Vol 1 Section 0017

Pilot Skills on a 300-footer – The Unfettered life – Sam the Mason

January 7 Saturday A.B. Chambers arrived in New Orleans.

January 10 Tuesday A.B. Chambers left for St. Louis.

January 20 Friday A.B. Chambers arrived in St. Louis.

February 1 Wednesday A.B. Chambers left for New Orleans.


February 11 Saturday A.B. Chambers arrived in New Orleans.

February 14 Tuesday A.B. Chambers left for St. Louis.

February 24 Friday A.B. Chambers arrived in St. Louis.

March 21 Wednesday – According to records accessed at the Department of Commerce, Steamboat Inspection Service in St. Louis in 1925, Sam’s pilot license, initially issued Apr. 9, 1859 was renewed on this day [The Twainian, January 1940].

March 25 Sunday – Sam became pilot of the City of Memphis (865 tons) and left St. Louis this day with co-pilot Wesley Jacobs, Captain Joseph E. Montgomery. Here was a 6-boiler, 300-foot behemoth of a boat. Branch asserts that Sam was a skillful pilot [Branch, “Mark Twain: The Pilot” 30].

“One time I mistook Capt. Ed Montgomery’s coat hanging on the big bell for the Capt. himself and waiting for him to tell me to back I ran into a steamboat at New Orleans” [MTNJ 2: 536].

April 2 Monday City of Memphis arrived in New Orleans.


April 4 Wednesday City of Memphis left for St. Louis.


April 11 Wednesday City of Memphis arrived in St. Louis.


April 14 Saturday City of Memphis left for New Orleans.


April 21 Saturday City of Memphis arrived in New Orleans.


April 24 Tuesday City of Memphis left for St. Louis.


May 1 Tuesday City of Memphis arrived in St. Louis.


May 4 Friday City of Memphis left for New Orleans.


May 9 Wednesday – A family story told by Annie Moffett Webster disclosed Sam’s political leaning in 1860 (Annie was 8 years old). That year a third political party of old Whigs and former Know-Nothings called the Constitutional Union Party met in Baltimore and nominated John Bell of Tennessee for president and Edward Everett of Massachusetts for vice president.

“In 1860 we moved to 1312 Chestnut Street. This was a presidential year and one in which there was great difference of opinion because of the split in the Democratic Party. My father was for Douglas and Uncle Sam was for Bell and Everett. I was in a quandary until Uncle Sam settled my allegiance by giving me a Bell and Everett button” [MTBus 47].

Since the Bell-Everett ticket was formed this week, Sam’s gift of the button to his niece would have to be after this date and before the election in November.


May 14 Monday City of Memphis arrived in New Orleans.


May 15 Tuesday City of Memphis left for St. Louis.


May 22 Tuesday City of Memphis arrived in St. Louis.


May 24 Thursday City of Memphis left for New Orleans.


May 27 Sunday – The St. Louis Missouri Republican published “a brief, matter-of-fact river report signed by him [Sam] and Wesley Jacobs, his City of Memphis copilot”


May 31 Thursday City of Memphis arrived in New Orleans.


June 3 Sunday City of Memphis left for St. Louis.


June 10 Sunday City of Memphis arrived in St. Louis.

June 13 Wednesday City of Memphis left for New Orleans.


June 19 Tuesday City of Memphis encountered a storm about 11 AM at Terrapin Bend, 28 miles north of Vicksburg.


June 22 Friday City of Memphis arrived in New Orleans.


June 24 Sunday City of Memphis left for St. Louis.


June 27? Wednesday – Sam wrote brother Orion while on the City of Memphis (surviving fragments here):

What is a government without energy? And what is a man without energy? Nothing—nothing at all. What is the grandest thing in “Paradise Lost”—the Arch-Fiend’s terrible energy! What was the greatest feature in Napoleon’s character? His unconquerable energy! Sum all the gifts that man is endowed with, and we give our greatest share of admiration to his energy. And to-day, if I were a heathen, I would rear a statue to Energy, and fall down and worship it!

I want a man to—I want you to—take up a line of action, and follow it out, in spite of the very devil.

. . . .

yourself from the reputation of a visionary. I am not talking nonsense, now—I am in earnest. I want you to keep your troubles and your plans out of the reach of meddlers,—until the latter are consummated—so that, in case you fail, no one will know it but yourself. Above all things (between you and I,) never tell Ma any of your troubles. She never slept a wink the night your last letter came, and she looks distressed yet. Write only cheerful news to her. You know that she will not be satisfied so long as she thinks anything is going that she is ignorant of,—and she makes a bitter fuss about it when her suspicions are awakened:—but that makes no difference—I know that it is better that she be kept in the dark concerning all things of an unpleasant nature. She upbraids me occasionally for giving her only the bright side of my affairs—(but unfortunately for her she has to put up with it, for I know that troubles which I curse awhile and forget, would disturb her slumbers for some time.) (Par. No. 2.—Possibly because she is deprived of the soothing consolation of swearing.) Tell her the good news and me the bad.

