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´╗┐Title: Life on the Mississippi, Part 5.
Author: Twain, Mark, 1835-1910
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Life on the Mississippi, Part 5." ***

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                    LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI

                        BY MARK TWAIN

                           Part 5.

Chapter 21  A Section in My Biography

IN due course I got my license.  I was a pilot now, full fledged. I
dropped into casual employments; no misfortunes resulting, intermittent
work gave place to steady and protracted engagements. Time drifted
smoothly and prosperously on, and I supposed--and hoped--that I was
going to follow the river the rest of my days, and die at the wheel when
my mission was ended.  But by and by the war came, commerce was
suspended, my occupation was gone.

I had to seek another livelihood.  So I became a silver miner in Nevada;
next, a newspaper reporter; next, a gold miner, in California; next, a
reporter in San Francisco; next, a special correspondent in the Sandwich
Islands; next, a roving correspondent in Europe and the East; next, an
instructional torch-bearer on the lecture platform; and, finally, I
became a scribbler of books, and an immovable fixture among the other
rocks of New England.

In so few words have I disposed of the twenty-one slow-drifting years
that have come and gone since I last looked from the windows of a pilot-

Let us resume, now.

Chapter 22 I Return to My Muttons

AFTER twenty-one years' absence, I felt a very strong desire to see the
river again, and the steamboats, and such of the boys as might be left;
so I resolved to go out there. I enlisted a poet for company, and a
stenographer to 'take him down,' and started westward about the middle
of April.

As I proposed to make notes, with a view to printing, I took some
thought as to methods of procedure. I reflected that if I were
recognized, on the river, I should not be as free to go and come, talk,
inquire, and spy around, as I should be if unknown; I remembered that it
was the custom of steamboatmen in the old times to load up the confiding
stranger with the most picturesque and admirable lies, and put the
sophisticated friend off with dull and ineffectual facts: so I
concluded, that, from a business point of view, it would be an advantage
to disguise our party with fictitious names. The idea was certainly
good, but it bred infinite bother; for although Smith, Jones, and
Johnson are easy names to remember when there is no occasion to remember
them, it is next to impossible to recollect them when they are wanted.
How do criminals manage to keep a brand-new ALIAS in mind? This is a
great mystery.  I was innocent; and yet was seldom able to lay my hand
on my new name when it was needed; and it seemed to me that if I had had
a crime on my conscience to further confuse me, I could never have kept
the name by me at all.

We left per Pennsylvania Railroad, at 8 A.M. April 18.

'EVENING.  Speaking of dress.  Grace and picturesqueness drop gradually
out of it as one travels away from New York.'

I find that among my notes.  It makes no difference which direction you
take, the fact remains the same. Whether you move north, south, east, or
west, no matter: you can get up in the morning and guess how far you
have come, by noting what degree of grace and picturesqueness is by that
time lacking in the costumes of the new passengers,--I do not mean of
the women alone, but of both sexes. It may be that CARRIAGE is at the
bottom of this thing; and I think it is; for there are plenty of ladies
and gentlemen in the provincial cities whose garments are all made by
the best tailors and dressmakers of New York; yet this has no
perceptible effect upon the grand fact:  the educated eye never mistakes
those people for New-Yorkers. No, there is a godless grace, and snap,
and style about a born and bred New-Yorker which mere clothing cannot

'APRIL 19.  This morning, struck into the region of full goatees--
sometimes accompanied by a mustache, but only occasionally.'

It was odd to come upon this thick crop of an obsolete and uncomely
fashion; it was like running suddenly across a forgotten acquaintance
whom you had supposed dead for a generation. The goatee extends over a
wide extent of country; and is accompanied by an iron-clad belief in
Adam and the biblical history of creation, which has not suffered from
the assaults of the scientists.

'AFTERNOON.  At the railway stations the loafers carry BOTH hands in
their breeches pockets; it was observable, heretofore, that one hand was
sometimes out of doors,--here, never. This is an important fact in

If the loafers determined the character of a country, it would be still
more important, of course.

'Heretofore, all along, the station-loafer has been often observed to
scratch one shin with the other foot; here, these remains of activity
are wanting. This has an ominous look.'

By and by, we entered the tobacco-chewing region. Fifty years ago, the
tobacco-chewing region covered the Union. It is greatly restricted now.

Next, boots began to appear.  Not in strong force, however. Later--away
down the Mississippi--they became the rule. They disappeared from other
sections of the Union with the mud; no doubt they will disappear from
the river villages, also, when proper pavements come in.

We reached St. Louis at ten o'clock at night.  At the counter of the
hotel I tendered a hurriedly-invented fictitious name, with a miserable
attempt at careless ease.  The clerk paused, and inspected me in the
compassionate way in which one inspects a respectable person who is
found in doubtful circumstances; then he said--

'It's all right; I know what sort of a room you want. Used to clerk at
the St. James, in New York.'

