Home | Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search

San Francisco Alta California, June 2, 1867

New York,
April l9th, 1867.


EDITORS ALTA: The Mormons were holding a grand pow-wow at Keokuk, when I was there a week ago, the object of which was to devise ways and means of ousting Brigham Young from office and putting young Joe Smith in his place. Four hundred of the Saints were present, from various places in Missouri and Illinois, and young Joe, a simple, well-meaning, and very dull preacher was with them. They came to town dressed in homely jeans, and bringing horns, and cymbals, and trumpets and all the ungodly paraphernalia of their choir service as I used to hear it performed in the Mormon Church in St. Louis years ago. They are good, honest people, believe thoroughly in their religion, and are earnest in their hope of getting Joe Smith placed at the head of the whole Church. They say they will accomplish it. They call Brigham a wicked imposter and his new-fangled Mormonism a swindle. They claim that polygamy is not a tenet of genuine Mormonism.

It is strange how this lost tribe has kept its faith through so many years of sorrow and disaster. These are people who were scattered in tents for miles and miles along the roads through Iowa when the Mormons were driven out of Nauvoo with fire and sword, twenty-five years ago. Their heavy misfortunes appealed so movingly to the kindly instincts of the Iowa people that they rescued them from starvation, and gave them houses and food and employment, and gradually they became absorbed into the population and lost sight of - forgotten entirely, in fact, till this Convention of young Joe's called them out, and then from every unsuspected nook and cranny crept a Mormon - a Mormon who had for many a year been taken for a Baptist, or a Methodist, or some other kind of Christian.

But young Joe had better look out, for it has been a well credited rumor in Keokuk for two years or more that Brigham has set a price upon his head and keeps a destroying angel or so on his track all the time, ready to kill him when the opportunity offers. And they say that if these Mormons were to start to Salt Lake, young Joe would never get out of sight of Council Bluffs alive.


I stopped at the Heming House in Keokuk. It used to be a good hotel, but that proves nothing - I used to be a good boy, for that matter. Both of us have lost character of late years. The Heming is not a good hotel. The Heming lacks a very great deal of being a good hotel. Perdition is full of better hotels than the Heming.

It was late at night when I got there, and I told the clerk I would like plenty of lights, because I wanted to read an hour or two. When I reached No. 15 with the porter, (we came along a dim hall that was clad in ancient carpeting, faded, worn out in many places, and patched with old scraps of oil cloth - a hall that sank under one's feet, creaked dismally to every footstep,) he struck a light - two inches of sallow, sorrowful, consumptive tallow candle, that burned blue, and sputtered, and got discouraged and went out. The porter lit it again, and I asked if that was all the light the clerk sent. He said, "Oh no, I've got another one here," and he produced another couple of inches of tallow candle. I said, "Light them both - I'll have to have one to see the other by." He did it, but the result was drearier than darkness itself. He was a cheery, accommodating rascal. He said he would go "somewheres" and steal a lamp. I abetted and encouraged him in his criminal design. I heard the landlord get after him in the hall ten minutes afterward. "Where are you going with that lamp?" "Fifteen wants it, sir."

"Fifteen! why he's got a double lot of candles - does the man want to illuminate the house? - does he want to get up a torchlight procession? - what is he up to, anyhow?"

"He don't like them candles - says he wants a lamp."

"Why what in the nation does - why I never heard of such a thing? What on earth can he want with that lamp?"

"Well, he on'y wants to read - that's what he says."

"Wants to read, does he? - ain't satisfied with a thousand candles, but has to have a lamp! - I do wonder what the devil that fellow wants that lamp for? Take him another candle, and then if "

"But he wants the lamp - says he'll burn the d----d old house down if he don't get a lamp!" (a remark which I never made.)

"I'd like to see him at it once. Well, you take it along - but I swear it beats my time, though - and see if you can't find out what in the very nation he wants with that lamp."

And he went off growling to himself and still wondering and wondering over the unaccountable conduct of No. 15. The lamp was a good one, but it revealed some disagreeable things - a bed in the suburbs of a desert of room - a bed that had hills and valleys in it, and you'd have to accommodate your body to the impression left in it by the man that slept there last, before you could lie comfortably; a carpet that had seen better days; a melancholy washstand in a remote corner, and a dejected pitcher on it sorrowing over a broken nose; a looking-glass split across the centre, which chopped your head off at the chin and made you look like some dreadful unfinished monster or other; the paper peeling in shreds from the walls.

