t be so bent on leaving.” He tapped on the door of the guest room, and when he got no response, he eased the door open, eventually pushing it open wide. Looking around the room, he tightened his lips into a line, and then hurried down the hall, down the stairs and continued purposefully toward the front door. “She’s not there, and Ezra and all their things are gone.” He flung the front door open and ran across the yard, yanking the barn door open. Ben stepped into the barn as Adam went through her cart, taking note of all the things that were missing.
Looking back at his father, he spun on his heel, heading back to the house with Ben close behind him. “What are you doing?” asked Ben.
“I’m going to find her.”
Ben’s shoulders slumped, and he placed a hand on Adam’s arm. “Adam…perhaps it’s time to stop trying. She’s made it clear she doesn’t want our help.”
Taking the bracelet out of his pocket, he pulled the sliding leather far enough apart to get it over his hand, and then pulled it tight on his wrist. “Maybe we haven’t told her what she needs to hear.”
“It’ll be dark soon. You’ll never find her trail.”
Clenching his teeth so that the muscles of his jaw flexed, Adam breathed heavily through his nose. He knew his father was right. He’d never find her in the dark.
Traveling through the lower regions of the Ponderosa was easy for Rachel. Her legs, arms and back were strong after pulling her cart over a thousand miles to find the only white men should thought could help her. But once her path began to rise in elevation, she struggled in the deeper snow. She fell frequently, stepping into holes where the snow had covered bushes or snags of downed tree limbs. Even so, she determinedly continued.
She did not know, however, that a man had seen her from a distance, and was making his way to the other side of a highland valley where he had seen her disappear into the mountains.
Ben sat at his desk, poring over his ledger. Suddenly, he slammed the book closed and leaned back in his chair, thinking he never should have allowed Rachel to leave. He had known she still wanted to go. He should have watched her more closely.
Hearing a horse come into the yard, he stood and walked quickly to the door. When he opened the door, Adam stepped into the house and passed him. After looking outside, Ben turned back. “She’s not with you? Why are you back?”
“I lost the trail a couple of miles out. I’m gonna need Joe and Hoss’s help to track her. I know she’s heading in a general northwest direction, but we’ll have to spread out to cover the area.”
“She can’t have gotten far on foot.”
“We need to find her soon. From the looks of the clouds to the west, the storm we had night before last was a little duster compared to the one that’s coming our way.”
Ben stood with his hands on his hips, nodding. “I’ll send one of the men out to the herd to bring them back. You best pack some supplies. If that storm arrives before you find her, you’ll have to make the best of it.”
Adam started toward the kitchen, but turned back at a knock on the door. Ben turned and opened it. “Yes?”
The man was Ben’s height and approximate age with wisps of gray at his temples and a graying mustache. “Are you Ben Cartwright?”
Ben’s brow furrowed. The man looked familiar, but he couldn’t immediately place him. “Yes, I am.”
Extending his hand, the man introduced himself. “I’m James McWhorton; Captain James McWhorton, retired.”
Adam recognized the man before Ben did. Reaching in front of Ben, Adam shook the man’s hand. “I’m Adam. You’ve been following Rachel.”
McWhorton looked Adam up and down. “You and Rachel both grew up, didn’t you?” he said, grinning.
A smile took over Ben’s face. “Well, I didn’t recognize you,” he said, taking McWhorton’s hand and shaking it warmly. “Please, come in.”
“It seems we’ve both grown older, Mr. Cartwright.”
Ben motioned toward the sitting area. McWhorton sat on the settee and Adam on the hearth while Ben stood. “I can only assume you’re here because of Rachel.”
“It seems that young lady keeps bringing us together. Is she here?”
Taking a deep breath, Ben answered, “No. She was, but she left.”
“I’m not surprised. It’s been the same since she left Indian Territory. I’m always one step behind her.”
Sitting in the leather chair next to the settee, Ben crossed his legs and gave McWhorton a serious look. “Are you who she’s running from?”
“No, Mr. Cartwright. It’s my son who she’s running from. He’s the father of her child, and he wants her and the child back. She’s afraid he’ll take the child away. I’m surprised you haven’t seen him. He was ahead of me, and as easy as it was for me to find where she was from your sheriff in Virginia City, I would have thought he’d have come here first.”
“Strange that he didn’t come here,” commented Adam, looking sideways at McWhorton.
“Yes, well, he’s anxious to find her.”
Adam looked at his father and saw the same suspicious concern there that he was feeling.
“So you have a son. And you’re retired,” said Ben.
“Yes. I resigned not long after my promotion to captain. I had lost my taste for what I was being asked to do in Indian Territory. I own a good-sized spread in Kansas that borders Cherokee lands in Indian Territory.”
