Part 2 out of 16
To Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
CARSON CITY, Oct. 25, 1861.
MY DEAR SISTER,--I have just finished reading your letter and Ma's of
Sept. 8th. How in the world could they have been so long coming? You
ask me if I have for gotten my promise to lay a claim for Mr. Moffett.
By no means. I have already laid a timber claim on the borders of a lake
(Bigler) which throws Como in the shade--and if we succeed in getting one
Mr. Jones, to move his saw-mill up there, Mr. Moffett can just consider
that claim better than bank stock. Jones says he will move his mill up
next spring. In that claim I took up about two miles in length by one in
width--and the names in it are as follows: "Sam. L Clemens, Wm. A.
Moffett, Thos. Nye" and three others. It is situated on "Sam Clemens
Bay"--so named by Capt. Nye--and it goes by that name among the
inhabitants of that region. I had better stop about "the Lake," though,
--for whenever I think of it I want to go there and die, the place is so
beautiful. I'll build a country seat there one of these days that will
make the Devil's mouth water if he ever visits the earth. Jim Lampton
will never know whether I laid a claim there for him or not until he
comes here himself. We have now got about 1,650 feet of mining ground--
and if it proves good, Mr. Moffett's name will go in--if not, I can get
"feet" for him in the Spring which will be good. You see, Pamela, the
trouble does not consist in getting mining ground--for that is plenty
enough--but the money to work it with after you get it is the mischief.
When I was in Esmeralda, a young fellow gave me fifty feet in the "Black
Warrior"--an unprospected claim. The other day he wrote me that he had
gone down eight feet on the ledge, and found it eight feet thick--and
pretty good rock, too. He said he could take out rock now if there were
a mill to crush it--but the mills are all engaged (there are only four of
them) so, if I were willing, he would suspend work until Spring. I wrote
him to let it alone at present--because, you see, in the Spring I can go
down myself and help him look after it. There will then be twenty mills
there. Orion and I have confidence enough in this country to think that
if the war will let us alone we can make Mr. Moffett rich without its
ever costing him a cent of money or particle of trouble. We shall lay
plenty of claims for him, but if they never pay him anything, they will
never cost him anything, Orion and I are not financiers. Therefore, you
must persuade Uncle Jim to come out here and help us in that line.
I have written to him twice to come. I wrote him today. In both letters
I told him not to let you or Ma know that we dealt in such romantic
nonsense as "brilliant prospects," because I always did hate for anyone
to know what my plans or hopes or prospects were--for, if I kept people
in ignorance in these matters, no one could be disappointed but myself,
if they were not realized. You know I never told you that I went on the
river under a promise to pay Bixby $500, until I had paid the money and
cleared my skirts of the possibility of having my judgment criticised.
I would not say anything about our prospects now, if we were nearer home.
But I suppose at this distance you are more anxious than you would be if
you saw us every month-and therefore it is hardly fair to keep you in the
dark. However, keep these matters to yourselves, and then if we fail,
we'll keep the laugh in the family.
What we want now is something that will commence paying immediately.
We have got a chance to get into a claim where they say a tunnel has been
run 150 feet, and the ledge struck. I got a horse yesterday, and went
out with the Attorney-General and the claim-owner--and we tried to go to
the claim by a new route, and got lost in the mountains--sunset overtook
us before we found the claim--my horse got too lame to carry me, and I
got down and drove him ahead of me till within four miles of town--then
we sent Rice on ahead. Bunker, (whose horse was in good condition,)
undertook, to lead mine, and I followed after him. Darkness shut him out
from my view in less than a minute, and within the next minute I lost the
road and got to wandering in the sage brush. I would find the road
occasionally and then lose it again in a minute or so. I got to Carson
about nine o'clock, at night, but not by the road I traveled when I left
it. The General says my horse did very well for awhile, but soon refused
to lead. Then he dismounted, and had a jolly time driving both horses
ahead of him and chasing them here and there through the sage brush (it
does my soul good when I think of it) until he got to town, when both
animals deserted him, and he cursed them handsomely and came home alone.
Of course the horses went to their stables.
Tell Sammy I will lay a claim for him, and he must come out and attend to
it. He must get rid of that propensity for tumbling down, though, for
when we get fairly started here, I don't think we shall have time to pick
up those who fall.....
That is Stoughter's house, I expect, that Cousin Jim has moved into.
This is just the country for Cousin Jim to live in. I don't believe it
would take him six months to make $100,000 here, if he had 3,000 dollars
to commence with. I suppose he can't leave his family though.
Tell Mrs. Benson I never intend to be a lawyer. I have been a slave
several times in my life, but I'll never be one again. I always intend
to be so situated (unless I marry,) that I can "pull up stakes" and clear
out whenever I feel like it.
We are very thankful to you, Pamela, for the papers you send. We have
received half a dozen or more, and, next to letters, they are the most
welcome visitors we have.
Write oftener, Pamela.
The "Cousin Jim" mentioned in this letter is the original of the
character of Colonel Sellers. Whatever Mark Twain's later opinion of
Cousin Jim Lampton's financial genius may have been, he seems to have
respected it at this time.
More than three months pass until we have another letter, and in that
time the mining fever had become well seated. Mark Twain himself was
full of the Sellers optimism, and it was bound to overflow, fortify as he
would against it.
He met with little enough encouragement. With three companions, in
midwinter, he made a mining excursion to the much exploited Humboldt
region, returning empty-handed after a month or two of hard experience.
This is the trip picturesquely described in Chapters XXVII to XXXIII of
Roughing It.--[It is set down historically in Mark Twain 'A Biography.'
Harper & brothers.]--He, mentions the Humboldt in his next letter, but
does not confess his failure.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
CARSON CITY, Feb. 8, 1862.
MY DEAR MOTHER AND SISTER,--By George Pamela, I begin to fear that I have
invoked a Spirit of some kind or other which I will find some difficulty
in laying. I wasn't much terrified by your growing inclinations, but
when you begin to call presentiments to your aid, I confess that I
"weaken." Mr. Moffett is right, as I said before--and I am not much
afraid of his going wrong. Men are easily dealt with--but when you get
the women started, you are in for it, you know. But I have decided on
two things, viz: Any of you, or all of you, may live in California, for
that is the Garden of Eden reproduced--but you shall never live in
Nevada; and secondly, none of you, save Mr. Moffett, shall ever cross the
Plains. If you were only going to Pike's Peak, a little matter of 700
miles from St. Jo, you might take the coach, and I wouldn't say a word.
But I consider it over 2,000 miles from St. Jo to Carson, and the first
6 or 800 miles is mere Fourth of July, compared to the balance of the
route. But Lord bless you, a man enjoys every foot of it. If you ever
come here or to California, it must be by sea. Mr. Moffett must come by
overland coach, though, by all means. He would consider it the jolliest
little trip he ever took in his life. Either June, July, or August are
the proper months to make the journey in. He could not suffer from heat,
and three or four heavy army blankets would make the cold nights
comfortable. If the coach were full of passengers, two good blankets
would probably be sufficient. If he comes, and brings plenty of money,
and fails to invest it to his entire satisfaction; I will prophesy no
But I will tell you a few things which you wouldn't have found out if I
hadn't got myself into this scrape. 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. I came down here from
Humboldt, in order to look after our Esmeralda interests, and my sore-
backed horse and the bad roads have prevented me from making the journey.
Yesterday one of my old Esmeralda friends, Bob Howland, arrived here, and
I have had a talk with him. He owns with me in the "Horatio and Derby"
ledge. He says our tunnel is in 52 feet, and a small stream of water has
been struck, which bids fair to become a "big thing" by the time the
ledge is reached--sufficient to supply a mill. Now, if you knew anything
of the value of water, here; you would perceive, at a glance that if the
water should amount to 50 or 100 inches, we wouldn't care whether school
kept or not. If the ledge should prove to be worthless, we'd sell the
water for money enough to give us quite a lift. But you see, the ledge
will not prove to be worthless. We have located, near by, a fine site
for a mill; and when we strike the ledge, you know, we'll have a mill-
site, water power, and pay-rock, all handy. Then we shan't care whether
we have capital or not. Mill-folks will build us a mill, and wait for
their pay. If nothing goes wrong, we'll strike the ledge in June--and if
we do, I'll be home in July, you know.
Pamela, don't you know that undemonstrated human calculations won't do
to bet on? Don't you know that I have only talked, as yet, but proved
nothing? Don't you know that I have expended money in this country but
have made none myself? Don't you know that I have never held in my hands
a gold or silver bar that belonged to me? Don't you know that it's all
talk and no cider so far? 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 40-horse microscopic power? Of course I never tried to raise these
suspicions in your mind, but then your knowledge of the fact that some
people's poor frail human nature is a sort of crazy institution anyhow,
ought to have suggested them to you. Now, if I hadn't thoughtlessly got
you into the notion of coming out here, and thereby got myself into a
scrape, I wouldn't have given you that highly-colored paragraph about the
mill, etc., because, you know, if that pretty little picture should fail,
and wash out, and go the Devil generally, it wouldn't cost me the loss of
an hour's sleep, but you fellows would be so much distressed on my
account as I could possibly be if "circumstances beyond my control" were
to prevent my being present at my own funeral. But--but--
"In the bright lexicon of youth,
There's no such word as Fail--"
and I'll prove it!
And look here. I came near forgetting it. Don't you say a word to me
about "trains" across the plains. Because I am down on that arrangement.
That sort of thing is "played out," you know. The Overland Coach or the
Mail Steamer is the thing.
You want to know something about the route between California and Nevada
Territory? Suppose you take my word for it, that it is exceedingly
jolly. Or take, for a winter view, J. Ross Brown's picture, in Harper's
Monthly, of pack mules tumbling fifteen hundred feet down the side of a
mountain. Why bless you, there's scenery on that route. You can stand
on some of those noble peaks and see Jerusalem and the Holy Land. And
you can start a boulder, and send it tearing up the earth and crashing
over trees-down-down-down-to the very devil, Madam. And you would
probably stand up there and look, and stare and wonder at the
magnificence spread out before you till you starved to death, if let
alone. But you should take someone along to keep you moving.
Since you want to know, I will inform you that an eight-stamp water mill,
put up and ready for business would cost about $10,000 to $12,000. Then,
the water to run it with would cost from $1,000 to $30,000--and even
more, according to the location. What I mean by that, is, that water
powers in THIS vicinity, are immensely valuable. So, also, in Esmeralda.
But Humboldt is a new country, and things don't cost so much there yet.
