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Add to My Citations To Orion Clemens
26 May 1864 • Virginia City, Nev. Terr.
(MS: CU-MARK, UCCL 00082)
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Va, May 26, 1864.

My Dear Bro—

Send me two hundred dollars if you can spare it [ comfortably. However], never mind—you can send it to San Francisco if you prefer. Steve & I are going to the States. We leave Sunday morning per Henness Pass.1 Say nothing about [it., ] of course. We are not afraid of the grand jury, but Washoe has long since grown irksome to [us., ] & we want to leave it anyhow.2

We have thoroughly canvassed the Carson business, & concluded we dare not do anything, either to Laird or Carson men without spoiling our chances of getting [ w away]. However, if there is any chance of the husbands of those women challenging me, I don’t want a straw put in the way of it. I’ll wait for them a month, if th necessary, & fight them with any weapon they choose. I thought of challenging one of them & then crossing the line to await the result, but Steve says it would not be safe, situated as we are.3

When I get to the Bay—where we shall remain a month—I will fix the Hale & Norcross in a safe shape.4

My best love to Mollie,


Explanatory Notes | Textual Commentary

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1 A principal passage through the Sierra Nevada, named for Patrick Henness, one of the men who discovered it in 1850 (“The Henness Pass,” North San Juan [Calif.] Hydraulic Press, 9 June 60, 2; Gudde, 131–32). Clemens probably chose the Henness Pass route to California because it bypassed Carson City, where he would have been persona non grata at this time (Mack 1947, 323).

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2 In his later explanations of his departure from Nevada Territory, Clemens expanded upon the motives suggested here. In chapter 55 of Roughing It he professed to have been bored with his reportorial duties and eager to travel, so that he was happy to accept Dan De Quille’s offer of a chance to go to New York with two others to sell a Nevada silver mine on commission. (Purportedly an unlucky double failure in communication caused Clemens to miss the San Francisco–New York steamer and lose his opportunity to participate in the enterprise.) In 1906, however, Clemens claimed that he and Gillis had to leave Nevada because he had sent a challenge to James L. Laird and Gillis had carried it, making them both subject to “two years apiece in the penitentiary, according to the brand-new law” against dueling (AD, 19 Jan 1906, CU-MARK, in MTA, 1:359). There was such a law in effect—section 35 of “An Act concerning Crimes and Punishments”—although it was not “brand-new,” having been passed on 26 November 1861. It established a penalty of from two to ten years’ imprisonment for both the sending and the delivering of a challenge (Laws 1862, 61). Enforcement of this law was sufficiently strict to make some antagonists cross from Nevada into California to do battle. For Clemens’s and Gillis’s accounts of their dueling experiences see: SLC 1872, 90–91; MTB, 1:250–52; and Fulton, 54. A discussion of Clemens’s versions, and their factual basis, can be found in Krauth, 141–53.

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3 This stratagem was not “safe” because of another law passed on 26 November 1861—“An Act to Regulate Proceedings in Criminal Cases in the Courts of Justice in the Territory of Nevada.” Section 84 of this act stipulated: “When an inhabitant or resident of this territory shall, by any previous appointment or engagement, fight in a duel without the jurisdiction of this territory, and in such duel a wound shall be inflicted upon any person whereof he shall die within this territory, the jurisdiction of the offense shall be in the county where the death shall happen” (Laws 1862, 444). Clemens may have witnessed one duel fought in California, the 28 September 1863 encounter in which Joseph T. Goodman wounded Thomas Fitch (see ET&S1, 263–64).

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4 The Hale and Norcross Silver Mining Company was incorporated in March 1861. Its relatively small but well-developed claim of 400 feet was located on the southern portion of the Comstock lode. Clemens had explored the mine in early July 1863 in his capacity as Enterprise “local” (see SLC 1863 [MT00172], 1). The company was known for its relative freedom from mining litigation and its powerful machinery, which soon penetrated the Comstock lode to the greatest depth then attained by any company. It was also known for the frequent assessments it levied on stockholders as a means of raising operating capital. In 1868 Clemens remembered owning six shares of Hale and Norcross stock—a fact that his 1864–65 assessments substantiate (see 28 Sept 64 to OC and MEC, n. 5, and 11 Nov 64 to OC, n. 5)—and claimed to have sold them for $300 a share (SLC 1868, 2). Almost forty years later, however, he recalled that on a tip from mining speculator Herman Camp he had acquired fifty shares at that price, buying them on margin by putting up twenty percent. This purchase, which he indicated came during his May–June 1863 sojourn in San Francisco, “exhausted my funds. I wrote Orion and offered him half, and asked him to send his share of the money.” Clemens “waited and waited” for the money, which never reached him, although Orion had sent it. In the meantime the stock rose thousands of dollars and then began to fall steadily “until it fell below the price I had paid for it. Then it began to eat up the margin, and when at last I got out I was very badly crippled” (AD, 5 Apr 1906, CU-MARK, in MTA, 2:319–20). Although this account certainly exaggerates the number of shares purchased, it accords with a major boom in Hale and Norcross stock during the two months in 1863 that Clemens lived in San Francisco. In early May, when he arrived, the stock was quoted at $915 per share, and at the end of June, just before he departed for Virginia City, it was selling for over $2,000 per share. By the time of the present letter, however, the bid price had fallen to $500 (By-laws, 1; Hague, 99, 174; “San Francisco Stock and Exchange Board,” San Francisco Alta California: 1 May 63, 4; 30 June 63, 4; 26 May 64, 6). Apparently Clemens attempted to “fix the Hale & Norcross in a safe shape” by putting part of the stock in Orion’s name (see 13 and 14 Aug 64 to OC and MEC).

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

glyphglyphPrevious publication:glyph L1, 299–301; MTEnt, 203.

glyphglyphProvenance:glyphsee Mark Twain Papers, pp. 461–62. A penciled underscore below ‘Henness Pass’ (299.5) may have been added by Orion Clemens, either when he received the letter or perhaps when he was preparing his autobiography in 1880; Clemens wrote the letter in ink. Although Paine did not publish this letter, two notes on the MS, ‘[Thursday]’ above the date and ‘Imp.’ below it, appear to be in his hand. Since Clemens announces in the letter his secret plan to leave Virginia City on Sunday, it is indeed important—if that is what ‘Imp.’ means—to know that the letter was written on Thursday.

glyphglyphEmendations and textual notes:glyph

comfortably. However • comfortably.— |However

it., • [comma over period]

us., • [comma over period]

w away • [‘a’ over partly formed ‘w’]