The Rifleman
"Welcome to the McCain Ranch"

The Deserter
Episode 65

After a hard day’s work, there’s nothing I like better then to sit down in my leather chair with a good book or my Bible. You know what I mean. It’s that time of day after I finally get that boy of mine settled in bed and darkness has fallen over the land, I can just sit down and relax.

Well, that’s what I just happened to be doing on that night. I had the front door open to cool off the house, as usual, and I was just really getting into my book when suddenly I heard a noise outside. I immediately went on guard and decided to check it out. I grabbed my rifle and went outside, shutting the door behind me for Mark’s protection.

I slowly walked down the porch and looked around one side of the house. My eyes and ears were alert, listening to every noise and scanning the land at anything that did belong. I only heard the night bugs…and silence.

I turned and scanned the front of the land in the same way, looking over every inch and listening for any noise that may not quite belong as I walked down to the other end of the porch. I saw nothing there. I stepped off the porch and scanned over the other side.

Suddenly, there was a gun to my head. “Hold it!” I startled as this man’s voice spoke in the darkness. Drop the rifle!” I hesitated, knowing that would leave me defenseless. “Go on, drop it!" I did as he said.

"Alright now, get over to the barn. Move!" As I headed for the barn I started to turn my head, I wanted to get an idea of what I was up against. "Don't turn around! There's nothing to see." Suddenly, he began moaning. I turned to see a young wounded solider. “Hold it!” he shouted again. “Mister, I don’t want to shoot you, but I will if I have to! I just want a horse. I’ve got money, I’ll pay for it.”

Suddenly, for the first time I spoke. "And how far do you think you'll

I started towards him to help him. "Stay back!" He shouted.

"Look, your bleeding to death. You won't last half a mile,” I warned him.

"You just stay were you are, because honest.....I don't wanna.....but I will.....shoot!" He was scared…terrified and crying.

Suddenly, Mark stepped out onto the porch. “Pa, is that you-“ he started. I suddenly turned and saw him. I kicked the gun out of his hand and grabbed him. He cried out in pain. He was really hurt!

I found myself speaking in angry. I was angry that this young soldier had been shot, angry that he tried to take one of my horses by force, and angry that my son had disobeyed one of my rules. "Mark, I told you not to walk in on a situation blind like that!"

"Well I'm sorry but I heard voices, but didn't see anybody…” Mark started. Suddenly, he saw the man. “Why, he's a solider," he declared.

"He's just a boy," I was frustrated.

“Please-“ he started. Then he passed out. I slumped him over my shoulder and carried him inside.

We set up a cot for him in the living room and I doctored his wound on his chest. He groaned and tried to move. “Take it easy, Ben. You’re in no shape to go anywhere.” He wanted to know how I knew his name. I grabbed the small Bible from his jacket and read what was written on the inside. ’To Ben . The Lord is my Shepherd. Mother.’ That’s good advice. Too bad you didn’t follow it.”

He wanted to know what I was going to do. I told him that around here stealing a horse by gunpoint was still a serious thing. "I'm sorry, I just wasn't thinking straight. Please mister, I need a horse."

Suddenly, we heard horses outside. Mark ran up to the door and looked out the window. "Troopers, Pa."

Ben got really upset. "Don't let 'em in! Hide me! If they take me back the major will kill me!"

I told Mark to look after Ben while I talked to the Soldiers. I heard a knock at my door. As I approached, by habit I reached for my rifle, but I thought better of it. I didn’t want to cause any trouble. So I opened the door and stepped outside, closing the door behind me. The man that spoke to me was called Lt. Rolfe. He told me he was looking for a deserter. “Go on in, men.”

I stopped him. “Now just a minute.”

“This is official army business, sir. I suggest you cooperate.” He was messing with the wrong man. I knew my rights!

“Well, this is no army post,” I stated. “I suggest you ask permission before you barge into someone’s house!”

They had a pretty good feeling he was here. They found his horse a mile up the road and he had gone lame. They found Ben’s rifle in my yard. "Well, Mr. McCain, where is he?"

I sighed in defeat. I had no choice. “He’s hurt. Needs a doctor badly.” I told the lieutenant that he shouldn’t be moved because he could bleed to death. “I’m telling you the truth, lieutenant, he’s hurt pretty bad.”

