The Rifleman
"Mark's Memories"

You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's Story
written by Michelle Palmer

A Matter of Faith Episode 34
Mark’s story

Summers in New Mexico were hot and dry, I was learning that. We didn’t get much rain. Pa and I had planted some crops that would give us our food for the year and a little extra spending money. Everyday I went out to the garden and shook my head as I once again hauled water from the well to water the plants.

It was hot! Many of the days were over 100 degrees, and that little school room got blastedly hot! Miss Adams would open the windows, but many of us still would sweat through our lessons. But because there wasn’t much opportunity to go to school in the spring and fall, every day we could have school was important. Some days, Miss Adams would take us to a shady spot and we would all sit in a group and listen to her lessons.

One day when I came home from school, I announced I was going to water the crops. But Pa stopped me. “There will be no more watering, son.” Pa announced. “We need to conserve our water.”

“But Pa! If we don’t water them-“ I started, knowing what a choice like that would cost us.

Pa came over to me and put his hand to the back of my head and smiled sadly. “I know. It’ll be a hard winter, but we’ll get through.” I wished I had the same confidence Pa had as I wondered how we were going to eat – how our cattle were going to eat. Every year in the past, we had grown our own crops to eat, to feed our cattle, and for seed the next year. But this year-

Pa bent down to my level and looked me straight in the eye. “This isn’t your worry, son,” he said. “You just enjoy your childhood and let me do the worrying.” He stood up then. “You know, I think you’ve been working too hard. Why don’t you go for a swim?”

“Oh boy!” I suddenly cried as I ran off to get some of the other boys to go swimming with. When I got to the Borden ranch, I saw Mr. Borden working in the yard. I said hello to him, but he only grumbled at me. “Can Clay go swimming?” He nodded.

I suddenly saw Clay walking out of the barn. He ran up to greet me. We ran out of the yard together to get some more boys for the swimming hole. “It sure is hot!” I commented.

Clay nodded. “Yeah. Our well’s really low. It’s down at least ten or eleven inches. I’m afraid the water will soon be gone. We’ll have to haul our water from the creek…if we’re even here then.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “Are you moving?”

Clay sighed. “Pa said there’s not even enough grass to keep the cattle alive. We’ve already lost several cattle.”

I stopped. “It really is bad. We still have enough water on the ranch for our cattle…for now. We’re managing to feed them, but things are getting really tough for us too. Pa said a couple more weeks of this and we’ll have to start burying our cattle.”

Several other boys came with us to go swimming. But when we got to our favorite swimming hole, we stopped. The water was low. I think that was when we realized just how bad this really was.

We all went back to our own homes. I told Pa what we discovered and his face wrinkled up, but he quickly replaced it with a smile. “Well, it’ll rain soon, son. I’m sure.”

I raised my eyebrows and looked at Pa silently for a minute as he worked on supper. “Pa,” I said quietly, not able to keep the worry from my voice. “It’s never been this bad before.”

Pa smiled. “The land is a hard thing to fight. It’s been that way ever since Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit.” Pa turned and led me to the table. He sat me down in a chair and sat beside me. “You remember God’s curse to man – that he would fight the land? That’s what we’re doing still today. And it will always be that way.”

I nodded, understanding. “But we do good, Pa. We aren’t bad people.”

Pa laughed. “Well, God doesn’t just hand droughts out to the bad people, son. Nature effects us all. But I know that we’ll be okay. We always do get through these things.” Pa raised his eyebrows at me and I nodded in understanding. “Now, go fetch some water from the well.”

I knew Pa was worried, but I also knew that he would keep the worry off of his face while I was around, and he would protect me from as much of this as he could. One day after school, which had gotten out at noon due to the extreme heat, I went to fetch some water. As I lifted the bucket from the well, I realized I hadn’t hit the water. I dropped the bucket again and dropped it until I felt it hit water. It had gone down eight or nine more inches. I announced this to Pa, and he told me that he had known that already.

I suddenly realized he was putting on a clean shirt. “Are we going into town?” I asked him. Pa nodded. He told me to get washed up. I carried the water in the house, then got to thinking. If ever there was a time for me to try to get out of washing, now was it. I made a very good point at conserving the water for more important things then washing the dust off – especially when I knew I’d be covered in dust when we got into town.

