Harvest Hijinx

By Janet Brayden 


          The hot, muggy proverbial “dog days” of August had settled in on the San Joaquin Valley of California.  As usual it was dry and dusty and men and animals were miserable and searching for ways to beat the heat and have some fun at the same time.  The worst thing, in some people’s minds, was that this meant that Johnny Lancer and his Prankster Posse were certain to come up with something to alleviate the boredom and possibly beat the heat.

          Val Crawford was on edge.  Every time he saw the quartet near his office he feared that they had put a bucket of cold water over his door and he would get drenched when he went to enter.  So far they hadn’t done it but that didn’t mean they weren’t considering it.  From what he’d heard Sam Jayson had been caught three times before he got wise. Of course the fact that Sam was a nice enough guy but sometimes not too bright might have had something to do with it. Gabe, the sheriff over in Spanish Wells, hadn’t been caught either. Like Val, he was always on guard around Johnny and the Prankster Posse.  Individually, or as a group, they could be a handful.  Maura Talbot, who was somewhat of a surrogate mother to the Lancer boys and their foster sister, Teresa O’Brien, was the only one who could handle them and squelch their high spirits with a few words or a look – especially if that look was toward a switch she’d cut with the intention of using it if she had to.

          Many youngsters in the Morro Coyo, Spanish Wells and Green River areas were being kept busy hoeing, and watering, their families’ gardens.  The corn that had been shoulder high on the youngsters was now shoulder high – and more – on the adults.  Squash, beans, carrots, peas, lettuce, spinach and a multitude of other vegetables were ripening fast and furious  - as were the tomatoes.  Some farm wives, or area housekeepers and gardeners, were hard pressed to put the vegetables up quickly enough. 

          At the Lancer ranch handyman Jelly Hoskins, being unaware of the fruitfulness of zucchini, had planted far more than they would ever use.  Teresa and the Lancer housekeeper, Maria, were ready to scream, they had such an overabundance of the squash.  Nobody on the ranch was particularly fond of the stuff and finding inventive ways of using it was becoming more and more difficult.  Even Arabella, Murdoch’s prize-winning sow – a birthday gift from Jelly – was turning her nose up at it.  It would be the pranksters who came up with the solution.  Of course, being the Prankster Posse, they would have fun doing it and maybe get into a little mischief besides.

          “Maria,” Teresa opined to their housekeeper/cook, “I just don’t know what we’re going to do with all this zucchini!  There’s much more than we can use – even Arabella doesn’t want it any more.”

          “I know, chica,” Maria said as she wiped her sweaty forehead.  “I don’t know what to do with it either.  We’ve served it for dinner almost every night for the last two weeks and we haven’t used all of it yet.” 

Teresa sighed, “I suppose I could make more zucchini breads, but I don’t think they’re very popular with any of the men.”

Just then the kitchen door that led out into the yard opened and in walked Jelly with another bushel basket of zucchini.

“Here ya go, ladies,” he said cheerfully.  “More zucchini and Johnny’s right behind me with more green beans and Scott’s bringin’ in the tomatoes.”

Teresa tried hard not to groan in Jelly’s presence but it was difficult – especially when she heard Maria muttering imprecations about gardeners who didn’t know what they were doing when they planted so much of the mushy vegetable.  Johnny heard her as he entered the door and his eyes sparked.

“Oh, boy, Jelly,” he laughed.  “You sure are in trouble with Maria.  You should hear what she’s sayin’!”

“You said you wanted a nice big garden,” Jelly said to Maria, “I planted you a nice big garden.”

“Yes, Jelly,” Teresa answered him, “but you planted a lot more zucchini than we’ll ever use!  Even Arabella doesn’t want any more of it!”

“That ain’t so!”  Jelly denied.  “She’s eaten every bit of it I’ve given her.”

“But has she eaten every bit that everybody else has given her since they got tired of it?” Teresa asked the bearded old man.


At the Millar ranch it was the same story.  Mrs. Millar had allowed Kelly to take charge of the planting this year and Kelly, acting on Jelly’s advice, had planted a lot of zucchini as well as the other vegetables.  Her mother had made zucchini breads, boiled zucchini, fried zucchini and everything else she could think of and still wasn’t able to use up all the zucchini they had.

The scenario was repeated at the Mays house, the Portillos’ home and anywhere Jelly’s influence could be felt.  The Mays and Portillos sons, Willie and Rico, and Kevin Millar, were Johnny’s best friends.  They’d humored Jelly by taking some of the seeds little knowing that the squash would practically take over their mothers’ gardens.  Now they were all desperate to find a way to get rid of it.


          “Ma!” Kevin wailed.  “Not zucchini again!  Haven’t we had enough of that stuff?” 

          Kevin was none too pleased to see zucchini on the dinner table for the third straight week.  For that matter neither was his father or his other sisters.  Sarah and Lori looked just as distressed. Of course they’d been helping can it, stew it, turn into zucchini breads and everything else for the last four weeks.  They had so much of it that after a week of canning Mrs. Millar finally gave up on trying to stay ahead and started cooking with it. 

          “I’m sorry, dear,” his mother said.  “I know you’re tired of it – we all are – but I simply can’t let it go to waste.”

          “Far as I’m concerned you could,” a disgruntled Kevin mumbled. 

He loaded up his plate with pork and potato and beets but deliberately passed over the zucchini.  He was old enough to get away with it but Kelly wasn’t.  His younger sister, though, was getting tired of it herself.

“Maybe we can give some of it away,” the nine-year-old said. 

“Who’d want the stuff?” her brother wanted to know.


“Mama!  Zucchini again?” Rico Portillo asked his mother.  “Haven’t we eaten it all up yet?  Or fed it to the pigs and goats?”

“No, we haven’t,” Señora Portillo informed her son.  “When your sisters planted the garden they followed the advice of Señor Hoskins and planted much zucchini. I don’t think he knew that it would grow and produce so much!  Ai yi yi!  I don’t think we’ll ever see the end of it.  I wish I knew someone I could give some of it to.”


“Mama, tell me that’s not zucchini on the table again,” Jimmy Mays pleaded.

“It is and you’re going to eat every bite of it that I put on your plate,” his mother told him.  “You’re a growing boy and you need to eat your vegetables.  Why if your grandparents had turned down food like this when they were growing up on the plantation in Georgia, they’d have gone hungry because there wasn’t much of anything else for them to eat but fatback and greens – that’s all they were given a lot of the time.  Now you eat your zucchini and be glad you have it!”

