The Boys' Life of Mark Twain
Albert Bigelow Paine
Part 2 out of 5
Mississippi River pilot was a law unto himself--there was none above him.
His direction of the boat was absolute; he could start or lay up when he
chose; he could pass a landing regardless of business there, consulting
nobody, not even the captain; he could take the boat into what seemed
certain destruction, if he had that mind, and the captain was obliged to
stand by, helpless and silent, for the law was with the pilot in
Furthermore, the pilot was a gentleman. His work was clean and
physically light. It ended the instant the boat was tied to the landing,
and did not begin again until it was ready to back into the stream.
Also, for those days his salary was princely--the Vice-President of the
United States did not receive more. As for prestige, the Mississippi
pilot, perched high in his glass inclosure, fashionably dressed, and
commanding all below him, was the most conspicuous and showy, the most
observed and envied creature in the world. No wonder Sam Clemens, with
his love of the river and his boyish fondness for honors, should aspire
to that stately rank. Even at twenty-one he was still just a boy--as,
indeed, he was till his death--and we may imagine how elated he was,
starting up the great river as a real apprentice pilot, who in a year or
two would stand at the wheel, as his chief was now standing, a monarch
with a splendid income and all the great river packed away in his head.
In that last item lay the trouble. In the Mississippi book he tells of
it in a way that no one may hope to equal, and if the details are not
exact, the truth is there--at least in substance.
For a distance above New Orleans Mr. Bixby had volunteered information
about the river, naming the points and crossings, in what seemed a casual
way, all through his watch of four hours. Their next watch began in the
middle of the night, and Mark Twain tells how surprised and disgusted he
was to learn that pilots must get up in the night to run their boats, and
his amazement to find Mr. Bixby plunging into the blackness ahead as if
it had been daylight. Very likely this is mainly fiction, but hardly the
Presently he turned to me and said: "What's the name of the first
point above New Orleans?"
I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I
His manner jolted me. I was down at the foot again, in a moment.
But I had to say just what I had said before.
"Well, you're a smart one," said Mr. Bixby. "What's the name of the
Once more I didn't know.
"Well, this beats anything! Tell me the name of any point or place
I told you."
I studied awhile and decided that I couldn't.
"Look here! What do you start from, above Twelve Mile Point, to
"'You--you don't know,"' mimicking my drawling manner of speech.
"What do you know?"
"I--I--Nothing, for certain."
Bixby was a small, nervous man, hot and quick-firing. He went off
now, and said a number of severe things. Then:
"Look here, what do you suppose I told you the names of those points
I tremblingly considered a moment--then the devil of temptation
provoked me to say: "Well--to--to--be entertaining, I thought."
This was a red flag to the bull. He raged and stormed so (he was
crossing the river at the time) that I judged it made him blind,
because he ran over the steering-oar of a trading-scow. Of course
the traders sent up a volley of red-hot profanity. Never was a man
so grateful as Mr. Bixby was, because he was brimful, and here were
subjects who would talk back. He threw open a window, thrust his
head out, and such an irruption followed as I had never heard before
. . . . When he closed the window he was empty. Presently he
said to me, in the gentlest way:
"My boy, you must get a little memorandum-book, and every time I
tell you a thing, put it down right away. There's only one way to
be a pilot, and that is to get this entire river by heart. You have
to know it just like A-B-C."
The little memorandum-book which Sam Clemens bought, probably at the next
daylight landing, still exists--the same that he says "fairly bristled
with the names of towns, points, bars, islands, bends, reaches, etc.";
but it made his heart ache to think he had only half the river set down,
for, as the watches were four hours off and four hours on, there were the
long gaps where he had slept.
It is not easy to make out the penciled notes today. The small, neat
writing is faded, and many of them are in an abbreviation made only for
himself. It is hard even to find these examples to quote:
One-fourth less 3--run shape of upper bar and go into the low place in
the willows about 200 (ft.) lower down than last year.
OUTSIDE OF MONTEZUMA
Six or eight feet more water. Shape bar till high timber on towhead gets
nearly even with low willows. Then hold a little open on right of low
willows--run 'em close if you want to, but come out 200 yards when you
get nearly to head of towhead.
The average mind would not hold a single one of these notes ten seconds,
yet by the time he reached St. Louis he had set down pages that to-day
make one's head weary even to contemplate. And those long four-hour gaps
where he had been asleep--they are still there; and now, after nearly
sixty years, the old heartache is still in them. He must have bought a
new book for the next trip and laid this one away.
To the new "cub" it seemed a long way to St. Louis that first trip, but
in the end it was rather grand to come steaming up to the big, busy city,
with its thronging waterfront flanked with a solid mile of steamboats,
and to nose one's way to a place in that stately line.
At St. Louis, Sam borrowed from his brother-in-law the one hundred
dollars he had agreed to pay, and so closed his contract with Bixby. A
few days later his chief was engaged to go on a very grand boat indeed--a
"sumptuous temple," he tells us, all brass and inlay, with a pilot-house
so far above the water that he seemed perched on a mountain. This part
of learning the river was worth while; and when he found that the
regiment of natty servants respectfully "sir'd" him, his happiness was
But he was in the depths again, presently, for when they started down the
river and he began to take account of his knowledge, he found that he had
none. Everything had changed--that is, he was seeing it all from the
other direction. What with the four-hour gaps and this transformation,
he was lost completely.
How could the easy-going, dreamy, unpractical man whom the world knew as
Mark Twain ever have persisted against discouragement like that to
acquire the vast, the absolute, limitless store of information necessary
to Mississippi piloting? The answer is that he loved the river, the
picturesqueness and poetry of a steamboat, the ease and glory of a
pilot's life; and then, in spite of his own later claims to the contrary,
Samuel Clemens, boy and man, in the work suited to his tastes and gifts,
was the most industrious of persons. Work of the other sort he avoided,
overlooked, refused to recognize, but never any labor for which he was
qualified by his talents or training. Piloting suited him exactly, and
he proved an apt pupil.
Horace Bixby said to the writer of this memoir: "Sam was always good-
natured, and he had a natural taste for the river. He had a fine memory
and never forgot what I told him."
Yet there must have been hard places all along, for to learn every crook
and turn and stump and snag and bluff and bar and sounding of that twelve
hundred miles of mighty, shifting water was a gigantic task. Mark Twain
tells us how, when he was getting along pretty well, his chief one day
turned on him suddenly with this "settler":
"What is the shape of Walnut Bend?"
He might as well have asked me my grandmother's opinion of
protoplasm. I replied respectfully and said I didn't know it had
any particular shape. My gun-powdery chief went off with a bang, of
course, and then went on loading and firing until he was out of
adjectives ....I waited. By and by he said:
"My boy, you've got to know the shape of the river perfectly. It is
all that is left to steer by on a very dark night. Everything else
is blotted out and gone. But mind you, it hasn't got the same shape
in the night that it has in the daytime."
"How on earth am I going to learn it, then?"
"How do you follow a hall at home in the dark? Because you know the
shape of it. You can't see it."
"Do you mean to say that I've got to know all the million trifling
variations of shape in the banks of this interminable river as well
as I know the shape of the front hall at home?"
"On my honor, you've got to know them better than any man ever did
know the shapes of the halls in his own house."
"I wish I was dead!"
But the reader must turn to Chapter VIII of "Life on the Mississippi" and
read, or reread, the pages which follow this extract--nothing can better
convey the difficulties of piloting. That Samuel Clemens had the courage
to continue is the best proof, not only of his great love of the river,
but of that splendid gift of resolution that one rarely fails to find in
men of the foremost rank.
 Depth of water. One-quarter less than three fathoms.
Piloting was only a part of Sam Clemens's education on the Mississippi.
He learned as much of the reefs and shallows of human nature as of the
river-bed. In one place he writes:
In that brief, sharp schooling I got personally and familiarly
acquainted with all the different types of human nature that are to
be found in fiction, biography, or history.
All the different types, but most of them in the rough. That Samuel
Clemens kept the promise made to his mother as to drink and cards during
those apprentice days is well worth remembering.
Horace Bixby, answering a call for pilots from the Missouri River,
consigned his pupil, as was customary, tonne of the pilots of the "John
J. Roe," a freight-boat, owned and conducted by some retired farmers, and
in its hospitality reminding Sam of his Uncle John Quarles's farm. The
"Roe" was a very deliberate boat. It was said that she could beat an
island to St. Louis, but never quite overtake the current going down-
stream. Sam loved the "Roe." She was not licensed to carry passengers,
but she always had a family party of the owners' relations aboard, and
there was a big deck for dancing and a piano in the cabin. The young
pilot could play the chords, and sing, in his own fashion, about a
grasshopper that; sat on a sweet-potato vine, and about--
An old, old horse whose name was Methusalem,
Took him down and sold him in Jerusalem,
A long time ago.
The "Roe" was a heavenly place, but Sam's stay there did not last. Bixby
came down from the Missouri, and perhaps thought he was doing a fine
thing for his pupil by transferring him to a pilot named Brown, then on a
large passenger-steamer, the "Pennsylvania." The "Pennsylvania" was new
and one of the finest boats on the river. Sam Clemens, by this time, was
accounted a good steersman, so it seemed fortunate and a good arrangement
for all parties.
But Brown was a tyrant. He was illiterate and coarse, and took a dislike
to Sam from the start. His first greeting was a question, harmless
enough in form but offensive in manner.
"Are you Horace Bigsby's cub?"--Bixby being usually pronounced "Bigsby"
in river parlance.
Sam answered politely enough that he was, and Brown proceeded to comment
on the "style" of his clothes and other personal matters.
He had made an effort to please Brown, but it was no use. Brown was
never satisfied. At a moment when Sam was steering, Brown, sitting on
the bench, would shout: "Here! Where are you going now? Pull her down!
Pull her down! Do you hear me? Blamed mud-cat!"
The young pilot soon learned to detest his chief, and presently was
putting in a good deal of his time inventing punishments for him.
I could imagine myself killing Brown; there was no law against that, and
that was the thing I always used to do the moment I was abed. Instead of
going over the river in my mind, as was my duty, I threw business aside
for pleasure, and killed Brown.
He gave up trying to please Brown, and was even willing to stir him up
upon occasion. One day when the cub was at the wheel his chief noticed
that the course seemed peculiar.
"Here! Where you headin' for now?" he yelled. "What in the nation you
steerin' at, anyway? Blamed numskull!"