Then Pa told me to change my clothes, but again I knew if there was ever a time to prevent that, it was now. I reminded Pa that all my clothes were dirty except for my Sunday clothes. Pa told me I could wear what I had on. We hadn’t done laundry because of the water conservation. But I was afraid Pa had that on the list of chores for tomorrow!

I smiled a winning smile and announced that Clay said he can’t never wash. I told Pa that they were thinking on leaving. He said a lot of families were. I could tell this worried him. Then I commented that the drought was really hard on everyone. Pa looked straight at me and said,” Except boys!” I knew he was talking about me using it to my advantage. I also didn’t miss the look on his face, so I decided to go hitch up the team.

As we rode into town, we silently looked around at the land. Pa shook his head sadly as we looked at just how brown everything was getting. “It’s sad, Pa. It’s all brown. Do you know that people are loosing their cattle?”

Pa nodded sadly. He said that if things didn’t change soon, ours would start dying off too. I shook my head sadly as we rode into town. We saw a large group of men gathered outside, and Pa wanted to go investigate. He told me he’d meet me at Hattie’s store later. I got to thinking about how hard things were and asked Pa if we should be spending money like that with things so bad.

My Pa is such a wonderful father! When things are tough, he is always doing these little things to try to make things seem better – like having a normal conversation when we are in the middle of a crisis or giving me candy when things are so bad. Well, today was no different. He wanted me to have candy. I think it was because he knew how hard all this was on me, and candy was good medicine to help me feel better.

I jumped off the wagon to run into the store, but wasn’t paying attention . I bumped into an old man, causing him to drop the bag of candy that was in his own hand. I apologized to him as I looked to see if Pa had seen it. He had, and he gave me a disapproving look. As I helped the old man pick up his candy, he offered me a piece. I was never one to turn down candy, and if Pa hadn’t been sitting right there, I would have gotten a piece. But Pa simply stated in that warning voice I knew so well, “He can buy his own.” I could tell Pa was upset with me for forgetting my manners.

I went to the store and handed Miss Hattie my nickel as she filled the little bag with candy. She asked me how things were and I told her they were bad. “I’ve never seen things so bad before! We haven’t had any rain all summer, and our spring was really bad too. Pa’s awful worried, I know. He’s not sleeping at night. But he tries not to let me see his worry.”

Hattie came from around the counter and put an arm around my shoulder. “Well, that’s a father’s way, Mark. He wants to protect you from this.”

“But he can’t!” I declared. “I can see it all around me. If it don’t rain soon, we’ll-“

Hattie stopped me with a finger. “Now, I’ve lived here my whole life, and I’m telling ya, Mark, that things will get better! I’ve been through worse times then this before and I’m still here.”

I nodded as I left the store. I didn’t see Pa anywhere on the street, so I walked down to the saloon. It was full of men. I walked up and peaked under the door. The old man from earlier was in there. His name, I discovered, was Jonas Epps, and he was telling Pa how he could get water. He said we could use a willow stick and it would point us to water on our own land. Most of the men didn’t believe him, including my Pa. But there was something about Jonas that I really liked! And I couldn’t help but believe him.

I sat outside the saloon eating my candy. Pa had forbade me from coming inside – even when he was in there. I knew I was pushing it still sitting outside the saloon where I could hear the conversation, because he said that sometimes the language got colorful and the conversations were too adult for me to hear, but today the conversation seemed innocent enough, and the language didn’t sound too colorful!

I was so involved in my candy that I didn’t notice Pa and Micah come out. I suddenly jumped up as Pa glared at me. “I said I’d meet you at Hattie’s,” Pa stated.

I could tell he wasn’t too pleased with me being there, so I had to think of something clever to say really fast! So, I simply stated, “But you were here!”

Pa gave me one of those looks like that if we had been at home, I would have never gotten away with it. Then I ran off with him to Hattie’s.

We went to the store to get supplies. We had all sorts of supplies to get! Pa told me to start loading the wagon. He carried some supplies out and told me to start putting them in the wagon. But after he went back inside to get more of the supplies, I stood and looked off in the distance, thinking about poor Mr. Jonas not being believed! I just figured that people should have more faith then that…Pa came out and caught me day-dreaming. “Sack too heavy?” he snapped at me.

