DEAD MAN'S CANYON
Seven year old Joseph Cartwright sat at his father's business desk with a sheet of white
butcher's paper and an overly large crayon.
The little boy thought for a moment about what he might draw to please his father and older
brothers Adam and Hoss. Suddenly an idea came to him. He sprawled his right hand out
over the sheet of paper and gripped the black crayon in between his thumb and fingers of
his left hand.
Slowly and as carefully as he could he started to trace around the shape of his hand onto
the paper. When he got to the end, he laid the crayon back on the desk and picked up the
piece of paper to examine his work.
The fingers were a little on the skinny side. It was harder than he thought to hold his hand
still enough to draw around it. Plus it took all of his five little fingers to hold the crayon
just right with enough pressure to make an
He was surveying his handiwork with a smile on his face when he heard a voice bellow
from behind him:
"LITTLE JOE, WHAT ARE YOU DOING" came the angry question from his
big brother Adam.
Joe hadn't heard anybody approach him from behind and almost jumped out of his skin as his
brother yelled at him.
"I..... I was just making a picture for you and Hoss and Pa, Adam"
he said in a small voice.
Adam wasn't concerned about what the little boy was holding up to show him. He was just
worried that this was the second time in a week that the boy had been caught at his father's
desk when he was told not to.
"What were you told about going to Pa's desk, Little Joe" Adam asked with his hands on his
hips. He had been outside in the yard all day while it was hot and was in no mood for the
explanations of a overactive seven year old.
"But Adam,......... "
Joe tried to answer in his defence.
"No buts, Little Joe, except yours over my knee if I catch you at that desk again" Adam said
hotly. He didn't wait for a reply and walked out
the door ready to resume his task outside.
Adam was out the door when the crocodile size tears fell from his little face. He didn't know
what he had done to make his big brother so angry. He thought he was drawing his family a
lovely picture. He didn't think he was doing anything naughty. Not naughty enough to receive
a trip over Adam's knee.
He ran upstairs to his room with his picture tuck safely under his arm. He dived on his bed,
head first and buried his curly head into the pillow and cried. He lifted his head up and spotted
his teddy bear friend Bo and clutched it close to his little chest and proceeded to cry tears all over
the stuffed animal.
"Why don't they want to play with me Bo" he said through sobs. There was nobody else on
the ranch to play with. His father was always out with the men tending to the cattle with Hoss.
Adam was too busy handling the timber contract to bother about a lonely
The truth was he was lonely. Very lonely. He was banned from going into the barn without
his father or brothers. He couldn't go to the corral without being under somebody's watchful
eye. When everyone got fed up with him or couldn't afford the time to be with him, he was
banished to the inside of the house. This is where
he had found himself this afternoon.
The teddy bear just looked back at him with large black eyes. His face was always poised
with a smile no matter what his master had been accused of. Bo never yelled at him. Bo always
had time to play with him. Bo never got bored with the endless stream of questions. Bo was
the only true friend he had.
He had been to school today. Hoss had come with him as far as the school house but he had
to return to the ranch to help his father and the rest of the hands. Hoss was big for his age and
when the hands were low in numbers, Hoss was usually first to put up his hand to help out.
He didn't enjoy school anyway. Hoss always felt left out with his peers due
to his size.
Little Joe didn't understand why he had to go to school and his brothers got to stay at home with
Pa. Little Joe had always staying at home with Pa. Since his mother Marie had passed away
a little over two years ago, he was always when Pa
went away that he wouldn't come back
When Adam had come to pick him up from the schoolhouse, Joe had been happy enough.
His day had been a quite one. First up he had a spelling test from Ms Jones. He had spent his
recess time talking to the new boy in school. He was a strange looking kid with dark hair
and olive skin. Joe had talked to him because he seemed to be sitting all on his one like
Joe was. His name was Johnny Scott. He was seven and a half.
It was after they returned home that Joe began to feel all alone again. He had put his little
horse Star away in the barn with the help of his brother Hoss. His big brother had shown him
how to comb the little horse's mane and coat. He showed Little Joe how much to feed the
little horse at night time. It had been Hoss who attended to most of the physical parts of the
lecture. Joe just listened to what his brother was telling him. Later when he was as big as
Hoss and Adam he wanted to ride all of the horses on the ranch. He had to listen now to know
what to do then.