“I don’t want to argue the point, Mr. McCain. You don’t seem to realize that harboring a fugitive’s a serious offense!” the Lieutenant started to warn me.

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous! I’m just helping a wounded man!” I argued.

“Then let it go at that!” the Lieutenant ordered. “Now, do we have to force our way in?” I stepped aside. I didn’t want anymore trouble, and I definitely didn’t want to go up against the United States army!

I was suddenly curious, though, to know what he had done. I was a bit shocked to find out that his only offense was stealing water. I’d never heard of anything so ridiculous in all my life! Major Damler had put the troops on half rations, an exercise to prepare the troops for the desert. Haskell was careless, he ran dry early. He was caught stealing water from the supply wagon. “It’s a matter of discipline,” the lieutenant explained. I wasn’t buying it! Shooting a man for stealing water just didn’t make since!

The soldiers brought Haskell out. "You know what you're letting me in for, sir? You know what he'll do to me?" Haskell was upset, terrified at going back.

"I'm sorry Haskell, I have my orders, mount up." Yeah right! He was sorry! The whole thing made me mad.

I watched them haul the scared boy off. I knew things wouldn’t be easy for him. "Lieutenant, is that all soldering means to you? Orders?" I asked angrily.

"I go by the book," The Lieutenant answered.

"There's lots of books. That boy's got one. You ought to read it sometime." The Lieutenant just looked at me, and then walked away.

The next morning, Mark was so excited about the army being in town that he could hardly concentrate on his breakfast. I had to sit there at the table with him just to make sure he didn’t make himself sick! As I came over to the table with my coffee, Mark was drinking his milk as fast as he could. “Mark, stop bolting your food, son,” I ordered gently.

Mark wanted to go fishing. That’s why he was eating so fast. He asked me if he could go and I told him yes. He was planning on going down to the Valley Lake. Suddenly, he got very excited. “Do you know that Stevie said he caught a fish that was 2 pounds down there?” Mark held his hands apart to show me the size. According to his hands, that fish was a lot bigger then 2 pounds!

“Two pounds?” I questioned, eyeing his hands. Mark adjusted his hands, moving them in closer together. “Oh,” I said.

Mark quickly took another bite of his food as he wondered how old he had to be to join the army. I eyed him curiously. “You want to join the army?” I asked. Mark stated there was nothing wrong with that as he took another bite of food. “No, but you still have to wait a few years, and stop eating so fast, huh?”

Then he turned to the uniforms, stating that he liked them. He asked me if I used to wear one. “I did. I was in the Calvary too,” I answered. Of course that excited Mark too! He was just in an excited mood today!

I told Mark to just think about going fishing right now. “And when you get back,” I started when Mark suddenly started eating his food fast again. “Mark, not so fast with the food, son!” Boy, was I getting tired of nagging him about that! “When you come back from fishing, I want you to clean up that barn you haven’t touched in a week!”

Mark said he would. “So I can go fishing then?” He sure did want to make sure he wasn’t hearing things! He started to jump up and hurry off. But he still had food in his bowl, and he sure knew better then that! “Mark,” I stopped him. “That’s food. Don’t waste it.”

That boy!

When I got to town, Micah invited me over to his office to have some lemonade that Hattie had made for him. It sure sounded good. It was a hot day. As we started over to his office I couldn't help but notice the soldiers riding around. That was because one of them almost ran me over! They were stopping here in North Fork on their way west to restock. The troop's had camped down at the flats and the major set up headquarters in the hotel.

Another horse and rider raced by. “I haven’t seen this much action around a command post since Gettysburg!” I declared.

Micah suggested I meet the Major. I wasn’t interested in meeting him; I had a taste of his methods last night! I told Micah about the deserter they found at my place the night before “hurt, scared; they treated him like he was John Wilkes Booth."

“Sounds like the same boy then, Micah stated. He told me that the Major requisitioned his jail and made it his own personal guard house. “The boy’s in there now on bread and water – lucky to get that,” Micah commented. I suddenly headed for the jail. I was concerned about the treatment this boy was getting!

