Jump to Content

Add to My Citations To Jane Lampton Clemens and Pamela A. Moffett
8 and 9 February 1862 • Carson City, Nev. Terr.
(MS: NPV, UCCL 00036)
Click to add citation to My Citations.

Carson City, Feb. 8, 1862.

My Dear Mother: and Sister:

By George, Pamela, I begin to fear that I have invoked a Spirit of some kind or other which I will find some difficulty in laying. I wasn’t much terrified by your growing inclinations, but when you begin to call presentiments to your aid, I confess that I “weaken.” Mr. Moffett is right, as I said before—and I am not much afraid of his going wrong. Men are easily dealt with—but when you get the women started, you are in for it, you know. But I have decided on two things, viz: Any of you, or all of you, may live in California, for that is the Garden of Eden reproduced—but you shall never live in Nevada; and secondly, none of you, save Mr. Moffett, shall ever cross the Plains. If you were only going to Denver, Pike’s Peak, a little matter of 700 miles from St. Joe, you might take the coach, and I wouldn’t say a word. But I consider it over 2,000 miles from St. Joe to Carson, and the first 6 or 800 miles is mere Fourth of July, compared to the balance of the route. But Lord bless you, a man enjoys every foot of it. If you ever come here or to California, it must be by sea, you know.1 Mr. Moffett must come by overland coach, though, by all means. He would consider it the jolliest little trip he ever took in his life. Either June, July or August are the proper months to make the journey in. He could not suffer from heat, and three or four heavy army blankets would make the cold nights comfortable. If the coach were full of passengers, two good blankets would probably be sufficient. If he comes, and b[r]ings plenty of money, and fails to invest it to his entire satisfaction, I will prophecy no more.

But I will tell you a few things which you wouldn’t have found out if I hadn’t got myself into this scrape. I expect to return to St. Louis in July—per steamer. I don’t say that I will return then, or that I shall be able to do it—but I expect to—you bet. I came down here from Humboldt, in order to look after our Esmeralda interests, & my sore-backed horse and the bad roads have prevented me from making the journey. Yesterday, one of my old Esmeralda friends, Bob Howland, arrived here, and I have had a talk with him. He owns with me in the “Horatio and Derby” ledge. He says our tunnel is in 52 feet, and a small stream of water has been struck, which bids fair to become a “big thing” by the time the ledge is reached—sufficient to supply a mill. Now, if you knew anything of the value of water, here, you would perceive at a glance that if the water should [ al amount ]to 50 or 100 inches, we wouldn’t care whether school kept or not. If the ledge should prove to be worthless, we’d sell the water for money enough to give us quite a lift. But you see, the ledge will not prove to be worthless. We have located, near by, a fine site for a mill; and when we strike the ledge, you know, we’ll have a mill-site, water power and pay-rock, all handy. Then we shan’t care whether we have capital or not. Mill-folks will build us a mill, and wait for their pay. If nothing goes wrong, we’ll strike the ledge in June—and if we do, I’ll be home in July, you know.2

So, just keep your shirt on, Pamela, until I come. Don’t you know that undemonstrated human calculations won’t do to bet on? Don’t you know that I have only talked, as yet, but proved nothing? Don’t you know that I have expended money in this country but have made none myself? Don’t you know that I [ ne have ]never held in my hands a gold or silver bar that belonged to me? Don’t you know that [its ]all talk and no cider so far? Don’t you know that people who always feel jolly, no matter where they are or what happens to them—who [ w have ]the organ of Hope preposterously developed—who are endowed with an uncongealable sanguine temperament3—who never feel concerned about the price of corn—and who cannot, by any possibility, discover any but the bright side of a picture—are very apt to go to extremes, and exaggerate, with [40-horse ]microscopic power? Of course I never tried to raise these suspicions in your mind, but [ y then ]your knowledge of the fact that some people’s poor frail human nature is a sort of crazy institution anyhow, ought to have suggested them to you. Now, if I hadn’t thoughtlessly got you into the notion of coming out here, and thereby got myself into a scrape, I wouldn’t have given you that highly-colored paragraph about the mill, &c., because, you know, if that pretty little picture should fail, and wash out, and go to the Devil generally, it wouldn’t cost me the loss of an hour’s sleep, but you fellows would be as much distressed on my account as I could possibly be if “circumstances beyond my control” should were to prevent my being present at my own funeral. But—but—

“In the bright lexicon of youth,

There’s no such word as Fail”—

and I’ll prove it!4

And look here. I came near forgetting it. Don’t you say a word to me about “trains” across the plains.5 Because I am down on that arrangement. That sort of thing is “played out,” you know. The Overland Coach or the Mail Steamer is the thing.

