Summary: WHN for Death at Dawn. Adam’s brothers didn’t stick with him and he put his father’s life on the line. How would you feel after it was all over?
Rating: K+ (5,190 words)
Adam Cartwright sat straight up in bed with such force his disheveled bedcovers fell to the floor in a heap. Rubbing his face to clear his head, the remnants of his dream quickly fading, he caught hold of one last sight – his father dangling lifelessly from a hangman’s noose. Wrapping his arms about his knees, he rocked back and forth squeezing shut his eyes to still the tears that marked them. What’s the matter with me? Pa’s fine, asleep in the next room. Alive. But I gambled with his life.
Swinging his legs over the side, he sat there clutching the bed silently praying that these useless thoughts would leave him be. Each night since he’d grabbed hold of his father’s arm in the street, safe from the clutches of Sam Bryant, these thoughts assailed him making any amount of good sleep impossible. Whirling about his brain were what if’s that could drown a man with their insistent voices making him question his judgment and his standing as a son. What if I’d been wrong?
“Enough,” hissed through clenched teeth as he stood, hastily tossing on his robe and moving out into the hall to grasp the railing until his knuckles shone white. The Grandfather clock near the front door struck 2:00am and drew his attention to the brandy on the table below. These last few nights it hadn’t given him the solace he was seeking. Why would it be any different tonight? He knew where he had to go, what he had to see.
Making his way to his father’s room, he eased open the door and stepped quietly inside. Taking his usual seat in the rocker by the window gave him a clear view of the man asleep in the bed, the man who could so easily have been lost if he’d been wrong. If he’d been wrong. But I wasn’t? But I could’ve been. He dropped his head into his hands. What if I’d been wrong?
“You look tired, Adam,” Sheriff Dale Biggs* commented to Adam and Ben as they entered Paul Martin’s office.
“I’ve had some late nights,” he admitted, hoping Ben would cut in. He did.
“How’re you feeling, Dale? Paul putting you back together?” Ben asked.
“He needs to rest,” came Paul’s voice from the other room.
“They’re just bein’ neighborly, Doc.”
“Just make sure it doesn’t last too long.”
“Maybe we should go,” Adam prompted taking a step toward the door.
“No, no,” Biggs began. “You’ll take my mind off my pains. Besides I’ve got a favor to ask.”
“Oh?” Ben said sitting in a chair by Biggs’ bed,
“Until I’m up and around, I’d like Adam to be my stand-in,” he stated holding out a badge in Adam’s direction.
A cold shiver ran through Adam at the prospect and he quickly forced a pleasant smile onto his face. “Thanks, but no, Sheriff,” he politely responded drawing a look from his father.
“Why not?” Ben asked. “You did a mighty fine job.” Ben was proud and Adam couldn’t understand how he could be. He cleared his throat.
“Ah, I appreciate the offer, Sheriff,” Adam began, his hands fussing with his hat, “but I think my brothers are better suited. I’m glad you’re feeling better. Now, if you’ll excuse me . . .” His voice trailed off and he turned, Ben’s eyes not wavering from his back as he hastily left the doctor’s office.
“That was unexpected,” commented Ben.
“Not really,” Biggs answered, rubbing the badge on his nightshirt to clean off an imaginary smudge.
“What makes you say that?” Ben asked, stepping to the window to see his eldest staring at the jail and the gallows that still stood, then turn away, mount Sport, and ride off.
“I put him in an unfair position, Ben – holdin’ your life in his hands. I don’t know if I could’ve made that decision if it was my father being threatened with hangin’.”
“You didn’t put him in that position, Dale. Sam Bryant did. Besides, he made the only decision he could,” Ben argued as he returned to Biggs. “Farmer Perkins had to hang.”
“Yes, but you didn’t. He gambled with your life, Ben, and won but he could’ve easily lost. That weighs heavy on a man, especially someone like Adam who believes in the law and family. It took a lot of guts to follow through and hang Farmer Perkins with you as the bait. And don’t forget he had his brothers to deal with as well.”
“His brother’s stand with him,” Ben confidently said.
Biggs raised his brows. “Ol’ Hal Winston* tells me there was lots of arguin’ goin’ on just before dawn. Didn’t sound like they was all agreein’.” Biggs winced, trying to find a more comfortable position, glancing up at Ben as he turned back to the window. “Don’t you worry none. Your boy’ll figure it out. And I’ll find someone to sit in for me.”
