Preachers and Jackass Rabbits
jumped into the stage, the driver cracked his whip and we bowled away
and left "the States" behind us... There was a freshness and breeziness...
and an exhilarating sense of emancipation... that almost made us feel
that the years we had spent in the close, hot city, toiling and slaving,
had been wasted and thrown away.
Back in the spring of 1861, 24-year-old Sam Clemens and his elder brother left Missouri for the newly created Nevada Territory. Two weeks in the Confederate militia had convinced Sam that he was not cut out for combat. Like thousands of other young men, North and South, he preferred to go West rather than to war. And so he skeddaddled.
Ham and eggs and scenery, a "down grade," a flying coach, a fragrant pipe and a contented heart... It is what all the ages have struggled for.
They made eight to ten miles an hour through an unbroken sea of grass. A pony express rider galloped past. Coyotes howled. They saw buffalo, encountered their first Indians, talked with a real-life outlaw. Sam Clemens loved it all. It took them twenty days to reach Carson City, the small town that was the capital of Nevada Territory.
Mother:... Our city lies in the midst of a desert of the purest, most
unadulterated and uncompromising sand -- in which infernal soil nothing
but the fag-end of vegetable creation, "sage-brush," is mean enough to
grow... Nevada Territory is fabulously rich in gold, silver, lead, coal,
iron, quicksilver... thieves, murderers, desperadoes... lawyers, Christians,
Indians, Chinamen, Spaniards, gamblers, sharpers, coyotes, poets, preachers
and jackass rabbits.
Still, there was little to do in Carson City, so Clemens set out on his own.
By and by I was smitten with silver fever. "Prospecting parties" were leaving for the mountains every day... Plainly this was the road to fortune.
He spent six months with three partners in a ten by twelve foot cabin, panning, digging, drinking, going more and more heavily into debt.
We were stark mad with excitement -- drunk with happiness -- smothered under mountains of prospective wealth -- arrogantly compassionate toward the plodding millions who knew not our marvelous canyon -- but our credit was not good at the grocer's.
Clemens would later boast that he became a multi-millionaire for just ten days -- until fourteen armed men jumped his claim.
Next he tried his luck in Virginia City, Nevada, a tiny mining town that had grown to a full-fledged industrial city in less than two years. Fifteen thousand people lived there. They had put in gas-lights, built stock exchanges, three theaters, four churches -- and 42 saloons. And there was a newspaper, the Territorial Enterprise. Sam Clemens talked himself into a job as a reporter.
Mother:... I have just heard five pistol shots down the street -- as such
things are in my line, I will go and see about it... PS... The pistol
did its work well -- one man, a Jackson County, Missourian, shot two of
my friends (police officers) through the heart -- both died within three
minutes. Murderer's name is John Campbell.
Soon, he was covering everything from Indian attacks to theatrical performances, always in his own distinctive style. "I have had a 'call' to literature of a low order -- i.e. humorous," he told his mother."It is nothing to be proud of but it is my strongest suit." In the West, while sitting out the war, Sam Clemens had found a new calling. And he began to sign his articles with a new name,"Mark Twain."
It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience -- and the prudence never to practice either of them.
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