Vol 1 Section 0014

Left For the Amazon – New Orleans & Change of Plans – Bixby’s Influence

Official Cub Pilot – Learning the Big Muddy



1857 – Sometime during his stay in Keokuk Clemens saw Henry Clay Dean (1822-1887), eccentric philosopher who inspired Twain’s 1905 “The War Prayer.” In Ch. 57 of LM, Twain described Dean:


Keokuk, a long time ago, was an occasional loafing-place of that erratic genius, Henry Clay Dean. I believe I never saw him but once; but he was much talked about when I lived there. This is what was said of him:


He began life poor and without education. But he educated himself—on the curbstones of Keokuk. He would sit down on a curbstone with his book, careless or unconscious of the clatter of commerce and the tramp of the passing crowds, and bury himself in his studies by the hour, never changing his position except to draw in his knees now and then to let a dray pass unobstructed; and when his book was finished, its contents, however abstruse, had been burned into his memory, and were his permanent possession. In this way he acquired a vast hoard of all sorts of learning, and had it pigeonholed in his head where he could put his intellectual hand on it whenever it was wanted. [Note: see also Rasmussen 107-8].


January On Dec. 29, 1905 Sam answered a question from an unidentified person:


“Yes I did lay aside the ‘stick’ to resume it no more forever; but January 1857 was the time it happened, & Keokuk, Iowa the place” [MTP]. Note: the “stick” was the typesetter’s line of type. Sam soon after began his steam boat career.


January 23 Friday In Keokuk, Henry Clemens wrote to Sam.

Your letters seem to be very strongly afflicted with a lying-in-the-pocket propensity; for no sooner had I read your last, but one, than it was consigned to one of the pockets of my overcoat, from whose “vasty depths” I have but this moment fished it up, to answer it.


You seem to think Keokuk property is so good to speculate in, you’d better invest all your spare change in it, instead of going to South America [MTBus 31-2]. Note: The writing seems familiar, doesn’t it? Henry may have been the perfect alter ego of Sam, but he was as literate at the young age of eighteen.


February 16 Monday – Sam boarded the packet Paul Jones (353 tons), on its way from Pittsburgh, for passage to New Orleans, commanded by Hiram K. Hazlett and piloted by Horace E. Bixby (1826-1912), and Jerry Mason [Branch, “Bixby” 2]. Branch presents evidence for this date over Apr. 15.

Sam claimed in his autobiography that his intention was to travel to the Amazon, but could not find passage once in New Orleans. His other longtime dream of becoming a steamboat pilot then took over and he approached Bixby about becoming his assistant. Bixby had a sore foot, which made standing at the wheel painful, so Sam did “a lot of steering” for him. Sam’s impressions of the Paul Jones:

“I was in Cincinnati . . . 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 travelers” [ LM Ch.5].


February 17 Tuesday – The Paul Jones was “heavily loaded with ordnance for the Baton Rouge arsenal” [Branch, “Bixby” 3]. As the boat neared Louisville it ran onto rocks near Dick Smith’s wharf and stuck for more than 24 hours.

February 19 Thursday – The Paul Jones left Louisville [Branch, “Bixby” 3].

February 23 Monday – The Paul Jones reached Memphis [Branch, “Bixby” 3].


February 28 Saturday – The Paul Jones reached New Orleans [Branch, “Bixby” 2]. In his Autobiography:

…I inquired about ships leaving for Para and discovered that there weren’t any and learned that there probably wouldn’t be any during that century. It had not occurred to me to inquire about these particulars before leaving Cincinnati, so there I was. I couldn’t get to the Amazon. I had no friends in New Orleans and no money to speak of. I went to Horace Bixby and asked him to make a pilot out of me. He said he would do it for five hundred dollars, one hundred dollars cash in advance. So I steered for him to St. Louis, borrowed the money from my brother-in-law, and closed the bargain [Neider 98]. Note: William Moffett, sister Pamela’s husband, was the lender.

Text Box: March 4, 1857 - James Buchanan was sworn in as the 15th President of the United States.







March 4 Wednesday Commanded by Patrick Yore and piloted by Horace Bixby, the Colonel Crossman (415 tons) left New Orleans with Sam aboard bound for St. Louis [Branch, “Bixby” 2]. Sam was 21, Horace 31 and considered one of the great steamboat pilots of his time [Rasmussen 34]. Bixby had started as a lowly mud clerk (unpaid) at age eighteen. He had a temper but cooled off fast. “When I say I’ll learn a man the river, I mean it. And you can depend on it. I’ll learn him or kill him” [Rasmussen 35]. Powers describes him as “A small sturdy man…he had a prominent nose, a firmly set mouth, and hair brushed all the way across his head from a low part. He would survive a steamboat explosion near New Madrid, Mo. in 1858, pilot heroically for the Union flotilla during the Civil War, achieve greatness in his trade, and outlive Sam Clemens by two years, dying a few months after the Titanic sank in 1912, in a St. Louis suburb” [Powers, Dangerous 246]. For more about the Crossman, see Branch, “Bixby” 6-7.