Around the dinner table that night, the mood was sombre. Pa had only returned just upon dusk.
He was very tired and wasn't ready for the energy of his youngest son. He gave him a
half-hearted hug as the little boy wrapped himself around his legs when he walked through the
door. As soon as he managed to pry Little Joe free, Ben was telling his son to wash up for
supper. There wouldn't be any time for play
Ben could see the depressed look on his youngest son's face. He had his head bowed and was
trying to stab a wayward pea on the plate with his knife. The attempts he made failed and only
resulted in a sharp screeching sound of metal on porcelain which put the older Cartwright's nerves
"Little Joe do you really have to do that" Adam said impatiently.
He had a throbbing headache.
Little Joe just slumped lower in his chair and forgot all about the food on his plate. Adam was
yelling at him for the second time this afternoon.
Ben tried to ease the tension a little "Little Joe, what did you do
after school this afternoon?"
"Got roused on by Adam" came the hot
reply from the youngster.
"Watch your tone, young man" Ben warned "You don't have to be so rude at the dinner
table, Little Joe."
This scolding only got the little man's temper up more. "Fine, may I be excused, Pa.
Everybody picks on me anyway." He didn't wait for his father's reply. He stomped his
way upstairs and went into his bedroom.
"What had gotten into your younger brother" Ben asked his
remaining two sons.
"Don't know Pa" Hoss replied "Me and him helped brush Star down and he seemed alright
then in the barn." Hoss didn't like to see his little brother upset. He would have to find
out what was wrong with him.
"I found him at your desk this afternoon, Pa" Adam chimed in "He was told twice earlier
this week to stay away. It doesn't seem to matter what I tell him these days, he just the
"Oh Adam, I sure it's not as bad as all that" Ben said trying to defend Little Joe somewhat.
"Joe's a growing boy and needs things to keep him occupied. He gets bored easily. You
will just have to make some small allowances for him. The school holidays are coming up
at the end of this week. Maybe you can all go
fishing and get him out of the house for a day."
Adam just mumbled some other words under his breath and then excused himself and
went into his own room for a while. Pa was right. Little Joe was just being a kid. He regretted
that he had yelled at Joe at the desk, but he was just tired and let things get the better of him.
Little Joe was probably asleep now so he would offer his apologizes in the
Ben climbed the stairs and went to knock on the door of Joe's room. Like Adam he fully
expected the boy to be sleeping. Instead, he found that the little boy hadn't noticed his
presence yet and he was able to listen to the heart to heart conversation he was having with
his bear Bo.
"Bo, I wish Mama would come back" he said on the verge of a fresh set of tears.
"Adam wouldn't be so mean with Mama here. I didn't mean to make him angry today.
I just wished there was somebody for me to play with."
Ben listened to his son's words and felt his own heart grow heavy at the emotion displayed.
His little boy was hurting. Ben was even sadder that his son was still so upset over Marie's
Ben coughed to alert his presence in the room. Little Joe was startled at first that somebody
else was in the room. He looked up and saw that it was his father, but the tears couldn't
"Little Joe," Ben started to say. He sat beside his son on the bed and was greeted by the
boy wrapping his thin little arms around his broad chest and burying his head in his embrace
"I just want somebody to play with Pa" the little boy sobbed. Ben had to fight back tears
of his own at his son's obvious distress. He rarely thought about there not being many
children for Joe to associate with. With the running of the ranch keeping him busy from
sunrise to sunset, some of his youngest son's most
basic needs weren't being met.
"I'll try and put it right son" Ben said softly. "I promise,
please don't cry."
Ben just held his son for a bit longer. The little boy kept his grip tight around Ben's middle.
Soon Ben could feel the steady heart beat and rhythmic breathing of Little Joe signalling that
the boy had fallen asleep.
Ben laid his son's curly head on the soft pillow and ran his hand gently down his face over
the tear trails left behind. He brushed back a few unruly curls and promised to make an
effort tomorrow. He would speak to Hoss and Adam too about spending some much needed
time with their brother.
"Goodnight, my angel" Ben said as he dimmed the lantern and kissed
his son on the forehead.
The next day was Tuesday, a school day. It started out like all the others:
"Hoss will you go and rouse Little Joe out of bed please and tell him to get dressed for school"
Ben said over his morning cup of coffee.
"Sure Pa" Hoss replied to the request.
Twenty minutes later a very grumpy Little Joe came down the stairs with his shirt buttoned
in the wrong holes and no shoes on his feet.
"Come here Joseph, please" Ben said trying not to get cross this
time of the morning.
Joe obediently went to his father while rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.
Ben re-buttoned the shirt into the right holes and tucked his shirt into his trousers. "Go and
get your boots please Little Joe. It's almost time for you to leave. I want you to be able
to eat a reasonable breakfast before you start the
Joe answered and went back upstairs to fetch his sock and boots.
He only managed to shovel a few mouthfuls of scrambled eggs and toast into his
mouth before Adam was hollering at the front door that
it was time to leave.
"See you this afternoon Pa and Hoss" the little boy said as he scrambled out the
door. Ben just shook at his head in dismay as the morsel of food the boy managed
to eat. That few mouthfuls was supposed to sustain that endless energy until lunch
time. Ben just hoped that Hop Sing had packed a
good lunch for the little boy.
The ride to the schoolhouse was very quiet. Adam was too busy thinking about
the day's projects ahead to talk to his little brother. Joe was still angry at his big
brother for rousing on him for no reason, so he
said nothing to Adam either.
"Hoss or Pa will pick you up this afternoon Little Joe" Adam said as he prepared
to leave his Little brother in the hands of Miss
"Aren't you going to pick me up" Joe inquired.
Joe was angry at Adam but he knew that his big brother would be leaving for University in a few
months and he wanted to spend as much time with him as possible. Even if it meant both of them
didn't talk to each other. Once Adam left for Boston, the only communication would be
by letter and that just wasn't the same as being able to look at his brother Adam when he needed
to talk about something.
"No I haven't got time for that today Joe" Adam said in reply. He didn't realize that his
little brother would read a different meaning into
those words altogether.
Yeah, don't have enough time for me Joe thought to himself.
"I'll see you at home tonight Joe" Adam said trying to make up for not being able to pick
Little Joe up from school. He intended to be at the lumber camp today and he wouldn't
have enough time to ride back in time to pick his
little brother up.
His brother didn't intend to hear any of Adam's explanations about his excuses. He just
walked towards the school room with his shoulders
hunched and his head hung low.
The morning passed quickly enough. Joe handed in his homework as requested by Miss Jones.
The teacher looked at his work while see set the children working on a few simple arithmetic
problems on the blackboard at the front of the room. She frowned at first as Joe's homework
assignment. It was all smudged but seemed to be correct enough. She promised to herself
that when she returned from her break, she would spend some extra time with Joe so that he
could improve his writing skills. The smudges occurred because his hand would move across
the freshly written words and cause to ink to be
spread over the page by his hand.
She had thought it odd when she first seen the little curly head boy writing with the opposite
hand to everyone else. But in the end, if he was comfortable enough in writing with his left
hand, who was she to tell him any different. He just needed some guidance and self confidence
and she was sure that his penmanship would improve
They all went out to lunch and Joe said with Johnny Scott again for
"What does your father do, Joe" Johnny asked.
"He and my brothers run a big place for cows. It's called the Ponderosa. It goes for
miles and miles. You can't even see some parts of
it." Joe answered with pride.
"Wow," Johnny replied in earnest "My Pa and me just moved to town. He's a blacksmith.
He started working at the Livery stable day before yesterday."
"What about your Ma" Joe asked.
Johnny was a little hesitant is answering at first. "She's not here anymore" he said without
going into any more detail.
Joe could see that the boy didn't want to talk about his mother.
"Yeah, my Ma died too" Joe said. He was ashamed to talk about his mother Marie. But
it still hurt inside sometimes.