I saw a good water power sold there for $750.00. But here is the way the
thing is managed. A man with a good water power on Carson river will
lean his axe up against a tree (provided you find him chopping cord-wood
at $4 a day,) and taking his chalk pipe out of his mouth to afford him an
opportunity to answer your questions, will look you coolly in the face
and tell you his little property is worth forty or fifty thousand
dollars! But you can easily fix him. You tell him that you'll build a
quartz mill on his property, and make him a fourth or a third, or half
owner in said mill in consideration of the privilege of using said
property--and that will bring him to his milk in a jiffy. So he spits on
his hands, and goes in again with his axe, until the mill is finished,
when lo! out pops the quondam wood-chopper, arrayed in purple and fine
linen, and prepared to deal in bank-stock, or bet on the races, or take
government loans, with an air, as to the amount, of the most don't care-
a-d---dest unconcern that you can conceive of. By George, if I just had
a thousand dollars--I'd be all right! Now there's the "Horatio," for
instance. There are five or six shareholders in it, and I know I could
buy half of their interests at, say $20 per foot, now that flour is worth
$50 per barrel and they are pressed for money. But I am hard up myself,
and can't buy--and in June they'll strike the ledge and then "good-bye
canary." I can't get it for love or money. Twenty dollars a foot!
Think of it. For ground that is proven to be rich. Twenty dollars,
Madam--and we wouldn't part with a foot of our 75 for five times the sum.
So it will be in Humboldt next summer. The boys will get pushed and sell
ground for a song that is worth a fortune. But I am at the helm, now.
I have convinced Orion that he hasn't business talent enough to carry on
a peanut stand, and he has solemnly promised me that he will meddle no
more with mining, or other matters not connected with the Secretary's
office. So, you see, if mines are to be bought or sold, or tunnels run,
or shafts sunk, parties have to come to me--and me only. I'm the "firm,"
"How long does it take one of those infernal trains to go through?"
Well, anywhere between three and five months.
Tell Margaret that if you ever come to live in California, that you can
promise her a home for a hundred years, and a bully one--but she wouldn't
like the country. Some people are malicious enough to think that if the
devil were set at liberty and told to confine himself to Nevada
Territory, that he would come here--and look sadly around, awhile, and
then get homesick and go back to hell again. But I hardly believe it,
you know. I am saying, mind you, that Margaret wouldn't like the
country, perhaps--nor the devil either, for that matter, or any other man
but I like it. When it rains here, it never lets up till it has done all
the raining it has got to do--and after that, there's a dry spell, you
bet. Why, I have had my whiskers and moustaches so full of alkali dust
that you'd have thought I worked in a starch factory and boarded in a
Since we have been here there has not been a fire--although the houses
are built of wood. They "holler" fire sometimes, though, but I am always
too late to see the smoke before the fire is out, if they ever have any.
Now they raised a yell here in front of the office a moment ago. I put
away my papers, and locked up everything of value, and changed my boots,
and pulled off my coat, and went and got a bucket of water, and came back
to see what the matter was, remarking to myself, "I guess I'll be on hand
this time, any way." But I met a friend on the pavement, and he said,
"Where you been? Fire's out half an hour ago."
Ma says Axtele was above "suspition"--but I have searched through
Webster's Unabridged, and can't find the word. However, it's of no
consequence--I hope he got down safely. I knew Axtele and his wife as
well as I know Dan Haines. Mrs. A. once tried to embarrass me in the
presence of company by asking me to name her baby, when she was well
aware that I didn't know the sex of that Phenomenon. But I told her to
call it Frances, and spell it to suit herself. That was about nine years
ago, and Axtele had no property, and could hardly support his family by
his earnings. He was a pious cuss, though. Member of Margaret Sexton's
And Ma says "it looks like a man can't hold public office and be honest."
Why, certainly not, Madam. A man can't hold public office and be honest.
Lord bless you, it is a common practice with Orion to go about town
stealing little things that happen to be lying around loose. And I don't
remember having heard him speak the truth since we have been in Nevada.
He even tries to prevail upon me to do these things, Ma, but I wasn't
brought up in that way, you know. You showed the public what you could
do in that line when you raised me, Madam. But then you ought to have
raised me first, so that Orion could have had the benefit of my example.
Do you know that he stole all the stamps out of an 8 stamp quartz mill
one night, and brought them home under his over-coat and hid them in the
A little later he had headed for the Esmeralda Hills. Some time in
February he was established there in a camp with a young man by the
name of Horatio Phillips (Raish). Later he camped with Bob Howland,
who, as City Marshal of Aurora, became known as the most fearless
man in the Territory, and, still later, with Calvin H. Higbie (Cal),
to whom 'Roughing It' would one day be dedicated. His own funds
were exhausted by this time, and Orion, with his rather slender
salary, became the financial partner of the firm.
It was a comfortless life there in the Esmeralda camp. Snow covered
everything. There was nothing to do, and apparently nothing to
report; for there are no letters until April. Then the first one is
dated Carson City, where he seems to be making a brief sojourn. It
is a rather heavy attempt to be light-hearted; its playfulness
suggests that of a dancing bear.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens, in St. Louis:
CARSON CITY, April 2, 1862.
MY DEAR MOTHER,--Yours of March 2nd has just been received. I see I am
in for it again--with Annie. But she ought to know that I was always
stupid. She used to try to teach me lessons from the Bible, but I never
could understand them. Doesn't she remember telling me the story of
Moses, one Sunday, last Spring, and how hard she tried to explain it and
simplify it so that I could understand it--but I couldn't? And how she
said it was strange that while her ma and her grandma and her uncle Orion
could understand anything in the world, I was so dull that I couldn't
understand the "ea-siest thing?" And doesn't she remember that finally a
light broke in upon me and I said it was all right--that I knew old Moses
himself--and that he kept a clothing store in Market Street? And then
she went to her ma and said she didn't know what would become of her
uncle Sam he was too dull to learn anything--ever! And I'm just as dull
yet. Now I have no doubt her letter was spelled right, and was correct
in all particulars--but then I had to read it according to my lights; and
they being inferior, she ought to overlook the mistakes I make specially,
as it is not my fault that I wasn't born with good sense. I am sure she
will detect an encouraging ray of intelligence in that last argument.....
I am waiting here, trying to rent a better office for Orion. I have got
the refusal after next week of a room on first floor of a fire-proof
brick-rent, eighteen hundred dollars a year. Don't know yet whether we
can get it or not. If it is not rented before the week is up, we can.
I was sorry to hear that Dick was killed. I gave him his first lesson in
the musket drill. We had half a dozen muskets in our office when it was
over Isbell's Music Rooms.
I hope I am wearing the last white shirt that will embellish my person
for many a day--for I do hope that I shall be out of Carson long before
this reaches you.
Love to all.
The "Annie" in this letter was his sister Pamela's little daughter;
long years after, she would be the wife of Charles L. Webster, Mark
Twain's publishing partner. "Dick" the reader may remember as Dick
Hingham, of the Keokuk printing-office; he was killed in charging
the works at Fort Donelson.
Clemens was back in Esmeralda when the next letter was written, and
we begin now to get pictures of that cheerless mining-camp, and to
know something of the alternate hopes and discouragements of the
hunt for gold--the miner one day soaring on wings of hope, on the
next becoming excited, irritable, profane. The names of new mines
appear constantly and vanish almost at a touch, suggesting the
fairy-like evanescence of their riches.
But a few of the letters here will best speak for themselves; not
all of them are needed. It is perhaps unnecessary to say that there
is no intentional humor in these documents.
To Orion Clemens, in Carson City:
ESMERALDA, 13th April, 1862.
MY DEAR BROTHER,--Wasson got here night before last "from the wars."
Tell Lockhart he is not wounded and not killed--is altogether unhurt.
He says the whites left their stone fort before he and Lieut. Noble got
there. A large amount of provisions and ammunition, which they left
behind them, fell into the hands of the Indians. They had a pitched
battle with the savages some fifty miles from the fort, in which Scott
(sheriff) and another man was killed. This was the day before the
soldiers came up with them. I mean Noble's men, and those under Cols.
Evans and Mayfield, from Los Angeles. Evans assumed the chief command--
and next morning the forces were divided into three parties, and marched
against the enemy. Col. Mayfield was killed, and Sergeant Gillespie,
also Noble's colonel was wounded. The California troops went back home,
and Noble remained, to help drive the stock over here. And, as Cousin
Sally Dillard says, this is all I know about the fight.
Work not yet begun on the H. and Derby--haven't seen it yet. It is still
in the snow. Shall begin on it within 3 or 4 weeks--strike the ledge in
July. Guess it is good--worth from $30 to $50 a foot in California.
Why didn't you send the "Live Yankee" deed-the very one I wanted? Have
made no inquiries about it, much. Don't intend to until I get the deed.
Send it along--by mail--d---n the Express--have to pay three times for
all express matter; once in Carson and twice here. I don't expect to
take the saddle-bags out of the express office. I paid twenty-five cts.
for the Express deeds.
Man named Gebhart shot here yesterday while trying to defend a claim on
Last Chance Hill. Expect he will die.
These mills here are not worth a d---n-except Clayton's--and it is not in
full working trim yet.
Send me $40 or $50--by mail--immediately.
The Red Bird is probably good--can't work on the tunnel on account of
snow. The "Pugh" I have thrown away--shan't re-locate it. It is nothing
but bed-rock croppings--too much work to find the ledge, if there is one.
Shan't record the "Farnum" until I know more about it--perhaps not at
"Governor" under the snow.
"Douglas" and "Red Bird" are both recorded.
I have had opportunities to get into several ledges, but refused all but
three--expect to back out of two of them.
Stir yourself as much as possible, and lay up $100 or $15,000, subject to
my call. I go to work to-morrow, with pick and shovel. Something's got
to come, by G--, before I let go, here.
Col. Youngs says you must rent Kinkead's room by all means--Government
would rather pay $150 a month for your office than $75 for Gen. North's.
Says you are playing your hand very badly, for either the Government's
good opinion or anybody's else, in keeping your office in a shanty. Says
put Gov. Nye in your place and he would have a stylish office, and no
objections would ever be made, either. When old Col. Youngs talks this
way, I think it time to get a fine office. I wish you would take that
office, and fit it up handsomely, so that I can omit telling people that
by this time you are handsomely located, when I know it is no such thing.
I am living with "Ratio Phillips." Send him one of those black
portfolios--by the stage, and put a couple of pen-holders and a dozen
steel pens in it.
If you should have occasion to dispose of the long desk before I return,
don't forget to break open the middle drawer and take out my things.
Envelop my black cloth coat in a newspaper and hang it in the back room.
Don't buy anything while I am here--but save up some money for me. Don't
send any money home. I shall have your next quarter's salary spent
before you get it, I think. I mean to make or break here within the next
two or three months.
The "wars" mentioned in the opening paragraph of this letter were
incident to the trouble concerning the boundary line between California
and Nevada. The trouble continued for some time, with occasional
bloodshed. The next letter is an exultant one. There were few enough of
this sort. We cannot pretend to keep track of the multiplicity of mines
and shares which lure the gold-hunters, pecking away at the flinty
ledges, usually in the snow. It has been necessary to abbreviate this
letter, for much of it has lost all importance with the years, and is
merely confusing. Hope is still high in the writer's heart, and
confidence in his associates still unshaken. Later he was to lose faith
in "Raish," whether with justice or not we cannot know now.
