"Welcome to the McCain Ranch"
There is no greater love then a parent’s love for his – or her – child. If it boiled down to it, I would die for Mark a million times. That’s a parent’s way – to put their safety before our own. But when the time comes for us to actually do that, it comes hard…Knowing that you may never see that smiling face again, never be able to hold him, kiss him, touch him and…yes…punish him. In that moment, you find yourself really looking at your child as if for the first time and seeing him for who he is. That’s what I had to do in this story.
Mark and I had traveled a long way from home in order to get salt for our meat. Money, as usual, was tight and I was always trying to find ways to cut down on expenses. Mark was exhausted, and it was pretty blame hot! I think we were both happy that I was wrapping up our little adventure.
“Pa, you think that next year we can afford to buy our own meat salt instead of coming 60 miles out into the desert to dig it?” Mark asked as we began loading the supplies onto our wagon. I told Mark I hoped so. I didn’t enjoy digging in the dessert heat anymore then he did, but right now that’s the only thing we could do. Mark was sure anxious to get home! He wanted to know how far towards home we could get today.
I picked up the water keg and sat it on the back of the wagon. It was hot and there was hardly any water out here in the dessert. So I wanted to make sure we could get to it easily. But then something happened. A rattler was there with the horses, and they spooked and took off. I could see all our hard work going down the drain. I also knew that without that team and wagon, we’d never make it home. So I took off after the wagon, trying to catch it and stop the spooked horses. I managed to jump on the back. “Whoa, boy!” I called
Then the wagon went over the hill. It threw me off and I went rolling down. The wagon tore from the horses and rolled down the hill. The horses were crying something awful.
Mark ran after me. When he saw me fall, he rushed down the hill as fast as he could.
I laid facedown in the dirt. That roll down the hill had hurt something awful and I just laid there for a second. But then Mark was there. He rolled me over and laid my head in his lap. “Pa!” he cried, afraid I was terribly hurt.
But I patted his hand as I took a big breath. “I’m alright, son,” I promised him. Mark pushed me up into the sitting position. I leaned against him for support. But then I heard the horses. I told Mark to go check the team while I checked the wagon. He hesitated, afraid I was seriously hurt. But I sternly told him to go on.
Two wheels were broken on the front axle. I couldn’t fix it. But we had an even worse problem then that. Mark announced that one of the horses couldn’t stand on one leg. I bent down to take a look. As I examined the leg, a feeling of dread fell over me and I looked at Mark. “It’s broken,” I announced sadly. Mark got a regretful look. I knew it was hard for a boy to watch such things happen and I wished I could send him away while I did it. But he had to be mature about this. “We’ve got no choice, son!” I declared.
Mark said he knew that. Then he asked me a rough question. “How are we gonna make sixty miles of desert with one horse and no wagon?”
I looked around us. It was desert wasteland as far as the eye could see in every direction. I was scared, but I tried not to let Mark see it. There was no sugar coating this. I had to be honest with him. “It’s not gonna be easy,” I answered him. I looked straight into his eyes and he into mine, for a few moments as we reflected on this.
With a heavy heart, I went to do something that I never want to do – kill a living thing. The horse had done nothing to deserve this, and it broke my heart to kill such a wonderful creature, but as an adult I had to be practical. There was no reason to make an animal suffer, and not being able to stand on his leg would cause him sever agony for the rest of his days. So I grabbed my rifle and walked over to our faithful animal. I took the harness off of him. As I did so, I saw Mark watching. I looked at him quickly, knowing this was breaking his heart also. Then Mark turned from me, back to the horse who would be able to go on living.
Bang! It was over…just like that. There wasn’t time to waste. I would leave him for food for the wild animals. There was no since in mourning over our dead horse. So after I shot him, I simply took the harness and sat it down beside Mark. Then with an indifferent tone in my voice, I said, “Well, we better get ready. We got one barrel of water left”
I looked up at the sun then behind me. Mark and I were thinking the same thing – it was going to be a long walk. If we took the trail behind us, it would be six or seven days to the nearest water hole. Then I looked at the trail in front of us. Mark could tell what I was thinking. “How far, ya think?” He asked.
I told him one or two days to the base of the mountain where I remembered there being a water hole. That way we could refill our canteens and have all the water we needed a day or so after that.
