Photo from original portrait
in Public Library of
courtesy of Dave Thomson
Produced in partnership with
Steamboat: PAUL JONES
Clemens' trip from Cincinnati to New Orleans: 16 February - 28 February 1857
Pilot: Horace Bixby
Co-Pilot: Jerry Mason
Captain: Hiram Hazlett
Fate: 1861 acquired by Confederacy and later sunk at Big Black River at Bovina, Mississippi to prevent capture by Union forces.
On August 26, 1962, the Vicksburg Post reported that the river level at Big Black River near Bovina had dropped to a record low and that the wreckage of the boats sunk a century earlier was visible. According to the Post, "The paddle wheels, chimneys and boilers of the vessels, identified as "The Charm" and "The Paul Jones" appeared above the waters' surface. Several residents of the area retrieved relics including forks, broken crockery, pieces of a stove, pulley, hearth brick."
Clemens' comments: (In 1857) I was in Cincinatti . .
. I packed my valise, and took passage on an ancient tub called the PAUL JONES
for New Orleans. For the sum of sixteen dollars I had the scarred and tarnished
splendors of "her" main saloon principally to myself, for she was
not a creature to attract the eye of wiser travellers.
- Life on the Mississippi
One of the pilots was Horace Bixby. Little by little I got acquainted
with him and pretty soon I was doing a lot of steering for him in his daylight
- Mark Twain's Autobiography
Steamboat: COLONEL CROSSMAN
Clemens' Service: 4 March - 15 March 1857
Pilot: Horace Bixby
Captain: Patrick Yore
Fate: lost in explosion 2 February 1858 at New Madrid, MO with loss of fourteen lives
From the lithograph "Bird's Eye View of St. Louis"
drawn and published by James T. Palmatary in 1857.
From the Raymond Ewing collection.
Ad for CRESCENT CITY, 1861
NOTE: New research by Michael Marleau indicates that during this time frame Clemens most likely made a trip up the Missouri River with pilot Horace Bixby aboard the D. A. JANUARY. Edgar Branch never placed Clemens on the Missouri River and had previously theorized that Clemens was on board the RUFUS J. LACKLAND from 11 July to 3 August 1857. Further research by Michael Marleau includes a new interpretation of Clemens' personal journals and indicates the 1859 dates are the most likely dates of service for the RUFUS J. LACKLAND as a licensed pilot.
Ad for JOHN J. ROE, 1860
Clemens' comments: I served a term as steersman in the
pilot house. She was a freighter. . . It was a delightful old tug and she
had a very spacious boiler-deck--just the place for moonlight dancing and
daylight frolics. She was a charmingly leisurely boat and the slowest one
on the planet. Up-stream she couldn't even beat an island; down-stream she
was never able to overtake the current. But she was a love of a steamboat.
- Mark Twain's Autobiography
Also see comments above for the Rufus J. Lackland
Artist's drawing of the PENNSYLVANIA (based upon the sister ship PHILADELPHIA)
from the Dave Thomson collection.
Clemens' service aboard the PENNSYLVANIA began in November 1857 and was interrupted by a two month gap after the PENNSYLVANIA was involved in a collision on November 26 with the steamer VICKSBURG twenty-eight miles north of New Orleans. The PENNSYVLANIA remained in port for repairs and Clemens later was required to give testimony in a lawsuit regarding the collision.
Clemens' testimony in part: I was on the PENNSYLVANIA as Steersman
at the time of the collision in November last. I was not at the wheel at the
time. At the moment of the collision I was standing on the Sky light deck,
aft of the Pilot house
..I think that at the instant the VICKSBURG struck
us that one of her engines was still going--and my reason for thinking so
is, that she did not recede from us after she struck, but kept pressing on--the
crash of timbers continued--the deck swayed under me, and I thought I heard
the noise of her engines. It was over a minute after the VICKSBURG struck
us, before she began to back away from us. After the boats came together,
I heard the Captain of the VICKSBURG call to Captain
Klinefelter, and I understood him to say that he (Capt White) "Knew
that the VICKSBURG would run from the bar." I am learning the river--have
been learning it, now, about ten months. At that time I had been on the PENNSYLVANIA
about three trips. The PENNSYLVANIA steers very easily, I was in the Pilot
house that night before supper, and I noticed that she steered well--that
is her general character for steering. The PENNSYLVANIA is a first class boat
every way--she is large, and well finished for a passenger boat. The officers
and crew which the PENNSYLVANIA had at the time of the collision were all
of them capable sober and patient. When I was on the extreme stern of the
PENNSYLVANIA as above stated, Capt Klinefelter
was there--I do not know where he was after that. After the collision the
VICKSBURG towed the PENNSYLVANIA to the right hand shore. The VICKSBURG then
backed off. I am not exactly certain whether I was in a position to see her
when she left us. I do not think she landed after she left us--I think she
just backed out, and went up the river. I am certain she did.