Text Box: March 6, 1857 
Dred Scott Case Decided





March 14 Saturday – Sam dated his third and last Snodgrass letter from Cincinnati: SNODGRASS, IN A ADVENTURE [MTL 1: 70; Camfield, bibliog.]. Branch points out that on this date Sam was on the Colonel Crossman and concludes Sam updated his manuscript on board [Branch, “Bixby” 2].


March 15 Sunday The Colonel Crossman arrived in St. Louis [Branch, “Bixby” 2].


April 10 Friday – The third and last Snodgrass letter dated Mar. 14 from Cincinnati ran in the Keokuk Post. The title, SNODGRASS, IN A ADVENTURE [MT Encyclopedia, Abshire 694].

April 29 Wednesday – Sam left St. Louis on the Crescent City (688 tons), bound for New Orleans. Bixby and Sam would make this run on the Crescent three times [Branch, “Bixby” 2].

May 4? Monday The Crescent City arrived in New Orleans.


May 89? Saturday The Crescent City left New Orleans bound for St. Louis [Branch, “Bixby” 2].

May 1619? Tuesday – The Crescent City arrived in St. Louis [Branch, “Bixby” 2].

Note: approximate dates with ? are calculated from Branch’s assertion of three round trips rather than two, and his updating of information from MTL 1: 71.


Once in St. Louis, Sam went first to cousin James Clemens, Jr., and then to brother-in-law William Moffett to secure the loan of $100 with which to pay Bixby a down payment [MTL 1: 71].

May 22 Friday – The Crescent City left St. Louis bound for New Orleans, with Sam as the official cub pilot. From this date until May 1861, Sam learned and worked his new trade as a steamboat pilot. He made exceptional pay once licensed and loved the work. Only the closing of river traffic with the Civil War cost Sam this job. It is one of the side benefits of the war that Sam was forced off the river and into the West to discover his true calling. Still, without those years on the Mississippi, Sam might never have reached his pinnacle as the “Lincoln of our literature” [MTL 1: 71].


May 27 Wednesday – Sam arrived in New Orleans on the Crescent City, cub under Horace Bixby. Nearly all of Sam’s piloting was between New Orleans and St. Louis, some 1,300 miles. Bixby taught Sam that he must memorize every mile of the trip, that each side of the river, coming and going was different, and that at night nothing looked the same. To make it more difficult, the river was constantly shifting its banks. Sam was boggled by what was required of him [MTL 1: 71].

May 31 Sunday – Sam visited the French market in the morning. He wrote of it the next day to Annie.

June 1 Monday – In New Orleans, Sam wrote to Annie Taylor lamenting her “ancient punctuality.”

[postscript in pencil:]

P. S.—I have just returned from another cemetery—brought away an orange leaf as a memorial—I inclose it.

New Orleans, June 1st. 1857.

My Dear Friend Annie

I am not certain what day of the month this is, (the weather being so warm,) but I expect I have made a pretty close guess.

Well, you wouldn’t answer the last letter I wrote from Cincinnati? I just thought I would write again, anyhow, taking for an excuse the fact that you might have written and the letter miscarried. I have been very unfortunate with my correspondence; for, during my stay of nearly four months in Cincinnati, I did not get more than three or four letters beside those coming from members of our own family. You did write once, though, Annie, and that rather “set me up,” for I imagined that as you had got started once more, you would continue to write with your ancient punctuality. From some cause or other, however, I was disappointed—though it could hardly have been any fault of mine, for I sat down and answered your letter as soon as I received it, I think, although I was sick at the time. Orion wrote to me at St. Louis, saying that Mane told him she would correspond with me if I would ask her. I lost no time in writing to her—got no reply—and thus ended another brief correspondence. I wish you would tell Mane that the Lord won’t love her if she does so.

However, I reckon one page of this is sufficient.