“And your son?”
“He helps run the ranch. He wanted to marry Rachel when he found she was carrying a child, but soon after the child was born, she up and left.”
“Something must have driven her from her home,” said Adam, looking at McWhorton with furrowed brows.
McWhorton shifted uncomfortably. “What are you implying, Adam?”
“Rachel is terrified of something; or rather someone.”
“Well, I don’t know who that could be. My son loves her. She used to go everywhere with him.”
Adam abruptly stood. “If you’ll excuse me, I have some…work…to do.” Leaving through the front door, he went into the bunkhouse and asked a ranch hand to ride out to the herd and bring Joe and Hoss back. “Tell them to wait for me in the barn.”
He went back in through the kitchen and gathered supplies. By the time he entered the barn with everything they’d need for several days, Joe and Hoss were waiting for him. Adam didn’t wait for pleasantries. “Rachel’s heading northwest, and Ezra’s father is already looking for her. We have to get to her before he does.”
“That little gal’s in trouble, ain’t she?” Hoss asked, recognizing the determined look on Adam’s face.
“This man’s father is in the house thinking his son wants to take her and Ezra back home. But based on how frightened she is, I have a feeling he’s not planning to take Rachel back. Just Ezra.”
Joe gritted his teeth. “If he tries to take Ezra, she’ll fight him.”
“That’s right, Joe. That’s why we have to find her first.”
“Tell me, Mr. McWhorton; how is Daya,” asked Ben, sipping his coffee.
“I must say, Mr. Cartwright, your cook certainly makes an excellent cup of coffee.” He drank, savoring the flavor for a moment. “Daya is one of those who refuses to accept white ways. We know at one time she did in Georgia. But she says it left her with nothing before. Why do it again?”
“She has a point. I wonder how long it will be before whites want the land the Cherokee have now.”
“That’s one reason I resigned. We were to immerse them in white society in Indian Territory so that at some point, you wouldn’t know the Indians from the whites. There were those who resisted and still do. Daya is one of them, and she raised Ahyoka that way even though Ahyoka has white features. And then there’s Ezra. The law on the reservation says that whites may adopt any Indian child they choose even if the Indian parents object. The government feels the easiest way to transition the Cherokee away from their customs is to raise the children as white. They learn to speak English instead of their native tongue, they dress like white children and they go to white schools. In only a generation, the ways of the Cherokee would all but be forgotten.” McWhorton sipped his coffee. “Whites don’t usually want an Indian child to raise as their own, but several white couples want to adopt Ezra. The army sent me here rather than sending an officer because they thought I could reason Rachel back to Indian Territory. As far as they’re concerned, she’s a fugitive.”
Ben stopped just before he took another sip, giving McWhorton a harsh gaze. “So you’re here to take Rachel and Ezra back so the law can take Ezra away from her?”
“I came because my son asked for my help. He felt I would be better able than he to find help along the way…to find her. He wants Rachel and Ezra back. He intends to raise Ezra.”
Shaking his head, Ben sat his coffee cup in the saucer on the table with a loud clatter. “That girl is terrified of being found. There has to be more to it than that.”
Leaning forward, McWhorton placed his cup on the table and stood. “I assure you, Mr. Cartwright. There is no more to this than the ideas Daya has put in Rachel’s head all these years.”
The three brothers spread out at the point that Adam had initially lost the trail. They came together again at the high valley in the northwest reaches of Ponderosa land.
“Adam, the only way outta here heading northwest is up through those crags up there,” said Hoss, pointing to high rough-looking precipices on the other side of the valley. “I don’t know why anyone would wanna go that way.”
“She went that way because it’ll be easy for her to disappear up there. There’s no easy way through, so finding the route she took is anyone’s guess,” said Adam.
Looking intently at one point on the other side of the valley, Joe countered, “Unless someone saw which way she went.”
Adam looked back at him. “What do you see, Joe?”
“I see a man on a horse picking his way through the boulders up that middle gully.”
Hoss shook his head. “Well, he ain’t gonna git very far. Sun’s settin’.”
“There’s a creek on the other side of the valley at the base of those mountains,” said Adam. “We’ll make camp there and start again at first light.” The three men rode down into the valley just as the sun set, making it to the other side in the light of a full moon.
