"Welcome to the McCain Ranch"
The High Country
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever see this one coming!
One day, Mark and I were at home in our front yard just minding our own business. Mark was working at sharpening an ax blade, and I was working on my rifle. I fired my rifle a few times and decided I should order a new spring because the one I had was a little weak. Then we heard horses. Mark turned to see two riders riding up. They had heard my rifle and wanted to get a good look-see.
I recognized them right off – they were in town last night. One of them was a trouble maker. Micah had thrown them out of town.
I stood to greet them as they rode up, keeping my rifle in my hand. Their names were Ambrose and Gorwin. I told them to help themselves to the water, and they wasted no time! Ambrose came over to talk to me while Gorwin went to water the horses. “Mighty fast shooting on that rifle, mister,” Ambrose commented. “I’ve got some beaver pelts on Jake over there – might be willing to trade you for it.”
“Sorry, stranger,” I answered quickly. This rifle’s not for sell.”
Just then, Mark dropped the ax blade he was sharpening. Instinctly, I bent over to pick it up. That’s when Ambrose caught me off-guard and grabbed my rifle. He laughed smugly, thought he was pretty cleaver! “Hey Gorwin,” he called to his friend. “You bring them beaver pelts out of my bag. I just done made myself a trade”
Ambrose was too busy grinning and watching me to be watching Mark. Mark looked toward me, then reached out and grabbed the barrel of my rifle. I took that opportunity to punch Ambrose. He landed on his back on the ground. “Now, you were thrown out of North Fork last night for your bad manners, now get up and get on your horse and get out of here,” I ordered. They both just stood there staring at us. I grabbed my rifle from Mark. "Go on!" They both got on their horses and hurried off.
I didn’t know it yet, but they weren’t finished with me yet! Gorwin was all set for going home, but Ambrose was determined to get my rifle. He’d offered a fair trade – I turned them down because they were mountain boys. “Well, maybe he just didn’t want to give his own gun up,” Gorwin declared.
“Oh come on! Ten beaver pelts? He could buy himself a new gun for that!” Ambrose declared. "It's like them town people thinking us mountain people thinking us dirt.” He figured it was dark enough to fight me now.
At the ranch, Mark had just braided himself a belt. He brought it to me as I sat relaxing on the front porch. He did a mighty fine job on it! Looked to me like it was almost ready to sew on the buckle. “Yep, think maybe we could use a silver dollar for a buckle?” Mark asked. “Like those Texas trail hands wear?”
That boy! No money sense! I didn’t think he had to use something that expensive! I told Mark that if he finished his braiding, I’d look at the saddle we bought from Sam Decovan. It had a silver synch – “Maybe even look prettier than a silver dollar!” I smiled at Mark as he went back to his breading.
I stood and started out toward the barn. I couldn’t help but to smile at my boy on some of his hair-brained ideas he came up with! But my smile disappeared when I got to the barn. When I got to the door, Ambrose was there inside waiting for me. He suddenly kicked the door open and tackled me to the ground. I had my rifle firmly in my hand and he was trying to grab it from me.
We struggled. Suddenly, the gun went off. The bullet hit Gorwin as he stood inside the door watching the fight. He fell to the ground…dead!
Ambrose and I stared as he fell. I hurried over to the boy, but there was nothing I could do. Hearing the shot, Mark ran out the door and hurried up to me. We both bent over the body as Ambrose ran off. “He’s dead, son. The rifle went off accidently when the other fellow jumped me.” Mark wondered what we’d do now. “Well, first I’ll ride into town and tell Micah so he can arrange a proper burial.” I stood. “then tomorrow, I better return his horse to his folks.” Up in the high country – it was the least I could do.
“Should I come with you, Pa?” Mark asked.
I looked down at him. Mark’s expression told me he wanted to come. “Well, they’re strange people, son. But they live close to the Good Book. I’m sure it’ll be alright.” We took his body into town.
The next morning was a sad one for the folks up in the High Country. They were sad as they gathered around Ambrose to get the news. One of the leading citizens announced out loud that he’d hoped the news was wrong. Ambrose stood there on the porch and gave them the sad news – and he lied about what really happened. “I’d cut my right arm off if I could make it wrong, Jeremiah, but Gorwin was gunned down with no more ceremony paid to him then a sick hound dog ready for his grave.”
