Submitted by scott on
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March 1854 - April 1857:  Sam Clemens is back in Hannibal and Keokuk.

In 1906 Clemens described this return trip: “I went back to the Mississippi Valley, sitting upright in the smoking-car two or three days and nights. When I reached St. Louis I was exhausted. I went to bed on board a steamboat that was bound for Muscatine. I fell asleep at once, with my clothes on, and didnt’ wake again for thirty-six hours” .

Editorial narrative following 17 and 18 Feb 1854

Some time in St. Louis in 1854, Scharnhorst pg 86 writes:  "In St. Louis during these months, Sam made an initial effort to become a riverboat pilot." ... "Sam approached the crews of a few boats "that lay packed together like sardines at the long St. Louis wharf" but "got only a cold shoulder and short words from mates and clerks."

It is assumed that Sam traveled all the way to St. Louis by train, but he does not explicitly state this.  In fact, it would have been impossible for him to have done so.  There were no trains arriving at St. Louis or East St. Louis in the Spring of 1854.  It is my current opinion that Sam took the train to Cincinnati, likely the New York and Erie to Dunkirk, the lines that would become the Lake Shore Railroad to Cleveland, then the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati to Cincinnati.  From thence a steamboat down the Ohio River to Cairo then on the Mississippi River to St. Louis.

A Short Essay on the Dilemma:

When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying, now, and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that happened.

“I went back to the Mississippi Valley, sitting upright in the smoking-car two or three days and nights. When I reached St. Louis I was exhausted. I went to bed on board a steamboat that was bound for Muscatine. I fell asleep at once, with my clothes on, and didnt’ wake again for thirty-six hours”

He appears to have retained some of his earlier powers of memory. Sam Clemens could not have returned directly to St. Louis from New York wholly by smoking car. There were no direct links by rail to St. Louis or East St. Louis from New York. There were no destinations closer than Terre Haute. Even to that point there are problems with missing bridges and other links.

The research presented here derives primarily from a collection of KMZ files provided by the University of Nebraska, Lincoln from their “Railroads and the Making of Modern America” project. The files provided needed to be verified as they may not have the railroad name found in other sources and some appear to be based on charter dates, not when a particular line was open for travel. Some have no name at all. A few sections appear only in later date collections. The files are from the 1855 collection for states New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana and Illinois. The earliest available KMZ files from the U.S.G.S. topoView resource have been consulted although they are for the most part from a later date. Determinations of dates open for traffic by March of 1854 was done by consulting Wikipedia articles and other on-line sources.

Unlike his journey to New York, the year previous, Sam’s trip back to St. Louis is said to be entirely by train. There is nothing published regarding his itinerary, expenses, transfers or even the lines he rode. There were no through-lines, only a series of small railroads waiting to be absorbed by larger conglomerates and even larger conglomerates. This implies that as well as sitting upright in a smoking car he must have spent time waiting in depots for connections and crossed some rivers by ferry or perhaps by omnibus.

Mark Twain offered no clues as to his route or even to points along the route. Consequently a search begins with New York City, which offers only Albany as a starting point west via the Hudson River railroad to Albany, then on the New York Central to Buffalo, then on to Dunkirk, Erie and Cleveland. New Jersey is a possible starting point for journeys west. From here are links to the Pennsylvania Railroad, or in the case of the New York and Erie , a trip to Dunkirk then on to Cleveland . From New Jersey to Philadelphia, the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad to Conshohocken. From here, west on the Pennsylvania Railroad to Harrisburg and then to Pittsburgh.

Possible railroad destinations from Pittsburgh are Cleveland and Columbus, but there are problems with these routes.

From Cleveland, Ohio, there are two possible directions for Sam to take, southwest on the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati RR or west to Chicago, Illinois on the Cleveland and Toledo RR and what would become the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad.

From Chicago are two major lines, the Illinois Central and the St. Louis, Alton and Chicago, neither of which were open in early 1854. The Illinois Central did not open until 1856, the St. Louis, Alton and Chicago opened in 1864. This would not make sense anyway as he intended to return north on the Mississippi River by steamboat to Muscatine, doubling the distance.

