Samuel Langhorne Clemens had been a riverboat pilot from February of 1857 to May of 1861, primarily navigating the Lower Mississippi River from New Orleans to St. Louis. James Buchanan was president. Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated in March of 1861; Sam was renewing his pilots license; the Civil War broke out. By the end of April, Sam's career on the river was over. Lincoln appointed Orion Clemens, Sam's older brother, secretary of the new territorial government of Nevada. Three months after leaving the river Sam was on his way to Nevada on the Overland Stage from St.
July 18 Thursday – Orion and Sam left St. Louis on the Sioux City for St. Joseph, Missouri [MTL
1: 122 citing Mollie Clemens’ Journal]. In Roughing It, Sam wrote:
“— a trip that was so dull, and sleepy, and eventless, that it has left no more impression on my
memory than if its duration had been six minutes…”
A. Hoffman gives this date as July 10, 1861 . July 18 seems more likely.
July 26 Friday – Sam and Orion leave St. Joseph for Nevada on the Overland Stage.
By eight o’clock [a.m.] everything was ready, and we were on the other side of the river. We jumped
into the stage, the driver cracked his whip, and we bowled away and left “the States” behind us. It was
a superb summer morning, and all the landscape was brilliant with sunshine [Ch 2, RI].
Left St. Joseph. Started on the plains about ten miles out. The plains here are simply prairie [Orion
July 27 Saturday – 2 nd day out – The coach broke down and was repaired.
By and by we passed through Marysville [KS], and over the Big Blue and Little Sandy [creeks];
thence about a mile, and entered Nebraska. About a mile further on, we came to the Big Sandy—one
hundred and eighty miles from St. Joseph….As the sun was going down, we saw the first specimen of
an animal known familiarly … as the “jackass rabbit.” He is well named. …and has the most
preposterous ears that ever were mounted on any creature but a jackass [Ch 3, Roughing It].
July 28 Sunday – 3 rd day out –
So we flew along all day. At 2 PM the belt of timber that fringes the North Platte and marks its
windings through the vast level floor of the Plains came in sight. At 4 PM we crossed a branch of the
river, and at 5 PM we crossed the Platte itself, and landed at Ft. Kearney, fifty-six hours out from St.
Joe – THREE HUNDRED MILES! [Ch 4, Roughing It].
Saw the first prairie wolf, and first antelope, and first prairie dogs and villages. Also came in sight of
July 29 Monday – 4 th day out
Along about an hour after breakfast we saw the first prairie-dog villages, the first antelope, and the
first wolf. If I remember rightly, this latter was the regular coyote…The coyote is a living, breathing
allegory of Want. He is always hungry. He is always poor, out of luck, and friendless. The meanest
creatures despise him, and even the fleas would desert him for a velocipede (Ch 5, Roughing It).
July 30 Tuesday – 5th day out –
…we arrived at the “Crossing of the South Platte,” alias “Julesburg,” alias “Overland City,” four
hundred and seventy miles from St. Joseph—the strangest, quaintest, funniest frontier town that out
untraveled eyes had ever stared at and been astonished with (Ch 6, Roughing It) .
Arrived at the “Crossing” of the South Platte…at 11 A.M….. Saw to-day first Cactus. 1:20 P.M. across
the South Platte [Orion RI 1993, 770].
July 31 Wednesday – 6th day out –
…just before dawn, when about five hundred and fifty miles from St. Joseph, our mud wagon broke
down. We were to be delayed five or six hours, and therefore we took horses, by invitation, and joined
a party who were just starting on a buffalo hunt. It was noble sport galloping over the plain in the
dewy freshness of the morning, but our part of the hunt ended in disaster and disgrace, for a wounded
buffalo bull chased the passenger Bemis nearly two miles, and then he forsook his horse and took to a
August 1 Thursday – 7th day out –
August 2 Friday – 8th day out –
About midnight, at a station we stopped to change horses, a dispute arose between our conductor and
four drivers who were at the Station. The conductor came to me for a pistol, but before I could hand it
to him, one of the men came up and commenced cursing him. Another then came up and knocked the
conductor down, cutting a bad gash in his upper lip…. I had not heard the fuss before the pistol was
called for, and supposed it was the Indians, who, it was said, would be dangerous along this part of the
August 3 Saturday – 9 th day out – This is the date for the breakfast at Rocky Ridge station with the
desperado Joseph Alfred (Jack) Slade, in RI ch. X 80-9 (1996 Oxford facsimile of first ed.) [MTL 4:
196n2]. Orion’s journal:
Saturday, Aug. 3. Breakfast at Rock Ridge Station, 24 miles from “Cold Spring,” and 871 miles from
St. Joseph. A mile further on is “South Pass City” consisting of four log cabins, one of which is the
post office, and one unfinished. Two miles further on saw for the first time, snow on the mountains,
August 4 Sunday – 10 th day out – Sam and Orion ate a memorable meal at Green River station—
fresh antelope steaks, hot biscuits, and good coffee. Years later they said it was the only meal on the
trip between St. Joseph and Salt Lake that they were “really thankful for.” A stagecoach inn state
park and museum now invites tourists in Fairfield, Utah. Orion’s journal [RI 1993, 771]:
Crossed Green River. It is something like the Illinois, except that it is a very pretty clear river. The
August 5 Monday – 11 th day out – Orion’s journal:
52 miles further on, near the head of Echo Canyon, were encamped 60 soldiers from Camp Floyd.
