by Lori Henry
"Pa!" came Little Joe’s plaintive wail from somewhere upstairs. Ben clenched
his jaw and cringed at the sound coming from the second floor.
The distinct tone of his youngest son’s voice told him Little Joe was about
to tattle on one of his older brothers.
Again, Ben heard his youngest son shouting for him, a little bit louder
this time, followed by the what sounded like a herd of wild elephants
stampeding down the stairs. His patience quickly fading, Ben looked up from
the bids and contracts he had been mulling over just as Little Joe
came bounding into his study, his fourteen-year-old brother Hoss hot on
his heels. Both boys began speaking at once, each trying to out-do the
other in volume and gestures. Ben growled and stood up, forcefully slamming
the palms of his hands down on his desk, rattling the glass in the
window behind him. "What in tarnation is going on?" bellowed the patriarch
of the Cartwright clan.
"Pa......" whined the youngest Cartwright, unsuccessfully trying shoulder
Hoss out of his way. As unyielding as the ancient Ponderosa pines that
covered their land, Hoss folded his massive arms across and chest and stood
his ground, not budging so much as an inch. Hoss and Joe
continued to verbally compete for their father’s attention, their words
blending together to form a jumbled incomprehensible string of gibberish.
Both boys paused long enough to flash one another an acerbic look then launched
into another verbal battle, this one louder than the last.
Ben, his face flushed and his head beginning to pound, planted his hands
on his hips and yelled, "Are you boys through yet? I can’t understand
either of you!"
The roaring clamor of their father’s voice instantly subdued the querulous
The ensuing silence, however brief, was music to Ben’s ears. His face a
mask of disapproval, Ben first eyed his middle son then his youngest.
"Now will one of you please tell me what’s got you two all riled up?"
Little Joe screwed up his face and stuck his tongue out at his brother.
He then gave Hoss a hard jab in the thigh with his small bony elbow to
make him move aside. "Pa.....," whined Little Joe. "Hoss said I was stupid
and he was gonna find more gold than me this weekend when we go
Ben placed one calloused hand over his mouth, his countenance angry and
foreboding. The steady rhythmic ticking of the grandfather clock that
stood by the front door was the only sound heard as Ben decided whether
to reprimand his two sons for disturbing him with such a trivial matter
or whether to laugh at the absurdity of Little Joe’s statement.
Anxious to defend himself, Hoss piped up, "That ain’t so, Pa! I just said
because I’m bigger and smarter than Joe, I’d probably find me more
gold than him." Not to be outdone, Hoss drilled his little brother with
a threatening scowl, his lower jaw jutting forward.
Hoss knew by his father’s wary expression that he wanted to lecture his
two rambunctious sons but was restraining himself. Regardless of the
stern look on his pa’s face, Little Joe continued with his aggressive behavior,
shoving and head butting his older brother. Ben felt his anger
suddenly dissolve, his frown replaced by a huge smile. Little Joe reminded
him of a loco billy goat he once knew that would constantly ram it’s
head into the side of a barn. Even though the barn never yielded, that darn
billy goat never gave up. Ben could almost see steam coming out of
Joe’s ears as the boy stepped back five paces and charged his brother for
the last time. Little Joe’s small curly head connected with Hoss’s rear
end with enough force to launch the startled adolescent forward. Hoss landed
face down on the desk, scattering papers and books all over the
floor. Upon impact, Little Joe was thrown backward, landing hard on his
butt then continuing into a backward somersault.
Before Ben could stop himself, a loud burst of laughter filled the room.
Joe picked himself up off the floor and stared at his father, a triumphant
grin adorning his face. Angry at being knocked down, Hoss turned
around and went after his little brother. One meaty fist shot out, grabbing
Joe by the arm. Shaking his fist at his brother, Hoss growled, "Short
shanks, I’m gonna pound you good for that!"
Little Joe eyes widened in terror as he wiggled and twisted like a fish
out of water, trying to break free of his brother’s vise-like grip.
Ben saw the frightened look in Little Joe’s eyes and quickly intervened.
"Hoss, that’s enough boy. Don’t hurt your little brother."
"Dadburnit, Pa.....," cussed Hoss, reluctantly releasing his hold on Joe’s
Little Joe pouted as he rubbed the sore spot on his upper arm where Hoss’s
fingers had bruised his tender flesh.
Ben methodically navigated around the mess on the floor and draped one arm
around each of his sons, giving each boy a hard squeeze on the
shoulder. Hoss swallowed the lump in his throat and prepared himself for
the worst. Little Joe was still making faces at his brother when Hoss
saw the twinkle in his pa’s eyes. Ben gave each boy a hearty slap on the
back and let loose a boisterous laugh that shook the rafters of the
two-story house. He couldn’t really blame the boys for arguing. Father and
sons had all been working extra hard the last few weeks, at school as
well as on the ranch; all of them were badly in need of some leisure time
together. Ben had begun to feel like he was neglecting his boys so he
promised them he would take them to do some hunting and prospecting around
Seven-Mile Canyon over the weekend. All he had to do was put
the finishing touches on his bid for a sizeable lumber contract then he
could devote all his time and attention to his three sons.
"Well, I wouldn’t worry about that too much,son," laughed Ben, ruffling
Joe’s unruly hair. "I think you have a distinct advantage over your brother
Ben winked at his middle son and continued, "Since you’re smaller than Hoss,
that puts you closer to the ground so you’ll be able to see the gold
better than your much taller brother."
The frown on Joe’s face dissolved into a wily grin. He squared his shoulders
and thrust out his small chest, suddenly looking as smug as a
peacock with his tail feathers all fanned out.
"We’re sorry Pa," Joe said with a look on contrition on his small face.
Ben walked around his desk and stared at all the papers on the floor. He
rubbed the back of his neck, and heaved a sigh. "Never a dull moment
around here," Ben reflected.
Little Joe and Hoss bent down to help their father clean up the mess. "Here,
Pa...let us help you clean this up," offered Little Joe.
"Thanks boys.....I appreciate the help."
Once the floor was cleaned all up, Ben turned to his sons and said, "Why
don’t you two scoot on outta here and let me finish my work or else we
won’t be able to go on that outing I promised you boys."
Both boys flashed their father a huge smile and ran out the door in search
of their older brother, Adam.
All the boys could talk about that evening during dinner was what they were
going to take on the trip and what they planned to do. Regardless of
what his pa said, Hoss continued to gleefully boast about how he was going
to find more gold than Little Joe.
Ben smiled to himself, knowing the boys would have to be extremely lucky
to find any gold lying around on the ground, but instead of bursting
their bubble, he just played along. Adam was thoroughly enjoying his brother’s
laughter and enthusiasm. He was just as eager as Joe and Hoss
to spend some time alone with his family, away from all the responsibilities
that went along with being an adult and helping his pa run the ranch.
Friday afternoon, Ben called his three sons into his office. He had some
bad news for the boys. "Hi, Pa.....what do you want to tell us," said Joe,
climbing into his father’s lap. Ben sat lost in thought a moment. "I’m afraid
I have some bad news for you boys." Three pairs of eyes fixed and
held on Ben. He could see the look of disappointment already forming on
their faces and he hadn’t even given them the news yet. "I’m afraid I
won’t be able to take you boys prospecting like we had planned......something
important has come up and it can’t wait. I have to ride into Carson
City tomorrow morning."
Before Ben could continue, Joe jumped off his lap and ran to Adam, his eyes
brimming with tears. Ben walked over to where Joe stood and
knelt down beside his youngest son. He gently took hold of Joe’s small shoulders.
"Don’t cry, Joe. I’m not canceling your adventure; I’m just not
going with you."
Little Joe looked deep into his father’s eyes, not sure what he meant. Ben
smiled and ruffled the wayward curls on Joe’s head. "Since I can’t go
with you I thought I’d ask Adam to take you."
Ben’s heart swelled when he saw the smile return to Joe’s face. He gave
his son a hug then looked up into Adam’s brown eyes. "Would you
mind taking Joe and Hoss camping this weekend without me?"
Adam winked and grinned at his father. "Of course I wouldn’t mind, Pa....and
don’t you worry, I’ll take good care of them."
"I know you will, son."
Ben gave Joe a hug then told the boys to go finish their chores.
After dinner, Hoss and Little Joe energetically set about packing everything
they thought they would need for their prospecting trip. Ben laughed
when he saw the huge pile of gear Little Joe had piled in the center of
his bedroom floor. Perched on the top of the pile was Joe’s beloved teddy
bear, Bo. Ben picked up the bear and ran his hands over the well-worn fur,
remembering the day Marie had made the bear for their infant son.
"I wish I didn’t have to go to Carson City tomorrow," said Ben, a faraway
look on his face. "I’d much rather be riding off with you boys."
Ben handed Bo to Little Joe then sat down on the floor. "Here, let me help
you pack your things," said Ben, reaching up for the saddlebags lying
on Joe’s bed. After Ben sorted through Joe’s pile, packing only the essentials,
he went to see if Hoss needed any help. He found Hoss in the
kitchen giving Hop Sing instructions on what to pack for their meals. Hop
Sing was scolding Hoss in his native Chinese while shaking a carving
knife at the large adolescent boy. Ben was glad he couldn’t understand what
their cook was saying because whatever it was, he was certain it
would have singed his ears. When he returned to his study, he found Adam
sitting on the edge of the desk, his brow furrowed as he perused the
contract Ben had finished preparing. "Does it meet with your approval?"
Adam grinned and handed the paper back to his father, a twinkle of amusement
in his eyes. "Little Joe said you wanted to talk to me."
I just wanted to go over a few things with you about your trip tomorrow,"
said Ben as he placed all the documents he would need for his business
trip into his briefcase.
After Ben finished talking to Adam, all four Cartwrights retired for the
Little Joe was awake long before the sun peaked over the distant mountains.
He hastily dressed then ran down the hall hollering for his pa and
brothers to wake up.
When Ben, Adam and Hoss came downstairs for breakfast, they were greeted
by Hop Sing and a small boy who resembled Little Joe wearing a
much to large apron covered in flour and egg. He even had flour on his face
and in his hair. Proudly, Joe announced, "I helped Hop Sing make us
"Littow Joe make flapjacks almost as good as Hop Sing," said the family
cook with a grin.
Ben and the boys devoured a hearty breakfast of flapjacks, bacon and fried
potatoes then went out to saddle their horses and load their gear
and supplies on a pack horse.
Before heading east to Carson City, Ben wished the boys luck. "I’ll see
you boys in a few days," called Ben as he galloped away.
Seven-Mile Canyon was an uncompromising land surrounded by high buttes and
occupied by rattlesnakes and wild mustangs, a rugged place
inhabited by only the strongest. The dry desert terrain stood in sharp contrast
to the Ponderosa Ranch where the horizon undulated with pine
covered mountains, where rocky hills and nameless streams enhanced the breath-taking
beauty of the lush green landscape.
The mid-afternoon sun shown brightly on the Cartwright brothers, warming
their backs and shoulders as their horses lazily picked their way
around the bear grass, purple sage and wild poppies. Adam had hoped to make
camp earlier in the afternoon, but Little Joe’s enthusiasm for
finding gold had delayed them by a few hours. Every time the little rascal
saw a shiny rock he had to jump off his pony and investigate. Adam
finally threatened to tie Joe to the saddle if he didn’t quit jumping off
The boys found a good place to set up camp a few hours before sundown. Adam
sent Hoss off to fetch some firewood while he and Little Joe
prepared their supper. No way was he going to let Joe accompany Hoss in
the search for firewood. He was positive his gold hungry little brother
would have turned it into a search for gold, resulting in none of them enjoying
a hot meal that night.
By the time Hoss returned with an armload of wood, Adam had a pot of ham
and beans and a pan of biscuits ready to cook.
"Boy, that sure smells good," said Hoss, patting his stomach. "I’m so hungry
I could eat a sow an’ nine pigs an’ chase the boar a half-a-mile."
Both Adam and Joe laughed and shook their heads. Neither could remember
a time when their brother Hoss wasn’t hungry.
The boys polished off all the ham and beans then topped it off with a generous
slice of Hop Sing’s apple pie.
Since Adam did the cooking, Hoss and Little Joe were in charge of cleaning
up. Adam sat down on his bed roll and leaned back against his
overturned saddle, savoring the last of his coffee. After Hoss and Little
Joe had put away the dishes, they spread their bed rolls by the fire and
"Now what should we do?" asked Little Joe, still full of energy.
Hoss looked at his older brother and winked. "Hey, Adam.....how about tellin’
Joe the story about the ghost that haunts this here canyon?"
Little Joe shivered in delicious anticipation. "Is that true, Adam.....is
this canyon really haunted by a ghost?"
A mischievous grin spread over Adam’s handsome face, the flames from the
fire reflecting in his dark brown eyes. Adam inched closer to the
fire, as if the light from the flames would protect him from the things
that went bump in the night. To set the right mood and create some tension
before he began the tale, Adam cast a wary glance out into the darkness,
as if he were searching for someone or something.
"The folks around here say this canyon is haunted by the ghost of an outlaw,"
said Adam in a soft voice. "A man known in life as Rafe Jessup.
They say Jessup hid somewhere up here in this canyon, a strongbox full of
gold that he had stolen off a stage coach."
Hoss watched with amusement as Little Joe unconsciously drew his knees up
under his chin, sandwiching Bo between his chest and his thighs.
Adam cast an uneasy glance over his shoulder then continued. "Rafe Jessup
was the meanest, orneriest killer that ever lived as well as very
successful at what he did, robbing and killing folks for their money and
other valuables. Everyone claimed the reason no lawman could ever
catch him was that he had sold his soul to the devil."
Even though Hoss had heard this story before, it still gave him the creeps.
He wrapped his blanket tighter around his broad shoulders and
scooted closer to the crackling fire.
Adam paused and listened to the ghostly howl of the wind as it swept through
some of the old abandoned mine shafts in the area. "After Jessup
disappeared, many a man came up here looking for the gold, convinced the
outlaw died and left his treasure hidden up in this canyon."
Adam’s eyes took on an evil sinister look, "And not one of the men who went
looking ever came back!"
Adam held back a laugh when he saw Little Joe’s eyes grow as wide as saucers.
His voice shaking, Little Joe asked, "What happened to Jessup that made
him a ghost?"
Adam gazed into the fire, deep in thought. "The legend says, one day Jessup’s
partner got a bit too greedy. He didn’t want to share the gold or
the rest of the loot with Jessup; he wanted it all for himself."
Anxious to hear what happened to Jessup, Joe asked, "Then what happened?
Did they kill each other?"
"No one knows for certain, but according to the legend, Jessup and his partner
exchanged lead. Both men were wounded, but Jessup’s wound
turned out to be fatal. Nobody knows for sure what happened to Jessup’s
partner, whether he survived take the gold out of here or not."
"Didn’t they ever find Jessup’s body?" asked Joe, his voice brimming with
Adam slowly shook his head. "To this day, Jessup’s body has never been found.
Some say as soon as Rafe Jessup died, the devil exploded out
of the bowels of the earth in a blazing inferno, and personally hauled Jessup
straight to hell."
Eager to do his part to scare Little Joe, Hoss leaned in close to Little
Joe and spoke in a very serious voice. "I heard tell that if ole Rafe Jessup’s
ghost finds you.... ya better hope and pray he don’t catch ya. Cuz if’n
he does....he’ll steal everything you have of value then he’ll suck your
right outta ya!"
All the hair on Little Joe’s body suddenly stood on end. Quicker’n an old
maid can crawl under a bed, Little Joe grabbed Bo and flew into
Unable to resist the temptation, Adam poked Joe in both sides of his ribs
and yelled, "BOO!"
Joe nearly had a heart attack as he flew off his big brother’s lap The two
oldest Cartwright boys both fell over backwards, laughing hysterically as
Joe jumped up and down like a barrel bounding down a hill. His blood rushing
with adrenaline, Little Joe yelled, "Cut it out, Adam! That ain’t
"Alright, I’m sorry," apologized Adam, choking on his laughter while tears
streamed down his face. Adam moved Joe’s bedroll right next to his
and patted the blankets.
"Come on, Short Shanks.....come sleep by me, I promise I won’t do that again.
I’ll protect you from the bad old ghost."
Joe glared at Adam then stomped his foot to emphasize his agitation. He
could never stay angry at his brothers for very long. As quick as his
frown appeared, it was replaced by his usual impish smile.
Feeling a bit guilty for deliberately trying to frighten his little brother,
Hoss apologized as well then suggested that Adam play a song on his guitar
to help calm Joe’s nerves so he could go to sleep.
"Good idea," said Adam, reaching behind him for his guitar. "What would
you like me to sing?"
Joe peeked out from under his blanket and shouted, "Bo wants you to sing
Early One Morning."
"Oh, he does?" replied Adam, his eyes gleaming. "Then Early One Morning
Adam settled the familiar instrument on his lap and closed his eyes, his
fingers gently brushing over the guitar strings.
Little Joe and Hoss snuggled down under their blankets and closed their
eyes. Adam’s deep baritone voice echoing through the desolate
canyon comforted Little Joe, allowing him to drift off into a deep and dreamless
Several hours before dawn, Adam was awakened by what felt like someone poking
him in the back. Pretty sure it was his pesky little brother,
Adam mumbled, "Go back to sleep Joe and quit jabbing me....or else."
"Wake up, Adam.....I gotta go."
Irritated at being awakened before dawn, Adam growled. "You’re a big boy,
you can go by yourself.....what do need me for?"
"Please, Adam.....wake up?" pleaded Joe, trying to pry his brother’s eyelids
open. "I wanna ask you somethin’ too."
Adam sat up and sighed, resigned to the fact that if he didn’t answers Joe’s
question he likely wasn’t going to be getting any more sleep tonight.
Plus, he did promise his pa he would take care of his brothers.
Adam crawled over to the dying embers of the campfire and added some more
wood. "Alright, Joe....what do you want to ask me that can’t wait
Joe glanced at the menacing shadows looming in the darkness beyond the glow
from the fire.
"Adam?" asked the nervous boy. "What did Rafe Jessup look like?"
Adam held out his hands in front of the leaping flames to warm them. "Why
do you want to know?"
"I was just wonderin’ if he looks like a regular man or does he wear a sheet
and float through the air and make all kinds of moaning noises."
Adam smiled and ruffled Joe’s soft hair. "I’m beginning to regret telling
you that ghost story tonight, Short shanks. First of all, there are no such
things as ghosts and as to what Jessup looked like......the only thing I
remember from seeing a wanted poster of the man from a long time ago,
was his hat. He had a big eagle feather stuck in his hat band."
Joe smiled. "That doesn’t sound so scary."
"You have absolutely nothing to worry about because ghosts don’t really
exist. They are nothing more than a figment of your imagination."
Joe gave Adam a quizzical look. "A fig...fig......"
"Never mind....Joe, just go out there and relieve yourself then get back
here quick so I can tuck you back in.......I’m freezing!"
His fears temporarily assuaged, Joe pulled his hat down low over his eyes
and disappeared into the darkness. He was careful not to wander too
far off from the campsite. The last thing he wanted was to get lost, and
under no circumstances did he want to risk running into the ghost of Rafe
Little Joe had just finished watering a clump of purple sage when he heard
what sounded like someone walking up behind him. "Adam, is that
you?" squeaked Joe.
Suddenly, an unpleasant tingling sensation raced over his entire body followed
by an overwhelming desire to run away. His heart pounding in his
chest, Joe whipped around. In the faint moonlight, he saw what looked like
a man, surrounded by a swirling mist, standing not more than twelve
feet away from him. There was something strange about this man, thought
Joe as he studied the stranger. It wasn’t until he realized that he could
see right through the man that he began to panic. Fear turned to terror
when Joe’s eyes caught sight of the large eagle feather protruding from
the man’s hat.
Little Joe opened his mouth to scream but no sound came out, his voiced
was paralyzed by fear. He started to back up but his pants were still
around his ankles. Joe quickly lost his balance and fell down, his tender
buttocks landing hard on the rocks and prickly sage brush. He began to
back-pedal furiously to put some distance between himself and the ghost.
He then rolled over onto his hands and knees and pushed himself to
his feet, grabbing the waistline of his pants and struggled to pull them
up. Sheer terror took over when the ghostly apparition took two steps
forward. Little Joe finally found his voice and let loose a blood-curdling
scream. Half running and half hopping, the terrified boy took off into the
night like a bat out of hell.
When Adam heard Little Joe screaming, he instinctively grabbed his .44 and
jumped to his feet. His heart racing, he sprinted off in the direction
he saw Joe disappear.
Adam heard Joe before he saw him. "Help! The ghost is after me! Don’t let
him git me..... don’t let him suck out my soul!" Unable to believe what
he was hearing, Adam caught his little brother by the shoulders as he came
tearing past him. He spun Joe around and dropped to his knees.
"What’s the matter, Joe? What happened?"
Little Joe threw his arms around Adam’s neck and buried his face in his
brother’s shoulder. "Oh, Adam.....," sobbed Joe, shaking. "The ghost,
he’s after me. "Please don’t let him get me!"
The logical, skeptical side of Adam refused to believe Joe’s story, but
from the look of terror on his baby brother’s face, he could tell something
frightening had happened out there.
Just then, Hoss came crashing up behind Adam in a cloud of dust, a look
of worry on his face. "What is it Adam? Something woke me up, it
sounded like Little Joe screaming."
"It was Joe screaming," confirmed Adam, trying to get Joe to release his
grip on the waistline of his pants so he could help him pull them up.
"Little Joe thinks he saw a ghost."
Hoss’s eyes widened in surprise. "Really, Joe....you saw Jessup’s ghost?
Where, I wanna see him too."
"C’mon, Hoss," snapped Adam. "You know as well as I do there is no such
thing as a ghost!"