Just as the sun was setting, Rachel stopped and studied the rocky trail above her, looking for an overhang to make her shelter. The last glint of the sun erased a shadow in the cleft of rock, revealing a ledge with an overhang deep within the space between two rock faces where the wind would be deflected. Rachel moved the pack on her back, tying it from side to side. She folded and tied the blanket into the shape of a papoose and moved Ezra to her back above the pack. Using both hands to pull herself up the steep rocks, she made it to the ledge just as the last light faded. Dropping the pack off her back onto the ledge, her first order of business was to build a fire, not only for light, but to prepare and cook the small rabbit she had caught on their way across the valley. Stunted trees and manzanita grew out of the rock around her, so finding firewood was easy. Soon, Rachel had the shelter assembled, her skins and blankets deep underneath the overhang, and a fire glowing.
Clouds slowly moved over the moon, causing Adam to look up into the darkness just as the first flakes of snow from the leading edge of the storm began to fall. He blew warm breath into his hands before he reached toward the fire and poured himself another cup of hot coffee.
“Joe, come help me with the canvas,” said Hoss. “We need to put up the lean-to before we can’t see nothing but white.”
“You need help?” asked Adam.
“No, Older Brother,” said Hoss. “This is a two-man job. You need to be concentratin’ on how we’re gonna get up there in a foot or two of snow.”
“We’re not going up that way.”
Joe and Hoss both stopped pulling the canvas out of the gunny sack in which it was packed. “Just how do you propose to get to Rachel before McWhorton’s son does?”
“Joe, I figure he won’t have an easy time going up those rocks in the snow, and I’m betting that Rachel is already up to the ledge trail that’ll take her right around to the old glacier valley on the other side.”
“That still doesn’t explain how we’re gonna get to her.”
“You know, Joe, if you’d take some time to ride the outskirts of the Ponderosa, you’d know the trails. We’ll follow this creek around. There’s a low pass around the bend where there’s a burro trail that leads up to that valley. It’ll still be hard going. There’s nothing but rock up there, but that trail will be a lot easier than climbing straight up.”
Pulling the rest of the canvas out of the sack, Hoss handed Joe one corner and stretched the cover out. “Now that the brains of this outfit’s finished his work, me and you need to get this canvas up before the ground gets covered with snow.”
McWhorton was up before first light, having spent most of the night cold and wet. He’d been ill-prepared for the blizzard that dumped two feet of snow on top of him. It put him in an even worse mood than he had been in the day before. He’d teach her a thing or two when he caught up to her just for making him come after her in this god-forsaken place. Then again, it really didn’t make any difference. He’d take care of her once and for all, and no one would even miss her. No one that mattered anyway.
He’d been able to avoid at least some of the snow by covering a wide manzanita bush with a blanket and making a place to lie down underneath by breaking off the lower branches. He crawled out from under the bush only to be met by the sting of wind-driven snow in his face. Even with the light of day upon him, the storm blotted out most of it, leaving only a blue-gray dimness. Looking up in the direction Rachel had climbed, he knew his horse would be no use to him up this trail, so he left the animal tied. Hopefully, it wouldn’t be long before he got what he came for and could finally go back home with his pot of gold.
Rachel wished she could stay where she was until the storm blew itself out. But she had seen the distant glow of a fire last night at the edge of the valley below her and knew she had to move or be caught. She prepared a meager breakfast for Ezra and herself; the leftovers of the rabbit from last night along with some fruit and water. Exploring the area around the ledge, she discovered that the ledge was actually a wide spot in a fairly flat trail that led over the mountain. She broke camp, wearing the pack on her back again with little Ezra in the blanket in front of her, and trudged through the snow, testing each step before she applied her weight.
Joe and Hoss roused to the smell of coffee. Adam used dry wood from the night before he had stored at his feet underneath the lean-to to build a fire. With the three men sleeping so close together, they stayed warm despite the blizzard howling around them. While Adam prepared a breakfast of bacon and fried potatoes, Hoss and Joe dismantled the lean-to, packing the canvas back into the gunny sack. By the time they had the horses saddled and ready to go, their hot coffee and breakfast was ready.
No one said a word this morning, all of them sharing the same sense of dread that whatever happened to Rachel and Ezra, it was going to occur today. They quietly packed away the tin breakfast dishes, mounted and followed the creek with Adam in the lead.
It took them longer than Adam would have liked to reach the burro trail. The wind-driven snow made it difficult to see where they were going and made the horses skittish. Tying the beasts on the lee side of a wall of rock, the three men started up the trail, wary of the snowdrifts and slippery rocks on the way.
The wind on this side of the mountain drove the falling snow almost horizontal. Pulling up the corner of the blanket that covered Ezra, she held it to her face as she slowly made her way through the deep snow. When she got to the boulder, she crouched behind it to catch her breath and check on her child. Snow swirled around the boulder, but that which was coming behind the big rock no longer pelted them like needles, but rather floated around them. Rachel had doubled the blanket covering Ezra when they left their camp. Pulling off her leather mittens, she reached down inside the blanket and smiled. The baby was warm and dry.