An unpromising beginning for a fraudulent career.  We started to the
supper room, and met two other men whom I had known elsewhere. How odd
and unfair it is:  wicked impostors go around lecturing under my NOM DE
GUERRE and nobody suspects them; but when an honest man attempts an
imposture, he is exposed at once.

One thing seemed plain:  we must start down the river the next day, if
people who could not be deceived were going to crop up at this rate: an
unpalatable disappointment, for we had hoped to have a week in St.
Louis. The Southern was a good hotel, and we could have had a
comfortable time there.  It is large, and well conducted, and its
decorations do not make one cry, as do those of the vast Palmer House,
in Chicago. True, the billiard-tables were of the Old Silurian Period,
and the cues and balls of the Post-Pliocene; but there was refreshment
in this, not discomfort; for there is rest and healing in the
contemplation of antiquities.

The most notable absence observable in the billiard-room, was the
absence of the river man.  If he was there he had taken in his sign, he
was in disguise.  I saw there none of the swell airs and graces, and
ostentatious displays of money, and pompous squanderings of it, which
used to distinguish the steamboat crowd from the dry-land crowd in the
bygone days, in the thronged billiard-rooms of St. Louis. In those
times, the principal saloons were always populous with river men; given
fifty players present, thirty or thirty-five were likely to be from the
river.  But I suspected that the ranks were thin now, and the
steamboatmen no longer an aristocracy.  Why, in my time they used to
call the 'barkeep' Bill, or Joe, or Tom, and slap him on the shoulder; I
watched for that.  But none of these people did it. Manifestly a glory
that once was had dissolved and vanished away in these twenty-one years.

When I went up to my room, I found there the young man called Rogers,
crying. Rogers was not his name; neither was Jones, Brown, Dexter,
Ferguson, Bascom, nor Thompson; but he answered to either of these that
a body found handy in an emergency; or to any other name, in fact, if he
perceived that you meant him.  He said--

'What is a person to do here when he wants a drink of water?--drink this

'Can't you drink it?'

'I could if I had some other water to wash it with.'

Here was a thing which had not changed; a score of years had not
affected this water's mulatto complexion in the least; a score of
centuries would succeed no better, perhaps.  It comes out of the
turbulent, bank-caving Missouri, and every tumblerful of it holds nearly
an acre of land in solution.  I got this fact from the bishop of the
diocese. If you will let your glass stand half an hour, you can separate
the land from the water as easy as Genesis; and then you will find them
both good:  the one good to eat, the other good to drink. The land is
very nourishing, the water is thoroughly wholesome. The one appeases
hunger; the other, thirst.  But the natives do not take them separately,
but together, as nature mixed them. When they find an inch of mud in the
bottom of a glass, they stir it up, and then take the draught as they
would gruel. It is difficult for a stranger to get used to this batter,
but once used to it he will prefer it to water.  This is really the
case. It is good for steamboating, and good to drink; but it is
worthless for all other purposes, except baptizing.

Next morning, we drove around town in the rain. The city seemed but
little changed.  It WAS greatly changed, but it did not seem so; because
in St. Louis, as in London and Pittsburgh, you can't persuade a new
thing to look new; the coal smoke turns it into an antiquity the moment
you take your hand off it.  The place had just about doubled its size,
since I was a resident of it, and was now become a city of 400,000
inhabitants; still, in the solid business parts, it looked about as it
had looked formerly.  Yet I am sure there is not as much smoke in St.
Louis now as there used to be. The smoke used to bank itself in a dense
billowy black canopy over the town, and hide the sky from view.  This
shelter is very much thinner now; still, there is a sufficiency of smoke
there, I think. I heard no complaint.

However, on the outskirts changes were apparent enough; notably in
dwelling-house architecture.  The fine new homes are noble and beautiful
and modern.  They stand by themselves, too, with green lawns around
them; whereas the dwellings of a former day are packed together in
blocks, and are all of one pattern, with windows all alike, set in an
arched frame-work of twisted stone; a sort of house which was handsome
enough when it was rarer.

There was another change--the Forest Park.  This was new to me. It is
beautiful and very extensive, and has the excellent merit of having been
made mainly by nature.  There are other parks, and fine ones, notably
Tower Grove and the Botanical Gardens; for St. Louis interested herself
in such improvements at an earlier day than did the most of our cities.

The first time I ever saw St. Louis, I could have bought it for six
million dollars, and it was the mistake of my life that I did not do it.
It was bitter now to look abroad over this domed and steepled
metropolis, this solid expanse of bricks and mortar stretching away on
every hand into dim, measure-defying distances, and remember that I had
allowed that opportunity to go by.  Why I should have allowed it to go
by seems, of course, foolish and inexplicable to-day, at a first glance;
yet there were reasons at the time to justify this course.