"Why," said Sam in his calm, slow way, "I didn't see much else I could
steer for, so I was heading for that white heifer on the bank."
"Get away from that wheel! And get outen this pilot-house!" yelled
Brown. "You ain't fitten to become no pilot!" An order that Sam found
welcome enough. The other pilot, George Ealer, was a lovable soul who
played the flute and chess during his off watch, and read aloud to Sam
from "Goldsmith" and "Shakespeare." To be with George Ealer was to
forget the persecutions of Brown.
Young Clemens had been on the river nearly a year at this time, and,
though he had learned a good deal and was really a fine steersman, he
received no wages. He had no board to pay, but there were things he must
buy, and his money supply had become limited. Each trip of the
"Pennsylvania" she remained about two days and nights in New Orleans,
during which time the young man was free. He found he could earn two and
a half to three dollars a night watching freight on the levee, and, as
this opportunity came around about once a month, the amount was useful.
Nor was this the only return; many years afterward he said:
"It was a desolate experience, watching there in the dark, among
those piles of freight; not a sound, not a living creature astir.
But it was not a profitless one. I used to have inspirations as I
sat there alone those nights. I used to imagine all sots of
situations and possibilities. These things got into my books by and
by, and furnished me with many a chapter. I can trace the effects
of those nights through most of my books, in one way and another."
Piloting, even with Brown, had its pleasant side. In St. Louis, young
Clemens stopped with his sister, and often friends were there from
Hannibal. At both ends of the line he visited friendly boats, especially
the "Roe," where a grand welcome was always waiting. Once among the
guests of that boat a young girl named Laura so attracted him that he
forgot time and space until one of the "Roe" pilots, Zeb Leavenworth,
came flying aft, shouting:
"The "Pennsylvania" is backing out!"
A hasty good-by, a wild flight across the decks of several boats, and a
leap across several feet of open water closed the episode. He wrote to
Laura, but there was no reply. He never saw her again, never heard from
her for nearly fifty years, when both were widowed and old. She had not
received his letter.
Occasionally there were stirring adventures aboard the "Pennsylvania."
In a letter written in March, 1858, the young pilot tells of an exciting
night search in the running ice for Hat Island soundings:
Brown, the pilot, stood in the bow with an oar, to keep her head out, and
I took the tiller. We would start the men, and all would go well until
the yawl would bring us on a heavy cake of ice, and then the men would
drop like so many tenpins, while Brown assumed the horizontal in the
bottom of the boat. After an hour's hard work we got back, with ice half
an inch thick on the oars . . . . The next day was colder still. I
was out in the yawl twice, and then we got through, but the infernal
steamboat came near running over us . . . . The "Maria Denning" was
aground at the head of the island; they hailed us; we ran alongside, and
they hoisted us in and thawed us out. We had been out in the yawl from
four in the morning until half-past nine without being near a fire.
There was a thick coating of ice over men and yawl, ropes, and
everything, and we looked like rock-candy statuary.
He was at the right age to enjoy such adventures, and to feel a pride in
them. In the same letter he tells how he found on the "Pennsylvania" a
small clerkship for his brother Henry, who was now nearly twenty, a
handsome, gentle boy of whom Sam was lavishly fond and proud. The young
pilot was eager to have Henry with him--to see him started in life. How
little he dreamed what sorrow would come of his well-meant efforts in the
lad's behalf! Yet he always believed, later, that he had a warning, for
one night at the end of May, in St. Louis, he had a vivid dream, which
time would presently fulfil.
An incident now occurred on the "Pennsylvania" that closed Samuel
Clemens's career on that boat. It was the down trip, and the boat was in
Eagle Bend when Henry Clemens appeared on the hurricane deck with an
announcement from the captain of a landing a little lower down. Brown,
who would never own that he was rather deaf, probably misunderstood the
order. They were passing the landing when the captain appeared on the
"Didn't Henry tell you to land here?" he called to Brown.
Captain Klinefelter turned to Sam. "Didn't you hear him?"
Brown said: "Shut your mouth! You never heard anything of the kind!"
Henry appeared, not suspecting any trouble.
Brown said, fiercely, "Here, why didn't you tell me we had got to land at
"I did tell you, Mr. Brown," Henry said, politely.
"It's a lie!"
Sam Clemens could stand Brown's abuse of himself, but not of Henry. He
said: "You lie yourself. He did tell you!"
For a cub pilot to defy his chief was unheard of. Brown was dazed, then
"I'll attend to your case in half a minute!" And to Henry, "Get out of
Henry had started when Brown seized him by the collar and struck him in
the face. An instant later Sam was upon Brown with a heavy stool and
stretched him on the floor. Then all the repressed fury of months broke
loose; and, leaping upon Brown and holding him down with his knees,
Samuel Clemens pounded the tyrant with his fists till his strength gave
out. He let Brown go then, and the latter, with pilot instinct, sprang
to the wheel, for the boat was drifting. Seeing she was safe, he seized
a spy-glass as a weapon and ordered his chastiser out of the pilot-house.
But Sam lingered. He had become very calm, and he openly corrected
"Don't give me none of your airs!" yelled Brown. "I ain't goin' to stand
nothin' more from you!"
"You should say, `Don't give me any of your airs,'" Sam said, sweetly,
"and the last half of your sentence almost defies correction."
A group of passengers and white-aproned servants, assembled on the deck
forward, applauded the victor. Sam went down to find Captain
Klinefelter. He expected to be put in irons, for it was thought to be
mutiny to strike a pilot.
The captain took Sam into his private room and made some inquiries. Mark
Twain, in the "Mississippi" boot remembers them as follows:
"Did you strike him first?" Captain Klinefelter asked.
"A stool, sir."
"Did it knock him down?"
"He--he fell, sir."
"Did you follow it up? Did you do anything further?"
"What did you do?"
"Pounded him, sir."
"Did you pound him much--that is, severely?"
"One might call it that, sir, maybe."
"I am mighty glad of it! Hark ye--never mention that I said that! You
have been guilty of a great crime; and don't ever be guilty of it again
on this boat, but--lay for him ashore! Give him a good, sound thrashing,
do you hear? I'll pay the expenses."
In a letter which Samuel Clemens wrote to Orion's wife, immediately after
this incident, he gives the details of the encounter with Brown and
speaks of Captain Klinefelter's approval. Brown declared he would
leave the boat at New Orleans if Sam Clemens remained on it, and the
captain told him to go, offering to let Sam himself run the daylight
watches back to St. Louis, thus showing his faith in the young steersman.
The "cub," however, had less confidence, and advised that Brown be kept
for the up trip, saying he would follow by the next boat. It was a
decision that probably saved his life.
That night, watching on the levee, Henry joined him, when his own duties
were finished, and the brothers made the round together. It may have
been some memory of his dream that made Samuel Clemens say:
"Henry, in case of accident, whatever you do, don't lose your head--the
passengers will do that. Rush for the hurricane-deck and to the life-
boat, and obey the mate's orders. When the boat is launched, help the
women and children into it. Don't get in yourself. The river is only a
mile wide. You can swim ashore easily enough."
It was good, manly advice, but a long grief lay behind it.
 In the Mississippi book the author says that Brown was about to
strike Henry with a lump of coal, but in the letter above mentioned the
details are as here given.
THE WRECK OF THE "PENNSYLVANIA"
The "A. T. Lacy," that brought Samuel Clemens up the river, was two days
behind the "Pennsylvania." At Greenville, Mississippi, a voice from
the landing shouted "The "Pennsylvania" is blown up just below Memphis,
at Ship Island. One hundred and fifty lives lost!"
It proved a true report. At six o'clock that warm mid-June morning,
while loading wood, sixty miles below Memphis, four out of eight of the
Pennsylvania's boilers had suddenly exploded, with fearful results.
Henry Clemens had been one of the victims. He had started to swim for
the shore, only a few hundred yards away, but had turned back to assist
in the rescue of others. What followed could not be clearly learned. He
was terribly injured, and died on the fourth night after the catastrophe.
His brother was with him by that time, and believed he recognized the
exact fulfilment of his dream.
The young pilot's grief was very great. In a letter home he spoke of the
dying boy as "My darling, my pride, my glory, my all." His heavy sorrow,
and the fact that with unsparing self-blame he held himself in a measure
responsible for his brother's tragic death, saddened his early life. His
early gaiety came back, but his face had taken on the serious, pathetic
look which from that time it always wore in repose. Less than twenty-
three, he had suddenly the look of thirty, and while Samuel Clemens in
spirit, temperament, and features never would become really old, neither
would he ever look really young again.
He returned to the river as steersman for George Ealer, whom he loved,
and in September of that year obtained a full license as Mississippi
River pilot from St. Louis to New Orleans. In eighteen months he had
packed away in his head all those wearisome details and acquired that
confidence that made him one of the elect. He knew every snag and bank
and dead tree and depth in all those endless miles of shifting current,
every cut-off and crossing. He could read the surface of the water by
day, he could smell danger in the dark. To the writer of these chapters,
Horace Bixby said:
"In a year and a half from the time he came to the river, Sam was not
only a pilot, but a good one. Sam was a fine pilot, and in a day when
piloting on the Mississippi required a great deal more brains and skill
and application than it does now. There were no signal-lights along the
shore in those days, and no search-lights on the vessels; everything was
blind; and on a dark, misty night, in a river full of snags and shifting
sandbars and changing shores, a pilot's judgment had to be founded on
Bixby had returned from the Missouri by the time his pupil's license was
issued, and promptly took him as full partner on the "Crescent City," and
later on a fine new boat, the "New Falls City." Still later, they appear
to have been together on a very large boat, the "City of Memphis," and
again on the "Alonzo Child."
For Samuel Clemens these were happy days--the happiest, in some respects,
he would ever know. He had plenty of money now. He could help his
mother with a liberal hand, and could put away fully a hundred dollars a
month for himself. He had few cares, and he loved the ease and romance
and independence of his work as he would never quite love anything again.
His popularity on the river was very great. His humorous stories and
quaint speech made a crowd collect wherever he appeared. There were
pilot-association rooms in St. Louis and New Orleans, and his appearance
at one of these places was a signal for the members to gather.
A friend of those days writes: "He was much given to spinning yarns so
funny that his hearers were convulsed, and yet all the time his own face
was perfectly sober. Occasionally some of his droll yarns got into the
papers. He may have written them himself."