Willie wisely kept his mouth shut but he was thinking that there must be a way to get rid of all those baskets of zucchini he knew his mother had and was planning to can.  At least there had be a way to get rid of some of it!  This was getting out of hand!


Three days later, on a Saturday night in Green River the sons of Mays, Portillo, Millar and Lancer met up for a friendly beer or two and a poker game among themselves and, when they were able to con him into it, Val Crawford.  The saloon was abnormally quiet for a Saturday.  It was so hot that a lot of the ranch hands from the surrounding area had opted to stay in their bunkhouses or sit around outside where it was a little cooler at night.

Around eight o’clock Jim Talbot walked in and joined them.  He ordered a large sarsaparilla and sat in on the poker game.  The younger men were all sworn to secrecy for, even though he didn’t play often – and definitely not for high stakes – he didn’t need for his wife to hear about it.  They all knew he wasn’t henpecked but they also knew that she’d liberate any money he won in a poker game and make him give it to charity – the church, the mission or the orphanage if not a local family that was in need.

“How goes Mrs. T’s garden this year, Mr. Talbot?” Kevin asked as the man took his drink from the barmaid.

“Just fine, Kevin,” was the answer. “She’s got a lot of tomatoes, green beans, peas, carrots and I don’t know what else – except zucchini.  We’ve practically got zucchini coming out of our ears!  I’m sick of the sight of the stuff!”

“So are we,” Scott commiserated with their neighbor.  “Jelly planted way too much of the stuff at Lancer and gave seeds to other folks as well.”

“Yeah, like my mother,” Willie said in disgust.  “I can get away with not eating any of it but Jimmy and Cece are stuck with it.  Mama keeps reminding them how bad it was for our grandparents on that plantation.  Sure wish we could get rid of it somehow.”

“Ma makes us eat it every night,” Kevin complained.  “She won’t let us throw any of it out – says it’d be wasteful.”

“Yeah, Teresa and Maria are about ready to strangle Jelly,” Johnny told the group.  “Ain’t that right, brother?”

“He’s right about that,” Scott said.  “Maria made the mistake of letting Jelly plant the garden for her and he overdid it on the zucchini.  That stuff sprouts faster than weeds it seems and at the rate it’s been ripening even Arabella has turned her nose – er , snout – up at it.  Won’t touch it at all.”

Johnny laughed at the memory, “Yeah old Jelly was so sure Arabella would help us eat it but she turned her back on him when he offered it to her!”

“Poor Arabella,” Jim chuckled as he put his glass of sarsaparilla back down on the table.  “She has my sympathy.”

The game went on for another hour before the group decided it would be wise to break it up.  They still had some chores that needed tending to in the morning even if it was Sunday.  The stock still needed to be fed and watered and eggs gathered and such.  More than likely there would be garden plots that needed watering as well.  Little did any of them realize that they would come up with a solution to the zucchini problem the very next day – and all because of one innocent comment during the course of the conversation in the saloon that night.


“There, I think that does it,” Scott said as he set down his empty bucket and wiped his sweaty brow.

“You think Teresa appreciates us doing this?” Johnny asked.

“Of course she does,” Scott answered, “although I doubt she’d be disappointed if we overlooked the zucchini.”

“I know Maria wouldn’t be,” Johnny said with a grin.  “It’s the old man that would complain about the waste.”

“It’s that thrifty Scottish blood,” Scott joked.  “He can’t bear to see anything go to waste.  However, I don’t think he’s exactly happy with Jelly’s overzealous planting of the stuff.”


At the dinner table that afternoon, when they had returned from church services, zucchini once more appeared on the table.  Scott’s face turned as green as the skin on the hated squash and Johnny didn’t look much better.

“Teresa!” Johnny was the one who wailed this time.  “I thought we weren’t going to have any more of this stuff!  I’m sick of the sight of it!”

“Yes, I know,” the tiny brunette said, “but there’s still so much of it we haven’t been able to can and the stock won’t eat it and the hands have threatened to leave if I let the cook serve any more of to them!  What else am I supposed to do with it?”

“I don’t know,” Scott said.  “We’ve got so much of it and some of our neighbors have an overabundance of it as well.  It seems like you can’t even give the stuff away!”

Neither of them, nor Teresa, noticed the look on Johnny’s face at the words “give it away”.  If they had they might have been on guard for what was to come.

“Well, let’s not waste what’s on the table,” Murdoch said.  “I remember hard times in Scotland when this squash would have been more than welcome.”

“Let’s send it to Scotland then,” Scott joked.  “It’s bound to be more popular there than it is here.”

The Lancer clan settled down to their Sunday dinner of pork roast, potatoes, corn and, worst of all to some of them, the hated zucchini.  They didn’t make much of a dent in it though.  There were three bushel basketsful in the kitchen waiting to be canned with more ripening every day.


Later that afternoon Johnny planned on meeting his buddies at the one pond that was not used to water the stock.  Swimming sounded like an awfully good idea considering how hot it was.  Scott normally would have declined - not wanting to become a victim of their practical joking - but it was so darned hot that he felt being dunked in the pond would be a pleasant thing and he could give as good as he got in that area. 

Having grown up in Boston gave him one advantage over the other young men – he’d spent a lot of time around the waterfront when he was old enough to escape his governesses and had learned how to swim from Paul Joseph Revere, his brother and some of their friends.  Grandfather Harlan Garrett would have been appalled had he known that Scott was chummy with the grandsons of an artisan even if the Revere family now had money from their copper and silver business.  The one sad thing about those memories for Scott was that both Paul and Edward H.R. Revere had both been killed in action in the war.  Paul had died after being wounded at Gettysburg and Edward, a doctor, had been killed shortly after finishing surgery on a wounded man during the fighting at Antietam.  While Paul had lingered for a few days Edward had been killed outright because of his insistence on taking the medical care to the men instead of the other way around.  Both were buried in Cambridge while their memories lived on in the North End of Boston and at Harvard.