Ben couldn’t fathom a time when his son’s wouldn’t stand together. Is that what happened the whole time he was with Bryant? Had the boys been arguing over what was right? He figured how that conversation had gone. I have to find Adam!
“Rest easy, Dale,” Ben said as he picked up his hat. “I’ve got to go.” Left to himself when his only visitor scooted out the door, Biggs lifted up the badge to catch the morning light, hearing the good doctor puttering around in his office. It couldn’t hurt to ask.
“Hey, Doc?” he shouted. “Want to be sheriff for awhile?”
“Have you seen Adam?” Ben asked of Hop Sing as he made his way into the kitchen. “Has he been home?”
“Gone,” was all Hop Sing said, disappearing into the pantry, Ben following after.
“What do you mean gone?”
“Gone as in here then gone,” the cook explained picking through the vegetables.
“Did he say where he was going?” Ben asked, backing out of Hop Sing’s way as the cook found what he was looking for and headed back out into the kitchen.
“No,” was all Hop Sing said, exasperation touching his voice.
“Damn,” Ben muttered, catching his cook’s attention.
“He no eat breakfast, no eat lunch. Third day in row. Pace, pace, pace all night long. Hardly touch food at night. Don’t like,” Hop Sing explained with a waggle of his finger. “Number One son think too much.”
“Think . . ?”
“Hey, Hop Sing, I’m starvin’,” Hoss announced from the doorway as the little cook smiled, looking around Ben.
“At least one Cartwright like food. Sit. Out soon,” the cook said, pushing both of them out of his domain.
“What’s eatin’ him?” Hoss asked, taking his customary seat at the table.
Ben sighed. “It appears Adam isn’t eating breakfast, lunch or dinner,” he explained placing a hand on the back of his chair.
“He ain’t sleepin’ to good neither,” Hoss added oft-handedly, tucking his napkin into his shirt, looking up to catch a questioning look from Ben. “I seen him out in the barn a couple of times this week real late.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Ben asked taking a seat.
Hoss shrugged. “I didn’t think nothin’ on it, Pa. He’s always done that.”
“He has?” What else don’t I know?
“Yeah, when somethin’s troublin’ him or he has to work out a problem, he goes out to the corral or into the barn. I think he’s discussin’ it with Sport, although he’d never admit to that,” Hoss finished with a half smile.
“If you thought he had a problem . . .”
“Hey, what’s for lunch?” Joe called tossing his hat onto the sideboard and plopping down into his chair. “Where’s Adam?”
“I don’t know,” Ben said looking at the both of them, Biggs’ words whirling about his head. “I was hoping one or the other of you might know.”
“We’ve been out with the herd all morning, Pa,” Joe stated.
“Ain’t seen much of ‘im since we brung ya home, Pa. Spends most of his time with you,” Hoss added.
That’s true. Adam had been spending more time with me and away from his brothers. Hmm, thought Ben.
“What happened the night before Farmer Perkins was hung?” Ben asked noting their curious looks at this unexpected question.
“We done tol’ ya what happened, Pa,” Hoss answered.
“I want the whole story from dusk ‘til dawn.”
“Why?” Joe asked feeling nervous all of a sudden.
“I’m just curious about a few things. Like how’d you boys get along? Did anyone in town back you up? Did following the law get in the way of things?”
“What did Adam tell you?” Joe’s hard voice filled the room making Hoss flinch. Ben noted the narrowed eyes and flaring nostrils giving away his youngest son’s feelings as if he’d written them on a wall for all to see. Sore spot found. He clasped his hands together to keep them from balling into fists not liking where he thought this conversation was heading.
“Adam didn’t tell me anything,” Ben began softly. “Come to think of it, he let the both of you do all the talking that day, didn’t interject once as I recall. How unlike your brother.”
“We was just relieved ta see ya, Pa,” Hoss piped up with a smile, “and ol’ Adam was just plum tuckered out. Why, he did a fine job. Told the town what he was gonna do and stuck to it. Ya know how seriously older brother takes the law.”
“Yes, I do,” Ben answered with a nod, casting a glance at both of them. “Then can you explain why, when Sheriff Biggs offered Adam the job of temporary sheriff, he turned it down?”