“May the Lord rest his soul,” Gorwin’s mother cried.
Jeremiah asked Ambrose if he’d seen me do it. He said he had to go “scamerin’” off before the same thing happened to him. He allowed a deep, mournful sigh escape him. “Poor Gorwin just like an old hound dog – didn’t have a chance. I’d like to never made it myself – Old Jake broke his leg down on the Wayside – took me almost a whole day getting’ here.”
Jeremiah told Mrs. Morgan that they’d hold proper services for him – her only son. Suddenly, they heard horses approaching.
"Well, that's him! The fella what killed Gorwin!"
They watched us ride up and dismount. Immediately, I began explaining that I was bringing the horse back that belonged to- “We know who it belongs to, Mister,” the lady answered. “What we don’t know is…why you killed my boy?”
“I didn’t kill him ma’am,” I answered sympathetically. “I didn’t know he was your boy.” I started to tell them how sorry I was when I was interrupted by Jeremiah.
“Are you saying you didn’t kill Gorwin Morgan, Mister? We got somebody here who says you did.”
I answered honestly. “Well, from what I’ve seen of this man, I wouldn’t take any stock in what he says.”
“You’re saying Gorwin Morgan didn’t die by your hand?”
“That’s right. It was an accident.” Ambrose grunted at that.
Jeremiah nodded as he looked at me. “Man’s got a right to defend himself,” he declared. “You’ll have a turn tellin’ your story.”
I watched as men with rifles gathered around Mark and I. “Turn?”
“Talkin’ at your trial, mister,” Jeremiah answered.
“I didn’t come up here for a trial. I don’t know what this man’s told you, but I can guarantee you that it’s far from the truth.”
“Truth is what we’re after,” Jeremiah announced. “We’ll go inside – hole a fair trial. I had no choice. They led us inside for the “trial.”
When we got inside, everyone gathered around the kitchen table for the “trial.” Ambrose smacked his hand on a Bible and picked it up. “I sure swear to tell the truth,” he stated. “I just hope this…townsman sees fit to…show the same respect to this book.”
“Just tell it simple, Ambrose,” Jeremiah declared. “Don’t fancy up the details.”
Ambrose sure didn’t tell the truth! He said he and Gorwin went to town and was immediately thrown right into jail. “No sooner had we showed our faces and we heard somebody yell, ‘Mountain Boys!’ And they started roughing us and shoving us around. “And asked to get out! Well, we didn’t get. Well, pride, kinda. Well, into jail we went. Well, you know how them townspeople looked at us last year when we went into town – lookin’ to buy them store bought shoes. Have we ever been treated right and proper going into any town? No sir! I reckon we know how they feel about us Mountain folks!”
I’d heard enough of his lies already. "Is that what you call the truth? Make him tell you how drunk he got, how he smashed the feed store window, how he insulted half the women in North Fork."
Jeremiah stopped me and told me I'd have a chance to talk later. Then he looked at Ambrose and informed him he didn’t want to hear about anything but facts that pertained to this trial – what led up to Gorwin’s death. “When we left town, headin’ back for the hills –“ He looked at me. “A place where a man can hold his head up.” He began walking around the room. “Where lyin’ and cheatin’ ain’t nothing but a word for book learnin’. And passing this here fella’s place, we thought we’d water the horses. And maybe that's where our trouble really started, when he said hill folk were not account welcome on his land!”
"That's a lie!" I said. Just then one of the men took the butt of his rifle and hit me on the back of my head. I fell to the floor. Mark suddenly jumped out of his chair and hurried over to me.
“Pa!” he cried as he helped me sit up.
Jeremiah warned the men against using violence. I assured Mark I was alright. Jeremiah ordered Mark to sit down, but Mark knew he didn’t take orders from anyone but me as long as I was there with him. He turned and looked at me. I motioned for him to take his seat. “And you mister…I don’t know how they conduct trials in town, but up here, we aim to get all the facts.” He pointed a finger at me. “Now, you be quiet until your turn comes.”