The sad memories didn’t linger for long.  It was a hot day and the water was refreshingly cool.  The five young men engaged in a water fight – splashing each other constantly and trying to dunk each other.  Scott found himself paired with Rico while Johnny was paired with Willie and Kevin.  The duo did a fair job of defending themselves, but they were pretty well outmatched by Willie who spent hours at the forge hammering out nails and horseshoes and hinges etc. for the Bar T and every other place that he worked at.  In the lull between odd jobs Willie helped his father at his shop and hours of hammering iron into shape had given him muscles like steel.  Scott and Rico weren’t weak by any stretch of the imagination but Willie’s hands, and arms, were like clamps once he got hold of them. It didn’t take much for Willie to pick one of them up and toss them several feet away causing a big splash.  After an hour of this fooling around the young men were tired and ready for a nap.  They were all wearing cut off long johns to swim in – there was too much chance that some of the ladies – Teresa included – might wander by hoping to use the pond to cool off themselves.

After a while Scott spoke up, “I suppose we ought to get dressed and head for home.  Dinner will be ready within an hour if I’m reading the position of the sun correctly.”

“What?  You’re not telling time with your fancy watch?” Kevin jibed.

“I didn’t bring it with me,” Scott replied, “I was afraid one of you would get water in it and ruin it.”

“You don’t trust us?” Willie asked.

“Not as far as I could throw you,” Scott told the young black man.

“We really ought to head for home,” Kevin said reluctantly.  “I hate to think what’s on the table tonight.  Whatever it is I’m sure there’ll be more of that awful zucchini on the table.  I’m sure getting tired of it,” he sighed.

“I think we all are,” Rico said.  “Mama insists that we have it every night and she’s made more zucchini breads than we’ll ever eat!”

“I have an idea,” Johnny spoke up, “on how we can get rid of that stuff and not have to eat any more of it this summer – maybe not even next year.”

“How, pray tell,” Scott asked his little brother, “do you think we can avoid it?  Teresa and Maria have hundreds of jars of the stuff put up already and Jelly tells them that the latest batch is almost ripe and ready to be picked.”

“It’s easy!” Johnny declared.  “We give it away!”

“Johnny, nobody in their right mind would accept it – especially if they’ve already got a huge patch of their own!” Kevin told him.

“No, wait,” Scott said. “Let’s hear what’s on that devious mind of yours, brother.”

“It’s simple,” Johnny told his companions.  “We gather up all the zucchini that’s still waiting to be canned and we hide it in a central location.  Then we pick a night – maybe a Friday or a Saturday – and we take that zucchini and leave it on our neighbors’ porches!”

“Sounds too easy,” Kevin scoffed.  “Where would we hide it?”

“And how would we explain having it in our possession if we get caught?” Willie wanted to know.

Rico was more succinct, “You are loco!”

“No, I’m not!” Johnny defended himself. 

“Hold on now,” Scott intervened.  “Give my sneaky little brother a chance to explain.  Go ahead, Johnny.”

“You know how you said everybody in the area’s got so much of it we couldn’t give it away?”

“Yes, and I still believe that’s true.”

“Sure is!” Kevin declared.

“He’s right about that,” Willie agreed as Rico nodded his agreement.

“Well what if they didn’t know we were going to give it to them?”

“Explain yourself,” Scott told his brother as he shifted to find a new, more comfortable position.

“It’s like this – we all have more zucchini that we want – probably more than we could use in two years…”

“Sí, that is very true,” Rico said.  “Mama insists we eat it at every meal and we’re all very tired of it.”

“So what we do is we gather up all the excess and give it away to people who don’t have any,” Johnny told the group with a twinkle in his blue eyes.

“Like who?” Willie demanded to know.

“Oh, the Widow Hargis – she don’t plant a big garden and I know for sure she ain’t got any zucchini in the garden she did plant.  Val ain’t got no garden either – he eats all his meals at the cantina when he’s working and sure don’t cook anything more than a steak and eggs or something for supper.”

“You know, I think he’s on to something,” Scott said.  “What about Mayor Higgs?  He certainly doesn’t plant a garden.  He could stand to eat more vegetables and less cake, too.” 

“How about those new people – the Daltons?” Kevin suggested.  “She sure didn’t dirty her lily white hands planting any kind of a garden when they moved here and he’s too busy trying to run that newspaper of his.”

“Now you’ve got it!” Johnny declared.  “We can take all that zucchini and give it to a whole bunch of people that don’t have any.”

“I think we need to organize this a bit more,” Scott said.  “Let’s meet somewhere in a few days and make up a list of who to give it to.  We need a place to gather the zucchini and hold it until we’re ready to implement Johnny’s plan.  Anybody got any suggestions?”

“Mama watches our place pretty close – especially when Pa’s busy,” Willie told them.  “Otherwise I’d suggest that little shed out in back of our house.”

“What about a cave?” Rico asked.  “It would be cool and the squash would not spoil while we figure out what day to deliver it.”

“That’s a great idea!” Kevin exclaimed.  “I know a good cave that’s near the Rocking M, the Bar T and Lancer that ought to do. Come on, I’ll show you!”

Quickly the young men donned their trousers, shirts, socks and boots, crammed their hats onto their heads and put their gun belts on before mounting their horses.  The cave Kevin had in mind was a relatively short distance from the swimming hole.  They reached it about thirty minutes from the time they left the pond and Rico showed them around.

“I explored these caves when we first moved here,” Kevin said. “Rico’s right – this is the perfect place to hide the squash until we’re ready for it.  Nobody comes here any more – the Talbots boys used it when they were in their early teens I’ve heard – and you know my sisters wouldn’t be caught playing in, or around, a spooky old cave.  Not even Kelly and she’s the least spooky of the three.”

“That’s settled, then,” Scott said.  “We start smuggling the squash away from home tomorrow.  Once we have all we can get we’ll decide whom we’re going to leave it with.  I’ll start a list with the names we’ve already discussed.  The rest of you keep your eyes and ears open – and your mouths shut – while you try to find some ‘victims’.  This will be like the raids on Jelly’s watermelon patches only in reverse.”

The group held a short discussion on when they would start making their deliveries.  It all depended on how soon they could get the zucchini to the cave and how much would accumulate by the time they met again that Friday night.  They would each take time from their work day to sneak some of the zucchini out of their homes – “but don’t touch the canned stuff,” Scott warned the Prankster Posse “that’ll make your mothers suspicious.  Just take the stuff that’s in the baskets a few at a time so that they’ll think they’ve used it up.”