You want to know something about the route between California and Nevada Territory? Suppose you take my word for it, that it is exceedingly jolly. Or [take, ]for a winter view, J. Ross Brown’s picture, in Harper’s Monthly, of pack mules, tumbling fifteen hundred feet down the side of a mountain.6 Why bless you, there’s scenery on that route. You can stand on some of those noble peaks and see [Jerusalem ]and the Holy Land. And you can start a boulder, and [ watch send ]it tearing up the earth and crashing [ th over ]trees—down—down—down—to the very devil, Madam. And you would probably stand up there and look, and stare and wonder at the magnificence spread out before you till you starved to death, if let alone. But you should take some one along to keep you moving, you know. And the way to make that journey is not by coach, because, in that case, be you [ man male ]or [ woman, female, ] male or [ fe man or woman, you ]would be eternally scared to death, at the prospect of rolling down a mountain, and it would take up so much of your time to enjoy that sort of thing, you know, that you couldn’t pay much attention to the scenery. But just take the steamer to Sacramento City, then the railroad to [ f Folsom], then buy a good horse and shin it for the mountains. You wouldn’t lose anything, then, because the horse would be worth as much or more here than he cost you in California.

Since you [want to ]know, I will inform you that an eight-stamp [water-mill ], put up and ready for business would cost about $10,000 to $12,000. Then, the water to run it with would cost from $1,000 to [ $25,000, ] $30,000—and even more, according to the [location. What ]I mean by that, is, that water powers in this vicinity, are immensely valuable. So, also, in Esmeralda. But Humboldt is a new country, and things don’t cost [so much ]there yet. I saw a good water power sold there for $75000. But here is the way the thing is managed. A man with a good water power on Carson river will lean his axe up against a tree (provided you find him chopping cord-wood at [ $2 $4 ]a day,) and [talking ]his chalk pipe out of his mouth to afford him an opportunity to spit, and answer your questions, will look you coolly in the face and tell you his little property is worth forty or fifty-thousand dollars! But you can easily fix him, you know. You tell him that you’ll build a quartz mill on his property, and make him a fourth or a third, or a half owner in said mill in consideration of the privilege of using said property—and that will bring him to his milk in a jiffy.7 So he spits on his hands, and goes in again with his axe, until the mill is finished, when lo! out pops the quondam [wood-chopper ], arrayed in purple and fine linen, and prepared to deal in bank-stock, or bet on the races, or take governments loans, with an air, as to the amount, of the most don’t-care-a-d—n-dest unconcern that you can conceive of, Madam. The reason why I tell Mr. Moffett to bring money with him is, because my experience here has been to this effect: that 999 men out of every 1000 who come into this Territory, make this remark after they have been here long enough to look around a little: “By George, if I just had a thousand dollars—I’d be all right!” Now there’s the “Horatio,” for instance. There are five or six shareholders in it, and I know I could buy half of [ there their ]interests at, say $20 per foot, now that flour is worth $50 per barrel and they are pressed for money. But I am hard up myself, and can’t buy—and in June they’ll strike the ledge, and then “good-bye canary,” I can’t get it for love or money. Twenty dollars a foot! Think of it. For ground that is proven to be [rich. S Twenty ]dollars, Madam—and we wouldn’t part with a foot of our 75 for five times the sum.8 So it will be in Humboldt next summer. The boys will get pushed and sell ground [ wort for ]a song that is worth a fortune. But I am at the helm, now. I have convinced Orion that he hasn’t business talent enough to carry on a peanut stand, and he has solemnly promised me that he will meddle no more with mining, or other matters not connected with the Secretary’s office. So, you see, if mines are to be bought or sold, or tunnels run or shafts sunk, parties have to come to me—and me only. I’m the “firm,” you know.

“How long does it take one of those infernal trains to go through?” Well, anywhere between three and five months.

