Fugitive Road

First Impressions:
An excellent Jess/Slim conflict story where a family obligation causes Jess to leave Sherman ranch to help a deserter. Jonesy and Andy are wonderful as they force a stubborn determined Slim to go against his principles to help Jess.

The Story:
This episode opens with a shot of a sargeant walking past a sign that says "DETENTION AREA, US ARMY HDQRS". Then we see a soldier getting a brutal beating. The sargeant comes in at the end of the beating and looks over the man lying on the floor. He's expressionless, but still looks somewhat satisfied as he leaves. After the beating, the beaten soldier staggers to his feet and grabs a pair of blacksmith pliers. He knocks out the next soldier who enters the building and escapes.

The next scene cuts to the sargeant walking across the compound. An Indian named Areka calls to 'Sargeant Jordan' and says Jordan will need one such as him to read the trail, but Jordan says he won't and orders the Indian to stay there.

The sargeant enters a building and discusses chasing the deserter with a Major. The Major says they can't afford the men, but the sargeant is determined and eventually gets approval to find the deserter on his own after pulling out letters that indicate the deserter is going to Laramie to find his kin.

Then the scene cuts to Jonesy dozing peaceably outside (in something that looks like a horse trough). A straw tickles his nose and Jonesy mumbles something about there being 'one thing he can do without in this world and that's a pest like a certain frying sized tick I know'. Next we see Andy and Jess squatting down beside Jonesy. They nudge each other and playfully go around to the other side of Jonesy and Jess tickles his nose again. Jonesy grabs the straw and says he reckons he can do without Andy and his friend. Andy smiles and says 'Aw you knowed all the time.' Jonesy admits he could smell them coming because of the liniment Andy was wearing.

Slim rides up and asks if they wouldn't happen to know a couple of good hands to help him tend a spread he owns. He has a fence that needs tending in the south meadow. Full of fun now, Jess sidles up and says that he has 'pretty good bunks over at the Sherman place'. Then he says 'Of course now if you really need help' and nudges Andy and asks what he thinks. Going along all the way, Andy looks thoughtful then says 'sure, why not. He looks like a nice enough fella'. Next Jonesy gets into the act and says he might even make up some of his mulligan like he does over at that Sherman place. Jess balks that 'that stew was the one reason he was thinking of quitting over at the Sherman place'. Never at a loss for words, Jonesy tells Jess not to expect any meat in his. Laughing, Jess and Slim ride off.

The soldier who was getting beaten up in the first scene of the ep comes staggering up to Andy whose just outside the barn. Scared, Andy runs to Jonesy who takes up a rifle and tells the fella not to move. The man begs Jonesy not to kill him, and then passes out. (note: I don't blame Andy here, that soldier is pretty scary when he wanders up)

Next we see Jess and Slim working on fences, talking. Here we learn that Jess has been on the ranch almost two months, 'two months next week', the longest he's been in one place since Jeff Davis called it quits. Slim asks if Jess misses the big open and Jess admits that he did sometimes, 'he's been five years on the drift'. Jess says there's nothing left for him in Texas and Slim tells him he's been looking for it elsewhere ever since. After Jess agrees, Slim says you can never find what you've lost, just something to take it's place. Jess agrees with the first part, but says only time will tell about the rest. Slim says he was glad to stop reaching out, and Jess counters that it takes time to drive a stake deep. Slim says this is good land and holds a stake firm once it's set in. He smiles and pats Jess on the shoulder before walking away. Jess looks around solemnly and says 'yeah, it's good country'.

After they park their horses at the barn, Slim talks to Jess about homesteading. Jess tells Slim to 'let me get used to the bridle before you set the saddle.'

After they enter the house, Jess sees the soldier and greets him as Gil. Turns out Gil Brady is married to Jess' kid sister Francie. Gil says he deserted because he had a tough sargeant, Abe Jordan, who resented him because he was born too far south. Plus, Gil was a seventeen year old drummer boy in the Wilderness Battle in '64 and the sargeant lost a brother there. The sargeant just wouldn't let up.

