Summary: This novel begins a new series, A Separate Dream, which is a companion to my Heritage of Honor books. In “A Fresh Beginning” Adam Cartwright travels east to attend college, meeting new friends and facing new challenges throughout his freshman year against the backdrop of a nation at war.
Rated: K+ (212,100 words)
A Separate Dream, Book 1: A Fresh Beginning
With each turn of the yellow wheels, the people clustered in front of the stage office to see Adam Cartwright off on his great adventure shrank in size, but the young man continued to hang out the window, waving, until Carson City itself was only a cluster of tiny houses in the distance. Then he drew back into the egg-shaped body of the coach and settled into the rear-facing seat with a sheepish grin at his fellow passengers. The coach supposedly had room for nine inside, but since only four others rode with Adam today, no one had to use the jump seat in the middle. Adam hoped it would stay that way, since, as the youngest, he’d probably be expected to take that uncomfortable place with nothing but a broad leather belt to brace his back and a strap dangling from the ceiling to hold onto for balance. Logic said they’d probably pick up passengers along the way, at least in Salt Lake City, but maybe they’d drop some here and there, too, and keep the number to six or less.
“Going far, young man?” asked the plump woman in deep purple seated across from him.
“Yes, ma’am.” The dark-haired youth flashed a smile bright with the prospects before him. “All the way to the east coast.”
“Oh, my,” she said, short fingers flapping under her chin in a vain attempt to fan up a breeze, “and I thought I had a long trip ahead!” She ran an appraising eye over his lean frame, well-muscled, but still obviously that of a boy, not a fully developed man. “Kind of young to travel so far alone, aren’t you?” she inquired with a matronly air. “Going to visit family back East?”
The eighteen-year-old took a bit of umbrage at the reference to his youth, but since he had been taught to respect his elders, he merely ignored the first question and answered the second. “No, ma’am; I’m hoping to attend college—at Yale.” The woman looked impressed, but still concerned, so he added, “I am meeting family friends in St. Joseph and hope to continue my journey with one of them.” He didn’t bother mentioning that the friend he’d be traveling with was a scant four months older than he.
She smiled then, seeming pleased to learn that the young man would only be roving halfway across the continent alone. “I’m bound for Denver with my nephew here,” she offered, aiming her double chin toward the man at her side, who appeared to be about thirty or so. “He’s going to try his luck in the mines near there, and, of course, I couldn’t let him go alone. Why, he’d likely starve to death without his Aunt Tildy’s cooking!”
Trying to keep from laughing, Adam greeted the man politely. Since he lived near the silver-mining community of Virginia City, he’d seen his fair share of miners, and this pencil-thin man with an equally thin mustache looked more like a traveling drummer to Adam. The man wedged in between Adam and another, thankfully slim, fellow was a burly man who did look like a miner, one who hadn’t bothered to brush the dust from his last prospect hole off his britches. Well, at least, sitting backward like this, the dust wasn’t likely to get much thicker, the way it might if he were sitting with Aunt Tildy and her would-be-miner nephew. That pair had the most comfortable seats in the coach, but also the ones most exposed to wind and weather.
After the brief exchange of personal information, the passengers all settled temporarily into their own thoughts. For Adam, it was practically the first chance in days for quiet reflection. Rush, rush, rush—that described his life ever since, in a fit of temper, he had blurted out his secret dream, a dream set aside with the death of his stepmother Marie. Until that moment no one, least of all his grief-fogged father, had realized Adam’s ambition to attend Yale College this year. Adam himself had tried not to think about it. What was the point, when Marie’s death had stolen his right to that dream, saddling him with responsibilities that had to take precedence? But the minute Pa heard, he’d insisted that Adam pick up that dream again, had even told him he was fired from all those responsibilities he’d thought were barriers.
Adam smiled pensively at that memory, but if truth were told, he still felt uneasy, still felt the weight of responsibility. No matter what Pa said, Adam knew that he was needed, maybe not as much as he’d prided himself, but needed nonetheless. Pa did finally seem to be getting on with his life after the tragic loss of his third wife, but Adam, who had been through it all before, knew that dealing with grief took time. And in the meantime there was the ranch to run and his two little brothers to care for. Yes, despite what he’d said, Pa needed his help. Pa had won the argument, though, so after a few frenzied days of arranging details, here Adam was, rolling east as fast as four wheels and six horses could carry him and trying to outrun the guilt of leaving.
The guilt had surfaced afresh back in Carson City when he’d said his final farewells. Adam had held himself together well until his baby brother, only four years old, had clung to him, sobbing as if his little heart were breaking. Poor Little Joe. Hoss would miss him, too, of course, as he would miss that chubby boy’s sunny smile. And Pa—oh how he’d miss Pa! But it was Little Joe’s open sorrow that tore at his heart. Such a short time since the baby had lost his mother. How could he bear to lose his brother, too? No different for Hoss, Adam supposed, but at least he was old enough to understand . . . well, some, anyway. How could a four-year-old, though, possibly feel anything but abandoned by the big brother who had tried to be everything—father, mother and brother—to him after that fatal accident? His own heart torn by the baby’s tears, a poignant representation of the grief Adam himself felt that he could not afford to express, he had wanted to pull his bag right off the stage. Again Pa had intervened, insisting that he get aboard. “There’s a dream waiting out there,” Pa had said, “and high time you headed toward it.” Maybe so. Maybe it was time to look ahead, instead of behind, but it was hard, especially hard when he pictured that baby’s tears.
One final farewell awaited Adam at Dayton, where the stagecoach stopped to pick up passengers, but it wasn’t destined to be a sad one. As he was swallowing a dipperful of brackish water from the station’s well, Adam felt a tap on his shoulder and swung around to the sight of a grinning face beneath a dusty thatch of copper hair.
