Vol 1 Section 0015

Dream River and Dream Laura – Disaster Forewarned – A Pounding in the Pilot House

 Henry Dead from Pennsylvania Explosion – More Steamboats, More Work



January 14 Thursday Sam may have made the return trip on the New Falls City, an 880 ton side-wheeler freshly built that month, with Captain Montgomery. The licensed pilots at this time were Chauncy Cable and Zeb Leavenworth. Sam possibly offered his steering services in exchange for passage [MTL 1: 75].

January 20 WednesdayNew Falls City arrived in New Orleans.

February 6 Saturday – The Pennsylvania, now repaired and refitted, left New Orleans with William Brown as pilot, George Ealer as co-pilot, John Simpson Klinefelter (1810-1885) as Captain. Sam had procured a job for Henry as “mud clerk,” so called because the job required leaping to shore in places where there was no pavement or dock. The job did not pay, but was a way to rise in the ranks. Henry Clemens was nineteen, and would make six trips with his brother Sam [Powers, MT A Life 84].


February 14 Sunday Pennsylvania arrived in St. Louis.


February 17 WednesdayPennsylvania left for New Orleans. The Mississippi was choked with ice, but Captain Klinefelter thought the boat could handle it. They went aground several times.

February 18 Thursday – Due to ice, the Pennsylvania had only managed to reach Rush Tower, some 40 miles south of St. Louis.

February 19 Friday – The Pennsylvania reached Cairo, Illinois in the afternoon. Other boats had either elected to stay in St. Louis or were aground.


February 25 ThursdayPennsylvania arrived in New Orleans.


February 27 SaturdayPennsylvania ,left for St. Louis


March 9 TuesdayPennsylvania arrived in St. Louis. Sam wrote to Orion and Mollie about the difficult trip of Feb. 17, which took twenty days, six or seven more than usual for the round trip.

Dear Brother and Sister:

I must take advantage of the opportunity now presented to write you, but I shall necessarily be dull, as I feel uncommonly stupid. We have had a hard trip this time. Left Saint Louis three weeks ago on the Pennsylvania. The weather was very cold, and the ice running densely. We got 15 miles below town, landed the boat, and then one pilot, Second Mate and four deck hands took the sounding boat and shoved out in the ice to hunt the channel. They failed to find it, and the ice drifted them ashore. The pilot left the men with the boat and walked back to us, a mile and a half. Then the other pilot and myself, with a larger crew of men started out and met with the same fate. We drifted ashore just below the other boat. Then the fun commenced. We made fast a line 20 fathoms long, to the bow of the yawl, and put the men, (both crews) to it like horses, on the shore. Brown, the pilot, stood in the bow, with an oar, to keep her head out, with and I took the tiller. We would start the men, and all would go well till the yawl would bring up on a heavy cake of ice, and then the men would drop like so many ten-pins, while Brown assumed the horizontal in the bottom of the boat. After an hour’s hard work we got back, with ice half an inch thick on the oars. Sent back and warped up the other yawl, and then George [Ealer] (the first mentioned pilot,) and myself, took a double crew of fresh men and tried it again. This time we found the channel in less than an hour, and landed on island till the Pennsylvania came along and took us off. The next day was colder still. I was out in the yawl twice, and then we got through, but the infernal steamboat came near running over us. We went ten miles further, landed, and George and I cleared out again—found the channel first trial, but got caught in the gorge and drifted helplessly down the river. The Ocean Spray came along and started into the ice after us, but although she didn’t succeed in her kind intention of taking us aboard, her waves washed us out, and that was all we wanted. We landed on an island, built a big fire and waited for the boat. She started, and ran aground! It commenced raining and sleeting, and a very interesting time we had on that barren sandbar for the next four hours, when the boat got off and took us aboard. The next day was terribly cold. We sounded Hat Island, warped up around a bar and sounded again—but in order to understand our situation you will have to read Dr. Kane. It would have been impossible to get back to the boat. But the Maria Denning ,was aground at the head of the island—they hailed us,—we ran alongside and they hoisted us in and thawed us out. We had then been out in the yawl from 4 o’clock in the morning till half past 9 without being near a fire. There was a thick coating of ice over men, yawl, ropes, and everything else, and we looked like rock-candy statuary. We got to Saint Louis this morning, after an absence of 3 weeks—that boat generally makes the trip in 2.