Another old river-man remembers how, one day, at the association, they
were talking of presence of mind in an accident, when Pilot Clemens said:
"Boys, I had great presence of mind once. It was at a fire. An old man
leaned out of a four-story building, calling for help. Everybody in the
crowd below looked up, but nobody did anything. The ladders weren't long
enough. Nobody had any presence of mind--nobody but me. I came to the
rescue. I yelled for a rope. When it came I threw the old man the end
of it. He caught it, and I told him to tie it around his waist. He did
so, and I pulled him down."
This was a story that found its way into print, probably his own
"Sam was always scribbling when not at the wheel," said Bixby, "but the
best thing he ever did was the burlesque of old Isaiah Sellers. He
didn't write it for print, but only for his own amusement and to show to
a few of the boys. Bart Bowen, who was with him on the "Edward J. Gay"
at the time, got hold of it, and gave it to one of the New Orleans
The burlesque on Captain Sellers would be of little importance if it were
not for its association with the origin, or, at least, with the
originator, of what is probably the best known of literary names--the
name Mark Twain.
This strong, happy title--a river term indicating a depth of two fathoms
on the sounding-line--was first used by the old pilot, Isaiah Sellers,
who was a sort of "oldest inhabitant" of the river, with a passion for
airing his ancient knowledge before the younger men. Sellers used to
send paragraphs to the papers, quaint and rather egotistical in tone,
usually beginning, "My opinion for the citizens of New Orleans," etc.,
prophesying river conditions and recalling memories as far back as 1811.
These he generally signed "Mark Twain."
Naturally, the younger pilots amused themselves by imitating Sellers, and
when Sam Clemens wrote abroad burlesque of the old man's contributions,
relating a perfectly impossible trip, supposed to have been made in 1763
with a Chinese captain and a Choctaw crew, it was regarded as a
masterpiece of wit.
It appeared in the "True Delta" in May, 1859, and broke Captain Sellers's
literary heart. He never wrote another paragraph. Clemens always
regretted the whole matter deeply, and his own revival of the name
afterward was a sort of tribute to the old man he had thoughtlessly and
Old pilots of that day remembered Samuel Clemens as a slender, fine-
looking man, well dressed, even dandified, generally wearing blue serge,
with fancy shirts, white duck trousers, and patent-leather shoes. A
pilot could do that, for his surroundings were speckless.
The pilots regarded him as a great reader--a student of history, travels,
and the sciences. In the association rooms they often saw him poring
over serious books. He began the study of French one day in New Orleans,
when he had passed a school of languages where French, German, and
Italian were taught, one in each of three rooms. The price vas twenty-
five dollars for one language, or three for fifty. The student was
provided with a set of conversation cards for each, and was supposed to
walk from one apartment to another, changing his nationality at each
threshold. The young pilot, with his usual enthusiasm, invested in all
three languages, but after a few round trips decided that French would
do. He did not return to the school, but kept the cards and added text-
books. He studied faithfully when off watch and in port, and his old
river note-book, still preserved, contains a number of advanced
exercises, neatly written out.
Still more interesting are the river notes themselves. They are not the
timid, hesitating memoranda of the "little book" which, by Bixby's
advice, he bought for his first trip. They are quick, vigorous records
that show confidence and knowledge. Under the head of "Second high-water
trip--Jan., 1861 'Alonzo Child,'" the notes tell the story of a rising
river, with overflowing banks, blind passages, and cut-offs--a new river,
in fact, that must be judged by a perfect knowledge of the old--guessed,
but guessed right.
Good deal of water all over Cole's Creek Chute, 12 or 15 ft. bank--could
have gone up above General Taylor's--too much drift . . . .
Night--didn't run either 77 or 76 towheads--8-ft. bank on main shore
To the reader to-day it means little enough, but one may imagine,
perhaps, a mile-wide sweep of boiling water, full of drift, shifting
currents with newly forming bars, and a lone figure in the dark pilot-
house, peering into the night for blind and disappearing landmarks.
But such nights were not all there was of piloting. There were glorious
nights when the stars were blazing out, and the moon was on the water,
and the young pilot could follow a clear channel and dream long dreams.
He was very serious at such times--he reviewed the world's history he had
read, he speculated on the future, he considered philosophies, he lost
himself in a study of the stars. Mark Twain's love of astronomy, which
never waned until his last day, began with those lonely river watches.
Once a great comet blazed in the sky, a "wonderful sheaf of light," and
glorified his long hours at the wheel.
Samuel Clemens was now twenty-five, full of health and strong in his
courage. In the old notebook there remains a well-worn clipping, the
words of some unknown writer, which he may have kept as a sort of creed:
HOW TO TAKE LIFE.--Take it just as though it was--as it is--an earnest,
vital, and important affair. Take it as though you were born to the task
of performing a merry part in it--as though the world had awaited for
your coming. Take it as though it was a grand opportunity to do and
achieve, to carry forward great and good schemes to help and cheer a
suffering, weary, it may be heartbroken, brother. Now and then a man
stands aside from the crowd, labors earnestly, steadfastly, confidently,
and straightway becomes famous for wisdom, intellect, skill, greatness of
some sort. The world wonders, admires, idolizes, and it only illustrates
what others may do if they take hold of life with a purpose. The
miracle, or the power that elevates the few, is to be found in their
industry, application, and perseverance under the promptings of a brave,
Bixby and Clemens were together that winter on the "Child," and were the
closest friends. Once the young pilot invited his mother to make the
trip to New Orleans, and the river journey and a long drive about the
beautiful Southern city filled Jane Clemens with wonder and delight. She
no longer shad any doubts of Sam. He had long since become the head of
the family. She felt called upon to lecture him, now and then, but down
in her heart she believed that he could really do no wrong. They joked
each other unmercifully, and her wit, never at a loss, was quite as keen
THE END OF PILOTING
When one remembers how much Samuel Clemens loved the river, and how
perfectly he seemed suited to the ease and romance of the pilot-life, one
is almost tempted to regret that it should so soon have come to an end.
Those trips of early '61, which the old note-book records, were the last
he would ever make. The golden days of Mississippi steam-boating were
Nobody, however, seemed to suspect it. Even a celebrated fortune-teller
in New Orleans, whom the young pilot one day consulted as to his future,
did not mention the great upheaval then close at hand. She told him
quite remarkable things, and gave him some excellent advice, but though
this was February, 1861, she failed to make any mention of the Civil War!
Yet, a month later, Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated and trouble was in
the air. Then in April Fort Sumter was fired upon and the war had come.
It was a feverish time among the pilots. Some were for the Union--others
would go with the Confederacy. Horace Bixby stood for the North, and in
time was chief of the Union river-service. A pilot named Montgomery
(Clemens had once steered for him) went with the South and by and by
commanded the Confederate Mississippi fleet. In the beginning a good
many were not clear as to their opinions. Living both North and South,
as they did, they divided their sympathies. Samuel Clemens was
thoughtful, and far from bloodthirsty. A pilothouse, so fine and showy
in times of peace, seemed a poor place to be in when fighting was going
on. He would consider the matter.
"I am not anxious to get up into a glass perch and be shot at by either
side," he said. "I'll go home and reflect."
He went up the river as a passenger on a steamer named the "Uncle Sam."
Zeb Leavenworth, formerly of the "John J. Roe," was one of the pilots,
and Clemens usually stood the watch with him. At Memphis they barely
escaped the blockade. At Cairo they saw soldiers drilling--troops later
commanded by Grant.
The "Uncle Sam" came steaming up to St. Louis, glad to have slipped
through safely. They were not quite through, however. Abreast of
Jefferson Barracks they heard the boom of a cannon, and a great ring of
smoke drifted in their direction. They did not recognize it as a
thunderous "Halt!" and kept on. Less than a minute later, a shell
exploded directly in front of the pilot-house, breaking a lot of glass
and damaging the decoration. Zeb Leavenworth tumbled into a corner.
"Gee-mighty, Sam!" he said. "What do they mean by that?"
Clemens stepped from the visitors' bench to the wheel and brought the
"I guess--they want us--to wait a minute--Zeb," he said.
They were examined and passed. It was the last steamboat to make the
trip through from New Orleans to St. Louis. Mark Twain's pilot days were
over. He would have grieved had he known this fact.
"I loved the profession far better than any I have followed since," he
long afterward declared, "and I took a measureless pride in it."
At the time, like many others, he expected the war to be brief, and his
life to be only temporarily interrupted. Within a year, certainly, he
would be back in the pilot-house. Meantime the war must be settled; he
would go up to Hannibal to see about it.
When he reached Hannibal, Samuel Clemens found a very mixed condition of
affairs. The country was in an uproar of war preparation; in a border
State there was a confusion of sympathies, with much ignorance as to what
it was all about. Any number of young men were eager to enlist for a
brief camping-out expedition, and small private companies were formed,
composed about half-and-half of Union and Confederate men, as it turned
Missouri, meantime, had allied herself with the South, and Samuel
Clemens, on his arrival in Hannibal, decided that, like Lee, he would go
with his State. Old friends, who were getting up a company "to help
Governor `Claib' Jackson repel the invader," offered him a lieutenancy if
he would join. It was not a big company; it had only about a dozen
members, most of whom had been schoolmates, some of them fellow-pilots,
and Sam Clemens was needed to make it complete. It was just another Tom
Sawyer band, and they met in a secret place above Bear Creek Hill and
planned how they would sell their lives on the field of glory, just as
years before fierce raids had been arranged on peach-orchards and melon-
patches. Secrecy was necessary, for the Union militia had a habit of
coming over from Illinois and arresting suspicious armies on sight. It
would humiliate the finest army in the world to spend a night or two in
So they met secretly at night, and one mysterious evening they called on
girls who either were their sweethearts or were pretending to be for the
occasion, and when the time came for good-by the girls were invited to
"walk through the pickets" with them, though the girls didn't notice any
pickets, because the pickets were calling on their girls, too, and were a
little late getting to their posts.
That night they marched, through brush and vines, because the highroad
was thought to be dangerous, and next morning arrived at the home of
Colonel Ralls, of Ralls County, who had the army form in dress parade and
made it a speech and gave it a hot breakfast in good Southern style.