A Scotchman, Hon. Charles Augustus Murray, writing some forty-five or
fifty years ago, said--'The streets are narrow, ill paved and ill
lighted.' Those streets are narrow still, of course; many of them are
ill paved yet; but the reproach of ill lighting cannot be repeated, now.
The 'Catholic New Church' was the only notable building then, and Mr.
Murray was confidently called upon to admire it, with its 'species of
Grecian portico, surmounted by a kind of steeple, much too diminutive in
its proportions, and surmounted by sundry ornaments' which the
unimaginative Scotchman found himself 'quite unable to describe;' and
therefore was grateful when a German tourist helped him out with the
exclamation--'By ---, they look exactly like bed-posts!' St. Louis is
well equipped with stately and noble public buildings now, and the
little church, which the people used to be so proud of, lost its
importance a long time ago.  Still, this would not surprise Mr. Murray,
if he could come back; for he prophesied the coming greatness of St.
Louis with strong confidence.

The further we drove in our inspection-tour, the more sensibly I
realized how the city had grown since I had seen it last; changes in
detail became steadily more apparent and frequent than at first, too:
changes uniformly evidencing progress, energy, prosperity.

But the change of changes was on the 'levee.'  This time, a departure
from the rule.  Half a dozen sound-asleep steamboats where I used to see
a solid mile of wide-awake ones! This was melancholy, this was woeful.
The absence of the pervading and jocund steamboatman from the billiard-
saloon was explained. He was absent because he is no more.  His
occupation is gone, his power has passed away, he is absorbed into the
common herd, he grinds at the mill, a shorn Samson and inconspicuous.
Half a dozen lifeless steamboats, a mile of empty wharves, a negro
fatigued with whiskey stretched asleep, in a wide and soundless vacancy,
where the serried hosts of commerce used to contend!{footnote [Capt.
Marryat, writing forty-five years ago says: 'St. Louis has 20,000
LYING IN TWO OR THREE TIERS.']}  Here was desolation, indeed.

'The old, old sea, as one in tears, Comes murmuring, with foamy lips,
And knocking at the vacant piers, Calls for his long-lost multitude of

The towboat and the railroad had done their work, and done it well and
completely.  The mighty bridge, stretching along over our heads, had
done its share in the slaughter and spoliation. Remains of former
steamboatmen told me, with wan satisfaction, that the bridge doesn't
pay.  Still, it can be no sufficient compensation to a corpse, to know
that the dynamite that laid him out was not of as good quality as it had
been supposed to be.

The pavements along the river front were bad:  the sidewalks were rather
out of repair; there was a rich abundance of mud. All this was familiar
and satisfying; but the ancient armies of drays, and struggling throngs
of men, and mountains of freight, were gone; and Sabbath reigned in
their stead.  The immemorial mile of cheap foul doggeries remained, but
business was dull with them; the multitudes of poison-swilling Irishmen
had departed, and in their places were a few scattering handfuls of
ragged negroes, some drinking, some drunk, some nodding, others asleep.
St. Louis is a great and prosperous and advancing city; but the river-
edge of it seems dead past resurrection.

Mississippi steamboating was born about 1812; at the end of thirty
years, it had grown to mighty proportions; and in less than thirty more,
it was dead!  A strangely short life for so majestic a creature. Of
course it is not absolutely dead, neither is a crippled octogenarian who
could once jump twenty-two feet on level ground; but as contrasted with
what it was in its prime vigor, Mississippi steamboating may be called

It killed the old-fashioned keel-boating, by reducing the freight-trip
to New Orleans to less than a week. The railroads have killed the
steamboat passenger traffic by doing in two or three days what the
steamboats consumed a week in doing; and the towing-fleets have killed
the through-freight traffic by dragging six or seven steamer-loads of
stuff down the river at a time, at an expense so trivial that steamboat
competition was out of the question.

Freight and passenger way-traffic remains to the steamers. This is in
the hands--along the two thousand miles of river between St. Paul and
New Orleans---of two or three close corporations well fortified with
capital; and by able and thoroughly business-like management and system,
these make a sufficiency of money out of what is left of the once
prodigious steamboating industry. I suppose that St. Louis and New
Orleans have not suffered materially by the change, but alas for the
wood-yard man!

He used to fringe the river all the way; his close-ranked merchandise
stretched from the one city to the other, along the banks, and he sold
uncountable cords of it every year for cash on the nail; but all the
scattering boats that are left burn coal now, and the seldomest
spectacle on the Mississippi to-day is a wood-pile. Where now is the
once wood-yard man?

Chapter 23 Traveling Incognito

MY idea was, to tarry a while in every town between St. Louis and New
Orleans.  To do this, it would be necessary to go from place to place by
the short packet lines.  It was an easy plan to make, and would have
been an easy one to follow, twenty years ago--but not now. There are
wide intervals between boats, these days.