Putting all things together, I begin to think I am rather lucky than otherwise—a notion which I was slow to take up. The other night I was about to round to for a storm—but concluded that I could find a smoother bank somewhere. I landed 5 miles below. The storm came—passed away and did not injure us. I Coming up, day before yesterday, I looked at the spot I first chose, and half the trees on the bank were torn to shreds. We couldn’t have lived 5 minutes in such a tornado. And I am also lucky in having a berth, while all the young pilots are idle. This is the luckiest circumstance that ever befell me. Not on account of the wages—for that is a secondary consideration—but from the fact that the CITY OF MEMPHIS is the largest boat in the trade and the hardest to pilot, and consequently I can get a reputation on her, which is a thing I never could accomplish on a transient boat. I can ‘bank’ in the neighborhood of $100 a month on her, and that will satisfy me for the present (principally because the other youngsters are sucking their fingers.) Bless me! what a pleasure there is in revenge! and what vast respect Prosperity commands! Why, six months ago, I could enter the “Rooms,” and receive only a customary fraternal greeting—but now they say, “Why, how are you, old fellow—when did you get in?” And the young pilots, who used to tell me, patronisingly, that I could never learn the river, cannot keep from showing a little of their chagrin at seeing me so far ahead of them. Permit me to “blow my horn,” for I derive a living pleasure from these things. And I must confess that when I go to pay my dues, I rather like to let the d—d rascals get a glimpse of a hundred dollar bill peeping out from amongst notes of smaller dimensions, whose faces I do not exhibit! You will despise this egotism, but I tell you there is a “stern joy” in it [MTL 1: 96-99].


June 28 Thursday City of Memphis arrived at Cairo [MTL 1: 99 n2].


July 12 Monday – City of Memphis arrived in St. Louis.

July 28 Saturday Sam piloted the Arago (268 tons), co-pilot J.W. Hood, Captain George P. Sloan. The boat left St. Louis on this date bound for Vicksburg.

August 3 Friday – The Arago arrived in Vicksburg.


August 4 Saturday – The Arago Left Vicksburg for Cairo, Illinois.


August 10 Friday Sam witnessed the aurora borealis (“it was very beautiful, but it did not last very long”) and mentions it in his letter the following day.


August 11 Saturday The Arago arrived in Cairo. Sam wrote from Cairo, Illinois to Susan I. (Belle) Stotts, sister of Orion’s wife, Mollie.

Dear Belle:

Confound me if I wouldn’t eat up half a dozen of you small girls if I just had the merest shadow of a chance this morning. Here I am, now, about 3 weeks out from Keokuk, and 2 from St. Louis, and yet I have not heard a word from you—and may not, possibly, for 2 or 3 more weeks, as we shall go no further up the river at present, but turn back from here and go to New Orleans.

Just go on, though—go on. I have had a pleasant trip, and there is consolation in that. I quarreled with the mate, and “made it up” with him; and I quarreled with him again, and made it up again; and quarreled and “made up” the third time—and I have got the shell of half a watermelon by me now, ready to drop on his head as soon as he comes out of the “Texas,”—which will produce quarrel No. 4, if I have made my calculations properly.

Yes, and I have disobeyed the Captain’s orders over and over again, which produced a “state of feeling” in his breast, much to my satisfaction—(bless your soul, I always keep the law on my side, you see, when the Chief Officer is concerned,) and I am ready now to quarrel with anybody in the world that can’t whip me. Ah me, I feel as strong as a yoke of oxen, this morning, and nothing could afford me greater pleasure than a pitched battle with you three girls. It can’t be, though. However, I’ll “fix” the mate when he comes out.

Belle, you ought to see the letter I wrote last night for a friend of mine. He is fearfully love-sick, and he feared he should die, if he didn’t “pour out his soul” (he said—“stomach,” I should say,) in an epistolary form to the “being,” (Ella Creel knows what that word means,) who has entrapped his virgin affections. Poor devil—he said “Make it the letter sweet—fill it full of love,” and I did, as sure as you live. But if the dose don’t turn the young lady inside out, she must certainly be endowed with the stomach of an ostrich.

But did you girls see the Aurora Borealis last night (Friday?) It was very beautiful, but it did not last long. It reckon you girls had been home from choir-meeting about an hour when I saw it—or perhaps you were out on the bluff. Somebody remarked “Snag ahead!” and I lost the finest part of the sight.