Hoss made a face at Adam. At this point, he wasn’t sure what to believe.
"Are you alright, Joe?" asked Adam, his hands gently cupping Joe’s cheeks.
Still looking like a scared rabbit, Joe nodded silently. In a firm tone
of voice, Adam turned to Hoss. "Take Joe back to camp and see if you can
calm him down. I’m going to go out there and see if I can find a logical
explanation for what scared our little brother."
"No, Adam.....don’t go out there!" pleaded Joe. "The ghost will get you!"
Adam smiled at Joe. "Don’t worry, nothing is going to get me. Just go back
to camp with Hoss and wait for me. I won’t be long."
But, Adam....," stuttered Joe.
"Don’t argue with me Joe, just do as I say!"
Joe stared at Adam, his eyes beseeching his big brother not to got out there.
When Adam returned to camp, he was relieved to see that Little Joe was fast
asleep. Hoss was eating another slice of apple pie when Adam
sat down beside him. Hoss popped the last bite of pie into his mouth and
asked, "So.....what did you find out there? Did Jessup’s ghost come
lookin’ for ya?"
Adam gave Hoss a sidelong glance, his brown eyes as cold as steel. "Ha,
ha....., very funny!"
Adam uncoiled slowly from the hard ground and got to his feet. "I didn’t
see anything out of the ordinary." His features tight, Adam added, "If
someone really is out there, then they’re pretty good at hiding. There’s
not many places a man can hide out here in this barren terrain. Just a few
evergreens and a whole lot of sage brush and bear grass." Adam stood lost
in thought a moment. "I’m pretty sure Joe’s over-active imagination
was playing tricks on him tonight, but just in case someone is lurking nearby,
I’ll stand guard until sun up."
"Do you want me to spell you in a few hours?" offered Hoss.
Adam shook his head. "No, I’ll be fine....but thanks for asking. You’d better
get some sleep. The sun will be up in a few hours."
Adam yawned as he walked over to his bedroll and sat down. He scrubbed his
face with his hands, rubbing sleep out of his eyes then retrieved
his guitar. As Hoss drifted off to sleep, Adam’s fingers performed a delicate
ballet over the guitar stings, playing a slow haunting ballad recalling
the tragedy of lost love and the sweetness of its memory.
Dawn arrived slowly, silvering the sky in a pearly half light that only
hinted at the coming of the new day.
Unable to stay awake any longer, Adam crawled under his blanket and closed
his eyes, his last thought before drifting off, a line from William
Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet.’ "Ah, to die, to sleep.....perchance to dream."
An hour later, Adam was rudely awakened by his little brother. "Wake up,
Adam!" Joe shouted cheerfully, his encounter with the ghost forgotten.
Adam mumbled something incomprehensible then pulled his blanket over his
"Oh, well.....," said Joe, shrugging his shoulders. "Grumpy big brother
is gonna miss out on all the fun today."
The air was thick with the scent of bacon and coffee, causing Adam’s stomach
to grumble in protest. He tossed off his blanket and heaved a
His eyelids still heavy with sleep, Adam awkwardly pulled on his boots then
accepted a cup of coffee from Little Joe. He held the steaming black
liquid under his nose, savoring the rich aroma. Hoss and Joe had brewed
a scalding potion so bitterly strong that the first sip made Adam wince.
Adam mixed a generous amount of water from his canteen in with his coffee
then tried it again. He smiled to himself, hoping and praying the
bacon and biscuits tasted better than the coffee.
After the boys devoured their breakfast, Little Joe came over to talk to
Adam. "Did you see the ghost out there last night?" Joe asked.
"No, I’m afraid not. All I saw was miles and miles of dirt, rock and scrub
Little Joe didn’t like the skeptical look he saw in his brother’s eyes.
"I think the ghost you saw last night was all in your imagination," said
Adam, his voice patronizing. "Young children have very imaginative and
"I didn’t make it up! I really did see the ghost of Rafe Jessup!"
"Alright, suppose you did see Jessup’s ghost. How do you know it was him?"
"Because he had a great big eagle feather pokin’ out of his hat."
Adam grabbed Joe by the hand and marched him out to the spot where he had
supposedly seen the ghost. "Take a good look at the
ground.......do you see any foot prints?"
Chewing on his lower lip, Little Joe cautiously examined the area where
he claimed the ghost appeared. Adam waited beside a stunted
evergreen, his hands planted firmly on his hips. "See, I told you.....no
"But, Adam.....what if ghosts don’t make foot prints?"
Adam threw his hands up in the air and marched back to camp, cursing himself
for telling Joe that ghost story.
Not about to let his big know-it-all brother spoil this trip for him, Joe
stuck out his tongue at Adam’s retreating back then raced back to where he
had left his backpack full of the tools he needed for prospecting.
Hoss and Little Joe spent the better part of the morning sifting through
a pile of dirt and rocks that had been removed from one of the old mines
in the canyon. Both boys were convinced the miners had missed some of the
gold, and all they had to do was diligently dig and sort through the
mountain of rocks and dirt.
After a few hours, Joe got bored with digging so he decided to do some exploring,
ever mindful to heed Adam’s warning to not go inside any of
the old mines. He was poking around the entrance to one of the mines when
a large black and gray rock caught his eye. He snatched up the
pretty rock and raced back to where he had last seen Hoss.
Joe held out the pretty rock and asked, "What kind of rock is this?"
Hoss gave it a cursory glance and shrugged his shoulders. "I dunno....go
ask Adam." Hoss giggled then added, "He outta know cuz he thinks he
Rock in hand, Joe raced back to camp. He found his big brother stretched
out on his bedroll, leaning against his overturned saddle and reading
"Adam, Adam," hollered Joe, skidding to a stop.
Having managed to get a few hours of sleep while his brothers were out digging,
Adam was now in a better mood. "What is it, Joe....seen
anymore ghosts?" teased Adam.
Joe decided to ignore his brother’s smartalecky remark. He plopped himself
down beside his big brother and thrust a large nondescript rock in
"What kind of rock is this, Adam?" asked Joe, excitedly.
Adam thoughtfully examined the rock, turning it around in his hand then
finally holding it up to the sun to get a better look.
"That’s Leaverite," said Adam, nonchalantly.
"Leaverite?" questioned Joe.
Adam nodded at the ground. "Yeah, Leaverite......you leave ’er right there."
Little Joe playfully punched Adam in the shoulder for making such a dumb
joke. Adam hollered and grabbed his shoulder, pretending to be hurt.
Joe grinned and winked at his big brother, their argument from the morning
Joe tossed his rock over by his saddle then went to wash up for lunch.
After lunch, Little Joe joined Adam in taking a short nap. While his brothers
had been out digging, Adam had set up a lean-to so they would have
a shady area where they could rest or take a nap. His stomach full, Joe
gratefully crawled into the shade and closed his tired eyes. He was
thoroughly exhausted from all the digging and exploring he had done that
Hoss, however, decided to go back out and do some more digging. Just before
lunch, he had found a patch of rocky ground, not far from where
Joe had seen Jessup’s ghost, that had yielded a few rocks containing minuscule
amounts of the precious metal.