I visited the French market yesterday (Sunday) morning. I think it would have done my very boots good to have met half a dozen Keokuk girls there, as I used to meet them at market in the Gate City. But it could not be. However, I did find several acquaintances—two pretty girls, with their two beaux—sipping coffee at one of the stalls. I thought I had seen all kinds of markets before—but that was a great mistake—this being a place such as I had never dreamed of before. Everything was arranged in such beautiful order, and had such an air of cleanliness and neatness that it was a pleasure to wander among the stalls. The pretty pyramids of fresh fruit looked so delicious. Oranges, lemons, pineapples, bananas, figs, plantains, watermelons, blackberries, raspberries, plums, and various other fruits were to be seen on one table, while the next one bore a load of radishes, onions, squashes, peas, beans, sweet potatoes—well, everything imaginable in the vegetable line—and still further on were lobsters, oysters, clams—then milk, cheese, cakes, coffee, tea, nuts, apples, hot rolls, butter, etc.—then the various kinds of meats and poultry. Of course, the place was crowded (as most places in New Orleans are) with men, women and children of every age, color and nation. Out on the pavement were groups of Italians, French, Dutch, Irish, Spaniards, Indians, Chinese, Americans, English, and the Lord knows how many more different kinds of people, selling all kinds of articles—even clothing of every description, from a handkerchief down to a pair of boots, umbrellas, pins, combs, matches—in fact, anything you could possibly want—and keeping up a terrible din with their various cries.

Today I visited one of the cemeteries—a veritable little city, for they bury everybody above ground here. All round the sides of the inclosure, which is in the heart of the city, there extends a large vault, about twelve feet high, containing three or four tiers of holes or tombs (they put the coffins into these holes endways, and then close up the opening with brick), one above another, and looking like a long 3- or 4-story house. The graveyard is laid off in regular, straight streets, strewed with white shells, and the fine, tall marble tombs (numbers of them containing but one corpse) fronting them and looking like so many miniature dwelling houses. You can find wreaths of flowers and crosses, cups of water, mottoes, small statuettes, etc., hanging in front of nearly every tomb. I noticed one beautiful white marble tomb, with a white lace curtain in front of it, under which, on a little shelf, were vases of fresh flowers, several little statuettes, and cups of water, while on the ground under the shelf were little orange and magnolia trees. It looked so pretty. The inscription was in French—said the occupant was a girl of 17, and finished by a wish from the mother that the stranger would drop a tear there, and thus aid her whose sorrow was more than one could bear. They say that the flowers upon many of these tombs are replaced every day by fresh ones. These were fresh, and the poor girl had been dead five years. There’s depth of affection! On another was the inscription, “To My Dear Mother,” with fresh flowers. The lady was 62 years old when she died, and she had been dead seven years. I spent half an hour watching the chameleons—strange animals, to change their clothes so often! I found a dingy looking one, drove him on a black rag, and he turned black as ink—drove him under a fresh leaf, and he turned the brightest green color you ever saw.

I wish you would write to me at St. Louis (I’ll be there next week) for I don’t believe you have forgotten how, yet. Tell Mane and Ete [Mary Jane Taylor and Esther Taylor] “howdy” for me.

Your old friend

Sam. L. Clemens [MTL 1: 71].

Notes: Interestingly, Sam did not brag about being a cub pilot, or say anything about piloting or his ambitions. It is thought this was his last letter to Annie. On this date the Crescent City left for St. Louis. 


June 9 TuesdayCrescent City arrived St. Louis. Note: The following steamboat schedules are taken from [MTL 1: 387-90].


June 17 WednesdayCrescent City left for New Orleans.

June 23 TuesdayCrescent City arrived New Orleans.

June 28 SundayCrescent City left for St. Louis.

July 7 TuesdayCrescent City arrived St. Louis.

July 11 Saturday – Sam and possibly Bixby transferred to the Rufus L. Lackland (710 tons) and departed St. Louis for New Orleans. Sam’s comments about the Lackland:

I took lodgings at Mrs. Marmadale’s, John, higher up in Locust street, towards the big church—I mean the one in the construction of which the least little bit in the world of Christian vanity sticks out—for, do you know, John, that that edifice reminds me of the steamers JOHN J. ROE and R. J. LACKLAND? Yes, she does. You admire the craft at a distance, but when you step aboard you are astonished to find that what you thought was all cabin, isn’t and what you thought was all church, isn’t, either, by considerably more than a good deal. No, John, it’s all sham. There’s a bulkhead amidships, and behind is a place devoted to bale-rope and buckets, in the one case, and prayer-meeting in the other [Schmidt – from July 21, 1859 New Orleans Crescent, “Soleather Cultivates His Taste for Music”].

Note: Recently added to Schmidt’s website is the following 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.”