Jerking her head to the right, Rachel couldn’t make out the face of the man standing not three feet away from her because of the heavy snow. She didn’t need to see him to know who he was. Wrapping Ezra up in the blanket, she deposited him in the snow next to the boulder, and then turned, pulling her knife from its sheath.
McWhorton bellowed, dropping a blanket-wrapped Ezra into the snow. He turned and untied a whip from his belt, unrolling it.
Adam, Hoss and Joe had just arrived at the top of the trail, and hearing the scream of a child, they ran blind through the snow toward the sound.
McWhorton had drawn the whip back and cracked it over Rachel’s shoulder. She curled away while he continued to whip her, shredding the back of her shirt, and streaking her back with bloody gashes. She try to crawl away, but he followed, whipping her over and over, until he was stopped by a man flying through the air at him, bringing him down so hard the snow offered no cushion.
Hoss had almost stumbled over Ezra, and now had the baby in his arms. While Adam pelted McWhorton with one blow after another, Joe reached Rachel and carried her back to the boulder.
As Joe fetched her tunic and boots, Hoss joined them with Ezra, placing him next to Rachel and removing his jacket to cover them. Then he saw something high up on the outside of her thigh that made him swallow hard.
“Joe, you best be pulling Adam offa that fella before he beats him to death.”
Running to the sound of grunting, Joe reached Adam just as Adam drew his arm back, stopping it’s forward progress. “Adam! That’s enough!”
Jumping to his feet, Adam jerked his arm away from Joe, grabbing Joe by the shirt collar, breathing as heavy as an angry bull. He closed his eyes for a moment and moved his hands to Joe’s shoulders. When Adam opened his eyes, he looked apologetically at Joe, patting his face with his hand until Joe’s mouth formed a slow smile. “Watch him, Joe. Don’t let him get away.”
Squinting in the snow, Adam found the dark shape of the boulder and made his way over. “Hoss, how is she?”
“She’s gonna be hurtin’ for awhile, but she’ll be alright.” Hoss dropped his eyes. “Adam, you oughta see somethin’. With the way that fella was beatin’ her, it explains a lot of things.”
Adam sucked in a breath. “He did that to you?”
Pushing her skirt back down, she nodded. “He said it was his right; that I was his property; that a man has the right to mark his property.”
Looking around him, Adam turned back to Hoss. “We’ve got to get them off this mountain. Get her tunic and boots back on her, and get her and Ezra ready to leave. I’ll be back in a minute to help.”
Adam ran back over to Joe, carrying Rachel’s pack and looking through it. Finding twine, he passed it to Joe. “See if you can get his hands tied with this. We’ll be leaving as soon as Rachel and Ezra are ready.”
“What about my back?” yelled McWhorton, struggling to his feet as Joe pulled him up. “That haybag put a knife in my back!”
Adam turned him around, looking at the wound in his back, and then jerked him forward again. “You’re lucky. She only missed her mark by an inch. If you hadn’t already beaten her near to death when she threw it, you’d be nothing but a limp bag of bones.”
Hiking down the burro trail was more difficult going down, not only because of the additional snow, but also because of the extra burden the Cartwrights carried. McWhorton was able to walk to the trail at the top, but while going down his strength began to fade due to loss of blood and the beating Adam had given him. Hoss had to shore him up. Even though Rachel had been weakened at the hand of McWhorton, she refused to entrust Ezra to anyone, so Adam and Joe walked behind and in front of her ready to catch her if she fell backward or slipped forward.
When they got to the horses, Adam found a place in the rocks sheltered from the majority of the snow and wind where Rachel could rest and tend to Ezra. Joe rode ahead to retrieve McWhorton’s horse.
Using supplies from his saddlebags, Hoss was able to stop the bleeding from the knife wound in McWhorton’s back and was cleaning the gashes on Rachel’s back by the time Joe arrived with the horse.
Joe had to lean in against Adam’s shoulder to be heard over the wind whistling through the pass. “What now?”
Turning his mouth to Joe’s ear, Adam answered, “We can’t camp here, and there are no shacks this far west. We have to keep going. Maybe we can make it to one of the lower shacks.”
“Will they make it?” asked Joe, nodding toward McWhorton, Rachel and Ezra.
Turning back to look at McWhorton who had pulled his coat tight around him and crouched behind a boulder, then turning the other way to look over at Rachel, he replied, “They have to. McWhorton’s going to Roy for attempted murder, and his father needs to see what he did to Rachel. Besides that, I’m not about to let Rachel or Ezra die out here after she’s come this far to get away from him. She’s almost made it. Get McWhorton on his horse. Rachel rides with me.”