Then he sent out to Col. Bill Splawn and Farmer Nuck Matson a requisition
for supplies that would convert this body of infantry into cavalry--
rough-riders of that early day. The community did not wish to keep an
army on its hands, and were willing to send it along by such means as
they could spare handily. When the outfitting was complete, Lieutenant
Samuel Clemens, mounted on a small yellow mule whose tail had been
trimmed in the paint-brush pattern then much worn by mules, and
surrounded by variously attached articles--such as an extra pair of
cowhide boots, a pair of gray blankets, a home-made quilt, a frying-pan,
a carpet-sack, a small valise, an overcoat, an old-fashioned Kentucky
rifle, twenty yards of rope, and an umbrella--was a fair sample of the
An army like that, to enjoy itself, ought to go into camp; so it went
over to Salt River, near the town of Florida, and took up headquarters in
a big log stable. Somebody suggested that an army ought to have its hair
cut, so that in a hand-to-hand conflict the enemy could not get hold of
it. There was a pair of sheep-shears in the stable, and Private Tom
Lyons acted as barber. They were not sharp shears, and a group of little
darkies gathered from the farm to enjoy the torture.
Regular elections were now held--all officers, down to sergeants and
orderlies, being officially chosen. There were only three privates, and
you couldn't tell them from officers. The discipline in that army was
It became worse soon. Pouring rain set in. Salt River rose and
overflowed the bottoms. Men ordered on picket duty climbed up into the
stable-loft and went to bed. Twice, on black, drenching nights, word
came from the farmhouse that the enemy, commanded by a certain Col.
Ulysses Grant, was in the neighborhood, and the Hannibal division went
hastily slopping through mud and brush in the other direction, dragging
wearily back when the alarm was over. Military ardor was bound to cool
under such treatment. Then Lieutenant Clemens developed a very severe
boil, and was obliged to lie most of the day on some hay in a horse-
trough, where he spent his time denouncing the war and the mistaken souls
who had invented it. When word that "General" Tom Harris, commander of
the district--formerly telegraph-operator in Hannibal--was at a near-by
farm-house, living on the fat of the land, the army broke camp without
further ceremony. Halfway there they met General Harris, who ordered
them back to quarters. They called him familiarly "Tom," and told him
they were through with that camp forever. He begged them, but it was no
use. A little farther on they stopped at a farm-house for supplies. A
tall, bony woman came to the door.
"You're Secesh, ain't you?"
Lieutenant Clemens said: "We are, madam, defenders of the noble cause,
and we should like to buy a few provisions."
The request seemed to inflame her.
"Provisions!" she screamed. "Provisions for Secesh, and my husband a
colonel in the Union Army. You get out of here!"
She reached for a hickory hoop-pole  that stood by the door, and the
army moved on. When they reached the home of Col. Bill Splawn it was
night and the family had gone to bed. So the hungry army camped in the
barn-yard and crept into the hay-loft to sleep. Presently somebody
yelled "Fire!" One of the boys had been smoking and had ignited the hay.
Lieutenant Clemens, suddenly wakened, made a quick rotary movement away
from the blaze, and rolled out of a big hay-window into the barn-yard
below. The rest of the brigade seized the burning hay and pitched it out
of the same window. The lieutenant had sprained his ankle when he
struck, and his boil was still painful, but the burning hay cured him--
for the moment. He made a spring from under it; then, noticing that the
rest of the army, now that the fire was out, seemed to think his
performance amusing, he rose up and expressed himself concerning the war,
and military life, and the human race in general. They helped him in,
then, for his ankle was swelling badly.
In the morning, Colonel Splawn gave the army a good breakfast, and it
moved on. Lieutenant Clemens, however, did not get farther than Farmer
Nuck Matson's. He was in a high fever by that time from his injured
ankle, and Mrs. Matson put him to bed. So the army left him, and
presently disbanded. Some enlisted in the regular service, North or
South, according to preference. Properly officered and disciplined, that
"Tom Sawyer" band would have made as good soldiers as any.
Lieutenant Clemens did not enlist again. When he was able to walk, he
went to visit Orion in Keokuk. Orion was a Union Abolitionist, but there
would be no unpleasantness on that account. Samuel Clemens was beginning
to have leanings in that direction himself.
 In an earlier day, barrel hoops were made of small hickory trees,
split and shaved. The hoop-pole was a very familiar article of commerce,
and of household defense.
He arrived in Keokuk at what seemed a lucky moment. Through Edward
Bates, a member of Lincoln's Cabinet, Orion Clemens had received an
appointment as territorial secretary of Nevada, and only needed the money
to carry him to the seat of his office at Carson City. Out of his
pilot's salary his brother had saved more than enough for the journey,
and was willing to pay both their fares and go along as private secretary
to Orion, whose position promised something in the way of adventure and a
possible opportunity for making a fortune.
The brothers went at once to St. Louis for final leave-taking, and there
took boat for "St. Jo," Missouri, terminus of the great Overland Stage
Route. They paid one hundred and fifty dollars each for their passage,
and about the end of July, 1861, set out on that long, delightful trip,
behind sixteen galloping horses, never stopping except for meals or to
change teams, heading steadily into the sunset over the billowy plains
and snow-clad Rockies, covering the seventeen hundred miles between St.
Jo and Carson City in nineteen glorious days.
But one must read Mark Twain's "Roughing It" for the story of that long-
ago trip--the joy and wonder of it, and the inspiration. "Even at this
day," he writes, "it thrills me through and through to think of the life,
the gladness, and the wild sense of freedom that used to make the blood
dance in my face on those fine overland mornings."
It was a hot dusty, August day when they arrived, dusty, unshaven, and
weather-beaten, and Samuel Clemens's life as a frontiersman began.
Carson City, the capital of Nevada, was a wooden town with an assorted
population of two thousand souls. The mining excitement was at its
height and had brought together the drift of every race.
The Clemens brothers took up lodgings with a genial Irishwoman, the Mrs.
O'Flannigan of "Roughing It," and Orion established himself in a modest
office, for there was no capitol building as yet, no government
headquarters. Orion could do all the work, and Samuel Clemens, finding
neither duties nor salary attached to his position, gave himself up to
the study of the life about him, and to the enjoyment of the freedom of
the frontier. Presently he had a following of friends who loved his
quaint manner of speech and his yarns. On cool nights they would collect
about Orion's office-stove, and he would tell stories in the wonderful
way that one day would delight the world. Within a brief time Sam
Clemens (he was always "Sam" to the pioneers) was the most notable figure
on the Carson streets. His great, bushy head of auburn hair, has
piercing, twinkling eyes, his loose, lounging walk, his careless disorder
of dress invited a second look, even from strangers. From a river dandy
he had become the roughest-clad of pioneers--rusty slouch hat, flannel
shirt, coarse trousers slopping half in and half out of heavy cowhide
boots, this was his make-up. Energetic citizens did not prophesy success
for him. Often they saw him leaning against an awning support, staring
drowsily at the motley human procession, for as much as an hour at a
time. Certainly that could not be profitable.
But they did like to hear him talk.
He did not catch the mining fever at once. He was interested first in
the riches that he could see. Among these was the timber-land around
Lake Bigler (now Tahoe)--splendid acres, to be had for the asking. The
lake itself was beautifully situated.
With an Ohio boy, John Kinney, he made an excursion afoot to Tahoe, a
trip described in one of the best chapters of "Roughing It." They staked
out a timber claim and pretended to fence it and to build a house, but
their chief employment was loafing in the quiet luxury of the great woods
or drifting in a boat on the transparent water. They did not sleep in
the house. In "Roughing It" he says:
"It never occurred to us, for one thing; and, besides, it was built
to hold the ground, and that was enough. We did not wish to strain
They made their camp-fires on the borders of the lake, and one evening it
got away from them, fired the forest, and destroyed their fences and
habitation. In a letter home he describes this fire in a fine, vivid
way. At one place he says:
"The level ranks of flame were relieved at intervals by the standard-
bearers, as we called the tall dead trees, wrapped in fire, and
waving their blazing banners a hundred feet in the air. Then we
could turn from the scene to the lake, and see every branch and leaf
and cataract of flame upon its banks perfectly reflected, as in a
gleaming, fiery mirror."
He was acquiring the literary vision and touch. The description of this
same fire in "Roughing It," written ten years later, is scarcely more
Most of his letters home at this time tell of glowing prospects--the
certainty of fortune ahead. The fever of the frontier is in them. Once,
to Pamela Moffett, he wrote:
"Orion and I have enough confidence in this country to think that, if
the war lets us alone, we can make Mr. Moffett rich without its ever
costing him a cent or a particle of trouble."
From the same letter we gather that the brothers are now somewhat
interested in mining claims:
"We have about 1,650 feet of mining-ground, and, if it proves good,
Mr. Moffett's name will go in; and if not, I can get 'feet' for him
in the spring."
This was written about the end of October. Two months later, in
midwinter, the mining fever came upon him with full force.
The wonder is that Samuel Clemens, always speculative and visionary, had
not fallen an earlier victim. Everywhere one heard stories of sudden
fortune--of men who had gone to bed paupers and awakened millionaires.
New and fabulous finds were reported daily. Cart-loads of bricks--silver
and gold bricks--drove through the Carson streets.
Then suddenly from the newly opened Humboldt region came the wildest
reports. The mountains there were said to be stuffed with gold. A
correspondent of the "Territorial Enterprise" was unable to find words to
picture the riches of the Humboldt mines.
The air for Samuel Clemens began to shimmer. Fortune was waiting to be
gathered in a basket. He joined the first expedition for Humboldt--in
fact, helped to organize it. In "Roughing It" he says:
"Hurry was the word! We wasted no time. Our party consisted of four
persons--a blacksmith sixty years of age, two young lawyers, and
myself. We bought a wagon and two miserable old horses. We put
eighteen hundred pounds of provisions and mining-tools in the wagon
and drove out of Carson on a chilly December afternoon.."
The two young lawyers were W. H. Clagget, whom Clemens had known in
Keokuk, and A. W. Oliver, called Oliphant in "Roughing It." The
blacksmith was named Tillou (Ballou in "Roughing It"), a sturdy, honest
man with a knowledge of mining and the repair of tools. There were also
two dogs in the party--a curly-tailed mongrel and a young hound.
The horses were the weak feature of the expedition. It was two hundred
miles to Humboldt, mostly across sand. The miners rode only a little
way, then got out to lighten the load. Later they pushed. Then it began
to snow, also to blow, and the air became filled with whirling clouds of
snow and sand. On and on they pushed and groaned, sustained by the
knowledge that they must arrive some time, when right away they would be
millionaires and all their troubles would be over.
The nights were better. The wind went down and they made a camp-fire in
the shelter of the wagon, cooked their bacon, crept under blankets with
the dogs to warm them, and Sam Clemens spun yarns till they fell asleep.