The canyon was as quiet as a cemetery. The only sound was the rhythmic chinking
sound of Hoss’ pick ax as he chiseled away at the pile of rock
and sand. His arms beginning to grow weary, Hoss stopped and set the tool
down. He pulled his bandana out of his pocket and wiped the sweat
of his labor off his brow. He paused to gaze over the endless miles of desert
wilderness, enjoying the light breeze as it caressed and cooled his
body. Hoss walked over to where he had left his canteen and took a long
drink of the cool refreshing liquid. He poured a little water over his hair
then shook his head like a dog after a bath. He was about to pick up a shovel
and begin sifting through the dirt when suddenly he stopped. The
air around him suddenly grew as cold as a blue northern. All the hair on
his arms stood on end and felt as if his flesh were crawling.
He had a strong sensation that someone was standing behind him. Hoss whipped
around, expecting to see Adam or Little Joe trying to sneak
up on him, but no one was there.
Hoss swallowed the lump in his throat and looked up at the sun. "I must
have been out in the sun too long," scoffed Hoss, dismissing what had
Hoss continued to feel the cold and experience the same creepy feeling the
closer he got to the entrance of the Lucky Strike mine. Finally he
couldn’t stand it any longer so he packed up his gear and returned to camp.
"So how did you do?" asked Adam when Hoss joined him and Joe in the shade.
Hoss hardly smiled as he showed his brothers a few of the larger rocks he
had found that contained small bits of gold.
"Wow....you’re rich," exclaimed Joe.
"Not hardly, little brother," answered Hoss, looking upset.
Adam noticed the distressed look on his brother’s face. "Are you alright,
Knowing he wouldn’t get a quick answer, Adam waited patiently while his
brother methodically searched for the right words.
With a look of consternation, Hoss finally replied, "While I was out there,
digging in one particular area, I kept gettin’ this cold creepy
feeling......like somebody was standing behind me. And when I turned around.....there
was nobody there. At first I thought you or Joe was trying to
sneak up on me and scare me, but now I am beginning to think it might have
been the ghost."
Hoss held his breath, waiting for Adam and Joe to laugh at him.
Adam covered his face with his hands and shook his head. "Oh, no......not
Little Joe leaped to feet and came to his brother’s defense. "See Adam,
I told you I wasn’t imagining things! Jessup’s ghost is for real and he
wants to suck out our souls!"
Joe gave Hoss a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. "Don’t worry, Hoss. Adam
may not believe you, but I do!"
Adam could feel his blood pressure beginning to rise. He clenched his jaw
and stared at his two younger brothers, convinced they had both lost
all their marbles. "How many times do I have to tell you, ghosts are not
real....they are the product of an overactive imagination! They exist only
stories and the minds of impressionable children!"
Adam couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He could understand Joe believing
in ghosts, but not Hoss; at fourteen, Hoss was too old for this
kind of foolishness.
Adam took a deep breath and tried to calm down. He was used to his brother’s
shenanigans, why should now be any different. He had come up
here to Seven-Mile Canyon to relax and catch up on some reading; he wasn’t
about to let his brother’s spoil it for him.
Hoss and Joe were huddled together comparing notes on what they saw and
felt when Adam stood up and stretched. He reached into his
saddle bag looking for the gold pocket watch Pa had given him for his eighteenth
birthday. It wasn’t in the saddle bag where he had left it the
other day. His frustration renewed, Adam demanded, "All right, which one
of you stole my pocket watch?"
Hoss and Little Joe simultaneously denied touching the watch.
Joe grin then blurted out, "Maybe the ghost stole it."
Suddenly Joe regretted opening his mouth. The look on Adam’s face reminded
him of old man Miller’s bull, right before he charged. This was
definitely one of those times when children should be seen and not heard,
thought the youngest Cartwright.
"That’s not funny!" thundered Adam, sounding exactly like his pa. "Now give
it back to me right now before you break it!"
Hoss could see Adam was upsetting Little Joe. He quickly stood up and faced
his angry brother. "Honest, Adam.....Joe and I never touched your
dumb old watch! You probably misplaced it!"
Hoss whirled on his heel, grabbed Joe by the hand and stomped out into the
late afternoon sunlight.
Adam didn’t know what to say; he just stood there with his mouth hanging
open as he watched his brothers return to the pile of rock where Hoss
had found the gold.
Hoss flopped down amid a sea of white poppies and lavender cotton. He picked
up a stick, snapped it in two then turn to Joe. "I wonder why
Adam’s so riled up? We ain’t hurtin’ nothing talking about the ghost."
Dejected, Little Joe sat down beside Hoss, pulling his knees up under his
chin and wrapping his arms around his shins. They were supposed to
be up here having a good time but neither he or Hoss were having much fun
and it was all Adam’s fault, thought Joe.
"C’mon....Short shanks," said Hoss, jumping to his feet. "I’m not gonna
let dumb old Adam spoil my fun. Let’s go find us some more gold."
Joe felt his spirits beginning to rise. "Yeah!" shouted Joe. "Let’s find
some more gold."
Feeling a little a bit adventurous, Joe decided to go take a peek inside
the old "Lucky Strike" mine while Hoss hacked away at a big pile of rock.
Surely it wouldn’t hurt if he just took a few steps inside, thought Joe.
He cast a covert glance toward Hoss and Adam, checking to see if either
was watching him. Hoss was facing away from Joe, closely examining another
rock and Adam was busy down at the campsite preparing their
supper. Satisfied, his brothers weren’t watching him, Joe pushed away the
tumble weeds blocking the entrance to the mine and stepped inside.
He waited in the entrance while his eyes took a minute to adjust to the
"Wow....!" thought Joe, turning around in a slow circle. He paused when
he saw a thick layer of spider webs covering one wall. "This place is
"Hello," called Joe, enjoying the sound of his voice echoing off the jagged
Joe reached into his pocket and pulled out a candle and a match. He struck
the match on the damp walls of the mine then lit the candle. The
flickering glow from the flame gave off barely enough light to allow him
to cautiously proceed forward without risk of tripping over unknown
obstacles. He hadn’t gone far when suddenly a gust of cold air came rushing
up the tunnel behind him, extinguishing the candle. Abruptly thrust
into absolute darkness, Little Joe gasped and whipped around to face the
tiny pin prick of light coming from the mine entrance. His flesh began
to tingle like a million spiders were crawling all over his body. Alarm
bells went off in Joe’s head, warning him that he wasn’t alone. "Oh my God!
Jessup’s ghost is in here with me! He’s gonna suck out my soul and leave
me here to die!"
Little Joe began to hyperventilate as panic wrapped its icy fingers around
his trembling body. A voice in Joe’s head was yelling at him to run but
no matter how hard he tried, it felt like his legs weighed a ton. Suddenly
the spell was broken and Joe took of running for his life. With daylight
only a stone’s throw away, Joe suddenly tripped and fell face down on the
hard ground, tearing his pants and skinning up his left knee. He quickly
rolled over and sat up, afraid he would see the ghost behind him. No ghost,
only a dark familiar looking lump lying by his feet. This must be what I
tripped over, thought Joe, his heart still hammering in his chest. He reached
down and poked the object.
It was soft and fuzzy. Joe jerked his hand back, his eyes as big as a hoop
on a molasses barrel. Joe cringed as his imagination ran amok,
picturing all the horrible things it could be. He continued to study the
shadowy object, wondering why it looked so familiar. Finally his curiosity
overcame his fear. With one hand on his hurt knee, Joe reached out and picked
up the foreign object. The minute his hand closed around the
furry lump, Joe knew immediately what it was. "Bo!" cried Joe. "How did
you get here?" Not wanting to stick around any longer, Little Joe shoved
Bo inside his shirt and dashed out of the mine, running back to camp like
a cat with its tail on fire. "Adam!" screamed Joe. "The ghost
outlaw.....he tried to steal Bo!"