- John Klinefelter et. al. vs. Steamer Vicksburg, J. M. White, Master, National Archives
Clemens' other comments: At the time I speak of I had fallen out of the heaven of the JOHN J. ROE and was steering for Brown, on the swift passenger packet the PENNSYLVANIA, a boat which presently blew up and killed my brother Henry. On a memorable trip, the PENNSYLVANIA arrived at New Orleans, and when she was berthed I discovered that her stern lapped the fo'castle of the JOHN J. ROE. I went aft, climb over the rail of the ladies' cabin and from that point jumped abon the ROE, landing on that spacious boiler-deck of hers. It was like arriving at home at the farm-house after a long absence. It was the same delight to me to meet and shake hands with the Leavenworthn and the rest of that dear family of steamboating backwoodsmen and hay-seeds as if they had all been blood kin to me. As usual there were a dozen passengers, male and female, young and old; and as usual they were of the hearty and likeable sort affected by the JOHN J. ROE farmers. Now, out of their midst, floating upon my enchanted vision, came that slip of a girl of whom I have spoken -- that instantly elected sweetheart out of the remotenesses of interior Missouri -- a frank and simple and winsome child who had never been away from home in her life before, and had brought with her to these distant regions the freshness and the fragrance of her own prairies.
I can state the rest, I think, in a very few words. I was not four inches from that girl's elbow during our waking hours for the next three days. Then there came a sudden interruption. Zeb Leavenworth came flying aft shouting, "The PENNSYLVANIA is backing out." I fled at my best speed, and as I broke out upon that great boiler-deck the PENNSYLVANIA was gliding sternward past it. I made a flying leap and just did manage to make the connection, and nothing to spare. My toes found room on the guard; my finger-ends hooked themselves upon the guard-rail, and a quartermaster made a snatcl for me and hauled me aboard.
That comely child, that charming child, was Laura M. Wright, and I could
see her with perfect distinctness in the unfaded bloom of her youth, with
her plaited tails dangling from her young head and her white summer frock
puffing about in the wind of that ancient Mississippi time -- I could see
all this with perfect distinctness when I was telling about it last Saturday.
And I finished with the remark, "I never saw her afterward. It is now
forty-eight years, one month and twenty-seven days since that parting, and
no word has ever passed between us since."
- The Autobiography of Mark Twain (Neider, p. 80)
(Henry Clemens died in Memphis, Tennessee on June 21, 1858 his lungs and body having been scalded by steam during the disaster).
Steamboat: WILLIAM M. MORRISON
Clemens' Service: 2 December 1857 - 12 Feb 1858
Pilot: Isaiah Sellers
Co-Pilot: George Haggerty
Captain: John Bofinger
Fate: acquired by Confederacy
From the lithograph "Bird's Eye View of St. Louis"
drawn and published by James T. Palmatary in 1857.
Courtesy of Dave Thomson.