They each went their separate ways after that – Johnny and Scott back to the estancia and the other three to their respective homes.  They all hoped to be able to start sneaking the zucchini away first thing in the morning if not that very night.


As it turned out Johnny and Scott were able to sneak some of their overabundance of zucchini to their rooms that night and stashed it in their saddlebags.  One good thing about riding the range during the day was that Teresa, and Maria, gave them so much food for lunch and made them pack so much in the line of first-aid supplies that they needed saddlebags most days.  Thus they were able to hide some squash to drop off at the cave.  They had to be certain though, that it was they who loaded their saddlebags or else Teresa – or Maria – would find out what they were up to.  It was up to Willie, or Rico, to see that they had baskets and boxes to keep the stuff in.  It would have looked highly suspicious to Kevin’s parents or sisters and equally so to Teresa, Maria, Murdoch and Jelly (who was known to notice things he wasn’t supposed to while often overlooking things he should notice) if Johnny or Scott had tried to ride off with a basket, or box, under their arm.


Kevin also managed to sneak a couple to his room but it was a close call when his little sister, Kelly, came into the kitchen and saw him hiding something between his shirt and his jacket.

“Mama!  Kevin’s sneaking cookies out of the kitchen!”

“I am not!” Kevin retorted indignantly.

“Then what are you hiding under your jacket?  I thought you said it was too hot to wear a jacket?”

“It is but it’s easier to wear it than to carry it when I have a lot of other stuff to carry and I just left a lot of stuff out in the barn.”

“Why didn’t you take your jacket off when you came inside?” his mother asked as she entered the kitchen.

“I just haven’t gotten around to it, that’s all.  I thought I’d wait until I got upstairs to my room, only Miss Nosy here is making such a big deal out of it that I’m not going to take it off until I get upstairs no matter how much she accuses me of stealing cookies – or anything else!”

“Are you stealing cookies, Kevin?” Mrs. Millar asked.

Kevin looked his mother straight in the eye, “No, ma’am, I am not stealing cookies.  Or cake.”

“Bet he is,” Kelly insisted.  “Why don’t you make him take his jacket off?”

“Kelly, if your brother wants to swelter in the kitchen, or anywhere else, wearing his jacket in this weather we’ll just let him pay the consequences.  He’s a big boy and he doesn’t need me to remind him about wearing his jacket – most of the time.”  His mother could think of a couple of instances where she’d remind him and he’d ignored her – paying the price later on.


“No more, Kelly,” her mother said firmly.  “It’s time for you to be getting ready for bed anyway.  Now off you go and leave your brother alone.”

The little girl pouted but headed upstairs. She was certain her brother had stolen cookies but nobody ever listened to her when she told them that Kevin was up to something.

“Thanks, Ma,” Kevin said.  “You really have to do something about that child’s overactive active imagination.”

“If I were going to do anything about anybody’s overactive active imagination in this family, Kevin James,” Mrs. Millar said with a twinkle in her eye, “it would be yours and you wouldn’t be hanging around with Johnny, Willie and Rico.”

Kevin took that as a warning to stop talking and left the kitchen in a hurry after giving his mother a kiss on the cheek. He made it safely to his room before Kelly even knew he was on his way upstairs.


Willie had much the same problem.  His little brother and sister weren’t tattletales but they were curious children and they had a puppy, now a young dog of three, that had a tendency to bark excitedly whenever anybody came near the house or tried to walk quietly around the house.  Ivanhoe, as Maura Talbot had named him, was almost certain to give Willie away if he tried to be sneaky.  Before trying to get any of the zucchini out of their kitchen Willie made sure that Jimmy, Cece and Ivanhoe were all outside.  Then he quickly grabbed four of the smaller squash and took them upstairs to his room. If he took the larger ones his mother would be certain to notice that they were gone.   He would stick them in the sack with his lunch when he left in the morning.  His mother would never notice that they were missing – he hoped anyway – and he could stash them in the cave on the way to the Bar T to work in the morning.  It was quite fortunate for their plans that he was working on fences between the Bar T and the Rocking M.  He and Kevin could meet up and make a quick trip to the cave with their squash and be back to work before anyone realized they were missing.


Rico had an even bigger problem at his house.  Not only was his mother intent on canning all the zucchini they’d grown, or had been given to them, he had seven brothers and sisters, all younger than himself, to avoid while he tried to sneak some of the zucchini out of the house.  He briefly considered bringing Mariano, the brother closest in age to himself, in on the plot but he was afraid that if Tomás, who was one of the youngest brothers, found out what they were up to his mother would soon find out.  With eight children plus her husband and herself to feed and clothe Felicia Portillo was a very busy woman and would not take kindly to having food taken out of their mouths – even if it was an overabundance of a squash that nobody in the family was very fond of.  It could bring very dire consequences down on Rico’s head if he were caught or found out.  He decided to keep it to himself and sneak a few squash every day.  He could get them to the livery stable in Spanish Wells and, under the pretext of delivering a neighbor’s newly shod horse.   Perhaps while delivering a newly purchased horse or returning a rig that someone had left behind having gone home, in an emergency situation on horseback. Nobody would think anything of it when he took a sack with him.  It would merely be assumed that he was taking his lunch or making a delivery of some produce that a neighbor had been promised.


The boys continued to sneak zucchini out of the house for a week.  They even managed to get some out of the gardens before Jelly or the three mothers could get at it.  They had to get up even earlier than usual to pull it off but pull it off they did. In the meantime Scott had been keeping his own eyes and ears open and was compiling a list of recipients for the zucchini.

“All right,” he said as they met the Sunday afternoon after their initial decision to take matters into their own hands regarding the overabundant squash.  “I have Val, Gabe and Sam Jayson down for starters.  Also Mayor Higgs, Mrs. Hargis and the Ingersolls.  Johnny thought we should leave some for Sam Jenkins – I don’t think his housekeeper planted a very large garden this year since he seems to be getting an awful lot of his foodstuffs from the general store in Morro Coyo.”

“Mr. and Mrs. Wilkes would make good customers for the zucchini,” Willie said.  “I heard how they pawned that spoiled food off on the folks who helped you a while back – the Calhouns and their friends.”

“Yes, they did,” Scott said, “but they did warn Sam and Johnny, when they found out it was bad.”

“Still, they’d be good customers,” Kevin agreed with Willie as Rico and Johnny nodded their agreement.

“All right. We’ll add the Wilkes, too.”