I wanted to begin with the interesting old French settlements of St.
Genevieve and Kaskaskia, sixty miles below St. Louis. There was only one
boat advertised for that section--a Grand Tower packet.  Still, one boat
was enough; so we went down to look at her.  She was a venerable rack-
heap, and a fraud to boot; for she was playing herself for personal
property, whereas the good honest dirt was so thickly caked all over her
that she was righteously taxable as real estate. There are places in New
England where her hurricane deck would be worth a hundred and fifty
dollars an acre. The soil on her forecastle was quite good--the new crop
of wheat was already springing from the cracks in protected places. The
companionway was of a dry sandy character, and would have been well
suited for grapes, with a southern exposure and a little subsoiling.
The soil of the boiler deck was thin and rocky, but good enough for
grazing purposes. A colored boy was on watch here--nobody else visible.
We gathered from him that this calm craft would go, as advertised, 'if
she got her trip;' if she didn't get it, she would wait for it.

'Has she got any of her trip?'

'Bless you, no, boss.  She ain't unloadened, yit.  She only come in dis

He was uncertain as to when she might get her trip, but thought it might
be to-morrow or maybe next day.  This would not answer at all; so we had
to give up the novelty of sailing down the river on a farm. We had one
more arrow in our quiver:  a Vicksburg packet, the 'Gold Dust,' was to
leave at 5 P.M. We took passage in her for Memphis, and gave up the idea
of stopping off here and there, as being impracticable. She was neat,
clean, and comfortable.  We camped on the boiler deck, and bought some
cheap literature to kill time with.  The vender was a venerable Irishman
with a benevolent face and a tongue that worked easily in the socket,
and from him we learned that he had lived in St. Louis thirty-four years
and had never been across the river during that period. Then he wandered
into a very flowing lecture, filled with classic names and allusions,
which was quite wonderful for fluency until the fact became rather
apparent that this was not the first time, nor perhaps the fiftieth,
that the speech had been delivered.  He was a good deal of a character,
and much better company than the sappy literature he was selling. A
random remark, connecting Irishmen and beer, brought this nugget of
information out of him--

They don't drink it, sir.  They can't drink it, sir. Give an Irishman
lager for a month, and he's a dead man. An Irishman is lined with
copper, and the beer corrodes it. But whiskey polishes the copper and is
the saving of him, sir.'

At eight o'clock, promptly, we backed out and crossed the river. As we
crept toward the shore, in the thick darkness, a blinding glory of white
electric light burst suddenly from our forecastle, and lit up the water
and the warehouses as with a noon-day glare. Another big change, this--
no more flickering, smoky, pitch-dripping, ineffectual torch-baskets,
now:  their day is past.  Next, instead of calling out a score of hands
to man the stage, a couple of men and a hatful of steam lowered it from
the derrick where it was suspended, launched it, deposited it in just
the right spot, and the whole thing was over and done with before a mate
in the olden time could have got his profanity-mill adjusted to begin
the preparatory services. Why this new and simple method of handling the
stages was not thought of when the first steamboat was built, is a
mystery which helps one to realize what a dull-witted slug the average
human being is.

We finally got away at two in the morning, and when I turned out at six,
we were rounding to at a rocky point where there was an old stone
warehouse--at any rate, the ruins of it; two or three decayed dwelling-
houses were near by, in the shelter of the leafy hills; but there were
no evidences of human or other animal life to be seen. I wondered if I
had forgotten the river; for I had no recollection whatever of this
place; the shape of the river, too, was unfamiliar; there was nothing in
sight, anywhere, that I could remember ever having seen before. I was
surprised, disappointed, and annoyed.

We put ashore a well-dressed lady and gentleman, and two well-dressed,
lady-like young girls, together with sundry Russia-leather bags. A
strange place for such folk!  No carriage was waiting. The party moved
off as if they had not expected any, and struck down a winding country
road afoot.

But the mystery was explained when we got under way again; for these
people were evidently bound for a large town which lay shut in behind a
tow-head (i.e., new island) a couple of miles below this landing.  I
couldn't remember that town; I couldn't place it, couldn't call its
name.  So I lost part of my temper. I suspected that it might be St.
Genevieve--and so it proved to be.  Observe what this eccentric river
had been about: it had built up this huge useless tow-head directly in
front of this town, cut off its river communications, fenced it away
completely, and made a 'country' town of it. It is a fine old place,
too, and deserved a better fate. It was settled by the French, and is a
relic of a time when one could travel from the mouths of the Mississippi
to Quebec and be on French territory and under French rule all the way.

Presently I ascended to the hurricane deck and cast a longing glance
toward the pilot-house.