Looking over Rachel’s shoulder, Adam watched her adjust and readjust the blanket surrounding Ezra, holding him tight against her and making sure he was warm. They stopped only a few times. Adam pulled an apple out of his saddlebag, handing it and his pocket knife to Rachel who cut it into small pieces for Ezra. Reaching in again, he pulled out dried beef for himself and Rachel.
By late afternoon, Adam knew they wouldn’t make it back to the ranch. He guided them to a line shack only a half a day away from home just before sunset. While Adam got Rachel and Ezra inside and comfortable on the single cot, Joe shoved McWhorton inside.
“Sit down. You can bed down there,” ordered Joe, pointing to a spot on the floor away from the fire.
“Why can’t I lay over there by the fireplace?”
“You’re staying as far away from Rachel as I can keep you,” he said, giving McWhorton a slight shove. “Now, sit down.”
Outside, Hoss lay on his belly, reaching up under the shack where extra firewood was stored for the winter. When he unlatched the door, it swung open from the force of the wind, allowing sheets of snow to accompany Hoss inside.
Adam pushed the door closed behind him and latched it, then looked at the wood in Hoss’ arms. “With the wood already inside, that should last us through the night.”
Dumping the load he carried on the floor next to the fireplace, Hoss began to build a fire, then went back outside to take care of the horses while Adam pulled cans out of an old cabinet along with a slab of salt-packed, cured bacon and started supper. Soon, everyone was settled where they’d be sleeping, eating their meal.
Afterwards, Hoss sat on the cot next to Rachel. “Miss Rachel, I need to take a look at your back…to make sure you’re not bleeding again.”
“It’ll be easier if you don’t have to hold on to him. We’ll be right over there,” said Adam, holding his hands out for Ezra and nodding to the side wall steps away from the cot where he had laid out his bedroll.
Rachel looked up at him with distrust in her eyes at first, but then she looked from Joe to Hoss and back to Adam, and smiled slightly, relaxing her hold on Ezra so Adam could take him.
“Ma’am, this ain’t the first time he’s whipped you, is it?” asked Hoss, busying himself with cleaning her wounds and changing her bandages. Rachel shook her head. “Well, don’t you worry about nothin’. That fella ain’t gonna lay a hand on you ever again. We’ll see to it.”
Ezra lay back against Adam’s chest when Adam gave him a piece of dried beef to suck on. Lounging on his blanket with his back against the wall, Joe sat up, crossing his legs. “He sure is a quiet little fella. He hardly made a sound coming down off that mountain.”
“Rachel’s taught him to be quiet. I imagine that’s one reason they made it this far. He didn’t give them away when they had to hide,” said Adam, looking down at the baby and wrinkling his nose. Ezra laughed. “One thing’s certain. Neither one of them will survive if Ezra’s taken away.” Looking around the room and seeing everyone else lying down, Adam took Ezra back to Rachel and covered them both with extra blankets. He turned back to Joe. “Get some sleep. I’ll take first watch.”
McWhorton scowled. “Afraid I’ll get away?”
“I’m not giving you the opportunity. This time tomorrow, you’ll be in the Virginia City jail.”
“For what? Ain’t no law against beatin’ a squaw.”
“You didn’t just beat her. You tried to kill her. Maybe there’s no law against attempted murder of an Indian where you come from. Or maybe the Army just turns a blind eye. But here, you won’t get away with it.”
“You have no idea who you’re dealing with. My Pa’ll have me out of that jail in a day. She ain’t gonna press no charges.”
“She doesn’t have to. There are three witnesses against you. And after we show your father what you’ve been doing to her, I don’t think he’ll be so willing to get you out.”
“You don’t know my Pa.”
“Did you know your father risked his commission to save Rachel and her mother twenty-five years ago?” McWhorton looked skeptically up to Adam’s face. “I think it’s you who doesn’t know your father,” said Adam.
McWhorton looked at Adam’s hand, seeing a piece of the bracelet just peeking out from under his jacket sleeve. “You the one she kept babbling about…the boy who helped them?”
Chuckling, McWhorton said, “And all this time, I thought she and her ma was loco.”
When horses rode into the yard, James McWhorton and Ben rushed out the door. Mr. McWhorton saw Rachel and Ezra first. “Thank God you’re alright.”
“She’s not alright,” said Adam. “Hoss, tell one of the men to ride into town for Doc Martin.”
In the meantime, Joe was helping McWhorton’s son off his horse. His son’s face and bent posture caught his father’s attention. “What’s the meaning of this?”
