The Boys’ Life of Mark Twain
by Paine

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Public Domain Books

XIX. The Pioneer

He arrived in Keokuk at what seemed a lucky moment. Through Edward Bates, a member of Lincoln’s Cabinet, Orion Clemens had received an appointment as territorial secretary of Nevada, and only needed the money to carry him to the seat of his office at Carson City. Out of his pilot’s salary his brother had saved more than enough for the journey, and was willing to pay both their fares and go along as private secretary to Orion, whose position promised something in the way of adventure and a possible opportunity for making a fortune.

The brothers went at once to St. Louis for final leave-taking, and there took boat for “St. Jo,” Missouri, terminus of the great Overland Stage Route. They paid one hundred and fifty dollars each for their passage, and about the end of July, 1861, set out on that long, delightful trip, behind sixteen galloping horses, never stopping except for meals or to change teams, heading steadily into the sunset over the billowy plains and snow-clad Rockies, covering the seventeen hundred miles between St. Jo and Carson City in nineteen glorious days.

But one must read Mark Twain’s “Roughing It” for the story of that long- ago trip–the joy and wonder of it, and the inspiration. “Even at this day,” he writes, “it thrills me through and through to think of the life, the gladness, and the wild sense of freedom that used to make the blood dance in my face on those fine overland mornings.”

It was a hot dusty, August day when they arrived, dusty, unshaven, and weather-beaten, and Samuel Clemens’s life as a frontiersman began. Carson City, the capital of Nevada, was a wooden town with an assorted population of two thousand souls. The mining excitement was at its height and had brought together the drift of every race.

The Clemens brothers took up lodgings with a genial Irishwoman, the Mrs. O’Flannigan of “Roughing It,” and Orion established himself in a modest office, for there was no capitol building as yet, no government headquarters. Orion could do all the work, and Samuel Clemens, finding neither duties nor salary attached to his position, gave himself up to the study of the life about him, and to the enjoyment of the freedom of the frontier. Presently he had a following of friends who loved his quaint manner of speech and his yarns. On cool nights they would collect about Orion’s office-stove, and he would tell stories in the wonderful way that one day would delight the world. Within a brief time Sam Clemens (he was always “Sam” to the pioneers) was the most notable figure on the Carson streets. His great, bushy head of auburn hair, has piercing, twinkling eyes, his loose, lounging walk, his careless disorder of dress invited a second look, even from strangers. From a river dandy he had become the roughest-clad of pioneers–rusty slouch hat, flannel shirt, coarse trousers slopping half in and half out of heavy cowhide boots, this was his make-up. Energetic citizens did not prophesy success for him. Often they saw him leaning against an awning support, staring drowsily at the motley human procession, for as much as an hour at a time. Certainly that could not be profitable.

But they did like to hear him talk.

He did not catch the mining fever at once. He was interested first in the riches that he could see. Among these was the timber-land around Lake Bigler (now Tahoe)–splendid acres, to be had for the asking. The lake itself was beautifully situated.

With an Ohio boy, John Kinney, he made an excursion afoot to Tahoe, a trip described in one of the best chapters of “Roughing It.” They staked out a timber claim and pretended to fence it and to build a house, but their chief employment was loafing in the quiet luxury of the great woods or drifting in a boat on the transparent water. They did not sleep in the house. In “Roughing It” he says:

“It never occurred to us, for one thing; and, besides, it was built to hold the ground, and that was enough. We did not wish to strain it.”

They made their camp-fires on the borders of the lake, and one evening it got away from them, fired the forest, and destroyed their fences and habitation. In a letter home he describes this fire in a fine, vivid way. At one place he says:

“The level ranks of flame were relieved at intervals by the standard- bearers, as we called the tall dead trees, wrapped in fire, and waving their blazing banners a hundred feet in the air. Then we could turn from the scene to the lake, and see every branch and leaf and cataract of flame upon its banks perfectly reflected, as in a gleaming, fiery mirror.”

