Summary: Hoping to be the next Governor of Nevada, Joshua Whitaker is campaigning in Virginia City. It doesn’t take long for him to take aim at the Cartwrights. An adaptation of The Big Valley season 2, episode 7 “The Target.”
Rating: K+ Word Count: 7039
Out of the corner of his eye, Joe had noticed a stocky, middle-aged man when he entered the Silver Dollar and passed by his table on his way to the bar, but the youngest member of the Cartwright family had chosen to remain focused on the task at hand. A representative from the Carson and Tahoe Lumber Company was seated across the table from him busily writing down the final details of a contact that would be drawn up by the company’s lawyer. It had been a challenge to negotiate the sale of a substantial amount of timber, but Joe had done right by the Cartwright name just as he had promised his father and Adam. As Joe held out his right hand to the agent to close the deal, the man at the bar began to speak loudly in their direction.
“Seems to me you’re buying an awful lot of Cartwright timber.” Seeing the frustrated look on Joe’s face, the speaker smiled and held up his hand as he stepped nearer the table. “Sorry to interrupt. I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation – but when a man’s running for public office, I guess he’s got a duty to keep up with what’s going on. Just in case my campaign literature hasn’t made it to VIrginia City yet, my name is Whitaker, Joshua Whitaker.”
Joe avoided looking directly at Whitaker. “Yeah, I’ve heard of you, Whitaker. Now if you don’t mind, we’d like to complete our business here.”
The pushy man with unruly, graying red hair continued his verbal assault. “Well I don’t mind, but maybe this fella here and the people he buys timber for should.”
With a look of disdain, Joe responded to the intrusion. “Whitaker, I’ve heard that you’ve been shooting off your mouth all across the state of Nevada. I can’t even begin to add up all of the accusations you’ve made.”
Whitaker chuckled and continued. “That’s probably because you weren’t interested, young fella, but I’ve got something in the works now that’s going to get the attention of you Cartwrights for sure.” Joe’s jaw clenched when the timber representative seemed to take more interest in what Whitaker was about to offer. “As a matter of fact, it ought to interest you, too, sir.” Whitaker pointed directly at the timber man. “The sooner you know about it, the better.”
Joe sat examining the fingers of his left hand trying with all his might to remain composed. The representative rose to his feet and attempted to take his leave. Whitaker moved in front of him and poked him on the shoulder as he went on with his tirade.
“Now you don’t know it yet, mister, but you ain’t got no business with them.” Whitaker waved his hand sharply in Joe’s direction. “That is unless the people you represent don’t mind buying timber that was taken from stolen land!” Joe’s face became hard as stone when the men sitting at the other tables started to murmur. “That’s right, gentlemen. I accuse this man’s pappy”, Whitaker pointed at Joe, “Benjamin Cartwright, of having stole every foot of land his family lays claim to!”
Joe grimaced as he yanked on his gloves and glared back at Whitaker. It did nothing to slow down the loud-mouthed man who went barreling on ahead with his charges.
“Pirated. Stole in as horrible a bunch of crimes as the West has ever seen!”
Seeing trouble coming, the bartender told Whitaker to take his ranting outside.
Joe glanced back over his shoulder. “It’s alright, Cosmo. Let him finish.”
Joshua Whitaker moved in with purpose, waving his finger in Joe’s face. “I accuse your pappy of being a tyrant – a common thief! Before I leave this town, everybody’s going to know that I speak the truth!”
Joe’s green eyes were on fire as he stood toe-to-toe with Whitaker. “Everybody’s going to know before you leave this bar, Whitaker, that you’re going to have to prove that every word you’ve said is true”, Joe forcefully grabbed Whitaker by the lapels of his jacket and spoke through gritted teeth, “or take it all back.”
Whitaker held up his hands to stave off those who were considering coming to his aid. “It’s alright folks, it’s alright. I expected violence. You can beat me up, boy, but you can’t shut me up!”
“Proof! Proof, Whitaker, that every word you said about my father is true!” Joe growled into Whitaker’s face.
“It will all come out, boy, but in my time, not yours. Do with me what you want! You can beat me, even kill me”, Joe pushed the shouting man back as he released his collar, “but the truth will be heard over the sound of your hired guns!” Whitaker shoved Joe back a step when he tried to get around him and continued to poke the youngest Cartwright in the chest. “Wait a minute, sonny, I ain’t done with you yet. Above the clank of the chains that you have used to enslave your neighbors…”
Joe reached back and punched Whitaker mid-sentence and then stormed out of the saloon as the candidate for governor fell backwards and laid on top of a flattened table. Whitaker shouted toward the swinging doors all the while gauging the reaction of his crowd.
“The truth! The truth shall set us all free!”
Later that evening at the dinner table, Adam applauded sarcastically after his youngest brother finished describing the events that had transpired earlier in the day. “Maybe you should run for governor, little brother!”
Adam’s remark was met with a frown from his father.
Joe jumped up from the table and strutted away before turning back to face his family. “I’d stand a better chance of getting elected than Joshua Whitaker would and I’d make a much better governor at that! And don’t you even think that I’m going to apologize to that blowhard after how he smeared our family’s name!”
Adam got up out of his chair and turned toward Joe. “I’m not saying that Whitaker deserves an apology. What is deserves is our contempt and to be ignored. By hitting him you only fueled his ridiculous rhetoric and most likely turned it into tomorrow’s headline on the front page of The Territorial Enterprise!”
Joe placed his hands on his hips and puffed out his chest. “Well then I say we use it to our advantage! He can’t be allowed to continue to spread false claims all over the state of Nevada! I say we sue him for libel!”
Adam shook a finger at his brother. “And I say he’s hoping that that is exactly what we do You couldn’t have done more to help his cause than if you had personally gone out and gotten him thousands of votes! Joe, the man can’t buy that kind of publicity!”
“So we just let him go on lying about us!” Joe countered.
Hoss listened with a pained expression as his brothers argued.
Having heard enough, Ben placed his hands on the table and pushed himself up. “Does anyone care what I think?”, he growled and moved closer to the verbal fray. “My guess is that tomorrow Whitaker will forget all about the Cartwrights and shoot his verbal arrows at another unsuspecting target. That is unless we bring a libel suit against him. By not giving credence to his claims, he will soon move on to the next town and pick a new battle to draw attention to himself.”
Adam nodded in support of his father’s statements. “That’s been his pattern so far. Bigger and bolder lies, bigger and more well known targets. It just makes Whitaker appear more important in the political arena. As long as we don’t dignify his craziness with a response, he won’t get any votes in the Comstock.”
Hoss got up from the table and joined the others. “Well I sure hope yur right, Adam, cuz tomorrow Joe and me are headed inta town ta hire some more cutters so we kin fill that big contract. It’s been a long day. I sure hope you fellas are done with yur hollerin’ cuz I’m goin’ ta bed.” The big man headed for the stairs.
“Me, too.” Joe followed his brother stiffly up the stairs without even offering Adam or his father a ‘goodnight.’
After all the discord, Ben felt the need for a brandy. “Would you like a nightcap, Adam?”
Ben poured his drink and took a seat in his leather chair while Adam moved to the hearth and stood with his hand resting on the mantel.
Looking thoughtfully into his glass of brandy, Ben released a deep sigh. “Do you really think that Whitaker has a chance of making some real political hay out of all this nonsense?”
Adam kept his eyes focused on the flickering flames in the fireplace. “I hope not, Pa, but you can never tell what will happen when people get stirred up. Suddenly every injustice that’s ever been committed can get thrown in the lap of the perceived perpetrators.”
Ben drew in a breath and held it for a moment before exhaling and taking a sip of his brandy.
The next morning, Hoss and Joe rode into Virginia City to hire additional men to work at the timber camps. However, every man they approached about the job put them off. When pressed, the men stated that they would not work for the Cartwrights until the accusations made by Joshua Whitaker had been proven false or withdrawn. When they left the saloon, the brothers observed a crowd gathered down the street. Joe could hear the unmistakable harangues of the controversial candidate for governor. Hoss grabbed his brother by the arm when he stepped off the boardwalk to go and join the gathering.
“Oh no you don’t, little brother. Pa and Adam would have my hide iffn I let ya go an’ stick yur nose inta that hornet’s nest over yonder. You go and get the supplies Pa wants and I’ll go an’ listen fur a minute ur two.”
Joe balked for a moment, and then relented. He was fairly certain what would happen if Whitaker sighted him; so he turned and headed into the general store. Hoss ambled down the street until he got close enough to hear what Whitaker was saying, but not so close as to draw attention to himself. The politician appeared quite relaxed as he sat with his legs crossed atop some crates speaking to a group of about twenty or so working class men.
“Well, that’s the long and short of it. Now I want to tell you something neighbors – no – no -I want to promise you, that wherever there is corruption, wherever there is a fat cat with his hand in the public till, stealing from the working man, I’m going to bring it to light. I’m going to look out for you. If you send Joshua Whitaker to Carson City, then you can call the governor of the great state of Nevada your friend. Dan’l, get these good folks some more coffee and fresh donuts.”
Whitaker’s brother, a small man, dressed much the same as those in the audience, proceeded to hand out refreshments to those who had been listening.
“Now I’m sure you’ve got some questions? Is there anything I can answer for you? Anything at all?” Whitaker plied his crowd.
One man spoke up. “I’ve heard that you’ve been harpin’ on Ben Cartwright – bein’ a thief – stealin’ every inch of his land. We’d like to hear tell ’bout that.”
Hoss crossed his arms over his chest when he sensed that Whitaker looked a bit uncomfortable with the question. However, it did not take but a moment for the candidate to recover his bravado.
“Would ya, friend? You’d like to hear about Ben Cartwright?” Whitaker slapped his leg and set down his coffee cup. “Alright, neighbor, you’ll hear about it. Dan’l pass out those circulars. Now I haven’t spoken about this since Joe Cartwright viciously attacked me in the Silver Dollar Saloon the other day….”
Hoss had heard enough to convince him that Whitaker had no intention of backing away from his claims. Thinking that he had better get Joe and get out of town, Hoss left to find his brother and then helped him load the last of the supplies on the buckboard.
“Let’s grab a beer before we head home.” Joe removed his hat and wiped his brow.
Hoss frowned because he, too, would have liked to have a beer. “Sorry, Joe, but this ain’t no time ta be lingerin’ in town. Another time. Come on. Let’s go.”
“What’s your big hurry?”
Hoss nodded down the street where the group was just beginning to break up. “That’s why. Get on the buckboard!”
Joe was not happy. It went against everything in him to walk away from a fight where he knew full well that his family’s name was being dragged through the mud. Still, for the second time in less than an hour, Joe did as Hoss told him. The looks they got as they drove out of town were far from congenial. Hoss happened to notice one of Whitaker’s circulars floating down the street in the breeze. He told Joe to jump off the buckboard and grab it. The look on Joe’s face when he read it caused Hoss to flick the reins and urge the team to speed up their departure from town.
The news that Hoss and Joe shared with Adam and their father did little to calm the fears that Adam had expressed the night before. Also not one to back down from a fight, Ben was beginning to feel that it was time to face his accuser. It took several minutes of persuasive speech, but Adam was finally able to convince Ben that he was the one who should go and speak, not to Whitaker, but to his campaign manager. Adam’s rationale was that they must not give Whitaker the prize that he so badly wanted, a public shouting match with Ben Cartwright. By going around Whitaker, Adam thought that it might give him an advantage; that, and the fact that he was probably a lesser known quantity to his accuser.
The following day, Adam was seated in the suite of Wesley Price, the campaign manager for Joshua Whitaker. Adam showed the well-dressed man the piece of propaganda which Joe had retrieved from the street that stated: I accuse Benjamin Cartwright and his family of stealing thousands of acres of land that belong to you! – Joshua Whitaker.
Price stood examining the piece of paper. “So you say that Mr. Whitaker has been circulating these around town?”
With an air of coolness, Adam observed the confident manager. “Oh come now, Mr. Price, every time he can gather an audience of two, and you know it.”
Price sat down on the settee beside Adam. “The fact is Mr. Cartwright, I didn’t know.”
“You know, Price, types like you and your candidate usually use a hit and run tactic. It’s a shame you didn’t do it this time, because now it’s going to cost you.”
“There’s no need for you to act like this. You’re obviously a successful rancher and I’m a newspaper man. We both have years of experience behind us. How many times have you shaded the truth to negotiate a better deal?”
“Don’t debase yourself on my account, Mr. Price. It won’t change the fact that I want a complete and full retraction of every allegation that Whitaker has made.” Adam’s steely eyes bore into the man seated next to him.
He rose and moved toward the door with the intent of leaving the room. However, when Adam paused to pick up his hat off the side table, Joshua Whitaker suddenly burst through the door to the suite shouting for Price. Whitaker was startled by almost running into someone that he did not recognize.
“Josh, this is Adam Cartwright.” Price explained.
Whitaker held up his fists in a boxer’s stance. “Well now, guess I’d better protect myself, Mr. Adam Cartwright.”