We filled up ourselves with water until we couldn’t hold another drop. I even filled my hat up with water so Mark could give the horse more water, but we were all full – all three of us! I then had Mark take his own hat off and began pouring water all over him and me. I explained that it would keep us cooler for a few hours.
I knew Mark was worried, and so was I. But I simply kept a good attitude about the whole thing to keep Mark calm. I assured him that we would come back for more salt when we got ourselves out of this predicament. After we totally drenched ourselves, we started out on our journey.
I assured Mark that we would take turns in riding. But as he sat up on the horse as I led the horse along, I hoped he would sit up there for as long as possible. It’s true that I was in pain from my tumble I took earlier, but I knew a small boy who had already worked so hard needed his rest. I didn’t want to tire him out too fast.
But suddenly, Mark told me to stop. Then he hopped off the horse. “You know what you’ve always told me about lying?” He asked.
“Lying? What do you mean?” I wondered why that conversation was coming up now.
“Well, your side is really hurting you, isn’t it?” There was very little I could keep from my boy!
“It’s a might sore. Just a bruise, son.” I tried my best to brush it off. “Get back up there.”
But again, he could see right through me. He felt guilty riding atop the horse while I did all the walking. So my boy – who was so much like me – said, “Well if you won’t ride, I won’t!”
“Alright. Have it your way,” I stated. I even handed him the rope so he could lead the horse for awhile. “Let’s go.”
That night, another ordeal happened. A dust storm swept up as we slept. It spooked the horse and the horse took off into the night. Mark woke up and jumped up to run after the horse in a panic. Mark ran off into the night.
That sent me into a panic as I jumped up. “Come back here, Mark!” I shouted as I ran in the direction Mark took off in. “Mark, come back here!” I ordered as I tried to shield my face from the dust.
Mark suddenly realized that he was lost in the dust storm and he would not be able to catch the horse. So he started looking for something to shelter him.
I was scared to death. I couldn’t find my boy, and I needed to protect him from our latest ordeal. “Mark! Mark, where are you?” I cried in a panic. “Where are you Mark?”
“Pa, where are ya?” Mark suddenly called. I still couldn’t see him though.
“Are you alright, Mark?” I called, looking around hoping I could catch some glimpse of my precious son.
“Here Pa! I’m over here! I can’t see!” Mark called out of desperation. He suddenly ran into a big rock. “Over here, Pa! At the rock!”
I continued to call his name and look for him. I stood still, looking all around me for some clue as to where he was. “Right here behind the rock!” Mark shouted. I heard him that time and ran forward, hoping to get a glimpse of him. “Pa, over here!” Mark waved.
I suddenly turned in the direction his voice seemed to be coming from. I saw his precious arms waving at me and I ran to him and pushed him down behind the rock as I shielded his body with my own. I laid on top of him as we waited for the storm to pass.
The next day was very hot. We were down with just the bare necessities and no horse. We would stop to take a rest and a drink every now and then. Mark was thirsty and wanted to drink more then the allotted amount, so I had to keep a close eye on him. I felt horrible that I couldn’t quench his thirst, but I knew that the water hole was coming up soon and we could fill ourselves up with water.
But it seemed that nothing was going our way on this trip! When we got to the water hole – it was all dried up. There was nothing but dust. “Well,” I said simply. “I guess we’ll just have to get by on what water we’ve got!”
It was a hard climb up that mountain. There were all kinds of big rocks to climb over, and I found myself having to help Mark up in several places because the climb was just too rough for him to go at it alone. That’s when probably the most disastrous ordeal of our trip happened. After I helped Mark up, a loose walk began falling towards me. Mark tried to warn me, but I didn’t have time to move and the big rock landed right on my foot. I cringed. It hurt really bad, and I knew my foot was in really bad shape – a bad sprain if not broken.
Mark was suddenly worried about me. He wanted to help me up over the rocks, but I just shook my head, knowing he wasn’t strong enough to help me. I had to do this myself. I saw the worry in his eyes as I painfully and slowly made my way up over the rocks. After I sat down to rest, and to give my foot a moment to stop it’s throbbing, Mark asked me how it was. I told him I didn’t know and that we would go on in a minute.
“Is there anything I can do?” Mark asked. I knew he wanted to help me anyway he could, but there wasn’t anything he could do to make this better. I got my rifle and wrapped a kerchief around it to make a crutch. Then we continued on our travels – slowly and painfully.