When Adam heard Joe yelling his name, he dropped the spoon he had been using
to stir their dinner. He jumped to his feet and reached out to
lasso the frightened boy with his arms as he came crashing into camp.
"Whoa there.....little buddy, just simmer down!"
Huffing and puffing, Joe reached inside his shirt and pulled out Bo. The
bear felt cold and was covered in a fine layer of dirt. Adam reached out,
took Bo by the leg and slapped him hard against his thigh, raising a cloud
of dust. Ignoring Joe’s preposterous ramblings about Jessup’s ghost
stealing his bear, Adam asked, "What happened to Bo?"
Joe snatched his bear back and fixed Adam with a piercing stare. "Don’t
Adam threw up his hands in mock surrender. "Alright, you don’t have to tell
me if you don’t want to."
Little Joe screwed up his face and wiped his nose on his sleeve. "I told
you....the ghost stole Bo. I found him inside the Lucky Strike mine."
"Inside the Lucky Strike mine?" repeated Adam, one eyebrow cocked.
"Uh, oh.... I shouldn’t have told him that," thought Joe, clenching his
jaw and pinching his eyes shut.
"What in tarnation were you doing inside the Lucky Strike?" scolded Adam.
"I thought I told you boys to stay out of those mines. They’re not
safe.....they could cave in at any moment, trapping or killing you."
"Yes, Adam....I’m sorry. It was a dumb thing to do," stammered Joe. Then,
before he could stop himself, he blurted out, "The ghost tried to steal
Adam shook his head. "Yeah, right.....I’m willing to bet you tossed Bo into
the mine so you would have an excuse for going inside."
"No, Adam....that ain’t right! I love Bo! Why would I want to stick him
in a scary old mine?"
"I don’t know," Adam exclaimed, running his fingers through his hair. "To
play a joke on me?"
Adam walked over to the other side of the fire, rubbing the knot in the
back of his neck.
Suddenly, it dawned on him what Joe and Hoss were up to. He walked back
over to where Joe stood with arms folded across his chest and a
look of defiance on his face.
"I’m beginning to think you and Hoss are doing this on purpose. You two
are trying to get even with me for something I did that you didn’t like......
or," Adam paused, "you two are just plain trying to drive me crazy! If its
‘drive me crazy,’ then you and Hoss have succeeded!"
"We ain’t tryin’ to drive you crazy! You just won’t listen to us. Why won’t
you believe Hoss and me about the ghost?"
Adam was quickly losing his patience. "This ghost business has gone on long
enough. If you continue to play this game, we’re going home right
now.....and that’s a promise!"
"Oooooo, Adam!!!" cursed Little Joe, turning on his heel and storming off
in a huff.
After supper, Adam went to check on the horses. Knowing their mounts were
trained to not wander off, the boys had turned their horses loose to
wander and graze at their leisure. When Joe was sure Adam was out of earshot,
he pulled Hoss aside and in a whisper, told him about what had
happened inside the Lucky Strike mine.
Amazed that Joe had deliberately disobeyed Adam, Hoss exclaimed, "You actually
went inside that mine? Boy, if Pa finds out what you did, he’s
gonna tan your hide for sure."
Joe placed a finger against his lips and hissed, "Pa ain’t gonna find out
about it unless you or Adam tells him, and I don’t think Adam wants to
get me in trouble. At least not yet."
"Boy, I hope you’re right, Short shanks."
"Me too....," thought Joe.
Hoss and Joe sat quietly together for a moment then Hoss picked up Bo and
closely examined the dirty bear. "You really believe the ghost stole
Bo?" pondered Hoss.
"Why would he do that? Bo don’t have no soul to suck out."
Little Joe hunched his shoulders and scooted closer to Hoss. He checked
to make sure Adam wasn’t close by then, with a conniving look in his
eye said, "I’m beginning to think Rafe Jessup hid all those gold bars he
stole somewhere inside the Lucky Strike mine."
"What makes you think that?" asked Hoss.
"Have you noticed that every time we go near that mine, ole Rafe Jessup’s
ghost suddenly appears?" Joe glanced over his shoulder again and
lowered his voice. "I’ll bet Jessup don’t want us goin’ inside that mine
cuz he doesn’t want us to take his gold."
Hoss mulled Joe’s words over in his mind then nodded. "Yeah, that’s right.
I kept havin’ this creepy feeling every time I went near that old mine."
"See....that must mean I’m right. All we have to do is sneak into the mine
early in the morning and find the gold."
Hoss looked skeptical. There are just two things wrong with your plan, little
"What?" asked Joe, giving Hoss his best ‘I don’t know what you’re taking
"You’re forgetting about the ghost....ain’t you still afraid of him sucking
out your soul?"
Joe toyed with the loose threads hanging from the tear in the knee of his
pants. "Yeah, kinda......but I won’t be nearly as afraid if you’re with me."
"What about Adam? Ain’t no way he’s gonna let us go inside that mine," said
"What Adam don’t know won’t hurt him. We’ll be back in plenty of time."
"I don’t know, Joe. If you think Adam is sore now about him losin’ his watch
and us pestering him about ghosts, just wait till he finds out where we
went! He’s sure to tell Pa and then both of us won’t be able to sit down
for a week.....that is if Pa don’t skin us alive first."
Feeling cocky, Joe replied, "He ain’t gonna find out! We’ll be back before
he even notices we’re gone. That old mine can’t be all that big."
His gold fever still running high, Hoss agreed to go along with Joe’s plan.
He would soon regret it.
At first light, Joe and Hoss quietly slipped out of camp and headed for
the entrance to the Lucky Strike mine. Both boys had enough sense to
bring a lantern. They were almost there when Hoss suddenly stopped and pointed
toward the mine. "Look Joe, there he is!"
Still a bit fearful, Joe glanced over to where Hoss was pointing. In the
early morning light, Joe could barely discern what looked like a man
wearing a hat with a big eagle feather. Joe also noted he didn’t look to
happy to see them.
"See, ....what did I tell you?" said Joe, his voice a bit shaky. "He’s tryin’
to keep us from gettin’ all his gold."
His courage rapidly fading, Hoss swallowed the huge lump in his throat and
began to back away.
"Where you goin’ Hoss?" Joe demanded, not all that sure himself that he
was going to carry through with his plan.
"I changed my mind.....I don’t wanna go anywhere near that ghost!"
Joe had to think of something to say fast or else his brother was going
to chicken out and he needed Hoss with him to help bring the gold out.
"You know, Hoss....I been thinking," pondered Joe. "That ghost could’ve
got me twice but he didn’t. Maybe ghost can’t do nothin’ to hurt us other
than scarin’ us real bad, and besides.....we won’t be in there all that
"Hey, that sounded real good," thought Joe. "I almost convinced myself."
Hoss carefully considered Little Joe’s words for a moment, then hesitantly
agreed to go along as planned.
When the boys looked up again, the ghost was gone. Their courage bolstered,
Hoss and Joe lit their lanterns then gingerly stepped inside the
old Lucky Strike mine.