“I’ll tell you what it means,” said Adam, stepping down off the back of his horse, his nostrils flared, and his anger barely under control. “I don’t know why you think your son wanted both Rachel and Ezra back or that he loves her. When he found her, he beat her and left her to freeze to death. All he wanted was Ezra.”
Mr. McWhorton looked at his son. “Is that true?”
“Of course it’s not, Pa. She stabbed me. I was defending myself.”
Hoss had already helped Rachel and Ezra down, and now they stood next to Adam. Turning, Adam said in a gentle voice, “Rachel, we have to show him your back.”
She passed Ezra to Hoss and turned, pulling off her tunic. When McWhorton saw her shredded blouse and wounds, he sucked in a breath, and then walked to her, turning her back around. Taking her chin in his hand, he turned her head from one side to the other, studying the cuts and bruises on her face. “Rachel, did Jim do this to you?” Glancing at him, she nodded and looked away.
“That’s not all he’s done to her.” Turning her so that her back was to McWhorton and holding her against him, Adam raised her skirt to reveal the letters ‘MW’ branded into her thigh.
“When did this happen?” McWhorton asked, turning away, shock written on his face.
She turned back to face McWhorton, but looked away again as a tear rolled down her face. “I did not want to go on the cattle drives and roundups with him. He made me go. He forced himself on me. One day at the roundup, he and the others were drunk. I thought I could get away, but he roped me and pulled me by the fire. He had the other men hold me like one of the calves.” She shuddered, remembering the pain. “After Ezra was born, he came to take him, so I ran.”
Looking threateningly toward his son, McWhorton continued. “Why didn’t you tell the commanding officer?”
“When my people tell bad things about whites, they have accidents or disappear.” McWhorton dropped his hands to his sides, closed his eyes and let his head fall back. “And you didn’t feel you could come to me because he’s my son.” He nodded and continued. “Rachel, I understand why you ran, but under the law Ezra belongs to him,” said McWhorton.
When she met McWhorton’s eyes, he could see the rage boiling in her. “He did not want Ezra for himself,” she spat. “There were three whites who wanted Ezra. He was going to give him to the white who could pay the most.” Letting her shoulders slump, she said defeatedly, “It does not matter. Even now, the law will decide which of the whites will take Ezra. That is why I ran.”
McWhorton glanced over his shoulder at Ben. “It’s true. There are three couples who want to adopt Ezra; two from Texas and one from Kansas, all childless. Because Ezra looks white, they felt they could keep his heritage hidden from those who would criticize them for adopting an Indian child. My son told me he wanted Ezra and Rachel, and that’s why I’ve been following her.” He glared back at his son. “Had I known what you were doing and what you planned to do, I would never have helped you,” he said angrily. “I spent my entire career fighting to save these people. And now I find that my own son is as bad as the worst of those who would destroy them.”
Young McWhorton glanced over at Adam before he addressed his father. “Pa, she’s just a squaw.”
McWhorton looked sadly at his son. “I don’t know where I went wrong. These are a gentle people, and as long as I can remember, they’ve had nothing but sorrow. Why do you hate them so?”
At first, Jim McWhorton looked at his father in disbelief, but that shortly gave way to anger. “When Ma needed help, you were always running off to help the Indians. They’re just damned Indians. They’re no better than the Irish and the Chinese who come here to take our lands.”
McWhorton turned away from his son, his face twisted with disgust and shame. When he turned back around, he swung his arm, backhanding the younger man, sending him to the ground. “Listen to yourself! Listen to what you’re saying!” he yelled. “You’re comparing the Indians to the immigrants who come here? Well let me tell you, son, you and the rest of us are the immigrants invading their lands.” He started to walk away and turned back. “And your mother helped me help them when we settled in Indian Territory. When something was wrong, she insisted that I go. She only stayed behind because of you.”
Adam had taken Rachel’s hand and drew her away from everyone else in the yard. Holding her arms, he said quietly, “Rachel, I need you to trust me.”
Reaching for her caused his sleeve to move up his arm, exposing the bracelet. She stared at it for a moment, and then looked up into Adam’s eyes. “You are the one my mother spoke of. You are the little boy who helped us.” She thought for a moment. It was as her mother had said; the spirits had brought them together. “I will…trust…you,” she said, tentatively.
“Then we have to ride into town,” he said, helping her back up on the horse. “Pa,” he called. “We’ll be back.”
Stepping forward, Ben replied, “A…Adam! Where are you going?”
“I’ll explain it all when we get back.” Adam turned the horse and galloped away.
