|MISSISSIPPI STEAMBOAT MEN IN MARK TWAIN'S WRITINGS|
c. 1820 - May 1916
Abner Martin was first mate aboard the doomed steamboat PENNSYLVANIA when it exploded June 13, 1858. Martin survived the explosion, continued his steamboat career and advanced to the rank of Captain. At the outbreak of the Civil War Captain Martin volunteered and was placed in charge of troop transport packets on Southern rivers for the Union army.
Clemens' comments about Martin (in reference to injuries received aboard the PENNSYLVANIA): I saw many poor fellows removed to the "death-room," and saw them no more afterward. But I saw our chief mate carried thither more than once. His hurts were frightful, especially his scalds. He was clothed in linseed oil and raw cotton to his waist, and resembled nothing human. He was often out of his mind; and then his pains would make him rave and shout and sometimes shriek. Then, after a period of dumb exhaustion, his disordered imagination would suddenly transform the great apartment into a forecastle, and the hurrying throng of nurses into the crew;' and he would come to a sitting posture and shout, "Hump yourselves, hump yourselves, you petrifactions, snail-bellies, pall-bearers! going to be all day getting that hatful of freight out?" and supplement this explosion with a firmament-obliterating irruption of profanity which nothing could stay or stop till his crater was empty. And now and then while these frenzies possessed him, he would tear off handfuls of the cotton and expose his cooked flesh to view. It was horrible. It was bad for the others of course - this noise and these exhibitions; so the doctors tried to give him morphine to quiet him. But, in his mind or out of it, he would not take it. He said his wife had been killed by that treacherous drug, and he would die before he would take it. He suspected that the doctors were concealing it in his ordinary medicines and in his water - so he ceased from putting either to his lips. Once, when he had been without water during two sweltering days, he took the dipper in his hand, and the sight of the limpid fluid, and the misery of his thirst, tempted him almost beyond his strength; but he mastered himself and threw it away, and after that he allowed no more to be brought near him. Three times I saw him carried to the death-room, insensible and supposed to be dying; but each time he revived, cursed his attendants, and demanded to be taken back. He lived to be mate of a steamboat again.
But he was the only one who went to the death-room and returned alive.
- Life on the Mississippi
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