Until such time as Marleau’s new citations are published, with dates and places for the purported Missouri River leg, the chronology will continue to present Edgar Branch’s conclusions. If Marleau’s information is confirmed, it would affect dates July 11 through Aug. 3 on the Lackland, and also re-date Sam’s comments about the steamboat (above) to July 21, 1859 in the New Orleans Crescent.

July 19 SundayRufus L. Lackland arrived New Orleans.

July 23 ThursdayRufus L. Lackland left for St. Louis.

August 3 MondayRufus L. Lackland arrived St. Louis.

August 5 Wednesday – Sam, cub pilot, was now under Zebulon “Zeb” Leavenworth (1830-1877) and/or Sobieski “Beck” Jolly (1831-1905) on the John J. Roe (691 tons). Bixby wanted to work the more lucrative Missouri and Sam had chosen to stay on the Mississippi run. The steamboat left St. Louis this date for New Orleans. It was a freighter and not allowed to carry passengers. Sam, about the Roe:

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 [Neider 79]. Note: in his A.D. of July 30, 1906 Clemens said that Zeb Leavenworth was a giant like his brother, Mark Leavenworth, and that “Jolly was very handsome, very graceful, very intelligent, companionable—a fine character—and he had the manners of a duke” [AMT 2: 150].

August 14 Friday John J. Roe arrived New Orleans.

August 18 TuesdayJohn J. Roe left for St. Louis.

August 29 SaturdayJohn J. Roe arrived St. Louis.

September 2 WednesdayJohn J. Roe left for New Orleans.

September 10 ThursdayJohn J. Roe arrived New Orleans.

September 15 TuesdayJohn J. Roe left for St. Louis.

September 24 ThursdayJohn J. Roe arrived St. Louis.

October 9 Friday – Sam, cub pilot, now under Horace Bixby again with co-pilot, possibly Isaiah Sellers (1802-1864) on the William M. Morrison (662 tons). On this date the steamboat left St. Louis [Schmidt].


October 16 FridayWilliam M. Morrison arrived New Orleans.

October 19 MondayWilliam M. Morrison left for St. Louis.


October 26 MondayWilliam M. Morrison arrived St. Louis.

November 2 Monday – Sam was now under the infamous William Brown, co-pilot George Ealer (1829-1866) on the steamboat Pennsylvania (486 tons). The ship left this date for New Orleans. In Chapters 18-19 of Life on the Mississippi, Sam recounted the conflict with Brown:

“…a middle-aged, long, slim, bony, smooth-shaven, horse-faced, ignorant, stingy, malicious, snarling, fault-hunting, mote-magnifying tyrant.”

From their first meeting, nothing Sam did was right for Brown. Cub Sam would lie in his bunk at night thinking of creative ways to kill Brown. Imagination was all that was left to Sam, since it was a “penitentiary offense” to strike a steamboat pilot. The other cub on board was George Ritchie, who was blessed with serving watch only for the co-pilot George Ealer, as amiable as Brown was nasty. Whenever Sam took the wheel for Ealer’s watch, Ritchie would mimic Brown, which got old fast with Sam. The conflict between Brown and Sam would peak the next June [Schmidt].

November 8 SundayPennsylvania arrived in New Orleans.

November 10 TuesdayPennsylvania left for St. Louis. With Brown gone, George Ealer was most likely the pilot.

November 16 MondayPennsylvania arrived in St. Louis.

November 18 WednesdayPennsylvania left for New Orleans.

November 24 TuesdayPennsylvania arrived in New Orleans.


November 26 ThursdayPennsylvania left for St. Louis. About thirty miles above New Orleans it was struck by the Vicksburg and lost its wheelhouse. The boat was laid up for repairs near New Orleans for eleven weeks. Some accounts say the two boats were racing, an illegal but common activity for steamboats. On Mar. 19, 1858, Sam would give testimony for a lawsuit in the matter. His remarks include observations of the boat:

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 [Marleau, “Eyewitness” 18-19].


November 27 to December 12 Saturday – Sam worked as a night watchman on the freight docks from seven in the evening until seven in the morning. He earned three dollars a night [Neider 100].


November 30 Monday Sam’s 22nd birthday.


December 13 Sunday – Sam was a steersman under Joseph Edward Montgomery (1817-1902) on the D.A. January, which left New Orleans on this date. The captain was Patrick Yore. Montgomery would later serve as a commodore of the Confederacy’s river fleet, which was destroyed in June 1862 at Memphis.

December 22 TuesdayD.A. January arrived in St. Louis.

December, late – Sam no doubt spent the holidays with his family before returning to New Orleans [MTL 1: 75].