“Fancy meeting you here,” chuckled the man dressed in the traditional red shirt and blue trousers of a Pony rider.
Adam clapped his longtime friend on the shoulder. “I was hoping I would, though I wasn’t sure where; I wanted a chance to say goodbye.”
Billy Thomas threw a long arm around Adam. “Pa sent word by one of the other Pony riders that you’d be comin’, so bein’s I had a couple days off, I figured to meet you and then head on home for some of Ma’s good cookin’.” His characteristic grin faded. “Sure was sorry to hear ‘bout you headin’ back East, Adam. I thought once we got you back from that Sacramento academy, you’d stick in the territory, and I was sure hopin’ for some more good times together.”
“Like that afternoon we trailed Sam Brown?” Adam tossed back with a wicked lift of one side of his mouth. When Billy scowled at the reminder of that hare-brained escapade, Adam snaked his arm about his friend’s shoulders. “I’ll miss you, too, buddy. Look after the folks for me?”
Billy laughed. “Yours or mine?”
“One and the same, ‘cousin,’” Adam snickered, using the family title in jest. While he had called Billy’s parents aunt and uncle from his youth, Billy had always been simply his best friend and his oldest, except for Jamie Edwards. He was going toward Jamie, though, and away from Billy, as well as from Ross Marquette, a newer friend, but one to whom he felt almost as close as the two he’d known for years.
The boys had time for only a few more words. All too soon the driver yelled for Adam to get aboard. He did, promptly, for he could not afford to miss a single connection with the time constraints under which he was traveling. As he leaned out the window for a final glimpse of his friend, however, he saw a pretty girl, barefoot and dressed in faded calico, come out of the station building to circle Billy’s waist. Adam grinned at the typical image, a good one to keep in his head as he left his friend behind. That Billy—if there was one pretty gal in a hundred miles, he could be trusted to find her! Knowing the irrepressible redhead, he probably had one waiting in Carson City, too, like a sailor with a girl in every port. That image made Adam think of his father, though Pa’s tales of life at sea had never included descriptions of any pretty girls he might have met while sailing around the world.
Swallowing down the surge of homesickness, he gazed out the window until Reed’s Station came into view. Everyone aboard felt frustrated when two soldiers from nearby Ft. Churchill met the stage and demanded that each person state his or her name and destination. Most escaped the interview quickly and gratefully hurried inside the station for their meal, but the soldiers detained Adam for further questioning when he said that he was riding to the end of the line.
“And from there?” one asked.
Adam couldn’t for the life of him fathom the fellow’s interest, so he kept his answer as brief as possible. After all, what business was it of the United States Army? “Taking the ferry over to St. Joe,” he said.
“St. Joseph, eh?” the soldier said, exchanging a significant look with his uniformed assistant. “Got ties there?”
“A friend,” Adam replied cautiously, adding with a shrug, “I used to live there.”
The soldier’s gaze narrowed. “Border state, Missouri. A man might easily slip south from there.”
Adam blinked. “What?” Then what the man was suggesting hit him. “Oh, no. Good gracious, no! My final destination is New Haven, well north of the Mason-Dixon line.”
“Got friends there, too?” sneered the second soldier in clear skepticism.
“No,” Adam said tersely. “I plan to enroll at Yale.”
Looking Adam up and down, the man gave a snort of disbelief. Whatever his idea of what a college-bound student looked like, Adam obviously didn’t fit the bill. “Got any proof of that, sonny?”
Adam’s mind raced. Was there any way to prove his intent? He’d told his fellow passengers, of course, but that wasn’t real proof. He did have letters of recommendation in his luggage, though, and since one of them was from the well-known Bill Stewart, it might carry some weight. No, maybe not. Stewart had a southern wife and there was some talk in the territory that she might be unduly influencing him toward—
“He’s all right, Cramer,” a voice called out.
Adam looked up and breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of a third man in blue uniform striding toward them.
“You know this man?” Cramer asked.
Mark Wentworth smiled. “Yes, and you should, too. He fought beside us at Pinnacle Mount, though I guess you couldn’t know every man who joined that expedition. This is Adam Cartwright, and he’s as loyal as they come.”
“Says he’s goin’ to college back East,” grunted the other soldier.
“Then you can stake your life on it,” Mark said firmly. “I knew about it; in fact, that’s why I’m here now, to bid farewell to a good friend.”
“Well, if Private Wentworth vouches for you, that’s good enough for me,” Cramer said. “Sorry to have kept you, son.”
“Not a problem,” Adam assured him. Nothing was a problem now that he’d been cleared to continue on to New Haven. He felt Mark take his arm and let himself be led away from the others. “What was that about?” he asked when they were out of earshot. “I was afraid they weren’t going to let me go on if I couldn’t prove where I was bound.”
“Orders,” Mark said crisply. “We’re under orders to prevent anyone from heading south to join the Confederate Army.”
Adam shook his head. “Strange times.”
“Dangerous times,” Mark agreed soberly. “With the territory split nearly down the middle, a man’s loyalty is easily questioned. Glad I was here to smooth your way.”
“Me, too,” Adam said earnestly, “and I’m glad for the chance to see you one last time. I wasn’t sure I’d have the pleasure. In fact, I figured I wouldn’t, that you wouldn’t have any way of knowing about my sudden plans and that I wouldn’t have time to look you up.”
Mark chuckled. “Billy Thomas sent word by the soldier on duty when he came through. I’m proud for you, Adam, and wish you the best success. If anyone can do Nevada proud back East, it’s you.”
Adam glowed under the heartfelt praise. “Thank you, Mark. A man can use all the encouragement he can get when he’s heading into a big challenge.”