To Orion Clowns, in Carson City:
ESMERALDA, May 11, 1862.
MY DEAR BRO.,--TO use a French expression I have "got my d--d satisfy" at
last. Two years' time will make us capitalists, in spite of anything.
Therefore, we need fret and fume, and worry and doubt no more, but just
lie still and put up with privations for six months. Perhaps three
months will "let us out." Then, if Government refuses to pay the rent on
your new office we can do it ourselves. We have got to wait six weeks,
anyhow, for a dividend, maybe longer--but that it will come there is no
shadow of a doubt, I have got the thing sifted down to a dead moral
certainty. I own one-eighth of the new "Monitor Ledge, Clemens Company,"
and money can't buy a foot of it; because I know it to contain our
fortune. The ledge is six feet wide, and one needs no glass to see gold
and silver in it. Phillips and I own one half of a segregated claim in
the "Flyaway" discovery, and good interests in two extensions on it.
We put men to work on our part of the discovery yesterday, and last night
they brought us some fine specimens. Rock taken from ten feet below the
surface on the other part of the discovery, has yielded $150.00 to the
ton in the mill and we are at work 300 feet from their shaft.
May 12--Yours by the mail received last night. "Eighteen hundred feet in
the C. T. Rice's Company!" Well, I am glad you did not accept of the 200
feet. Tell Rice to give it to some poor man.
But hereafter, when anybody holds up a glittering prospect before you,
just argue in this wise, viz: That, if all spare change be devoted to
working the "Monitor" and "Flyaway," 12 months, or 24 at furthest, will
find all our earthly wishes satisfied, so far as money is concerned--and
the more "feet" we have, the more anxiety we must bear--therefore, why
not say "No--d---n your 'prospects,' I wait on a sure thing--and a man
is less than a man, if he can't wait 2 years for a fortune?" When you
and I came out here, we did not expect '63 or '64 to find us rich men--
and if that proposition had been made, we would have accepted it gladly.
Now, it is made.
Well, I am willing, now, that "Neary's tunnel," or anybody else's tunnel
shall succeed. Some of them may beat us a few months, but we shall be on
hand in the fullness of time, as sure as fate. I would hate to swap
chances with any member of the "tribe"--in fact, I am so lost to all
sense and reason as to be capable of refusing to trade "Flyaway" (with
but 200 feet in the Company of four,) foot for foot for that splendid
"Lady Washington," with its lists of capitalist proprietors, and its
35,000 feet of Priceless ground.
I wouldn't mind being in some of those Clear Creek claims, if I lived in
Carson and we could spare the money. But I have struck my tent in
Esmeralda, and I care for no mines but those which I can superintend
myself. I am a citizen here now, and I am satisfied--although R. and I
are strapped and we haven't three days' rations in the house.
Raish is looking anxiously for money and so am I. Send me whatever you
can spare conveniently--I want it to work the Flyaway with. My fourth of
that claim only cost me $50, (which isn't paid yet, though,) and I
suppose I could sell it here in town for ten times that amount today, but
I shall probably hold onto it till the cows come home. I shall work the
"Monitor" and the other claims with my own hands. I prospected of a
pound of "M," yesterday, and Raish reduced it with the blow-pipe, and got
about ten or twelve cents in gold and silver, besides the other half of
it which we spilt on the floor and didn't get. The specimen came from
the croppings, but was a choice one, and showed much free gold to the
Well, I like the corner up-stairs office amazingly--provided, it has one
fine, large front room superbly carpeted, for the safe and a $150 desk,
or such a matter--one handsome room amidships, less handsomely gotten up,
perhaps, for records and consultations, and one good-sized bedroom and
adjoining it a kitchen, neither of which latter can be entered by anybody
but yourself--and finally, when one of the ledges begins to pay, the
whole to be kept in parlor order by two likely contrabands at big wages,
the same to be free of expense to the Government. You want the entire
second story--no less room than you would have had in Harris and Co's.
Make them fix for you before the 1st of July-for maybe you might want to
"come out strong" on the 4th, you know.
No, the Post Office is all right and kept by a gentleman but W. F.
Express isn't. They charge 25 cts to express a letter from here, but I
believe they have quit charging twice for letters that arrive prepaid.
The "Flyaway" specimen I sent you, (taken by myself from DeKay's shaft,
300 feet from where we are going to sink) cannot be called "choice,"
exactly--say something above medium, to be on the safe side. But I have
seen exceedingly choice chunks from that shaft. My intention at first in
sending the Antelope specimen was that you might see that it resembles
the Monitor--but, come to think, a man can tell absolutely nothing about
that without seeing both ledges themselves. I tried to break a handsome
chunk from a huge piece of my darling Monitor which we brought from the
croppings yesterday, but it all splintered up, and I send you the scraps.
I call that "choice"--any d---d fool would. Don't ask if it has been
assayed, for it hasn't. It don't need it. It is amply able to speak for
itself. It is six feet wide on top, and traversed through and through
with veins whose color proclaims their worth. What the devil does a man
want with any more feet when he owns in the Flyaway and the invincible
If I had anything more to say I have forgotten what it was, unless,
perhaps, that I want a sum of money--anywhere from $20 to $150, as soon
Raish sends regards. He or I, one will drop a line to the "Age"
occasionally. I suppose you saw my letters in the "Enterprise."
P. S. I suppose Pamela never will regain her health, but she could
improve it by coming to California--provided the trip didn't kill her.
You see Bixby is on the flag-ship. He always was the best pilot on the
Mississippi, and deserves his "posish." They have done a reckless thing,
though, in putting Sam Bowen on the "Swan"--for if a bomb-shell happens
to come his way, he will infallibly jump overboard.
Send me another package of those envelopes, per Bagley's coat pocket.
We see how anxious he was for his brother to make a good official
showing. If a niggardly Government refused to provide decent
quarters--no matter; the miners, with gold pouring in, would
themselves pay for a suite "superbly carpeted," and all kept in
order by "two likely contrabands"--that is to say, negroes. Samuel
Clemens in those days believed in expansion and impressive
surroundings. His brother, though also mining mad, was rather
inclined to be penny wise in the matter of office luxury--not a bad
idea, as it turned out.
Orion, by the way, was acquiring "feet" on his own account, and in
one instance, at least, seems to have won his brother's
The 'Enterprise' letters mentioned we shall presently hear of again.
To Orion Clemens, in Carson City:
ESMERALDA, Sunday, May--, 1862.
MY DEAR BROTHER,--Well, if you haven't "struck it rich--"that is, if the
piece of rock you sent me came from a bona fide ledge--and it looks as if
it did. If that is a ledge, and you own 200 feet in it, why, it's a big
thing--and I have nothing more to say. If you have actually made
something by helping to pay somebody's prospecting expenses it is a
wonder of the first magnitude, and deserves to rank as such.
If that rock came from a well-defined ledge, that particular vein must be
at least an inch wide, judging from this specimen, which is fully that
When I came in the other evening, hungry and tired and ill-natured, and
threw down my pick and shovel, Raish gave me your specimen--said Bagley
brought it, and asked me if it were cinnabar. I examined it by the
waning daylight, and took the specks of fine gold for sulphurets--wrote
you I did not think much of it--and posted the letter immediately.
But as soon as I looked at it in the broad light of day, I saw my
mistake. During the week, we have made three horns, got a blow-pipe, &c,
and yesterday, all prepared, we prospected the "Mountain House." I broke
the specimen in two, and found it full of fine gold inside. Then we
washed out one-fourth of it, and got a noble prospect. This we reduced
with the blow-pipe, and got about two cents (herewith enclosed) in pure
As the fragment prospected weighed rather less than an ounce, this would
give about $500 to the ton. We were eminently well satisfied.
Therefore, hold on to the "Mountain House," for it is a "big thing."
Touch it lightly, as far as money is concerned, though, for it is well to
reserve the code of justice in the matter of quartz ledges--that is,
consider them all (and their owners) guilty (of "shenanigan") until they
are proved innocent.
P. S.--Monday--Ratio and I have bought one-half of a segregated claim in
the original "Flyaway," for $100--$50 down. We haven't a cent in the
house. We two will work the ledge, and have full control, and pay all
expenses. If you can spare $100 conveniently, let me have it--or $50,
anyhow, considering that I own one fourth of this, it is of course more
valuable than one 1/7 of the "Mountain House," although not so rich ....
There is too much of a sameness in the letters of this period to use
all of them. There are always new claims, and work done, apparently
without system or continuance, hoping to uncover sudden boundless
In the next letter and the one following it we get a hint of an
episode, or rather of two incidents which he combined into an
episode in Roughing It. The story as told in that book is an
account of what might have happened, rather than history. There was
never really any money in the "blind lead" of the Wide West claim,
except that which was sunk in it by unfortunate investors. Only
extracts from these letters are given. The other portions are
irrelevant and of slight value.
Extract from a letter to Orion Clemens, in Carson City:
Two or three of the old "Salina" company entered our hole on the Monitor
yesterday morning, before our men got there, and took possession, armed
with revolvers. And according to the d---d laws of this forever d---d
country, nothing but the District Court (and there ain't any) can touch
the matter, unless it assumes the shape of an infernal humbug which they
call "forcible entry and detainer," and in order to bring that about, you
must compel the jumpers to use personal violence toward you! We went up
and demanded possession, and they refused. Said they were in the hole,
armed and meant to die for it, if necessary.
I got in with them, and again demanded possession. They said I might
stay in it as long as I pleased, and work but they would do the same.
I asked one of our company to take my place in the hole, while I went to
consult a lawyer. He did so. The lawyer said it was no go. They must
offer some "force."
Our boys will try to be there first in the morning--in which case they
may get possession and keep it. Now you understand the shooting scrape
in which Gebhart was killed the other day. The Clemens Company--all of
us--hate to resort to arms in this matter, and it will not be done until
it becomes a forced hand--but I think that will be the end of it, never-
The mine relocated in this letter was not the "Wide West," but it
furnished the proper incident. The only mention of the "Wide West"
is found in a letter written in July.
Extract from a letter to Orion Clemens, in Carson City:
If I do not forget it, I will send you, per next mail, a pinch of decom.
(decomposed rock) which I pinched with thumb and finger from "Wide West"
ledge awhile ago. Raish and I have secured 200 out of a 400 ft. in it,
which perhaps (the ledge, I mean) is a spur from the W. W.--our shaft is
about 100 ft. from the W. W. shaft. In order to get in, we agreed to
sink 30 ft. We have sub-let to another man for 50 ft., and we pay for
powder and sharpening tools.