There had been an Indian war, and occasionally they passed the charred
ruin of a cabin and new graves. By and by they came to that deadly waste
known as the Alkali Desert, strewn with the carcasses of dead beasts and
with the heavy articles discarded by emigrants in their eagerness to
reach water. All day and night they pushed through that choking,
waterless plain to reach camp on the other side. When they arrived at
three in the morning, they dropped down exhausted. Judge Oliver, the
last survivor of the party, in a letter to the writer of these chapters,
"The sun was high in the heavens when we were aroused from our sleep
by a yelling band of Piute warriors. We were upon our feet in an
instant. The picture of burning cabins and the lonely graves we had
passed was in our minds. Our scalps were still our own, and not
dangling from the belts of our visitors. Sam pulled himself
together, put his hand on his head, as if to make sure he had not
been scalped, and, with his inimitable drawl, said 'Boys, they have
left us our scalps. Let us give them all the flour and sugar they
ask for.' And we did give them a good supply, for we were grateful."
The Indians left them unharmed, and the prospective millionaires moved
on. Across that two hundred miles to the Humboldt country they pushed,
arriving at the little camp of Unionville at the end of eleven weary
In "Roughing It" Mark Twain has told us of Unionville and the mining
experience there. Their cabin was a three-sided affair with a cotton
roof. Stones rolled down the mountainside on them; also, the author
says, a mule and a cow.
The author could not gather fortune in a basket, as he had dreamed.
Masses of gold and silver were not lying about. He gathered a back-load
of yellow, glittering specimens, but they proved worthless. Gold in the
rough did not glitter, and was not yellow. Tillou instructed the others
in prospecting, and they went to work with pick and shovel--then with
drill and blasting-powder. The prospect of immediately becoming
"One week of this satisfied me. I resigned," is Mark Twain's brief
The Humboldt reports had been exaggerated. The Clemens-Clagget-Oliver-
Tillou millionaire combination soon surrendered its claims. Clemens and
Tillou set out for Carson City with a Prussian named Pfersdorff, who
nearly got them drowned and got them completely lost in the snow before
they arrived there. Oliver and Clagget remained in Unionville, began law
practice, and were elected to office. It is not known what became of the
wagon and horses and the two dogs.
It was the end of January when our miner returned to Carson. He was not
discouraged--far from it. He believed he had learned something that
would be useful to him in a camp where mines were a reality. Within a
few weeks from his return we find him at Aurora, in the Esmeralda region,
on the edge of California. It was here that the Clemens brothers owned
the 1,650 feet formerly mentioned. He had came down to work it.
It was the dead of winter, but he was full of enthusiasm, confident of a
fortune by early summer. To Pamela he wrote:
"I expect to return to St. Louis in July--per steamer. I don't say
that I will return then, or that I shall be able to do it--but I
expect to--you bet . . . . If nothing goes wrong, we'll strike
the ledge in June."
He was trying to be conservative, and further along he cautions his
sister not to get excited.
"Don't you know I have only talked as yet, but proved nothing? Don't
you know I have never held in my hands a gold or silver bar that
belonged to me? Don't you know that people who always feel jolly,
no matter where they are or what happens to them--who have the organ
of hope preposterously developed--who are endowed with an
uncongealable, sanguine temperament--who never feel concerned about
the price of corn--and who cannot, by any possibility, discover any
but the bright side of a picture--are very apt to go to extremes and
exaggerate with a 40-horse microscopic power?
In the bright lexicon of youth,
There is no such word as fail,
and I'll prove it."
Whereupon he soars again, adding page after page full of glowing
expectations and plans such as belong only with speculation in treasures
buried in the ground--a very difficult place, indeed, to find them.
His money was about exhausted by this time, and funds to work the mining
claims must come out of Orion's rather modest salary. The brothers owned
all claims in partnership, and it was now the part of "Brother Sam" to do
the active work. He hated the hard picking and prying and blasting into
the flinty ledges, but the fever drove him on. He camped with a young
man named Phillips at first, and, later on, with an experienced miner,
Calvin H. Higbie, to whom "Roughing It" would one day be dedicated. They
lived in a tiny cabin with a cotton roof, and around their rusty stove
they would paw over their specimens and figure the fortune that their
mines would be worth in the spring.
Food ran low, money gave out almost entirely, but they did not give up.
When it was stormy and they could not dig, and the ex-pilot was in a
talkative vein, he would sit astride the bunk and distribute to his
hearers riches more valuable than any they would dig from the Esmeralda
hills. At other times he did not talk at all, but sat in a corner and
wrote. They thought he was writing home; they did not know that he was
"literary." Some of his home letters had found their way into a Keokuk
paper and had come back to Orion, who had shown them to an assistant on
the "Territorial Enterprise," of Virginia City. The "Enterprise" man had
caused one of them to be reprinted, and this had encouraged its author to
send something to the paper direct. He signed these contributions
"Josh," and one told of:
"An old, old horse whose name was Methusalem,
Took him down and sold him in Jerusalem,
A long time ago."
He received no pay for these offerings and expected none. He considered
them of no value. If any one had told him that he was knocking at the
door of the house of fame, however feebly, he would have doubted that
person's judgment or sincerity.
His letters to Orion, in Carson City, were hasty compositions, reporting
progress and progress, or calling for remittances to keep the work going.
On April 13, he wrote:
"Work not begun on the Horatio and Derby--haven't seen it yet. It is
still in the snow. Shall begin on it within three or four weeks--
strike the ledge in July."
Again, later in the month:
"I have been at work all day, blasting and digging in one of our new
claims, 'Dashaway,' which I don't think a great deal of, but which I
am willing to try. We are down now ten or twelve feet."
It must have been disheartening work, picking away at the flinty ledges.
There is no further mention of the "Dashaway," but we hear of the
"Flyaway," the "Annipolitan," the "Live Yankee," and of many another,
each of which holds out a beacon of hope for a brief moment, then passes
from notice forever. Still, he was not discouraged. Once he wrote:
"I am a citizen here and I am satisfied, though 'Ratio and I are
'strapped' and we haven't three days' rations in the house. I shall
work the "Monitor" and the other claims with my own hands.
"The pick and shovel are the only claims I have confidence in now,"
he wrote, later; "my back is sore and my hands are blistered with
handling them to-day."
His letters began to take on a weary tone. Once in midsummer he wrote
that it was still snowing up there in the hills, and added, "It always
snows here I expect. If we strike it rich, I've lost my guess, that's
all." And the final heartsick line, "Don't you suppose they have pretty
much quit writing at home?"
In time he went to work in a quartz-mill at ten dollars a week, though it
was not entirely for the money, as in "Roughing It" he would have us
believe. Samuel Clemens learned thoroughly what he undertook, and he
proposed to master the science of mining. From Phillips and Higbie he
had learned what there was to know about prospecting. He went to the
mill to learn refining, so that, when his claims developed, he could
establish a mill and personally superintend the work. His stay was
brief. He contracted a severe cold and came near getting poisoned by the
chemicals. Recovering, he went with Higbie for an outing to Mono Lake, a
ghastly, lifeless alkali sea among the hills, vividly described in
At another time he went with Higbie on a walking trip to the Yosemite,
where they camped and fished undisturbed, for in those days few human
beings came to that far isolation. Discouragement did not reach them
there--amid that vast grandeur and quiet the quest for gold hardly seemed
worth while. Now and again that summer he went alone into the wilderness
to find his balance and to get entirely away from humankind.
In "Roughing It" Mark Twain tells the story of how he and Higbie finally
located a "blind lead," which made them really millionaires, until they
forfeited their claim through the sharp practice of some rival miners and
their own neglect. It is true that the "Wide West" claim was forfeited
in some such manner, but the size of the loss was magnified in "Roughing
It," to make a good story. There was never a fortune in "Wide West,"
except the one sunk in it by its final owners. The story as told in
"Roughing It" is a tale of what might have happened, and ends the
author's days in the mines with a good story-book touch.
The mining career of Samuel Clemens really came to a close gradually, and
with no showy climax. He fought hard and surrendered little by little,
without owning, even to the end, that he was surrendering at all. It was
the gift of resolution that all his life would make his defeats long and
costly--his victories supreme.
By the end of July the money situation in the Aurora camp was getting
desperate. Orion's depleted salary would no longer pay for food, tools,
and blasting-powder, and the miner began to cast about far means to earn
an additional sum, however small. The "Josh" letters to the "Enterprise"
had awakened interest as to their author, and Orion had not failed to let
"Josh's" identity be known. The result had been that here and there a
coast paper had invited contributions and even suggested payment. A
letter written by the Aurora miner at the end of July tells this part of
"My debts are greater than I thought for . . . . The fact is, I
must have something to do, and that shortly, too . . . . Now
write to the "Sacramento Union" folks, or to Marsh, and tell them
that I will write as many letters a week as they want, for $10 a
week. My board must be paid.
"Tell them I have corresponded with the "New Orleans Crescent" and
other papers--and the "Enterprise."
"If they want letters from here--who'll run from morning till night
collecting material cheaper? I'll write a short letter twice a week,
for the present, for the "Age," for $5 per week. Now it has been a
long time since I couldn't make my own living, and it shall be a long
time before I loaf another year."
This all led to nothing, but about the same time the "Enterprise"
assistant already mentioned spoke to Joseph T. Goodman, owner and editor
of the paper, about adding "Josh" to their regular staff. "Joe" Goodman,
a man of keen humor and literary perception, agreed that the author of
the "Josh" letters might be useful to them. One of the sketches
particularly appealed to him--a burlesque report of a Fourth of July
"That is the kind of thing we want," he said. "Write to him, Barstow,
and ask him if he wants to come up here."
Barstow wrote, offering twenty-five dollars a week--a tempting sum. This
was at the end of July, 1862.
Yet the hard-pressed miner made no haste to accept the offer. To leave
Aurora meant the surrender of all hope in the mines, the confession of
another failure. He wrote Barstow, asking when he thought he might be
needed. And at the same time, in a letter to Orion, he said:
"I shall leave at midnight to-night, alone and on foot, for a walk of
sixty or seventy miles through a totally uninhabited country. But
do you write Barstow that I have left here for a week or so, and, in
case he should want me, he must write me here, or let me know
He had gone into the wilderness to fight out his battle alone, postponing
the final moment of surrender--surrender that, had he known, only meant
the beginning of victory. He was still undecided when he returned eight
days later and wrote to his sister Pamela a letter in which there is no-
mention of newspaper prospects.