Henry was doing little or nothing here, and I sent him to our clerk to work his way for a trip, by measuring woodpiles, counting coal boxes, and other clerkly duties, which he performed satisfactorily. He may go down with us again, for I expect he likes our bill of fare better than that of his boarding house.

I got your letter at Memphis as I went down. That is the best place to write me at. The post office here is always out of my route, somehow or other. Remember the direction: “S.L.C., Steamer Pennsylvania, Care Duval & Algeo, Wharfboat, Memphis.” I cannot correspond with a paper, because when one is learning the river, he is not allowed to do or think about anything else.

I am glad to see you in such high spirits about the land, and I hope will remain so, if you never get richer. I seldom venture to think about our landed wealth, for “hope deferred maketh the heart sick.”

I did intend to answer your letter, but I am too lazy and too sleepy, now. We had had a rough time during the last 24 hours working through the ice between Cairo and Saint Louis, and I have had but little rest.

I got here too late to see the funeral of the 10 victims by the burning of the Pacific hotel in 7th street. Ma says there were 10 hearses, with the fire companies (their engines in mourning—firemen in uniform,)—the various benevolent societies in uniform and mourning, and a multitude of citizens and strangers, forming, altogether, a procession of 30,000 persons! One steam fire-engine was drawn by four white horses, with crape festoons on their heads.

Well, I am—just—about—asleep—

Your brother


[MTL 1: 76]. Notes: from the source: Elisha Kent Kane (1820–57), a U.S. Navy surgeon, participated in two unsuccessful Arctic expeditions in the 1850s in search of Sir John Franklin, the explorer who died in 1847 while trying to find a northwest passage to the Orient. Kane published two popular accounts of the expeditions. Also: “Clemens artfully inscribed his closing and signature to suggest a gradual loss of control over his pencil.” See other notes in source.

March 11 ThursdayPennsylvania left for New Orleans.


March 17 WednesdayPennsylvania arrived in New Orleans.


March 19 Friday Sam gave a deposition in a lawsuit (Klineflelter, et al, vs. Vicksburg) over the collision between the Pennsylvania and the Vicksburg on Nov. 26, 1857. See that entry. Sam was a steersman on the Pennsylvania at that time [Marleau, “Eyewitness” 18].


March 20 SaturdayPennsylvania left for St. Louis.


March 27 SaturdayPennsylvania arrived in St. Louis.


March 31 WednesdayPennsylvania left for New Orleans.

April 6 TuesdayPennsylvania arrived in New Orleans.

April 10 SaturdayPennsylvania left for St. Louis.


April 16 FridayPennsylvania arrived in St. Louis.

April 20 TuesdayPennsylvania left for New Orleans.

April 26 MondayPennsylvania arrived in New Orleans.

April 30 FridayPennsylvania left for St. Louis.

May 5 WednesdayPennsylvania arrived in St. Louis.

May 10 MondayPennsylvania left for New Orleans.

May 16 SundayPennsylvania arrived in New Orleans. While there, Sam met fourteen-year-old Laura Wright (1845-1932). They spent most of the three days together. Sam was then twenty-two, but the age difference was not unusual in those days. Laura was with her father, Judge Foster P. Wright of Warsaw, Missouri, visiting her uncle, William C. Youngblood and her cousin Zeb Leavenworth on the John J. Roe. Sam went to visit Zeb and Beck Jolly, old mates from past trips. In his Autobiography Sam described Laura:

…that slip of a girl of whom I have spoken—that instantly elected sweetheart out of the remoteness of interior Missouri—a frank and simple and winsome child who had never been away from home in her life before…I was not four inches from that girl’s elbow during our waking hours for the next three days…I could see her with the perfect distinctness in the unfaded bloom of her youth, with her plaited tails dangling from her young head and her white summer frock puffing about in the wind of that ancient Mississippi time…[Neider 80].

