Travel Etc: Grand Tours: Ah Yes, That First Gunfight. I Remember It Well ; the Series That Follows Great Writers on Their Adventures in Literature. This Week, Mark Twain Dodges Bullets in Nevada
Mark Twain (1835-1910) was the pseudonym of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. The name comes from the call "Mark twain!" (two fathoms) used by the Mississippi riverboat men when taking soundings. Twain worked as a Mississippi riverboat pilot from 1857 to1861 and wrote about his training in Life On The Mississippi (1883). The extract below is taken from "Roughing It", published in 1872, Twain's account of his experiences in Nevada. Twain's distinguishing mark as a writer is not just his humour, but the manner in which he tells his stories. He speaks as comfortably in the colloquial voices of America as in his own laconic style.
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It was the morning of the twentieth day. At noon we would reach Carson City, the capital of Nevada Territory. We were not glad, but sorry. It had been a fine pleasure trip; we had fed fat on wonders every day; we were now well accustomed to stage life, and very fond of it; so the idea of coming to a stand-still and settling down to a humdrum existence in a village was not agreeable, but on the contrary depressing.
Visibly our new home was a desert, walled in by barren, snow- clad mountains. There was not a tree in sight. There was no vegetation but the endless sage-brush and greasewood. All nature was gray with it. We were plowing through great deeps of powdery alkali dust that rose in thick clouds and floated across the plain like smoke from a burning house. Every 20 steps we passed the skeleton of some dead beast of burthen, with its dust-coated skin stretched tightly over its empty ribs. Frequently a solemn raven sat upon the skull or the hips and contemplated the passing coach with meditative serenity.
By and by Carson City was pointed out to us. It nestled in the edge of a great plain and was a sufficient number of miles away to look like an assemblage of mere white spots in the shadow of a grim range of mountains overlooking it, whose summits seemed lifted clear out of companionship and consciousness of earthly things. It was a "wooden" town; its population 2,000 souls. The main street consisted of four or five blocks of little white frame stores which were too high to sit down on, but not too high for various other purposes; in fact, hardly high enough. They were packed close together, as if room were scarce in that mighty plain.
The sidewalk was of boards that were more or less loose and inclined to rattle when walked upon. In the middle of the town was the "plaza" which is native to all towns beyond the Rocky Mountains - very useful as a place for public auctions, horse trades, and mass meetings, and likewise for teamsters to camp in. …