“He didn’t like it, Pa,” Joe began, his anger quickly fading as he realized Adam hadn’t said a thing about their words that awful night. “None of us did. Holding a man’s life in your hands can make an old man of you overnight.”
“Really, because his answer was ‘I think my brothers are better suited’. Now if you all felt that way, why would he say that?”
“Don’t rightly know, Pa,” Hoss answered solemnly. “He was the one holdin’ everythin’ together.”
“Yeah, Pa. He was in charge,” Joe finished lamely just as Hop Sing entered depositing plates of fried chicken and mashed potatoes in front of each of them. Joe and Hoss stared at their plates until Hoss finally picked up his fork only to feel Ben’s hand on his arm.
“What happened just before dawn?” Ben forced himself to remain calm when Hoss failed to answer. He turned to Joe. “What did you say to your brother? Did you support him? Did you stand with him?” Joe couldn’t meet his father’s piercing gaze and Hoss just stared at his plate.
Anger rose in Ben. These boys . . . these boys who’d helped each other through the years, loved each other above all else, left their older brother to shoulder the responsibility alone. Shame filled him. He wasn’t surprised Adam hadn’t said anything. It wasn’t in his nature to tattle on his brothers over something like this especially if he’d been unsure as well. But how could they abandon him? Question him but never abandon him.
“These are simple questions, boys. While I was being held captive and Adam had to choose between upholding the law or giving in to Bryant, did you or did you not stand with your brother?” His voice was rising and they could hear the disappointment within it, a sound they never wanted to hear directed at them.
“Pa, we . . .” Hoss stuttered finally looking up at his father. “We tried. We really did but . . .”
“We just couldn’t, Pa,” Joe interjected hoping to salvage something. “We couldn’t see why Perkins’ life was worth more than yours. All Adam had to do was let him go . . .”
“And he kept talkin’ about how he knew what Sam Bryant was thinkin’,” Hoss jumped in, “and we just couldn’t see how he could. He was riskin’ yer life, Pa. We just couldn’t abide by that.”
There was a long pause as Ben searched the faces of the sons he thought he knew, holding his anger in check. That’s why Adam had stayed so close to him these last few days, why he was trembling so in the street that dreadful dawn. He’d had to make an awful choice, the only choice, and he’d made it alone.
“I see,” was all Ben said, the tone making both of his sons cringe as they watched him bend his head and close his eyes.
“We’re sorry, Pa,” Joe quietly said staring at his plate.
“Yeah, Pa. We didn’t mean to . . .” Hoss’ voice trailed off as Ben released his arm and stood.
“Where . . . where ya going?” Joe asked his stomach rumbling.
“I’m going to find your brother.”
“But you don’t know where he is,” Joe said.
“I’ll find him.”
“We’ll come with you,” Hoss said pushing back his chair, stopped by Ben’s outstretched hand.
“No. You’ve done enough.”
“But we want to apologize . . .” Joe began.
“It’s a little late for that, isn’t it?” Ben skewered them with a look, grabbed his hat off the wall peg and headed out the door, closing it with a resounding slam just as Hop Sing reappeared, his smile fading at the full plates left on the table.
“Now you no eat?” he spat, a long string of Cantonese drifting about the room as he waved his hands in the air and started back toward the kitchen. Stopping suddenly, he turned, both boys looking up at him. “Your brother good man. Only have family best interest at heart and glad to make hard decision. He think and then do. Younger brothers should pay attention. Remember who love you like no other. Seem to have forgotten this important fact.” He glared at both of them then turned away. “Have plenty food in kitchen,” was said as he hurried out of the room. Hoss looked after Hop Sing and Joe rested his head in his hands.
“We’re not very good brothers are we?” Joe asked with a heavy sigh, looking up as Hoss suddenly stood. “What’s the matter?”
“Let’s go,” Hoss said moving toward the kitchen.
“Where we goin’?”
“We cain’t apologize sittin’ here. Now get up. I might know where he is.”
A hopeful grin touched Joe’s face as he followed after his bigger brother.
Adam sat quietly in his thinking place – a secluded meadow high above Lake Tahoe with views from horizon to horizon. He’d found it when he was about 12 and it was the place he rode to when things became too much. Often this special place worked its magic.
But today as he sat there feeling the cool breeze on his face, hearing the birds calling out to one another from the multitude of trees encircling the area, the magic failed him. His mind was clogged with those dreaded what if’s and no matter what he did there, they stayed, piling one on top of the other. Stop already! Here I sit within beauty so blinding that it makes me ache and yet I still can’t push aside these thoughts long enough to get some sleep or eat a meal. What do I have left but thinking?