I am indebted to Michael Marleau for sharing his research for a forthcoming book which helps indicate the dates Clemens most likely served aboard the WILLIAM M. MORRISON and for establishing who the pilot and co-pilot were during this time period. Marleau has also recovered pilot's memoranda from various newspaper archives, some of which are likely from the pen of Samuel Clemens during this time frame:
"ONLY ONCE BEFORE"
Printed items called memoranda were occasionally published in the newspaper river columns of the major port cities along the Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, customarily a brief record or log from which rivermen "might learn something of the whereabouts and late deeds" of the steamboats on the rivers. These memoranda were compiled from simple entries of some notable occurrence while on watch and usually entered into a log book. By there very nature they were composed of information that came primarily from the pilothouse and hurricane deck where the captain, mates and pilots stood their watches when underway. Periodically passenger and freight information might also be included, leading to the presumption that a steamboat clerk could have a hand in the drafting of an individual memoranda. Upon the completion of a trip these entries were sometimes collected with little or no editing for the newspapers and members of the river fraternity. As chronicles of the life and times on the western rivers surviving steamboat log books available for study are in fact very rare thereby making these memoranda valuable materials for study. Among the steamboat memoranda published in the Missouri Democrat, are several that are of a unique character and fall within the known activities of Sam Clemens.
Clemens was a steersman on the PENNSYLVANIA from late September of 1857 until her collision with the VICKSBURG on the twenty sixth of November of that year. A week later he was clerking and steering on the WILLIAM M. MORRISON under the watchful eye of the old pilot Isaiah Sellers. Sellers was one of the pilots on the J. M. WHITE in 1844 when she set the speed record for a trip from New Orleans to St. Louis in 3 days, 23 hours and 9 minutes. In February of 1858 the MORRISON was laid up and Clemens returned to his duties on the repaired PENNSYLVANIA.
In March the MORRISON was back in service and the "high water" of April "gave her a chance of spreading herself, and she proved herself very fast." Her memoranda from the Missouri Democrat tells of her trip:
In May the PENNSYLVANIA had a fast trip too. The following memoranda is from the St. Louis Evening News of May 27, 1858.
The following day, May 28, 1858, the Missouri Democrat also published a memoranda from the PENNSYLVANIA, but this one was a little unconventional, a slight bend from the norm, and quite possibly written by cub pilot Samuel Clemens.
The reference to "only once before" has such a trip been made is a poke in jest directed at Isaiah Sellers as he was one of the pilots of the fleet J. M. WHITE in 1844. The "Only once before" item was published in the Democrat, the same paper the memoranda from Isiah Seller's log had been published a few weeks earlier. It is likely Sam Clemens was the author of the memoranda. Clemens would later recall how the "Oldest Pilot" was "full of strange lies & worldly brag" and probably bored the steersman with his boasting of the exploit.
In his personal notebooks for 1881-82 Clemens penned a similar river joke: "Trip up Missouri river 3300 miles made fastest time on record viz. 3 days 9 hours and 4 months" (Mark Twain's Notebooks & Journals, vol. 2, p. 574).
Clemens' comments: I am now on my return from Memphis,
on the steamer John H. Dickey, and allow me to say that the steamer named, is
one of the finest boats now running between St. Louis and the above mentioned
port. Capt. Dan Able is one of the accommodating sort, and I predict that he
will continue always to receive a large share of the patronage of the business
and traveling community.
- "Our Special River Correspondence," St. Louis Missouri Democrat, 1 September 1858 (signed "Rambler"; identified by Walter Branch as Samuel Clemens)
Steamboat: NEW FALLS CITY
Clemens' Service: 30 October - 8 December 1858
Pilot: probably Horace Bixby
Captain: James B. Woods
Fate: 1861 acquired by Confederacy and later sunk in Red River to block river traffic. Wreckage wasn't cleared until 1880.
Aleck Scott converted to troop transport after the Civil War began.
Around 1887 Duke's Cigarettes issued unsigned miniature biographies of titled "Histories of Poor Boys Who Have Become Rich and Other Famous People." The Twain issue contained the following yarn which supposedly came from a crew member of the ALECK SCOTT:
the first engineer of the Alexander (Aleck) Scott when Sam Clemens was a
cub in her pilot house. He was a chipper young chap, with legs no bigger
'n a casting line, and fuller of tricks than a mule colt. He worked off
jokes on everybody aboard, from the skippers down to the roustabouts, and
they were all taken in good part; but I lay by two or three to pay back.
