Knowing Nevada: Twain makes his 'mark' here in the Silver State

Twain impersonator, McAvoy Layne, looks onward at Crystal Bay Peak in the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe.

The year was roughly 1861 and the western territories, soon to be states, were some of the few areas where the sounds of cannons blasting and guns ringing were rare. During this year, Abraham Lincoln commissioned Orion Clemens to become the Secretary to the new territory of Nevada. This journey from the mid-west was planned to be a long haul...so Orion called on his brother, Samuel Clemens, to accompany him out West.

Orion began working with the territory's politicians and government-heads to prepare for a state ratification throughout this time. Meanwhile, his brother took an interest in mining and prospecting in hopes of a small chance at becoming rich off the gold ores. Sam once said "an ore mine is just a fool at the bottom and a liar at the top." There is some truth in that saying. In fact, Sam had many similar sayings. He eventually would use simple phrases and truths of this nature in his writings. Shortly after leaving the mining claim, he was offered a job at the Territorial Enterprise, Nevada's first news publication.

The 'Enterprise', based in Virginia City, was a fully functioning publication with type cases, steam powered printing presses, and columns upon columns to read. Clemens wrote stories about his time prospecting, stories 'sagebrush humor' and, even, covered the legislative politics of the region. After a few years of establishing his credibility as a journalist, some of his stories would take on various bits of humor and satire. Specifically, in an article that he published in the February 1863 edition, he wrote a story about a dream he had at a dinner at one of the governors homes and signed the bottom of the article..."Your's Dreamily, Mark Twain."

Sam used the pseudonym 'Mark Twain' in many of his published stories at The Enterprise and eventually was commonly known around Carson City, Virginia City, and, even, Lake Tahoe. He was inspired to use this new name because it reminded him of his time on a Mississippi riverboat. To explain further, the phrase 'mark twain' was used to measure depth below a vessel.

"Mark Twain and Samuel Clemens almost seem like two different people on paper," said historian Bob Stewart. "You can tell that in his more serious writings and factual evidence, he was Clemens. Then in his metaphors, wild characterizations and humor, he was Twain."

Stewart is right. There is a difference between the two.This is also true even in most of Twain's published novels. In this case, the book 'Roughing It' was a semi-biographical novel about his travels out west. From the mudslinging politics of the state's ratification, to being notably first person to start the territory's first 'prescribed fire' in the Lake Tahoe basin.

Later, Sam would then choose to leave the life of a Nevadan behind and head to San Francisco, CA to continue to publish his essays, books, and stories until the end of the nineteenth century.

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