Tossing back his head, he let out a frustrated and angry holler that echoed down toward the lake, pushing those poor song birds from the trees and producing a loud scared whinny off to his left. Startled, he snapped his head about to spy Buck, minus a rider, scrambling for purchase on the rocky trail leading to the meadow. Leaping to his feet, he snagged the trailing reins and pulled the skittish animal forward and out of danger. It was only then he saw his father sprawled on the ground, a cloud of dust rising about him.
“Pa!” he yelled kneeling next to him and grasping his arm, getting a hard look for his trouble.
“You could warn a fella when you’re gonna hoop and holler like that,” Ben said allowing Adam to help him to his feet.
“Sorry,” was all he could think to say as Ben dusted himself off and silently walked past surveying the surroundings.
“This is still a beautiful place. Good for sittin’ and thinkin’,” Ben said, still trailing dust behind him as he sat on a fallen log. “Yes it is.”
Adam eyed his father, wondering how he’d found him, still bothered by the fading rope burns on his neck. Then he smiled to himself. Since he’d been a little boy, he’d always gone off when something was bothering him but his father hadn’t always let him. ‘It’s better to be with family,’ he’d say, ‘so you can talk it out’. He had to admit that an insurmountable problem did seem smaller when there was more than one person dealing with it. He wasn’t so sure this would be one of those times.
Out of the corner of his eye, Ben watched his son, hands on his hips, slowly approach, first squatting then sitting cross-legged on the ground before him. It usually worked when Ben insinuated himself into Adam’s brooding. Usually. He was a tough nut to crack with that good old Cartwright stubbornness running through his veins. At least he could try.
“This, ah, sittin’ and thinkin’,” Ben began looking out at the lake, “workin’ for you?”
Adam looked down and began pulling at the grass. “Not really,” he quietly admitted.
Pleased he’d gotten an answer, Ben shifted his gaze to take in the meadow behind him where Sport and Buck grazed. “Well, sometimes . . . nothing helps.”
Adam peered up at him, brow raised. “Gee, thanks.”
Ben grinned, taking in a deep breath of the clear air.
“I used to follow you up here when you were just a boy,” Ben admitted, “making sure you made it in one piece. I couldn’t have you falling off a cliff just because you were angry with me.”
“I never knew you were there.”
“That was the point,” he said. “I never stayed. This was your place, your thinking place, and I had no right to invade it. I felt that whatever you needed to make it through, you should have it and if this was it, so be it.”
“It used to help,” Adam sighed, tossing the grass into the air. “It used to provide me with answers I needed. Now . . . Now the answers seem so far away. Now there are too many choices.”
Ben looked at him, finally seeing the haggard appearance of his eldest, the slump of his shoulders. Why haven’t I seen it before?
“How I long for the simple days of childhood,” remarked Adam.
“They’re highly over-rated.”
“Not from where I sit,” Adam said in a low voice filled with sadness and defeat.
Ben picked at the log he sat upon, debating with himself on whether or not he should broach the subject. Well, this is why I came up here.
“Adam, I know what didn’t happen the night before Farmer Perkins was hung.” The statement sat there like a heavy fog, an aural reminder of what went on that horrible night. “I know the boys didn’t back you up.”
“It’s not important,” he quickly added, his back stiffening, keeping his head down.
“Of course it is or you wouldn’t be up here.”
“Pa . . .”
“They should’ve been there for you, Adam. You shouldn’t have had to shoulder that decision alone.”
“It’s not their fault. They had a right to object.”
“I don’t deny that but, in the end, they should’ve stood with you. I raised them better than that.”
“That’s not the problem.”
“Then what is it?”
“I can’t . . .”
“Yes you can.”
“Leave it alone, Pa.” His voice held a warning but Ben plowed right on.
“Not this time. Talk to me. Tell me what you’re feeling?”
“YOU COULD’VE BEEN KILLED!” Adam exclaimed, his emotions overwhelming him, his voice echoing about the meadow. “BY MY HAND, YOU COULD’VE BEEN KILLED!”
Desperate for control, Adam forced himself to his feet and away from the man he’d nearly killed, the agonizing hours from dusk to dawn moving through his memory like fire, taunting him as those dreams did night after night. His breath came fast as he tried to calm himself down, not hearing Ben come up behind him.
“Adam, you didn’t have a choice . . .”
Whirling around, Adam tried to keep his wavering control in place, affixing a steely edge to his voice. “I had a choice, Pa,” he cut in, keeping his fists by his sides and narrowing his eyes. “I was the acting Sheriff. I could’ve let Perkins go. That’s what Hoss and Joe wanted. But I couldn’t because he’d killed an innocent man and the law needed to be served and my damn principles got in the way!”
“If you’d let Perkins go Bryant would’ve won. Your ‘damn principles’ just happen to be the same as mine. You were right in what you did,” Ben argued.
“No, no I wasn’t,” Adam answered with a shake of his head. “Damn my principles! I’m your son, your legacy and what did I do? I left you in the hands of a murdering tyrant. I had an out for you and I let it pass. You could be dead because of me.”
“But I’m not, son. I knew you would do the right thing. You made sure that bastard paid the price.”
“But at what cost, Pa?” Adam asked as he looked at his father, pain etching his face.
Ben was beginning to appreciate what it had cost his eldest, for his guilt was palpable and all he wanted to do was take him into his arms and hug it away. Instead he rested a hand on Adam’s arm noting the slight tremor that motion caused. But, at least, he didn’t shy away.
“Perkins asked me what kind of a son would trade his life for yours,” Adam continued. “Mrs. Cameron asked me the same thing and do you know what I’ve been asking myself? How can I call myself a Cartwright after what I did to you? How can Hoss and Joe ever speak to me again after I almost cost them their father? What kind of a son am I to risk his father’s life for a principle?”
Ben grasped Adam’s arms then, hoping to break through. “My kind of son,” he said, those words making Adam pay attention. “I know you. You looked at this from every angle, every possible outcome. You’ve known men like Bryant your whole life. You know how they think. You figured out how to beat him.”
“But don’t you see, Pa, I could’ve been wrong. I risked your life on nothing but a hope that I was right.”
“No, son, Sam Bryant risked my life and you beat him at his own game.”
“Your life isn’t a game, Pa. No one’s life is a game.” His voice softened as his anger suddenly gave way to shame. He could’ve so easily lost this little game he played with his father’s life and taken the world from his brothers. He bowed his head then, Ben seeing tears laced within his long lashes. “How can you not hate me?” The words were so low Ben almost missed them.
“Hate you?” My God! How could he ever think that? “Look at me,” Ben ordered. When Adam reluctantly raised his head, Ben grabbed the sides of his face. “I could never hate you, son. No words said in anger or choices made could shake my love for you.”
“How can you say that after what I’ve done?”
So like the little boy Ben remembered – always the worrier. “Because I have faith in you, Adam,” he answered, drawing an odd look from his son. “I have faith that you will make the best choice no matter the outcome. I would gladly place my life in your hands over and over, knowing that I have nothing to fear.”
“But I left you alone, thinking you were going to die.”
Ben shook his head. “Once Bryant told me you were in charge, I was no longer alone. I knew what you would do because you and I think the same way, and it threw Bryant. He didn’t understand what I already knew – Farmer Perkins was a dead man – and Bryant had nothing left. He’d finally run into someone who wouldn’t back down and it scared him. You were his undoing.”
“But what if I’d been wrong?”
“What if’s can drive a man to distraction and it leaves you with nothing because the past is the past.” Ben moved his hands to Adam’s shoulders and squeezed. “You question everything, but you should never question my love for you no matter the circumstances. It will always be there.”
Adam remained quiet for a time, sifting through what Ben had told him, debating with himself if it was as easy as his father claimed or was he just trying to calm his guilt-ridden son. But then he shook that thought away. Through their many years together, his father had never tried to soften the blows that’d come their way and he didn’t think he was about to start now. Faith, huh?” he finally said running a hand across his face. “That seems like an awfully flimsy ideal to rest a life on.”
“It’s always worked for me in one way or another. Now let it work for you.”
Adam looked, really looked into his father’s eyes and saw neither hate nor accusation, only compassion. Faith. Perhaps it was a faith in oneself that all the answers were right in front of you just waiting to be chosen. The trick was finding the right one.
“I’m proud of you, son, as you should be of yourself. It takes a strong man to not only stand up for what he believes in but stand apart from his brothers.”
