In the episode “the Pure Truth Hoss is suffering from spring fever ( the family is also suffering from the effect on Hoss ). Joe remarks to Ben and Adam that Hoss could step on you and not realize it and mentions Hoss breaking his, Joe’s, leg the previous spring. I thought there should be a story behind that.
“Hey, Adam! Something wrong?” I rode into the yard and found my oldest brother sitting in the rocking chair on the porch rubbing the bridge of his nose like he does when something is troubling him. “Yep.” He answered me without looking up. “While I was waiting for Fred Cass to get our order together I was glancing through an Almanac. I don’t know how we missed it, but brace yourself, Joe, the first day of spring was two days ago.”
Just the thought of spring made my leg ache and I rubbed it as I went to the porch and grabbed my brother’s arm in alarm. “We have to head for the hills, Adam! Sounds like a good time to check on the line shacks!”
“Sorry, little brother, but I already brought that up with Pa. He said he wasn’t going to deal with it alone, that we are all in this together as a family. He’s sending Red and Frank up to the line shacks.” He patted my arm in sympathy.
I sighed and led Cochise off to the barn. I wasn’t going to give up as quickly as Adam. There were times I could get around Pa when Adam couldn’t. I would play on his sympathy. When I went back to the house I made sure to limp a little and plopped down on the settee rubbing my leg by my knee. When Pa walked past me on his way from his desk to the table I tried to look as pitiful as I could. Pa stopped and looked at me smiling. “Nice try, son, but it isn’t going to work. Come eat dinner.”
After a long cold winter of being cooped up together in the house most families would be happy to see spring come. Our family dreads it and wishes there was a way to skip spring and go right to summer. But yearly disaster is on its way to the Ponderosa. What kind of calamity do we dread to befall us every spring ? A flood? A mudslide? None of those. This yearly disaster is unique to the Cartwright family. A three-hundred-pound brother with spring fever!
Pa said that Hoss has gotten it every year since he was knee high to a grasshopper. Being a lot younger than Hoss I can’t imagine him being knee high to anything, let alone a grasshopper. Adam told me that it wasn’t so bad when Hoss was a little boy; he would trip over his own feet, spill his milk, drop food all over himself, things like that. Pa and Adam thought he would outgrow it, but the older he got and the bigger he got, the worse it got. Like I said, brother Hoss weighs close to three-hundred-pounds, and that makes him downright dangerous. Not that he would hurt any of us on purpose, he’s normally a gentle man and loves his family. It’s just that when that fever gets ahold of him he doesn’t pay attention to what he’s doing or what’s going on around him. He could step on you and not realize it!
For years our pa has doused him with sulphur and molasses, but it really doesn’t work all that good. Adam and I suggested every year that Hoss should be locked up in his room till summer, but Pa won’t let us do that.
Hoss has done a lot of damage over the years. Knocked down fences, left gates open and let stock out, scattered Hop Sing’s chickens to kingdom come just to mention a few instances. Not to mention the bruises all of us have gotten. By the way, chickens are a lot harder to round up than cattle. Don’t try lassoing a chicken, they are quick little devils. Last year he knocked Pa into the water trough. All of us danged near lost our hearing the way Pa bellowed ! We thought it would be safe to take Hoss fishing . What could happen ? What happened was he almost drowned Adam and hooked me in the “pondero sa” with a fish hook. He even broke his own big toe.when he tripped over a rock.
Remember, I said that Hoss could step on you without realizing it? Well, here is the story about that. After you hear it, you’ll know why I want to make myself scarce.
Spring came early last year and the early mild weather caught us off guard. Hop Sing always has molasses on hand, but Pa didn’t have any sulphur to mix up a batch and no one really had time to go into town to get any. We were all working our tails off because we were short handed. A lot of the fellows who usually sign on with us in the spring hadn’t shown up yet and some of the cowhands who hang around Virginia City all winter had taken jobs in the mines. We got through spring round up and moved the herds to the lower meadows and to the surprise of Pa, Adam, and me nothing really happened yet. Hoss did fall off his horse a few times. He had been dreamy and moony and was saying, “uh?” a lot because he didn’t hear anything the first time when spoken to. In fact, it was getting downright entertaining watching him at mealtimes doing things like putting syrup in his coffee and milk on his pancakes and eggs and gravy on his vegetables. But the three of us were getting nervous waiting for something to happen. Adam called it the sword of Damocles hanging over us. I asked him what that was and it turns out it’s a fancy way of saying waiting for the other boot to drop. We kept reminding each other that someone needed to go get some sulfur but no one ever went. By that time spring was almost over and summer was around the corner and we thought that the worst was over with the fish hook incident. Boy howdy ! Was I wrong !