I could tell Pa was in a bad mood. I knew the drought was getting to him, but apparently there was more too it. I couldn’t help but to think that it had something to do with those men who were in town and Mr. Jonas giving false hope, as Pa thinks.

As I started helping Pa again, I asked him if he really thought Mr. Jonas was lying. He didn’t want to call it lying, but just a strange idea. I still wanted to know how he did it and asked Pa if I could ask him sometime. “You just save your breath for cooling your soup!” Pa answered.

I couldn’t believe how mean Pa was being. He was in a bad mood and taking it out on everyone! I grabbed the supplies from him and put them in the wagon. Pa pulled me back to his side though and told me he didn’t mean to be disrespectful. Pa felt that he could do folks a lot of harm. I didn’t believe him, but I didn’t say so.

I took a break from loading the wagon to get some candy. Pa saw me, and told me to keep my mind on my work. Like I said, he was in a bad mood! I guess everything was suddenly getting to him and I was the closest target for his venting! I would try to do my best to stay on his good side!

As I started to get back to work, I saw a man beating up on poor old Mr. Jonas. I got Pa’s attention and he grabbed his rifle and went to help. I was happy to see him stand up for Mr. Jonas. We found out that he didn’t even have money to stay in the hotel. I started to suggest he stay with us, but with Pa’s mood the way it was, I wasn’t going to say too much! Pa knew though what I was suggesting just by saying the word “Maybe…” Pa suggested Mr. Jonas stay the night with us. I was happy and went to tie his mule to the back of the wagon.

As we were going to the wagon, Clay’s pa came over and asked the old man to come to his place in the morning and try to find water. I was sure happy when Pa agreed to have him there in the morning! Now he would show them all what he could do! As the men walked away, though, Pa seemed even more irritated before. He just looked at me and realized I had been standing there listening to the conversation. I’m sure he probably wasn’t too happy with the excited look on my face either. Because he just grumbled at me, “That mule needs tying!”

Boy, you want to talk about your bad mood! And I was just beginning to feel hopeful again!

I decided to broach the subject on the way home. “Pa, why are you so unhappy? What happened in town?”

Pa sighed as he turned to look at me. I was standing in the back of the wagon, holding tightly onto the seat. “Some men from the railroad are in town, son. They…are trying to coax some of the farmers and ranchers to go work for the railroad.”

I didn’t understand. What would happen to their land? Pa said they would just leave it for a year. “It would be a mistake. They’d have a lot more land to work when they came back.”

“Is that the only thing putting you in a bad mood, Pa?” I asked bravely. I knew I was being awful daring questioning him like this. Pa glared at me then and said, “Mark, sit down and be quiet.” I wasn’t kidding – Pa was in a bad mood!

I had to help Pa unload the wagon when we got home. Mr. Jonas was getting a willow stick ready. I had asked him to look for water on our own land, and he said he’d be glad to. After I was done with the supplies, I started to run outside as Pa worked on supper. “Where you going, Mark?” Pa demanded to know.

“Just outside, Pa. I want to watch Mr. Jonas.”

I could tell by the look on Pa’s face that he was none too pleased with me doing that. I knew there were a million things he’d rather see me do then what I was planning on doing. “Do you want me to help?” I started to ask, trying to appease my Pa.

“No,” Pa shot out at me. “If you feel you must waste your time with him, go ahead.” Then he went back to working.

I followed Jonas over our dry, dusty land. He held the willow stick out in front of him, and with each passing second, I became more impatient. Then I offered him a piece of candy. As he took a piece from my bag, I asked him why the man was beating him up. He told me he was from the railroad and didn’t want him finding water. I told him he should tell Pa, but that was the last thing he wanted to do. He knew exactly where my pa stood on the subject!

As he popped the piece of candy in his mouth, he asked me if I believed he could find water. I smiled at him and told him I knew he could. I watched excitedly as he began looking for water. Each step he took brought me more excitement. I had faith in him – faith that he could find the water! Suddenly, he stood still as his willow stick began shaking uncontrollably. “It’s water!” he shouted as he pointed his stick to the ground.