“Not the Pittmans, though,” Johnny said.  “With all them kids they got more than enough zucchini planted themselves to feed an army.”

“Agreed,” Scott said.  “The Pittmans hardly need our help.  They’re short on money – not on garden produce.  Mrs. Pittman wisely plants a big garden every year to feed her family from.”

“What about Señor Malcom?” Rico asked.  “Would he not also benefit, as you say, from our giving him some of the zucchini.”

“I don’t know if he’d benefit,” Scott said, “but he’d get a big laugh out of it if he figures out we’re the ones who left it.”

“Scott’s right,” Johnny said.  “Mr. Malcom’s got a great sense of humor – he’ll laugh his head off when he finds it.”

They talked for a few more minutes adding the names of the Daltons, Mahans, Huebners, Bells and several others.  All would be receiving a load of zucchini over the next week and a half as the young men delivered what they already had plus whatever they were able to get their hands on before it made it into their kitchens during that time period.  The boys figured on coming up with an excuse to go to bed early and would sneak out of their homes to meet at the cave at around midnight.  They’d have to work fast for none of the neighbors were less than thirty minutes away on horseback and they had to be quiet so as not to get caught.


“My, it’s nice not to see zucchini on the table,” Murdoch said the next night.  “We must have finally eaten the harvest.”

“Not exactly, Murdoch,” Teresa said.  “Maria and I put a lot of it up and we made a lot of zucchini breads.  It seems like there ought to be more but when I’ve checked the garden the last few days there doesn’t seem to be any more ripe.”  The young woman looked puzzled.  “I was sure we would be canning it for another week – if not more.”

“Count your blessings, Teresa,” Scott said while Johnny studied his plate and schooled himself not to laugh.  “If there’s no more ripe zucchini then you can concentrate on the tomatoes that are starting to ripen not to mention the corn, beets, beans and carrots.”

“Oh, I’m not worried about the carrots going to waste,” Teresa said with a giggle as she looked at her “brothers”.  “Johnny feeds enough of them to Barranca that they don’t always last long enough to be canned.”

“I have a feeling that Ranger comes in for his fair share of those carrots as well,” Murdoch chuckled.  “Having a decent horse is a blessing and Ranger is steadier than old Charlie was.”

“I have a feeling,” Teresa said, “that old Zanzibar gets a share of them from Jelly.  If Hump were here he’d be getting more than his fair share.”

They all chuckled as they remembered the Brahma bull that Jelly had bought not so long ago.  Hump, short for Humpty Dumpty (or Humpety Dumpety the way Jelly pronounced it) had had a thing for carrots.  The heifer that ended up carrying Hump’s calf had also had a constant craving for carrots – so much so that in the middle of the phony “tick fever” crisis she’d foundered herself on them.  Hump was now living on a government owned breeding farm where a new cross breed of cattle was being bred with Jelly as the donor of the original sire. 


“Johnny?”  Scott hissed.  “Are you ready to go?”

“Yeah, I’m ready.”

“Then let’s go,” Scott said to his younger brother.  “Kevin and the others will be waiting for us.  Uh, you are planning on riding a horse other than Barranca aren’t you?”

Johnny gave his brother a confused look.  “Why would I want to do that?”

“Because if you get caught – even if somebody only hears you but sees you ride away – Barranca is a dead giveaway that you’re the one who left the squash on that person’s porch.  It’s better to ride a horse that nobody would necessarily recognize.”


“No buts,” Scott told him.  “Choose another horse or stay behind.  The idea is to get rid of the squash without being caught leaving it.  Barranca’s too easily identified and he’d lead the neighbor – whoever they might be – right back to Lancer.  Once they figure out you’re involved it wouldn’t take much to figure out that Kevin, Willie and Rico are involved.  I might not be suspected but it’s better not to take that chance.”

Reluctantly Johnny agreed and got a bay gelding out of the small corral next to the stable.  In a matter of minutes he had the horse saddled, bridled and was mounted.  The group had decided that they would use flour sacks to carry the zucchini in since they wouldn’t likely be traced back to any particular person.

The moon was just beginning to rise when they met the others at their secret stash.  Quickly they stuffed as much zucchini in their sacks as they could.  Scott then gave each of them a list of names.

 Kevin would deliver to Gabe, Miss Bowley– the schoolteacher, Mrs. Hargis and Mark Malcom.  They were all in Spanish Wells where Kevin was least likely to be seen late at night.  Willie had the Ingersolls, Sam Jayson and the Wilkes.

Johnny was going to deliver to Sam Jenkins – nobody would suspect Johnny of willingly going to Sam’s house.  He’d also deliver some to the Mahans and the Huebners.  Scott was delivering to the Ryders, Kings, Allens and Quinlans.

They would meet back at the cave when their deliveries were done to see how it had gone.  Once again Scott urged caution – even if it meant leaving their horses back away from the houses somewhat.  The whole idea of these deliveries, as with the Prankster Posse’s Halloween pranks, was leave the squash with the unsuspecting “victim” and get away without being seen.  There were some protests but Scott was adamant and used his “Lieutenant Lancer” tone of voice, which they didn’t argue with.


“You wait here, Coco,” Kevin said to his beloved cow pony.  “I’ll be right back.  Don’t let Gave know you’re here, huh?”

Kevin sneaked off to the Sheriff’s office first.  It was quiet and no light shone anywhere.  Quickly Kevin left three of his squash on the sheriff’s doorstep.  He caught his breath and held it for a minute when he heard someone inside grunt but it was soon quiet again.  Either Gabe, his deputy or a prisoner had briefly roused and shifted to a more comfortable position.  He made it back to Coco without arousing any suspicion and headed for the Widow Eualalia Hargis’ house.  Halfway there he had second thoughts about going near her house and decided to leave it in the doorway to her store.  The older woman was known to be quite handy with a broom and, at times, a shotgun.  Kevin didn’t want to risk arousing her suspicion that somebody was trying to break into her house.  Once he had safely delivered the squash he’d decided to leave her he made short work of leaving some of the stuff for Miss Bowley and Mark Malcom who owned the hardware store in Spanish Wells.  It was he who bought a good many nails from Willie’s father plus hinges and andirons and such.