“You’re a tad late to the party, Whitaker.” Adam turned and addressed Price. “Remember a complete and full retraction in writing, or else.”
“Or else?” Whitaker chuckled. “What are going to do, sue for libel?”
Wesley Price jumped up from his seat. “Josh, let me handle this.”
“Well they can go whistle for it. They don’t want no long drawn out affair in court and you know it.” Whitaker countered.
“That’s a point, Mr. Cartwright. A drawn out court case will do you more harm than good – keep the charge alive – more bad press. Why don’t we sit down here and try to discuss this in a reasonable fashion.”
“There ain’t going to be no discussion, because there ain’t going to be no retraction.” Whitaker grinned at Adam trying to egg him into angry verbal contest that might turn physical, just the way it had happened with Joe. “I got under your skin and you know it. The fat cats are beginning to itch, and you’re going to itch a lot more before I’m through with you. I’m going to make you Cartwrights scratch ’til you bleed!”
“Well, I’d like to thank you, Mr. Whitaker.” Adam stated in a stone-cold serious manner.
Whitaker’s expression changed. “Thank me?”
“For making what we have to do to you such a pleasure.” Adam walked to door and glanced back briefly. “Good day – gentlemen.”
Uncharacteristically stymied, Whitaker’s smug look vanished as the door closed behind Adam.
“Well now you’ve done it. You just had to put things in writing. I warned you about doing something like this! I warned you not to take this to the point where we would have to back up what you’ve said!” Price huffed as he jabbed the circular into his man’s hand.
“I ain’t running! That charge I made sticks!” Whitaker walked away stiffly and jammed his hands into his pockets.
“The charge you made! The charge I concocted!” Price shouted. “Invented, Josh!”
“Well they’re thieves! All of them! All them rich -” Whitaker paused when he realized that he was entering dangerous territory.
Price looked at him in utter disbelief. “You’re out of your mind! I spent weeks digging – trying to come up with something on the Cartwrights. They’re pure as driven snow! You know that as well as I do!”
Whitaker walked back over toward his manager and poked him in the chest. “You’re the one who said to make up the wildest tale you can think of. Well I say the charge sticks, and we’re going to ride it all the way to the governor’s mansion!”
Back at the ranch, Ben, Hoss, and Joe were looking over some stock in the corral when Adam returned from town.
“How did it go?” Ben asked as Adam dismounted.
“Sport got some exercise, but I wasted a trip to town.”
Ben frowned. “So Whitaker intends to continue making those charges?”
“Yes, and possibly come up with a few more. We may have underestimated Joshua Whitaker. He’s more astute than his plain dress and folksy speech would lead one to believe. I’m afraid he called my bluff.”
Hoss gave his brother a puzzled look. “Why’d ya say it was a bluff? You meant whatya said, didn’t ya, Adam?”
“Of course, but Whitaker knows that it would take too long time to win a libel suit, and he’s apparently willing to take that chance.” Seeing his father and brother’s looks of frustration, he went on. “I did have another thought as I was riding home, but it will mean a trip to Carson City tomorrow. I’m going to speak with Senator Nye about forming a committee.”
“A committee!” Joe couldn’t believe his ears.
Adam’s eyebrows shot up. “Yes, a committee – of four unbiased men, beyond reproach, with no ax to grind, that would require Whitaker to present his evidence and put it into the record.”
“Well ya better tell Senator Nye ta round-up that committee right quick. There’s no way we’re gonna meet that timber contract without some more men, an’ there ain’t gonna be more men without puttin’ this business ta rest!”
“It should only take a few days. Surely we can wait that long.”
Joe’s green eyes flashed at his oldest brother. “We might be able to wait, but Warner, the agent from Carson and Tahoe, sent word that the contract is on hold until this gets settled.”
“That’s ridiculous!” Adam fumed.
“Joe is telling it straight”, Ben offered in a more conciliatory tone. “A courier brought a note from Warner this morning that said since we’ve been charged with stealing our land, the titles are cloudy, and if we don’t own the land, then we don’t own the timber on the land. If this drags out, Carson and Tahoe will look for their timber elsewhere.” Ben’s forehead creased with tension. “That’s a lot of money sitting in the balance that Mr. Whitaker is holding hostage.”
Hoss summed up the whole ugly situation. “Gov’nor Joshua Whitaker. Lord have mercy!”
