Letter From Mark Twain

Mark Twain

Virginia City Territorial Enterprise/August 19, 1863

EDS. ENTERPRISE: Never mind the date—I haven’t known what day of the month it was since the fourth of July. In reality, I am not well enough to write, but am angry now, and like our old Methodist parson at home in Missouri, who started in to produce rain by a season of fervent prayer, “I’ll do it or bust.”

I notice in this morning’s ENTERPRISE a lame, impotent abortion of a biography of Marshal Perry, and I cannot understand what you mean by it. You either want to impose upon the public with an incorrect account of that monster’s career (compiled from items furnished by himself, I’ll warrant), or else you wish to bring into disrepute my own biography of him, which is the only correct and impartial one ever published. Which is it? If you really desired that the people should know the man they were expected to vote for, why did you not republish that history?

By referring to it you will see that your own has not a word of truth in it. Jack Perry has made you believe he was born in New York, when in reality he was born in New Jersey; he has told you he was a pressman—on the contrary, he is by occupation a shoemaker—by nature a poet, and by instinct a great moral humbug. If I chose, I could enumerate a dozen more instances to prove that, in his own vulgar phraseology, Jack Perry has successfully played you for a Chinaman. I suppose if he had told you the size of his boots was No. 5, you wouldn’t have known enough to refrain from publishing the absurdity. Now the next time you want any facts about Jack Perry, perhaps you had better refer to the standard biography compiled by myself, or else let me hash them up for you.

You have rushed into these biographies like a crazy man, and I suppose you have found out by this time that you are no more fitted for that sort of thing than I am for a circus rider (which painfully reminds me that my last horseback trip at Lake Bigler, on that razor-bladed beast of Tom Nye’s, has lengthened my legs and shortened my body some). If I could devote more time to composition and less to coughing, I would write all those candidates’ biographies over again, just to show you how little you know about it.

I must have led a gay life at Lake Bigler, for it seems a month since I flew up there on the Pioneer coach, alongside of Hank Monk, the king of stage drivers. But I couldn’t cure my cold. I was too careless. I went to the lake (Lake Bigler I must beg leave to call it still, notwithstanding, if I recollect rightly, it is known among sentimental people as either Tahoe Lake or Yahoo Lake—however, one of the last will do as well as the other, since there is neither sense nor music in either of them), with a voice like a bull frog, and by indulging industriously in reckless imprudence, I succeeded in toning it down to an impalpable whisper in the course of seven days.

I left there in the Pioneer coach at half-past one on Monday morning, in company with Mayor Arick, Mr. Boruck and young Wilson (a nice party for a Christian to travel with, I admit), and arrived in Carson at five o’clock—three hours and a half out. As nearly as I can estimate it, 1 we came down the grade at the rate of a hundred miles an hour; and if you do not know how frightfully deep those mountain gorges look, let me recommend that you go, also, and skim along their edges at the dead of night.

I left Carson at two o’clock with Dyer—Dyer, the polite Dyer, the accommodating— Dyer, of the Carson and Steamboat stage line, and reached the Steamboat Springs Hotel at dusk, where all others who are weary and hungry are invited to come, and be handsomely provided for by Messrs. Holmes & Stowe. At Washoe we ate a supper of unimpeachable squareness at the Washoe Exchange, where I found Hon. J. K. Lovejoy, Dr. Bowman, and Captain Rawlings— there may have been other old acquaintances present, but the champagne that Lovejoy drank confused my vision so much that I cannot recollect whether there were or not.

I learned here that the people who own ranches along Steamboat Creek are very indignant at Judge Mott for granting an injunction to the Pleasant Valley Mill Company, whereby they are prohibited from using the water in the stream upon their lands. They say the mill company purchased the old Smith ranch and that portion of the creek which passes through it, and now they assume the right to deprive ranchmen owning property two or three miles above their lines from irrigating their lands with water which the mill company never before pretended to claim.

They further state that the mill men gave bonds in the trivial sum of $1,000, whereas the damage already done the crops by the withdrawal of the water amounts to more than $20,000. Again, the idea is that the mill men need the water to wet a new ditch which they have been digging, and after that is accomplished they will pay the amount of the bond and withdraw the injunction. More over—so the story runs—Judge Mott promised a decision in the case three weeks ago, and has not kept his word. The citizens of Galena, in mass meeting assembled, have drawn up a petition praying that the Judge will redress their grievances to-day, with out further delay. If the prayer is unheeded, they will turn the water on their ranches to-morrow in defiance of the order of the court.

I believe I have recounted all these facts just as I got them; but if I haven’t, I can’t help it, because I have lost my note-book again. I think I could lose a thousand note-books a week if I had them. And, moreover, if you can ferret out the justice of the above proceedings, you are a better lawyer than I am—and here comes Orrick Johnson’s Virginia stage again, and I shall have to fling in my benediction before I sing the doxology, as usual. Somehow or other, I can never get through with what I have to say.