I sighed and said: "This is charming; and now don't you think you could get me something to read?"

The porter said, "Oh, certainly; the old man's got dead loads of books ;" and he was gone before I could tell him what sort of literature I would rather have. And yet his countenance expressed the utmost confidence in his ability to execute the commission with credit to himself. The old man made a descent on him:

"What are you going to do with that pile of books?"

"Fifteen wants 'em, sir."

"Fifteen, is it? He'll want a warming-pan, next - he'll want a nurse. Take him everything there is in the house - take him the barkeeper - take him the baggage-wagon - take him a chamber-maid! Confound me, I never saw anything like it. What did he say he wants with those books?"

"Wants to read 'em, like enough; it ain't likely he wants to eat 'em, I don't reckon."

"Wants to read 'em- wants to read 'em this time of night, the infernal lunatic! Well, he can't have them."

"But he says he's mor'ly bound to have 'em; he says he'll just go a-rairin' and a-chargin' through this house and raise more well, there's no tellin' what he won't do if he don't get 'em; because he's drunk and crazy and desperate, and nothing'll soothe him down but them cussed books." [I had not made any threats, and was not in the condition ascribed to me by the porter.]

"Well, go on; but I will be around when he goes to rairing and charging, and the first rair he makes I'll make him rair out of the window." And then the old gentleman went off, growling as before.

The genius of that porter was something wonderful. He put an armful of books on the bed and said "Good night" as confidently as if he knew perfectly well that those books were exactly my style of reading matter. And well he might. His selection covered the whole range of legitimate literature. It comprised "The Great Consummation," by Rev. Dr. Cummings - theology; "Revised Statutes of the State of Missouri" - law; "The Complete Horse-Doctor" - medicine; "The Toilers of the Sea," by Victor Hugo - romance; "The Works of William Shakespeare" - poetry. I shall never cease to admire the tact and the intelligence of that gifted porter. I moved to the Tepfer house next day - a hotel which is well furnished, well conducted, and altogether a satisfactory place to live in.


Is hardly worth mentioning, but there are thousands in California who know the place well, and would like to learn its fate, maybe. I find it thus described among my notes:

"Half a dozen ruined frame houses just ready to cave into the river; a ruined frame church, with roof full of holes; it has grown weak in the knees from floods and neglect, and has settled clear down till its eaves rest upon the ground, just as if it had sunk - nothing is left of it but the roof and the crazy, leaning steeple; the poor thing looks like a melancholy hen sitting on a hopeless nest of eggs. Marion City used to be an important shipping point. The railroads killed it."


We came East in an express train this time. It had fewer inconvenient features about it than that gravel train we went West in. It had one important one, though. We never could get a complete meal. We could eat a few minutes at a time, very often, but there was not a great deal of satisfaction about that. About the time you get fairly to eating, they yell, "All aboard for Cleveland!" and you have to start. Brown said he ate eleven dollars' worth the first day and then got into the sleeping car hungry.

And there were the peddlers. I bought out the pop-corn boy to get rid of him, because I was trying to compose a poem for a young lady's album. But he came right back with a stock of peanuts. I took a few and hurried him away and he returned with some ice-cream candy. I do not like ice-cream candy and peanuts together, but I invested at once because a lucky rhyme had been born to me and I wanted to set it down before it slipped me. Then the scoundrel came back with tobacco and cigars, and afterwards with oranges, imitation ivory baby-whistles, fig-paste and apples, and then he went away and was gone some time, and I was encouraged to hope the train had run over him. Such was not the case. He was only keeping his most malignant out rage for the last. He was getting his literature ready. And from that time onward that degraded youth did nothing but march from one car to the other and afflict the passengers with specimen copies of the vilest blood and thunder romances on earth - "Lionel Warburton, or the Perjurer's Doom ;" "Godfrey de Langley, or the Carnival of Blood;" "One-Eyed Bill, or the Desperado's Revenge" - those were some of his mildest works; and on their backs were pictures of stabbing affrays, and duels, and people shoving other people down precipices, and wretched wood cuts of women being rescued from terrific perils of all possible kinds - and they were always women who were so disgracefully homely that any right-minded man would take a placid satisfaction in seeing them suffer a sudden and a violent death. But that peddler peddled those books right along for hours together, and I gave up my poem and devoted all my energies to driving him away and trying to say things that would make him unhappy.