I was overcome with joy by this point! Pa had to believe him now! I hollered for Pa to come quick. Pa ran from the house after grabbing his rifle. I shouted happily that Jonas had found water. I was so excited. But when Pa arrived, the mood suddenly changed. Pa’s face was full of doubt, and when he spoke, I heard the doubt.

I watched as sadness suddenly came over Jonas. Just seeing it made me sad. I just couldn’t understand why Pa was so full of doubt. Didn’t he know that a little faith could make the difference? Jonas just stood there disappointed and ashamed. I wanted to stay with him, to help him get that excitement back on his voice. But all I saw was defeat as Pa stated that he never tried to trick me.

Pa then announced that supper was on and ordered me to come with him. I didn’t want to, but I knew I had no choice. I slowly followed Pa inside. After Jonas sat down at the table, we joined hands and Pa prayed for rain. I began eating, not being able to stand the sadness in Jonas’s eyes. There was an eerie silence over the table.

Jonas wasn’t eating. I had to try to cheer him up. I commented on Pa’s cooking, but Pa merely gave me a dirty look and Jonas continued staring at his plate sadly. I then commented that we hadn’t had deer meat in months. Again, my words died in the air. I commented that I grew the beans we were eating. Pa finally told me to eat – that I shouldn’t force our guest. I was simply trying to cheer him up.

I knew Pa wanted me to stay quiet, but the silence in the air was too much for me. Pa’s mood seemed to be growing worse, and Jonas’s faith was weakening. I had to help one of them! I asked Jonas if he wanted to play checkers with me later. Finally, Jonas spoke up, and boy did his words make me happy! He said he was going to be too busy to make checkers. His faith was being restored as he told my pa that he wasn’t going to tell him it couldn’t be done!

I smiled, happy that his faith was back. I just knew a miracle would happen tomorrow morning!

Pa made me wash the dishes. When they were done, I sat with Jonas on the front porch. He was working on another stick, stating that maybe willow was wrong for this area of the country. I still believed he could do it.

Pa wanted me to go to bed, but I wanted to stay up just a little longer.

Suddenly, as we sat on the porch talking, a noise was heard in the distance. I heard gunshots and Pa ordered us inside the house. I had to run between Pa’s legs to get out of the line of fire. There was darkness throughout the house as Pa worked on fighting off the unknown attacker.

Jonas and I sat in the house as we listened. All was quiet as Pa went outside. Then I heard a gunshot. Everything was quiet again. I was worried about Pa, and I called his name. Pa told me it was alright now and I could come out.

I couldn’t believe it! The man that had fought Jonas earlier laid dead at my feet. He had come to shoot Jonas – to prevent him from finding water. Pa was even more upset now, because it was really hard for him to kill a man. I knew that he believed the man died for no reason.

I decided I should go to bed. Jonas stated the same as we both walked away, leaving Pa alone to reflect. But I laid awake. I couldn’t sleep; not because it was warm, but because I was worried about Pa and Jonas. I knew there had to be a way for Pa to believe, but I didn’t know what it was.

Pa came in then and started undressing. I laid silent in the dark, afraid to say anything. But Pa came over to my bed. He could tell I was still awake. “Can’t sleep?” he asked tenderly.

I smiled, happy to hear the tenderness in his voice once again. “I’m thinking.”

“About what?” Pa asked as he sat down on the side of my bed.

I sighed. “You don’t want to know,” I answered. I didn’t want to tell him that I was excited about tomorrow – that I knew Jonas would find the water tomorrow.

“Oh,” Pa started. I heard the hesitation in his voice. “Son, I’m…sorry that I took my frustrations out on you today.”

“I know,” I stated. I did know. It had to be hard for adults having so many responsibilities. He had to worry about me, the railroad problem, Jonas, and the drought. He had a right to be upset.

Pa fanned the hair back off my forehead. “Things will get better soon,” he promised me.

I smiled. “I know.”

Pa raised his eyebrows at me. Even in the darkness I could tell that. I could even tell that his eyes were sparkling at that very moment. He gave a short laugh. “Go to sleep.”

