Gary Null's Reviews > Lighting Out for the Territory: How Samuel Clemens Headed West and Became Mark Twain

Lighting Out for the Territory by Roy Morris Jr.
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's review
Aug 09, 2011

Having lost his job as a riverboat pilot and wanting to escape the horrors of the Civil War, twenty-five-year-old Samuel Clemens was looking for opportunity. When Sam’s brother, Orion, received a political appointment as Secretary to the Governor of the newly-created Nevada Territory, Sam was eager to accompany him on the trip to the western territory.

They began their journey with a grueling stagecoach ride from St. Joseph, Missouri.

During the six-year odyssey, Clemens adopts the pen name Mark Twain and hones his skill as a writer. Twain works his way further West, trying a variety of job to earn a living, and eventually makes it all the way to Hawaii.

The author does a good job of annotating Twain’s adventures, and explaining how much of his later writings were influenced by the characters he met along the way.

The account of the journey is packed with Twain humor, both from him and about him.

Passing through Sacramento, Twain comments on the excessive heat: “The people suffer and sweat, and swear, morning, noon and night, and wear out their staunchest energies fanning themselves … The thermometer stays at one hundred and twenty in the shade all the time—except when it varies and goes higher.” To emphasis his point, Twain added, “A soldier at nearby Fort Yuma had died and gone to hell; the next day he telegraphed back for his blankets.”

On another occasion, Twain reportedly was introduced by a miner who was assigned the duty at the last minute with no time to prepare. The book’s account declares “’Ladies and gentlemen,’ said the miner with admirable honesty, ‘I shall not waste any unnecessary time in the introduction. I don’t know anything about this man; at least I know only two things about him; one is that he has never been in the penitentiary, and the other is that I can’t imagine why.’”

There were so many references to Twain’s later work, Roughing It, that I added that classic to my “to read” list.


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