“He agreed to teach me the Mississippi River…” (Garrison Keillor, Jimmy Buffett, Clint Eastwoo
NARRATOR: Steamboats plied the Mississippi River, often stopping in Hannibal to load or unload passengers and cargo. A puff of black smoke announced their arrival long before the boats were visible.
HUCK: “…a steamboat landed, and in about two minutes up comes a crowd a-whooping and yelling and laughing and carrying on…”
NARRATOR: Young Sam Clemens watched and yearned for journeys on that river. He watched as every type of freight was loaded and unloaded there in Hannibal – lumber, hemp, even slaves. When Sam was eleven his father died from pneumonia, and Sam had to leave school and work as a printer’s apprentice to provide some financial help for his mother and his brothers and sister. He earned his keep there in Hannibal setting type from the age of 12 to 17, but he always kept an eye on that river. He left Hannibal at 17, set type in St. Louis to earn steamboat passage to New York City, and set himself in motion…
TWAIN: “When I was a boy, there was but one permanent ambition among my comrades in our village on the west bank of the Mississippi River. That was, to be a steamboatman. We had transient ambitions of other sorts, but they were only transient. When a circus came and went, it left us all burning to become clowns; the first negro minstrel show that came to our section left us all suffering to try that kind of life; now and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates. These ambitions faded out, each in its turn; but the ambition to be a steamboatman always remained. A pilot, in those days, was the only unfettered and entirely independent human being that lived in the earth.” (Life on the Mississippi)
HUCK: “…the night got gray and ruther thick, which is the next meanest thing to fog. You can't tell the shape of the river, and you can't see no distance. It got to be very late and still, and then along comes a steamboat up the river. We lit the lantern, and judged she would see it. Up-stream boats didn't generly come close to us; they go out and follow the bars and hunt for easy water under the reefs; but nights like this they bull right up the channel against the whole river.
“We could hear her pounding along, but we didn't see her good till she was close. She aimed right for us. Often they do that and try to see how close they can come without touching; sometimes the wheel bites off a sweep, and then the pilot sticks his head out and laughs, and thinks he's mighty smart. Well, here she comes, and we said she was going to try and shave us; but she didn't seem to be sheering off a bit. She was a big one, and she was coming in a hurry, too, looking like a black cloud with rows of glow-worms around it; but all of a sudden she bulged out, big and scary, with a long row of wide-open furnace doors shining like red-hot teeth, and her monstrous bows and guards hanging right over us. There was a yell at us, and a jingling of bells to stop the engines, a powwow of cussing, and whistling of steam -- and as Jim went overboard on one side and I on the other, she come smashing straight through the raft.”
TWAIN: “Piloting on the Mississippi River was not work to me; it was play--delightful play, vigorous play, adventurous play--and I loved it... When I find a well-drawn character in fiction or biography I generally take a warm personal interest in him, for the reason that I have known him before -- met him on the river.” (Life on the Mississippi)