When Adam awoke, the first thing he noticed was that Hoss and Little Joe
were gone. He thought they might have gotten an early start on
digging when suddenly he noticed they had left their tools in camp. "This
isn’t good," thought Adam as he quickly dressed.
He was just pulling on his other boot when he stopped and stared at the
single lantern sitting by the fire. Adam was sure there had been three
lanterns in that spot when he and his brothers had gone to bed last night.
With a growing feeling of trepidation, Adam glanced over at the entrance
to the old Lucky Strike mine. "Naaahhh....they wouldn’t have gone in
there," thought Adam. "They know better than that."
Before checking out the mine, Adam ran around the campsite calling out his
brother’s names. He even hiked down to a small gully where the
horses had wandered during the night to see if they were there. There was
no sign of them. No matter how hard he tried, Adam couldn’t shake
the feeling that the boys were inside that mine. He ran back to camp and
grabbed the other lantern then dashed up the slight incline to the mine
entrance. A cursory glance at the ground revealed two set of footprints,
one small the other large, leading into the mine.....neither set led out.
Adam thrust one hand through his hair and muttered some imprecation under
his breath. "How can two boys cause so much grief?" wondered
Adam as he lit his lantern and stepped into the cool musty darkness.
The eerie silence inside the mine was unsettling. Adam cautiously glanced
at the veil of spider webs covering one wall. This place is really
creepy," thought the oldest Cartwright boy. "This would be the perfect place
for a ghost to hide."
Adam chuckled and shook his head. "Now those two have got me thinking about
Before going much farther, Adam cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled,
He crossed his fingers and waited for a reply. No sound other than the echo
of his voice fading off into the distance and a low rumble from
somewhere up above.
"That doesn’t sound very good," whispered Adam, cautiously proceeding forward.
The farther Adam traveled into the mine, the lower the ceiling became. Several
times he inadvertently bumped his head on a hunk of rock or a
low beam, further fouling his already black mood. Before he had a chance
to call out his brother’s names again, he heard what sounded like a
shrieking banshee. His heart pounding, Adam quickly extinguished his lantern
and crouched down, pressing his back against one side of the
tunnel. He waited with some anxiety as the shrieking sound got closer. Suddenly,
from one of the side tunnels, Adam saw a light. The light grew
brighter and brighter.
Scared, Adam drew his gun and waited. Five seconds later, two familiar silhouettes
came skidding around the corner, crashing into one another
and falling to the ground in a tangle of arms and legs. Adam instantly recognized
the two screaming banshees as Hoss and Little Joe.
Holstering his gun, Adam rose from the shadows and marched over to where
his two younger brothers where trying to untangle themselves. Both
boys were too panicked to even notice their older brother approaching. One
eyebrow raised and a sardonic smile on his face, Adam squatted
down on his haunches and tapped Joe on the shoulder. Joe instantly froze,
positive the ghost was right behind him. Joe gulped loudly then asked
Hoss in a quivering voice, "Is that Jessup’s ghost behind me?"
Hoss swallowed hard and replied, "No....there’s something scarier behind
Little Joe slowly turned his head to look over his shoulder. When he saw
his brother Adam waving at him, Joe wished it had been the ghost who
had tapped him on the shoulder.
His voice saccharine, Adam demanded, "What are you two doing in here and
why were you screaming?" He paused then quickly added, "No,
wait.....I don’t think I really want to know the answer to my second question."
Hoss started to say something but Adam raised his hand to silence him, an
identical gesture to the one their pa used on them when he wanted
his sons to be quiet.
"On your feet, both of you," ordered Adam in a booming voice. Little Joe
and Hoss obediently leaped to their feet and grabbed their lanterns.
Adam pointed back down the tunnel and yelled, "Now march!"
Hoss took the lead followed by Joe with Adam bringing up the rear to make
sure they all made it out safely.
The bright sunlight illuminating the entrance to the mine was welcome sight
to the boys. Adam breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that they had
made it out safely. That relief was a bit premature for suddenly a deep
resonating rumble shook the mine. Several of the poorly placed support
beams over Adam’s head began to crack and split, pummeling him with a shower
of rocks and dirt. Hoss and Joe turned around in time to see
their older brother trapped on the other side of a shower of rocks and boulders.
The last thing they heard before the mountain buried their brother
alive was Adam shouting at them to "RUN!"
When the ceiling began to collapse, Adam swore and ran backwards, watching
with horror as the mountain came tumbling down in front of him
and on top of him, separating him from his two brothers.
"Adam!" screamed Hoss and Little Joe as they stood by, unable to help their
Before the dust had even settled, Hoss ran back and dove onto the wall of
rocks and boulders, frantically clawing at the stones like he was
possessed. Joe fell to his knees crying, his tears streaking his dirty face.
"Help me, Joe!" Hoss screamed hysterically. "We gotta save Adam!"
"What if he’s dead?" stuttered Joe, choking on his sobs.
"Don’t say that Joe! He can’t be dead.....he just can’t!"
Joe heaved and pulled on a boulder twice his size. He was crying so hard
he started to hiccup. "I can’t move the rocks, Hoss! I’m not strong
"Noooooooo........," cried Hoss, pounding the rock in impotent rage.
Hoss beat on the rocks until his hands bruised and bloody. When the pain
became too much he finally stopped and forced himself to take a
deep breath, trying to pull himself together. Standing around crying wasn’t
doing Adam any good. They had to get help fast if they were going to
save their brother’s life. Hoss refused to believe his Adam was dead.
Hoss firmly grabbed Joe by the shoulders. "Joe, listen to me! We gotta go
back to the Ponderosa and get some help."
"Wha...wha...what about Adam? cried Joe, his voice shaking with his sobs.
"We can’t leave him here all alone."
"There’s nothing we can do here for Adam except pray."
Hoss wiped Joe’s tears and said, "We better get goin’.....Adam is depending
Joe nodded slowly. Before they left, Hoss prayed, "Please God....let Adam
Little Joe and Hoss raced back to their camp and saddled up Hoss’s and Adam’s
horses because Joe’s pony couldn’t possibly keep up with
Hoss’ s mount. Both boys gave the mine entrance a solemn glance, whispered
another prayer for their brother, then spurred their horses into a
Adam awoke to a pounding headache and a mouth and nose full of dirt. He
coughed and gagged, trying to clear his nose as well as his
throbbing head. "Where the hell am I and why is it so damn dark?" cursed
Adam as he struggled rid himself of the crushing weight on his chest
Exhausted from the effort, Adam groaned and lay back on his bed of rock.
Besides the headache, his whole body felt like he had been trampled
by a herd of wild horses. Suddenly, he remembered what had happened. He
and his brothers were almost out of the mine when the mountain
came crashing down on his head. Adam remembered yelling at his brothers
to run right before the ceiling began to collapse. He was fairly
certain both his brothers were far enough ahead of him to avoid being buried
Feeling something warm and sticky running down his face, Adam reached up
to the side of his head and gingerly explored the large lump and
gash with his fingertips. He winced and quickly jerked his hand away. Not
sure what to do next, Adam tried to stand up. Using the wall of the
mine for support, he slowly pulled himself to his feet.
Even though he couldn’t see anything, he felt like the tunnel was spinning.
His stomach began to heave as he fell back onto the ground. Adam lay
on a pile of rock gasping for several minutes before he remembered the lantern
he had brought with him into the mine. He rolled over onto his
hands and knees and slowly fumbled around in the suffocating darkness, searching
for the lantern. He hoped and prayed it didn’t get buried
during the cave-in. After what seemed like an eternity, Adam’s hand finally
brushed over the handle of the lantern. He felt a glimmer of hope as
he frantically tried to free it from the rocks that held it captive. Adam
suddenly stopped when his fingers touched the broken glass and he smelled
kerosene. Not knowing how long he would be trapped in this hell hole, Adam
fought the overwhelming wave of panic that threatened to consume
him. He only had two options at this point - stay where he was or stumble
around in the dark trying to find another way out like an air shaft, which
could result in him falling down a vertical shaft to his death or becoming
hopelessly lost and dying from dehydration and starvation. Neither option
held much appeal. All Adam knew for certain was that he didn’t want to die
here in this mine all alone.
Suddenly Adam heard and felt a cold rush of wind come rushing up the tunnel
behind him. Feeling a bit fearful, he held his breath as it swirled
around his aching body. It wasn’t like any wind he had ever experience before.
This wind made his flesh tingle and he swore he heard a faint
voice whisper, "If you want to live.....follow me."
"No," thought Adam. "I’m hearing things. The blow to my head must be causing
me to hallucinate."
Adam jumped when he heard the voice again. "If you want to live.....follow
Again Adam denied hearing the disembodied voice. Suddenly the strange wind
went rushing back down the tunnel. Paralyzed by fear Adam
waited to see what would happen next. Several minutes later, he saw faint
light appear down the first side tunnel on the left. Not sure if it was
another hallucination, Adam rubbed his eyes. No, it was real; somebody else
was here in the mine with him. He jumped to his feet and called out
to whoever was holding the lantern. No reply. Still dizzy, Adam pushed himself
to his feet again and using the walls of the mine for support,
carefully navigated his way around the debris on the ground until he was
standing in the entrance to the lighted tunnel. Whoever it was too far
ahead for Adam to see. Drawn to the light like a moth to a flame, he continued
to follow, hoping to catch a glimpse of the stranger. Adam called
out several more times but no one ever answered. Finally he had to stop
because the dizziness and nausea were taking its toll. While Adam was
resting, he noticed that the light appeared to be coming closer to him rather
than continuing on its mysterious journey. He held his breath and
listened carefully for the sound of footsteps. Only a funereal silence filled
the musty air.
Exhausted and gasping from the pain in his ribs, Adam called out, "Who are
you? Show yourself."
The approaching light appeared to hesitate then stopped. Adam watched with
trepidation as a shadow appeared on the wall ahead of him. It
looked like a man wearing a hat with something long and pointed sticking
out one side. Adam’s eyes widened with alarm. "Oh, my God.....it
couldn’t be...," stuttered one very frightened young man. "Ghosts aren’t
Incredulous, Adam watched as the shadow’s arm beckoned for him to follow.
As the light started down the tunnel again, he heard the same
seven words, "If you want to live.....follow me." Even though he suspected
he was following a ghost, Adam no longer feared it. Whatever it was, it
seemed to give off an aura of safety and trust.
Adam obediently followed the light deeper into the dark maze of tunnels,
never once doubting the promise it had made him.
Just as Adam felt he was about to collapse from exhaustion, the light rounded
one more corner then vanished as mysteriously as it had
appeared. This last chamber wasn’t as dark as the rest of the mine. There
appeared to be a hole above Adam’s head that allowed a thin shaft of
afternoon sunlight into this part of the mine. Adam instantly recognized
the opening as an air shaft, and where there was an air shaft, there
usually was a ladder leading up to the opening. His ordeal nearly over,
Adam felt along the dimly lit walls of the cavern, searching for the ladder.
He let out a whoop of joy when his hand found the ladder. He was about to
climb out when something shiny on the floor caught his eyes. Not
knowing why, Adam went over and picked it up. The object was circular, had
a chain attached to it and appeared to be gold in color.
When Adam held it up to the light he was shocked to see he was holding his
missing gold pocket watch. He knew it was his because, in the dim
light, he could barely see his name and birth date inscribed on the back.
Adam slowly walked back over to where he found the watch and bent
down. There, hidden in a shadowy corner, he saw a human skeleton lying on
the ground. Upon closer examination he found a battered brown hat
with a large eagle feather lying next to the bones. Instead of fear, Adam
felt a touch of sadness as he stared at the remains of the outlaw Rafe
Jessup. To further confirm the identity of the bones, Adam reached inside
the man’s jacket and pulled out a decomposing leather wallet. Sure
enough, stamped into the leather on the front of the wallet was the letters
"RJ" plus, inside the wallet Adam found a newspaper clipping detailing
the daring gold shipment robbery committed by Rafe Jessup.
Adam reverently returned the clipping to the wallet then gently tucked it
back inside Rafe’s jacket.
Before leaving the mine, Adam spent a few minutes closely examining the
skeleton, trying see if he could determine how the outlaw had died.
Without the help of a doctor, Adam could only speculate. Shrugging his shoulders,
Adam tucked his watch into his pocket then climbed up the
Just as before he reached the opening the opening in the ground, he paused
to look at the lonely skeleton one last time. In a soft voice, Adam
whispered, "Thank you Rafe Jessup for saving my life. I owe you one."
Adam struggled to push the sage brush away from the air shaft opening then
pulled his aching body out of the narrow opening. He immediately
collapsed onto his back and flung his arms out to his sides, basking in
the warm afternoon sunlight. He had never been so happy to see the sun
as he was at that moment. Adam groaned and stood up when he heard the furious
sound of hooves pounding the earth. Off in the distance he
saw a cloud of dust barreling into the canyon. Must be the rescue party,
thought Adam as he limped back to camp and collapsed on his bedroll.
Adam was right, only instead of an army of ranch hands, only three riders
materialized from the cloud of dust - Hoss, Little Joe and his father.
Ben leaped off his horse before the animal had come to a complete stop.
His face streaked with tears, he ran to his oldest son and knelt down
beside him, gathering him into his arms. "Oh my God, you’re alive," exclaimed
a very grateful father. "Hoss and Joe said you were trapped in a
"I was for several hours," Adam replied, thinking how good it felt to feel
his father’s arms around him.
Hoss began to shout at Joe when he saw Adam lying on the ground. "By golly,
Adam made it out of the mine all by himself!"
Little Joe leaped off Hoss’s horse and ran over to Adam, nearly strangling
his big brother when he threw his arms around Adam’s neck. "I’m so
glad you’re alive," cried Joe. "I thought for sure you were a goner."
"Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence, Joe."
Adam gave his pa a puzzled look. "Not that I’m unhappy to see you, I’m curious
as to how you got here so quick. I thought you were still in Carson
Ben examined the bloody gash on his son’s head and said, "I finished up
early so I thought I would ride out here and surprise you boys. And let
me tell you, I’m the one who got the surprise when I saw Hoss and Joe riding
toward me like there was no tomorrow. On the way here they filled
me in on what happened to you. I’m so grateful you found a way out."
Ben helped Adam sit up so he could check him for any other injuries. "By
the way, son....how did you get out?" asked Ben. "We thought we were
going to have to dig you out."
Adam gave his answer some serious thought before he replied. "Pa, if I told
you, I guarantee you wouldn’t believe me."
Ben gave his oldest son a huge smile. "How you got out isn’t as important
as the fact that you’re safe and sound. Let’s go home, son."
RETURN TO LIBRARY