Letter from Mark Twain

Mark Twain

Virginia City Territorial Enterprise/November 17, 1863

Carson, November 15, 1863

EDITORS ENTERPRISE: Compiled by our own Reporter! Thus the Virginia Union of this morning gobbles up the labors of another man. That “Homographic Record of the Constitutional Convention” was compiled by Mr. Gillespie, Secretary of the Convention, at odd moments snatched from the incessant duties of his position, and unassisted by “our own reporter” or anybody else.

Now this isn’t fair, you know. Give the devil his due—by which metaphor I refer to Gillespie, but in an entirely inoffensive manner, I trust; and do not go and give the credit of this work to one who is not entitled to it. I copied that chart myself, and sent it to you yesterday, and I don’t see why you couldn’t have come out and done the complimentary thing, by claiming its paternity for me. In that case, I should not have mentioned this matter at all. But the main object of the present letter is to furnish you with the revolting details of—


A massacre, in which no less than a thousand human beings were deprived of life without a moment’s warning of the terrible fate that was in store for them. This ghastly tragedy was the work of a single individual—a man whose character was gifted with many strong points, among which were great benevolence and generosity, and a kindness of heart which rendered him susceptible of being persuaded to do things which were really, at times, injurious to himself, and which noble trait in his nature made him a very slave to those whom he loved—a man whose disposition was a model of mildness until a fancied wrong drove him mad and impelled him to the commission of this monstrous crime—this wholesale offering of blood to the angry spirit of revenge which rankled in his bosom.

It is said that some of his victims were so gashed, and torn, and mutilated, that they scarcely retained a semblance of human shape. As nearly as I can get at the facts in the case— and I have taken unusual pains in collecting them—the dire misfortune occurred about as follows: It seems that certain enemies ill-treated this man, and in revenge he burned a large amount of property belonging to them. They arrested him, and bound him hand and foot, and brought him down to Lehi, the county seat, for trial. And the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him, and the cords that were upon his arms became as flax that was burnt with fire, and his bands loosed from off his hands. And he found a new jaw-bone of an ass, and put forth his hand and took it, and slew a thousand men there with. When he had finished his terrible tragedy, the desperado, criminal (whose name is Samson), deliberately wiped his bloody weapon upon the leg of his pantaloons, and then tried its edge upon his thumb, as a barber would a razor, simply remarking, “With the jaw-bone of an ass, heaps upon heaps, with the jaw of an ass have I slain a thousand men.” He even seemed to reflect with satisfaction upon what he had done, and to derive great comfort from it—as if he would say, “ONLY a mere thousand—Oh, no I ain’t on it, I reckon.”

I am sorry that it was necessary for me to furnish you with a narrative of this nature, because my efforts in this line have lately been received with some degree of suspicion; yet it is my inexorable duty to keep your readers posted, and I will not be recreant to the trust, even though the very people whom I try to serve, upbraid me.


P.S.—Now keep dark, will you? I am hatching a deep plot. I am “laying,” as it were, for the editor of that San Francisco Evening Journal. The massacre I have related above is all true, but it occurred a good while ago. Do you see my drift? I shall catch that fool. He will look carefully through his Gold Hill and Virginia exchanges, and when he finds nothing in them about Samson killing a thousand men, he will think it is another hoax, and come out on me again, in his feeble way, as he did before. I shall have him foul, then, and I will never let up on him in the world (as we say in Virginia). I expect it will worry him some, to find out at last, that one Samson actually did kill a thousand men with the jaw-bone of one of his ancestors, and he never heard of it before.