Now, Belle, can’t you write to me, right away, to “Care of Eclipse Wharf Boat, Memphis, Tenn?” Of course you can, if you will. I sent you 2 pieces of instrumental music and a song to Ella Creel from Vicksburgh—did they arrive safely?

Oh, confound Cairo.

Good-bye my dear

Sam [MTL 1: 99-102].


August 12 Sunday The Arago left for New Orleans.


August 20 Monday The Arago arrived in New Orleans.


August 22 Wednesday The Arago left for St. Louis.


August 30 Thursday With J.W. Hood, his Arago copilot, Sam wrote “Pilot’s Memoranda,” a burlesque on pilot journaling. The piece was published over a year later in the St. Louis Missouri Republican [ET&S 1: 142]. This date is also given as the Republican publication date [MTNJ 1: 50n1;MTPO].


August 31 Friday The Arago arrived in St. Louis.

September 8 Saturday – “Special River Correspondence” ran in the St. Louis Missouri Republican but is not now believed to be written by Sam [MTPO notes with Aug. 1, 1876 to Cist].


September 19 Wednesday – Sam piloted the Alonzo Child (493 tons), co-pilots Horace Bixby, Will Bowen, Sam Brown; Captains David DeHaven and James O’Neal. This was the last steamboat that Sam would pilot. The Alonzo Child left on this date for New Orleans.

September 28 Friday – The Alonzo Child arrived in New Orleans


September 29 Saturday – The Alonzo Child left for St. Louis. Before leaving, Sam wrote a short note from New Orleans to his brother Orion.

Dear Brother:

I just received yours and Mollies letters yesterday—they had been here 2 weeks—forwarded from St Louis. We got here yesterday—will leave at Noon, to-day. Of course I have had no time, in 24 hours, to do anything—therefore I’ll answer after we are under way again. Yesterday I had many things to do, but Bixby and I got with the pilots of two other boats and went off dissipating on a ten dollars dinner at a French restaurant—breathe it not unto Ma!—where we ate Sheep-head-fish with mushrooms, shrimps and oysters—birds—coffee with brandy burnt in it, &c &c,—ate, drank & smoked, from 1 P. M. until 5 o’clock, and then—then—the day was too far gone to do anything.

To-day I ordered the alligator boots—$1200. Will send ’em up next trip. Please find enclosed—and acknowledge receipt of $2000

In haste

Sam. L. Clemens [MTL 1: 102].

October 6 Saturday – The Alonzo Child arrived in St. Louis.

October 9 Tuesday – The Alonzo Child left for New Orleans.


October 20 Saturday – The Alonzo Child arrived in New Orleans


October 21 Sunday – The Alonzo Child left for St. Louis


October 28 Sunday – The Alonzo Child arrived in St. Louis.

October 31 Wednesday – The Alonzo Child left for New Orleans.

November 5 Monday Samuel Erasmus Moffett was born to Pamela and William Moffett. Sam was an uncle for the third time [MTL 1: 383].


November 9 Friday – The Alonzo Child arrived in New Orleans


November 10 Saturday – The Alonzo Child left for St. Louis.

November 11 Sunday – Sam ran the Alonzo Child aground, about seventy-three miles above New Orleans at the Houmas Plantation. It remained stuck for 28 hours [MTL 1: 105 n2].

November 12 Monday – A rising tide freed the Alonzo Child [MTL 1: 105n2].


November 18 Sunday – The Alonzo Child arrived in St. Louis.


November 21 Wednesday – Sam wrote from St. Louis to his brother Orion and family about running the Alonzo Child aground, about prices of poultry, eggs, and apples in New Orleans. Sam, ever the speculator, wrote:

My Dear Brother:

At last, I have succeeded in scraping together moments enough to write you. And it’s all owing to my own enterprise, too—for, running in the fog, on the coast, in order to beat another boat, I grounded the “Child” on the bank, at nearly flood-tide, where we had to stay until the “great” tide ebbed and flowed again (24 hours,) before she floated off. And that dry-bank spell so warped and twisted the packet, and caused her to leak at such a rate, that she had to enter protest and go on the dock, here, which delays us until Friday morning. We had intended to leave today. As soon as we arrived here last Sunday morning, I jumped aboard the “McDowell” and went down to look at the river—grounded 100 miles below here—25 miles this side of the “crossing” which I started down to look at—stayed aground 24 hours—and by that time I grew tired and returned here to be ready for to-day. I am sorry now that I did not hail a down-stream boat and go on—I would have had plenty of time.

