Now and then Mr. Bixby called my attention to certain things. Said he, This is Six-Mile Point. I assented. It was pleasant enough information, but I could not see the bearing of it. I was not conscious that it was a matter of any interest to me. Another time he said, This is Nine-Mile Point. Later he said, This is Twelve-Mile Point. They were all about level with the waters edge; they all looked about alike to me; they were monotonously unpicturesque. I hoped Mr. Bixby would change the subject...
[Clemens and Bixby moved up the river and on the next watch, Bixby decided to quiz his young cub:]
Whats the name of the first point above New Orleans?
I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didnt know.
Dont know... Whats the name of the next point?
Once more I didnt know.
Well, this beats anything. Tell me the name of any point or place I told you.
I studied a while and decided that I couldnt.
Look here! What do you start out from, above Twelve-Mile Point, to cross over?
Youyoudont know?" mimicking my drawling manner of speech. What do you know?
IInothing, for certain.
By the great Cæsars ghost, I believe you...The idea of you being a pilotyou! Why, you dont know enough to pilot a cow down a lane... Look here! What do you suppose I told you the names of those points for?
I tremblingly considered a moment, and then the devil of temptation provoked me to say:
Welltotobe entertaining, I thought.
This was a red rag to the bull. He raged and stormed so (he was crossing the river at the time) that I judge it made him blind, because he ran over the steering-oar of a trading-scow. Of course the traders sent up a volley of red-hot profanity. Never was a man so grateful as Mr. Bixby was... He threw open a window, thrust his head out, and such an irruption followed as I never had heard before...When he closed the window he was empty. You could have drawn a seine through his system and not caught curses enough to disturb your mother with. Presently he said to me in the gentlest way:
My boy, you must get a little memorandum-book, and every time I tell you a thing, put it down right away. Theres only one way to be a pilot, and that is to get this entire river by heart. You have to know it just like A B C.
Mark Twain, Old Times on the Mississippi, 1875. Later reprinted in Life on the Mississippi, 1883