Chapter 24 My Incognito is Exploded

AFTER a close study of the face of the pilot on watch, I was satisfied
that I had never seen him before; so I went up there.  The pilot
inspected me; I re-inspected the pilot.  These customary preliminaries
over, I sat down on the high bench, and he faced about and went on with
his work. Every detail of the pilot-house was familiar to me, with one
exception,--a large-mouthed tube under the breast-board. I puzzled over
that thing a considerable time; then gave up and asked what it was for.

'To hear the engine-bells through.'

It was another good contrivance which ought to have been invented half a
century sooner.  So I was thinking, when the pilot asked--

'Do you know what this rope is for?'

I managed to get around this question, without committing myself.

'Is this the first time you were ever in a pilot-house?'

I crept under that one.

'Where are you from?'

'New England.'

'First time you have ever been West?'

I climbed over this one.

'If you take an interest in such things, I can tell you what all these
things are for.'

I said I should like it.

'This,' putting his hand on a backing-bell rope, 'is to sound the fire-
alarm; this,' putting his hand on a go-ahead bell, 'is to call the
texas-tender; this one,' indicating the whistle-lever, 'is to call the
captain'--and so he went on, touching one object after another, and
reeling off his tranquil spool of lies.

I had never felt so like a passenger before. I thanked him, with
emotion, for each new fact, and wrote it down in my note-book. The pilot
warmed to his opportunity, and proceeded to load me up in the good old-
fashioned way. At times I was afraid he was going to rupture his
invention; but it always stood the strain, and he pulled through all
right. He drifted, by easy stages, into revealments of the river's
marvelous eccentricities of one sort and another, and backed them up
with some pretty gigantic illustrations. For instance--

'Do you see that little boulder sticking out of the water yonder? well,
when I first came on the river, that was a solid ridge of rock, over
sixty feet high and two miles long.  All washed away but that.' [This
with a sigh.]

I had a mighty impulse to destroy him, but it seemed to me that killing,
in any ordinary way, would be too good for him.

Once, when an odd-looking craft, with a vast coal-scuttle slanting aloft
on the end of a beam, was steaming by in the distance, he indifferently
drew attention to it, as one might to an object grown wearisome through
familiarity, and observed that it was an 'alligator boat.'

'An alligator boat?  What's it for?'

'To dredge out alligators with.'

'Are they so thick as to be troublesome?'

'Well, not now, because the Government keeps them down. But they used to
be.  Not everywhere; but in favorite places, here and there, where the
river is wide and shoal-like Plum Point, and Stack Island, and so on--
places they call alligator beds.'

'Did they actually impede navigation?'

'Years ago, yes, in very low water; there was hardly a trip, then, that
we didn't get aground on alligators.'

It seemed to me that I should certainly have to get out my tomahawk.
However, I restrained myself and said--

'It must have been dreadful.'

'Yes, it was one of the main difficulties about piloting. It was so hard
to tell anything about the water; the damned things shift around so--
never lie still five minutes at a time. You can tell a wind-reef,
straight off, by the look of it; you can tell a break; you can tell a
sand-reef--that's all easy; but an alligator reef doesn't show up, worth
anything. Nine times in ten you can't tell where the water is; and when
you do see where it is, like as not it ain't there when YOU get there,
the devils have swapped around so, meantime. Of course there were some
few pilots that could judge of alligator water nearly as well as they
could of any other kind, but they had to have natural talent for it; it
wasn't a thing a body could learn, you had to be born with it.  Let me
see: there was Ben Thornburg, and Beck Jolly, and Squire Bell, and
Horace Bixby, and Major Downing, and John Stevenson, and Billy Gordon,
and Jim Brady, and George Ealer, and Billy Youngblood--all A 1 alligator
pilots.  THEY could tell alligator water as far as another Christian
could tell whiskey. Read it?--Ah, COULDN'T they, though!  I only wish I
had as many dollars as they could read alligator water a mile and a half
off. Yes, and it paid them to do it, too.  A good alligator pilot could
always get fifteen hundred dollars a month.  Nights, other people had to
lay up for alligators, but those fellows never laid up for alligators;
they never laid up for anything but fog. They could SMELL the best
alligator water it was said; I don't know whether it was so or not, and
I think a body's got his hands full enough if he sticks to just what he
knows himself, without going around backing up other people's say-so's,
though there's a plenty that ain't backward about doing it, as long as
they can roust out something wonderful to tell. Which is not the style
of Robert Styles, by as much as three fathom--maybe quarter-LESS.'

[My! Was this Rob Styles?--This mustached and stately figure?-A slim
enough cub, in my time.  How he has improved in comeliness in five-and-
twenty year and in the noble art of inflating his facts.] After these
musings, I said aloud--

'I should think that dredging out the alligators wouldn't have done much
good, because they could come back again right away.'

'If you had had as much experience of alligators as I have, you wouldn't
talk like that.  You dredge an alligator once and he's CONVINCED. It's
the last you hear of HIM.  He wouldn't come back for pie. If there's one
thing that an alligator is more down on than another, it's being
dredged.  Besides, they were not simply shoved out of the way; the most
of the scoopful were scooped aboard; they emptied them into the hold;
and when they had got a trip, they took them to Orleans to the
Government works.'

