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:
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.
[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.
“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.