The day started with what we thought was an earthquake but was only Hoss getting tangled in his covers when he went to get up and falling out of bed. We ran upstairs to check if he was all right. He was, but it took all three of us to get him untangled and on his feet. Pa is usually a stickler when it comes to grooming at the table but he even suggested that Hoss skip shaving that morning. Guess he pictured Hoss cutting his nose off or something. Adam thought that he and I should stay with Hoss till he got ready for the day in case he got all tangled up in his clothes like he did his bedding. I should have just left Adam there with him since he is the older brother and should be the one looking out for Hoss. But I couldn’t do that to Adam and, besides, Hoss looks after me when I need looked after. Hoss didn’t have any mishaps getting dressed except he almost knocked his wash basin off the wash stand when he was washing his face. I managed to catch it and got my shirt soaked. I left Adam straightening Hoss’s shirt that he had buttoned crooked and went to change my shirt. I took my time changing thinking that I would give Hoss time to get downstairs. I thought wrong. I got to the landing halfway down the staircase when I heard a herd of buffalo behind me and felt one of the buffalo bang into me. Next thing I knew I was flying through the air and bounced off the floor at the bottom of the stairs. I just sat there dazed. I would have gotten away with just a fresh batch of bruises if Hoss hadn’t got to me before Pa or Adam. I was sitting sideways to the stairs with my legs stretched out in front of me when Hoss rushed down the stairs . Yep! You guessed it. I felt and heard a bone crack when a size twelve boot with three-hundred pounds in it landed on my outstretched left leg! I let out a yell that caused Hop Sing to run out from the kitchen brandishing his meat cleaver ready to help defend the house from a Paiute attack!
“It’s not a bad break, Joe.” Doc Martin assured me while he was slapping a plaster cast on. “ But because of it being right below your knee I’ll need to put the splint to the middle of your thigh. A couple of weeks in bed to get the healing started and then we’ll get you on crutches.” At least I would be safe for a couple of weeks while I was in bed.
To add to my misery, after I was allowed downstairs Pa decided that it was a perfect time to teach me how to do the books. I’ll never complain again about how hard Miss Jones was on me about my arithmetic when I was in school.
I could tell Hoss felt bad about what happened but I had to get some kind of revenge. When he was in the house I kept him hopping besides totting me up and down the stairs. “Hey Hoss, will you get me a glass of water? Hey Hoss, would you get me that book? Hey Hoss, would you toss me an apple?” You get the picture. Until I saw Pa giving me that look that I couldn’t possibly be that thirsty or that hungry for apples and that he knew what I was doing and that I was in for a talking to.
Well, the cast finally came off and I could put the crutches in the attic. Spring turned into summer and Hoss was back to normal. During the winter Dr. Martin told Pa about a tonic that was better for curing spring fever than sulphur and molasses. Pa stocked up on it so when Adam reminded him that spring had already started Pa got a bottle of it out of the storehouse and started spooning it down Hoss. And, by golly, it worked ! At least we thought it did. In a way, anyhow. It made Hoss too sleepy to be dangerous. But when he fell asleep in church and drowned out the sermon with his snoring and the minister stopped talking and looked pointedly at us like he was saying “Begone, Satan!” and Pa’s face turned bright red in embarrassment as we supported Hoss down the aisle and out the door Pa decided that it would be a good idea to cut the amount of tonic he was spooning into Hoss. It didn’t help Pa’s embarrassment any that all the way out of the church Hoss was waking up and muttering things like “Huh?” “What?” and some things we didn’t catch. Pa was a mite put out, too, that me and Adam couldn’t look at each other without laughing. Pa apologized to Reverend Fletcher later in the week and the following Sunday put double his usual amount in the collection basket and made it quite clear to the three of us that we do the same.
“Adam, you have to talk to Pa about not making us take Hoss to town with us tomorrow ! What’s so funny? You want to take Hoss to town while he’s got spring fever?” My brother was trying to stifle a laugh. “Sorry, little brother. What you said just struck me as funny. It wasn’t that long ago Hoss was saying the same thing to me about you”, Adam chuckled and patted me on the shoulder. I didn’t think it was that funny. “How about we sneak away without him”, I persisted. “Y ou really want to hear what Pa will say if we do that?” Adam countered. “Come on Joe. It won’t be so bad. Hoss is doing better since Pa figured out how much of that tonic to give him. The two of us should be able to handle him.”