Willie fared much better.  He was able to make his deliveries to Sam Jayson, the Ingersolls and the Wilkes without any trouble at all.  Sam never woke up and his night deputy was way over on the other side of town when Willie made his way to the Ingersoll and Wilkes homes.  Neither of those families had a dog and no dog lived in any of the houses near them so there was no barking to give him away.  He did have a bit of trouble getting out of Morro Coyo when Moe, his old bay gelding, decided to get balky on him but that didn’t last long and soon Willie was on his way back to the rendezvous point.


Scott ran into some difficulty on his rounds.  Not only did the Ryders have a dog, so did the Allens, and the Quinlans had an old tomcat that was nasty to everybody but the their youngest daughter.  At the Ryders and the Allens the dogs growled and barked at Scott and he was nearly bitten by the Allen’s bluetick hound, appropriately named “Old Blue”.  As it was Old Blue managed to rip Scott’s right shirt sleeve which would lead to questions from Teresa unless he could get her to believe the first story he told her – which would be how he got it caught on some barbed wire or a loose nail.  The Ryders’ dog, Prince, was much more friendly and once he received some patting – specifically a few scratches under his chin and behind his ears (Johnny had told him that this dog especially loved that) – he went back to his post on the porch completely ignoring the fact that Scott had no business being there.  After them the Kings were easy – no pets and Mr. King was so hard of hearing that he’d never in this world have heard Scott unless he shot off a cannon outside his window.


Rico’s assignment, as it were, was to deliver as much zucchini as he could to certain parties in Green River.  If he were recognized it would be by Val, or as the boy who worked in the livery stable in Spanish Wells.  He was too well known in Spanish Wells and Morro Coyo for he not only worked in the stable near home but he often accompanied his mother when she went shopping.  If what she wanted couldn’t be found in Spanish Wells Rico would borrow a rig and take her to Morro Coyo and sometimes Green River. 

The young Mexican was a bit apprehensive for he didn’t know Val as well as Johnny did.  Johnny and Val were practically best friends, while the other members of the Posse were generally thought of by Val, as the “pests who hang around with Johnny Lancer”.  Still he squelched his apprehension and did as he had been told.  It actually went a lot easier than he thought it would.  Val was out of town delivering a prisoner to Sacramento and, fortunately for Rico, the deputy who was taking his place was a sound sleeper.  He also wasn’t very bright and it would be Val that would figure out where the zucchini had come from that appeared on his doorstep.  The deputy, Clarence Anderson, wouldn’t know a zucchini from a butternut squash so it wouldn’t mean anything to him when he found it on the doorstep in the morning.

The Rileys, McDonalds, Petersons and Baldwins also received some of the zucchini.  They had large families and Rico had a large sack full of the hated vegetable so he left a goodly amount on each of their doorsteps.  His horse, Eagle, was extremely cooperative and gave the young man no trouble at all.  He was able to make his deliveries and make good his “escape” before too much time had passed.


On foot Johnny fared pretty well in Spanish Wells other than the fact that the horse he’d taken that night didn’t respond to his commands and signals as well as Barranca.  More than once Johnny cursed his brother for talking him into leaving Barranca behind. He and Barranca were like a well-oiled machine.  They worked well together with Barranca, at this point in time, practically anticipating what Johnny wanted him to do.  Scott had been right about Barranca being so easily recognized but he still wished he had him instead of the bay he was riding.

The Mahans were easily taken care of.  The family had a large feed and grain store that required a lot of attention during the day and little attention at night. Still with all the loading and unloading of hay, straw, oats and corn in the storage sheds Mr. Mahan, his sons and nephew went to bed quite early because they were tired enough to fall asleep soon after supper.  Mrs. Mahan always followed shortly afterward once she’d planned out the meals for the next day.

Also relatively easy to take care of was Sam Jenkins.  The doctor was out on a house call.  One of the neighboring farmer’s wives was in labor with her first child.  Sam wanted to be sure to be with her as it had been a rather difficult pregnancy what with severe morning sickness and unexpected cramps and false labor.  He would be gone until the baby was finally born.  Johnny was able to leave four of the medium sized squash he had with him on Sam’s doorstep.  Even if Sam didn’t get home that night the woman who did his cooking and housekeeping for him would find them when she arrived in the morning.

The Huebners were another story.  Their daughter, Carrie, a pretty, twenty-year-old blonde, had fancied herself in love with Johnny for over a year.  Every time she saw him in town she “just happened” to have some cookies with her that she’d made.  Or she “just happened” to bump into him coming into, or out of, the Widow Hargis’ store.  Eulalia Hargis knew what she was up to, and Johnny knew she was trying to snare him for her husband – he could tell she had, as Scott put it, set her cap for him - but her parents seemed oblivious to her shenanigans.  Scott got a good laugh, every time they saw Carrie, watching his brother try to avoid all contact with her.

Johnny approached the house, cat-footed, hoping that he could drop the squash off without being noticed.  Mentally he was cursing his brother – again – this time because Scott had assigned him the Huebners’ house to deliver too. 

“Next time we see Carrie, brother,” Johnny muttered to himself, “you’d better be ready to divert her attention away from me – or else!”

He had dropped the squash off on the extra wide porch at the Huebners and was attempting to stealthily make his way back to his horse when he tripped on a loose floorboard and found himself sprawling on the porch.  The wind got knocked out of him with a “whoosh” and the noise aroused Mr. Huebner’s old hound that was sleeping in the kitchen.  The dog started barking and the whole house was roused.

“What’s going on?” Mr. Huebner shouted.  “Patch?  What’s the matter boy?”

“Papa?”  Carrie’s voice could be heard in the hallway.  “I think somebody’s trying to break in!”

Johnny heard all this as he lay sprawled on the porch.  He lay gasping for air for another moment – just long enough for Carl Huebner to light a lamp and call for his shotgun or a rifle.  Desperation got Johnny to his feet and he ran for the horse he’d left in the trees about one hundred yards away from the house.

He wasn’t quite in the shelter of the trees when Carl Huebner appeared in the doorway with his shotgun in hand.  He saw the dark figure running toward the trees and started out of the house.  What saved Johnny was the squash he’d left on their doorstep.  Carl took two steps out of the house, tripped over the sack full of squash and then the loose floorboard that had tripped Johnny up and fell.  The shotgun went off bringing pieces of the porch roof down on his head.  In the distance he could see the “burglar” riding away just as fast as he could

“Carl?  Are you all right?” Marjorie Huebner asked her husband.