Years later, Laura would marry a Mr. Dake. Sam claimed to have only seen Laura once, but they corresponded and Sam did visit Warsaw again (see May 13, 1880 entry for letter from Thomas H. Murray). There are echoes of Sam’s affection for Laura in several of his writings [MTL 1: 114n7; MT Encyclopedia, Baetzhold 799]. Note: Powers cites Sam’s notebook: May 6, 1858, of leaving Laura, but on that date the Pennsylvania was in St. Louis. All sources give New Orleans as their place of meeting.


May 20 ThursdayPennsylvania left for St. Louis. When the boat was backing out, Sam had to leap for the rail from the John J. Roe, ending his visit with Laura Wright. Years later he would send her a thousand dollars in response to a letter asking for help. The loves of Sam’s life were invariably put on haloed pedestals, none more so than Laura Wright [MT Encyclopedia Baetzhold 799; Powers MT A Life 82].

May 27 ThursdayPennsylvania arrived in St. Louis.


May 29 Saturday In St. Louis, Sam dreamed of Henry “lying in a metallic burial case in the sitting-room, supported on two chairs” [MTB 134]. He related the dream the next morning to his sister Pamela Moffett and family, who later recalled him taking it quite serious. Henry and Sam were staying with their sister for a three-day layover. Sam left St. Louis on May 30 [MTL 1: 387] so he must have had the dream on May 29.

May 30 SundayPennsylvania left for St. Louis.


June 3 Thursday Mid-morning: [Powers, MT A Life 85] Pilot William Brown called Sam’s brother Henry Clemens a liar, and started after him with a big chunk of coal. Sam stepped in between and “stretched him out” with a heavy stool. Sam then “stuck to him and pounded him with my fists a considerable time – I do not know how long, the pleasure of it probably made it seem longer than it really was…” For a few minutes no one was steering the ship. Called on the carpet in Captain John Klinefelter’s cabin, Sam was questioned about the fight. The Captain said he was “deuced glad of it!” and advised Sam to further thrash Brown on shore. Brown refused to stay on the same boat with Sam, so was let off in New Orleans. This is the only violent act Sam was ever known to commit, though he threatened or wished more than a few other times.

June 4 Friday – Pilot William Brown forbade Sam entrance to the pilothouse for the rest of the trip. Sam was “ ‘an emancipated slave’ listening to George Ealer’s flute and his readings from Oliver Goldsmith and Shakespeare. Sometimes he played chess with Ealer, and learned a trick which he would use himself in the long after-years—that of taking back the last move and running out the game differently when he saw defeat” [MTB 137].


June 5 Saturday After the Pennsylvania arrived in New Orleans on this date, Brown left the boat. Captain Klinefelter offered Sam a co-pilot position back up the river, but Sam did not feel ready. He left the boat with the understanding he would rejoin it after Brown was replaced. Henry Clemens stayed on the Pennsylvania as a mud clerk.

June 8 Tuesday Sam and Henry chatted until midnight on the levee. It was their last conversation.

The subject of the chat, mainly, was one which I think we had not exploited before—steamboat disasters. One was then on its way to us, little as we suspected it; the water which was to make the steam which should cause it was washing past some point fifteen hundred miles up the river while we talked—but it would arrive at the right time and the right place. We doubted if persons not clothed with authority were of much use in cases of disaster and attendant panic; still, they might be of some use; so we decided that if a disaster ever fell within our experience we would at least stick to the boat, and give such minor service as chance might throw in the way. Henry remembered this, afterward, when the disaster came, and acted accordingly [Life on the Mississippi, Ch. 20].

June 9 Wednesday – The Pennsylvania left New Orleans at 5 PM without Sam and with Henry Clemens aboard. Klinefelter had been unable to hire another pilot, attributed by Powers to the pilot’s union [Powers, MT A Life 86].

June 11 Friday Two days behind Henry on the Pennsylvania, Sam left New Orleans bound for St. Louis on the Alfred T. Lacey with Captain John P. Rodney and Sam’s Hannibal friend Barton S. Bowen, pilot [MTL 1: 82n3].