Also departing from Cleveland on the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad, the Bellefontaine Railroad junctions south of Crestline at Galion and runs to Indianapolis, connecting with the Terre Haute and Richmond Railroad to Terre Haute. West from Terre Haute is the Terre Haute, Alton and St. Louis Railroad which did not open until 1856. The Wabash River would not have a bridge there before 1855.

The CCCR continued Columbus to junction with the Columbus and Xenia RR and the Little Miami RR to Cincinnati where it met the Ohio and Mississippi Railroad, which did not open until 1857.

Traveling west from Pittsburgh offers its own set of problems. There are no railroad bridges across the Allegheny or Monongahela Rivers, nor any further west across the Ohio River. The Roebling Suspension Bridge was the first bridge to span the Ohio River, opening on January 1, 1867,

The first railroad bridge built to cross the Allegheny River was a wooden structure built in 1857 for the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago Railroad. The bridge would not open for a year after its completion.

The first railroad bridge across the Monogahela River was built in 1863.

Departing Pittsburgh to the north and west would require crossing the Monongahela River by Omnibus and boarding the Ohio and Pennsylvania, which would become part of the Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago RR. This would go to Crestline on the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad.

There is an unnamed railroad running from Pittsburgh to Steubenville, likely the Pittsburgh and Steubenville Railroad. From Steubenville to Cadiz, the Pittsburgh, Columbus and Cincinnati. There does not appear to be a connection from Cadiz to Uhrichsville. The Pittsburgh, Columbus and Cincinnati continue on from there to Columbus.

Further south is an unnamed railroad from Greensburg, Pennsylvania (The Hempfield or Wheeling, Pittsburgh and Baltimore Railroad. It opened for business in 1857.) to the Ohio border and then to Wheeling on the the Ohio River . There is no apparent connection between the Pennsylvania Railroad and Greensburg. From Wheeling to Zanesville and from Zanesville to Newark is the Central Ohio,

Railroad through-routes from New York to St. Louis did not exist for Sam Clemens in February of 1854. It seems his memory of a trip back to the Mississippi Valley is a product of his more youthful memory.

If Sam went to Chicago, his two choices for St. Louis would not be ready for him; the Illinois Central (open in 1856) or the St. Louis, Alton and Chicago (open in 1864). But then perhaps he never actually went to St. Louis but continued west directly to Muscatine via the Rock Island Railroad to the Mississippi River.

If Sam went to Indianapolis, he would be stopped at Terre Haute. If Sam went to Cincinnati, he would still not be able to reach St. Louis by train.

It has been suggested that, as Sam Clemens would not have been able to ride the train to St. Louis, he could still take a steamboat, possibly from Wheeling, West Virginia. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad had earlier completed their line from Baltimore to the Ohio River in 1852. This would, indeed be a poetic solutions. Wheeling, West Viginia, which some consider to be the birthplace of the American Steamboat; the steamboat an artifact of the Industrial Age most often identified with Mark Twain. From Wheeling, West Virginia to Cairo, Illinois, then to St. Louis and Muscatine. But it must be noted that admitting to the possiblity that Sam Clemens took a steamboat down the Ohio River, he could just as well have started from Pittsburgh or Cincinnati.


The essential fact here is that there were no railroads arriving at East St. Louis from the East in the spring of 1854. If Sam did not go to St. Louis he could have gone directly to Muscatine from Chicago via Cleveland. If Sam did go to St. Louis before Muscatine, he would need to have taken a steamboat on the Ohio River to Cairo and then to St. Louis. Routes to the Ohio River could have been from Cleveland to Cincinnati via Columbus or from Pittsburgh. Traveling from Pittsburgh would have required Sam to cross either the Allegheny River or Monoghahela River by means other than a railroad bridge. He would still end up in Cincinnati via Columbus. If neither Cleveland nor Pittsburgh, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad could have taken Sam to Wheeling, Virginia (West Virginia). Access to Ohio River steamboats was available in Pittsburgh, Wheeling and Cincinnati.

Looking at my railroad map it seems to me the most efficient route to reach St. Louis would have been the New York and Erie to Dunkirk, the Lake Shore Railroad to Cleveland and the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati to Cincinnati. From thence, a steamboat.