“Papa?  Did you get him?”  Carrie wanted to know.

“No, I missed,” Carl said as he picked up the fallen, but miraculously not broken, lantern.  Fortunately the lantern had landed in the yard instead of on the porch and had not ignited the bushes along the front of the porch.  “I wonder what he wanted?”

“Papa?  Where did this squash come from?” his daughter wondered.

“What squash?”

“This squash in the doorway – it must be what you tripped over.”

“It probably was,” Marjorie agreed, “but that loose floorboard needs to be fixed first thing along with the damage to the roof of the porch.”  She gave her husband a look that said she meant it to be done first thing in the morning.


An hour and a half later Johnny met his brother and the others back at their original rendezvous point.  All of them had something to say about how eventful, or uneventful, their deliveries had been.  Johnny, recovered from his fright at the Huebners, checked on his brother to make sure he hadn’t really been bitten.

“I’m fine, Johnny, quit fussing,” Scott said.

In the meantime Kevin was looking around the cave where they had their stash.  They’d managed to deliver quite a few leaving a few some here and there for people who lived alone – or had very small families – but there were still quite a few bushels of zucchini left to dispose of.  With all the work they’d gone to getting sacks from home, be it from the barn or the house, it was disheartening to see that they’d barely made a dent in their supply after being out all night.

“Hey fellas,” the sun streaked blond said, “we still have an awful lot of this stuff to get rid of.  Aren’t there some folks we missed?”

Scott looked around and nodded his agreement. “I’m afraid Kevin is right.  We have barely made a dent in it.  I guess I’ll need to rethink my list.  We left squash for a lot of people but only a few squash in any one place if they were single or had very small families.”

The five of them found seats and tried to think who they hadn’t brought any to that they felt could use it.  First up they thought of the Daltons.  Peter Dalton had recently started a newspaper in the area.  His wife, Estelle, had been afraid of Johnny when she first encountered him at the Bar T on a day when he was supposed to be helping Jim Talbot track down stray cattle in the mountains.  Johnny had been sent back to the house sick when Kevin found him having a severe coughing spell.  Estelle had heard stories of Johnny Madrid and mistakenly believed Johnny to be dangerous. 

Maura Talbot had given her an earful about it, but Estelle had heard too many stories about “Madrid” and just couldn’t see that Johnny was not a threat to her or her husband.  She was not comfortable away from high society in Boston, New York and Philadelphia.  There were no afternoon teas, calling cards or fancy dress and hat shops.  No opera and no theater to speak of.  She found it most unbearable and continually nagged at her husband to move back east.

Peter Dalton, on the other hand, really loved the wide-open spaces, the warm weather (the winter rains hadn’t arrived yet so it remained to be seen what he thought of California when he could never find dry paper to run through his printing press) and found the informality quite refreshing.  Unless his wife planned on divorcing him her chances of moving back east were slim to none.

“The Daltons are only two people,” Willie pointed out.  “How much could we possibly leave for them.”

“They’re only two people,” Scott agreed, “but he has several people working for him at the printing office.  We can leave a bushel’s worth of zucchini at the printing office – maybe with a note to divide it up among them.”  He paused for a minute, “It might help if Johnny delivered it to them and they knew it was him.”

“Wait a minute!  I thought this was supposed to be done in secret,” Johnny protested.

“It is,” Scott said.  “But it would help Mrs. Dalton realize that you’re not a threat to her just because you were a gunfighter.”

“I don’t think it makes any difference,” Kevin said.  “I’ve heard my ma talk about Mrs. Dalton.  The lady just doesn’t like it out here and hearing all those stories about Johnny has just convinced her even more that she should be living back east – or at least in San Francisco where they have opera and teas and all that stuff that high society ladies like.”

“All right,” Scott said.  “Johnny doesn’t have to be caught.  Still he could make the delivery to the newspaper office – say this Thursday.  The paper comes out on Wednesdays so there’s nobody working late on Thursday to meet the deadline.”

They all agreed to that.  Nobody wanted Johnny to be uncomfortable with this any more than they wanted to be.  The Daltons were invited to the dinners and barbecues and such because of him – not because of her.  Even Maura Talbot, who was the soul of patience, had little time for Estelle any more other than to exchange greetings.  Maura was too busy ensuring that sick and elderly neighbors had what they needed and that the orphanage had enough clothes, blankets and whatever else they needed to run a good home for the children who’d lost their parents.

“All right, now that that’s settled,” Willie said.  “Who else could we give some of this stuff to?”

They all thought about it and tossed out one name after another for consideration.  Some of them were rejected as being impractical due to the distance they lived from town.  They did agree to leave some at the Addisons.  While Buck might not have found it so funny Aggie was sure to figure out who’d left it and would find it very amusing.

“What about the orphanage?” Kevin asked.

All was silent for a split second as they very, very briefly considered this then Johnny spoke up, “NO!  We can’t do that to those innocent kids.  They haven’t done anything to deserve us sticking them with a bunch of that green monster!  We aren’t that desperate are we?”

They spent the next ten minutes putting together a new list of “customers” before heading home for bed.  The next morning they found more zucchini in their kitchens.  If  it wasn’t in the kitchens then it was in bushel baskets at the edge of the garden. Surreptitiously, each of the young men involved in the great zucchini giveaway, managed to sneak about half of what was waiting to be canned or cooked away before anybody missed it.  Somehow several of them managed to find their way to their cache and add what they’d collected that morning to what they already had.

This went on for a week before they met again on Saturday night.  Murdoch, Manuel Portillo, John Mays and Andrew Millar were all surprised when their sons chose not to go into town that night but opted to go to bed early.  Five young men went to their rooms an hour or more before the rest of their family.  Those same young men waited until they were sure that everyone else in the house, bunkhouse or the little houses where many of Lancers Mexican workers lived, was sound asleep before they slipped silently out to the barn to retrieve horses and head for their rendezvous point.

Once there they took three, or four, sacks of zucchini apiece and made their way to the places on their list.  Mayor Higgs, Val Crawford and Sam Jayson were among those who had a repeat visit although the person who had delivered to them originally did not deliver to them this time.  It was hoped, if anything went wrong during the drop, that no suspicion would fall on the other members of the group on the off chance that someone had seen anything the first time.