As I walked, I knew it was bad. We still had two days of walking left, and I wasn’t able to walk too well. Mark could tell I wasn’t doing very good, and he suggested we stop for the night when we got to the bottom of the mountain. I nodded in agreement. I was frustrated at the situation. Mark was depending on me to get us out of this.
I told Mark to get something to drink, eat, and then get in his bedroll and go to sleep. I grabbed my canteen to take a drink. But as I put it to my lips, I suddenly looked at my son. I knew there was only one way for either of us to come out of this alive. It broke my heart to do what I had to do, but I had to save my son’s life. This was a father’s scariest moment – to know he would have to loose his life in order to save his son’s.
I didn’t take that drink of water.
I waited until Mark was asleep. Then as I sat there and watched him sleep, I came up with a plan to save him. I looked towards the mountain – the mountain that would save my son’s life. Then I began the preparations. I poured all the water from my canteen into his. I poured all the food into one bag. Then with the empty bag, I wrote some words on it. These words made my heart heavy and made me want to cry. If only there was some other way…
These may be my last written words…I know that you will love him as if he were your own.
So I leave my son in your care. Raise the boy right, Micah.
I cannot even begin to explain how difficult it was to write those words. I found myself looking at Mark several times while I wrote those words. I just stared at him, watching him sleep. It broke my heart to do what I had to do! “Raise the boy right, Micah.” I said out loud as I folded the paper up and put it into my pocket. Then for the rest of the night I just sat there and watched my son sleep.
I waited to wake up my son for as long as I could. I watched the sun rise upon my son. I hated to wake him and send him off, but I knew there was no other way. “You’re going to have to make it for both of us,” I stated as I kept my voice strong and brave. I knew my words would come hard, so I tried to sound as confident about the plan as I could.
“Both of us?” Mark mumbled as he continued to wake up.
“You’re going to have to go at it alone,” I stated simply.
That woke him up. He whirled around and stared at me. “Alone?” Mark jumped onto his knees and sat in front of me. He was anything but calm. “No! No, I can’t leave ya!” He shouted.
I put a hand on his shoulders, trying to calm him down. I looked into his eyes, still trying to remain as stern and confident as possible. “Now, a man’s gotta use his head when things go rough!” I stated. “If I had to try it with this foot, neither one of us would make it.” I smoothed his hair back with my hand. I wanted to touch him as much as possible before he left and I could no longer touch him…hold him…
“But I can’t! I-“ Mark started. He was still upset, and I tried my best to give him confidence.
I looked him straight in the eyes. “Now listen to me, son. There’s plenty of food and water for you to make it. And enough left over for me if I lie here easy in the shade, waiting for you to bring back help. That makes since, doesn’t it?” I again smoothed his hair back and put his hat on his head. That was a tender moment for me.
“I guess so.” Mark was calmer now.
“Scared?” I asked, still holding that confidence in my voice. Mark didn’t want to admit it, but he nodded his head silently. “Well, nothing to be ashamed of. A smart man knows when he was scared."
Knowing this may be the last chance I could ever tell my boy he was a man, I tried to make our last moments together memorable ones. I handed him the note I had written, telling him it was directions for Micah on how to get here. Then I handed him his food and water. I told him to only take small sips at a time. “And when you’re walking, keep your pace slow and regular. Don’t try to run. That’ll only tire you and slow you down.” I told him to walk an hour, then stop and rest for 5 or 10 minutes.
I drew him close to me to give him one more important instruction. I told him to keep the group of jagged peaks in line with the top of the mountain. That would head him to the Allen Ranch where he could get help. I suddenly grabbed him and got a very stern look on my face. “Will you remember that?” I wanted him to understand that he had a big responsibility. I wanted him to understand how important it was that he make it and not give up.
He was scared and he didn’t want to go, but he knew it was the only way we could get help. I leaned back against the rock, trying to act indifferent. Mark suddenly threw himself at me and I hugged him. Tears filled my eyes, but I fought them back. I had to stay strong for just a little bit longer! I wanted to hold him there in my arms forever, but I couldn’t. He had to get going. I knew that if I didn’t push him away at that moment, I’d never have the strength to do it. So I did. I ordered him to get going.