Ben was surprised two days later to receive an unexpected visit from Dan DeQuille, the editor of The Territorial Enterprise.
“Dan, good to see you. Come in.” Ben motioned the newspaper man to step into the living room. “This is a pleasant surprise. I’ll have Hop Sing bring us some coffee.”
“Oh, no thank you, Ben. I won’t be staying long – and considering the reason for my visit, I’m not sure you will want me to stay any longer.” Ben gave Dequille a quizzical look. “Thought you’d better to get this directly from me rather than hearing it second hand.” DeQuille held out a copy of his paper to Ben. “Someone set fire to Joshua Whitaker’s hotel room last night. He says that he thinks the Cartwrights were behind it. Something to do with destroying the evidence of you stealing your land.”
“And just what do you think, Dan?”
“Naturally I think that it is ridiculous.” DeQuille paused briefly as Ben read the article. “But I am a newspaper editor, Ben.”
“And news no matter how far-fetched or false is still news; so you printed the story.” Ben continued to keep his eyes focused on the paper.
“I’ll print your side of the story, too.”
“Dan, you know perfectly well that I won’t dignify this with a denial.” Ben smacked the newspaper with his free hand.
Adam suddenly came bounding in the door. “Well – congratulations, Dan. That’s quite an article. All Whitaker, or did you embellish it with some of your elegant prose?”
DeQuille bristled. “Alright, Adam, think what you like, but you can’t laugh him off any longer. He’s a candidate for governor and he’s gaining support.”
“No small thanks to you. I don’t suppose that you bothered to check this out before you plastered it all over the front page of The Enterprise?” Adam held up the paper to DeQuille.
“I didn’t vouch for the authenticity of the story.”
“No you just printed it right out of Whitaker’s mouth knowing full well that anything printed in a reputable newspaper would have certain ring of truth to it.” Adam set his jaw.
Ben averted his gaze when DeQuille gave him a forlorn look. The newspaperman turned for the door and then wheeled around to face Ben and Adam once more.
“I can’t help what people think, but believe it or not, whatever Joshua Whitaker says or does is news, and I have to….” DeQuille was suddenly met with two looks of disdain. “I’m – sorry”, he offered in a hushed voice before heading out the door.
“Why in the world did he come all the way out here?” Adam clenched his copy of the newspaper in his tense hands.
“I guess to apologize.” Ben looked once more at the article before turning to his son. “Adam, do you really think that people will believe this?”
“Well, Pa, I overheard some men in the saloon saying ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’, or ‘would a man running for governor make such charges without evidence.’ Then there’s the matter with Senator Nye having to talk to a couple of dozen men just to find the four to sit on the committee.”
Ben cocked his head in question. “Maybe we’re lucky to get the four.”
Adam shrugged with uncertainty. “They meet Saturday morning.”
It was turning into a week for unanticipated visitors. Daniel Whitaker, right hand man for his brother Joshua, showed up at the ranch the next day to invite Ben to a private audience with the candidate. Despite the expected vehement opposition from Adam, Ben agreed to meet Whitaker on Friday. Ben announced the meeting at dinner that evening, and much as he had thought, Adam protested.
Adam pointed his fork in his father’s direction. “Pa, you can’t do this. You need to wait and see what happens tomorrow.”
“I would appreciate it if you would not use the silverware for pointing, thank you very much.” Ben scowled at his oldest son. “I promise not to get into an argument with Whitaker. I really want to get a feel for what that man is like before the meeting tomorrow. I don’t like the feeling of having blinders on. It’s very uncomfortable not knowing my accuser except from second hand information.”
‘He’s got something up his sleeve. You can’t trust that man any farther than you could throw him. I’ve met him, Pa – seen him in action.”
“Pa, Adam’s right.” Joe jumped in to take up Adam’s cause. That Whitaker is one pushy son-of-a-gun. He just wouldn’t let up. I tried my hardest not to get mad, but he knows just know how to get under your skin. I know I shouldn’t have hit him, but I just couldn’t help it.”
Ben’s hands paused as he held his knife and fork over his plate. “I can appreciate how difficult it must have been for you, Joseph, but it still doesn’t change that fact that in that particular situation, you should have just walked away.”
“Pa, ya cain’t be too hard on Joe.” Hoss added. “After listenin’ ta Whitaker talk ta that buncha fellas the other day, that man knows ‘xactly what ta say. Tickles a man’s ears with the words he’s just itchin’ ta hear! He kin twist the truth so fast it’ll make yur head spin!”
