Jump to Content

Add to My Citations To Pamela A. Moffett and Jane Lampton Clemens
25 October 1861 • Carson City, Nev. Terr.
(MS: NPV, UCCL 00030)
Click to add citation to My Citations.

Carson City, Oct. 25, 1861.

My Dear Sister:

I have just finished reading your letter and Ma’s, of Sept. 8th. How in the world could they have been so long coming? You ask if I have forgotten my promise to lay a claim for Mr. Moffett? By no means. I have already laid a timber claim on the borders of a Lake (Bigler) which throws Como in the shade—and if we succeed in getting one Mr. Jones to move his saw-mill up there, Mr. Moffett can just consider that claim better than bank stock. Jones says he will move his mill up next Spring.1 In that claim I took up about two miles in length by one in width—and the names in it are as follows: “Sam. L. Clemens, Wm. A. Moffett, Thos. Nye” and [ two o three ] others. It is situated on “Sam Clemens’ Bay”—so named by Capt. Nye2—and it goes by that name among the inhabitants of that [region. I ] had better stop about “the Lake,” though—for whenever I think of it I want to go there and die, the place is so beautiful. I’ll build a country seat there one of these days that will make the Devil’s mouth water if he [ v ] ever visits the earth. Jim Lampton will never know whether I laid a claim there for him or not until he comes here himself.3 We have now got about 1,650 feet of mining ground—and if it proves good, Mr. Moffett’s name will go in—if not, I can get “feet” for him in the Spring which will be good. You see, Pamela, the trouble does not consist in getting mining ground—for that is plenty enough—but the money to work it with after you get it is the mischief. When I was in Esmeralda, a young fellow gave me fifty feet in the “Black Warrior”—an unprospected claim.4 The other day he wrote me that he had gone down eight [ m ]feet on the ledge, and found it eight feet thick—and pretty good rock, too. He said he could take out rock now if there were a mill to crush it—but the mills are all engaged (there are only four of them[ . ],) so, if I were willing, he would suspend work until Spring. I wrote him to let it alone at present—because, you see, in the Spring I can go down myself and help him look after it. There will then be twenty mills there. Orion and I have confidence enough in this country to think that if the war will let us alone we can make Mr. Moffett rich without its ever costing him a cent of money or a particle of trouble. We shall lay plenty of claims for him, but if they never pay him anything, they will never cost him anything. Neither Orion or I are financiers. Therefore, you must persuade Uncle Jim to come out here and help us in that line. I have written to him twice to come. I wrote him to-day. In both letters I told him not to let you or Ma know that we dealt in such romantic nonsense as “brilliant prospects,” because I always did hate for any one to know what my plans or hopes or prospects were—for, if I kept people in ignorance in these matters, no one could be disappointed but myself, if they were never realized. You know I never told you that I went on the river under a promise to pay Bixby $500 until I had paid the money and cleared my skirts of the possibility of having my judgment criticised.5 I would not say anything about our prospects now, if [ I ] we were nearer home. But I suppose at this distance you are more anxious than caretyoucaret would be if you saw us every [ money ] month—and therefore it is hardly fair to keep you in the dark. However, keep these matters to yourselves, and then if we fail, we’ll keep the laugh in the family.

What we want now, if caretiscaret something that will commence paying immediately. We have got a chance to get into a claim where they say a tunnel has been run 150 feet, and the ledge struck. I got a horse yesterday, and went out with the Attorney General and the claim-owner—and we tried to go to the claim by a new route, and got lost in the mountains—sunset overtook us before we found the claim,—my horse got too lame to carry me, and I got down and drove him ahead of me till within four miles of town—then we sent Rice on ahead.6 Bunker, (whose horse was in good condition,) undertook to lead mine, and I followed after him. Darkness shut him out from my view in less than a minute, and within the next minute I lost the road and got to wandering in the sage brush. I would find the road occasionally, and then [ loose ] lose it again in a minute or so. I got to Carson about nine o’clock, at night, but not by the road I traveled when I left it. The General says my horse did very well for awhile, but soon refused to lead. Then he dismounted, and had a jolly time driving both horses ahead of him and chasing them here and there through the sage brush (it does my soul good when I think of it,) until he got to town, when both animals deserted him, and he cursed them handsomely and came home alone. Of course the horses went to their stables.