I gave him a small nod, letting him know he could do it. He smiled at me then stood up to start on his journey. But I suddenly wanted him to have the rifle. I tried to hand it to him, but he knew. I knew he knew. He begged me to keep it, believing in his heart that rather used or not, as long as I had it, I would stay alive.
I couldn’t make him take it – it would have broken his heart.
He left then. I watched as he walked. He turned and gave me one last wave. Then he walked off into the distance. I just stared until he was a small speck, then he was no more.
The walk across the hot desert was rough on such a small boy to do alone. What made it rougher is that he had my life in his hands. The burden was great, but he remembered my words. He may have drunk more water then he should have during his breaks, but Mark did the best he could. It was a long, tiresome trek across the desert.
I couldn’t move. I was growing weaker in the hot sun without food or water. I knew I wouldn’t last long. As I sat there, I could already see buzzards circling me. I knew it was only a matter of hours before they would get to me. I knew there was no way I could last until Mark got back without water. The image and sound made the facts reality. The thought was almost more then I could bear as I sat by that rock waiting to die.
Mark did run out of water before he got to the ranch. He knew that wasn’t a good sign as he threw the canteen down and continued on his way. Things were desperate now. He had to hurry if he was going to get help back to me in time.
The buzzards continued circling me, knowing it wouldn’t be long before I would be their meal. A wolf started howling. “You want to get in on the feast to, don’t ya? You want to get in on the feast!” I yelled at the wolf. I was angry and getting crazy. “But you won’t! Not yet you won’t!” Then I shot him. I shot him many times madly as I rushed toward him on my knees. The rifle was the only thing I had to strike out with – and I used it on the wolf.
Mark was doing his best to make it. But his body was tiring out because he was walking in the hot sun without anymore water. He fell down, his last ounce of strength left. He laid still in the grass.
But suddenly, he heard hammering. Another person was there - someone who could help him. He managed to get back up and take a few steps forward before again collapsing in the grass.
“Help,” he cried weakly. “Help!”
One of the ranch hands working on the fence turned at the sound. He looked out over the range but saw nothing. So he went back to working.
But suddenly, he heard it again. He turned and asked the other man working with him if he heard anything. He said no. They started to leave to go work elsewhere.
They mounted their horses. And slowly started to ride away.
Mark crawled forward some more.
“Help!” Mark cried desperately. He was scared that after finally reaching his destination, he would be left there to die.
Thankfully, his partner had heard it that time. The men turned and one of them suddenly saw Mark lying in the grass.
The men raced over to Mark. One jumped off his horse and raced to Mark’s side, lifting him up. The other man grabbed his canteen of water and gave Mark a long, soothing drink.
Later, the man who had first heard Mark’s yelling took Mark to look for me. He brought an extra horse along. But when they reached the place I was waiting, they didn’t see me. All they saw was a group of buzzards eating something.
Mark was suddenly very afraid. He grabbed my rifle and clung to it as if it was a lifeline. He clung to it as if just merely holding it would give him a clue as to where I was.
The man told Mark the buzzards were only eating a wolf. “Where could he be?” Mark questioned. Worry covered every inch of his face.
They followed a trail where I had been dragging myself. They looked around desperately. Suddenly, Mark spotted me and raced down to me. The man started to follow, but then turned and ran back for some water just in case I was alive.
Mark ran to me and put my head in his lap. He called my name and I opened my eyes. There had been only one thought on my mind ever since I watched Mark leave – it was that God would give him life and that Micah would raise him right. “Raise the boy right, Micah…” I was saying.
But suddenly, Mark brought me back to reality. “Pa, it’s me!” He shouted. I opened my eyes and smiled at him. “We made it, Pa! We made it!” Mark shouted joyfully.
My love for Mark sent him away. But it was his love that brought him back in time.
Piddlin' stuff.....Hank Stohl appeared in two episodes ― Ordeal as the cowboys who went with Mark to get Lucas ― Death Trap as Britt, one of Spicer's gang, the one Lucas shot.
Fritz Ford appeared in twenty episodes and still counting. Besides acting in The Rifleman he was also a stunt double for Chuck Connors.
This is a great story! It truly shows the love between a father and a son. From Mark walking when his father wouldn't ride and from Lucas giving Mark his food and water. Thinking only of each other!!!!!
Here is a great article about The Rifleman — October 1959 TV Guide
Pardon our dust.....
Bloopers - Ordeal
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's
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