“You can’t let him take her,” yelled the younger McWhorton. “He’s gonna help her get away.”
Mr. McWhorton turned back to Ben. “Mr. Cartwright, Rachel is right. With all my son has done, those people still have the legal right to adopt Ezra. The army won’t forget that. If he’s helping her escape, the army will arrest him.”
Turning back to McWhorton, Ben took a deep breath and stood rigid. “My son is an honest man. He said they’d be back.” Pointing at McWhorton, Ben asked, “Why aren’t you claiming Ezra? You have that right.”
Removing his hat and running his hand across his forehead, McWhorton answered, “I’m afraid the army doesn’t see it that way. Even though Ezra is my grandson, I’m a single man. My wife died several years ago. Add to that the fact that because I’m retired army, they don’t want to be seen as finding ways around their own laws. The idea behind the adoption law is to integrate these children into white society. They know I wouldn’t do that. Ezra would stay with Rachel, and she would raise him as a Cherokee.” Spinning around to his son, he spoke with contempt in his voice. “But you… you will never see Ezra again…or Rachel. I’ll see to that.”
Joe stepped forward. “There’s still a matter of attempted murder.”
Standing behind Joe, Hoss added, “All three of us seen what he did to her.”
Turning to Ben, James said, “We’ll wait for Adam to return. Then I’ll ride with you when you take Jim to your sheriff. He will be judged under whatever laws you have here dealing with the Indians. Tribal laws protected Rachel while she was in Indian Territory. But because she left her tribe, she is no longer protected by those laws.”
When Adam, Rachel and Ezra reached town, Adam stopped Dr. Martin as he was leaving for the Ponderosa and took Rachel to his office first. While the doctor was treating her wounds, he went to see Roy. As Adam and Rachel mounted the steps at the courthouse, Sheriff Coffee rode out of town alongside Dr. Martin in his buggy.
Ben opened the front door of the house just as Dr. Martin and Sheriff Coffee stepped onto the porch. “Paul, Roy, thanks for coming out.”
“I understand I have a patient with a knife wound,” said Paul. Ben pointed to Jim McWhorton, sitting in the chair next to the fireplace.
As Paul went into the sitting room, Ben said to Roy. “He’s also the accused.”
“Adam already told me what happened, but I’m still gonna have to hear it from Hoss and Little Joe.”
“Go right ahead,” said Ben, motioning toward the sitting room.
“Young man, I need to stitch that wound up,” Paul said, scrutinizing McWhorton’s back. “Ben, is there a room where I can work?”
“Yes, you can use the guest room down here.” While Paul guided young McWhorton to the room, Roy sat down in front of Hoss and Joe and listened to their stories. Before they finished telling their versions, Adam came in carrying Ezra with Rachel at his side.
“Adam, I’m glad you’re here,” said Roy, standing and tenting his fingers together. “I can take this fella to jail on the charge of attempted murder, but I can’t guarantee the territorial judge won’t throw it out. She was running from the law. But it shouldn’t take too long to find out. The judge is in town.”
Paul and his patient emerged from the guest room just as Roy had spoken those words. Young McWhorton chuckled, “I told you they wouldn’t do nothin’ to me. She is an Indian, after all.”
Adam passed Ezra to Hoss who took the little boy to the hearth, sat down and entertained him while Adam went into the study area and took a book off the shelf. “He won’t throw it out,” said Adam.
Squinting and raising his chin, Roy asked, “How you figure?”
“We just came from the courthouse,” said Adam, flipping through the pages of the book. “We spoke to the territorial judge, and he suggested I look something up and read it to you if you had any doubt.”
“Oh?” said Roy. “And what was that?”
Opening the book wide, Adam explained, “The judge told me to look up the Dred Scott Decision. I didn’t understand at first because the Dred Scott Decision dealt with the question of the rights of slaves, not Indians. I understand now,” he said, holding up the book. “As part of that decision, it appears that Chief Justice Taney defined the rights of Native Americans because some of them were held as slaves as well. Justice Taney said, ‘Because Native Americans are a free and independent people they can without doubt, like the subjects of any other foreign Government, be naturalized by the authority of Congress, and become citizens of a State, and of the United States; and if an individual should leave his nation or tribe, and take up his abode among the white population, he would be entitled to all the rights and privileges which would belong to an emigrant from any other foreign people.’ Rachel has chosen to stay here with Ezra; to live on our land…which means this judgment applies to her.”
Roy smiled. “Well, that’s enough for me. James McWhorton, Jr., I’m arresting you for the attempted murder of Miss Rachel Starr. Let’s go.”
“What a minute,” said Jim nervously. “Pa, you ain’t gonna let him take me, are you?”