'What for?'

'Why, to make soldier-shoes out of their hides. All the Government shoes
are made of alligator hide. It makes the best shoes in the world.  They
last five years, and they won't absorb water.  The alligator fishery is
a Government monopoly.  All the alligators are Government property--just
like the live-oaks. You cut down a live-oak, and Government fines you
fifty dollars; you kill an alligator, and up you go for misprision of
treason--lucky duck if they don't hang you, too.  And they will, if
you're a Democrat. The buzzard is the sacred bird of the South, and you
can't touch him; the alligator is the sacred bird of the Government, and
you've got to let him alone.'

'Do you ever get aground on the alligators now?'

'Oh, no! it hasn't happened for years.'

'Well, then, why do they still keep the alligator boats in service?'

'Just for police duty--nothing more.  They merely go up and down now and
then.  The present generation of alligators know them as easy as a
burglar knows a roundsman; when they see one coming, they break camp and
go for the woods.'

After rounding-out and finishing-up and polishing-off the alligator
business, he dropped easily and comfortably into the historical vein,
and told of some tremendous feats of half-a-dozen old-time steamboats of
his acquaintance, dwelling at special length upon a certain
extraordinary performance of his chief favorite among this distinguished
fleet--and then adding--

'That boat was the "Cyclone,"--last trip she ever made--she sunk, that
very trip--captain was Tom Ballou, the most immortal liar that ever I
struck.  He couldn't ever seem to tell the truth, in any kind of
weather. Why, he would make you fairly shudder.  He WAS the most
scandalous liar! I left him, finally; I couldn't stand it.  The proverb
says, "like master, like man;" and if you stay with that kind of a man,
you'll come under suspicion by and by, just as sure as you live.  He
paid first-class wages; but said I, What's wages when your reputation's
in danger?  So I let the wages go, and froze to my reputation.  And I've
never regretted it. Reputation's worth everything, ain't it?  That's the
way I look at it. He had more selfish organs than any seven men in the
world--all packed in the stern-sheets of his skull, of course, where
they belonged. They weighed down the back of his head so that it made
his nose tilt up in the air.  People thought it was vanity, but it
wasn't, it was malice. If you only saw his foot, you'd take him to be
nineteen feet high, but he wasn't; it was because his foot was out of
drawing. He was intended to be nineteen feet high, no doubt, if his foot
was made first, but he didn't get there; he was only five feet ten.
That's what he was, and that's what he is.  You take the lies out of
him, and he'll shrink to the size of your hat; you take the malice out
of him, and he'll disappear.  That "Cyclone" was a rattler to go, and
the sweetest thing to steer that ever walked the waters.  Set her
amidships, in a big river, and just let her go; it was all you had to
do. She would hold herself on a star all night, if you let her alone.
You couldn't ever feel her rudder.  It wasn't any more labor to steer
her than it is to count the Republican vote in a South Carolina
election. One morning, just at daybreak, the last trip she ever made,
they took her rudder aboard to mend it; I didn't know anything about it;
I backed her out from the wood-yard and went a-weaving down the river
all serene. When I had gone about twenty-three miles, and made four
horribly crooked crossings--'

'Without any rudder?'

'Yes--old Capt. Tom appeared on the roof and began to find fault with me
for running such a dark night--'

'Such a DARK NIGHT ?--Why, you said--'

'Never mind what I said,--'twas as dark as Egypt now, though pretty soon
the moon began to rise, and--'

'You mean the SUN--because you started out just at break of--look here!
Was this BEFORE you quitted the captain on account of his lying, or--'

'It was before--oh, a long time before.  And as I was saying, he--'

'But was this the trip she sunk, or was--'

'Oh, no!--months afterward.  And so the old man, he--'

'Then she made TWO last trips, because you said--'

He stepped back from the wheel, swabbing away his perspiration, and

'Here!' (calling me by name), 'YOU take her and lie a while--you're
handier at it than I am.  Trying to play yourself for a stranger and an
innocent!--why, I knew you before you had spoken seven words; and I made
up my mind to find out what was your little game. It was to DRAW ME OUT.
Well, I let you, didn't I? Now take the wheel and finish the watch; and
next time play fair, and you won't have to work your passage.'

Thus ended the fictitious-name business.  And not six hours out from St.
Louis! but I had gained a privilege, any way, for I had been itching to
get my hands on the wheel, from the beginning. I seemed to have
forgotten the river, but I hadn't forgotten how to steer a steamboat,
nor how to enjoy it, either.