When we got over there, it was obvious that this was a very sick soldier. I told the guard to open up and let me in but he told me he couldn’t. Micah and I didn’t give him a choice. I hurried in and checked him. It was very disappointing to see that he was still wearing the bandage I had placed on him last night. He was still carrying the bullet and was burning up with fever! Micah told me he had gotten Dr. Burrage the night before but they wouldn’t let him in. I immediately announced that I’d get him back here. “This is army business, Lucas.”

I suddenly turned and glared at Micah. “Would you let it pass, Micah?” Micah knew he wouldn’t. “If that Major doesn’t like it, he can take it up with me later!” I declared as I started out the door.

He’ll take it up with you now!" The major declared. I stopped in my tracks and looked up to see the Major and Lieutenant standing before me. He reminded Micah that he left strict orders not to allow anyone in that cell. Micah reminded him that this was his jail. “You treat your prisoners as honored guests?” the Major asked.

“No, like human beings,” Micah answered.

Suddenly, the Major rudely asked for my name. The Lieutenant was happy to give him that information, along with the fact that they had found the wounded soldier at my ranch the night before. “Yes, your concern for my prisoner is quite extraordinary, Mr. McCain.”

I wasn’t going to allow him to intimidate me! “No more then anybody’s concern for a sick man!”

But he thought it was. I was disregarding his orders today and harbored a fugitive last night. I told him I didn’t have to explain anything to him because I wasn’t under his authority. “Be thankful for that,” he stated. “Get this straight, Mr. McCain, once and for all. If there are anymore interferences, I’ll put you in there with him!”

He tried to threaten me, and Micah didn’t like that. "Lucas is a civilian. You got no say over him or anyone else in North Fork."

But the Major wanted to have the upper hand, so he threatened to declare marshal law. This guy was something else! He started to leave, but I wasn’t finished with him yet! “Wait a minute! Prisoner or not, that boy still needs a doctor!” I declared.

"Perhaps you're right Mr. McCain. It would be more appropriate if he faces a firing squad on his feet,” the Major replied.

His words caught me totally off guard. I was appalled at his words! "Firing squad? What for - stealing water?" I asked in shock.

“For desertion,” the Lieutenant answered.

This was getting worse by the second! I was angry. "That must have been the fastest court martial in history! Or did he even have one?" The Lieutenant asked me to leave.

As I was running my errands I saw the guard from the cell carrying out his punishment. He had to walk the street in the hot sun for four hours. I sure was beginning to like this Major less and less! “How’d that man ever become an officer? He’s not fit to command a flock of sheep!” I stated.

“That’s the army for ya',” Micah stated.

I knew better. “I pulled my hitch. I’ve seen a lot of officers…tough as they come! But I’ve never seen them treat their men like…like cattle!” I stated angrily.

We went into the Saloon to drink a beer. As I was sitting there, the Major and Lieutenant walked in to have a drink. I must admit that I wasn’t too happy to see them in there! I was sitting there trying to ignore him, but he didn’t want me to ignore him. “Does my presence at this bar annoy you, Mr. McCain?” he asked. I told him there was plenty of room for all of us. I also refused his offer for a drink. “Have one with me then,” the Major requested firmly.

Micah decided he didn’t want to be there anymore. He left.

The Major came up to me and asked me if I was afraid of him. I looked him up and down once before answering. “Most folks are only afraid of things they don’t understand, Major.”

“And you understand me?”

“Some,” I answered.

He wanted me to persuade my neighbors to be more cooperative. He stated that he had started a military campaign that obviously should take precedence over civilian affairs. “I have enough trouble without these petty annoyances.” He asked me if I was in the army. I told him from Bull Run to Five Forks. I was a Lieutenant. “Oh, you understand the responsibilities of commands, problems.” I told him I had a few.

“A few? Ho ho ho, Mr. McCain! If you only knew what I’ve been through, what I had to put up with! Carelessness, stupidity, incompetence…I’m given raw men and expected to carry out important assignments – impossible assignments. During the war at Chancellorsville…” He asked me if I was there. I slightly shook my head. “Defeat. We could have won. I’d have done it! It was a rebel battery in the woods. I was sent to clear it out. Let’s all take the battery, and it would have been a decoration of field promotion. And they broke! My men broke! They turned and ran! It was my responsibility. I had to take blame for their incompetence, their cowardness. It won’t happen again, McCain! Not this time! Discipline!” He banged on the bar. “Discipline, that’s the key. Make machines out of them. Make them obey without thinking! There won’t be another Chancellorsville for me!”