The New Orleans market fluctuates. If any man doubts this proposition, let him try it once. Trip before last, chickens sold rapidly on the levee at $700 per doz—last trip they were not worth $300. Trip before last, eggs were worth $35 @ 40cper doz—last trip they were selling at 12½— which was rather discouraging, considering that we were in the market with 3,600 dozen, which we paid 15 cents for—together with 18 barrels of apples, which were not worth a d—m— We expected to get $6 or 7 per bbl. for them. We stored the infernal produce, and shall wait for the market to fluctuate again. But in the meantime, Nil desperandum—I am deep in another egg purchase, now.

I am ashamed of myself for not having sent you any money for such a long time. But the fact is, I’ll be darned if I had it. I went to the clerk awhile ago and asked him “how we stood?” “Twenty-two days’ wages—$183.33⅓.” “Deduct my egg speculation and give me the balance.” And he handed me $3500! So much for eggs. I gave the money to Ma. However, we shall have been here 4 days to-morrow. I’ll go and collect that and divide with you.

When I go to Memphis, Mo, I will see what can be done about produce in your part of the country.

Now, as I understand the “house,” business, you can get a big, respectable house to live in for $11000 a year—per. centage—which is cheap enough rent it seems to me—and 10 years to pay the principal—in law. Take it—and take the whole town on the same terms if you can get it. Furnish the house nicely, and move into it—and then, if you’ll invite me, I’ll be happy to pay you a visit. Let me know how much money you want to furnish the house with. About the other house I can tell nothing. If it be best to purchase—why—pitch in. I’ll raise the money in some way. You owe Uncle Billy Patterson and old Jimmy Clemens Jr.  money—and if they were to die, their administrators would “gobble up” everything you’ve got. Therefore, put no property in your own name—either put your share in Ma’s name and my half in my own, or else put it all in Ma’s or mine—Ma’s will do me—and you, too, I reckon. If you can buy both houses with “law and 10 per cent,” take them—but see that the contract is carefully written out. Because, for one reason, the law business of an influential man like Downing is worth a great deal more money in the influence it carries with it, than simply the money which is paid for it. Yes—you might advertize for cheap lots in your local paper. But perhaps you had better wait until I see whether this last egg speculation of mine is going to “smash” me or not.

Blast it—you didn’t ask Belle where she got that stone—and if I don’t get another pretty soon I’ll lose the setting—and it’s fine gold, and I want to save it.

“In conclusion”—Pamela has got a baby—which you may have heard before this. She is now reposing on her honors—seemingly well satisfied with the personal appearance of the very unexpected but not unwelcome young stranger—and deeming the matter “glory enough for one day.” (Sub rosa—a very small amount of this kind of glory would go a good way with the subscriber—if I were married—“which” I am not married, owing to the will of Providence and the “flickering” of my last.) And her nurse is almost the counterpart of Mrs. Gamp in “Martin Chuzzlewit”—who used to say—“No—no—which them is the very words I have said more nor once to Mrs. Harris—No, m’a’m—I am opposed to drinking, I says—not that I mean to say that I do nor I don’t, or I will or I won’t, myself. But what I say, is, ‘leave the bottle on the mantle-shelf, and let me put my lips to it when I’m so disposed.[]” I don’t mean to say that this Mrs. Gamp drinks—but I do say she looks just like the other Mrs. Gamp.

Like all the letters of the family, this is to you and Mollie and Jennie—all. And as I am “strapped”—and pushed for time, we’ll sing the doxology, as follows—hoping to hear from all of you soon:


“In the world’s great field of battle,

In the bivuac of life,

Be not like dumb, driven cattle—

Be a hero in the strife.”



Vôtre frère,

Sam. L. Clemens [MTL 1: 103-6].


Notes: The baby Sam spoke of, implying a premature birth, was his nephew, Samuel Erasmus Moffett, on Nov. 5, to sister Pamela, her second child. Premature birth seemed to run in the family. Downing is unidentified. The verse at the end is from Longfellow’s Voices of the Night (1839).


November 23 Friday – The Alonzo Child left for New Orleans.


November 30 Friday Sam’s 25th birthday.


December 1 Saturday The Alonzo Child arrived in New Orleans.


December 4 Tuesday The Alonzo Child left for St. Louis.

December 11 Tuesday The Alonzo Child arrived in Cairo, Illinois, where it laid up until Jan. 8 1861 due to ice in the river.

December 26 Wednesday Sam petitioned to join the Polar Star Masonic Lodge Number Seventy-nine of St. Louis, the largest in the state. In so doing, he promised “to conform to all the ancient established usages and customs of the fraternity” [MTL 1: 106-7; Strong, 88]. Sam would rise to the level of Master Mason by July 10, 1861 [Jones 364].