“Don’t I know it,” Mark murmured. “May be heading into one of those myself soon.” In response to the quizzical cock of Adam’s head, he explained, “We haven’t been called up yet, but word is we’ll be heading back East, too, once volunteers have been recruited to replace us here.”
Adam gasped. “Oh, Mark. Get word to me when . . . if . . . it happens. I’ll want to keep track of . . . of . . .”
“The casualty lists?” Mark suggested with a grim smile. “I don’t expect I’ll be fighting, Adam, since I’m working under the surgeon here, but battlefield surgery isn’t quite the type of medicine I’d hoped to practice.”
“I guess it’s good experience,” Adam said weakly.
Mark uttered a hoarse laugh. “Yeah, I guess the average Nevada bullet wound won’t hold many terrors after a baptism of fire like that.”
“Sorry. I wasn’t makin’ light,” Adam said, “just tryin’ to—”
“Be encouraging,” Mark supplied. “I know, and I appreciate it. Hey, looks like the stage is boarding again, so I’d better let you get back.” He shook Adam’s hand. “Again, best wishes. I’d like to look forward to seeing you back East, but I’d rather you’d stayed away from battlefields.”
“Don’t worry; I will!” Adam ran back to the stage and clambered aboard as the driver gathered up the reins. Within seconds the stagecoach was on its way again. It couldn’t go fast enough for Adam. He had a deadline to meet, with no time to spare. He had to be in New Haven by September 10th to sit for the entrance exam to Yale, and here it was already August 21st in this year of 1861. Less than three weeks to cross the entire continent! Even with the speed of stagecoach travel, it was just barely possible.
As the coach, now pulled by mules, rambled on, Adam took out the packages of sandwiches and cookies that had been piled on him back in Carson City and shared them around with his fellow passengers. The taciturn miner grew almost sociable after that, but Adam didn’t really need company on this stretch of road, so packed with memories. They crossed the Carson River, its sandy, cottonwood-lined banks glittering with black mica, and suddenly Adam could picture himself and Pa arriving here at Ragtown, now a swing station, where the stage line changed mules. Here they had rested after a grisly night crossing of the desert, and here Pa seemed, finally, to rise from his deep grief over the death of his second wife and fix his sights once more on the dream ahead of them.
Odd how history repeats itself, Adam thought. Three wives . . . three sons . . . three deaths . . . and after each that terrible fog. The first, the one after the death of Adam’s own mother, had probably lasted the longest, for he could remember times as a little boy when Pa’s mind just seemed to drift off to some sad place known only to him. It had been the same after that Indian arrow took Inger’s life, Pa just stumbling along beside the wagon, putting one foot in front of the other because it was either that or die. And most recently, with Marie’s fatal fall from her horse, the fog had once again descended, seeming deeper this time, maybe because there was nothing Pa absolutely had to do to keep himself and his sons alive. It seemed to have lifted again, just as it had here on the banks of the Carson eleven years earlier, but Adam couldn’t help wondering how much was a mere show of strength, how much a sign of heart-deep healing. Once again the questions surfaced. Was Pa really through the darkest days? What if the grief-fog descended again? Would Hoss and Joe be all right? Should he have stayed to make sure?
Silencing the tormenting questions, he poked his head out the window and forced himself to look ahead. He was heading the opposite direction from the one he and his father had aimed the first time they saw this river, heading toward a different dream, one that would separate him from the one he had shared with his father and from those dear little brothers for four years. But he’d come back better for the separation, he promised himself, and he’d make life better for all of them with what he learned. Anything less would make the leaving pointless.
The river kept dwindling down until it spread into a shallow sheet of water, one hundred miles around. The stage skirted the south side of Carson Sink and headed into desert country, the roadside littered with the bleached bones of oxen, mules and horses, cracked axles and splintered wagon wheels—the rotting wrecks of other people’s dreams. Adam’s memories of this stretch of road didn’t invite contemplation, so he decided to make better use of the time by preparing for Yale’s entrance exam. He found it hard to concentrate on the Latin text, though, when the stagecoach bounced him this way and then that, his right shoulder striking the side of the coach, his left almost as frequently bumping the miner beside him.
“You’ll strain your eyes, young man,” the woman he knew only as Aunt Tildy warned.
“Yes, ma’am,” Adam agreed politely, but he continued to read. Latin was, without doubt, his weakest subject, and he was particularly nervous about that part of the exam. Well, if truth be told, the only part he wasn’t nervous about was the mathematics section. His teachers at the academy had told him that he had an aptitude for mathematics, and he’d easily understood its principles. Latin and Greek had always required more effort, but being a diligent student, he’d received high marks, even in those. Sometimes he wondered, though, how the standards of a frontier academy compared with the preparatory schools most boys back East attended before seeking admission to college. Was it even possible for a fellow from a place as backward and isolated as Nevada Territory to qualify for a prestigious institution of learning like Yale? Was his dream, too, destined to become a rotting hulk by the roadside? No! Pa had pressed on, past wrecks like these, to make his dream a reality, and his son would do no less.
Though reading in a moving coach was hard, at least it staved off the boredom of just jostling back and forth with a load full of people who really had little to say to each other. A broad-shouldered and full-bearded man got on at Mountain Well, and Adam’s self-designated mother-in-transit snared his elbow just before reboarding the stage. “You move over with Mortimer and me, boy. Let those miners sit together.”
Adam doubted that the new passenger was a miner, and he certainly didn’t figure the other passenger for one, judging by his dapper, though now dusty, apparel; however, he was only too happy to comply with the lady’s request. The fact that she was a lady was reason enough. A lady had a right to choose which man shared a seat with her, and considering this particular lady’s size, only Adam or the stick-thin dapper dresser would have been an appropriate choice. Certainly not the new passenger, who took up more space than the two men sharing his seat, put together.