June 13 Sunday 70 miles south of Memphis at about 6 A.M., the steamboat Pennsylvania’s boilers exploded, severely injuring Henry Clemens. Henry was blown free of the ship, but swam back to help rescue passengers. Either Henry did not realize the extent of his own injuries, or was scalded in his attempts to help. About 150 people were killed, including pilot William Brown. Klinefelter helped with the rescue and received only minor injuries. Henry was taken aboard the Kate Frisbee to Memphis, some sixty miles up river from the disaster [MTL 1: 80n1].

June 14 MondayHenry Clemens arrived at Memphis at 3 A.M. with 31 other victims, some twenty-one hours after the explosion and after several transfers, including the Kate Frisbee. Henry was taken to the Memphis Exchange, a makeshift hospital. 100-degree heat increased the suffering of the wounded [Powers, MT A Life 87; MTL 1: 84n7].

June 15 Tuesday – The Lacey docked in Memphis and news of the explosion reached Sam [MTL 1: 82-3n3]. He rushed to the Memphis Exchange. He sent a telegram to brother-in-law William Moffett: “Henrys recovery is very doubtful” [MTL 1: 80].


June 15 to 18 Friday – Sam stayed by brother Henry’s side.

June 18 Friday – Sam wrote to “Dear Sister Mollie” (Orion’s wife) about Henry’s situation:

Dear Sister Mollie: / Long before this reaches you, my poor Henry, my darling, my pride, my glory, my all, will have finished his blameless career, and the light of my life will have gone out in utter darkness. O, God! This is hard to bear. Hardened, hopeless,—aye, lost—lost and ruined sinner as I am—I, even I, have humbled myself to the ground and prayed as never man prayed before, that the great God might let this cup pass from me,—that he would strike me to the earth, but spare my brother—that he would pour out the fullness of his just wrath upon my wicked head, but have mercy, mercy, mercy upon that unoffending boy. The horrors of three days have swept over me—they have blasted my youth and left me an old man before my time. Mollie, there are grey hairs in my head to-night. For forty-eight hours I labored at the bedside of my poor burned and bruised, but uncomplaining brother, and then the star of my hope went out and left me in the gloom of despair. Then poor wretched me, that was once so proud, was humbled to the very dust—lower than the dust—for the vilest beggar in the streets of Saint Louis could never conceive of a humiliation like mine. Men take me by the hand and congratulate me, and call me “lucky” because I was not on the Pennsylvania when she blew up! My God forgive them, for they know not what they say.

Mollie you do not understand why I was not on that boat—I will tell you. I left Saint Louis on her, but on the way down, Mr. Brown, the pilot that was killed by the explosion (poor fellow,) quarreled with Henry without cause, while I was steering—Henry started out of the pilothouse—Brown jumped up and collared him—turned him half way around and struck him in the face!—and him nearly six feet high—struck my little brother. I was wild from that moment. I left the boat to steer herself, and avenged the insult—and the Captain said I was right—that he would discharge Brown in N. Orleans if he could get another pilot, and would do it in St. Louis anyhow. Of course both of us could not return to St. Louis on the same boat—no pilot could be found, and the Captain sent me to the A. T. Lacey, with orders to her Captain to bring me to Saint Louis. Had another pilot been found, poor Brown would have been the “lucky” man.

I was on the Pennsylvania five minutes before she left N. Orleans, and I must tell you the truth, Mollie—three hundred human beings perished by that fearful disaster. Henry was asleep—was blown up—then fell back on the hot boilers, and I suppose that rubbish fell on him, for he is injured internally. He got into the water and swam to shore, and got into the flatboat with the other survivors. He had nothing on but his wet shirt, and he lay there burning up with a southern sun and freezing in the wind till the Kate Frisbee came along. His wounds were not dressed till he got to Memphis, 15 hours after the explosion. He was senseless and motionless for 12 hours after that. But may God bless Memphis, the noblest city on the face of the earth. She has done her duty by these poor afflicted creatures—especially Henry, for he has had five—aye, ten, fifteen, twenty times the care and attention that any one else has had. Dr. Peyton, the best physician in Memphis (he is exactly like the portraits of Webster,) sat by him for 36 hours. There are 32 scalded men in that room, and you would know Dr. Peyton better than I can describe him, if you could follow him around and hear each man murmur as he passes—“May the God of Heaven bless you, Doctor!” The ladies have done well, too. Our second Mate, a handsome, noble-hearted young fellow, will die. Yesterday a beautiful girl of 15 stooped timidly down by his side and handed him a pretty bouquet. The poor suffering boy’s eyes kindled, his lips quivered out a gentle “God bless you, Miss,” and he burst into tears. He made them write he[r] name on a card for him, that he might not forget it.

