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  • A Second Samuel Clemens
  • Gary Scharnhorst

A trio of reports about Samuel Clemens’ early life seem at odds with other established facts of his biography. Robert Sattelmeyer marshaled evidence some twenty years ago that in September 1854 Clemens may have “perpetrated a hoax on the Boston Vigilance Committee, representing himself as an abused abolitionist to secure the price of a railroad ticket between Missouri and the East Coast.” Sattelmeyer conceded that “the verifiability of this episode rests upon the slender reed” of a “single notation” in an account book of the treasurer of the Vigilance Committee.1 Edgar Marquess Branch also noted over twenty years ago that the Mississippi riverboat captain R. N. Allaback claimed “to have been Clemens’ pilot partner on the Republic in 1865 . . . four years after Clemens left the river”2—and that the riverboat pilot David Green claimed to have been “Samuel Clemens’ cub.”3 However, Green’s name nowhere appears in Samuel Langhorne Clemens’ reminiscences about his years on the river. Over the decades, moreover, a number of retired riverboatmen insisted that Samuel Clemens had been a mediocre pilot, if a licensed pilot at all.4

These apparent anomalies in the record may be explained, in fact, by the existence of a second Samuel Clemens who resided in Missouri during the mid-nineteenth century, was sympathetic to the anti-slavery cause, and served as a steersman on Mississippi riverboats during the Civil War. At least this much is known about this “other” Samuel Clemens: As a private in the Thirteenth Missouri (Union) infantry, he suffered a gunshot wound at the first battle of Lexington near Kansas City in 18615 and he was killed while at the helm of the steamboat Sultana when it exploded on April 27, 1865, near Memphis.6 [End Page 180]

Gary Scharnhorst
University of New Mexico


1. Sattelmeyer, “Did Sam Clemens Take the Abolitionists for a Ride?” New England Quarterly, 68 (June 1995), 294–99.

2. Branch, “Mark Twain: The Pilot and the Writer,” Mark Twain Journal, 23 (Fall 1985), 40.

3. Branch, Mark Twain and the Starchy Boys (Elmira: Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies, 1992), 31.

4. Mark Twain: The Complete Interviews, ed. Scharnhorst (Tuscaloosa: Univ. of Alabama Press, 2006), 421, 433.

5. “The Lexington Wounded,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, 8 October 1861, 4.

6. “River News,” St. Louis Missouri Republican, 29 October 1865, 4. [End Page 181]



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