For fourteen months, Gil took it, then he had to desert. He needs to escape to Canada to meet up with Francie. He wants to get there via the Ilolo trail into Yellowstone that Jess mentioned in a letter a few years back. Jess doesn't remember the trail, but Slim has a survey map that Jonesy told Gil about. Jonesy assumed that Slim would want to help (and I thought Jonesy knew Slim so well sigh).

Jess says he could do it with a map, but Slim refuses to help a deserter. Slim doesn't want Jess to throw away the good country. Jess says he has to help his kid sister. Slim won't relent to Andy and Jonesy's amazement. Slim explains this will never end. Gil and Francie will be on the run for the rest of their lives and besides, no matter how you weigh it, Gil's still a deserter. Jess is still going.

Jonesy and Andy are upset with Slim. Gil apologizes to Jess. Jess tells him there's no need to apologize. "The stakes weren't driven in too deep anyway". (sniff)

After Jess and Gil have left, Jonesy and Andy take turns harrassing Slim. Jonesy admits he gave Jess an extra horse and tells Slim he can take it out of his wages. Slim tells him Jess had wages owed him. The dialog is very clipped and to the point. It's obvious both are angry. Slim stubborn. Jonesy determined to say his piece. Finally, they let it out. Jonesy says "Pretty nice getting rid of a debt that easy." Slim says he's in no mood and he don't figure he had any debt. Jonesy tells him he may not have any debts, and he may not have anything else either. Slim attacks Jonesy's 'pearls of wisdom' and Jonesy says one thing he is sure of is that something's gonna happen to those boys out there, something bad (Jonesy is definitely psychic). Slim storms off.

Later that evening, Andy shows Jonesy boots that are 'just like the ones Jess had'. They both glance over at Slim who is working on bills. Then Jonesy sings a song about a man, Wes Tanklett, who shoots his best friend Sam Older in the back.
The camera keeps panning back and forth between Slim and Andy and Jonesy. Slim is obviously listening, and Jonesy is obviously singing this song for Slim's benefit. Slim finally says that's enough and Jonesy stops and tells Andy that the song doesn't tell the exact truth, but the song haunted Wes for ten years till he dug up the truth about who really killed Sam Older. Jonesy asks Slim if the music's bothering him and Slim says yeah, he's trying to work.

The next day, Slim overhears Andy talking to Jonesy about Jess getting lost or running out of food and water. Andy says Slim should've let them have that map. Slim jumps on Andy and says he has no right being mad at him. Andy says he's mad because Slim 'let down a friend. That's worse than stealing a man's horse and leaving him a foot. A man can always get another horse, but a good friend is hard to come by.' Slim fumes at Jonesy for turning Andy against him with his back country sayings. Jonesy gives it right back to him telling him no ones turned Andy against Slim but Slim himself. Then Andy jumps in and tells Slim he forgot that he's the one who told Andy about friends. Slim still stubbornly insists that what Jess is doing is wrong. Slim's not gonna do wrong too. Jonesy reminds Slim that Jess is his friend. Slim reminds Jonesy that Brady's a deserter, and he's not gonna help him. Jonesy says Slim's said that before, more than once. Slim stalks off.

After Slim leaves, Jonesy actually explains to Andy that Slim is having a hard time because he has to consider how his actions affect Andy. As they talk, Slim starts saddling a horse. Jonesy starts packing some grub. As Slim rides off, Andy yells Yahoo!

After Slim rides off, Andy comes across a horse with a US brand on it. As he attempts to sneak away with it, the Indian Areka grabs him. Sargeant Jordan is inside with Jonesy asking for Jess. Jonesy says he there's no one here named Harper. Jordan asks if Jonesy knows the penalty for helping a deserter? Jonesy says oh so innocently, "This Harper is a deserter?" Areka brings Andy in, argues briefly with the sargeant who agrees to let Areka help, then begins looking around outside.

Jonesy fusses at Jordon for manhandling a boy. Then a battle of wits ensues as Jonesy twists words around totally frustrates the sargeant. Unfortunately, Areka then comes in with Brady's shirt. Jonesy says Jess and Gil are headed to Texas, but the sargeant and Indian know Brady is headed for Canada via the Ilolo trail. They leave and warn Jonesy not to try to follow them.