These deliveries were made three more times before Scott finally decided they’d better quit before the women got suspicious about where all the zucchini had gone to.  Of course the women, Teresa and Maria among them, weren’t exactly complaining either – they’d had it up to their eyeballs with the stuff.  They’d canned more zucchini that they thought they would ever use and still had beets and corn and other vegetables – especially tomatoes – waiting to be put up in jars and stored for winter use.


On a bright, sunny September Sunday Sam Jenkins arrived at Lancer for dinner.  He, the Mays, Portillos and Millars were all contributing something to the meal.  What Sam was bringing wouldn’t be welcome in anybody’s eyes but he didn’t know that.

“Sam!  Welcome!” Murdoch said.

“Thank you, Murdoch,” the old doctor said.  “How is everybody?”

“We’re all doing just fine, Sam.”  Murdoch smiled.  “No colds, influenza, broken bones, head injuries or anything – unless the boys have done something to themselves – or each other – while they’ve been playing horseshoes.”

In the background they could hear five young men shouting and laughing and the ringing sound of metal on metal as horseshoes connected with the stakes.  There was also the thud as those that missed the stakes landed in the dirt.  It was hard to tell who was winning but they all seemed to be having a good time.

“Boys!” Murdoch called.  “Sam needs some help getting some things out of the back of his buggy.  You want to lend a hand and take the stuff to the kitchen?”

The five young men came over and greeted their family doctor before approaching his buggy.  There were two bushel baskets of corn, a couple of sacks of beans, a bushel or so of tomatoes and, to the boys’ disgust, two bushel baskets of zucchini.  Five faces turned positively green at the sight and they struggled not to show their displeasure. Johnny and Scott especially but it was no use – they all let out a groan.

“Not more zucchini!” Johnny moaned.  “I’ve had a bellyful of that awful stuff!  I thought we got rid of it all!”

“We got rid of most of it,” Scott told him, “but apparently we weren’t vigilant enough.”

“What are you boys talking about,” Murdoch wanted to know fixing his sons with a hard glare.

“You know how we were getting tired of zucchini?” Scott asked his father.

“Yes, I know you were getting tired of it.  To tell you the truth so was I but I couldn’t see it go to waste.”

“Well, it’s like this Murdoch,” Johnny said willing his pals to back him up, “we decided to take matters into our own hands and get rid of it for you.”

“We didn’t waste it, Mr. Lancer,” Kevin said anxiously as his father, followed by Rico and Willie’s came up to join them.  “We just ‘liberated’ some of it and gave it away.”

“That’s right,” Willie said. “We didn’t throw any of it away – we gave it away to some of our neighbors.”

“Sí, Papa,” Rico told his bemused father.  “We just stored it in a cave and then took it to different people like Sheriff Crawford and Sheriff Jayson and Señora Hargis.”

“That’s right,” Scott said.  “We gave it to people who didn’t have big gardens or we thought they might like it.”

“Do any of our neighbors, besides Sam, here, know you boys are the ones who left them the zucchini?”  Andrew Millar inquired of his son.

“No, sir,” Kevin said with his head hanging down in embarrassment.  “We left it in the middle of the night so we wouldn’t be seen.”

The four fathers, and Sam, looked at each other for a minute and then Murdoch threw his head back and roared with laughter.  The other men followed suit a moment later – each laughing until tears rolled down their faces.

“Well, I guess that explains the zucchini Teresa thought she and Maria still had to put up,” Murdoch said to his friends.  “The boys here gave it away.”

“I can’t say as I blame them,” Andrew said with a grin.  “That stuff is awful and, thanks to Jelly giving the seeds to Kelly, the Millar family is pretty sick and tired of it, too.”

“The Mays family as well,” John agreed.  “Jimmy and Cece are getting downright mutinous at this point.”

“Sí, the Portillos also,” Manuel said with a grin.  “Convincing my wife of it is difficult though.  She worries that the children do not eat enough vegetables but even I cannot stand to see that squash on the table any more.”

“I think we’ll do the ladies a favor and dispose of this stuff elsewhere,” Murdoch said.  “No offense, Sam, but I think we’ve all had more than we want of this stuff.  Next year we’ll make sure that only a small amount gets planted.”

“I say we lynch the next person who brings zucchini near this place,” Scott said.

His brother and the Prankster Posse agreed.  They were more than ready to kill the next person that brought zucchini anywhere within their sight.

“Hey men!”  Jelly called as he approached the group.  “Look what I found!  It was hiding in the vines – must have been overlooked when we finished picking last month.

In his arms Jelly was carrying a four-foot long zucchini that had, indeed, been overlooked in the frenzy of picking all the vegetables before the winter rains would begin.  Scott, Johnny and the other boys took one look and starting advancing, menacingly, toward Jelly.

“What’s the matter with you fellas?”

“I’ll get the rope,” Johnny said.  “You fellas get rid of that squash and find a tree we can use for the hanging.”

“What hanging?  What are you boys up to?” Jelly wanted to know.

None of the boys answered as Johnny made a quick trip to the barn for a rope and returned.  Kevin took it from him and started forming a hangman’s noose.

“What’s that for?”

“That’s for you, Jelly,” Scott told him.  “You, who gave zucchini seeds to little Kelly Millar and told her to plant a whole bunch of them.”

“You who gave it to my mother,” Willie said and started moving closer to Jelly.  He reached out and took the oversized zucchini away from the old man.  “You tortured my little brother and sister for the last two months with your ‘vegetables are good for growing kids’ talk.”

“And my little brothers and sisters are also upset over having to eat so much of it,” Rico added with a frown on his handsome face. 

Kevin added, “If it weren’t for you and your zucchini Ma might have been able to plant something else.  Those zucchini seeds you gave Kelly took over the whole garden!”

“Boys,” Murdoch said.  “Don’t do anything rash, now.”

“Nothing rash, Murdoch,” his older son told him.  “We’re just going to rid the valley of one of the biggest pests it’s ever been overrun with – and it’s promoter as well.”


Jelly turned tail and ran with the five young men in hot pursuit while the five older men stood by Sam’s buggy and laughed until tears ran down their faces for the second time in less than half an hour.  Jelly could be heard, so it was said, clear to Green River, Spanish Wells and Morro Coyo as the five young men plus the younger Portillos and the two youngest Mays children chased the man responsible for the torment they’d endured all summer.  And thus ended the first – and hopefully only – Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch campaign.         



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