The "Wide West" claim was forfeited, but there is no evidence to
show that Clemens and his partners were ever, except in fiction,
"millionaires for ten days." The background, the local color, and
the possibilities are all real enough, but Mark Twain's aim in this,
as in most of his other reminiscent writing, was to arrange and
adapt his facts to the needs of a good story.
The letters of this summer (1862) most of them bear evidence of
waning confidence in mining as a source of fortune--the miner has
now little faith in his own judgment, and none at all in that of his
brother, who was without practical experience.
Letter to Orion Clemens, in Carson City:
MY DEAR BRO.,--Yours of the 17th, per express, just received. Part of it
pleased me exceedingly, and part of it didn't. Concerning the letter,
for instance: You have PROMISED me that you would leave all mining
matters, and everything involving an outlay of money, in my hands.
Sending a man fooling around the country after ledges, for God's sake!
when there are hundreds of feet of them under my nose here, begging for
owners, free of charge. I don't want any more feet, and I won't touch
another foot--so you see, Orion, as far as any ledges of Perry's are
concerned, (or any other except what I examine first with my own eyes,)
I freely yield my right to share ownership with you.
The balance of your letter, I say, pleases me exceedingly. Especially
that about the H. and D. being worth from $30 to $50 in Cal. It pleases
me because, if the ledges prove to be worthless, it will be a pleasant
reflection to know that others were beaten worse than ourselves. Raish
sold a man 30 feet, yesterday, at $20 a foot, although I was present at
the sale, and told the man the ground wasn't worth a d---n. He said he
had been hankering after a few feet in the H. and D. for a long time, and
he had got them at last, and he couldn't help thinking he had secured a
good thing. We went and looked at the ledges, and both of them
acknowledged that there was nothing in them but good "indications." Yet
the owners in the H. and D. will part with anything else sooner than
with feet in these ledges. Well, the work goes slowly--very slowly on,
in the tunnel, and we'll strike it some day. But--if we "strike it
rich,"--I've lost my guess, that's all. I expect that the way it got so
high in Cal. was, that Raish's brother, over there was offered $750.00
for 20 feet of it, and he refused .....
Couldn't go on the hill today. It snowed. It always snows here, I
Don't you suppose they have pretty much quit writing, at home?
When you receive your next 1/4 yr's salary, don't send any of it here
until after you have told me you have got it. Remember this. I am
afraid of that H. and D.
They have struck the ledge in the Live Yankee tunnel, and I told the
President, Mr. Allen, that it wasn't as good as the croppings. He said
that was true enough, but they would hang to it until it did prove rich.
He is much of a gentleman, that man Allen.
And ask Gaslerie why the devil he don't send along my commission as
Deputy Sheriff. The fact of my being in California, and out of his
country, wouldn't amount to a d---n with me, in the performance of my
I have nothing to report, at present, except that I shall find out all I
want to know about this locality before I leave it.
How do the Records pay?
In one of the foregoing letters--the one dated May 11 there is a
reference to the writer's "Enterprise Letters." Sometimes, during
idle days in the camp, the miner had followed old literary impulses
and written an occasional burlesque sketch, which he had signed
"Josh," and sent to the Territorial Enterprise, at Virginia City.--
[One contribution was sent to a Keokuk paper, The Gate City, and a
letter written by Mrs. Jane Clemens at the time would indicate that
Mark Twain's mother did not always approve of her son's literary
efforts. She hopes that he will do better, and some time write
something "that his kin will be proud of."]--The rough, vigorous
humor of these had attracted some attention, and Orion, pleased with
any measure of success that might come to his brother, had allowed
the authorship of them to become known. When, in July, the
financial situation became desperate, the Esmeralda miner was moved
to turn to literature for relief. But we will let him present the
To Orion Clemens, in Carson City:
ESMERALDA, July 23d, 1862.
MY DEAR BRO.,--No, I don't own a foot in the "Johnson" ledge--I will tell
the story some day in a more intelligible manner than Tom has told it.
You needn't take the trouble to deny Tom's version, though. I own 25
feet (1-16) of the 1st east ex. on it--and Johnson himself has contracted
to find the ledge for 100 feet. Contract signed yesterday. But as the
ledge will be difficult to find he is allowed six months to find it in.
An eighteenth of the Ophir was a fortune to John D. Winters--and the
Ophir can't beat the Johnson any.....
My debts are greater than I thought for; I bought $25 worth of clothing,
and sent $25 to Higbie, in the cement diggings. I owe about $45 or $50,
and have got about $45 in my pocket. But how in the h--l I am going to
live on something over $100 until October or November, is singular. 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 I'll
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 N. Orleans Crescent, and
other papers--and the Enterprise. California is full of people who have
interests here, and it's d---d seldom they hear from this country.
I can't write a specimen letter--now, at any rate--I'd rather undertake
to write a Greek poem. Tell 'em the mail and express leave three times a
week, and it costs from 25 to 50 cents to send letters by the blasted
express. If they want letters from here, who'll run from morning till
night collecting materials 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.....
If I get the other 25 feet in the Johnson ex., I shan't care a d---n.
I'll be willing to curse awhile and wait. And if I can't move the bowels
of those hills this fall, I will come up and clerk for you until I get
money enough to go over the mountains for the winter.
The Territorial Enterprise at Virginia City was at this time owned
by Joseph T. Goodman, who had bought it on the eve of the great
Comstock silver-mining boom, and from a struggling, starving sheet
had converted it into one of the most important--certainly the most
picturesque-papers on the coast. The sketches which the Esmeralda
miner had written over the name of "Josh" fitted into it exactly,
and when a young man named Barstow, in the business office, urged
Goodman to invite "Josh" to join their staff, the Enterprise owner
readily fell in with the idea. Among a lot of mining matters of no
special interest, Clemens, July 3oth, wrote his brother: "Barstow
has offered me the post as local reporter for the Enterprise at $25
a week, and I have written him that I will let him know next mail,
In Roughing It we are told that the miner eagerly accepted the
proposition to come to Virginia City, but the letters tell a
different story. Mark Twain was never one to abandon any
undertaking easily. His unwillingness to surrender in a lost cause
would cost him more than one fortune in the years to come. A week
following the date of the foregoing he was still undecided.
To Orion Clemens, in Carson City:
ESMERALDA, Aug. 7, 1862.
MY DEAR BRO,--Barstow wrote that if I wanted the place I could have it.
I wrote him that I guessed I would take it, and asked him how long before
I must come up there. I have not heard from him since.
Now, I shall leave at mid-night tonight, alone and on foot for a walk of
60 or 70 miles through a totally uninhabited country, and it is barely
possible that mail facilities may prove infernally "slow" during the few
weeks I expect to spend out there. 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 through you.
The Contractors say they will strike the Fresno next week. After fooling
with those assayers a week, they concluded not to buy "Mr. Flower" at
$50, although they would have given five times the sum for it four months
ago. So I have made out a deed for one half of all Johnny's ground and
acknowledged and left in judge F. K. Becktel's hands, and if judge Turner
wants it he must write to Becktel and pay him his Notary fee of $1.50.
I would have paid that fee myself, but I want money now as I leave town
tonight. However, if you think it isn't right, you can pay the fee to
judge Turner yourself.
Hang to your money now. I may want some when I get back.....
See that you keep out of debt-to anybody. Bully for B.! Write him that
I would write him myself, but I am to take a walk tonight and haven't
time. Tell him to bring his family out with him. He can rely upon what
I say--and I say the land has lost its ancient desolate appearance; the
rose and the oleander have taken the place of the departed sage-bush; a
rich black loam, garnished with moss, and flowers, and the greenest of
grass, smiles to Heaven from the vanished sand-plains; the "endless
snows" have all disappeared, and in their stead, or to repay us for their
loss, the mountains rear their billowy heads aloft, crowned with a
fadeless and eternal verdure; birds, and fountains, and trees-tropical
bees--everywhere!--and the poet dreamt of Nevada when he wrote:
"and Sharon waves, in solemn praise,
Her silent groves of palm."
and today the royal Raven listens in a dreamy stupor to the songs of the
thrush and the nightingale and the canary--and shudders when the gaudy--
plumaged birds of the distant South sweep by him to the orange groves of
Carson. Tell him he wouldn't recognize the d--d country. He should
bring his family by all means.
I intended to write home, but I haven't done it.
In this letter we realize that he had gone into the wilderness to
reflect--to get a perspective on the situation. He was a great
walker in those days, and sometimes with Higbie, sometimes alone,
made long excursions. One such is recorded in Roughing It, the trip
to Mono Lake. We have no means of knowing where his seventy-mile
tour led him now, but it is clear that he still had not reached a
decision on his return. Indeed, we gather that he is inclined to
keep up the battle among the barren Esmeralda hills.
Last mining letter; written to Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
ESMERALDA, CAL., Aug. 15, 1862.
MY DEAR SISTER,-I mailed a letter to you and Ma this morning, but since
then I have received yours to Orion and me. Therefore, I must answer
right away, else I may leave town without doing it at all. What in
thunder are pilot's wages to me? which question, I beg humbly to observe,
is of a general nature, and not discharged particularly at you. But it
is singular, isn't it, that such a matter should interest Orion, when it
is of no earthly consequence to me? I never have once thought of
returning home to go on the river again, and I never expect to do any
more piloting at any price. My livelihood must be made in this country--
and if I have to wait longer than I expected, let it be so--I have no
fear of failure. You know I have extravagant hopes, for Orion tells you
everything which he ought to keep to himself--but it's his nature to do
that sort of thing, and I let him alone. I did think for awhile of going
home this fall--but when I found that that was and had been the cherished
intention and the darling aspiration every year, of these old care-worn
Californians for twelve weary years--I felt a little uncomfortable, but
I stole a march on Disappointment and said I would not go home this fall.
I will spend the winter in San Francisco, if possible. Do not tell any
one that I had any idea of piloting again at present--for it is all a
mistake. This country suits me, and--it shall suit me, whether or no....
Dan Twing and I and Dan's dog, "cabin" together--and will continue to do
so for awhile--until I leave for--
The mansion is 10x12, with a "domestic" roof. Yesterday it rained--the
first shower for five months. "Domestic," it appears to me, is not
water-proof. We went outside to keep from getting wet. Dan makes the
bed when it is his turn to do it--and when it is my turn, I don't, you
know. The dog is not a good hunter, and he isn't worth shucks to watch--
but he scratches up the dirt floor of the cabin, and catches flies, and
makes himself generally useful in the way of washing dishes. Dan gets up
first in the morning and makes a fire--and I get up last and sit by it,
while he cooks breakfast. We have a cold lunch at noon, and I cook
supper--very much against my will. However, one must have one good meal
a day, and if I were to live on Dan's abominable cookery, I should lose
my appetite, you know. Dan attended Dr. Chorpenning's funeral yesterday,
and he felt as though he ought to wear a white shirt--and we had a jolly
good time finding such an article. We turned over all our traps, and he
found one at last--but I shall always think it was suffering from yellow
fever. He also found an old black coat, greasy, and wrinkled to that
degree that it appeared to have been quilted at some time or other. In
this gorgeous costume he attended the funeral. And when he returned, his
own dog drove him away from the cabin, not recognizing him. This is
You would not like to live in a country where flour was $40 a barrel?