Tell Sammy I will lay a claim for him, and he must come out and attend to it. He must get rid of that propensity for tumbling down, though, for when we get fairly started here, I don’t think we shall have time to pick up those who fall.

I got [Perry ]Smith’s letter, for which I was very grateful. I wrote to him the other day. If I thought Hallie and Margaret were in earnest about writing to me, I would write to them first[ . ]—but I am afraid their time is too much occupied by concerns of greater interest.7 Still, tell them I wish they would write—and then I’ll tell them all about the World’s Fair when I get to London (for you know without my telling you, that I’ll attend that Fair if the thing is within the range of possibility.) And they do say that [where there’s ]a will there’s a way.8

Well, I must say, that either Annie spells with a fearful latitude, or I read very crazily. Still, I was trying to put the most reasonable construction on her letter. I don’t suppose, with her notorious Sunday school proclivities, that she would willingly foster crime? [ c ] Certainly not. Very well, then. Every body knows it is a crime to be poor—and every body knows that it is not a crime to be a fool. So, it would have been well enough to help the fools along—but who cares what becomes of those hardened sinners, the poor? When she has grown old in worldly wisdom, like her venerable uncle, she will understand these things. Tell her that although I used to try to persuade her to trade her testament for lager beer, I’ll never sell mine.9

That is Slaughter’s house, I expect, that Cousin Jim has moved into. This is just the country for Cousin Jim to live in. I don’t believe it would take him six months to make $100,000 here, if he had $3,000 dollars to commence with. I suppose he can’t leave his family though.10

Tell Mrs. Benson11 I never intend to be a lawyer. I have been a slave several times in my [ lo ] life, but I’ll never be one again. I always intend to be so situated (unless I marry,) that I can “pull up stakes” and clear out whenever I feel like it.

We are very thankful to you, Pamela, for the papers you send. We have received half a dozen or more, and, next to letters, they are the most welcome visitors we have.

I am going out again, in a day or two, to look for that claim again—I hope with better success than my former attempt.

Write oftener, Pamela. Remember me to Mrs. S. to M., Mrs. B., H. and Chaillè.

Yr. Brother

Sam.

My Dear Mother: I hope you will all come out here some day. But I shan’t consent to invite you, until we can receive you in style. But I guess we shall be able to do that, one of these days. I [ mean ] intend that Pamela shall live on [ I ] Lake Bigler until she can knock a bull down with her fist—say, about three months.

“Tell everything as it is—no better, and no worse.” Well, “Gold Hill” sells at $5,000 per foot, cash down; “Wildcat” isn’t worth ten cents.12 The country is fabulously rich in gold, silver, copper, lead, coal, iron, quicksilver, marble, granite, chalk, plaster of Paris, (gypsum,) thieves, murderers, desperadoes, ladies, children, lawyers, Christians, Indians, [Chinamen ], Spaniards, gamblers, sharpers, cuyotès (pronounced [ (y ]kiyo-ties,) [ chin ] poets, preachers, and jackass rabbits. I overheard a gentleman say, the other day, that it was “the d—dest country under the [ so sun.”—and ]that comprehensive conception I fully subscribe. to. It never rains here, and the dew never falls. No flowers grow here, and no green thing gladdens the eye. The birds that fly over the land carry their provisions with them. Only the crow and the raven tarry with us. Our city lies in the midst of a desert of the purest—most unadulterated, and uncompromising sand—in which infernal soil nothing but that fag-end of vegetable creation, “sage-brush,” ventures to grow. Just caretIf you willcaret take a lilliputian cedar tree for a model, and build a dozen imitations of it with the stiffest article of telegraph wire—set them one foot apart and then try to walk through them, and you’ll understand (provided the floor is covered 12 inches deep with sand,) what it is to wander through a sage-brush desert. When crushed, sage brush emits an order odor which isn’t exactly magnolia and equally isn’t exactly polecat—but, caret is caret a sort of compromise between the two. It looks a good deal like grease-wood, and is the ugliest thing caretplantcaret that was ever conceived of. It is gray in color. On the plains, sage brush and grease wood grown about twice as large as the common geranium—and in my opinion they are a very good substitute for that useless vegetable. Grease-wood is a perfect—most perfect imitation [ of ] in miniature of a live oak tree—“barring” the color of it. As to the other fruits and flowers of the country, there ain’t any, except “Pulu” or “Tulu,” or whatever they call it,—a species of unpoetical willow that grows on the banks of the Carson13—a river, 20 yards wide, knee-deep, and so infernally caretvillainouslycaret rapid and crooked, that it looks like it had wandered into the country without intending it, and had run about [ an in ] a bewildered way and got lost, in its hurry to get out [ of again ] before some thirsty man came along and drank it up. I said we are situated in a flat, sandy desert—true. And surrounded by surrounded on all sides by such prodigious mountains, that when you gaze at them awhile,—[ until you caretandcaret begin ] to conceive of their grandeur—and caretnext tocaret feel their vastness [ exten expanding ] your soul like a bladder—and caretultimatelycaret find yourself growing and swelling and spreading into a giant—I say when this point is reached, you look disdainfully down upon the insignificant village of [ ca Carson], and in that instant you are seized with a burning desire to stretch forth your hand, put the city in your pocket, and walk off with it.