I stared at him, not quite believing what I heard. I shook my head in disbelief. And he thought I understood him? I had to tell him what I truly thought. “Major, a minute ago I said I wasn’t afraid of you. But right now I am…afraid of your kind. Afraid of what you can do hiding behind that uniform and that rank! You’re the machine, Major, something that is inhuman. Those men didn’t break – they were shot to pieces! They died and all you can think about is your rotten promotion and yourself. And now you’re using those men out there to feed your ambition. You’re building a career on corpses.”

He stopped me, telling me that was enough. He didn’t want to hear anymore. “I wish it was,” I stated. Then I stood and walked out after giving him one more hard look.

After I left the saloon, I got on my wagon and started to leave when I saw the guard suddenly collapse from heat exhaustion. I ran over to help him like any normal human being would do. Micah came over to and we quickly helped him by giving him a drink from his canteen. Then we helped him up.

The Major and Lieutenant stood by and watched the whole thing. I looked hard at him, daring him to say anything. “Lieutenant, add an hour to this man’s tour. No one gave him permission to rest,” the Major ordered. I threw the canteen at the Lieutenant and hurried off. This man was really getting under my skin!

“The Major better not lead any attacks,” Micah stated sarcastically. “They might mistake him for an apache.

"He's sick, Micah. Not fit to command,” I commented.

Micah figured it didn’t mean much to his superiors, but I begged to defer. “I think it would if they knew,” I stated. I headed for the telegraph office.

Micah and I were at the Blacksmith’s later when the Lieutenant and his soldiers approached announcing that I was under arrest. Naturally, Micah wanted to know what for. “Military regulations forbid unauthorized communications,” the Lieutenant announced.

This was getting annoying! “Lieutenant, it's time you stop playing an officer and start thinking like one. Damler’s is a sick man – much too sick to be responsible for the lives of his men," I stated. He told me that wasn’t up for me to decide. "I know. That’s up to General Bradshaw. I only sent him the facts. You…uh…saw the telegram?" I asked him if he thought I lied. He wouldn’t answer, but simply ordered me to come with him.

Micah stepped in front of me, jumping to my defense. “It’s alright, Micah,” I stated. “They can’t make it stick!” I went with him willingly.

When I got there, the Major had all his soldiers lined up and he had Private Haskell escorted into the street from the jail.

As soon as I walked up, he started in on me. “Mr. McCain, last night you sheltered a man you knew was a fugitive, a deserter,” he accused.

“All I knew was he was hurt,” I answered. But he ignored me.

“You resisted the man who was sent to capture him,” he accused next.

“Major Dalmer, I’d resist anybody trying to break into my home! Even you!” I stated then.

Again, my words fell on deaf ears. “Today you forced your way in to see the prisoner against my express orders, then sent a telegram to my superior officer.”

Again, I defended my actions. “A man’s life is at stake, and I just want to make sure he’s judged fairly!”

“I charge you with aiding and abetting a fugitive and obstructing the enforcement of military law! You are therefore under arrest. You’ll be sent to the garrison at Santa Fe for trial.” That was the grounds for my arrest.

I was getting angry. “I don’t give a hoot about your kind of military law! You got no jurisdiction around here!” I argued.

He started to remind me that he was on a military campaign. Micah reminded him that he wasn’t fighting anyone around North Fork. “Seems that I am,” the Major answered. “Very well. Since you leave me no choice, I declare martial law! You and everyone in this town are subject to my order.” There was a lot of grumbling from the North Fork citizens.

The Major ordered the Lieutenant to carry out Private Haskell’s sentence. “You got no right to do this!” Micah stated. “He wasn’t even given a trial!”

“You have your orders, Lieutenant,” the Major stated. Nothing happened. “Lieutenant, did you hear me?”

The Lieutenant spoke up. "I'm sorry sir. I can't."

The Major got angry and told the Lieutenant to consider himself under arrest. He told the Sergeant to take over.

