|MISSISSIPPI STEAMBOAT MEN IN MARK TWAIN'S WRITINGS|
THE BOWEN BROTHERS
Natives of Hannibal, Missouri and childhood friends of Samuel Clemens.
Barton W. Stone Bowen
1830 - c. 1868
Drawing of Barton Bowen from MANSFIELD (Ohio) NEWS, April 18, 1903
"Mississippi River Steamboating of the Then and Now"
Clemens' comments: I steered a trip for Bart Bowen, of Keokuk, on
the A. T. Lacy, and I was partner with Will Bowen on the A. B.
Chambers (one trip), and with Sam Bowen a whole summer on a small Memphis
- letter to Major John B. Downing, 26 Feb 1899 (quoted in Mark Twain's Letters, edited by Albert Bigelow Paine, p. 675).
He was a high minded, large-hearted man, & I hold him in undiminshed
honor to this day.
- letter to Major John B. Downing, 25 - 28 Feb 1907 (quoted in Mark Twain's Letters, vol. 1, 1853-1866, p. 341).
Bart Bowen was the eldest of the three Bowen brothers. He was widely known
for his heroism in preventing loss of life when the Garden City burned
on January 14, 1855. Bowen assisted Clemens financially when his brother
Henry Clemens was fatally injured in a steamboat explosion.
Clemens' comments: Will Bowen was another schoolmate,
and so was his brother, Sam, who was his junior by a couple of years.
Before the Civil War broke out both became St. Louis and New Orleans pilots.
While Sam was still very young he had a curious adventure. He fell in
love with a girl of sixteen, only child of a very wealthy German brewer.
He wanted to marry her, but he and she both thought that the papa would
not only not consent, but would shut his door against Sam. The old man
was not so disposed, but they were not aware of that. He had his eye upon
them, and it was not a hostile eye. That indiscreet young couple got to
living together surreptitiously. Before long the old man died. When the
will was examined it was found that he had left the whole of his wealth
to Mrs. Samuel A. Bowen. Then the poor things made another mistake. They
rushed down to the French suburb, Carondelet, and got a magistrate to
marry them and date the marriage back a few months. The old brewer had
some nieces and nephews and cousins, and different kinds of assets of
that sort, and they traced out the fraud and proved it and got the property.
This left Sam with a girl wife on his hands and the necessity of earning
a living for her at the pilot wheel. After a few years Sam and another
pilot were bringing a boat up from New Orleans when the yellow fever broke
out among the few passengers and the crew. Both pilots were stricken with
it and there was nobody to take their place at the wheel. The boat was
landed at the head of Island 82 to wait for succor. Death came swiftly
to both pilots - and there they lie buried, unless the river has cut the
graves away and washed the bones into the stream, a thing which has probably
happened long ago.
Clemens comments: In 1845, when I was ten years old, there was
an epidemic of measles in the town and it made a most alarming slaughter
among the little people. There was a funeral almost daily, and the mothers
of the town were nearly demented with fright. My mother was greatly troubled.
She worried over Pamela and Henry and me, and took constant and extraordinary
pains to keep us from coming into contact with the contagion. But upon
reflection I believed that her judgment was at fault. It seemed to me
that I could improve upon it if left to my own devices. I cannot remember
now whether I was frightened about the measles or not, but I clearly remember
that I grew very tired of the suspense I suffered on account of being
continually under the threat of death. I remember that I got so weary
of it and so anxious to have the matter settled one way or the other,
and promptly, that this anxiety spoiled my days and my nights. I had no
pleasure in them. I made up my mind to end this suspense and settle this
matter one way or the other and be done with it. Will Bowen was dangerously
ill with the measles and I thought I would go down there and catch them.
I entered the house by the front way and slipped along through rooms and
halls, keeping sharp watch against discovery, and at last I reached Will's
bedroom in the rear of the house on the second floor and got into it uncaptured.
But that was as far as my victory reached. His mother caught me there
a moment later and snatched me out of the house and gave me a most competent
scolding and drove me away. She was so scared that she could hardly get
her words out, and her face was white. I saw that I must manage better
next time, and I did. I hung about the lane at the rear of the house and
watched through cracks in the fence until I was convinced that the conditions
were favorable. Then I slipped through the back yard and up the back way
and got into the room and into the bed with Will Bowen without being observed.
I don't know how long I was in the bed. I only remember that Will Bowen,
as society, had no value for me, for he was too sick to even notice that
I was there. When I heard his mother coming I covered up my head, but
that device was a failure. It was dead summertime - the cover was nothing
more than a limp blanket or sheet, and anybody could see that there were
two of us under it. It didn't remain two very long. Mrs. Bowen snatched
me out of that bed and conducted me home herself, with a grip on my collar
which she never loosened until she delivered me into my mother's hands
along with her opinion of that kind of a boy.
Will Bowen is buried beside his wife in Block 2, Lot 498 in Oakwood Cemetery in Austin, Texas.
His grave is marked by a modest stone.
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