Tell Margaret9 that if you ever come to live in California, that you can promise her a home for a hundred years, and a bully one—but she wouldn’t like this country. Some people are malicious enough to think that if the devil were set at liberty and told to confine himself to Nevada Territory, that he would come here and loaf sadly around, awhile, and then get [ s homesick ]and go back to hell again. But I hardly believe it, you know. I am saying, mind you, that Margaret wouldn’t like the country, perhaps—nor the devil either, for that [matter, ]or any other man—but I like it. When it rains here, it [ does never ]lets up till it has done all the raining it has got to do—and after that, there’s a dry spell, you bet. Why, I have had my whiskers and moustaches so full of alkali dust that you’d have thought I worked in a starch factory and boarded in a flour barrel. And it is very healthy here. The funeral bell, with its sad accompaniments of tearful eyes, and drooping heads, and [ink blot] (blast such a pen, anyhow—I do think they get up pens in this country that would make the oldest man in the world cuss—if he hadn’t, like me, promised that he [wouldn’t,). ]But [its ]healthy here, you know, if you wear a heavy beard. That is what I was trying to come at.

Since we [haven’t been ]here there has not been a fire—although the houses are built of wood. They “holler” fire sometimes, though, but I am always too late to see the smoke before the fire [ w is ]out, if they ever have any. Now they raised a yell here in front of the office a moment ago. I put away my papers, and locked up everything of value, and changed my [ coat, boots, ]and pulled off my coat, and went and got a bucket of water, and came back to see what the matter [was ], remarking to myself, “I guess I’ll be on hand this time, any way.” But I met a friend on our pavement, and he said, “Where you been? Fire’s out half an hour ago. Next door, you know.” (Some people appear to think other people are Telegraphs. But I made a bucket of water by the operation). Orion was up at the Governor’s.

Why, Sammy is a regular prodigy. “Tries to say almost every word you tell him.” But he was further advanced than that, Madam, before I left home—for he used to try to play on the piano. Now let me give you some advice. As soon as he is old enough to understand you, just tell him, “Now, my boy, every time that you allow another boy to lam you, I’ll lam you myself; and whenever a boy lams you, and you fail to pitch into that boy the very next time you see him, and lam him, I’ll lam you twice.” And you’ll never be sorry for it. Pa wouldn’t allow us to fight, and next month Orion will be Governor, in the Governor’s absence,10 and then he’ll be sorry that his education was so much neglected. Now, you should never despise good advice, you know, and that is what I am giving you when I warn you to teach Sammy to fight, with the same care that you teach him to pray. If he don’t learn it when he is a boy, he’ll never learn it afterwards, and it will gain him more respect than [ Go any ]other accomplishment he can acquire.

Ma says Axtell was above “suspition”—but I have searched through Webster’s Unabridged, and can’t find the word. However, it’s of no consequence—I hope he got down safely. I knew Axtell and his wife as well as I know Dan Haines.11 Mrs. A. once tried to embarrass me in the presence of company by asking me to name her baby, when she was well aware that I didn’t know the [ na sex ]of that Phenomenon. But I told her to call it Frances, and [spell ]it to suit herself. That was about 9 years ago, and Axtell had no property, and could hardly support his family by his earnings. He was a pious cuss, though. Member of Margaret Sexton’s church.

And Ma says “it looks like a man’t can’t hold public office and be honest.” Why, certainly not, Madam. A man can’t hold public office and be honest. It is like a white man attempting to play Washoe Injun—that is, trying to swallow [cockroaches ]and grasshoppers alive and kicking—[ the it ]can’t be did, you know. Lord bless you, Madam it is a common practice with Orion to go about town stealing little things that happen to be lying around loose. And I don’t remember having heard him speak the truth since [ I have we have ] been in Nevada. He even tries to prevail upon me to do these things, Ma, but I wasn’t brought up in that way, you know. You showed the public what you could do in that line when you raised me, [ you know. Madam. ]But then you ought to have raised me first, ma mère, [ and so that ] Orion could have had the benefit of my example. Do you know that he stole all the stamps out [of] an 8-stamp quartz mill one night, and brought them home under his over-coat and hid them in the back room? That “let me out,” you know.