“You broke the law, son. You have to answer to it.”
Roy put the handcuffs on him. “What kind of father are you choosing an Indian over your own son?”
His father snorted and shook his head. “I didn’t make the choice. The law did.”
“Hey Roy, he’s liable to try and run. You want some company?” asked Joe.
“That’s mighty nice of you, Little Joe. I wouldn’t mind the comp’ny at all.”
“Wait, Sheriff, before you go…” said Mr. McWhorton. “There’s still the issue with Ezra. He has to go back to Indian Territory for adoption.”
“No, he doesn’t.” Everyone turned to look at Adam who handed McWhorton a piece of paper. “He’s already been adopted.” Ben cast his eyes down and smiled, as did Hoss and Joe.
“And where does such an act leave Rachel?” asked McWhorton. “She’s still a fugitive. She has to go back.”
“I don’t think so. She’s got two things going for her; Justice Taney’s definition of her rights and the precedent of the Oconoluftee Cherokee.”
“I don’t understand. What have they got to do with it?”
The Oconoluftee Cherokee were granted permission to stay in the Qualla Boundary because a white man owned their land and allowed them to live on it.” Adam looked at his father. “A white man owns this land and can allow Rachel to live on it.”
Everyone turned to Ben. “Permission granted,” he said with a wide grin.
The trial of James McWhorton, Jr. lasted only a few hours. After hearing the details of Rachel’s injuries from Dr. Martin and the accounts given by the Cartwright boys, the jury members’ minds were made up before they entered the jury room. The younger McWhorton was sentenced to twenty years in the territorial prison.
Rachel had recovered enough to insist on building a shelter where she and Ezra would live. While tying the last of the skins to the frame of her hut, Adam asked, “Are you sure you wouldn’t rather stay at the house. We still have the worst part of winter ahead of us.”
Passing up a leather strap, Rachel replied, “I would not be comfortable in the big house for very long, and Ezra must learn how to survive in all kinds of weather.”
“Isn’t he a little young?”
“No, he is not. If you will remember, I was born and traveled as an infant in bad weather.”
Pushing his bottom lip up and nodding, Adam said, “So you did.”
As Adam stepped down off the stump he’d been standing on, James McWhorton rode into Rachel’s camp. “Rachel, Adam, I wanted to say goodbye. I’m heading back to Indian Territory.” Dismounting his horse, he went to Rachel and took her hands in his. “I promise you, I’ll make certain the correct authorities know what happened to you and the fears you have for your people.”
“Mr. McWhorton, would you tell my mother what has happened…tell her she is welcome here if she wants to come live with us…if that is alright with Mr. Cartwright,” she said, glancing up at Adam.
“Pa will be happy to see Daya here,” answered Adam, smiling.
McWhorton tipped his hat and mounted his horse. “If Daya wants to come, I’ll see that she gets here safely. Be happy, Rachel. Take good care of my grandson.” Turning his horse, he rode away.
Adam sat down by the fire and poured a cup of coffee. “Rachel, would you sit with me and talk?” She set the trap she had been making on the ground and moved next to the fire. “You do realize that people will give Ezra a hard time as an Indian because he looks white, don’t you?”
Looking into the fire, she took her time answering. “I will teach Ezra the ways of our people. Not the white ways before Tio-va-sa, but the traditional ways…the old ways.” Looking up into Adam’s eyes, she continued. “His father will teach him the ways of the whites because Ezra is both Indian and white. Then, when it is time, he can decide which path he chooses to follow.”
Adam simply nodded and smiled. He couldn’t argue her logic, and he was happy that she had referred to him as Ezra’s father. “Well, it’s getting close to dinnertime.” Standing and looking around him, he said, “There’s still a lot to do, and we haven’t brought out many supplies. Why don’t you come to the house for dinner tonight?” Raising his eyebrows, he added, “Please,” with a charming smile.
She smiled timidly and nodded. “We will be there soon.”
Even though it was cold outside, Adam sat at the table on the front porch. Joe rode in from checking the herd and tied Cochise to the hitching rail. He stopped in front of Adam with his brows furrowed. “What are you doing out here in the cold?”
Adam nodded toward Rachel who had just walked into the yard, carrying Ezra. “She Brought Happiness.”
Joe glanced back and chuckled, “What?”
“Ahyoka means She Brought Happiness. Her mother said when Ahyoka was born she was a light to her people…a beacon in the darkest time of all memory…a sign that her people would not perish, but would continue on into the future. And tonight, she brought happiness again.” Joe looked at Adam and scratched his head, eliciting a smug smile from his brother. “My son, Ezra.”