Such wonderful cities as we saw, all the way through Ohio, New York and New Jersey. It seemed to me that every fifteen minutes we passed through a Sacramento, and every hour and a half through a San Francisco - and verily I believe we did. And they looked so flourishing, and so cheerful and handsomely built, and so fiercely busy. Ah, my boy, it is good to come to the States occasionally, and see what a great country it is. Now I always thought that Cleveland, and Columbus, and Newark, and Paterson, were only villages, and so do thousands of other people but they are great cities. And we passed through many a city like Sacramento that I had always imagined was little more than a blacksmith shop and a Post Office, and we saw any number of towns of 5,000 to 8,000 inhabitants that I honestly believe I had never heard of before. I was just in a condition of lively astonishment all through those three States. No wonder Englishmen make mistakes about America when we know so little about it ourselves.

And speaking of Cleveland reminds me that I saw flaming posters there announcing "Miss Lotta's Last Night !" A man who got on the cars there told me that Miss Lotta was the best actress that ever lived, and he didn't care a cent where the next one came from. Well, she is a California girl, and I hope she will make everybody think as that man did. I heard Lotta's acting well spoken of in St. Louis.

But isn't it funny that there are no drinking saloons in the depots? I have no recollection of seeing a solitary gin-mill in a depot-building from St. Louis to New York - a distance of nearly twelve hundred miles by the route I came. At Cincinnati there were 250,000 people moderately drunk, but that was an accident. At a great fire, a large number of barrels of whiskey had been bursted open, and the stuff ran down to the river, got into an eddy, was pumped into the water-works and was distributed throughout the city in the form of weak whiskey punches. It was said that there was more water drank in Cincinnati that day than was ever drank there in one day before. It is likely.


George Butler has been working hard at Washington to get the Consulship at Panama, but did not succeed because his uncle, Gen. Butler, is so unpopular at the White House. George said he worked all possible purchases, but they failed; he proved himself a good Democrat at the White House, and a good Radical at the Capitol, and became so expert in duplicity at last, and so admirably plausible that he couldn't tell, himself, when he was lying and when he wasn't. Somebody told him to keep up the dodge of pretending to belong to both parties - it was first rate Washington policy to carry water on both shoulders. George said as long as he only had to carry the water on his shoulders, he could stand it, but he was too good a Democrat to carry any in his stomach! Good, wasn't it? He said that at first he tried to buy off all candidates for the Consulship, but they came so fast he found it would break a mint to succeed in that way; next he tried moral suasion on them, and that failed; and finally he concluded to whip all the applicants that came, but he soon found that there were not hours enough in the day or days enough in the year for that. So the office has gone into other hands, and I am not the only man who is sorry George did not get it.

Maguire is here, and his Japs are playing in Philadelphia and Washington. Hingston is making great preparations for their reception in London, and says they will draw $1,500-houses every night for a good many weeks.

Webb ("Inigo") has fixed up a volume of my sketches, and he and the American News Company will publish it on Thursday, the 25th of the present month. He has gotten it up in elegant style, and has done everything to suit his own taste, which is excellent. I have made no suggestions. He calls it "THE CELEBRATED JUMPING FROG, AND OTHER SKETCHES, by 'Mark Twain.' Edited by C. H. Webb." Its price is $1.50 a copy. It will have a truly gorgeous gold frog on the back of it, and that frog alone will be worth the money. I don't know but what it would be well to publish the frog and leave the book out. Mail your orders either to C. H. Webb or the American News Company, New York.

As per order of the ALTA, just received by telegraph, I have taken passage in the great pleasure excursion to Europe, the Exposition and the Holy Land, and will sail on the 8th of June. You could not have suited me better. The ship is the Quaker City, and she is being sumptuously fitted up.

Return to Alta index


Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search