Well, I didn’t have any choice but to go along with it, but I made Adam promise not to leave me alone with Hoss. Before we got to town Adam told me he had an idea but wouldn’t tell me what it was. He had me drop him and Hoss of at Sheriff Coffey’s office and go on and get our order filled at Cass’s and to wait at the Silver Dollar. I cringed when Hoss almost fell on Adam when he was helping Hoss out of the wagon, but, better Adam than me this time. I got done at Cass’s and was still on my first beer and was watching a tense poker game when Adam came in the door, ordered a beer, and motioned me towards a table.
“Hey ! Where’s Hoss? Did you talk Sheriff Coffey into locking him up for the safety of the town?” I asked Adam when I sat down. Adam took a long drink from his beer before he got around to answering me. “Nope, better. I remembered that Roy mentioned to Pa that he could use some temporary help around the office. Nothing official, just sweeping up and going and getting prisoners their meals and sorting through wanted posters, that kind of thing. Well, our brother is the sheriff’s new temporary office help. He should be able to handle that. Come on, get the wagon while I get Sport, we have to get going in case Roy changes his mind.” Adam practically pulled my arm off pulling me out of my chair and out the door. On the way home I finally got a chance to ask Adam why Sherriff Coffey would change his mind so quickly. “What aren’t you telling me, Adam?” which is usually a question Adam is asking me. “As I was leaving Roy’s office Hoss shut Roy’s fingers in a drawer! Hoss Cartwright strikes again !” When Adam winked at me I started laughing so hard I almost drove off the road.
Of course, when we got home Pa wanted to know what we did with Hoss. Adam told me to let him do the talking when we got home, so I happily let him since it was his idea. “Did with Hoss ? You make it sound like we tied him to a tree somewhere or shut him up in an old mine! That hurts, Pa that you would think that we would do something with our brother. “ I just sat there looking insulted. “Remember that Roy told you he needed some temporary help in his office? Hoss volunteered to help him out. He stayed in town to start helping right away and I’ll take Hoss some clothes and things tomorrow. Come on, Joe, let’s get these supplies unloaded.”
“Just a minute, you two!” We stopped in our tracks; Adam with a fifty-pound bag of potatoes over his shoulder and me with two twenty-five pound bags of flour. “I’ll take Hoss’s things to him and talk to him and Roy and find out if Hoss really did volunteer or you shanghaied him.” Adam and I unloaded the wagon while Pa muttered something about “at least they didn’t shanghai Hoss to China”.
The next day Pa came home from town a mite angry, well, to be truthful, very angry at us. It seems that Hoss wasn’t at the sheriff’s office. Roy had sent him to Martin’s Flats to deliver a prisoner named Harvey Lynch. He assured Pa that the fellow wasn’t dangerous, only a pickpocket , but the sheriff in Martin’s Flats wanted him back there because the pocket he picked was the mayor’s. We all started to worry when Sheriff Coffey got a telegram from Martin’s Flats wanting to know where the prisoner was. Then he got a telegram from the sheriff of Martin City wanting to know if he knew a Hoss Cartwright and a Harvey Lynch. Sheriff Coffey and the three of us high tailed it to Martin City and found Hoss in jail along with Harvey. Seems like Hoss delivered his prisoner to the wrong town and Harvey told the sheriff there that he was Hoss Cartwright and Hoss was his prisoner, Harvey Lynch. The sheriff must be a little dim to think that Harvey would be called Hoss because he is smaller than me. Roy Coffey got the mess straightened out and sent Adam to Martin’s Flats with Harvey. I volunteered to go with Adam, but Pa made me ride home with him, Hoss and Sheriff Coffey. Pa had Hoss’s tonic in his saddle bag and gave him a douse even though the fever was running its course. Me, he told that he expected a trick like that from me but not from Adam and when Adam got home we were in for a serious talk. Thank goodness that I’m too old for a necessary talk, let along oldest brother. But I could picture us chopping mountains of kindling.
I was right about that. It seemed that we chopped enough kindling to supply the whole Washoe for the winter. That wasn’t as bad as the serious talk. Adam did take all the blame but that didn’t save me. The blisters on our hands were smarting from all the axe wielding. Adam’s pride was smarting that a man his age was being punished like his eighteen-year-old kid brother. I was smarting because I didn’t know a thing about what Adam was planning till afterwards but was still in trouble for it. And to add insult to injury, seeing Hoss and Pa lounging on the porch with lemonade and cookies watching us work!
Adam’s already hatching a plan for next spring. For a fellow who is supposed to be so smart his plan didn’t work out too good. Maybe I should do some hatching of plans of my own.