Pray for me, Mollie, and pray for my poor sinless brother.

Your unfortunate Brother,

Sam. L. Clemens.

P. S. I got here two days after Henry [MTL 1: 80-82]. Note: see notes in source and chapters 18-20 LM. This tragedy was one of the singular events of Clemens’ life, creating great grief and guilt.


Sam’s brother-in-law, William A. Moffett, in St. Louis, telegraphed Sam in Memphis, asking:


“Will it be better for your Mother to come down / Answer / W.A. Moffett” [MTP].

June 21 MondayHenry Clemens died. Sam was grief-stricken. Images of a prior dream about Henry’s death haunted Sam, and magnified the trauma of Henry’s final sufferings. Sam telegraphed William Moffett: “Henry died this morning leave tomorrow with the Corpse.”

Henry had always been the model of innocence and uprightness, contrasting with Sam’s rebellious instigator. The injustice of Henry’s death was a blow that shaped Sam’s life, and increased the guilt he always carried. He felt tremendous guilt for securing the clerk job for Henry, for not being on the Pennsylvania on its last trip, and for not protecting his younger brother [MTL 1: 85; Powers, MT A Life 87-9].

June 25 Friday – Sam arrived in Hannibal with Henry’s body aboard the steamer Hannibal City. Henry buried the same day next to his father, John Marshall Clemens in the Old Baptist Cemetery. In 1876 Sam would have both bodies moved to Mount Olivet Cemetery [MT A Life 88-9]. Dempsey writes: “After emancipation, the Baptist church in Hannibal kicked its black members out of the church. Most white people quite burying in the old Baptist Cemetery, though blacks continued burying there….Mt. Olivet became the fashionable cemetery for white Hannibal Protestants” [154].


June 26 Saturday – The Clemens family buried Henry [A. Hoffman 55]. Sometime during the year Sam wrote “My Brother, Henry Clemens.” The piece was later found clipped in one of Sam’s scrapbooks; the newspaper that printed it remains unknown [Camfield, bibliog.].

July 11 Sunday Sam, cub pilot under Samuel A. Bowen (1838?-1878), co-pilot George G. Ealer, Captain John P. Rodney left St. Louis for New Orleans on the Alfred T. Lacey. Sam loved Ealer, who read Shakespeare, played the flute and was fond of chess. Sam remembered steering for Bowen. This was the only round trip that the Lacey made that month [MTL 1: 86].

July 16 FridayAlfred T. Lacey arrived in New Orleans.

July 21 WednesdayAlfred T. Lacey left for St. Louis.

July 28 WednesdayAlfred T. Lacey arrived in St. Louis.

August 4 Wednesday – The shorter run from St. Louis to Memphis and back allowed Sam to stay closer to his family after the death of Henry and make weekly visits. The John H. Dickey (403 tons) left St. Louis on this date with Sam’s old friend Sam A. Bowen, pilot and Daniel J. Able (b.1825?) captain. Andrew Hoffman claims Bart Bowen got Sam the position as steersman with his brother Sam Bowen “in order to get Sam back on the river” [55].

Sam knew Daniel Able from Hannibal days. On these runs Sam saw the growth of the cotton trade. A lot of money was being made. Besides weekly visits home, Sam also had time to write. He penned three articles about the Dickey, Captain Able, and the City of Memphis for three newspapers [55]. Branch also gives this date for Sam’s return to the river [Branch, “Dickey” 195].

August 7 Saturday – The John H. Dickey left Memphis. In these runs there was either one-day layover or no layover. All departures were Wednesdays from St. Louis, Saturday from Memphis.

August 11 Wednesday – The John H. Dickey left St. Louis.

August 14 Saturday – The John H. Dickey left Memphis.

August 18 Wednesday – The John H. Dickey left St. Louis.