Much obliged for the picture of Camp Benton. But it don’t look like the old Fair Grounds to me.12 Pamela, if you are still anxious [to] come here, I will answer all your questions next time.

I wrote and mailed a letter to Zeb to-day, (the 9th of February[)].13

Yrs &c.


[in margin:] Beck Jolly will read Ma’s Chinese letter for her.14

Explanatory Notes | Textual Commentary

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
1 In a letter of 16 and 17 January 1862 Orion Clemens warned his wife of the sort of peril a lone woman could expect while traveling overland:

Your coming by the stage will meet my approbation, if Billy’s wife [Mary Clagett] or some other well known family, or your brother John [Stotts] comes with you, but no other way. . . . Traveling across the plains sometimes develops the d—l in people. But of all ways of traveling for a woman, the very last I have even tried is a stage. Half the time for three weeks it will be so dark in the stage you can’t see your hand before you. The stage is rolling and tumbling, you may be asleep, your man company awake, but pretending to be asleep. His hand wanders over you. If you catch him he snores or yawns sleepily, and you don’t know whether he was asleep or awake. They say the worst enemy a woman has is opportunity, and if I didn’t know you to be incorruptible, I would be almost doubtful whether to sleep with you or not, if you came three weeks of dark nights, through a wilderness, with only a man acquaintance. (CU-MARK)

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
2 The Horatio and the Derby were adjacent ledges on Martinez Hill, Aurora. Horatio G. Phillips, Robert M. Howland, and J. L. Snyder had claimed land, water, and tunneling rights on the hill in order to dig a tunnel into the Horatio, the Derby, and five other nearby lodes (plat dated 29 Dec 61, PH in CU-MARK, courtesy of Michael H. Marleau). Clemens’s participation in the tunnel enterprise predated the filing of that claim, for in a letter of 8 December 1861 Phillips had notified him that “50 ft in the Horatio was located in your name,” informed him that ten feet of tunnel had been completed, and assessed him $23 as his share of associated costs (NPV). The project seemed so promising that on 16 January 1862 Orion Clemens bought twenty-five feet in the Horatio from Phillips for $125 (deed in CU-MARK). Sometime between 1880 and 1882, while writing his autobiography, Orion commented that “all the ledges and tunnels and water rights . . . proved to be worthless, and our money was thrown away!” (note attached to Phillips to SLC, 8 Dec 61, NPV).

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
3 Clemens here employs the jargon of phrenology, a pseudoscience that linked psychological dispositions to physical characteristics, particularly the shape of the skull, and divided mankind into groups according to “temperaments.” He had made a study of phrenology in the summer of 1855, recording his observations in his notebook (see N&J1, 21–24, 27–29, 32–33).

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
4 The verses are quoted freely from Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1838 blank verse play, Richelieu, act 3, scene 1.

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
5 That is, wagon trains. Construction on the transcontinental railroad did not begin until 1863.

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
6 J. Ross Browne’s three-part series “A Peep at Washoe”—a tongue-in-cheek account of his sojourn in Nevada—appeared in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine from December 1860 to February 1861. The drawing of tumbling mules was in the final installment (see below).

From the final installment of “A Peep at Washoe” (J[ohn] Ross Browne, 301).

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
7 That is, to quickly bring him “to a proper realization of his duty, condition, etc.” (Mathews, 2:1055).

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
8 On 1 March 1862 Clemens acquired an additional twenty-five feet in the Horatio, bringing his and Orion’s holdings to a total of one hundred feet. This acquisition was part of a package of shares in sixteen mining claims that he purchased for $1,000 from John D. Kinney (deed in CU-MARK).

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
9 Clemens’s friend Margaret Sexton, of St. Louis.

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
10 For the explanation of James Nye’s absence see 8 and 9 Mar 62 to Clagett, n. 6.

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
11 On 3 January 1862 the St. Louis Missouri Republican reported that Stephen D. Axtell, chief clerk in the county collector’s office and “heretofore considered a highly respectable citizen,” had confessed to embezzling $30,000 of county funds and had agreed to convey “sufficient of his property to the county to cover his fraudulent transactions” (“Surprising Developments—Heavy Defalcation—An Old Citizen Implicated,” 3). Dan Haines was another of Clemens’s St. Louis acquaintances (see 2 Apr 62 to JLC, n. 7).