Just how and when the end came at last cannot be known; but one hot,
dusty August afternoon, in Virginia City, a worn, travel-stained pilgrim
dragged himself into the office of the "Territorial Enterprise," then in
its new building on C Street, and, loosening a heavy roll of blankets
from his shoulder, dropped wearily into a chair. He wore a rusty slouch
hat, no coat, a faded blue-flannel shirt, a navy revolver; his trousers
were tucked into his boot-tops; a tangle of reddish-brown hair fell on
his shoulders; a mass of tawny beard, dingy with alkali dust, dropped
half-way to his waist.
Aurora lay one hundred and thirty miles from Virginia City. He had
walked that distance, carrying his heavy load. Editor Goodman was absent
at the moment, but the other proprietor, Dennis E. McCarthy, asked the
caller to state his errand. The wanderer regarded him with a far-away
look and said, absently, and with deliberation:
"My starboard leg seems to be unshipped. I'd like about one hundred
yards of line; I think I'm falling to pieces." Then he added: "I
want to see Mr. Barstow or Mr. Goodman. My name is Clemens, and
I've come to write for the paper."
It was the master of the world's widest estate come to claim his kingdom!
THE TERRITORIAL ENTERPRISE
In 1852 Virginia City, Nevada, was the most flourishing of mining towns.
A half-crazy miner, named Comstock, had discovered there a vein of such
richness that the "Comstock Lode" was presently glutting the mineral
markets of the world. Comstock himself got very little out of it, but
those who followed him made millions. Miners, speculators, adventurers
swarmed in. Every one seemed to have money. The streets seethed with an
eager, affluent, boisterous throng whose chief business seemed to be to
spend the wealth that the earth was yielding in such a mighty stream.
Business of every kind boomed. Less than two years earlier, J. T.
Goodman, a miner who was also a printer and a man of literary taste, had
joined with another printer, Dennis McCarthy, and the two had managed to
buy a struggling Virginia City paper, the "Territorial Enterprise." But
then came the hightide of fortune. A year later the "Enterprise," from a
starving sheet in a leaky shanty, had become a large, handsome paper in a
new building, and of such brilliant editorial management that it was the
most widely considered journal on the Pacific coast.
Goodman was a fine, forceful writer, and he surrounded himself with able
men. He was a young man, full of health and vigor, overflowing with the
fresh spirit and humor of the West. Comstockers would always laugh at a
joke, and Goodman was always willing to give it to them. The
"Enterprise" was a newspaper, but it was willing to furnish entertainment
even at the cost of news. William Wright, editorially next to Goodman,
was a humorist of ability. His articles, signed Dan de Quille, were
widely copied. R. M. Daggett (afterward United States Minister to
Hawaii) was also an "Enterprise" man, and there were others of their
Samuel Clemens fitted precisely into this group. He brought with him a
new turn of thought and expression; he saw things with open eyes, and
wrote of them in a fresh, wild way that Comstockers loved. He was
allowed full freedom. Goodman suppressed nothing; his men could write as
they chose. They were all young together--if they pleased themselves,
they were pretty sure to please their readers. Often they wrote of one
another--squibs and burlesques, which gratified the Comstock far more
than mere news. It was just the school to produce Mark Twain.
The new arrival found acquaintance easy. The whole "Enterprise" force
was like one family; proprietors, editor, and printers were social
equals. Samuel Clemens immediately became "Sam" to his associates, just
as De Quille was "Dan," and Goodman "Joe." Clemens was supposed to
report city items, and did, in fact, do such work, which he found easy,
for his pilot-memory made notes unnecessary.
He could gather items all day, and at night put down the day's budget
well enough, at least, to delight his readers. When he was tired of
facts, he would write amusing paragraphs, as often as not something about
Dan, or a reporter on a rival paper. Dan and the others would reply, and
the Comstock would laugh. Those were good old days.
Sometimes he wrote hoaxes. Once he told with great circumstance and
detail of a petrified prehistoric man that had been found embedded in a
rock in the desert, and how the coroner from Humboldt had traveled more
than a hundred miles to hold an inquest over a man dead for centuries,
and had refused to allow miners to blast the discovery from its position.
The sketch was really intended as a joke on the Humboldt coroner, but it
was so convincingly written that most of the Coast papers took it
seriously and reprinted it as the story of a genuine discovery. In time
they awoke, and began to inquire as to who was the smart writer on the
Mark Twain did a number of such things, some of which are famous on the
Coast to this day.
Clemens himself did not escape. Lamps were used in the "Enterprise"
office, but he hated the care of a lamp, and worked evenings by the light
of a candle. It was considered a great joke in the office to "hide Sam's
candle" and hear him fume and rage, walking in a circle meantime--a habit
acquired in the pilothouse--and scathingly denouncing the culprits.
Eventually the office-boy, supposedly innocent, would bring another
candle, and quiet would follow. Once the office force, including De
Quille, McCarthy, and a printer named Stephen Gillis, of whom Clemens was
very fond, bought a large imitation meerschaum pipe, had a German-silver
plate set on it, properly engraved, and presented it to Samuel Clemens as
genuine, in testimony of their great esteem. His reply to the
presentation speech was so fine and full of feeling that the jokers felt
ashamed of their trick. A few days later, when he discovered the
deception, he was ready to destroy the lot of them. Then, in atonement,
they gave him a real meerschaum. Such things kept the Comstock
There was a side to Samuel Clemens that, in those days, few of his
associates saw. This was the poetic, the reflective side. Joseph
Goodman, like Macfarlane in Cincinnati several years earlier, recognized
this phase of his character and developed it. Often these two, dining or
walking together, discussed the books and history they had read, quoted
from poems that gave them pleasure. Clemens sometimes recited with great
power the "Burial of Moses," whose noble phrasing and majestic imagery
seemed to move him deeply. With eyes half closed and chin lifted, a
lighted cigar between his fingers, he would lose himself in the music of
the stately lines:
By Nebo's lonely mountain,
On this side Jordan's wave,
In a vale in the land of Moab
There lies a lonely grave.
And no man knows that sepulcher,
And no man saw it e'er,
For the angels of God upturned the sod,
And laid the dead man there.
That his own writing would be influenced by the simple grandeur of this
poem we can hardly doubt. Indeed, it may have been to him a sort of
literary touchstone, that in time would lead him to produce, as has been
said, some of the purest English written by any modern author.
It was once when Goodman and Clemens were dining together that the latter
asked to be allowed to report the proceedings of the coming legislature
at Carson City. He knew nothing of such work, and Goodman hesitated.
Then, remembering that Clemens would, at least, make his reports
readable, whether they were parliamentary or not, he consented.
So, at the beginning of the year (1863), Samuel Clemens undertook a new
and interesting course in the study of human nature--the political human
nature of the frontier. There could have been no better school for him.
His wit, his satire, his phrasing had full swing--his letters, almost
from the beginning, were copied as choice reading up and down the Coast.
He made curious blunders, at first, as to the proceedings, but his open
confession of ignorance in the early letters made these blunders their
chief charm. A young man named Gillespie, clerk of the House, coached
him, and in return was christened "Young Jefferson's Manual," a title
which he bore for many years.
A reporter named Rice, on a rival Virginia City paper, the "Union," also
earned for himself a title through those early letters.
Rice concluded to poke fun at the "Enterprise" reports, pointing out
their mistakes. But this was not wise. Clemens, in his next
contribution, admitted that Rice's reports might be parliamentary enough,
but declared his glittering technicalities were only to cover
misstatements of fact. He vowed they were wholly untrustworthy, dubbed
the author of them "The Unreliable," and never thereafter referred to him
by any other term. Carson and the Comstock papers delighted in this
foolery, and Rice became "The Unreliable" for life. There was no real
feeling between Rice and Clemens. They were always the best of friends.
But now we arrive at the story of still another name, one of vastly
greater importance than either of those mentioned, for it is the name
chosen by Samuel Clemens for himself. In those days it was the fashion
for a writer to have a pen-name, especially for his journalistic and
humorous work. Clemens felt that his "Enterprise" letters, copied up and
down the Coast, needed a mark of identity.
He gave the matter a good deal of thought. He wanted something brief and
strong--something that would stick in the mind. It was just at this time
that news came of the death of Capt. Isaiah Sellers, the old pilot who
had signed himself "Mark Twain." Mark Twain! That was the name he
wanted. It was not trivial. It had all the desired qualities. Captain
Sellers would never need it again. It would do no harm to keep it alive-
-to give it a new meaning in a new land. Clemens took a trip from Carson
up to Virginia City.
"Joe," he said to Goodman, "I want to sign my articles. I want to be
identified to a wider audience."
"All right, Sam. What name do you want to use Josh?"
"No, I want to sign them Mark Twain. It is an old river term, a
leadsman's call, signifying two fathoms--twelve feet. It has a richness
about it; it was always a pleasant sound for a pilot to hear on a dark
night; it meant safe waters."
He did not mention that Captain Sellers had used and dropped the name.
He was not proud of his part in that episode, and it was too recent for
Goodman considered a moment. "Very well, Sam," he said, "that sounds
like a good name."
A good name, indeed! Probably, if he had considered every combination of
words in the language, he could not have found a better one. To-day we
recognize it as the greatest nom de plume ever chosen, and, somehow, we
cannot believe that the writer of "Tom Sawyer" and "Huck Finn" and
"Roughing It" could have selected any other had he tried.
The name Mark Twain was first signed to a Carson letter, February 2,
1863, and after that to all of Samuel Clemens's work. The letters that
had amused so many readers had taken on a new interest--the interest that
goes with a name. It became immediately more than a pen-name. Clemens
found he had attached a name to himself as well as to his letters.
Everybody began to address him as Mark. Within a few weeks he was no
longer "Sam" or "Clemens," but Mark--Mark Twain. The Coast papers liked
the sound of it. It began to mean something to their readers. By the
end of that legislative session Samuel Clemens, as Mark Twain, had
acquired out there on that breezy Western slope something resembling
Curiously, he fails to mention any of this success in his letters home of
that period. Indeed, he seldom refers to his work, but more often speaks
of mining shares which he has accumulated, and their possible values.
His letters are airy, full of the joy of life and of the wild doings of
the frontier. Closing one of them, he says: "I have just heard five
pistolshots down the street. As such things are in my line, I will go
and see about it."