“Again, I thank you for your warnings, but I’m afraid it’s too late to back out now. I told Whitaker’s messenger that I would be there tomorrow, and that is exactly how it is going to be.”
The set of Ben’s jaw told his sons that any further discussion would yield no benefit in changing their father’s mind.
“Will you at least let Hoss drive you to town just in case there is some kind of trouble? I would go, but I’ve got to get out to the mine tomorrow. And Joe’s tied up with working on that Army contract.” Adam looked first at Hoss and then to Ben.
“Yeah, Pa, I think that Adam is makin’ sense. I kin break free tomorrow.”
“Oh alright! If my sons are that concerned that I need a babysitter, I guess you can accompany me to town tomorrow, Hoss!” Ben growled.
Adam would have smirked at his father’s comment had the situation with Joshua Whitaker been less of a strain on his family. As it was, he truly had no idea how it was all going to play out. He could only hope that Ben would remain composed during his visit with Whitaker and that the committee would expose the deeds of the unscrupulous man for everyone to see.
Friday morning in town, Hoss reined up the horses in front of the hotel. “Whyd’ya s’pose Whitaker wants ta see ya, Pa?”
“Not sure. That’s what I intend to find out. I’ll meet you at the Silver Dollar when I’m finished.” Ben noted the worried look on his big son’s face before getting down from the buckboard. He turned back and gave Hoss a boyish grin. “Relax – I’m a big boy and can take care of myself.”
Hoss nodded and then gave his father the words that he had so often heard himself. “Well, jest watch yurself.”
Joshua Whitaker was dressed in a suit for the first time since he had been in Virginia CIty when he greeted Ben at the door to his suite.
“Come in, Mr. Cartwright.” Whitaker swung the door wide, but did not offer Ben his hand.
“Thank you.” Ben nodded and noticed that Whitaker, who was much shorter in stature, seemed uncomfortable looking out from under his bushy reddish brown eyebrows.
“I was going to mix myself a drink. Would you care to join me?” Whitaker offered.
“No, thank you.”
Whitaker paused after beginning to pour his drink when he realized his rudeness. “Please – please have a seat.” Ben took the chair across from the speaker. “I hope I haven’t inconvenienced you by asking you here today. I mean, a wealthy rancher like you probably has a lot his plate.”
“Well I appreciate your concern for my time, Mr. Whitaker…”
“Make is Josh.” Whitaker interjected with an easy smile.
Ben paused and then proceeded, keeping a more formal social space between them. “Why did you ask me here today, Mr. Whitaker? Is something bothering you about the meeting tomorrow?”
Suddenly defensive, Whitaker responded sharply, “Bothering me? There’s nothing bothering me.” However, the man’s unwillingness to meet Ben’s penetrating gaze said otherwise. “I figured there would be something bothering you.”
“Oh just a minor annoyance which we are about to take care of for good. Now if that is all?” Ben got up from his chair.
“Sit down!” Ben’s raised eyebrows caused Whitaker to soften his delivery. “Please – please”, he said pointing to the chair Ben had just left. Mulling over the request, Ben sat back down. “Um – it’s just that I heard that a big timber contract of yours fell through.” Whitaker walked behind Ben’s chair and took a sip of his drink.
“Another minor annoyance, and the contract did not fall through, far from it.” Ben kept an even tone to his voice.
“You know, enough of these minor annoyances just might add up to a big headache. But there ain’t no use for that! I got a lot of stumping to do before I wind up my campaign.” Whitaker sat down across from Ben once more. “And I guess you get what I’m driving at, Mr. Cartwright.”
“Sorry, but I must be a little dense about such things. Why don’t you explain it to me.”
“You understand very well what I’m driving at.” Whitaker’s voice grew louder and he used his glass to make his point. “You’re hurting, and nobody can tell me different.” He rose from his seat to look down on Ben. “You’re hurting and you’re going to hurt a whole lot worse before I’m done with you! You try to nail me to the cross and I’ll fight you every way I know”, Whitaker’s speech picked up speed, “and I know more ways than your kind ever dreamed of; so don’t you think that…”
Whitaker paused to look away and take a deep breath. He shook his head and walked around behind his listener. Ben remained quiet in his seat waiting to hear the full measure of what the rambling man had to say. Whitaker seemed to back down a little, but then continued his speech.