“Now, put that away,” the lady scolded when Adam again opened his Latin text. “The light’s fading, and you really will strain your eyes if you insist on reading in the dark!”
Adam smiled weakly. “I suppose you’re right,” he conceded, adding in a rare moment of self-revelation, “I’m just concerned about the entrance exam. Don’t want to go all this way, only to turn around and come straight back.” Later, Adam wondered why he had unburdened himself to a virtual stranger, but decided her being a stranger was probably the reason. A stranger wasn’t likely to send tales home.
Aunt Tildy patted his knee. “There now, my boy; I’m sure you’ll do fine, but no more reading tonight. Tell me what you’re planning to study.”
Mindful of the bored stares from across the coach, Adam didn’t expand on that topic as he might otherwise have, but while dusk began to deepen, he described, to the best of his understanding, the course of study he would follow at Yale.
Night cloaked the moving stagecoach, and one by one the passengers shut their eyes and sought the solitude of their dreams. Tired as he was, though, Adam found it hard to drift off. Despite having the better choice of seatmates, they were packed pretty tight, and each time the coach lurched his direction, Adam was crushed up against the side wall. Still, he figured he was better off here than beside that new passenger. Even from across the carriage the smell of that man’s greasy buckskin was pungent with the odor of past campfires. Adam had no desire to get closer.
* * * * *
Adam had never felt happier to light down from a stagecoach than he did when it arrived at Cold Springs, also known as East Gate, the next morning. The last few miles had been even rougher than crossing the alkali plain that preceded it and had jostled him awake from the poorest night’s sleep he could ever remember. He was glad of the chance to work out a few of the kinks in his back and glad that he’d have a bit longer stop here than usual, this being a home station. Eating took longer than just changing mules, but even so, Adam knew he’d have to climb right back into that jouncing egg crate far sooner than he liked. And all he had to look forward to for the next couple of weeks was more of the same.
While he was stretching, he took a look at the station. About all that could be said for it was that it was an improvement over the smoky hovel of their last stop at Middlegate. It was a large building, at least, and those three-foot thick walls of native stone and adobe should be both cool in summer and warm in winter. Right now, however, he was more concerned about getting a meal. He didn’t have much hope that it would be a good one, and thanks to his generosity the day before, his food from home had dwindled down to a few cookies.
As suspected, breakfast wasn’t anything to brag about, and Adam wondered wryly if he wouldn’t miss Hop Sing most of all his family. He had to eat standing up, as there weren’t enough chairs for everyone, but that was no inconvenience to a young man. He’d been sitting enough to last him a month and figured his feet were about the best-rested part of his entire aching body. The steak was not as good as Ponderosa beef, but tolerable, especially when hunger added spice to the meal.
Adam finished quickly and took advantage of the extra time to trot over to the cold stream from which the station took its name and dash the dust from his face. He spent the remaining few minutes stretching his legs, dreading the moment he’d have to mount that step into the coach again. He shook his head in dismay. If he was this stiff after one day’s travel, one night’s poor sleep, how would he feel by the time he reached St. Joseph? Like an old man, most likely, much too old to enroll with a bunch of college-bound whippersnappers.
The picture of himself tottering to class with a cane made Adam grin, though somewhat ruefully. He had trusted in his invulnerable youth, but now he was starting to question his sanity. He’d already been worried about passing that entrance exam, and now he realized he’d be taking it completely exhausted. What chance did he have? None at all if he didn’t get there, so he had no choice but to travel night and day and then pray he could still keep his eyes open when the testing time came. No, he could do more than pray; he could study. No matter what Aunt Tildy or anyone else said, Adam was determined to focus on his Latin text. If he pounded in facts thickly enough, surely they would come seeping out on their own, even if he were too tired to direct them clearly.
When he saw the driver exit the station, Adam hustled toward the coach and quickly climbed aboard, settling in next to Aunt Tildy again. He defiantly pulled out his textbook, determined to concentrate no matter how much the print bounced before his eyes. It was rough, though, as the stage ascended one rugged canyon, topped the summit and began winding down another.
At least, study should come easier after he reached St. Joseph and switched to a smoother conveyance. Jamie had written with excitement about the completion of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad, which would take them across the state in twelve hours. Better than two hundred miles in half a day! That was a thrill to anticipate, since Adam’s train travel to this point in his life had been restricted to the twenty-two-mile jaunt from Folsom to Sacramento a couple of times a year. And the train wouldn’t jar him like this increasingly unattractive stagecoach. He could read; he would be ready. Maybe he and Jamie could even quiz each other as added preparation.
By determined effort Adam focused on his Latin lessons throughout the morning, stopping only to get down and stretch his legs every time the mules were changed at a swing station. “You’re being very foolish, boy,” Aunt Tildy insisted each time he again opened the book. Adam agreed graciously and kept on reading.
Noon brought them to Smith’s Creek, a pleasing change from the grubby way stations preceding it. Nestled in a deep valley, the house was not only clean, but offered a decent meal, both to the hungry travelers and to a couple of lean-ribbed Paiutes who wandered by to trade pine nuts for white man’s grub. Adam could have cheerfully lingered over this well-set table, but as before, no one sat down before the driver and when he rose to leave, so did they, whether they’d had enough to eat or not. Fearing he wouldn’t find such fluffy ones again, Adam snared an extra biscuit to nibble on the road.