And in a postscript, later, he adds:
"5 A.M.--The pistol-shots did their work well. One man, a Jackson
County Missourian, shot two of my friends (police officers) through
the heart--both died within three minutes. The murderer's name is
The Comstock was a great school for Mark Twain, and in "Roughing It" he
has left us a faithful picture of its long-vanished glory.
More than one national character came out of the Comstock school.
Senator James G. Fair was one of them, and John Mackay, both miners with
pick and shovel at first, though Mackay presently became a
superintendent. Mark Twain one day laughingly offered to trade jobs with
"No," Mackay said, "I can't trade. My business is not worth as much as
yours. I have never swindled anybody, and I don't intend to begin now."
For both these men the future held splendid gifts: for Mackay vast
wealth, for Mark Twain the world's applause, and neither would have long
ARTEMUS WARD AND LITERARY SAN FRANCISCO
It was about the end of 1863 that a new literary impulse came into Mark
Twain's life. The gentle and lovable humorist Artemus Ward (Charles F.
Browne) was that year lecturing in the West, and came to Virginia City.
Ward had intended to stay only a few days, but the whirl of the Comstock
fascinated him. He made the "Enterprise" office his headquarters and
remained three weeks. He and Mark Twain became boon companions. Their
humor was not unlike; they were kindred spirits, together almost
constantly. Ward was then at the summit of his fame, and gave the
younger man the highest encouragement, prophesying great things for ha
work. Clemens, on his side, was stirred, perhaps for the first time,
with a real literary ambition, and the thought that he, too, might win a
place of honor. He promised Ward that he would send work to the Eastern
On Christmas Eve, Ward gave a dinner to the "Enterprise" staff, at
Chaumond's, a fine French restaurant of that day. When refreshments
came, Artemus lifted his glass, and said:
"I give you Upper Canada."
The company rose and drank the toast in serious silence. Then Mr.
"Of course, Artemus, it's all right, but why did you give us Upper
"Because I don't want it myself," said Ward, gravely.
What would one not give to have listened to the talk of that evening!
Mark Twain's power had awakened; Artemus Ward was in his prime. They
were giants of a race that became extinct when Mark Twain died.
Goodman remained rather quiet during the evening. Ward had appointed him
to order the dinner, and he had attended to this duty without mingling
much in the conversation. When Ward asked him why he did not join the
banter, he said:
"I am preparing a joke, Artemus, but I am keeping it for the present."
At a late hour Ward finally called for the bill. It was two hundred and
"What!" exclaimed Artemus.
"That's my joke," said Goodman.
"But I was only exclaiming because it was not twice as much," laughed
Ward, laying the money on the table.
Ward remained through the holidays, and later wrote back an affectionate
letter to Mark Twain.
"I shall always remember Virginia as a bright spot in my existence," he
said, "as all others must, or rather, cannot be, as it were."
With Artemus Ward's encouragement, Mark Twain now began sending work
eastward. The "New York Sunday Mercury" published one, possibly more, of
his sketches, but they were not in his best vein, and made little
impression. He may have been too busy for outside work, for the
legislative session of 1864 was just beginning. Furthermore, he had been
chosen governor of the "Third House," a mock legislature, organized for
one session, to be held as a church benefit. The "governor" was to
deliver a message, which meant that he was to burlesque from the platform
all public officials and personages, from the real governor down.
With the exception of a short talk he had once given at a printer's
dinner in Keokuk, it was Mark Twain's first appearance as a speaker, and
the beginning of a lifelong series of triumphs on the platform. The
building was packed--the aisles full. The audience was ready for fun,
and he gave it to them. Nobody escaped ridicule; from beginning to end
the house was a storm of laughter and applause.
Not a word of this first address of Mark Twain's has been preserved, but
those who heard it always spoke of it as the greatest effort of his life,
as to them it seemed, no doubt.
For his Third House address, Clemens was presented with a gold watch,
inscribed "To Governor Mark Twain." Everywhere, now, he was pointed out
as a distinguished figure, and his quaint remarks were quoted. Few of
these sayings are remembered to-day, though occasionally one is still
unforgotten. At a party one night, being urged to make a conundrum, he
"Well, why am I like the Pacific Ocean?"
Several guesses were made, but he shook his head. Some one said:
"We give it up. Tell us, Mark, why are you like the Pacific Ocean?"
"I--don't--know," he drawled. "I was just--asking for information."
The governor of Nevada was generally absent, and Orion Clemens was
executive head of the territory. His wife, who had joined him in Carson
City, was social head of the little capital, and Brother Sam, with his
new distinction and now once more something of a dandy in dress, was
society's chief ornament--a great change, certainly, from the early
months of his arrival less than three years before.
It was near the end of May, 1864, when Mark Twain left Nevada for San
Francisco. The immediate cause of his going was a duel--a duel
elaborately arranged between Mark Twain and the editor of a rival paper,
but never fought. In fact, it was mainly a burlesque affair throughout,
chiefly concocted by that inveterate joker, Steve Gillis, already
mentioned in connection with the pipe incident. The new dueling law,
however, did not distinguish between real and mock affrays, and the
prospect of being served with a summons made a good excuse for Clemens
and Gillis to go to San Francisco, which had long attracted them. They
were great friends, these two, and presently were living together and
working on the same paper, the "Morning Call," Clemens as a reporter and
Gillis as a compositor.
Gillis, with his tendency to mischief, was a constant exasperation to his
room-mate, who, goaded by some new torture, would sometimes denounce him
in feverish terms. Yet they were never anything but the closest friends.
Mark Twain did not find happiness in his new position on the "Call."
There was less freedom and more drudgery than he had known on the
"Enterprise." His day was spent around the police court, attending
fires, weddings, and funerals, with brief glimpses of the theaters at
Once he wrote: "It was fearful drudgery--soulless drudgery--and almost
destitute of interest. It was an awful slavery for a lazy man."
It must have been so. There was little chance for original work. He had
become just a part of a news machine. He saw many public abuses that he
wished to expose, but the policy of the paper opposed him. Once,
however, he found a policeman asleep on his beat. Going to a near-by
vegetable stall, he borrowed a large cabbage-leaf, came back, and stood
over the sleeper, gently fanning him. He knew the paper would not
publish the policeman's negligence, but he could advertise it in his own
way. A large crowd soon collected, much amused. When he thought the
audience large enough, he went away. Next day the joke was all over the
He grew indifferent to the "Call" work, and, when an assistant was
allowed him to do part of the running for items, it was clear to
everybody that presently the assistant would be able to do it all.
But there was a pleasant and profitable side to the San Francisco life.
There were real literary people there--among them a young man, with rooms
upstairs in the "Call" office, Francis Bret Harte, editor of the
"Californian," a new literary weekly which Charles Henry Webb had
recently founded. Bret Harte was not yet famous, but his gifts were
recognized on the Pacific slope, especially by the "Era" group of
writers, the "Golden Era" being a literary monthly of considerable
distinction. Joaquin Miller recalls, from his diary of that period,
having seen Prentice Mulford, Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard, Mark
Twain, Artemus Ward, and others, all assembled there at one time--a
remarkable group, certainly, to be dropped down behind the Sierras so
long ago. They were a hopeful, happy lot, and sometimes received five
dollars for an article, which, of course, seemed a good deal more
precious than a much larger sum earned in another way.
Mark Twain had contributed to the "Era" while still in Virginia City, and
now, with Bret Harte, was ranked as a leader of the group. The two were
much together, and when Harte became editor of the "Californian" he
engaged Clemens as a regular contributor at the very fancy rate of twelve
dollars an article. Some of the brief chapters included to-day in
"Sketches New and Old" were done at this time. They have humor, but are
not equal to his later work, and beyond the Pacific slope they seem to
have attracted little attention.
In "Roughing It" the author tells us how he finally was dismissed from
the "Call" for general incompetency, and presently found himself in the
depths of hard luck, debt, and poverty. But this is only his old habit
of making a story on himself sound as uncomplimentary as possible. The
true version is that the "Call" publisher and Mark Twain had a friendly
talk and decided that it was better for both to break off the connection.
Almost immediately he arranged to write a daily San Francisco letter for
the "Enterprise," for which he received thirty dollars a week. This,
with his earnings from the "Californian," made his total return larger
than before. Very likely he was hard up from time to time--literary men
are often that--but that he was ever in abject poverty, as he would have
us believe, is just a good story and not history.
THE DISCOVERY OF "THE JUMPING FROG"
Mark Twain's daily letters to the "Enterprise" stirred up trouble for him
in San Francisco. He was free, now, to write what he chose, and he
attacked the corrupt police management with such fierceness that, when
copies of the "Enterprise" got back to San Francisco, they started a
commotion at the city hall. Then Mark Twain let himself go more
vigorously than ever. He sent letters to the "Enterprise" that made even
the printers afraid. Goodman, however, was fearless, and let them go in,
word for word. The libel suit which the San Francisco chief of police
brought against the Enterprise advertised the paper amazingly.
But now came what at the time seemed an unfortunate circumstance. Steve
Gillis, always a fearless defender of the weak, one night rushed to the
assistance of two young fellows who had been set upon by three roughs.
Gillis, though small of stature, was a terrific combatant, and he
presently put two of the assailants to flight and had the other ready for
the hospital. Next day it turned out that the roughs were henchmen of
the police, and Gillis was arrested.
Clemens went his bail, and advised Steve to go down to Virginia City
until the storm blew over.
But it did not blow over for Mark Twain. The police department was only
too glad to have a chance at the author of the fierce "Enterprise"
letters, and promptly issued a summons for him, with an execution against
his personal effects. If James N. Gillis, brother of Steve, had not
happened along just then and spirited Mark Twain away to his mining-camp
in the Tuolumne Hills, the beautiful gold watch given to the governor of
the Third House might have been sacrificed in the cause of friendship.
As it was, he found himself presently in the far and peaceful seclusion
of that land which Bret Harte would one day make famous with his tales of
"Roaring Camp" and "Sandy Bar." Jim Gillis was, in fact, the Truthful
James of Bret Harte, and his cabin on jackass Hill had been the retreat
of Harte and many another literary wayfarer who had wandered there for
rest and refreshment and peace. It was said the sick were made well, and
the well made better, in Jim Gillis's cabin. There were plenty of books
and a variety of out-of-door recreation. One could mine there if he
chose. Jim would furnish the visiting author with a promising claim, and
teach him to follow the little fan-like drift of gold specks to the
pocket of treasure somewhere up the hillside.