Chapter 25 From Cairo to Hickman

THE scenery, from St. Louis to Cairo--two hundred miles--is varied and
beautiful.  The hills were clothed in the fresh foliage of spring now,
and were a gracious and worthy setting for the broad river flowing
between. Our trip began auspiciously, with a perfect day, as to breeze
and sunshine, and our boat threw the miles out behind her with
satisfactory despatch.

We found a railway intruding at Chester, Illinois; Chester has also a
penitentiary now, and is otherwise marching on.  At Grand Tower, too,
there was a railway; and another at Cape Girardeau. The former town gets
its name from a huge, squat pillar of rock, which stands up out of the
water on the Missouri side of the river--a piece of nature's fanciful
handiwork--and is one of the most picturesque features of the scenery of
that region. For nearer or remoter neighbors, the Tower has the Devil's
Bake Oven--so called, perhaps, because it does not powerfully resemble
anybody else's bake oven; and the Devil's Tea Table--this latter a great
smooth-surfaced mass of rock, with diminishing wine-glass stem, perched
some fifty or sixty feet above the river, beside a beflowered and
garlanded precipice, and sufficiently like a tea-table to answer for
anybody, Devil or Christian. Away down the river we have the Devil's
Elbow and the Devil's Race-course, and lots of other property of his
which I cannot now call to mind.

The Town of Grand Tower was evidently a busier place than it had been in
old times, but it seemed to need some repairs here and there, and a new
coat of whitewash all over. Still, it was pleasant to me to see the old
coat once more. 'Uncle' Mumford, our second officer, said the place had
been suffering from high water, and consequently was not looking its
best now.  But he said it was not strange that it didn't waste white-
wash on itself, for more lime was made there, and of a better quality,
than anywhere in the West; and added--'On a dairy farm you never can get
any milk for your coffee, nor any sugar for it on a sugar plantation;
and it is against sense to go to a lime town to hunt for white-wash.' In
my own experience I knew the first two items to be true; and also that
people who sell candy don't care for candy; therefore there was
plausibility in Uncle Mumford's final observation that 'people who make
lime run more to religion than whitewash.' Uncle Mumford said, further,
that Grand Tower was a great coaling center and a prospering place.

Cape Girardeau is situated on a hillside, and makes a handsome
appearance. There is a great Jesuit school for boys at the foot of the
town by the river. Uncle Mumford said it had as high a reputation for
thoroughness as any similar institution in Missouri!  There was another
college higher up on an airy summit--a bright new edifice, picturesquely
and peculiarly towered and pinnacled--a sort of gigantic casters, with
the cruets all complete. Uncle Mumford said that Cape Girardeau was the
Athens of Missouri, and contained several colleges besides those already
mentioned; and all of them on a religious basis of one kind or another.
He directed my attention to what he called the 'strong and pervasive
religious look of the town,' but I could not see that it looked more
religious than the other hill towns with the same slope and built of the
same kind of bricks. Partialities often make people see more than really

Uncle Mumford has been thirty years a mate on the river. He is a man of
practical sense and a level head; has observed; has had much experience
of one sort and another; has opinions; has, also, just a perceptible
dash of poetry in his composition, an easy gift of speech, a thick growl
in his voice, and an oath or two where he can get at them when the
exigencies of his office require a spiritual lift.  He is a mate of the
blessed old-time kind; and goes gravely damning around, when there is
work to the fore, in a way to mellow the ex-steamboatman's heart with
sweet soft longings for the vanished days that shall come no more.  'GIT
up there you!  Going to be all day? Why d'n't you SAY you was petrified
in your hind legs, before you shipped!'

He is a steady man with his crew; kind and just, but firm; so they like
him, and stay with him.  He is still in the slouchy garb of the old
generation of mates; but next trip the Anchor Line will have him in
uniform--a natty blue naval uniform, with brass buttons, along with all
the officers of the line--and then he will be a totally different style
of scenery from what he is now.

Uniforms on the Mississippi!  It beats all the other changes put
together, for surprise.  Still, there is another surprise--that it was
not made fifty years ago.  It is so manifestly sensible, that it might
have been thought of earlier, one would suppose. During fifty years, out
there, the innocent passenger in need of help and information, has been
mistaking the mate for the cook, and the captain for the barber--and
being roughly entertained for it, too.  But his troubles are ended now.
And the greatly improved aspect of the boat's staff is another advantage
achieved by the dress-reform period.

Steered down the bend below Cape Girardeau.  They used to call it
'Steersman's Bend;' plain sailing and plenty of water in it, always;
about the only place in the Upper River that a new cub was allowed to
take a boat through, in low water.