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
12 Camp Benton was established in August 1861 as a training center for federal troops. It housed up to twenty-three thousand men in barracks just west of the St. Louis fairgrounds (Scharf, 1:400–401). In a letter of 17 and 18 November 1861 to Orion, Mollie Clemens had described her visit to the camp (CU-MARK).

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
13 Zebulon Leavenworth—one of the pilots of the John J. Roe in 1857, while Clemens was its steersman—lived near the Moffetts in St. Louis (Webster 1949, 1).

Add to My Citations

Click to add citation to My Citations.
14 According to Samuel C. Webster, Clemens had sent his mother a letter “marked in each corner ‘Private,’ ‘Strictly Confidential,’ and so on. The family were all on edge to hear what it was about, but Grandma Clemens refused even to open it in their presence. She marched upstairs to read it—but in a minute was down again, blazing with wrath. It was written in Chinese” (MTBus, 66). Sobieski (Beck) Jolly (1831–1905) was another of the pilots Clemens had known on the John J. Roe. In addition to his ostensible proficiency in Chinese (see also 25 Aug 66 to Bowen), Jolly was “very handsome, very graceful, very intelligent, companionable,” with “a fine character” and “the manners of a duke” (AD, 30 July 1906, CU-MARK, in AMT, 79). His riverboat career, which began in 1846 and ended with his retirement in 1885, included service throughout the Civil War piloting Union steamboats on the Mississippi and its tributaries (Ferris, 14–16). In chapter 24 of Life on the Mississippi, Clemens comically acknowledged Jolly’s superior piloting skills by including him among the reputed “A 1 alligator pilots.”

glyphglyphCopy-text:glyphMS, Jean Webster McKinney Family Papers, Vassar College Library (NPV).

glyphglyphPrevious publication:glyph L1, 155–163; MTB, 1:190–92, excerpts; MTL, 1:63–68, with omissions; MTBus, 64, 66, brief excerpts of text not published by Paine.

glyphglyphProvenance:glyphsee McKinney Family Papers, pp. 459–61.

glyphglyphEmendations and textual notes:glyph

al amount • almount [‘m’ over ‘l’]

ne have • [‘ha’ over ‘ne’]

its • [sic]

w have • [‘h’ over doubtful partly formed ‘w’]

40-horse • 40-horese [‘s’ over ‘e’]

y then • [‘t’ over ‘y’]

take, • take, | take,

Jerusalem • Jerulsalem [‘s’ over ‘l’]

watch send • [‘send’ over ‘watch’]

th over • [‘ov’ over ‘th’]

man male • male n [‘le’ over ‘n’]

woman, female,woman, female [‘female’ inserted over ‘woman’; the comma retained]

fe man or woman, you • fe- man or woman, ‖ you [‘fe-’ canceled at end of page]

f Folsom • [‘F’ over ‘f’]

want to • want to to [‘t’ over ‘to’; false start]

water-|mill • water-mill

$25,000,[‘25’ doubtful]

location. What • location.— |What

so much • som so much [‘so m’ over ‘som’; false start]

$2 $4 • $4 2 [‘4’ over ‘2’]

talking • [‘l’ canceled]

wood-chopper • wood-|chopper

there their • their re [‘ir’ over ‘re’]

rich. S Twenty • rich.— | S Twenty [‘T’ over ‘S’]

wort for • [‘for’ over ‘wort’]

s homesick • s home-|sick [‘h’ over ‘s’]

matter, [dash inserted over comma]

does never • [‘never’ over ‘does’]

wouldn’t,). • [sic]

its • [sic]

haven’t been • [‘n’t’ wiped away; ‘b’ over ‘t’]

w is • [‘is’ over ‘w’]

coat, boots, • [‘boots,’ over ‘coat,’]

was • was t [‘s’ over ‘t’]

Go any • [‘an’ over ‘Go’]

na sex • [‘se’ over ‘na’]

spell • speell [‘l’ over ‘e’]

cockroaches • cock-|roaches

the it • [‘it’ over ‘the’]

I have we have • [‘we ha’ over ‘I have’]

you know. Madam. • [‘Madam.’ over ‘you know.’]

and so that • [‘so t’ over ‘and’]