Jess and Gil are making their way through the wilderness. The terrain is rough, so they dismount and start walking the horses. Jess isn't sure if they're going the right way or not, but he assures Gil that they'll make it.

Slim is following their trail.

They move on and begin leading their horses through the difficult trail. Gil's horse spooks, and they end up losing both horses. They continue ahead on foot without provisions.

Slim comes upon the loose horses and rounds them up. Then he gets a rope and starts heading up a hill with it.

Next we cut to Jess and Gil carefully making their way across a steep and treacherous incline. A river rages below. As they get near the top, Jess is holding out his hand to Gil urging him on. Gil says he's scared, and Jess says he has company. Gil starts to move, then tumbles and pulls both him and Jess down into the river.

Slim sees Jess struggling in the water and jumps in to save him. As he pulls out, Jess admits that he can't swim (Don't worry, good old Andy will remedy that in the next episode). Slim tells him he has three horses back a-ways.

When the men stop, Jess thanks Slim for helping them. Slim has no sympathy for Gil, he's doing it for Jess.

Slim shaves as Jess and Gil talk. Jess asks Gil where he's gonna meet Francie, and Gil hesitates. Slim stops shaving when he notices Gil's slight hesitation. But Gil covers and starts talking about settling down and having children once they get away. Jess is pleased that he's gonna be an uncle. Slim is still quiet. Jess tells Gil that he's indebted to him for taking care of Francie. Slim says he's gonna turn in.

The scene shifts to Sargeant Jordan sleeping. Areka comes up on him, and Jordan says he's awake. Areka knows Brady is less than two hours away and wants to go after them now. They argue a bit, but Jordan insists they wait till morning. Areka grudgingly lies down. The camera fades away from the sleeping men briefly, and when it angles back, Areka is missing.

Next, we see a sleeping Jess and Slim, but they sit up with guns drawn as they hear something in the woods. Slim tells Jess he sleeps pretty light. Jess says it comes from having nothing on my mind. Jess asks Slim if he wants some coffee, and they sit up and talk a spell by the fire. Jess looks away and tells Slim he'll probably stay up in Canada awhile. Slim tells him not to bother. It's just a part of the big open. Jess looks over at Slim and says 'maybe, but it aint good when being a friend makes a man go against himself.' Slim says sometimes a friendship, or a man, needs a test. Jess nods as the scene cuts to Areka sneaking up to the camp.

The coffee's ready. Jess and Slim have a cup and continue talking. Jess explains that he's helping Gil for Francie. Jess thinks Francie has a right to some happiness and thinks Gil can give it to her. Slim doesn't think so, but Jess tells him that it's different for a woman than a man. A man's free to strike out on his own if something doesn't suit him, but it's different for a woman. She's gotta make due. Slim says that's the way things are(I guess it wouldn't be much fun being a woman back in those days). Jess talks about when Francie was a kid and there were a lot of Harpers around. Francie was the only one worth anything. Then he left and went on the drift. Left her with them. They're all gone and she's finally found someone who cares about her. He turned his back on her once. He's not gonna let her down again. Slim only wishes Brady was worth it. Jess thinks Brady is. Slim thinks he isn't. It's almost dawn, so the guys decide to stretch out.

Areka approaches. He stands right beside Slim's head, then notices Gil across the camp. He slowly walks over to him and makes sure it is Brady. Then he raises the knife. Before he can bring it down, Slim jumps him. Slim and the Indian fight. Slim breaks Areka's arm, and Gil gets up and goes for a rifle. Jess stops him. Slim's arm is wounded. Areka gets up and goes after Gil again. Jess and Slim pull the Indian off of Gil, then question Gil about why the Indian singled Gil out. Gil says the Indian tried to kill him for the bounty.