"I bet your Pa takes real good care of you don't he?" Johnny now asked trying to change
"Yeah mostly" Joe replied, this time the hesitation was in his voice. "But lately nothing
I do seems to make them happy. Especially Adam my big brother. Yesterday I was just
drawing a picture and he roused at me for drawing at Pa's desk. Told me he was going to
give me a tanning just for drawing a picture."
"I know what you mean Joe" Johnny said. "I have been in trouble some myself the last
few days with my Pa. Just wish sometimes there was somewhere we could go. Just to
be on our own. Know what I mean?"
"Yes, I know what you mean" Joe said. "And I've know the perfect place. It's called
Dead Man's Canyon. I don't know how it got it's name. But it's really neat. Me and
my other big brother Hoss went there once and we called it our "Happy Place'. There's
all sorts of caves and rocks to climb over. Lots of shady trees and a neat little stream
that runs right through the middle of the whole place. Someday I'm gonna go there.
Joe thought the need to escape to his little hiding place might come sooner than everybody
thought, but before he could explain to his friend Johnny anymore, Miss Jones rang the bell
and told them that recess was now over.
"Want to meet me after school at the lake for some fishing, Little Joe?" Johnny asked before
the two new friends separated inside the class
Joe thought a moment. His Pa didn't normally let him go off without one of his brothers
looking after him. Maybe he could do his chores quickly enough and sneak away for a few
minutes anyway. It wasn't as though anybody would
notice him not being there anyway.
"Sure Johnny, but I have to do my chores first. I'll meet there after that" Joe replied and
they quickly rejoined the rest of their class in
The afternoon then seemed to drag for the little boy who was for the first time in his
life eager to get home and complete his chores on time. Of course there was another
reason behind it.
Miss Jones told them how they had done with the problems on the blackboard. Joe
had managed to get three of the five problems correct. He would have got all five
right, but his concentration had started to waver towards the end of the lesson and he
had just made a couple of adding up errors.
"Class before you are dismissed this afternoon, I have a couple of announcements" Miss
Jones said to the children.
"Firstly, there will be a new homework assignment for tonight" she said and got innumerable
groans for her efforts. She smiled slightly at the children's over exaggerated response to the
idea of homework.
"Secondly, tomorrow I will not be here." she continued. This comment was met be stone
cold silent from the class. The children had never known in their short two years at school
for the petite little school teacher not to be there waiting for them every morning.
"I'm sorry to disappoint you all, but I have to travel urgently back East. There are only
three days left for this school semester, I will be
back before school starts again."
A little blond girl Carrie in the front of the class spoke up for everyone else "Who is going
to teach us Miss Jones" she said in a small
"A nice man by the name of Mr Watson will be here to meet you in the morning. I expect
that you will all complete that homework assignment for me because I have left instructions
for Mr Watson to check them all first thing in the morning. Don't worry children, I will miss
you all terribly over the summer break, but I will
be back before you know it. Class dismissed."
Miss Jones failed to note that the most confused look about her news came from a certain
little boy in the back of the classroom. He got up from his chair and carried his books outside,
but his mind was still trying to comprehend what
she had just told them.
Little Joe had never had any other teacher but Miss Jones. He didn't like the idea of a
stranger in the class room. He just hoped that the three days Mr Watson was here went
very quickly indeed.
Hoss was waiting for Little Joe as promised and holding the reins of his little pony Star.
He could see the confusion written all over the youngster's face: "What's up punkin"
Joe looked up in surprise when he heard Hoss talking to him "Oh nothin' Hoss" he
answered as he climbed aboard his small mount. "Miss Jones says she is going away
tomorrow. There is going to be a new teacher for
the next few days."
"Don't worry Little Joe" Hoss said trying to reassure his nervous sibling. "I'm sure this
new teacher is nice too like Miss Jones. Come on you've got chores to do at home and
Adam's waiting for you"
Joe had almost forgot about doing his chores quickly enough to meet Johnny down at
the lake. Without saying another word he spurred his little horse into the fastest pace
the little horse could manage. He needed to get
home in a hurry and get them done.
Hoss just looked at his brother's back in amazement. One minute the kid looked like
he had just lost his best friend, the next, he was riding so fast he could barely keep up.