I turned over onto my side and closed my eyes. Pa sat on the bed and watched me until I fell asleep. He did that sometimes, especially after he had had a hard day. I was almost asleep when I felt him pat my back and softly lay a hand on my cheek. Then he stood up and went to bed.

When I woke up, Pa was already fixing breakfast. I smiled as I came in and sniffed the air. “Fired eggs and sausage!” Pa turned and laughed at me. I was happy to see that his mood was a little better. “I’ll go do the chores.”

After breakfast, Pa told me to wash the dishes. Then I was to lead Jonas over to the Borden ranch by taking the shortcut.

The moment we had all been waiting for had finally arrived, and I couldn’t be more happier. Everyone was rude to Jonas, but I stayed beside him, believing in him and knowing that he would find water. But as he began walking around, nothing happened. How could it with all the doubtful faces staring at him. Each passing second brought him more discouragement. My heart still believed in him tough. He suddenly said the can’t word – that was a word Pa didn’t like me to use. But today, Pa just stated, “He never could!”

I couldn’t believe that! I told Pa he was scared. Pa put a hand on my shoulder, wanting to stop me, but I was the only one who had the faith, and I would not allow Jonas to give up! I would stand by him no matter what! Jonas told them that it was because they didn’t believe – he needed belief! And I knew that I may be the only one with that. I would just have to have enough for everyone there.

He was giving up because no one would believe in him. I begged him to try again. He had to stay faithful regardless of what everyone else thought! He was my last hope! I begged him to try again.

Jonas tried again with a heavy heart. But I suddenly looked down at my bag of candy and remembered him eating candy when he found the water yesterday. I ran forward and gave him a piece, reminding him that he had had a piece in his mouth the day before when he found water on our ranch.

Then I watched as he started again, his faith restored. Pa came up to me and started telling me how sorry he was, but I didn’t want to hear it! Suddenly, something miraculous happened: His stick began shaking and he fell to the ground. We hurried over to him and a big smile came over my face. I watched as he shook.

Suddenly, there was beautiful music from up above! Thunder! It was thunder! We rejoiced as a drop fell. Then another and another. Faster and faster they fell until it was pouring down rain! My faith had helped Jonas, and now everyone was a believer! There was dancing and rejoicing as the rain fell from the sky.

We danced and hugged each other. God was praised. Jonas was congratulated for having the faith. I looked at Pa who was raising his head, allowing the rain to splash onto him. “You believe him now, Pa?” I asked.

Pa looked at me. All he could say was, “You got any of that candy left for me?” I reached for my bag, but then realized what he was saying. I had restored his faith. We laughed together as we stood enjoying the rain.

It was a long time before anyone left. We finally rode back to the ranch, singing a raining song at the top of our lungs. No one would have to leave. The cattle would not die. Some of our crops may even be restored thanks to this rain. Happiness and hope had once again returned to our town.

Pa told me to strip off my clothes outside, then he got me some dry clothes. I looked at them. “These are dirty,” I stated.

Pa laughed. “Complaining about putting on dirty clothes? When it stops raining, we’ll do laundry! Then we’ll take baths tonight. I have a feeling it’s going to be a joyous service in church tomorrow!

Neither of us wanted Jonas to leave, but he had work to do up north. As we watched him ride away, I told him that Jonas had a lot of believers. Pa looked at me. “All he needed was one!” he declared with a smile.

Later that night after baths were done, Pa sat on the side of my bed. I could tell he had something to say. I just laid there, waiting for him to say the words. “You know son, sometimes us adults have trouble believing.”

I nodded. “But you believe now, Pa. You don’t have to explain your reasons.”

“Mark,” Pa patted my shoulder and smiled proudly. “I’m so proud of you, son. Even when your own father wouldn’t believe, you stood your ground like a man and didn’t give up. I hate to say it, but you were the only man out there today.”

I could have said so many things at this point. I could have told Pa he was right. I could have told him he was wrong. But I didn’t. I just smiled and said, “Good night, Pa!”

Pa smiled. “Thank you, son. And goodnight.” Then he got up. I knew what he was doing. He was going to read his Bible.

*A special thanks goes out to Michelle Palmer for her insight on how Mark had seen these episodes.

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