His fears were unjustified this time, for both excellent light bread and cornbread shortened with butter were on the table at Simpson’s Park, along with the ever-present salt sowbelly and eggs. Coyotes howled nearby, but that didn’t deter most of the passengers from laying over for the night. Adam lost the companionship of everyone except, unfortunately, the man in greasy and odoriferous buckskin. Since there were only two of them now, each took a bench to himself, and Adam followed the other man’s example by stretching out full length. He’d put in enough study time that day to merit the rest, he assured himself, and the light was growing dim. Darkness fell as they forded the river, and again it was time to sleep—or try to.
* * * * *
Friday morning Adam awoke to a bleak landscape, where even the sagebrush seemed stunted for lack of water. As the stage pulled into the home station at Robert’s Creek for breakfast, he noticed a few Indians hanging about the door and assumed they were there for a handout. The bronze men wore cast-off white man’s clothing, covered with a blanket of rabbit fur, and that might have led him to believe they were Paiute, but for their frontal pigtail of black hair and faces streaked with red paint.
As Adam edged warily past them into the station, the stationmaster met him with a hearty laugh. “They ain’t warlike, boy,” he offered in assurance, as he no doubt had frequent occasion to do with other travelers. “They’s White Knife Shoshone, and they ain’t never stained them knives with the blood of white men.”
Adam grinned his relief and, as soon as the driver sat down, took his seat in hopes of a filling meal. His traveling companion in buckskin spat on the dirt floor. “Oughtn’t to let trash like that hang about the place.”
The stationmaster set platters of biscuits and bacon on the table with a clunk. “They ain’t hangin’ about,” he grunted. “They drift by now and again, hopin’ to trade a mite of chorin’ for a bite of food. I don’t cotton to beggars, but them what’s willin’ to work for a meal can find one here, be they white, black, red or polka-dotted.”
Adam liked the man’s attitude, but if pressed, he would have been forced to confess that the food wasn’t worth working for, and it sure wasn’t worth the four bits he’d laid out for the meal. The White Knife tribe must be mighty hungry, in Adam’s opinion, to drift by here in hopes of filling their bellies.
Shortly after leaving, Adam noticed the last telegraph pole. This was as far as the telegraph had come, then—going east, that is. The line was being built from the opposite direction, too, and when it met, his friend Billy Thomas would be out of a job. Billy and the Pony Express had been an ideal match, and Adam wasn’t sure what else would suit his footloose friend as well. Knowing Billy, though, he’d land on his feet. He was that kind of man.
Adam studied throughout the morning and into the afternoon, for the scenery was too monotonous to provide much distraction. He found it easier on his eyes to read a short passage, then close his eyes and think about the material, and in spite of the dry and dreary landscape, it also helped to take a peek out the window every now and then. The scenery perked up as the coach rolled across a long ridge dappled with the contrasting colors of light mountain mahogany and black cedar.
A lake with water fowl fluttering above it came into view, and Adam’s stomach rumbled in welcome. Dinner was late in coming today, but home stations occurred at the convenience of the stage line, not the need of its passengers. The previous station at Diamond Springs had been only a swing stop for change of mules, and seeing his young passenger’s disappointment, the driver had told him not to look so down in the mouth. “You’ll be glad we waited,” he promised. “Keep your eyes out for a little lake, boy, and then it’s only two miles to a better meal than you’d’ve had here, I can tell you for sure. Best you’ve had yet, in fact.” Adam hoped that promise would prove true, for a lot of hours had passed since he’d choked down what he could of that sorry breakfast.
Adam jumped down from the stage as soon as it came to a halt at Ruby Valley and stepped briskly toward the stone hut. A man with a genial smile met him and the other passenger at the door. After greeting the driver by name, the stationmaster urged, “Come on in, gents. Dinner’s on the table, and I’m guessin’ you’re ready for it.”
“More than ready,” the other passenger growled.
Adam could feel saliva saturating his mouth as he gazed at the table spread with more food than he’d seen at any station so far. The roast duck obviously came from the lake nearby, and it was complemented by the produce the man, who introduced himself as Uncle Billy Rogers, grew. Adam loaded his plate with boiled potatoes, well-seasoned green beans and pickled beets, and he hoped the driver would take his time at this stop, so he had a chance to delve into the dried apple pie, too.
“Uncle Billy, huh?” The buckskin-clad passenger ran his tongue over his front teeth to dislodge a chunk of potato. “You the one the injuns call Big-hearted Father?”
Rogers smiled and nodded. “Some do. Do my best by them.” He turned toward Adam. “I’m assistant Indian agent and run a model farm for the government, tryin’ to teach our red brothers how to make a better livin’ for themselves. Those vegetables you’re eatin’ show how they’re doin’.”
The other man aimed tobacco spittle at an unoccupied corner. “Be better if you’d make good injuns out of ‘em.”
Adam hadn’t much liked this passenger when he first got on the stage, and this reference to the adage that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian” only heightened his distaste for the man’s company.
Uncle Billy let the remark slide by without comment and, most likely to change the subject, asked, “How far you bound, gents?”
Buckskin forked up a pickled beet. “Salt Lake, another nest of injun lovers,” he muttered just before poking the beet into his mouth.
Rogers refused to be baited. “Only about three hundred miles to go, then, this bein’ the halfway house ‘tween there and Carson Valley. And you, son?”
Adam swallowed and replied, “All the way to St. Joe, sir, and then on to Connecticut.”
Uncle Billy whistled. “You don’t say! A youngun like you, travelin’ that far alone. Got kin there, boy?”
Adam shook his head at what seemed to be a common misconception and again explained his educational ambitions and even amplified enough to admit that he had to travel straight through in order to reach New Haven in time for the entrance exam. The stationmaster seemed impressed, but Buckskin clearly didn’t share the opinion. “Keeps his nose buried in a book, ‘cept when he’s moonin’ out the winder. Ain’t a lick sociable,” he grumbled, giving Adam a hard look.