August 21 Saturday – The John H. Dickey left Memphis.

August 25 Wednesday – The John H. Dickey left St. Louis.

August 28 Saturday – The John H. Dickey left Memphis.

August 30 Monday – Sam dated the article he signed as “Rambler” this day [Branch, “Dickey” 196]. This was the same pen name Sam had used for the Hannibal Journal from Apr. 29 through May 14, 1853.

September 1 Wednesday Sam’s article was printed in the St. Louis Missouri Democrat using the pen name “Rambler[Branch, “Dickey” 196]. The John H. Dickey left St. Louis.

September 4 Saturday – The John H. Dickey left Memphis.

September 8 Wednesday – The John H. Dickey left St. Louis.

September 11 Saturday – The John H. Dickey left Memphis.

September 12 Sunday – Heavy fog delayed the Dickey’s arrival in St. Louis [Branch, “Dickey” 198].

September 15 Wednesday – The John H. Dickey left St. Louis.

September 16 Thursday – The John H. Dickey laid over at Cairo for six hours, where Senator Stephen A. Douglas was speaking in his campaign against Abraham Lincoln [Branch “Dickey” 198].

September 18 Saturday – The John H. Dickey left Memphis.

September 22 Wednesday – The John H. Dickey left St. Louis.

September 25 Saturday – The John H. Dickey left Memphis.

September 29 Wednesday – The John H. Dickey left St. Louis.

October 2 Saturday – The John H. Dickey left Memphis.

October 5 Tuesday The John H. Dickey arrived at St. Louis and unloaded 1006 bales of cotton, “the largest lot brought on any one boat this season” [Branch, “Dickey” 198].


October 6 Wednesday – The John H. Dickey left St. Louis.

October 9 Saturday – The John H. Dickey left Memphis.

October 13 Wednesday – The John H. Dickey left St. Louis.

October 16 Saturday – The John H. Dickey left Memphis.

October 20 Wednesday The Dickey was laid up for repairs, so Sam and probably Sam Bowen and Captain Able, made the St. Louis to Memphis run on the White Cloud (345 tons).

October 22 Friday – Sam’s article was printed in the St. Louis Missouri Republican using the signature “C” [Branch, “Dickey” 199-200]. Note: MTPO Notes on Aug. 1, 1876 to Cist calls this “chatty river correspondence.”


October 23 Saturday The White Cloud left Memphis.

October 24 Sunday – Sam’s article, “Memphis—The Cotton Trade—Illinois Politics—What Tennessee Thinks of Them,” was printed in the Memphis Daily Appeal [Branch, “Dickey” 201].

October 30 Saturday – Sam left St. Louis on the New Falls City (880 tons; built in January of that year, the largest ship Sam served on. Sam took passage on the boat in January as well) Pilot Horace Bixby, Captain James B. Woods.


November 8 Monday New Falls City arrived in New Orleans.

November 10 Wednesday New Falls City left for St. Louis.

November 17 Wednesday New Falls City arrived in St. Louis.

November 19 Friday New Falls City left for New Orleans.

November 26 Friday New Falls City arrived in New Orleans.

November 29 Monday New Falls City left for St. Louis.

November 30 Tuesday Sam’s 23rd birthday.


December 8 Wednesday New Falls City arrived in St. Louis.


December 13 Monday – Sam and Horace Bixby left St. Louis on the Aleck Scott (709 tons) under Captain Robert A. Reilly. Sam remarked on the Aleck Scott:

I will remark, in passing, that Mississippi steamboatmen were important in landsmen’s eyes (and in their own, too, in a degree) according to the dignity of the boat they were on. For instance, it was a proud thing to be of the crew of such stately craft as the ‘Aleck Scott’ or the ‘Grand Turk.’ Negro firemen, deck hands, and barbers belonging to those boats were distinguished personages in their grade of life, and they were well aware of that fact, too. – Life on the Mississippi [MTL 1: 14].

The Aleck Scott was the last steamboat Sam served on as cub pilot. His next assignment was pilot on the Alfred T. Lacey.


December 21 Tuesday– The Aleck Scott arrived in New Orleans.

December 24 Friday – The Aleck Scott left New Orleans.