“There ain’t no need to do that – no need at all. Never did like to kick a man when he’s down.” He waved his hands in the air. “We’ve fried our fish here – bigger catch elsewhere -contracts to build the new capitol building – taxpayer’s money – fraud – inferior materials! See what I mean? Going after Blasdel himself! Tell you what – I’m going to let you Cartwrights off the hook.” Ben eyed Whitaker with suspicion as he came back around to face him. “See what I mean? OFF THE HOOK!”
“That’s very noble of you, sir.” Ben gave the candidate a hint of a smile.
Whitaker laughed outright and sat down. “I know that you got cut up a little trying to wriggle free”, he raised his hand and winked, “but take it from old Doc Whitaker, you’ll get well in a hurry.” He then settled more comfortably into his chair. “People forget in a hurry. We leave town, and it’s business as usual – no hard feelings.” He gave Ben a wide grin. “Well, what do you say, Mr. Cartwright? Do we let up on one another?”
Ben’s dark eyes bore into Whitaker. “No we do not, Mr. Whitaker!” Ben rose quickly and headed for the door.
“Mr. Cartwright -” Whitaker jumped up from his seat as Ben turned around to face him. “You’ve been studying me the whole time you’ve been here, like you remembered me from somewhere.” Joshua Whitaker’s face grew hard when he saw the confusion on Ben’s face. “Don’t you remember me, Mr. Cartwright?” Ben gave no response. “Go on then and get out!” Whitaker growled. “Get out”, he shouted.
Suddenly it registered in Ben’s mind that the entire situation with Whitaker could be some type of vendetta. Ben asked, “Why should I remember you?”
“You shouldn’t. It was a long time ago. I had my eye on a piece of land – we stood right beside each other making our bids – but then the great Ben Cartwright snatched it right out of my hands! Keeping the peasants in their place. That’s all you Cartwrights care about!” Whitaker laughed eerily as the memory flooded back. “Why aren’t you laughing? It’s funny, you know, now looking back, it’s real funny! Idiot that I am to think that you’d recognize me after all those years. Maybe if I covered myself with dirt like any other good farmer – maybe then you’d remember!” Whitaker chuckled as his frenzy began to wane.
Ben shook his head in disbelief. “You’ve twisted your own memory into hate for me and my sons. Had I known how much you wanted the property, we might have worked out some kind of arrangement.” Whitaker laughed at him in derision. Ben dropped his head momentarily before looking back at Whitaker. “I know – I’m wasting my breath. Good day, Mr. Whitaker.”
As Ben moved down the hallway, he could hear the shouts of the unstable man. “Mr. Cartwright! I’m going to beat you! I’m going to beat you Cartwrights!”
That evening at dinner, Ben shared about his meeting with Whitaker. “It all makes perfect sense now. He’s been harboring a grudge for years. Unfortunately that doesn’t change the fact that the onus is still on us to make certain that the charges he has made are proven to be totally bogus.”
Adam had been sitting with his chin resting on his clasped hands while listening to his father. “Let’s just hope that the four men meeting with Joshua Whitaker tomorrow morning are up to the task. I can’t help but think that he is up to something.”
Hoss and Joe studied their brother hoping and praying that he was wrong.
On Saturday, the Cartwrights rode into town, Hoss and Joe on horseback, and Adam and Ben on the buckboard. They all wanted to be present for the verdict immediately following the meeting of the committee that was hearing Joshua Whitaker’s grievances. The younger Cartwrights proceeded to the general store to drop off a list of items that Hop Sing needed before heading over to the town hall.
The store clerk started gathering the items together so that the order would be ready by the time the Cartwrights wanted to leave town. Hoss and Joe briefly examined some boots and then headed for the door. The clerk looked up when he heard the jingle of the door. He suddenly remembered an event from the previous day. “Oh, I almost forgot. Did you want the rest of that case of dynamite? I haven’t had time to arrange delivery out to the timber camp.”
Joe looked at his brother. “Dynamite?”
“Yeah, a new man from your camp came in yesterday and took three sticks of dynamite”, the shopkeeper responded, “and he said to send the rest of it up to the camp.”
Perplexed, Hoss pressed for more information. “Do ya happen ta remember the fella’s name?”
“Well I’ve got the bill right here. Porter, Jack Porter.” The clerk handed Hoss the paper verifying the sale.
Hoss scrutinized the slip of paper and showed it to Joe. “Jack Porter? We ain’t got no Jack Porter at any of our camps, do we Joe?”
“Not that I recall.” Joe replied.