Though he felt like asking who would want to be sociable with such a man, Adam kept his mouth shut. Pa would expect him to be respectful of his elders, no matter how little they seemed to merit his respect. As he served himself a slice of pie, he caught Uncle Billy winking at him and grinned back. Not a bit hard to be sociable with someone who invites sociability, he thought.
The driver took his time, evidently wanting to savor the meal as much as his passengers did, so Adam even had time for a second piece of apple pie. Just as he was boarding the stage again, however, Uncle Billy came hustling out with a wooly bundle in his arms. “Here, take this, boy,” he urged. “If you’re travelin’ by night, like you said, you can use this buffalo robe. Nights get cold in the mountains.”
Adam accepted the offer gladly. “I can see why they call you Big-hearted Father,” he said. “Thanks!”
“Pshaw, ain’t nothin’,” Rogers insisted. “Just leave it with the stage when you’re done with it; it’ll make its way back to me. And if it don’t, that don’t matter, neither.”
“I will,” Adam promised, “but I still owe you my thanks, Uncle Billy. I’ll sleep warm tonight!”
“Good luck on them tests,” the stationmaster called as the stage pulled out.
Frankly, Adam was tired of studying and but for the remarks of the buckskin boor, he would probably have left his Latin book unopened that afternoon. Still disgruntled by being called unsociable, he did just as he’d been accused, buried his nose in the book until late that afternoon, when Buckskin finally deigned to favor him with a word. “Better put it away, boy. Home station comin’ up,” he said curtly, “or maybe you’d rather read than eat.”
“No, supper sounds good,” Adam replied, closing the book. He looked out the window and saw nothing but a steep, rocky canyon, not a likely place for a station. Feeling tricked, he cast a hard glance at his companion.
“Nipcut Canyon,” Buckskin said. “You won’t see the station ‘til you’re right up on it, boy. Just beyond that knoll up ahead.”
Adam looked out again, scanning the area around the hundred-foot-high knoll, but still saw nothing until the stage turned right, just past that landmark, and there it was, two hundred yards to the south. The station was nestled in a pretty little valley about a half-mile across. The supper table wasn’t nearly as pretty a sight as the valley, but Adam didn’t mind much, since he still felt full from the good dinner at Uncle Billy’s place.
Buckskin decided to lay over for the night, and though he still considered Adam an unsociable sort, he offered a word of advice as the young man again mounted the stage. “Keep your gun close to hand through this next section, boy. Partial as you seem to be toward injuns, I reckon you’re a mite more partial to your hair.”
“Don’t go scarin’ the boy,” the driver warned, climbing up to his high seat.
“There’s need,” Buckskin insisted. “Them Goshutes has been stirred up lately, I heard.”
“You heard right,” the stationmaster agreed. “Keep a sharp eye out, boys, and your guns handy.”
“Always do,” the driver snorted and took off at a run.
Adam pulled his gun from his holster and checked his ammunition, just in case, but he saw no Indians before twilight faded to deeper dusk. He managed to stay awake until the stage reached the swing station at Mountain Springs. The clear water there was refreshing, but the wind off the mountains cold enough to make Adam grateful for the loan of the buffalo robe. He huddled up inside it as soon as he reentered the coach.
A few miles to the east he spotted the City of Rocks, dim in the moonlight, and smiled as he recalled how Pa had taken him and Billy, with a few others in tow, over to frolic among the rocks. His smile widened at the memory of Billy shutting him up in the “jail” for the crime of reading too much. Good thing Buckskin isn’t still around or he’d likely be tempted to do the same, Adam thought with a chuckle.
Back-trailing along with the stagecoach, he’d reached the part of his original journey west where the memories were all good ones. They’d all still been together here at City of Rocks, with no thought except being together always, and as a gray eagle swooped over the “city,” Adam felt warm with the memory of those happy-hearted days. With the warmth of memory, though, came a dreaminess that lulled the exhausted boy to sleep, oblivious to the cries of coyotes in the distance or the possible threat of Indian attack.
* * * * *
Adam was awakened by the sudden stop of the stagecoach. Rubbing his eyes, he stepped down to see the surrounding hills barely splashed with the first light of dawn. “Where we at?” he asked the driver.
“Eight-Mile Creek, last stop in Nevada,” the driver replied, adding with a grin, “and just that far to breakfast, son.”
Adam yawned as he stretched his arms wide. “Any chance it’ll be a good one?”
The driver chuckled. “Fair to middlin’. Mormon folks that run Deep Creek grow some decent potatoes.”
“Sounds good,” Adam said. How good, he observed inwardly, depended on the skill of the cook. He was reminded of the time his new stepmother Marie had tried to fry potatoes. She hadn’t been used to cooking over an open fire and had made one sorry mess of her first meal. The memory brought a pang of regret, for Adam had been less, far less, than generous that night toward the woman he later came to consider a friend and, belatedly, as much his mother as Inger and the woman who had given him birth.
The change of mules was swiftly made at the swing station and the coach soon crossed a valley and entered a rugged ravine of serrated rocks. Despite rumors of Indian unrest, Adam felt no concern here, for the canyon was only five hundred yards long, scarcely large enough to hide many hostiles. On this morning there were none as the stage burst through a portal of tall rock into the dry valley beyond.
Two miles past that portal the home station came into view, and at first glance Adam was impressed. Surrounded by fenced fields stood a large building of adobe, with more adobe stacked nearby to suggest that expansion was being planned. One step inside destroyed that favorable impression, however. Hungry as he was, Adam could barely force himself to sit at station keeper Harrison Sevier’s table, for though the fried potatoes, bacon and biscuits were tolerable, the meal could scarcely be appetizing when thousands of flies covered the walls like a living, crawling blanket. He ate as quickly as he could and hurried from the filthy hovel to a more pleasing prospect. The deep creek for which the station was named sank here to form a marsh, as so many waterways in the Great Basin did. After the succession of barren mountains and alkali flats, this was an oasis of pastureland.