He just shook his head and tried to catch up to his young brother before he fell off the
little horse and hurt himself.
When Hoss arrived back at the yard, he rode Chubb into the barn and saw his little
brother trying to unsaddle his horse Star. Even though the horse was small enough
in size for it's rider, Star's saddle was still too heavy for Little Joe and the little boy
tumbled backwards into the soft hay from the unexpected weight of the leather saddle
as he lifted it off his mount.
Hoss chuckled out loud and immediately got a scowl from his little brother in response.
He immediately got of his own horse and went to help his brother right
"I can do it myself Hoss" Joe yelled back hotly, a little embarrassed at having fallen
"I was only gonna help you Little Joe" Hoss said to the annoyed
"Why don't you go and start your egg collecting for Hop Sing" Hoss suggested, trying
to avert his little brother's hostility from the
"Can I go and play after I finish my chores Hoss?" Joe now asked trying to hide the
fishing afternoon he had planned with Johnny Scott.
"You can do what you want as long as your chores are done first Little Joe" Hoss said
in a warning voice "You know what Adam will
say if you forget to do them."
Joe smiled to himself at the answer he had gotten from his bigger brother and had no reason
to think that he couldn't meet Johnny down at Lake
Tahoe like he had arranged.
So for the next half an hour, Little Joe went happily about collecting the eggs from the hen
house and then gathering some of the kindling from the wood box outside the barn to take
into Hop Sing so he could start cooking dinner.
Adam had been inside the house when Little Joe dropped the wood beside the stove in the
kitchen. Little Joe walked out to see his big brother sitting at Pa's desk looking over some
of the ranch's accounts.
"Hi Adam" Joe said trying to sound cheerful. "I'm home" he said in a voice that was probably
a little loud for inside but Joe didn't seem to
notice the volume.
"So I hear from your shouting" Adam replied without looking up from his books. "Have you
got them chores done yet?" he asked his
"Yep, almost done" Joe said trying not to let Adam's dark mood get
"Fine" Adam said without to much interest "Supper will be ready in about an hour or so."
he continued as he kept his mind on the figures in front of him. He wasn't actually trying to
ignore Joe but at the moment with his father busy at the lumber yard for most of the day, it
was up to him to make sure that the other chores around the ranch were done every day and
that included the awful job of paperwork.
Joe's shoulder slumped slightly before he took himself back out the kitchen door. He tried
hard not to let Adam's lack of interest get to him. He went into the barn and got out his fishing
pole and hooks and started walking towards Lake
Tahoe to meet his new friend Johnny.
Hoss had not seen his little brother headed towards the lake. He was busy trying to get a
stubborn cow into the corrals and his full attention was needed to avoid the animal becoming
aggressive and causing trouble.
By the time he made the quick five minute walk to the lake, Little Joe's mood had improved
somewhat and he was whistling once he reached the
banks of the lake.
Johnny Scott was already sitting on a rock with his fishing line in the water when he spotted
Joe and called him over. "Hi Ya Little Joe" Johnny said with a grin. "Didn't think you were
"Had to do some yucky chores first" Joe replied "That big brother Adam of mine is in a bad
"Boy, by the sound of that brother of yours, I'm glad he's not my
brother." Johnny said
"Oh he's alright some times, but he had been mad at me almost everyday this week. He
does it when Pa's away. I can't wait for Pa to come back tonight. He'll want to spend time
For the next forty minutes, the two young boys sat on the rock beside the lake with their
fishing lines in the water. Johnny didn't have much
luck at catching anything.
Joe had a fish on his line and was tugging pretty hard to try and reel it in. He stood up
to try and get some more strength in his actions but no sooner then he had yanked back
on the line, the fish pulled hard again on the other line. So hard in fact that Little Joe
was caught unexpectedly and ended up on his knees
in the water.
Joe stood up and tried to get a good look at himself. The fishing pole was forgotten
and started to float away into the deeper water away from him. Joe could see that most
of his trousers had gotten soaked from the water as had his shirt. He knew that he would
have to get home and changed quickly before Adam or his Pa saw him otherwise he would
be in big trouble.