Nothing happened. The Lieutenant walked up to him, again ordering him to carry out the sentence. When he wouldn’t do as ordered, the Major decided to do it himself. “Ready arms,” he said. But the soldiers didn’t move. They stayed at attention. “Did you hear me? Ready arms!” Still, nothing happened.

He looked around at the group of soldiers. “That’s an order,” he said. But then he suddenly shouted, “That’s an order!”

The whole street was silent as the Major suddenly realized he had lost all their respect. He lost it entirely as he looked around at all the people staring at him. “You’ve all gone mad!” he stated in disbelief. He walked past me, giving me one last look, then he walked away.

Mark, Micah and I watched the soldiers that afternoon. They all stood on the street as the Major walked out of the jail. I reckon a man facing such a future would want to hold on to what little dignity he had left. Thankfully, the Lieutenant allowed him to leave with that little dignity he had left. General Bradshaw had sent a telegram, recalling the Major to report to him in Santa Fe. The Major assumed his services were more valuable elsewhere. "Lieutenant, remember, the key to command is a firm hand, discipline!" After one more salute, he was escorted out of town.

As we watched, Mark made a comment. "He sure is something, isn't he Pa? Just the sorta officer I wanna be."

I was surprised by Marks remark. My mind was so focused on the Major and his demise that I immediately jumped to the conclusion that he wanted to be like the Major.

“Who son?” I suddenly asked, thinking maybe we’d have to have a heart-to-heart talk that night.

“The Lieutenant!” Mark stated as if I should have known that.

“Oh.” I looked at Micah and breathed a sigh of relief. The Lieutenant smiled and saluted Mark. I shook my head at my boy.

That boy!

piddlin' stuff.....Robert Cornthwaite as Major Damler, the mean Major who was going to have Ben shot.

Harry Carey Jr. appeared in two episodes The Deserter as Lt. Paul Rolfe ― The Journey Back as Lt. Vaughn.  
In both episodes he played a Lieutenant and in both episodes his orders were to bring back a deserter.

Ron Hagerthy as Ben Haskell, The Deserter.

Baynes Barron appeared in two episodesThe Deserter as Trooper Kirk, the solider who fell over in the street because of the heat and no water ― The Spiked Rifle as Gus/Gustavo, one of the men who was a member of Austin Stark's gang.

Bill Quinn appeared in thirty-eight episodes as Sweeney the owner/bartender of The North Fork Saloon.  Sweeney was first introduced to The Rifleman in The Marshal.

Richard "Dick" Alexander played Nels the Blacksmith in four episodes ― Smoke ScreenThe MartinetThe Deserter and Meeting at Midnight.  How many actors played Nils or was it Niles or Nels?  Was it Swenson or was it Svenson?

Archie Butler —Stuntman — Stunt coordinator — Actor - Archie has been in more episodes then anybody with the exception of the regular cast and he probably was in more episode then some of them. ~Arnold Laven
Remember him in The Sharpshooter? Remember when Lucas shot the whiskey bottle and it shattered into pieces? Archie was the cowboy who slid the whiskey bottle to Lucas. Sometimes Archie was a stand-in for Paul Fix.

Daniel Borzage appeared in three episodes, two of them as a townsmen ― The Woman ― The DeserterWoman from Hog Ridge as one of the Boyle Clan.

Jack Stoney appeared in eight episodes as a townsmen ― ObituaryThe LegacyThe Horse TradersThe SpoilerThe DeserterThe Hangman ― A Time for SingingStrange Town as a townsfolk at Droshek Town.

Cap Somers/Frederick "Cap / Fimp" Somers appeared in eight episodes of The RiflemanDay of the Hunter as one of the townsmen ― The Deserter as a card player ― The Vision as a cowhand ― Woman from Hog Ridge as a townsmen ― The Martinet as one of the townsmen ― The Decision as one of the townsmen  ― Which Way'd They Go as the bartender ― The Anvil Chorus as one of the townsmen.

Richard LaMarr appeared in three episodes ― A Time for Singing as a Townsman ― The Deserter as a Townsman and Closer Than a Brother as a Townsman.

Joe Garcio appeared as a Townsmen in two episodes ― The DeserterBaranca.

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