As to churches, I believe they have got a Catholic one here, but like [ than that ] one the New York fireman spoke of, I believe “they don’t [ h run ] her now.”14 Now, although we are surrounded by sand, the [ p greatest ] part of the town is built upon what was once a very pretty grassy spot; and the streams of pure water that once caretused tocaret poked about it in [ wil rural ] caretsloth andcaret solitude, now [ prome pass ] through our [ streets dusty ] streets and gladden the hearts of men by reminding them that there is at least something here that hath its prototype among the homes they left behind them. And up “King’s Cañon,” (please pronounce can-yon,) after the manner of the natives,) there are “ranches,” or farms, where they say hay grows, and grass, and beets, and onions, and turnips, and other “truck” which is suitable food for cows—yea, and even Irish potatoes,—a [ vegi vegetable ] eminently proper for human consumption; also, cabbages, peas & beans.15

The houses are mostly frame, unplastered, but “papered” inside with cot flour-sacks [ sow sewed ] together—and the handsomer the “brand” upon the sacks is, the neater the house looks. [Occasioncaretallycaret ly ], you stumble on a stone house. On account of the dryness of the country, the shingles on the houses warp till they look like [ j short ] joints of stove pipe split lengthwise.16

. . . .

Explanatory Notes | Textual Commentary

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
1 Charles Jones was co-owner of the Clear Creek Mill, a steam-powered sawmill in Clear Creek Cañon west of Carson City in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The mill did not relocate: in 1863, operating as “Chas. Jones & Co.,” it was still situated on Clear Creek (Kelly 1862, 60; Kelly 1863, 86; Angel, 531, 534).

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
2 Captain John Nye was the governor’s brother. He was an enthusiastic entrepreneur in mining and timber projects and an incorporator of the Aurora and Walker River Railroad, franchised by the Nevada Territorial Legislature in 1861 (Angel, 274). Clemens lauded his “conversational powers,” “singular ‘handiness,’” and “spirit of accommodation” in chapter 35 of Roughing It. Nye’s son Thomas, about eighteen, was a clerk—boarding at Mrs. Margret Murphy’s in Carson City (Bridget O’Flannigan’s “ranch” in chapter 21 of Roughing It)—and afterward private secretary to Governor Nye (Kelly 1863, 9; Nye-Starr, 94–95).

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
3 Clemens’s uncle James A. H. Lampton longed to join his nephew in Nevada. On 17 November, Jane Clemens reported that Lampton and his wife, Ella, had visited that evening: “I told them they should not see my letters, but Will [Moffett] is so well pleased he delights in reading the letters and they were all read out and Ellas remarks going on all the time. James said if he was a single man or had means to leave to Ella he would have gone before this time” (JLC to OC and SLC, 17 Nov 61, CU-MARK).

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
4 On 8 September Horatio G. Phillips had sold Clemens fifty feet (i.e., shares) worth $10 each in the discovery claims of the Black Warrior Gold and Silver Mining Company on Martinez Hill, Aurora, Esmeralda district (deed recorded 10 Sept 61, in CU-MARK). A report from Aurora, dated 21 October, in the Carson City Silver Age—possibly written by Phillips, who is mentioned prominently—identified the Black Warrior as one of Aurora’s “undoubtedly rich” lodes (“From the Esmeralda Mines,” San Francisco Evening Bulletin, 1 Nov 61, 3, reprinting the Silver Age of unknown date). It is not known how much of the nominal price of $500 Clemens actually paid Phillips. Mining feet were not costly, being obtainable for a small advance payment, in exchange for labor on a ledge, or through share bartering.