Gillis himself had literary ability, though he never wrote. He told his
stories, and with his back to the open fire would weave the most amazing
tales, invented as he went along. His stories were generally wonderful
adventures that had happened to his faithful companion, Stoker; and
Stoker never denied them, but would smoke and look into the fire, smiling
a little sometimes, but never saying a word. A number of the tales later
used by Mark Twain were first told by Jim Gillis in the cabin on Jackass
Hill. "Dick Baker's Cat" was one of these, the jay-bird and acorn story
in "A Tramp Abroad" was another. Mark Twain had little to add to these
"They are not mine, they are Jim's," he said, once; "but I never could
get them to sound like Jim--they were never as good as his."
It was early in December, 1864, when Mark Twain arrived at the humble
retreat, built of logs under a great live-oak tree, and surrounded by a
stretch of blue-grass. A younger Gillis boy was there at the time, and
also, of course, Dick Stoker and his cat, Tom Quartz, which every reader
of "Roughing It" knows.
It was the rainy season, but on pleasant days they all went pocket-
mining, and, in January, Mark Twain, Gillis, and Stoker crossed over into
Calaveras County and began work near Angel's Camp, a place well known to
readers of Bret Harte. They put up at a poor hotel in Angel's, and on
good days worked pretty faithfully. But it was generally raining, and
the food was poor.
In his note-book, still preserved, Mark Twain wrote: "January 27 (1865).
--Same old diet--same old weather--went out to the pocket-claim--had to
So they spent a good deal of their time around the rusty stove in the
dilapidated tavern at Angel's Camp. It seemed a profitless thing to do,
but few experiences were profitless to Mark Twain, and certainly this one
At this barren mining hotel there happened to be a former Illinois River
pilot named Ben Coon, a solemn, sleepy person, who dozed by the stove or
told slow, pointless stories to any one who would listen. Not many would
stay to hear him, but Jim Gillis and Mark Twain found him a delight.
They would let him wander on in his dull way for hours, and saw a vast
humor in a man to whom all tales, however trivial or absurd, were serious
At last, one dreary afternoon, he told them about a frog--a frog that had
belonged to a man named Coleman, who had trained it to jump, and how the
trained frog had failed to win a wager because the owner of the rival
frog had slyly loaded the trained jumper with shot. It was not a new
story in the camps, but Ben Coon made a long tale of it, and it happened
that neither Clemens nor Gillis had heard it before. They thought it
amusing, and his solemn way of telling it still more so.
"I don't see no p'ints about that frog that's better than any other
frog," became a catch phrase among the mining partners; and, "I 'ain't
got no frog, but if I had a frog, I'd bet you."
Out on the claim, Clemens, watching Gillis and Stoker anxiously washing,
would say, "I don't see no pints about that pan o' dirt that's any better
than any other pan o' dirt." And so they kept the tale going. In his
note-book Mark Twain made a brief memorandum of the story for possible
The mining was rather hopeless work. The constant and heavy rains were
disheartening. Clemens hated it, and even when, one afternoon, traces of
a pocket began to appear, he rebelled as the usual chill downpour set in.
"Jim," he said, "let's go home; we'll freeze here."
Gillis, as usual, was washing, and Clemens carrying the water. Gillis,
seeing the gold "color" improving with every pan, wanted to go on washing
and climbing toward the precious pocket, regardless of wet and cold.
Clemens, shivering and disgusted, vowed that each pail of water would be
his last. His teeth were chattering, and he was wet through. Finally he
"Jim, I won't carry any more water. This work too disagreeable."
Gillis had just taken out a panful of dirt.
"Bring one more pail, Sam," he begged.
"Jim I won't do it. I'm-freezing."
"Just one more pail, Sam!" Jim pleaded.
"No, sir; not a drop--not if I knew there was a million dollars in that
Gillis tore out a page of his note-book and hastily posted a thirty-day-
claim notice by the pan of dirt. Then they set out for Angel's Camp,
never to return. It kept on raining, and a letter came from Steve
Gillis, saying he had settled all the trouble in San Francisco. Clemens
decided to return, and the miners left Angel's without visiting their
Meantime the rain had washed away the top of the pan of dirt they had
left standing on the hillside, exposing a handful of nuggets, pure gold.
Two strangers, Austrians, happening along, gathered it up and, seeing the
claim notice posted by Jim Gillis, sat down to wait until it expired.
They did not mind the rain--not under the circumstances--and the moment
the thirty days were up they followed the lead a few pans farther and
took out, some say ten, some say twenty, thousand dollars. In either
case it was a good pocket that Mark Twain missed by one pail of water.
Still, without knowing it, he had carried away in his note-book a single
nugget of far greater value the story of "The Jumping Frog."
He did not write it, however, immediately upon his return to San
Francisco. He went back to his "Enterprise" letters and contributed some
sketches to the Californian. Perhaps he thought the frog story too mild
in humor for the slope. By and by he wrote it, and by request sent it to
Artemus Ward to be used in a book that Ward was about to issue. It
arrived too late, and the publisher handed it to the editor of the
"Saturday Press," Henry Clapp, saying:
"Here, Clapp, is something you can use in your paper."
The "Press" was struggling, and was glad to get a story so easily. "Jim
Smiley and his jumping Frog" appeared in the issue of November 18, 1865,
and was at once copied and quoted far and near. It carried the name of
Mark Twain across the mountains and the prairies of the Middle West; it
bore it up and down the Atlantic slope. Some one said, then or later,
that Mark Twain leaped into fame on the back of a jumping frog.
Curiously, this did not at first please the author. He thought the tale
poor. To his mother he wrote:
I do not know what to write; my life is so uneventful. I wish I was back
there piloting up and down the river again. Verily, all is vanity and
little worth--save piloting.
To think that, after writing many an article a man might be excused for
thinking tolerably good, those New York people should single out a
villainous backwoods sketch to compliment me on!--" Jim Smiley and his
Jumping Frog"--a squib which would never have been written but to please
However, somewhat later he changed his mind considerably, especially when
he heard that James Russell Lowell had pronounced the story the finest
piece of humorous writing yet produced in America.
HAWAII AND ANSON BURLINGAME
Mark Twain remained about a year in San Francisco after his return from
the Gillis cabin and Angel's Camp, adding to his prestige along the Coast
rather than to his national reputation. Then, in the spring of 1866 he
was commissioned by the "Sacramento Union" to write a series of letters
that would report the life, trade, agriculture, and general aspects of
the Hawaiian group. He sailed in March, and his four months in those
delectable islands remained always to him a golden memory--an experience
which he hoped some day to repeat. He was young and eager for adventure
then, and he went everywhere--horseback and afoot--saw everything, did
everything, and wrote of it all for his paper. His letters to the
"Union" were widely read and quoted, and, though not especially literary,
added much to his journalistic standing. He was a great sight-seer in
those days, and a persevering one. No discomfort or risk discouraged
him. Once, with a single daring companion, he crossed the burning floor
of the mighty crater of Kilauea, racing across the burning lava, leaping
wide and bottomless crevices where a misstep would have meant death. His
open-air life on the river and in the mining-camps had nerved and
hardened him for adventure. He was thirty years old and in his physical
prime. His mental growth had been slower, but it was sure, and it would
seem always to have had the right guidance at the right time.
Clemens had been in the islands three months when one day Anson
Burlingame arrived there, en route to his post as minister to China.
With him was his son Edward, a boy of eighteen, and General Van
Valkenburg, minister to Japan. Young Burlingame had read about Jim
Smiley's jumping frog and, learning that the author was in Honolulu, but
ill after a long trip inland, sent word that the party would call on him
next morning. But Mark Twain felt that he could not accept this honor,
and, crawling out of bed, shaved himself and drove to the home of the
American minister, where the party was staying. He made a great
impression with the diplomats. It was an occasion of good stories and
much laughter. On leaving, General Van Valkenburg said to him:
"California is proud of Mark Twain, and some day the American people
will be, too, no doubt." Which was certainly a good prophecy.
It was only a few days later that the diplomats rendered him a great
service. Report had come of the arrival at Sanpahoe of an open boat
containing fifteen starving men, who had been buffeting a stormy sea for
forty-three days--sailors from the missing ship Hornet of New York,
which, it appeared, had been burned at sea. Presently eleven of the
rescued men were brought to Honolulu and placed in the hospital.
Mark Twain recognized the great importance as news of this event. It
would be a splendid beat if he could interview the castaways and be the
first to get their story in his paper. There was no cable, but a vessel
was sailing for San Francisco next morning. It seemed the opportunity of
a lifetime, but he was now bedridden and could scarcely move.
Then suddenly appeared in his room Anson Burlingame and his party, and,
almost before Mark Twain realized what was happening, he was on a cot
and, escorted by the heads of two legations, was on his way to the
hospital to get the precious interview. Once there, Anson Burlingame,
with his gentle manner and courtly presence, drew from those enfeebled
castaways all the story of the burning of the vessel, followed by the
long privation and struggle that had lasted through forty-three fearful
days and across four thousand miles of stormy sea. All that Mark Twain
had to do was to listen and make notes. That night he wrote against
time, and next morning, just as the vessel was drifting from the dock, a
strong hand flung his bulky manuscript aboard and his great beat was
sure. The three-column story, published in the "Sacramento Union" of
July 9, gave the public the first detailed history of the great disaster.
The telegraph carried it everywhere, and it was featured as a sensation.
Mark Twain and the Burlingame party were much together during the rest of
their stay in Hawaii, and Samuel Clemens never ceased to love and honor
the memory of Anson Burlingame. It was proper that he should do so, for
he owed him much--far more than has already been told.
Anson Burlingame one day said to him: "You have great ability; I believe
you have genius. What you need now is the refinement of association.
Seek companionship among men of superior intellect and character. Refine
yourself and your work. Never affiliate with inferiors; always climb."
This, coming to him from a man of Burlingame's character and position,
was like a gospel from some divine source. Clemens never forgot the
advice. It gave him courage, new hope, new resolve, new ideals.
Burlingame came often to the hotel, and they discussed plans for Mark
Twain's future. The diplomat invited the journalist to visit him in
"Come to Pekin," he said, "and make my house your home."
Young Burlingame also came, when the patient became convalescent, and
suggested walks. Once, when Clemens hesitated, the young man said:
"But there is a scriptural command for you to go."
"If you can quote one, I'll obey," said Clemens.
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