He was acquiring the literary vision and touch. The description of this same fire in “Roughing It,” written ten years later, is scarcely more vivid.

Most of his letters home at this time tell of glowing prospects–the certainty of fortune ahead. The fever of the frontier is in them. Once, to Pamela Moffett, he wrote:

“Orion and I have enough confidence in this country to think that, if the war lets us alone, we can make Mr. Moffett rich without its ever costing him a cent or a particle of trouble.”

From the same letter we gather that the brothers are now somewhat interested in mining claims:

“We have about 1,650 feet of mining-ground, and, if it proves good, Mr. Moffett’s name will go in; and if not, I can get ’feet’ for him in the spring.”

This was written about the end of October. Two months later, in midwinter, the mining fever came upon him with full force.


Preface  •  I. The Family of John Clemens  •  II. The New Home, and Uncle John Quarles’s Farm  •  IV. Education Out of School  •  V. Tom Sawyer and His Band  •  VI. Closing School-Days  •  VII. The Apprentice  •  VIII. Orion’s Paper  •  IX. The Open Road  •  X. A Wind of Chance  •  XI. The Long Way to the Amazon  •  XII. Renewing an Old Ambition  •  XIII. Learning the River  •  XIV. River Days  •  XV. The Wreck of the “Pennsylvania”  •  XVI. The Pilot  •  XVII. The End of Piloting  •  XVIII. The Soldier  •  XIX. The Pioneer  •  XX. The Miner  •  XXI. The Territorial Enterprise  •  XXII. “Mark Twain”  •  XXIII. Artemus Ward and Literary San Francisco  •  XXIV. The Discovery of “The Jumping Frog”  •  XXV. Hawaii and Anson Burlingame  •  XXVI. Mark Twain, Lecturer  •  XXVII. An Innocent Abroad, and Home Again  •  XXVIII. Olivia Langdon. Work on the “Innocents”  •  XXIX. The Visit to Elmira and Its Consequences  •  XXX. The New Book and a Wedding  •  XXXI. Mark Twain in Buffalo  •  XXXII. At Work on “Roughing It”  •  XXXIII. In England  •  XXXIV. A New Book and New English Triumphs  •  XXXV. Beginning “Tom Sawyer”  •  XXXVI. The New Home  •  XXXVII. “Old Times,” “Sketches,” And “Tom Sawyer”  •  XXXVIII. Home Pictures  •  XXXIX. Tramping Abroad  •  XL. “The Prince and the Pauper”  •  XLI. General Grant at Hartford  •  XLII. Many Investments  •  XLIII. Back to the River, With Bixby  •  XLIV. A Reading-Tour With Cable  •  XLV. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”  •  XLVI. Publisher to General Grant  •  XLVII. The High-Tide of Fortune  •  XLVIII. Business Difficulties. Pleasanter Things  •  XLIX. Kipling at Elmira. Elsie Leslie. The “Yankee”  •  L. The Machine. Good-By to Hartford. “Joan” Is Begun  •  LI. The Failure of Webster & Co. Around the World. Sorrow  •  LII. European Economies  •  LIII. Mark Twain Pays His Debts  •  LIV. Return After Exile  •  LV. A Prophet At Home  •  LVI. Honored by Missouri  •  LVII. The Close of a Beautiful Life  •  LVIII. Mark Twain at Seventy  •  LIX. Mark Twain Arranges for His Biography  •  LX. Working With Mark Twain  •  LXI. Dictations at Dublin, N. H.  •  LXII. A New Era of Billiards  •  LXIII. Living With Mark Twain  •  LXIV. A Degree From Oxford  •  LXV. The Removal to Redding  •  LXVI. Life at Stormfield  •  LXVII. The Death of Jean  •  LXVIII. Days in Bermuda  •  LXIX. The Return to Redding  •  LXX. The Close of a Great Life

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The boys' life of Mark Twain: The story of a man who made the world laugh and love him
By Albert Bigelow Paine
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