Thebes, at the head of the Grand Chain, and Commerce at the foot of it,
were towns easily rememberable, as they had not undergone conspicuous
alteration.  Nor the Chain, either--in the nature of things; for it is a
chain of sunken rocks admirably arranged to capture and kill steamboats
on bad nights. A good many steamboat corpses lie buried there, out of
sight; among the rest my first friend the 'Paul Jones;' she knocked her
bottom out, and went down like a pot, so the historian told me--Uncle
Mumford.  He said she had a gray mare aboard, and a preacher. To me,
this sufficiently accounted for the disaster; as it did, of course, to
Mumford, who added--

'But there are many ignorant people who would scoff at such a matter,
and call it superstition.  But you will always notice that they are
people who have never traveled with a gray mare and a preacher.  I went
down the river once in such company. We grounded at Bloody Island; we
grounded at Hanging Dog; we grounded just below this same Commerce; we
jolted Beaver Dam Rock; we hit one of the worst breaks in the
'Graveyard' behind Goose Island; we had a roustabout killed in a fight;
we burnt a boiler; broke a shaft; collapsed a flue; and went into Cairo
with nine feet of water in the hold--may have been more, may have been
less.  I remember it as if it were yesterday. The men lost their heads
with terror.  They painted the mare blue, in sight of town, and threw
the preacher overboard, or we should not have arrived at all.  The
preacher was fished out and saved. He acknowledged, himself, that he had
been to blame. I remember it all, as if it were yesterday.'

That this combination--of preacher and gray mare--should breed calamity,
seems strange, and at first glance unbelievable; but the fact is
fortified by so much unassailable proof that to doubt is to dishonor
reason. I myself remember a case where a captain was warned by numerous
friends against taking a gray mare and a preacher with him, but
persisted in his purpose in spite of all that could be said; and the
same day--it may have been the next, and some say it was, though I think
it was the same day--he got drunk and fell down the hatchway, and was
borne to his home a corpse. This is literally true.

No vestige of Hat Island is left now; every shred of it is washed away.
I do not even remember what part of the river it used to be in, except
that it was between St. Louis and Cairo somewhere. It was a bad region--
all around and about Hat Island, in early days. A farmer who lived on
the Illinois shore there, said that twenty-nine steamboats had left
their bones strung along within sight from his house. Between St. Louis
and Cairo the steamboat wrecks average one to the mile;--two hundred
wrecks, altogether.

I could recognize big changes from Commerce down.  Beaver Dam Rock was
out in the middle of the river now, and throwing a prodigious 'break;'
it used to be close to the shore, and boats went down outside of it. A
big island that used to be away out in mid-river, has retired to the
Missouri shore, and boats do not go near it any more. The island called
Jacket Pattern is whittled down to a wedge now, and is booked for early
destruction.  Goose Island is all gone but a little dab the size of a
steamboat.  The perilous 'Graveyard,' among whose numberless wrecks we
used to pick our way so slowly and gingerly, is far away from the
channel now, and a terror to nobody. One of the islands formerly called
the Two Sisters is gone entirely; the other, which used to lie close to
the Illinois shore, is now on the Missouri side, a mile away; it is
joined solidly to the shore, and it takes a sharp eye to see where the
seam is--but it is Illinois ground yet, and the people who live on it
have to ferry themselves over and work the Illinois roads and pay
Illinois taxes: singular state of things!

Near the mouth of the river several islands were missing--washed away.
Cairo was still there--easily visible across the long, flat point upon
whose further verge it stands; but we had to steam a long way around to
get to it.  Night fell as we were going out of the 'Upper River' and
meeting the floods of the Ohio.  We dashed along without anxiety; for
the hidden rock which used to lie right in the way has moved up stream a
long distance out of the channel; or rather, about one county has gone
into the river from the Missouri point, and the Cairo point has 'made
down' and added to its long tongue of territory correspondingly. The
Mississippi is a just and equitable river; it never tumbles one man's
farm overboard without building a new farm just like it for that man's
neighbor. This keeps down hard feelings.

Going into Cairo, we came near killing a steamboat which paid no
attention to our whistle and then tried to cross our bows. By doing some
strong backing, we saved him; which was a great loss, for he would have
made good literature.

Cairo is a brisk town now; and is substantially built, and has a city
look about it which is in noticeable contrast to its former estate, as
per Mr. Dickens's portrait of it.  However, it was already building with
bricks when I had seen it last--which was when Colonel (now General)
Grant was drilling his first command there. Uncle Mumford says the
libraries and Sunday-schools have done a good work in Cairo, as well as
the brick masons. Cairo has a heavy railroad and river trade, and her
situation at the junction of the two great rivers is so advantageous
that she cannot well help prospering.

When I turned out, in the morning, we had passed Columbus, Kentucky, and
were approaching Hickman, a pretty town, perched on a handsome hill.
Hickman is in a rich tobacco region, and formerly enjoyed a great and
lucrative trade in that staple, collecting it there in her warehouses
from a large area of country and shipping it by boat; but Uncle Mumford
says she built a railway to facilitate this commerce a little more, and
he thinks it facilitated it the wrong way--took the bulk of the trade
out of her hands by 'collaring it along the line without gathering it at
her doors.'

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