Ambrose continued on with his story. He told them about making the offer to me for a trade of my rifle for 10 beaver pelts. But then he told them a lie – I said yes. “’Till he takes his gun down and turns real slow-like with a smile on his face like he’s thinkin’ of a joke or somethin’. And that’s when he shot Gorwin.” Ambrose held my rifle in his hands as he spoke these lies.
His lies were too much for Mark. “That’s a lie!” Mark shouted as he stood from his chair. But Ambrose ignored and went on. His lies just kept coming – stating that I got come kind of sick glory out of killing the boy. “Liar! Liar!” Mark screamed as he rushed forward to strike out at Ambrose. Ambrose suddenly held up his hand to hit Mark, but I grabbed a firm hold on my boy and held him back.
"Easy son, easy," I said. Now it was my turn to speak, and speak I did as I kept both my hands firmly on Mark. “The truth here is fairly simple. Ambrose here and Gorwin came to my ranch and tried to buy my rifle. I wouldn’t sell it. So they came back later that night and tried to steal it.”
Mrs. Morgan lifted out of her chair. “My boy would never steal!”
“I beg your pardon, ma’am,” I answered. "Ambrose tried to steal it. I met to say that your son was with him." Jeremiah asked me if I was admitting to shooting Gorwin. I assured him – and everyone else – that nobody shot Gorwin. The gun went off while Ambrose was trying to take the gun away from me. “Gorwin happened to be standing by when the bullet hit. It was an accident pure and simple.”
Jeremiah called Mark to come over to him. Mark looked up at me to get my guidance. I looked towards Jeremiah before making my decision. Finally, I nodded my head and gave my permission. Mark slowly walked over to him. Jeremiah began talking to him. "Now so far it's your Pa's word against the word of one of our own," said Jeremiah. "I don't know your Pa, if a lie would stick in his throat. But I know it taint natural for a man raised among us to lie. So what I'm gonna do boy is take your word for what happened. Maybe we'll be releasin' a man who's guilty. But better one man go free on our miss judgment then one payin' for somethin' he didn't do."
Without hesitation, Mark told his story. "Like Pa said, he started out of the house when this man jumped him; he was trying to get the rifle. It just went off by itself."
"You saw all that, boy?" Jeremiah asked.
"Well sure I....." Mark paused.
“Well boy?” Jeremiah questioned.
I’d raised my boy to always be honest no matter what. I must say that regardless of the outcome of this trial, I was proud for him telling the truth now. Mark told the whole truth. "I didn't exactly see it. I was in the house. I heard the rifle go off and when I went outside.....Pa was going towards Gorwin's body." It killed my boy to make those statements and I felt for him in those moments.
Jeremiah asked Mark if he was sure the gun went off. “Well…Yes sir,” Mark answered.
He asked Mark where the rifle was. "Pa was carrying it! He-" Mark stopped speaking abruptly. He realized he was speaking condemning words. But he had to tell the truth. Jeremiah immediately turned from Mark and made his judgment. “In the face of hearing all sides of this story, anyone who thinks this man is not guilty of killing Gorwin Morgan can speak his peace.” The room remained quiet – deathly quiet. Mark let out a gasp. Jeremiah finally slapped his hand on the table. “So be it,” he declared. He stood from the table and looked at me. “The verdict is guilty.”
“Now, wait a minute,” I demanded.
“If I had one more witness to back up Ambrose’s words against you, I’d hang you, Mister! But since I haven’t, I’m gonna sentence you to labor five years in the service of Mrs. Morgan, replacing that service you took from her when you killed her son.”
Mark was crying. I just stood there and stared. “Put the chains on him.”
“The cha-“ I started. Suddenly, two men grabbed me. I continued yelling and struggling. The two men tackled me to the floor and put the chains on my hands and legs. “Wait a minute!”
Mark started to run to me, but Jeremiah stopped him. “Now, you’ll stay here with your Pa,” he assured Mark. You’ll earn your keep by doing chores. Mark hated seeing me like that – it killed him to see it!
After they stood me to my feet, I stood right in front of Ambrose. “I get my hands on you, Ambrose, I’ll shove your lying tongue down your throat!”
