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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol I, Part 1: 1835 - 1866|
XXXI. Over the Hills and Far Away
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|When Madame Caprell prophesied that Orion Clemens would hold office under
government, she must have seen with true clairvoyant vision. The
inauguration of Abraham Lincoln brought Edward Bates into his Cabinet,
and Bates was Orion's friend. Orion applied for something, and got it.
James W. Nye had been appointed Territorial governor of Nevada, and Orion
was made Territorial secretary. You could strain a point and refer to
the office as "secretary of state," which was an imposing title.
Furthermore, the secretary would be acting governor in the governor's
absence, and there would be various subsidiary honors. When Lieutenant
Clemens arrived in Keokuk, Orion was in the first flush of his triumph
and needed only money to carry him to the scene of new endeavor. The
late lieutenant C. S. A. had accumulated money out of his pilot salary,
and there was no comfortable place just then in the active Middle West
for an officer of either army who had voluntarily retired from the
service. He agreed that if Orion would overlook his recent brief
defection from the Union and appoint him now as his (Orion's) secretary,
he would supply the funds for both overland passages, and they would
start with no unnecessary delay for a country so new that all human
beings, regardless of previous affiliations and convictions, were flung
into the common fusing-pot and recast in the general mold of pioneer.
The offer was a boon to Orion. He was always eager to forgive, and the
money was vitally necessary. In the briefest possible time he had packed
his belongings, which included a large unabridged dictionary, and the
brothers were on their way to St. Louis for final leave-taking before
setting out for the great mysterious land of promise--the Pacific West.
From St. Louis they took the boat for St. Jo, whence the Overland stage
started, and for six days "plodded" up the shallow, muddy, snaggy
Missouri, a new experience for the pilot of the Father of Waters.
In fact, the boat might almost as well have gone to St. Jo by land,
for she was walking most of the time, anyhow--climbing over reefs
and clambering over snags patiently and laboriously all day long.
The captain said she was a "bully" boat, and all she wanted was some
"shear" and a bigger wheel. I thought she wanted a pair of stilts,
but I had the deep sagacity not to say so.'--['Roughing It'.]--
At St. Jo they paid one hundred and fifty dollars apiece for their stage
fare (with something extra for the dictionary), and on the twenty-sixth
of July, 1861, set out on that long, delightful trip behind sixteen
galloping horses--or mules--never stopping except for meals or to change
teams, heading steadily into the sunset, following it from horizon to
horizon over the billowy plains, across the snow-clad Rockies, covering
the seventeen hundred miles between St. Jo and Carson City (including a
two-day halt in Salt Lake City) in nineteen glorious days. What an
inspiration in such a trip! In 'Roughing It' he tells it all, and says:
"Even at this day it thrills me through and through to think of the life,
the gladness, and the wild sense of freedom that used to make the blood
dance in my face on those fine Overland mornings."
The nights, with the uneven mail-bags for a bed and the bounding
dictionary for company, were less exhilarating; but then youth does not
All things being now ready, stowed the uneasy dictionary where it
would lie as quiet as possible, and placed the water-canteen and
pistols where we could find them in the dark. Then we smoked a
final pipe and swapped a final yarn; after which we put the pipes,
tobacco, and bag of coin in snug holes and caves among the mail-
bags, and made the place as dark as the inside of a cow, as the
conductor phrased it in his picturesque way. It was certainly as
dark as any place could be--nothing was even dimly visible in it.
And finally we rolled ourselves up like silkworms, each person in
his own blanket, and sank peacefully to sleep.
Youth loves that sort of thing, despite its inconvenience. And sometimes
the clatter of the pony-rider swept by in the night, carrying letters at
five dollars apiece and making the Overland trip in eight days; just a
quick beat of hoofs in the distance, a dash, and a hail from the
darkness, the beat of hoofs again, then only the rumble of the stage and
the even, swinging gallop of the mules. Sometimes they got a glimpse of
the ponyrider by day--a flash, as it were, as he sped by. And every
morning brought new scenery, new phases of frontier life, including, at
last, what was to them the strangest phase of all, Mormonism.
They spent two wonderful days at Salt Lake City, that mysterious and
remote capital of the great American monarchy, who still flaunts her
lawless, orthodox creed the religion of David and Solomon--and thrives.
An obliging official made it his business to show them the city and the
life there, the result of which would be those amusing chapters in
'Roughing It' by and by. The Overland travelers set out refreshed from
Salt Lake City, and with a new supply of delicacies--ham, eggs, and
tobacco--things that make such a trip worth while. The author of
'Roughing It' assures us of this:
Nothing helps scenery like ham and eggs. Ham and eggs, and after
these a pipe--an old, rank, delicious pipe--ham and eggs and
scenery, a "down-grade," a flying coach, a fragrant pipe, and a
contented heart--these make happiness. It is what all the ages have
But one must read all the story of that long-ago trip. It was a trip so
well worth taking, so well worth recording, so well worth reading and
rereading to-day. We can only read of it now. The Overland stage long
ago made its last trip, and will not start any more. Even if it did, the
life and conditions, the very scenery itself, would not be the same.