“They had good reason . . .”
“Don’t make excuses for them. I didn’t raise them to abandon their brother once the going got tough. They’re rightfully ashamed.”
“They shouldn’t be.” Adam held up his hand when Ben began to protest again, feeling tired and worn out. “I don’t blame them, Pa. It was their right as my brothers and your sons to find another way. As you’ve so adamantly pointed out, it’s the endgame that matters, not how we got there. I’m just having difficulty getting past that.”
“You will. All of us have doubts, Adam. It’s what makes us what we are. I think no less of you because of it.”
“I have to admit that every night since that day I’ve been watching you sleep to reassure myself that I wasn’t dreaming, that you are home, you are safe. I haven’t needed to do that since I was a boy. It’s a little unsettling.”
Ben looked at him, surprise on his face. “I didn’t know you were in my room.”
“That was the point,” Adam answered with a lopsided grin. “You snore, you know.”
“I do not,” Ben answered with a raised brow.
“I’m just glad I can still hear it,” he finished, Ben’s hand moving to his neck, pulling him closer to plant a kiss on his forehead. Adam followed it with an embrace, again surprising Ben.
“Don’t worry, son. Together we’ll get past this,” Ben said, rubbing Adam’s back.
“I love you, Pa.”
“I love you, too, Adam.” The sound of Sport and Buck calling out from the meadow startled them and they turned, seeing Joe and Hoss moving up the rocky trail.
“Anybody hungry?” Joe called as he leaped from the saddle, taking the large picnic basket from Hoss and hauling it over to the fallen log.
“I am,” Hoss announced, leading both Chubb and Cochise into the meadow, then quickly returning to help Joe lay out the blanket.
“Adam, Hop Sing says that if you don’t eat everything we set before you,” Joe began, “he’s gonna quit and go back to China.”
“And that, big brother, would be a crime, an absolute crime,” Hoss added, rubbing his hands together as Joe began pulling food from the basket.
“What do you say, son?” Ben asked smiling at his eldest who grinned back, surreptitiously wiping at the tears on his face.
“I wouldn’t want Hoss mad at me if Hop Sing leaves,” replied Adam.
Adam’s grin turned into a full-fledged smile at the earnest way Hoss had spoken then faltered at the serious look his brother gave back to him.
“I wouldn’t want nobody mad at me, especially if’n I was wrong,” added Hoss.
That simple statement made Adam suck in a breath. Hoss had been torn – side with Joe or with him – and he knew it tore at his brother’s heart to leave him dangling. They’d been through too much together to see their relationship break into pieces over the events of one dark night.
“Me neither,” Joe added, offering a piece of chicken to his older brother, another serious face looking back at him. “Especially if I was wrong.”
Adam hesitated and stared at his younger brother, knowing to what he was referring. Joe’s words still stung, even though he knew they’d been regretted the moment they’d been voiced, but he also knew he couldn’t let those words, said under duress, ruin what they had. They were a family and nothing could change that.
A small piece of that dark cloud Adam had driven himself into was thinning, taking with it parts of his doubt and fear. And with that came the realization that his need for absolution covered more than his father. It encompassed his brothers as well. He took the offered chicken. “I guess I am hungry,” he finally said.
“Well, sit down then,” Joe ordered, grateful that they could put the past behind them. “Can’t eat mashed potatoes standing up.”
Adam took the offered seat as Ben sat next to him, patting him on the back.
The clean air and beautiful scenery finally worked their magic and the small group began to fall back into their groove. Joe’s cackle echoed around them as Hoss proceeded to tell a story about Mrs. Gardner’s runaway chickens and Ben commented on Mr.Tennon’s new hairpiece that had a tendency to slip sideways when the weather heated up.
And Adam thanked God for his family and giving him the good luck to ‘guess right’ thus allowing him more time with his beloved father. What could’ve been lost wasn’t and a choice made was the right one. Don’t ever make me have to do that again!
“Anymore chicken left?
*Although I viewed the episode, Death at Dawn, over and over, I never caught Morgan Woodward’s character name. Doing a bit more research I found out his name was Biggs (listed in “A Reference Guide to Television’s Bonanza” by Bruce & Linda Leiby). So, I added a first name and used this last name. Now I could never find out the old gent’s name who worked on the gallows so he became Hal Winston. If anyone knows his character’s name, sing out and I’ll change it.