On February 16, 1857, Sam Clemens took passage from Cincinnati, Ohio on board the packet Paul Jones, piloted by Horace Bixby. Somewhere along the journey Bixby agreed to teach Sam to pilot a Mississippi River Boat. On March 4, 1857, they departed New Orleans on board the Colonel Crossman with Horace as pilot and Sam as his cub pilot. On May 4, 1859 Sam would be a pilot on the Alfred T. Lacey. By May of 1861 Sam's career as a pilot would end.
Left For the Amazon – New Orleans & Change of Plans – Bixby’s Influence
Official Cub Pilot – Learning the Big Muddy
1857 – Sometime during his stay in Keokuk Clemens saw Henry Clay Dean (1822-1887), eccentric philosopher who inspired Twain’s 1905 “The War Prayer.” In Ch. 57 of LM, Twain described Dean:
Keokuk, a long time ago, was an occasional loafing-place of that erratic genius, Henry Clay Dean. I believe I never saw him but once; but he was much talked about when I lived there. This is what was said of him:
February 16, 1857 Monday
February 16 Monday – Sam boarded the packet Paul Jones (353 tons), on its way from Pittsburgh, for passage to New Orleans, commanded by Hiram K. Hazlett and piloted by Horace E. Bixby (1826-1912), and Jerry Mason [Branch, “Bixby” 2]. Branch presents evidence for this date over Apr. 15.
February 17, 1857
February 17 Tuesday – The Paul Jones was “heavily loaded with ordnance for the Baton
Rouge arsenal” [Branch, “Bixby” 3]. As the boat neared Louisville it ran onto rocks near Dick
Smith’s wharf and stuck for more than 24 hours.
February 19, 1857
February 19 Thursday – The Paul Jones left Louisville [Branch, “Bixby” 3].
February 23, 1857
February 23 Monday – The Paul Jones reached Memphis [Branch, “Bixby” 3].
February 28, 1857
February 28 Saturday – The Paul Jones reached New Orleans [Branch, “Bixby” 2]. In his Autobiography:
March 4, 1857
March 4 Wednesday – Commanded by Patrick Yore and piloted by Horace Bixby, the Colonel Crossman (415 tons) left New Orleans with Sam aboard bound for St. Louis [Branch, “Bixby” 2]. Sam was 21, Horace 31 and considered one of the great steamboat pilots of his time [Rasmussen 34]. Bixby had started as a lowly mud clerk (unpaid) at age eighteen. He had a temper but cooled off fast. “When I say I’ll learn a man the river, I mean it. And you can depend on it. I’ll learn him or kill him” [Rasmussen 35].
March 14, 1857
March 14 Saturday – Sam dated his third and last Snodgrass letter from Cincinnati: SNODGRASS,
IN A ADVENTURE [MTL 1: 70; Camfield, bibliog.]. Branch points out that on this date Sam was on
the Colonel Crossman and concludes Sam updated his manuscript on board [Branch, “Bixby” 2].
March 15, 1857
March 15 Sunday – The Colonel Crossman arrived in St. Louis [Branch, “Bixby” 2].
April 10, 1857
April 10 Friday – The third and last Snodgrass letter dated Mar. 14 from Cincinnati ran in the Keokuk Post. The title, SNODGRASS, IN A ADVENTURE [MT Encyclopedia, Abshire 694].
April 29, 1857
April 29 Wednesday – Sam left St. Louis on the Crescent City (688 tons), bound for New Orleans. Bixby and Sam would make this run on the Crescent three times [Branch, “Bixby” 2].
May 4, 1857
May 4? Monday – The Crescent City arrived in New Orleans.
May 8, 1857
May 8–9? Saturday – The Crescent City left New Orleans bound for St. Louis [Branch, “Bixby” 2].
May 16, 1857
May 16–19? Tuesday – The Crescent City arrived in St. Louis [Branch, “Bixby” 2].
Note: approximate dates with ? are calculated from Branch’s assertion of three round trips rather than
two, and his updating of information from MTL 1: 71.
Once in St. Louis, Sam went first to cousin James Clemens, Jr., and then to brother-in-law William
Moffett to secure the loan of $100 with which to pay Bixby a down payment [MTL 1: 71].
May 22, 1857
May 22 Friday – The Crescent City left St. Louis bound for New Orleans, with Sam as the official
cub pilot. From this date until May 1861, Sam learned and worked his new trade as a steamboat pilot.
He made exceptional pay once licensed and loved the work. Only the closing of river traffic with the
Civil War cost Sam this job. It is one of the side benefits of the war that Sam was forced off the river
and into the West to discover his true calling. Still, without those years on the Mississippi, Sam might
May 27, 1857
May 27 Wednesday – Sam arrived in New Orleans on the Crescent City, cub under Horace Bixby.
Nearly all of Sam’s piloting was between New Orleans and St. Louis, some 1,300 miles. Bixby taught
Sam that he must memorize every mile of the trip, that each side of the river, coming and going was
different, and that at night nothing looked the same. To make it more difficult, the river was constantly
shifting its banks. Sam was boggled by what was required of him [MTL 1: 71].
May 31, 1857
May 31 Sunday – Sam visited the French market in the morning. He wrote of it the next day to Annie.
June 1, 1857
June 1 Monday – In New Orleans, Sam wrote to Annie Taylor lamenting her “ancient punctuality.”
[postscript in pencil:]
P. S.—I have just returned from another cemetery—brought away an orange leaf as a memorial—I inclose it.
New Orleans, June 1st. 1857.
My Dear Friend Annie
I am not certain what day of the month this is, (the weather being so warm,) but I expect I have made a pretty close guess.
June 9, 1857
June 9 Tuesday – Crescent City arrived St. Louis. Note: The following steamboat schedules are taken
from [MTL 1: 387-90].
June 17, 1857
June 17 Wednesday – Crescent City left for New Orleans.
June 23, 1857
June 23 Tuesday – Crescent City arrived New Orleans.
June 28, 1857
June 28 Sunday – Crescent City left for St. Louis.
July 7, 1857
July 7 Tuesday – Crescent City arrived St. Louis.
July 11, 1857
July 11 Saturday – Sam and possibly Bixby transferred to the Rufus L. Lackland (710 tons) and departed St. Louis for New Orleans. Sam’s comments about the Lackland: