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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol I, Part 1: 1835 - 1866|
XXXIV. Territorial Characteristics
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|Meantime, the Territorial secretary had found difficulties in launching
the ship of state. There was no legislative hall in Carson City; and if
Abram Curry, one of the original owners of the celebrated Gould and Curry
mine--"Curry--old Curry--old Abe Curry," as he called himself--had not
tendered the use of a hall rent free, the first legislature would have
been obliged to "sit in the desert." Furthermore, Orion had met with
certain acute troubles of his own. The government at Washington had not
appreciated his economies in the matter of cheap office rental, and it
had stipulated the price which he was to pay for public printing and
various other services-prices fixed according to Eastern standards.
These prices did not obtain in Nevada, and when Orion, confident that
because of his other economies the comptroller would stretch a point and
allow the increased frontier tariff, he was met with the usual thick-
headed official lack of imagination, with the result that the excess paid
was deducted from his slender salary. With a man of less conscience this
condition would easily have been offset by another wherein other rates,
less arbitrary, would have been adjusted to negotiate the official
deficit. With Orion Clemens such a remedy was not even considered;
yielding, unstable, blown by every wind of influence though he was,
Orion's integrity was a rock.
Governor Nye was among those who presently made this discovery. Old
politician that he was--former police commissioner of New York City--Nye
took care of his own problems in the customary manner. To him, politics
was simply a game--to be played to win. He was a popular, jovial man,
well liked and thought of, but he did not lie awake, as Orion did,
planning economies for the government, or how to make up excess charges
out of his salary. To him Nevada was simply a doorway to the United
States Senate, and in the mean time his brigade required official
recognition and perquisites. The governor found Orion Clemens an
impediment to this policy. Orion could not be brought to a proper
political understanding of "special bills and accounts," and relations
between the secretary of state and the governor were becoming strained.
It was about this time that the man who had been potentate of the pilot-
house of a Mississippi River steamer returned from Humboldt. He was fond
of the governor, but he had still higher regard for the family integrity.
When he had heard Orion's troubled story, he called on Governor Nye and
delivered himself in his own fashion. In his former employments he had
acquired a vocabulary and moral backbone sufficient to his needs. We may
regret that no stenographic report was made of the interview. It would
be priceless now. But it is lost; we only know that Orion's rectitude
was not again assailed, and that curiously enough Governor Nye apparently
conceived a strong admiration and respect for his brother.
Samuel Clemens, miner, remained but a brief time in Carson City--only
long enough to arrange for a new and more persistent venture. He did not
confess his Humboldt failure to his people; in fact, he had not as yet
confessed it to himself; his avowed purpose was to return to Humboldt
after a brief investigation of the Esmeralda mines. He had been paying
heavy assessments on his holdings there; and, with a knowledge of mining
gained at Unionville, he felt that his personal attention at Aurora might
be important. As a matter of fact, he was by this time fairly daft on
the subject of mines and mining, with the rest of the community for
His earlier praises of the wonders and climate of Tahoe had inspired his
sister Pamela, always frail, with a desire to visit that health-giving
land. Perhaps he felt that he recommended the country somewhat too
"By George, Pamela," he said, "I begin to fear that I have invoked a
spirit of some kind or other, which I will find more than difficult to
allay." He proceeds to recommend California as a residence for any or
all of them, but he is clearly doubtful concerning Nevada.
Some people are malicious enough to think that if the devil were set
at liberty and told to confine himself to Nevada Territory, he would
come here and look sadly around awhile, and then get homesick and go
back to hell again .... Why, I have had my whiskers and mustaches
so full of alkali dust that you'd have thought I worked in a starch
factory and boarded in a flour barrel.
But then he can no longer restrain his youth and optimism. How could he,
with a fortune so plainly in view? It was already in his grasp in
imagination; he was on the way home with it.
I expect to return to St. Louis in July--per steamer. I don't say
that I will return then, or that I shall be able to do it--but I
expect to--you bet. I came down here from Humboldt, in order to
look after our Esmeralda interests. Yesterday, Bob Howland arrived
here, and I have had a talk with him. He owns with me in the
"Horatio and Derby" ledge. He says our tunnel is in 52 feet, and a
small stream of water has been struck, which bids fair to become a
"big thing" by the time the ledge is reached--sufficient to supply a
mill. Now, if you knew anything of the value of water here, you
would perceive at a glance that if the water should amount to 50 or
100 inches, we wouldn't care whether school kept or not. If the
ledge should prove to be worthless, we'd sell the water for money
enough to give us quite a lift. But, you see, the ledge will not
prove to be worthless. We have located, near by, a fine site for a
mill, and when we strike the ledge, you know, we'll have a mill-
site, water-power, and payrock, all handy. Then we sha'n't care
whether we have capital or not. Mill folks will build us a mill,
and wait for their pay. If nothing goes wrong, we'll strike the
ledge in June--and if we do, I'll be home in July, you know.
He pauses at this point for a paragraph of self-analysis--characteristic
So, just keep your clothes on, Pamela, until I come. Don't you know
that undemonstrated human calculations won't do to bet on? Don't
you know that I have only talked, as yet, but proved nothing? Don't
you know that I have expended money in this country but have made
none myself? Don't you know that I have never held in my hands a
gold or silver bar that belonged to me? Don't you know that it's
all talk and no cider so far? Don't you know that people who always
feel jolly, no matter where they are or what happens to them--who
have the organ of Hope preposterously developed--who are endowed
with an unconcealable sanguine temperament--who never feel concerned
about the price of corn--and who cannot, by any possibility,
discover any but the bright side of a picture--are very apt to go to
extremes and exaggerate with 40-horse microscopic power?
In the bright lexicon of youth,
There is no such word as Fail--
and I'll prove it!
Whereupon, he lets himself go again, full-tilt:
By George, if I just had a thousand dollars I'd be all right! Now
there's the "Horatio," for instance. There are five or six
shareholders in it, and I know I could buy half of their interests
at, say $20 per foot, now that flour is worth $50 per barrel and
they are pressed for money, but I am hard up myself, and can't buy--
and in June they'll strike the ledge, and then "good-by canary." I
can't get it for love or money. Twenty dollars a foot! Think of
it! For ground that is proven to be rich. Twenty dollars, Madam-
and we wouldn't part with a foot of our 75 for five times the sum.
So it will be in Humboldt next summer. The boys will get pushed and
sell ground for a song that is worth a fortune. But I am at the
helm now. I have convinced Orion that he hasn't business talent
enough to carry on a peanut-stand, and he has solemnly promised me
that he will meddle no more with mining or other matters not
connected with the secretary's office. So, you see, if mines are to
be bought or sold, or tunnels run or shafts sunk, parties have to
come to me--and me only. I'm the "firm," you know.
There are pages of this, all glowing with golden expectations and plans.
Ah, well! we have all written such letters home at one time and another-
of gold-mines of one form or another.
He closes at last with a bit of pleasantry for his mother.
Ma says: "It looks like a man can't hold public office and be
honest." Why, certainly not, Madam. A man can't hold public office
and be honest. Lord bless you, it is a common practice with Orion
to go about town stealing little things that happen to be lying
around loose. And I don't remember having heard him speak the truth
since we have been in Nevada. He even tries to prevail upon me to
do these things, Ma, but I wasn't brought up in that way, you know.
You showed the public what you could do in that line when you raised
me, Madam. But then you ought to have raised me first, so that
Orion could have had the benefit of my example. Do you know that he
stole all the stamps out of an 8-stamp quartz-mill one night, and
brought them home under his overcoat and hid them in the back room?