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
5 Before accepting Clemens as his apprentice pilot in 1857, Horace Bixby had demanded $500—one-fifth payable in advance, which Clemens borrowed from William A. Moffett. In 1899 Bixby implied that he reduced the fee somewhat when he turned Clemens’s training over to William Brown (see Bassford, 515). Nine years later he gave this account of Clemens’s payments: “We made a bargain that he was to pay me $500 to teach him the river, $100 down and the rest in installments. I never did get the whole amount, but I got $300. He paid the $100 when I took him with me, and I didn’t get any more until we were running a boat together, some years later. At this time he paid me $200, and, as the Irishman says, ‘I fergive him the debt’” (Baskerville, 1). But Jane Clemens reported that in 1862 Bixby claimed to have “knocked off” only $100 of Clemens’s fee “because he was sorry for him, he was a young man just setting out in the world.” And she added, “I have been told by a pilot since you left that no man ever paid such a price as you did” (JLC to “all in the Teritory,” 12 and 14 Oct 62, NPV, in MTBus, 73). Exorbitant apprenticeship fees were common. Just six months after Clemens came to the river, two prominent St. Louis–New Orleans pilots, Charles M. Scott and William Gallaher, publicly condemned “the cupidity of several who were in the habit of taking steersmen, receiving. . . $500 for learning them” (Scott and Gallaher, 2).

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
6 The attorney general of Nevada Territory was Benjamin B. Bunker (b. 1815), from New Hampshire, appointed in 1861 by Abraham Lincoln and removed by him in June 1863 for inattention to duty (Anderson and Branch, 9–13; see 7 Aug 62 to OC, n. 4). In August 1863 Clemens characterized Bunker as “the densest intellect the President ever conferred upon the Territory” (ET&S1, 281). The claim owner was Clement T. Rice, reporter for the Carson City Silver Age, who was to become Clemens’s close friend and journalistic collaborator (Andrew J. Marsh, 693).

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
7 Clemens alludes here to Haille Benson, of St. Louis, and to Margaret Sexton, who, along with her mother, Louise, had boarded with the Clemenses in Hannibal (Inds, biographical directory). The Sextons evidently were now living in St. Louis. Perry Smith probably was the “friend of Uncle Sam’s” named Smith who, according to Annie Moffett Webster, was the originator of the “wild project” of forming the Marion Rangers (see MTBus, 60). In “The Private History of a Campaign That Failed,” Clemens recalled that one of that ragtag company was “Smith, the blacksmith’s apprentice. This vast donkey had some pluck, of a slow and sluggish nature, but a soft heart; at one time he would knock a horse down for some impropriety, and at another he would get homesick and cry. However, he had one ultimate credit to his account which some of us hadn’t: he stuck to the war, and was killed in battle at last” (SLC 1885, 194).

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
8 The International Exhibition of 1862, in London, ran from May through October of that year. Clemens did not attend (London Times: “International Exhibition Opening,” 1 May 62, 10; “The International Exhibition,” 1 Nov 62, 5).

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
9 Clemens enjoyed hearing from his nine-year-old niece, Annie Moffett. He later incorporated what he claimed was one of her “model” letters into “An Open Letter to the American People,” published in the New York Weekly Review on 17 February 1866.

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
10 “Cousin Jim” was Jane Clemens’s flamboyant first cousin, James J. Lampton (not to be confused with “Uncle Jim,” James A. H. Lampton). He was the prototype for Colonel Sellers, the impecunious but irrepressible speculator in The Gilded Age. Slaughter has not been identified.

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
11 Mrs. James L. Benson, mother of Clemens’s friends Haille and Chaille.

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
12 The Gold Hill Gold and Silver Mining Company claim was located at the north end of the main lode running through Gold Hill, a richly laden, easily exploited “mound-like mass of quartz rock” just south of Virginia City (Kelly 1862, 169; “Gold Hill Claims,” Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, 5 Mar 63, clipping in Scrapbook 2:17, CU-MARK). A few days after Clemens wrote this letter, the company’s stock was reported to have sold for as much as $3,000 a foot, the highest price paid in the Gold Hill district (Paul 1861, 1). “Wildcat” mines, according to chapter 44 of Roughing It, were “not mines, but holes in the ground over imaginary mines” and “in general terms, any claim not located on the mother vein, i.e., the ‘Comstock.’” Such properties inevitably attracted the gullible. See 11 and 12 Apr 63 to JLC and PAM, n. 3.

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
13 “Together with the cattails, the tules grew in dense, gray-green clumps that covered acre after acre of the marshes. Tules are tall, round reeds that bear a plume of seeds near the tip.” Indians of the wetlands of western Nevada used tules (pronounced “too-lees”) for making boats and rafts (Wheat, 6, 40).

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
14 Possibly an allusion to an incident in The New York Fireman, a melodrama that told the “inspiring story of a brave fireman, who married an heiress, and demonstrated emphatically that honest hearts are more than dollars” (Odell, 5:552). Originally produced in 1850, it remained popular, and was regularly reprised, for many years.

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
15 King’s Cañon, running west from Carson City toward Lake Bigler, was the site of an early road intended as part of the overland route to California but soon abandoned (Angel, 34).

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
16 The remainder of the letter has been lost, but the version published in the Keokuk Gate City (the next letter) provides a sense of at least some of the missing material.



glyphglyphCopy-text:glyphMS, Mark Twain Papers, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley (NPV).

glyphglyphPrevious publication:glyph L1, 129–136; MTB, 1:175–76 and 180–81, excerpts; MTL, 1:53–55 and 59–62, with omissions.

glyphglyphProvenance:glyphsee McKinney Family Papers, pp. 459–61. The MS was already incomplete by 1917, when Paine reported the “Remainder missing” (MTL, 1:55). Both MTB and MTL print the sections of the letter addressed respectively to Pamela Moffett and Jane Clemens (or excerpts from them) as though they were separate letters. MTL even begins the section to Jane Clemens with a substitute dateline: “(Date not given, but Sept. or Oct., 1861.)” Paine must have been working from transcripts which did not show that the last page of the section addressed to Pamela and the first page of the section addressed to Jane Clemens were written on the two sides of a single sheet of paper. Paine also did not know about the complete, revised version of the section to Jane Clemens, dated 26 October 1861, published in the Keokuk Gate City (pp. 136–39).

glyphglyphEmendations and textual notes:glyph


two o three • [‘three’ over ‘two o’]

region. I • region.—ǀI

v ever • [‘e’ over ‘v’]

m feet • [‘f’ over doubtful ‘m’]

them., • [comma over period]

I we • [‘w’ over ‘I’]

money month • moncaretthcaret ey [‘th’ over ‘ey’]

loose lose • [‘lose’ over ‘loose’]

Perry • [doubtful; possibly ‘Percy’]

first.— • [dash over period]

where there’s • where therse’s [‘e’ over ‘s’]

c Certainly • [‘C’ over ‘c’]

lo life • loife [‘i’ over ‘o’]

mean intend • [‘intend’ over ‘mean’]

l Lake • [‘L’ over ‘l’]

Chinamen • China-ǀmen

(y ki-ǀyo-ties • (y ki-yo-ties [parenthesis canceled and ‘k’ over ‘y’]

chin poets • [‘poets’ over ‘chin’]

so sun.”—and • soun.”—ǀ—and [‘u’ over ‘o’; dittography emended]

of in • [‘in’ over ‘of’]

an in • [‘i’ over ‘an’]

of again • [‘ag’ over ‘of’]

you caretandcaret begin • you caret [awhite diamondwhite diamond] caret begin [torn]

exten expanding • excaretpandingcaret ten [‘pan’ over ‘ten’]

ca Carson • [‘C’ over ‘ca’]

than that • that n [‘t’ over ‘n’]

h run[‘r’ over ‘h’]

p greatest • [‘g’ over ‘p’]

wil rural • [‘r’ over possible ‘wil’]

prome pass • [‘pass’ over ‘prome’]

streets dusty • [‘dusty’ over ‘streets’]

vegi vegetable • vegietable [possibly ‘vegietable’; ‘e’ over ‘i’, possibly inserted]

sow sewed • scaretewedcaret ow [‘ew’ over ‘ow’]

Occasioncaretallycaret ly[‘al’ over ‘ly’]

j short • [‘s’ over ‘j’]