About the time that Sam got the run of the river enough to stand alone at
the wheel, the Scott went into the lower river trade; carrying cotton from
Memphis to New Orleans. If you know anything about cotton, I needn't tell
you that you may cover it from stem to stern with tarpaulins and keep your
donkey engine steamed up, but if a spark of fire touches cotton enough to
fill a tooth, your boat's a corpse. It's quicker 'n gunpowder to burn, and
no pilot can reach the lower deck from the texas in time to save himself,
let alone his Saratoga.
"So, you see, everybody in that trade is on the watch, and an alarm of fire in a boat loaded with cotton will turn a man's hair gray quicker 'n an alligator can swaller a nigger.
"Sam, being a young pilot, and new to the cotton trade, was told over and over again how the profession would lose a promising cub if ever a fire broke out on the Scott, and the boy got nervous. My striker and me always managed to be in the lunch-room when Sam came off watch, and as he came in we would talk about the number of cotton boats that burnt in such a year, and how such a cub would have made a lightning pilot if he hadn't got burnt up in the cotton trade - and we always noticed that Sam's appetite failed him after that, and instead of going to bed he would go prowling round the lower deck and peering about the hatchways, smelling at every opening like a pup that had lost its master.
"One day, when we backed out of Memphis with a big cargo of cotton, I complained in Sam's hearing that the mate had loaded the boat too near the engines. The boy followed me into the engine-room, and, without seeming to notice him, I told my striker I would do my level best to keep that cotton from catching fire; but that it was a slim chance, with bales piled up right in front of the furnace doors. Sam got whiter 'n a bulkhead, and went up to the texas, where he packed his Saratoga, ready for any business that might come up before the meetin'. When he went on watch I posted the second clerk to keep an eye on him. He hid behind a smokestack and saw Sam alone in the pilot house, his hair on end, his face like a corpse's, and his eyes sticking out so far you could have knocked them off with a stick. He danced around the pilot-house, turned up his nose as if he was smelling for a polecat, pulled every bell, turned the boat's nose for the bank, and yelled 'FIRE!' like a Comanche Indian on the war-path. That yell brought everybody on deck. We had a big cargo of passengers, and the women screeched, the men rushed for cork pillows, and the crew yanked the doors off their hinges and rushed to the guards, ready to go overboard at the first moderation of weather. The skipper had hard work to make the crazy passengers believe that there wasn't any fire, but he brought them to reason finally. I paid no attention to Sam's frantic yells, so the boat didn't run her nozzle against the bank he aimed for.
captain, and pilot, and a lot of passengers, after hunting all over the
boat, couldn't find a sign of fire anywhere outside the furnaces, and
then they went for Sam. He swore up and down that he smelt cotton burning;
no use talking to him--he knew the smell of burning cotton, and, by thunder,
he had smelt it. The first pilot said kinder soft and pitying to him:
'Sam, my boy, if you'd told me you was so near the jim-jams, I'd stood
double watch for you. Now go and soak your head in a bucket of water,
take a good sleep, and you'll be all right by to-morrow.' Sam just biled.
over at this; and when a pretty young woman passenger said to the skipper,
loud enough for Sam to hear: 'So young and nice-looking, too - how sad
it will make his poor mother feel to hear how he drinks!' he fairly frothed
at the mouth. You never see a fellow so toned down as Sam was after that;
and, though the boys never quit running him, he never talked back, but
looked kind of puzzled - - as though he was trying to account for that
smell of cotton smoke."
"And what was the cause of the smell!" the old engineer was asked.
a full minute and then said: "You see, there's a speaking-tube running
from the engine room to the pilot-house. I had in mind the tricks Sam
had played me, and, having worked him to a nervous state about fire I
waited till he was alone in the pilot-house, and then set fire to a little
wad of cotton, stuffed it into the speaking-tube, and the smell came right
out under his nose."
Clemens' comments: I will remark, in passing, that Mississippi
steamboatmen were important in landsmen's eyes (and in their own, too, in a
degree) according to the dignity of the boat they were on. For instance, it
was a proud thing to be of the crew of such stately craft as the "Aleck Scott"
or the "Grand Turk." Negro firemen, deck hands, and barbers belonging to those
boats were distinguished personages in their grade of life, and they were well
aware of that fact, too.
- Life on the Mississippi
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