Albert S. Evans was born in New Hampshire. He later moved west living in Indiana, Chicago, Texas and then finally California. He worked on the San Franciso Evening Journal, San Francisco Bulletin, and San Francisco Daily Morning Call. At the time of his acquaintance with Clemens he was the city editor and local reporter of the San Francisco Alta California where he often wrote under the pseudonyms of Fitz Smythe and Stiggers. Evans also served as a correspondent for the Chicago Tribune writing under the pen name "Altamonte." In addition, he contributed to the New York Tribune and occasionally to Galaxy, Atlantic Monthly and Overland Monthly. Between 1864 and 1866, he corresponded for the Gold Hill Evening News under the pen name Amigo.
When Clemens was working as the local reporter for the San Francisco Morning Call and as a correspondent for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, he engaged with Evans in a war of published insults and personal attacks based on genuine dislike. Clemens mentioned "Stiggers" in at least three articles in the Morning Call in July and August 1864: "An Altagraph, " "The New Chinese Temple," and "Supernatural Impudence". The attacks against Fitz Smythe continued in the pages of the Dramatic Chronicle at a time Clemens contributed to that paper.
Evans, writing as "Amigo" often responded by attacking Clemens in the Gold Hill Evening News, a paper widely available in Virginia City. Throughout their running feud Clemens referred to Evans as Stiggers, Fitz Smythe" and "Amigo." Clemens, in an article titled "Goldsmith's Friend Abroad Again" published in the Galaxy in January 1871 described "Stiggers" as a reporter "would praise all the policemen indiscriminately and abuse the Chinamen and dead people." He accused Evans of drinking to excess, writing poorly and lying. Evans accused Clemens of being arrested for drunkness (Gold Hill Evening News, 29 Jan. 1866) and insinuated he had veneral disease (Gold Hill Evening News, 18 Feb. 1866). Clemens continued his assault on Evans in his signed letters to the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise.
Samuel Clemens left California on March 7, 1866 and traveled to the Sandwich Islands as a reporter for the Sacramento Daily Union. Shortly before he departed the Dramatic Chronicle reported that Col. Evans was making physical threats against Clemens and that the police were seeking an opportunity to arrest Clemens. The paper ran a short item advising "Mark Twain" to leave the state.
Evans was an active officer on the staff of Governor Low of California and attained the rank of Colonel. In 1869 Evans accompanied former Secretary of State William Seward through Mexico and published a book about the trip Our Sister Republic: A Gala Trip Through Tropical Mexico in 186970 with Columbian Book Company. Clemens expressed his disgust of Evans in a letter to his publisher Elisha Bliss on October 29, 1870 and later marked up his own copy of Evans's book with bitter commentary. For additional insight on this feud see Joe Goodman's memoir below.
Evans died aboard the steamer Missouri, which burned at sea en route from New York to Havana on October 22, 1872.
In addition to his articles in the Dramatic Chronicle, Clemens continued his feud with Fitz Smythe in the following articles that appeared in the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise:
November 18, 1865 - The
December 1865 - Caustic
December 1865 - Facetious
January 1866 - Gorgeous New Romance, By Fitz Smythe!
January 1866 - Fitz Smythe's Horse
January 1866 - The Righteous Shall Not be Forgotten
February 1866 - Take the Stand, Fitz Smythe
February 1866 - Remarkable Dream
This unsigned newspaper column was published April 8, 1909. It is believed to have been written by Joe Goodman, Clemens's editor on the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise:
During nearly the whole of 1865 Twain was in San Francisco, and daily made up a local dispatch and wrote a letter for the Enterprise. Colonel Albert S. Evans -- who was lost on the steamship Missouri, which burned at sea in October, 1872, while on her passage from New York to Havana -- was at that time an active and prominent San Francisco journalist. He held a position on the Alta but also contributed a weekly letter to the Gold Hill News. Both men prided themselves on a light and spicy style, and writing, as they did, along the same line to rival newspapers -- or, at least, papers almost in the same field -- it was nearly inevitable that they should, sooner or later, come to a clash. And clash they finally did, good and hard. The war began with a shot from Mark Twain. Colonel Evans wrote a poem on the death of Lincoln, the lugubrious refrain of which struck Mark as so susceptible of ridicule that he travestied it very funnily in one of his letters to the Enterprise. Evans did not come back at him immediately, but lay revengefully in wait for him.
The importation of oysters from the Gulf of California had become quite a business in San Francisco at that time, and, notwithstanding they were huge gristly things that had to be carved and chewed like a beefsteak, they were getting to be very popular. But suddenly someone claimed to have been poisoned by them. Whether true or not, it was good material for a newspaper sensation, and Mark Twain seized upon it and worked it up so vigorously that in a short time he had killed the Mexican oyster trade as dead as a door nail. This was the kind of an opportunity Evans had been waiting for. He came to the defense of the Mexican oyster, and asserted that Mark Twain's attack upon it originated in an attempt to blackmail the importers and was persisted in through anger at his failure.
Those were the chief points in the celebrated quarrel between Mark Twain and Colonel Evans -- or 'Amigo' and 'Fitz Clarence Smith,' as he variously signed his correspondence. Of course, there were other features; but it finally, from its very nature, wore itself out and ended in a way that neither felt to be creditable or satisfactory. How deeply Mark Twain had taken it to heart I did not know until a year afterward, when he had returned from the Sandwich islands and was on his first lecturing tour. Talking with him one night about his plans for the future, he said, very seriously:
"I have but one definite purpose in view: that is, to make enough money to insure me a fair trial, and then to go and kill Colonel Evans."
"By-the-Bye," Mining Financial News, April 8, 1909. Republished in Insider Stories of the Comstock Lode and Nevada's Mining Frontier 1859 - 1909, Vol. II, pp. 882-83.
Mark Twain's parody of Albert S. Evans's poem on the death of Abraham Lincoln who was assassinated in April 1865 has not been recovered. Evans wrote:
One mournful wail is heard from shore to shore;
A Nation's heart is stricken to the core;
And Freedom, kneeling, with uncovered head,
Weeps by the altar of our Country's dead.
O God, who suffered this for purpose high!
Teach us like him to live, like him to die,
True to the last to duty and to right,
Trusting to Thee the issue of the fight.
Good night to thee, hero, good night to thee sage!
Good night to thy form, but good morn to thy fame;
Pass on with thy visor up, from age unto age:
Not a sentry to challenge thy deeds or thy name.