But Ambrose remained calm. “You ain’t gonna be doing nothing, mister!” he argued. “Seein’ as I’m marryin’ into this family.” He volunteered to make sure I did my work for the next five years. “And I’m thinking at the end of that time, you’re going to be just as tame as a two-day old kitten.” He laughed as I glared at him.
They chained me up outside to work. I was expected to sleep out there like a dog. Mark was inside worrying about me. Mrs. Morgan told Mark to eat, but he wasn’t hungry. She tried to tell Mark he had no cause to be mourning – I had killed her boy. If I had been a mountain boy judged down town, I would have been judged pretty quick and hanging from a rope. Mark didn’t want to think on that. He was angry! “My Pa didn’t kill nobody!” Mark yelled.
“Been enough, boy!” Ambrose ordered. Mark grew quiet.
“Nothing unnatural, a boy believing his own Pa,” Mrs. Morgan stated. He told Clare to fix me a plate. As she went to obey, Mrs. Morgan started lecturing Mark on her reasons for doing what she did – I killed her boy and she was grieving. She had services due to her for her loss.
“It’s not right, my Pa being chained and worked,” Mark cried.
“Well, maybe it don’t seem right to you, cause you don’t see us as real people up here having laws and the right to keep the peace. But it’s just as right at your town folk a sending a man off to their prison for five years.” She told Mark she’d treat him like her own.
While she was talking, Clair got a saw file off one of the plates and slid it under the plate in her hand. Then she picked up my plate and started for the door. I sat up when I saw her coming. I was awfully hungry. I grabbed the cup of coffee from her and took a drink. She kneeled down in front of me. “You don’t look like the kind of man who would shoot Gorwin with no cause,” Clare stated quietly.
“I didn’t shoot Gorwin,” I answered. “Ambrose was lying.” I took my plate and started to eat, but then I looked up at her. She was holding the saw file under her chin and had a seductive little smile on her face. I started to grab it. But she jerked it out of my reach and laughed. “Now, just what would you want to do with some silly ol’ saw file?” she asked.
“Take some doin’, but it just might cut through these chains,” I answered gently.
“Just might at that,” Clare answered with another smile at me.
"Well, I’m sure obliged to you, miss."
I reached for it again, but she suddenly wrapped her arms around my neck. "You ain't got it yet," Clare answered. Then she fiercely started kissing me. I’m not talking about a little kiss either. I’m talking about a great big, long kiss! Boy, but this woman sure was making me pay dearly for this tool!
But just then, Ambrose walked out the door. He saw me and Clare kissing and cracked the whip at us. I let out a cry as it smacked me. "I ain't good enough for you huh? The town man is?" Ambrose shouted at Clare. Clare was able to jump out of the way, but I was chained down so he kept hitting me over and over.
Just then, Mark came running out of the house. He saw me being whipped and jumped on Ambrose. Mark wrapped his arms around Ambrose’s waist and started fighting him as hard as he could. But Ambrose was bigger then Mark and threw him to the ground. Then he started to crack his whip again. Mrs. Morgan came running out of the house just then and got between us. “Ambrose, stop it!” she ordered.
He tried to explain to Mrs. Morgan what the problem was, but she just glared at me and ordered Clare to get inside. “Now, you just give me ten minutes alone with him, Mrs. Morgan. We’ll settle for all time just uh…what his proper place is around here.”
Ambrose wasn’t too happy with him.
Mark had a protective hand on my shoulder as we listened to the interaction. “Yeah, well when a whoopin’ needs handing out I’ll do the sayin’,” Mrs. Morgan declared. She send him to bed. Ambrose wasn’t too happy, but he obeyed.
She walked up to Mark and me. "Mister, I don't intend to be worrying about you day and night! Now you'll eat, sleep, do the chores Ambrose sets out for ya' and you'll put in everyday of your lawful time me!" She looked up at Mark. "Now boy, say goodnight to your Pa and then come along."
I grabbed Mark and looked straight into his eyes. "Mark, I want you to try and get out of here if you can." He didn't want to leave without me. "You can see Micah, bring help back son," I explained desperately.
"I can't leave without you, they'd do something to you!" Mark cried. He was scared for me, but I had to make him understand.