So he was outside Nevada now, Adam mused as he stretched his legs, and it had taken almost no time at all to get here, at least by comparison with how long it had taken to cross the same ground in a covered wagon. They were coming into populated parts again, although only a handful of homes were visible in the distance. Seeing the driver exit the log cabin, Adam hustled to get back to the stage, thankful that he’d had even this much time to refresh himself. He didn’t remember being this sore, ever, when he’d traveled west over this same dry ground. He’d been a kid then, of course, but since he was still only eighteen, he could scarcely chalk the aches up to old age, and the fading of memory over time probably wasn’t at fault, either. No, the difference was the pace, no two ways about it. Walking was easier on the bones than jostling around inside a stagecoach, but the length of the journey was immeasurably longer, and he had no time now for a leisurely walk. Speed and leisure each had its place, Adam supposed, but now was definitely the time for speed.
For about seven miles the stage rolled through the valley bisected by Deep Creek. Cultivated fields extended a mile on either side, with grassy plains beyond. Then they entered a dangerous, nine-mile stretch through a gorge nature-built for ambush, but again no Indians were sighted. Between the ridges lay long miles of alkali desert, seemingly drier and more desolate as the afternoon wore on. Adam’s nose began to bleed from the endless assault of the irritating dust stirred up by the wheels of the coach. The desert was hard on the wheels, too, and the pace slowed, almost down to the two miles per hour that the oxen pulling the Cartwrights’ wagon had achieved back in 1850.
Adam thought the day would never end; nor did dinner show any signs of appearing. Not until four that afternoon did the stage reach the next home station, set in another oasis of hay fields, green from abundant water. The air above them was thick with water fowl, crows and black swamp birds with yellow throats. The driver called the place Willow Springs, but as soon as Adam jumped down from the stage the local station keeper called brightly, “Welcome to Callao!” When asked, he explained that Willow Springs was the old name. “Nowadays, ‘most ever’body, ‘cept stubborn cusses like Wilt there”—he threw his chin toward the driver—“calls it Callao. Old Spanish prospector named it after a mining camp in Peru.”
“Still say Willow Springs suits it better,” Wilt said with a grin as he stabbed another piece of salt beef. “This ain’t Peru, Hank.”
Adam did his best to choke down the salt beef and biscuits, all which graced the table in another fly-ridden hovel. A meager meal to serve as both dinner and supper, but there’d been no place fit to stop for food before—if this could be called a place fit to stop. The six passengers who boarded the stage here seemed glad to leave, and Adam couldn’t fault them. He wasn’t particularly happy to have that much traveling company, though. He was tired of studying and welcomed a little conversation, but with seven in the coach now, he inherited that jump seat he’d avoided so long. Night was coming on, too, and Adam didn’t look forward to sleeping in the cramped stagecoach.
When the stage rattled into the next swing station, he concluded there just might have been worse places to take a meal than Willow Springs, where at least the water had been good. Boyd’s Station, judging by external appearance, would have offered less, for it was no more than a partial dugout with bunks carved into the walls and no furniture at all, except boxes and benches.
After passing Boyd’s, the coach circled the north end of the Fish Springs range and came upon a succession of light green pools. Adam heard the call of marsh birds, and peering into the fading twilight, he saw hawks and raptors circling above. Night came on, and all the passengers settled in to get what sleep they could. Not thinking the middle seat conducive to secure rest, Adam just wrapped up in his borrowed buffalo robe and sprawled out on the floor of the coach amid the shuffling feet of his drowsing companions.
Drowsing was about as much as any of them did that night, each kept awake by the near-constant sting of mosquitoes. Lowering the leather curtains might have helped, but would also have sealed the odor of seven sweat-stinking bodies inside the coach. Every one of them opted for mosquitoes and fresh air, and Adam drifted off to the rhythm of hands slapping against flesh, waking frequently to join the percussion chorus.
* * * * *
By the time the stagecoach made its last long hard climb up a sandy grade before reaching the next home station, Adam was starving. Mid-morning before the stage line saw fit to stop for breakfast! His first glimpse of the station explained the delay, for with its station house and outbuildings of solid stone, Simpson’s Springs provided the most substantial-looking stopover he’d seen thus far. It was one of the most dependable watering spots in the desert, the new driver said, and Adam eagerly took advantage of the opportunity to wash the alkali dust from his face, though he didn’t really have time to do an adequate job, not unless he wanted to starve until reaching the next home station.
At least, he wasn’t immediately bombarded with another attack of the abrading dust that had even gotten under his eyelids, for the stage next moved into the mountains, climbing to almost a mile high. At that elevation, only stunted junipers, no more than ten feet high, provided sparse covering for the stony slopes, but even this was a refreshing contrast to the sagebrush flatlands between each range of mountains. The valleys were scored with waterways, but in August they were all dry.
The road crossed Skull Valley and after another steep climb the stage rolled into the next swing station about one o’clock that afternoon. Stepping down from the coach, Adam noticed a wooden marker, which stated that Carson City was 533 miles behind them. Grow up, Adam admonished himself sternly as another wave of homesickness washed over him. “Nice view of the desert,” he commented to the driver as the team was being changed. “Easy to see why they call this Point Lookout.”
The driver cackled. “What I hear the Pony riders say is that it stands for ‘Look out for injuns!’” He laughed at the grimace on the station keeper’s face. “Jackson here don’t like to be reminded that he lives right on the edge of Paiute Hell.”
