“Several years of variegated vagabondizing…” (Garrison Keillor, Jimmy Buffett, Clint Eastwood)
NARRATOR: Sam did become a steamboat pilot – got his license in 1859, his run took him back and forth between New Orleans and St. Lou.
HUCK: “Every night we passed towns, some of them away up on black hillsides, nothing but just a shiny bed of lights; not a house could you see. The fifth night we passed St. Louis, and it was like the whole world lit up. In St. Petersburg they used to say there was twenty or thirty thousand people in St. Louis, but I never believed it till I see that wonderful spread of lights at two o'clock that still night.”
NARRATOR: But when the Civil War broke out in 1861, his “permanent ambition” came to an end. He joined his brother on a stagecoach journey to the Nevada Territory where they would live for the next several years in the company of gold miners, silver miners, cay-otes, cowboys, saloonkeepers, antelope, politicians, prairie dogs, and various colorful characters. And this is where Sam Clemens would officially become “Mark Twain” writing for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise. Sam got a glimpse of a Pony Express rider, he shared a cup of coffee with the legendary gunslinger, Slade, he bought himself a “genuine Mexican plug,” and speculated on the Comstock Lode. Although he distinguished himself as a storyteller and immortalized many a western rapscallion, he never did master that “genuine Mexican plug.”
TWAIN: “In the afternoon I brought the creature into the plaza, and certain citizens held him by the head, and others by the tail, while I mounted him. As soon as they let go, he placed all his feet in a bunch together, lowered his back, and then suddenly arched it upward, and shot me straight into the air a matter of three or four feet! …I heard a stranger say: "Oh, don't he buck, though!" While I was up, somebody struck the horse a sounding thwack with a leathern strap, and when I arrived again the Genuine Mexican Plug was not there. A California youth chased him up and caught him, and asked if he might have a ride… He mounted the Genuine, got lifted into the air once, but sent his spurs home as he descended, and the horse darted away like a telegram. He soared over three fences like a bird, and disappeared down the road toward the Washoe Valley.” (Roughing It)