Slim questions the Indian. Areka says his life is not worth the bounty and Slim and Jess are like him. He wants to kill Gil because of Palo Duro Canyon. Areka says he talks about twenty men died because Gil deserted under fire. He talks about a boy soldier fell with a war lance in his throat, whose brother beat Gil causing the marks Gil carries. Gil protests but Areka continues, now talking about the fellow scouts who died fighting their own people defending what they thought was right.

Gil continues to say Jordan was after him because of the wilderness. Slim asks Jess if he didn't think the base commander would have been suspicious if Jordan were harrassing Gil for fourteen months. Jess doesn't know and Gil starts to panic. He asks Jess if he believes an Indian over his own kin. Gil pulls a gun on Slim and Jess. As Jess is arguing with Gil, Areka goes for a rifle. Gil shoots him. Then he holds a gun on Slim and Jess and leaves.

After Gil rides off, Slim says of all the stupid things and starts tearing his sleeve apart where he's injured. Jess helps and they argue about Gil. Jess still doesn't want to believe. He rather roughly ties the cloth around Slim's arm.

Shots ring out and Slim and Jess duck for cover. Sargeant Jordan makes them to throw away their guns then comes into the camp. Hearing the shot, Brady sneaks back toward camp and shoots Jordan and rides off. Jess and Slim aid Jordan and Jordan tells them they'll pay for aiding a deserter. Jess says it's all him, not Slim and Slim says it was both of them. Sargeant Jordan then tells Jess that Francie is dead. Gil left her and she couldn't stand being alone, so she killed herself (Don't worry, she's not really dead. In fact, she shows up in season four and has even managed to become his wiser elder sister instead of his young baby sister). At first Jess yells that he's lying, but then he asks quietly, 'When?' Three months ago. Jess looks heartbroken, then his jaw stiffens and he grabs the rifle and heads out saying "I'll be back!."

Slim glares at the sargeant and the sargeant explains that he had to tell Jess. Jess was the only one in shape to go after Gil and Gil had to pay for Palo Duro.

Jess catches up to Gil just after Gill has crossed a bridge into Canada. Jess hollers up to him that he's taking him back. Gil says Jess will have to shoot him first and what about Francie? Jess replies that she's dead. Gil shoots at Jess three times (no wonder he deserted, he's a terrible shot). Jess takes aim and gets Gil with one shot. If the bullet didn't kill him, the fall did.

In the tag, Jordan is back at Sherman ranch getting ready to leave. Jonesy is talking to Jordan and says "Well, sarge, any man who put away three bowls of my Mulligan..." and Jess cuts in with "has to have a cast iron stomach". The sargeant says any time Jonesy wants a job to come see him. All he'd have to do is sign up 6 years and do exactly what he's told. Jonesy says he wouldn't do to well in the army with his sacroiliac. As the sargeant leaves, he apologizes again for telling Jess the way he did. Jess tells the sarge, "You did the right thing, and so did I"

Annie's Favorite Moments:

My favorite moment would have to be when Slim and Jess and Gil are camped out for the night. All are asleep, but then a small noise wakes up Jess, followed an instant later by Slim. Jess has sat up and has his gun drawn before you can blink an eyelash. It is way cool. After that, they stay up and have some coffee and talk for a few minutes before going back to bed. It's a great scene. They disagree about Gil, but they remain friends.

Jenny's Favorite Moments:
It would be easier saying my least favorite moments. Let's see.... Hmmm. There have to be some... Okay, the only scene that wasn't a favorite was the opening where they beat up Gil and he escapes, and the Areka/Jordan only scenes. That's pretty much it. I love everything else about this episode. Lots of Jess history, lots of Jess/Slim relationship, lots of Jess/Andy/Jonesy relationship, great Jonesy wit, lots of fun and humor both in the beginning before Gil arrives and at the end. Most favorite moment... I can't decide.

Annie's rating:

I'd give it a five for sure. It is a very good personal story for Jess and one of the early tests of his friendship with Slim. Besides, it has all the elements that make up the best of the series: friendship, family, humor, loyalty, conflict, action...

Jenny's rating: Five stars.  Lots of Jess background, lots of all the main cast, lots of Slim and Jess. Definitely five stars.

Circle of Fire



Star Trail