“Sorry about that.” The clerk was embarrassed for not being more careful. “Now if he’d have took any more than three sticks of dynamite, I’d have made real sure he was working for you. When he said to ship the rest of it out to the timber camp – well – now why would anyone want to go to all that trouble just to steal three sticks of dynamite?”
Hoss scrunched up his face. “That’s what I’d sure like ta know. Is there anythin’ else ya kin tell me?”
“Excuse me, Mr. Cartwright.” Davy, the storekeeper’s helper, had been waiting and finally felt that he must enter into the discussion.
“Yeah, Davy.” Hoss looked down at the dark-haired lad.
“I know the man who bought the dynamite.”
Joe gave Davy a curious look. “What was his name?”
“I don’t know that, but a few days ago he gave my brother a dollar to hand out some papers for him. They said some bad things about your father.” Davy looked a little sheepish having admit his family’s association with something negative about the Cartwrights.
A frightening realization of who the culprit could be came to Hoss. He placed a large hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Thank ya, Davy. Come on Joe. We gotta get over ta the hall real quick. Hoss and Joe left the store and took off jogging down the boardwalk toward the Town Hall.
Inside the hall, Adam and Ben sat on a bench in an alcove adjacent to the front door. In the main hall, Joshua Whitaker was stalling for time. The members of the committee were getting tired of being put off. Whitaker had refused to begin presenting his evidence until his campaign manager, Wesley Price was present. When the head of the committee said they would wait no longer, Whitaker feigned accidentally knocking a large book on the floor and left the room to go look for his manager. Sitting in the basement of the town hall, Daniel Whitaker heard a loud thud. It was the predetermined signal from his brother to light the sticks of dynamite that the brothers had planted just below the floorboards the night before and then make a quick getaway.
When Joshua Whitaker burst out the door to hall and headed for the back door of the building, Adam called after him. “Just where do you think you’re going, Whitaker?”
“Sitting here like a bunch of vultures, are you? Well I’m getting out of here. No justice will be served in that meeting.”
Just then, Hoss and Joe came bounding through the front entrance. “Whitaker! Where’s that little man that works for ya?” Hoss called out.
Ben jumped to his feet. “Hoss, what’s going on?”
Whitaker kept moving toward the back door until he heard the click of Joe’s revolver. A second later, Adam’s pistol was out as well. Having contemplated pulling a derringer, Whitaker changed his mind when he heard the hammer of Adam’s gun being cocked.
Panic took hold of Whitaker and he began to shout. “Get out! We’ve got to get out of here! There’s dynamite in the basement that’s about to go off!”
Adam and Joe grabbed Whitaker while Hoss crashed through the door to the meeting hall. Ben and his big son helped to rush the committee members out of the building. Moments later an explosion rocked the onlookers standing on the other side of the street as the windows of the town hall were all blown out and the front wall of the building came tumbling down. Daniel Whitaker came running from the back side of the building, frightened that his brother had not met him before the explosion.
As if the charge of plotting the potential murder of several people was not bad enough for the Whitaker brothers, the body of Wesley Price was uncovered in the basement of the Virginia CIty Town Hall. It came out in the trial, that Price happened upon the brothers as they were planting the dynamite in the cover of darkness. Rather than risk Price going to the authorities, Daniel stabbed the manager in the chest with the full knowledge and encouragement of his brother. Paul Martin had confirmed Price’s death was due to the knife wound despite the fact that the manager’s body had been crushed by debris from the explosion.
Joshua and Daniel Whitaker were sentenced to hang for the death of Wesley Price. Never would Ben Cartwright or his sons have believed that their dealings with Joshua Whitaker would end in such a way. The contract with Carson and Tahoe was finalized shortly after the truth about Whitaker came out. Being so quick to jump on the band wagon of Joshua Whitaker, some folks around town found it difficult to look the Cartwrights in the eye when they met them on the street.
So it was with mixed feelings that the Cartwright family celebrated the signing of the timber contract with the Carson and Tahoe Lumber Company. It never ceased to amaze Ben how far one man would go to gain retribution for an unacknowledged slight. Three men had died in Virginia City because of Joshua Whitaker’s warped mind. Ben feared that there may have been others whose names might never be known who were sacrificed in Whitaker’s quest for power. As Ben looked around the table at his sons, he thanked God. Imperfect though they were, each had a sense of the value of a human life, and understood the need for truth and justice to be one’s vindicator.