I grabbed him tighter. "Mark, I want you to do what I tell you!" I demanded quietly.
"Come along boy, it's bedtime," Mrs. Morgan yelled out. I looked toward her then back at my son. “Go along now, Mark. I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” I said quietly and lovingly. I knew my boy and that he’d fight for me and fight for what was right. He was too much like me. That’s why I added my last words. “Be careful.” I watched him go. I hated sending him back inside, but I didn’t see how I had a choice.
I felt so helpless. I had to find a way to get me and Mark out of this situation. I looked down disgustingly at the dirt then I saw it – the saw file! Clare had left it behind after all. I looked toward the house then grabbed it. I spent that night working on sawing the chains on my legs in half.
The next morning, I was put to work at chopping wood while Mark worked at hauling water from the creek. Ambrose wasn’t only working me hard, but he was making Mark into his personal slave as well. I wasn’t too happy with that, let me tell you! He told Mark to hurry with the water so he could fill up the wood bin. Mark, of course, was trying to obey his orders so he wouldn’t get into trouble.
Ambrose sure was having fun with this! “You ever do any plowing, McCain?” he asked after telling me to get back to work. Then he laughed as he added quite smugly, “Front of a plow?”
I had been waiting for the opportunity to talk to Mark. When he started gathering the wood, I bent down as if to help him. “Mark, everything you’re told. We’re leaving here at midnight.” I explained things to him as I kept my eye on Ambrose. “I have a file. One chain length is cut half-way through.”
Ambrose suddenly turned around and glared at us. “Well what are you doin’, boy?” he asked hatefully. Mark grabbed to heavy pieces of wood, tucked them under his arms, and started walking toward the wood bin. Ambrose stuck out his foot and tripped him. “You sure are clumsy, boy,” he stated.
When I saw that, my blood began to boil! I threw the ax down and started forward, forgetting about the chain. I fell to the ground. "You touch that boy again and I'll tear your throat out!" I warned him angrily.
For some reason, that made him laugh. “Ho ho ho! That sure makes you riled don't it mister? Well it's just a sample unless you say you killed Gorwin," Ambrose stated.
Mark got mad. He picked up a block of wood and swung it at Ambrose's leg. Ambrose saw this in time and blocked it with the butt of my rifle. Mark realized he’d made a mistake and got scared. Ambrose reached down and roughly grabbed Mark by the arm, pulling him to his feet. “Guess we’ll have to start by teachin’ this one some manners!” Ambrose declared.
I watched as Ambrose wrapped his mangy little arm around Mark’s leg and started to take off his belt. Boy, I was getting really riled now! “Let that boy go,” I demanded angrily.
Ambrose just laughed as Mark struggled to get away. “You just watch, Mister!” Ambrose shouted.
I immediately turned and started working at pulling the chains apart. I was so angry that I tore the chain right in half! I watched angrily as he started to hit Mark with the belt. “Let that boy go!” I pulled on the chain really hard and it snapped in half. I charged at Ambrose and knocked him to the ground. We struggled. I managed to get the chain around his neck.
But the commotion brought everyone out. “McCain, stop it!” Mrs. Morgan ordered. I didn’t listen – we kept fighting. Jeremiah ordered me to stop fighting, but I didn’t listen.
Suddenly, a gunshot was fired. It missed me by inches! Ambrose jumped up and ran to stand by Clare. I stood, staring at the members of this bunch. “As God-fearing people, we temper justice with mercy, mister!” Jeremiah declared. “But maybe you be forcing us to carry out a hanging.”
“You talk like a man, but you’re nothing but a hypocrite!” I declared. I looked around at the group. “You’re all one big sham. Everybody’s got a right to set up a community, make laws for their own protection, but this is the first place I’ve ever been that…the first kind of people I ever met who base their justice on where a man’s from. Because he’s one of your own, you accept blasphemy from him, well so be it! But don’t you call it law or justice.”
Ambrose didn’t like all my talk. “Yeah, let’s see how much talking he can do with a rope stretching his neck!” He was all ready to kill me! He even had a rope in his hands.
Jeremiah stopped him. He turned to me. “You talk big words, mister. But words don’t mean much when the man who’s speaking them is looking out for his own skin. Would you say mister that a liar and a coward are generally one and the same?"
I looked right at Ambrose as I answered. "I'd say if a man is one, he's usually the other."
Jeremiah ordered some of the men to light some torches and take off my irons. I looked around, curious to know what was going on. Whatever it was, Ambrose sure did look happy to oblige! Jeremiah took the two torches in his own hands. He announced that they were going to decide who the coward was – me or Ambrose…and the liar. “Take this mister.” I grabbed the lighted torch he threw toward me. “If he runs, shoot him down.
The members of the clan formed a circle around Ambrose and me. We were to fight with torches. “See, I kinda been raised on this torch fightin’, Mister” Ambrose declared. “Got a few burns here and there, but you see me alive and jumpin’.”
I said nothing as we started fighting. We fought several times before he knocked the torch out of my hand. He came at me with his torch as I tried to retrieve my own. I kicked it hard and ducked, picking up my torch. He had me on the ground. Ambrose almost had me cornered, but I suddenly stood and came at him.
I suddenly grabbed him and pushed him to the ground. I was able to pin him down and brought the torch up really close to his face. "You think that a lair and a coward are one in the same Ambrose? Well I think he is. So, you just be a brave man, and keep saying you were telling the truth." I started moving the torch closer to his face.
Ambrose suddenly started begging me to stop. “No, I was lyin’!” he suddenly yelled. “I was lyin’! Don’t! Don’t!”
I didn’t say a word, but turned and looked at Jeremiah. He had a sorrowful look on his face. I threw the lit torch down and stood up. Walking over to Jeremiah, I continued staring at him. Mark ran over to me, happy it was over. I put my arm around my boy as we walked away.
“Get up, Ambrose!” Jeremiah ordered as he walked over to him. Jeremiah ordered that the chains be put on him. Ambrose didn’t like that – he was one of them.. "You ain’t no longer one of us. You lied to your own” Ambrose tried to convince them it was an accident. Mrs. Morgan slapped him across the face.. The punishment that was to be he suddenly yelled. “I was lyin’! Don’t! Don’t!” out to the stranger is gonna be meeted out to you." I looked down at Mark and shook my head.
Mark and I were able to leave soon after that. I was a forgiving man and understood why a grieving mother would go to such measures for revenge. I had no hard feelings. Before we left, I asked her to take a heifer off our hands. “Thank you, Mr. McCain. Fresh milk sometimes comes in mighty handy! We’re beholden for your forgiveness.”
I turned and looked at Clare. “Thanks, Clare,” I said as I rested my hand under her chin. She smiled at me. I smiled back at her. She had a pretty smile. “Come on, son.” Mark and I turned and rode off without a second look back.
I sure am glad that was over!
piddlin' stuff.....James Coburn played Cy Parker a ranch hand in The Young Englishman ― Ambrose in The High Country as the vengeful mountaineer and the one who wanted to buy Lucas's rifle.
Booth Coleman played Jeremiah. He was the hillbilly and the judge in Lucas's trail.
Ellen Corby played Mrs. Avery in this episode of The Spoiler and as Mrs. Morgan in this episode of The High Country.
Jan Stine appeared in two episodes ― Woman from Hog Ridge as Johnny, he was the son Ma Boyle turned away ― The High Country as Gorwin, he was the mountain boy who was shot by accident.
Valora Noland played Clare. She was the one who helped Lucas. It looks like this was the first thing that Valora ever appeared in.
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.
*In the original script it described Clare was to be a girl about nineteen, poorly dressed but having a fresh-scrubbed sex-kitten kind of beauty. I would say they picked the right girl for this part. She sure fit all of the criteria, not sure about being nineteen, but the rest was right on.
Fritz Ford appeared in twenty episodes and still counting. Besides acting in The Rifleman he was also a stunt double for Chuck Connors.
Bloopers - The High Country
You've heard Lucas' story, now hear Mark's
Character Actors Index Page
Have you ever been watching TV or a movie and wondered who is that guy?
Bloopers for this episode & other episodes
A Friend In Need
Long Gun from Tucson
around The McCain Ranch