Yesterday they fired upon 300 or 400 Utes, whom they supposed gathered for no good purpose.
4 P.M., arrived on the summit of “Big Mountain,” 15 miles from Salt Lake City, when the most
gorgeous view of mountain peakes yet encountered, burst on our sight.
Arrived at Salt Lake City at dark, and put up at the Salt Lake House. There are about 15,000
August 6 Tuesday – 12 th day out – The brothers rested in Salt Lake City. Sam and Orion’s layover
at Salt Lake allowed them to bathe and stock up for the remainder of the trip. After donning white
shirts, the pair was introduced to Brigham Young (1801-1877). Sam described Young as “a quiet,
kindly, easy-mannered, dignified, self-possessed old gentleman…” [Roughing It, Ch. 13]. Note: no
entry in Orion’s journal for this day.
August 7 Wednesday – From Orion’s journal:
August 8 Thursday – Orion’s journal shows the Clemens brothers moved on early from Salt Lake
“Arrived at Fort Crittenden—(Camp Floyd) 8 A.M., 45 miles from Salt Lake City. Arrived at the edge
of the desert, 95 miles from Salt Lake City, at 4 P.M.” [Orion RI 1993, 772].
August 9 Friday – 15 th day out – Orion’s journal [Orion RI 1993, 772].:
Sunrise. Across the desert, 45 miles, and at the commencement of the “little Desert.” 2 o’clock, across
the little desert, 23 miles, and 163 miles from Salt Lake, being 68 miles across the two deserts, with
only a spring at Fish Creek Station to separate them. They are called deserts because there is no water
in them. They are barren, but so is the balance of the route.
August 10 Saturday – 16 th day out – Sam encountered the Goshute Indians, “at the entrance of
Rocky Canyon, two hundred and fifty miles from Salt Lake.” Sam never cared much for Indians
(Roughing It Ch.19). Orion’s journal reported that this night was “very cold.”
August 11 Sunday – 17 th day out – Orion wrote that the driver informed them that the mountain
peaks they passed this day were the highest they’d yet seen. The night was “very cold” though the
days were “very warm.”
“…we passed the highest mountain peaks we had yet seen, and although the day was very warm the
night that followed upon its heels was wintry cold and blankets were next to useless” [RI ch. 20].
August 12 Monday – 18 th day out –
“…we encountered the eastward-bound telegraph constructors at Reese River station and sent a
message to His Excellency Governor Nye at Carson City (distant one hundred and fifty-six miles)” [RI
AUGUST 13 TUESDAY – 19 TH DAY OUT –
“…WE CROSSED THE GREAT
AMERICAN DESERT – FORTY
MEMORABLE MILES OF BOTTOMLESS
SAND, INTO WHICH THE COACH
WHEELS SUNK FROM SIX INCHES TO A
FOOT. WE WORKED OUR PASSAGE
MOST OF THE WAY ACROSS. THAT IS
TO SAY, WE GOT OUT AND WALKED”
[RI CH. 20].
August 14 Wednesday – the pair arrived in Carson City, Nevada. The 20-day trip is recounted in
Roughing It. The Clemens brothers boarded with Mrs. Margret Murphy, a “genial Irish-woman…a
New York retainer of Governor Nye” [MTB 176]. Note: Murphy was “Bridget O’Flannagan” in RI [RI
1993, 613]. In 1860 the population of Carson City was a mere 701 souls and Virginia City 2,437; in
1861 Carson had doubled to 1,466; Virginia City had exploded to 12,704 [Mack’s Nevada: a History
of the State, 1936].
August 24 Saturday – Horatio G. Phillips (“Raish”) and Robert M. Howland (1838-1890),
nephew of governor Nye, came down from Aurora to Carson City. They had several working mines
and claims in the Esmeralda district. Sam met them shortly after their arrival, as they ate at Mrs.
Murphy’s boarding house [Mack 132-3]. Sam later became partners in Aurora claims; Howland was
to be that city’s marshal [MTB 176].
September, early – Sam traveled to Aurora, Nevada, in the Esmeralda mining district. In the late
summer of 1861, both the Esmeralda and the Humboldt mining districts were the focus of gold fever.
Sam would quickly acquire interests in both regions [Mack 126].
September 8 Sunday – Jane Lampton Clemens and Pamela A. Moffett wrote to Sam, letter not
extant but mentioned in Twain’s Oct. 25 to Pamela [MTL 1: 129-136].
Horatio G. Phillips sold Sam fifty feet (shares) worth $10 each in claims of the Black Warrior Gold
& Silver Mining Co. in Aurora, Esmeralda district [MTL 1: 134n4].