Very well; then, I suppose you would not like to live here, where flour
was $100 a barrel when I first came here. And shortly afterwards, it
couldn't be had at any price--and for one month the people lived on
barley, beans and beef--and nothing beside. Oh, no--we didn't luxuriate
then! Perhaps not. But we said wise and severe things about the vanity
and wickedness of high living. We preached our doctrine and practised
it. Which course I respectfully recommend to the clergymen of St. Louis.
Where is Beack Jolly?--[a pilot]--and Bixby?
LETTERS 1863-64. "MARK TWAIN." COMSTOCK JOURNALISM. ARTEMUS WARD
There is a long hiatus in the correspondence here. For a space of many
months there is but one letter to continue the story. Others were
written, of course, but for some reason they have not survived. It was
about the end of August (1862) when the miner finally abandoned the
struggle, and with his pack on his shoulders walked the one and thirty
miles over the mountains to Virginia City, arriving dusty, lame, and
travel-stained to claim at last his rightful inheritance. At the
Enterprise office he was welcomed, and in a brief time entered into his
own. Goodman, the proprietor, himself a man of great ability, had
surrounded himself with a group of gay-hearted fellows, whose fresh, wild
way of writing delighted the Comstock pioneers far more than any sober
presentation of mere news. Samuel Clemens fitted exactly into this
group. By the end of the year he had become a leader of it. When he
asked to be allowed to report the coming Carson legislature, Goodman
consented, realizing that while Clemens knew nothing of parliamentary
procedure, he would at least make the letters picturesque.
It was in the midst of this work that he adopted the name which he was to
make famous throughout the world. The story of its adoption has been
fully told elsewhere and need not be repeated here.--[See Mark Twain: A
Biography, by the same author; Chapter XL.]
"Mark Twain" was first signed to a Carson letter, February 2, 1863, and
from that time was attached to all of Samuel Clemens's work. The letters
had already been widely copied, and the name now which gave them
personality quickly obtained vogue. It was attached to himself as well
as to the letters; heretofore he had been called Sam or Clemens, now he
became almost universally Mark Twain and Mark.
This early period of Mark Twain's journalism is full of delicious
history, but we are permitted here to retell only such of it as will
supply connection to the infrequent letters. He wrote home briefly in
February, but the letter contained nothing worth preserving. Then two
months later he gives us at least a hint of his employment.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
VIRGINIA, April 11, 1863.
MY DEAR MOTHER AND SISTER,--It is very late at night, and I am writing
in my room, which is not quite as large or as nice as the one I had at
home. My board, washing and lodging cost me seventy-five dollars a
I have just received your letter, Ma, from Carson--the one in which you
doubt my veracity about the statements I made in a letter to you. That's
right. I don't recollect what the statements were, but I suppose they
were mining statistics. I have just finished writing up my report for
the morning paper, and giving the Unreliable a column of advice about how
to conduct himself in church, and now I will tell you a few more lies,
while my hand is in. For instance, some of the boys made me a present of
fifty feet in the East India G. and S. M. Company ten days ago. I was
offered ninety-five dollars a foot for it, yesterday, in gold. I refused
it--not because I think the claim is worth a cent for I don't but because
I had a curiosity to see how high it would go, before people find out how
worthless it is. Besides, what if one mining claim does fool me? I have
got plenty more. I am not in a particular hurry to get rich. I suppose
I couldn't well help getting rich here some time or other, whether I
wanted to or not. You folks do not believe in Nevada, and I am glad you
don't. Just keep on thinking so.
I was at the Gould and Curry mine, the other day, and they had two or
three tons of choice rock piled up, which was valued at $20,000 a ton.
I gathered up a hat-full of chunks, on account of their beauty as
specimens--they don't let everybody supply themselves so liberally. I
send Mr. Moffett a little specimen of it for his cabinet. If you don't
know what the white stuff on it is, I must inform you that it is purer
silver than the minted coin. There is about as much gold in it as there
is silver, but it is not visible. I will explain to you some day how to
Pamela, you wouldn't do for a local reporter--because you don't
appreciate the interest that attaches to names. An item is of no use
unless it speaks of some person, and not then, unless that person's name
is distinctly mentioned. The most interesting letter one can write, to
an absent friend, is one that treats of persons he has been acquainted
with rather than the public events of the day. Now you speak of a young
lady who wrote to Hollie Benson that she had seen me; and you didn't
mention her name. It was just a mere chance that I ever guessed who she
was--but I did, finally, though I don't remember her name, now. I was
introduced to her in San Francisco by Hon. A. B. Paul, and saw her
afterwards in Gold Hill. They were a very pleasant lot of girls--she and
P. S. I have just heard five pistol shots down street--as such things
are in my line, I will go and see about it.
P. S. No 2--5 A.M.--The pistol did its work well--one man--a Jackson
County Missourian, shot two of my friends, (police officers,) through the
heart--both died within three minutes. Murderer's name is John Campbell.
The "Unreliable" of this letter was a rival reporter on whom Mark
Twain had conferred this name during the legislative session. His
real name was Rice, and he had undertaken to criticize Clemens's
reports. The brisk reply that Rice's letters concealed with a show
of parliamentary knowledge a "festering mass of misstatements the
author of whom should be properly termed the 'Unreliable," fixed
that name upon him for life. This burlesque warfare delighted the
frontier and it did not interfere with friendship. Clemens and Rice
were constant associates, though continually firing squibs at each
other in their respective papers--a form of personal journalism much
in vogue on the Comstock.
In the next letter we find these two journalistic "blades" enjoying
themselves together in the coast metropolis. This letter is labeled
"No. 2," meaning, probably, the second from San Francisco, but No. 1
has disappeared, and even No, 2 is incomplete.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
No. 2--($20.00 Enclosed)
LICK HOUSE, S. F., June 1, '63.
MY DEAR MOTHER AND SISTER,--The Unreliable and myself are still here,
and still enjoying ourselves. I suppose I know at least a thousand
people here--a, great many of them citizens of San Francisco, but the
majority belonging in Washoe--and when I go down Montgomery street,
shaking hands with Tom, Dick and Harry, it is just like being in Main
street in Hannibal and meeting the old familiar faces. I do hate to go
back to Washoe. We fag ourselves completely out every day, and go to
sleep without rocking, every night. We dine out and we lunch out, and we
eat, drink and are happy--as it were. After breakfast, I don't often see
the hotel again until midnight--or after. I am going to the Dickens
mighty fast. I know a regular village of families here in the house, but
I never have time to call on them. Thunder! we'll know a little more
about this town, before we leave, than some of the people who live in it.
We take trips across the Bay to Oakland, and down to San Leandro, and
Alameda, and those places; and we go out to the Willows, and Hayes Park,
and Fort Point, and up to Benicia; and yesterday we were invited out on a
yachting excursion, and had a sail in the fastest yacht on the Pacific
Coast. Rice says: "Oh, no--we are not having any fun, Mark--Oh, no, I
reckon not--it's somebody else--it's probably the 'gentleman in the
wagon'!" (popular slang phrase.) When I invite Rice to the Lick House to
dinner, the proprietors send us champagne and claret, and then we do put
on the most disgusting airs. Rice says our calibre is too light--we
can't stand it to be noticed!
I rode down with a gentleman to the Ocean House, the other day, to see
the sea horses, and also to listen to the roar of the surf, and watch the
ships drifting about, here, and there, and far away at sea. When I stood
on the beach and let the surf wet my feet, I recollected doing the same
thing on the shores of the Atlantic--and then I had a proper appreciation
of the vastness of this country--for I had traveled from ocean to ocean
Not far from Virginia City there are some warm springs that
constantly send up jets of steam through fissures in the
mountainside. The place was a health resort, and Clemens, always
subject to bronchial colds, now and again retired there for a cure.
A letter written in the late summer--a gay, youthful document--
belongs to one of these periods of convalescence.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
No. 12--$20 enclosed.
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, August 19, '63.
MY DEAR MOTHER AND SISTER,--Ma, you have given my vanity a deadly thrust.
Behold, I am prone to boast of having the widest reputation, as a local
editor, of any man on the Pacific coast, and you gravely come forward and
tell me "if I work hard and attend closely to my business, I may aspire
to a place on a big San Francisco daily, some day." There's a comment on
human vanity for you! Why, blast it, I was under the impression that I
could get such a situation as that any time I asked for it. But I don't
want it. No paper in the United States can afford to pay me what my
place on the "Enterprise" is worth. If I were not naturally a lazy,
idle, good-for-nothing vagabond, I could make it pay me $20,000 a year.
But I don't suppose I shall ever be any account. I lead an easy life,
though, and I don't care a cent whether school keeps or not. Everybody
knows me, and I fare like a prince wherever I go, be it on this side of
the mountains or the other. And I am proud to say I am the most
conceited ass in the Territory.
You think that picture looks old? Well, I can't help it--in reality I am
not as old as I was when I was eighteen.
I took a desperate cold more than a week ago, and I seduced Wilson (a
Missouri boy, reporter of the Daily Union,) from his labors, and we went
over to Lake Bigler. But I failed to cure my cold. I found the "Lake
House" crowded with the wealth and fashion of Virginia, and I could not
resist the temptation to take a hand in all the fun going. Those
Virginians--men and women both--are a stirring set, and I found if I went
with them on all their eternal excursions, I should bring the consumption
home with me--so I left, day before yesterday, and came back into the
Territory again. A lot of them had purchased a site for a town on the
Lake shore, and they gave me a lot. When you come out, I'll build you a
house on it. The Lake seems more supernaturally beautiful now, than
ever. It is the masterpiece of the Creation.
The hotel here at the Springs is not so much crowded as usual, and I am
having a very comfortable time of it. The hot, white steam puffs up out
of fissures in the earth like the jets that come from a steam-boat's
'scape pipes, and it makes a boiling, surging noise like a steam-boat,
too-hence the name. We put eggs in a handkerchief and dip them in the
springs--they "soft boil" in 2 Minutes, and boil as hard as a rock in
4 minutes. These fissures extend more than a quarter of a mile, and the
long line of steam columns looks very pretty. A large bath house is
built over one of the springs, and we go in it and steam ourselves as
long as we can stand it, and then come out and take a cold shower bath.
You get baths, board and lodging, all for $25 a week--cheaper than living
in Virginia without baths.....
It was now the autumn of 1863. Mark Twain was twenty-eight years
old. On the Coast he had established a reputation as a gaily
original newspaper writer. Thus far, however, he had absolutely no
literary standing, nor is there any evidence that he had literary
ambitions; his work was unformed, uncultivated--all of which seems
strange, now, when we realize that somewhere behind lay the
substance of immortality. Rudyard Kipling at twenty-eight had done
his greatest work.
Even Joseph Goodman, who had a fine literary perception and a deep
knowledge of men, intimately associated with Mark Twain as he was,
received at this time no hint of his greater powers. Another man on
the staff of the Enterprise, William Wright, who called himself "Dan
de Quille," a graceful humorist, gave far more promise, Goodman
thought, of future distinction.
It was Artemus Ward who first suspected the value of Mark Twain's
gifts, and urged him to some more important use of them. Artemus in
the course of a transcontinental lecture tour, stopped in Virginia
City, and naturally found congenial society on the Enterprise staff.
He had intended remaining but a few days, but lingered three weeks,
a period of continuous celebration, closing only with the holiday
season. During one night of final festivities, Ward slipped away
and gave a performance on his own account. His letter to Mark
Twain, from Austin, Nevada, written a day or two later, is most
Artemus Ward's letter to Mark Twain:
AUSTIN, Jan. 1, '64.
MY DEAREST LOVE,--I arrived here yesterday a.m. at 2 o'clock. It is a
wild, untamable place, full of lionhearted boys. I speak tonight. See
Why did you not go with me and save me that night?--I mean the night I
left you after that dinner party. I went and got drunker, beating, I may
say, Alexander the Great, in his most drinkinist days, and I blackened my
face at the Melodeon, and made a gibbering, idiotic speech. God-dam it!
I suppose the Union will have it. But let it go. I shall always
remember Virginia as a bright spot in my existence, as all others must or
rather cannot be, as it were.
Love to Jo. Goodman and Dan. I shall write soon, a powerfully convincing
note to my friends of "The Mercury." Your notice, by the way, did much
good here, as it doubtlessly will elsewhere. The miscreants of the Union
will be batted in the snout if they ever dare pollute this rapidly rising
city with their loathsome presence.
Some of the finest intellects in the world have been blunted by liquor.
Do not, sir--do not flatter yourself that you are the only chastely-
humorous writer onto the Pacific slopes.
Good-bye, old boy--and God bless you! The matter of which I spoke to you
so earnestly shall be just as earnestly attended to--and again with very
many warm regards for Jo. and Dan., and regards to many of the good
friends we met.
I am Faithfully, gratefully yours,
The Union which Ward mentions was the rival Virginia. City paper;
the Mercury was the New York Sunday Mercury, to which he had urged
Mark Twain to contribute. Ward wrote a second letter, after a siege
of illness at Salt Lake City. He was a frail creature, and three
years later, in London, died of consumption. His genius and
encouragement undoubtedly exerted an influence upon Mark Twain.
Ward's second letter here follows.
Artemus Ward to S. L. Clemens:
SALT LAKE CITY, Jan. 21, '64.
MY DEAR MARK,--I have been dangerously ill for the past two weeks here,
of congestive fever. Very grave fears were for a time entertained of my
recovery, but happily the malady is gone, though leaving me very, very
weak. I hope to be able to resume my journey in a week or so. I think
I shall speak in the Theater here, which is one of the finest
establishments of the kind in America.
The Saints have been wonderfully kind to me, I could not have been better
or more tenderly nursed at home--God bless them!
I am still exceedingly weak--can't write any more. Love to Jo and Dan,
and all the rest. Write me at St. Louis.
If one could only have Mark Twain's letters in reply to these! but
they have vanished and are probably long since dust. A letter which
he wrote to his mother assures us that he undertook to follow Ward's
advice. He was not ready, however, for serious literary effort.
The article, sent to the Mercury, was distinctly of the Comstock
variety; it was accepted, but it apparently made no impression, and
he did not follow it up.
For one thing, he was just then too busy reporting the Legislature
at Carson City and responding to social demands. From having been a
scarcely considered unit during the early days of his arrival in
Carson Mark Twain had attained a high degree of importance in the
little Nevada capital. In the Legislature he was a power; as
correspondent for the Enterprise he was feared and respected as well
as admired. His humor, his satire, and his fearlessness were
Also, he was of extraordinary popularity. Orion's wife, with her
little daughter, Jennie, had come out from the States. The Governor
of Nevada had no household in Carson City, and was generally absent.
Orion Clemens reigned in his stead, and indeed was usually addressed
as "Governor" Clemens. His home became the social center of the
capital, and his brilliant brother its chief ornament. From the
roughest of miners of a year before he had become, once more, almost
a dandy in dress, and no occasion was complete without him. When
the two Houses of the Legislature assembled, in January, 1864, a
burlesque Third House was organized and proposed to hold a session,
as a church benefit. After very brief consideration it was decided
to select Mark Twain to preside at this Third House assembly under
the title of "Governor," and a letter of invitation was addressed to
him. His reply to it follows:
To S. Pixley and G. A. Sears, Trustees:
CARSON CITY, January 23, 1864.
GENTLEMEN, Certainly. If the public can find anything in a grave state
paper worth paying a dollar for, I am willing that they should pay that
amount, or any other; and although I am not a very dusty Christian
myself, I take an absorbing interest in religious affairs, and would
willingly inflict my annual message upon the Church itself if it might
derive benefit thereby. You can charge what you please; I promise the
public no amusement, but I do promise a reasonable amount of instruction.
I am responsible to the Third House only, and I hope to be permitted to
make it exceedingly warm for that body, without caring whether the
sympathies of the public and the Church be enlisted in their favor, and
against myself, or not.
There is a quality in this letter more suggestive of the later Mark
Twain than anything that has preceded it. His Third House address,
unfortunately, has not been preserved, but those who heard it
regarded it as a classic. It probably abounded in humor of the
frontier sort-unsparing ridicule of the Governor, the Legislature,
and individual citizens. It was all taken in good part, of course,
and as a recognition of his success he received a gold watch, with
the case properly inscribed to "The Governor of the Third House."
This was really his first public appearance in a field in which he
was destined to achieve very great fame.
LETTERS 1864-66. SAN FRANCISCO AND HAWAII
Life on the Comstock came to an end for Mark Twain in May, 1864. It
was the time of The Flour Sack Sanitary Fund, the story of which he
has told in Roughing It. He does not, however, refer to the
troubles which this special fund brought upon himself. Coming into
the Enterprise office one night, after a gay day of "Fund"
celebration, Clemens wrote, for next day's paper, a paragraph
intended to be merely playful, but which proved highly offending to
certain ladies concerned with the flour-sack enterprise. No files
of the paper exist today, so we cannot judge of the quality of humor
that stirred up trouble.
The trouble, however, was genuine enough, Virginia's rival paper
seized upon the chance to humiliate its enemy, and presently words
were passed back and forth until nothing was left to write but a
challenge. The story of this duel, which did not come off, has been
quite fully told elsewhere, both by Mark Twain and the present
writer; but the following letter--a revelation of his inner feelings
in the matter of his offense--has never before been published.
To Mrs. Cutler, in Carson City:
VIRGINIA, May 23rd, 1864.
MRS. W. K. CUTLER:
MADAM,--I address a lady in every sense of the term. Mrs. Clemens has
informed me of everything that has occurred in Carson in connection with
that unfortunate item of mine about the Sanitary Funds accruing from the
ball, and from what I can understand, you are almost the only lady in
your city who has understood the circumstances under which my fault was
committed, or who has shown any disposition to be lenient with me. Had
the note of the ladies been properly worded, I would have published an
ample apology instantly--and possibly I might even have done so anyhow,
had that note arrived at any other time--but it came at a moment when I
was in the midst of what ought to have been a deadly quarrel with the
publishers of the Union, and I could not come out and make public
apologies to any one at such a time. It is bad policy to do it even now
(as challenges have already passed between myself and a proprietor of the
Union, and the matter is still in abeyance,) but I suppose I had better
say a word or two to show the ladies that I did not wilfully and
maliciously do them a wrong.
But my chief object, Mrs. Cutler, in writing you this note (and you will
pardon the liberty I have taken,) was to thank you very kindly and
sincerely for the consideration you have shown me in this matter, and for
your continued friendship for Mollie while others are disposed to
withdraw theirs on account of a fault for which I alone am responsible.
Very truly yours,
SAM. L. CLEMENS.
The matter did not end with the failure of the duel. A very strict
law had just been passed, making it a felony even to send or accept
a challenge. Clemens, on the whole, rather tired of Virginia City
and Carson, thought it a good time to go across the mountains to San
Francisco. With Steve Gillis, a printer, of whom he was very fond--
an inveterate joker, who had been more than half responsible for the
proposed duel, and was to have served as his second--he took the
stage one morning, and in due time was in the California metropolis,
at work on the Morning Call.
Clemens had been several times in San Francisco, and loved the
place. We have no letter of that summer, the first being dated
several months after his arrival. He was still working on the Call
when it was written, and contributing literary articles to the
Californian, of which Bret Harte, unknown to fame, was editor.
Harte had his office just above the rooms of the Call, and he and
Clemens were good friends. San Francisco had a real literary group
that, for a time at least, centered around the offices of the Golden
Era. In a letter that follows Clemens would seem to have scorned
this publication, but he was a frequent contributor to it at one
period. Joaquin Miller was of this band of literary pioneers; also
Prentice Mulford, Charles Warren Stoddard, Fitzhugh Ludlow, and
Orpheus C. Kerr.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
Sept. 25, 1864.
MY DEAR MOTHER AND SISTER,--You can see by my picture that this superb
climate agrees with me. And it ought, after living where I was never out
of sight of snow peaks twenty-four hours during three years. Here we
have neither snow nor cold weather; fires are never lighted, and yet
summer clothes are never worn--you wear spring clothing the year round.
Steve Gillis, who has been my comrade for two years, and who came down
here with me, is to be married, in a week or two, to a very pretty girl
worth $130,000 in her own right--and then I shall be alone again, until
they build a house, which they will do shortly.
We have been here only four months, yet we have changed our lodgings five
times, and our hotel twice. We are very comfortably fixed where we are,
now, and have no fault to find with the rooms or with the people--we are
the only lodgers in a well-to-do private family, with one grown daughter
and a piano in the parlor adjoining our room. But I need a change, and
must move again. I have taken rooms further down the street. I shall
stay in this little quiet street, because it is full of gardens and
shrubbery, and there are none but dwelling houses in it.
I am taking life easy, now, and I mean to keep it up for awhile. I don't
work at night any more. I told the "Call" folks to pay me $25 a week and
let me work only in daylight. So I get up at ten every morning, and quit
work at five or six in the afternoon. You ask if I work for greenbacks?
Hardly. What do you suppose I could do with greenbacks here?