“Better on the edge than in the middle of it,” Adam suggested and was rewarded with a grin from the station keeper. “Do they really call it that?”
“They do, boy,” Jackson said, “with good reason, but it gets better from here east.”
Adam sincerely hoped that would prove true and not only because of the ever-present threat of Indian attack. Behind him lay the harshest desert in North America, a country of bare, rocky mountains and endless miles of burning sand. As the stage descended into Rush Valley that didn’t change much. The terrain became pancake-flat, but was still dry and barren, without a tree in sight.
Dinner at Rush Valley Station didn’t do much to take the edge off Adam’s appetite, either, for the meal was not nearly as solid as the two-story stone structure that housed the next station. When told that the proprietors were German, Adam had anticipated the type of hearty fare he’d eaten many times at Mama Zuebner’s Café in Placerville, but the meal was meager by that standard.
The station keeper, Henry J. Faust, however, was an interesting character. He had come to the United States about twenty years ago and had attended medical school. Though he had dropped out to join the California gold rush, he was still the closest thing to a medical man in the area and was affectionately known as Doc. He had a fine corral of horses, for he raised them for the Pony Express and the Army, but Adam didn’t have time to give them more than a fleeting glance before the driver signaled that it was time to leave.
The stage crossed the dusty, windswept flat of Rush Valley, stopping only long enough to change mules at another swing station. Adam never missed a chance to get out and stretch his legs, since it was the only rest he was destined to get on this frantic Sabbath. All too soon he was back aboard the stage, charging up another western slope of yet another range of mountains, studded here and there with stubby cedar, to Five-Mile Pass. The sameness was becoming as wearisome as the jolting of the stage itself. Over and over again a sagebrush valley, five to fifteen miles wide, sloped almost unnoticeably toward the center, where some watercourse, most often dry, ran through it. Then the trail would lead inexorably over the creek or river bed and up a rocky trail on the other side to another range of mountains, thinly scattered with timber, just like the last.
Adam’s stomach began to rumble long before the stage reached the final home station of the day about seven that night. Here at the former Camp Floyd, however, supper took a backseat to all there was to see. Four hundred abandoned buildings had once housed as many as 3,500 troops, sent here to quell the so-called Mormon rebellion. Adam could remember those times, when Carson Valley had lost most of its population to Brigham Young’s call for reinforcements. He—and Pa, too, he was sure—thought then that the loss could never be made up, but they hadn’t counted on the discovery of silver at Sun Mountain. That had changed everything, and the new Territory of Nevada showed promise of real growth now.
The troops once stationed here had been sent back East, to fight in the conflict between North and South. Adam had promised his father that he would stay out of that strife, a promise easily made, for the young man wanted to focus on his studies. He was certain the promise would be easily kept, as well, for the battle at Pinnacle Mount against the Paiutes had squelched whatever boyish notions of the glory of warfare he had once entertained.
The stage station was located near the fort in a two-story adobe hotel. Stagecoach Inn looked inviting to all the passengers, and all but one elected to stay the night. The thought of a soft, unmoving bed pulled at Adam, too, exhausted as he was from traveling more than five hundred miles in the last five days. For him there was no choice, however, so after a satisfying supper he climbed dutifully aboard the stagecoach, grateful, at least, to have it to himself. Since it was already dark, Adam just stretched out on the back bench and covered himself with the warm buffalo robe loaned to him by Uncle Billy Rogers.
The stage jolted to an abrupt halt, and Adam was awakened when he tumbled to the floor. Yawning, he clambered up and got out. The sky was still pitch black outside, though in the dim light of a moon slightly more than half-phase, he could make out a station near a small spring. “Where we at?” he asked the driver groggily.
“Porter Rockwell’s place,” the driver supplied. “Runs his own brewery, so you might want to snare yourself a bottle to knock off the chill. I aim to.”
Adam nodded and followed the man inside. At one dollar a bottle, the price was steep, especially for Valley Tan, which had no reputation as good liquor. Since the night wind was downright icy, Adam decided to splurge for a bottle, anyway. He took it on the stage with him, and after a few draws of the burning liquor, he grew drowsy and drifted off to sleep again, more soundly than before. He didn’t even wake when the coach stopped to change mules at the next swing station.
~ ~ Notes ~ ~
Although Bonanza only refers to Adam’s college as being “back East,” most writers have elected to send him to Harvard and have written admirable stories in that setting. I originally chose Yale for purely pragmatic reasons: I had better sources for that college in the 19th century than for the other (chiefly Four Years at Yale by Lyman Hotchkiss Bagg) and felt that I could, therefore, write a more detailed story. I later learned some facts that perhaps made Yale a likely choice for a boy like Adam. While Harvard drew most of its students from western Massachusetts, Yale’s students came from everywhere, even as far away as Hawaii, according to catalogs of the years of Adam’s tenure. Yale also was more active in founding new colleges, being, for instance, one of the earliest to offer courses in engineering and the first to award anyone a Ph.D, in 1861. That might appeal to a young man with an enterprising mind. Also, while William Stewart, featured in two episodes of Bonanza, did not graduate, he was an alumnus of Yale and might have influenced a young man from Nevada Territory to make a similar choice.
As indicated here, after the Civil War began all travelers headed east were questioned at Fort Churchill to see whether they were going south to join the Confederacy.
To the best of my research abilities, all stage stations at which Adam stops were existent at the time of his journey, and descriptions of them are drawn from historic records. When specific station keepers are mentioned, they are the actual people who manned those stations, although it is not always possible to determine the precise dates of their residence.
Camp Floyd had once been the largest military post in the United States. With the outbreak of the Civil War, the garrison was ordered east, and by September, 1861, shortly after Adam’s trip through there, a mere eighteen families remained in the area.
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