I have engaged to write for the new literary paper--the "Californian"--
same pay I used to receive on the "Golden Era"--one article a week, fifty
dollars a month. I quit the "Era," long ago. It wasn't high-toned
enough. The "Californian" circulates among the highest class of the
community, and is the best weekly literary paper in the United States
--and I suppose I ought to know.
I work as I always did--by fits and starts. I wrote two articles last
night for the Californian, so that lets me out for two weeks. That would
be about seventy-five dollars, in greenbacks, wouldn't it?
Been down to San Jose (generally pronounced Sannozay--emphasis on last
syllable)--today fifty miles from here, by railroad. Town of 6,000
inhabitants, buried in flowers and shrubbery. The climate is finer than
ours here, because it is not so close to the ocean, and is protected from
the winds by the coast range.
I had an invitation today, to go down on an excursion to San Luis Obispo,
and from thence to the city of Mexico, to be gone six or eight weeks, or
possibly longer, but I could not accept, on account of my contract to act
as chief mourner or groomsman at Steve's wedding.
I have triumphed. They refused me and other reporters some information
at a branch of the Coroner's office--Massey's undertaker establishment,
a few weeks ago. I published the wickedest article on them I ever wrote
in my life, and you can rest assured we got all the information we wanted
By the new census, San Francisco has a population of 130,000. They don't
count the hordes of Chinamen.
I send a picture for Annie, and one for Aunt Ella--that is, if she will
Relations with the Call ceased before the end of the year, though
not in the manner described in Roughing It. Mark Twain loved to
make fiction of his mishaps, and to show himself always in a bad
light. As a matter of fact, he left the Call with great
willingness, and began immediately contributing a daily letter to
the Enterprise, which brought him a satisfactory financial return.
In the biographical sketch with which this volume opens, and more
extendedly elsewhere, has been told the story of the trouble growing
out of the Enterprise letters, and of Mark Twain's sojourn with
James Gillis in the Tuolumne Hills. Also how, in the frowsy hotel
at Angel's Camp, he heard the frog anecdote that would become the
corner-stone of his fame. There are no letters of this period--only
some note-book entries. It is probable that he did not write home,
believing, no doubt, that he had very little to say.
For more than a year there is not a line that has survived. Yet it
had been an important year; the jumping frog story, published in New
York, had been reprinted East and West, and laughed over in at least
a million homes. Fame had not come to him, but it was on the way.
Yet his outlook seems not to have been a hopeful one.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 20, 1866.
MY DEAR MOTHER AND SISTER,--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
Artemus Ward, and then it reached New York too late to appear in his
But no matter. His book was a wretchedly poor one, generally speaking,
and it could be no credit to either of us to appear between its covers.
This paragraph is from the New York correspondence of the San Francisco
(Clipping pasted in.)
"Mark Twain's story in the Saturday Press of November 18th, called
'Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog,' has set all New York in a roar,
and he may be said to have made his mark. I have been asked fifty
times about it and its author, and the papers are copying it far and
near. It is voted the best thing of the day. Cannot the
Californian afford to keep Mark all to itself? It should not let
him scintillate so widely without first being filtered through the
The New York publishing house of Carleton & Co. gave the sketch to the
Saturday Press when they found it was too late for the book.
Though I am generally placed at the head of my breed of scribblers in
this part of the country, the place properly belongs to Bret Harte,
I think, though he denies it, along with the rest. He wants me to club a
lot of old sketches together with a lot of his, and publish a book.
I wouldn't do it, only he agrees to take all the trouble. But I want to
know whether we are going to make anything out of it, first. However, he
has written to a New York publisher, and if we are offered a bargain that
will pay for a month's labor we will go to work and prepare the volume
for the press.
Bret Harte and Clemens had by this time quit the Californian,
expecting to contribute to Eastern periodicals. Clemens, however,
was not yet through with Coast journalism. There was much interest
just at this time in the Sandwich Islands, and he was selected by
the foremost Sacramento paper to spy out the islands and report
aspects and conditions there. His letters home were still
infrequent, but this was something worth writing.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
SAN FRANCISCO, March 5th, 1866.
MY DEAR MOTHER AND SISTER,--I start to do Sandwich Islands day after
tomorrow, (I suppose Annie is geographer enough by this time to find them
on the map), in the steamer "Ajax." We shall arrive there in about
twelve days. My friends seem determined that I shall not lack
acquaintances, for I only decided today to go, and they have already sent
me letters of introduction to everybody down there worth knowing. I am
to remain there a month and ransack the islands, the great cataracts and
the volcanoes completely, and write twenty or thirty letters to the
Sacramento Union--for which they pay me as much money as I would get if I
staid at home.
If I come back here I expect to start straight across the continent by
way of the Columbia river, the Pend d'Oreille Lakes, through Montana and
down the Missouri river,--only 200 miles of land travel from San
Francisco to New Orleans.
Goodbye for the present.
His home letters from the islands are numerous enough; everything
there being so new and so delightful that he found joy in telling of
it; also, he was still young enough to air his triumphs a little,
especially when he has dined with the Grand Chamberlain and is going
to visit the King!
The languorous life of the islands exactly suited Mask Twain. All
his life he remembered them--always planning to return, some day, to
stay there until he died. In one of his note-books he wrote: "Went
with Mr. Dam to his cool, vine-shaded home; no care-worn or eager,
anxious faces in this land of happy contentment. God, what a
contrast with California and the Washoe!"
"Oh, Islands there are on the face of the deep
Where the leaves never fade and the skies never weep."
The letters tell the story of his sojourn, which stretched itself
into nearly five months.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
HONOLULU, SANDWICH ISLANDS, April 3, 1866.
MY DEAR MOTHER AND SISTER,--I have been here two or three weeks, and like
the beautiful tropical climate better and better. I have ridden on
horseback all over this island (Oahu) in the meantime, and have visited
all the ancient battle-fields and other places of interest. I have got a
lot of human bones which I took from one of these battle-fields--I guess
I will bring you some of them. I went with the American Minister and
took dinner this evening with the King's Grand Chamberlain, who is
related to the royal family, and although darker than a mulatto, he has
an excellent English education and in manners is an accomplished
gentleman. The dinner was as ceremonious as any I ever attended in
California--five regular courses, and five kinds of wine and one of
brandy. He is to call for me in the morning with his carriage, and we
will visit the King at the palace--both are good Masons--the King is a
Royal Arch Mason. After dinner tonight they called in the "singing
girls," and we had some beautiful music; sung in the native tongue.
The steamer I came here in sails tomorrow, and as soon as she is gone I
shall sail for the other islands of the group and visit the great
volcano--the grand wonder of the world. Be gone two months.
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
WAILUKU SUGAR PLANTATION,
ISLAND OF MAUI, H. I., May 4,1866.
MY DEAR MOTHER AND SISTER,--11 O'clock at night.--This is the
infernalist darkest country, when the moon don't shine; I stumbled and
fell over my horse's lariat a minute ago and hurt my leg, so I must stay
I got the same leg hurt last week; I said I hadn't got hold of a spirited
horse since I had been on the island, and one of the proprietors loaned
me a big vicious colt; he was altogether too spirited; I went to tighten
the cinch before mounting him, when he let out with his left leg (?) and
kicked me across a ten-acre lot. A native rubbed and doctored me so well
that I was able to stand on my feet in half an hour. It was then half
after four and I had an appointment to go seven miles and get a girl and
take her to a card party at five.
I have been clattering around among the plantations for three weeks, now,
and next week I am going to visit the extinct crater of Mount Haleakala--
the largest in the world; it is ten miles to the foot of the mountain; it
rises 10,000 feet above the valley; the crater is 29 miles in
circumference and 1,000 feet deep. Seen from the summit, the city of St.
Louis would look like a picture in the bottom of it.
As soon as I get back from Haleakala (pronounced Hally-ekka-lah) I will
sail for Honolulu again and thence to the Island of Hawaii (pronounced
Hah-wy-ye,) to see the greatest active volcano in the world--that of
Kilauea (pronounced Kee-low-way-ah)--and from thence back to San
Francisco--and then, doubtless, to the States. I have been on this trip
two months, and it will probably be two more before I get back to
He was having a glorious time--one of the most happy, carefree
adventures of his career. No form of travel or undertaking could
discountenance Mark Twain at thirty.
To Mrs. Orion Clemens, in Carson City:
HONOLULU, May 22, 1866.
MY DEAR SISTER,--I have just got back from a sea voyage--from the
beautiful island of Maui, I have spent five weeks there, riding backwards
and forwards among the sugar plantations--looking up the splendid scenery
and visiting the lofty crater of Haleakala. It has been a perfect
jubilee to me in the way of pleasure.
I have not written a single line, and have not once thought of business,
or care or human toil or trouble or sorrow or weariness. Few such months
come in a lifetime.
I set sail again, a week hence, for the island of Hawaii, to see the
great active volcano of Kilauea. I shall not get back here for four or
five weeks, and shall not reach San Francisco before the latter part of
So it is no use to wait for me to go home. Go on yourselves.
If I were in the east now, I could stop the publication of a piratical
book which has stolen some of my sketches.
It is late-good-bye, Mollie,
To Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
HONOLULU, SANDWICH ISLANDS, June 21,1866.
MY DEAR MOTHER AND SISTER,--I have just got back from a hard trip through
the Island of Hawaii, begun on the 26th of May and finished on the 18th
of June--only six or seven days at sea--all the balance horse-back, and
the hardest mountain road in the world. I staid at the volcano about a
week and witnessed the greatest eruption that has occurred for years.
I lived well there. They charge $4 a day for board, and a dollar or two
extra for guides and horses. I had a pretty good time. They didn't
charge me anything. I have got back sick--went to bed as soon as I
arrived here--shall not be strong again for several days yet. I rushed
too fast. I ought to have taken five or six weeks on that trip.
A week hence I start for the Island of Kauai, to be gone three weeks and
then I go back to California.
The Crown Princess is dead and thousands of natives cry and wail and
dance and dance for the dead, around the King's Palace all night and
every night. They will keep it up for a month and then she will be
Hon. Anson Burlingame, U. S. Minister to China, and Gen. Van Valkenburgh,
Minister to Japan, with their families and suites, have just arrived here
en route. They were going to do me the honor to call on me this morning,
and that accounts for my being out of bed now. You know what condition
my room is always in when you are not around--so I climbed out of bed and
dressed and shaved pretty quick and went up to the residence of the
American Minister and called on them. Mr. Burlingame told me a good deal
about Hon. Jere Clemens and that Virginia Clemens who was wounded in a
duel. He was in Congress years with both of them. Mr. B. sent for his
son, to introduce him--said he could tell that frog story of mine as well
as anybody. I told him I was glad to hear it for I never tried to tell
it myself without making a botch of it. At his request I have loaned Mr.
Burlingame pretty much everything I ever wrote. I guess he will be an
almighty wise man by the time he wades through that lot.
If the New United States Minister to the Sandwich Islands (Hon. Edwin
McCook,) were only here now, so that I could get his views on this new
condition of Sandwich Island politics, I would sail for California at
once. But he will not arrive for two weeks yet and so I am going to
spend that interval on the island of Kauai.
I stopped three days with Hon. Mr. Cony, Deputy Marshal of the Kingdom,
at Hilo, Hawaii, last week and by a funny circumstance he knew everybody
that I ever knew in Hannibal and Palmyra. We used to sit up all night
talking and then sleep all day. He lives like a Prince. Confound that
Island! I had a streak of fat and a streak of lean all over it--got lost
several times and had to sleep in huts with the natives and live like a
Of course I couldn't speak fifty words of the language. Take it
altogether, though, it was a mighty hard trip.
Burlingame and Van Valkenburgh were on their way to their posts,
and their coming to the islands just at this time proved a most
important circumstance to Mark Twain. We shall come to this
presently, in a summary of the newspaper letters written to the
Union. June 27th he wrote to his mother and sister a letter, only a
fragment of which survives, in which he tells of the arrival in
Honolulu of the survivors of the ship Hornet, burned on the line,
and of his securing the first news report of the lost vessel.
Part of a letter to Mrs. Jane Clemens and Mrs. Moffett, in St. Louis:
HONOLULU, June 27, 1866 .
. . . with a gill of water a day to each man. I got the whole story
from the third mate and two of the sailors. If my account gets to the
Sacramento Union first, it will be published first all over the United
States, France, England, Russia and Germany--all over the world; I may
say. You will see it. Mr. Burlingame went with me all the time, and
helped me question the men--throwing away invitations to dinner with the
princes and foreign dignitaries, and neglecting all sorts of things to
accommodate me. You know how I appreciate that kind of thing--especially
from such a man, who is acknowledged to have no superior in the
diplomatic circles of the world, and obtained from China concessions in
favor of America which were refused to Sir Frederick Bruce and Envoys of
France and Russia until procured for them by Burlingame himself--which
service was duly acknowledged by those dignitaries. He hunted me up as
soon as he came here, and has done me a hundred favors since, and says if
I will come to China in the first trip of the great mail steamer next
January and make his house in Pekin my home, he will afford me facilities
that few men can have there for seeing and learning. He will give me
letters to the chiefs of the great Mail Steamship Company which will be
of service to me in this matter. I expect to do all this, but I expect
to go to the States first--and from China to the Paris World's Fair.
Don't show this letter.
P. S. The crown Princess of this Kingdom will be buried tomorrow with
great ceremony--after that I sail in two weeks for California.
This concludes Mark Twain's personal letters from the islands.
Of his descriptive news letters there were about twenty, and they
were regarded by the readers of the Union as distinctly notable.
Re-reading those old letters to-day it is not altogether easy to
understand why. They were set in fine nonpareil type, for one
thing, which present-day eyes simply refuse at any price, and the
reward, by present-day standards, is not especially tempting.
The letters began in the Union with the issue of April the 16th,
1866. The first--of date March 18th--tells of the writer's arrival
at Honolulu. The humor in it is not always of a high order; it
would hardly pass for humor today at all. That the same man who
wrote the Hawaiian letters in 1866 (he was then over thirty years
old) could, two years later, have written that marvelous book, the
Innocents Abroad, is a phenomenon in literary development.
The Hawaiian letters, however, do show the transition stage between
the rough elemental humor of the Comstock and the refined and subtle
style which flowered in the Innocents Abroad. Certainly Mark
Twain's genius was finding itself, and his association with the
refined and cultured personality of Anson Burlingame undoubtedly
aided in that discovery. Burlingame pointed out his faults to him,
and directed him to a better way. No more than that was needed at
such a time to bring about a transformation.
The Sandwich Islands letters, however, must have been precisely
adapted to their audience--a little more refined than the log
Comstock, a little less subtle than the Atlantic public--and they
added materially to his Coast prestige. But let us consider a
sample extract from the first Sandwich Islands letter:
Our little band of passengers were as well and thoughtfully cared for by
the friends they left weeping upon the wharf, as ever were any similar
body of pilgrims. The traveling outfit conferred upon me began with a
naval uniform, continued with a case of wine, a small assortment of
medicinal liquors and brandy, several boxes of cigars, a bunch of
matches, a fine-toothed comb, and a cake of soap, and ended with a pair
of socks. (N. B. I gave the soap to Brown, who bit into it, and then.
shook his head and said that, as a general thing, he liked to prospect
curious, foreign dishes, and find out what they were made of, but he
couldn't go that, and threw it overboard.)
It is nearly impossible to imagine humor in this extract, yet it is
a fair sample of the entire letter.
He improves in his next, at least, in description, and gives us a
picture of the crater. In this letter, also, he writes well and
seriously, in a prophetic strain, of the great trade that is to be
established between San Francisco and Hawaii, and argues for a line
of steamers between the ports, in order that the islands might be
populated by Americans, by which course European trade in that
direction could be superseded. But the humor in this letter, such
as it is, would scarcely provoke a smile to-day.
As the letters continue, he still urges the fostering of the island
trade by the United States, finds himself impressed by the work of
the missionaries, who have converted cannibals to Christians, and
gives picturesque bits of the life and scenery.
Hawaii was then dominated chiefly by French and English; though the
American interests were by no means small.
Extract from letter No. 4:
Cap. Fitch said "There's the king. That's him in the buggy. I know him
as far as I can see him."
I had never seen a king, and I naturally took out a note-book and put him
down: "Tall, slender, dark, full-bearded; green frock-coat, with lapels
and collar bordered with gold band an inch wide; plug hat, broad gold
band around it; royal costume looks too much like livery; this man is not
as fleshy as I thought he was."
I had just got these notes when Cap. Fitch discovered that he'd got hold
of the wrong king, or rather, that he'd got hold of the king's driver,
or a carriage driver of one of the nobility. The king wasn't present at
all. It was a great disappointment to me. I heard afterwards that the
comfortable, easy-going king, Kamehameha V., had been seen sitting on a
barrel on the wharf, the day before, fishing. But there was no
consolation in that. That did not restore me my lost king.
This has something of the flavor of the man we were to know later;
the quaint, gentle resignation to disappointment which is one of the
finest touches in his humor.
Further on he says: "I had not shaved since I left San Francisco.
As soon as I got ashore I hunted up a striped pole, and shortly
found one. I always had a yearning to be a king. This may never
be, I suppose, but, at any rate, it will always be a satisfaction to
me to know that, if I am not a king, I am the next thing to it.
I have been shaved by the king's barber."
Honolulu was a place of cats. He saw cats of every shade and
variety. He says: "I saw cats--tomcats, Mary-Ann cats, bobtailed
cats, blind cats, one-eyed cats, wall-eyed cats, cross-eyed cats,
gray cats, black cats, white cats, yellow cats, striped cats,
spotted cats, tame cats, wild cats, singed cats, individual cats,
groups of cats, platoons of cats, companies of cats, armies of cats,
multitudes of cats, millions of cats, and all of them sleek, fat,
and lazy, and sound asleep." Which illustrates another
characteristic of the humor we were to know later--the humor of
grotesque exaggeration, in which he was always strong.
He found the islands during his periods of inaction conducive to
indolence. "If I were not so fond of looking into the rich mass of
green leaves," he says, "that swathe the stately tamarind right
before my door, I would idle less, and write more, I think."
The Union made good use of his letters. Sometimes it printed them
on the front page. Evidently they were popular from the beginning.
The Union was a fine, handsome paper--beautiful in its minute
typography, and in its press-work; more beautiful than most papers
of to-day, with their machine-set type, their vulgar illustrations,
and their chain-lightning presses. A few more extracts:
"The only cigars here are those trifling, insipid, tasteless,
flavorless things they call Manilas--ten for twenty-five cents--and
it would take a thousand of them to be worth half the money. After
you have smoked about thirty-five dollars' worth of them in the
forenoon, you feel nothing but a desperate yearning to go out
somewhere and take a smoke."
"Captains and ministers form about half the population. The third
fourth is composed of Kanakas and mercantile foreigners and their
families. The final fourth is made up of high officers of the
Hawaiian government, and there are just about enough cats to go
In No. 6, April the 2d, he says: "An excursion to Diamond Head, and
the king's cocoanut grove, was planned to-day, at 4.30 P. M., the
party to consist of half a dozen gentlemen and three ladies. They
all started at the appointed hour except myself. Somebody remarked
that it was twenty minutes past five o'clock, and that woke me up.
It was a fortunate circumstance that Cap. Phillips was there with
his 'turn-out,' as he calls his top buggy that Cap. Cook brought
here in 1778, and a horse that was here when Cap. Cook came."
This bit has something the savor of his subsequent work, but, as a
rule, the humor compares poorly with that which was to come later.
In No. 7 he speaks of the natives singing American songs--not always
to his comfort. "Marching Through Georgia" was one of their
favorite airs. He says: "If it had been all the same to Gen.
Sherman, I wish he had gone around by the way of the Gulf of Mexico,
instead of marching through Georgia."
Letters Nos. 8, 9, and 10 were not of special importance. In No. 10
he gives some advice to San Francisco as to the treatment of
whalers. He says:
"If I were going to advise San Francisco as to the best strategy to
employ in order to secure the whaling trade, I should say, 'Cripple
your facilities for "pulling" sea captains on any pretence that
sailors can trump up, and show the whaler a little more
consideration when he is in port."'
In No. 11, May 24th, he tells of a trip to the Kalehi Valley, and
through historic points. At one place he looked from a precipice
over which old Kamehameha I. drove the army of Oahu, three-quarters
of a century before.
The vegetation and glory of the tropics attracted him. "In one open
spot a vine of a species unknown had taken possession of two tall
dead stumps, and wound around and about them, and swung out from
their tops, and twined their meeting tendrils together into a
faultless arch. Man, with all his art, could not improve upon its
He saw Sam Brannan's palace, "The Bungalow," built by one Shillaber
of San Francisco at a cost of from thirty to forty thousand dollars.
In its day it had outshone its regal neighbor, the palace of the
king, but had fallen to decay after passing into Brannan's hands,
and had become a picturesque Theban ruin by the time of Mark Twain's
In No. 12, June 20th (written May 23d), he tells of the Hawaiian
Legislature, and of his trip to the island of Maui, where, as he
says, he never spent so pleasant a month before, or bade any place
good-by so regretfully.
In No. 13 he continues the Legislature, and gives this picture of
Minister Harris: "He is six feet high, bony and rather slender;
long, ungainly arms; stands so straight he leans back a little; has
small side whiskers; his head long, up and down; he has no command
of language or ideas; oratory all show and pretence; a big washing