Twain discovered his literary voice in Nevada

The Mighty Mississippi might have inspired the pen name Mark Twain, but Nevada gave it voice.

Plenty of places lay some sort of claim to the man whose given name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens: He was born in Missouri, raised children in Connecticut, and he even hung out in Bermuda.

Clemens, born in 1835 in Florida, Mo., likely was a close observer of himself and his fellow humans from a young age. But it wasn’t until making his home in Nevada Territory that those keen observations became linked inextricably to a nom de plume that still grabs attention more than a century after his death.

After a stint as a riverboat captain — where the term “mark twain” was used to measure water depth — a 26-year-old Clemens headed west via stagecoach. His journey in 1861 to Virginia City became the plot for his classic book “Roughing It.”

In those days, Virginia City was the most bustling place in what is now the Silver State. He followed his brother, Orion Clemens, a political appointee in the territorial government. But the move wasn’t for family. Like tens of thousands of others, Clemens came to Nevada in hopes of striking it rich on the Comstock Lode.

And like many more, instead he just struck out.

His next job? Taking swings at politicians as a newspaper reporter for the Territorial Enterprise, where he covered the legislature and first used the name Mark Twain.

In an 1864 dispatch from Carson City, Twain recounted attendance records of Storey County lawmakers with the sarcasm with which his writing came to be known. Only one of eight members representing the county showed up for a vote on whether to move the capital to Virginia City. “A mighty responsible delegation here,” Twain wrote.

“He really found his satirical voice in Nevada,” said Joe McCullough, a UNLV professor emeritus and Twain scholar. “That launched his career in ways that none of the other places did.”

Cindy Lovell, executive director of the Mark Twain House &Museum in Hartford, Conn., encourages any place with a connection to the writer to embrace it. While he often took a brutally honest look at his surroundings, she said, that also was a way to turn the piercing glare on himself.

The relationship between his literary creations Huck Finn and the slave Jim reflect ideas and language from 1884 that are considered offensive to many now — including frequent use of the “N” word — but also show young Huck questioning societal values.

It was a way for Twain to show throughout his 74 years that his views had changed since boyhood while also pushing for the world around him to change, Lovell said. That freedom of thought and speech, Lovell said, is “uniquely American.”

“He still represents what is the best part of America,” Lovell said, “an eventual willingness to confront the truths that we hold inside us.”

That’s not always easy to swallow. The Nevada State Board of Geographic Names earlier this month shelved a plan to name a Lake Tahoe cove for Twain after getting complaints from the Washoe Tribe. A tribal official told the board Twain’s views of Native Americans were racist.

But plenty of other spots bear his name, including a lake and a national forest in Missouri.

Las Vegas has a Twain Avenue, but it’s not clear if it’s named for Mark, according to another Mark — Mark Hall-Patton, the Clark County Museum system administrator and regular on the History Channel’s “Pawn Stars.” He’s written a book about Las Vegas street names.

What’s clear is that Twain likely never set foot in what is now Las Vegas, Hall-Patton said. There wasn’t much here in those days.

One thing that is named for him is a cocktail that can be found in lots of places but recently was featured on the menu for Rose.Rabbit.Lie at the Cosmopolitan. At this Strip site, drinkers can have their Mark Twain while twin tap dancers move to a human beat box — something that might have given Twain a kick.

Marshall Altier, chief mixologist at Rose.Rabbit.Lie, has studied libations. This cocktail, Monkey Shoulder scotch, lemon juice, simple syrup and bitters, got its name from Twain’s writing. He mentioned the drink in letters to his wife.

“He documented America’s transformation to drinking scotch and cocktails,” Altier said. “And when it’s done right — when it’s done in moderation — drinking can be a contemplative experience.”

Mark Twain might even agree with that.

Contact reporter Adam Kealoha Causey at or 702-383-0401. Follow on Twitter @akcausey.

Tate Elementary shows academic progress after categorical funding
Students at Tate Elementary in Las Vegas has benefited from a program to boost education funding in targeted student populations, known as categorical funding. One program called Zoom helps students who have fallen below grade level in reading. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Three Square helps TSA workers
Three Square Food Bank donated over 400 care bags to TSA workers affected by the government shutdown Wednesday, filled with food, personal hygiene products and water.
Las Vegas furniture store donates to Clark County firehouses
Walker Furniture donated new mattresses to all 30 Clark County firehouses in the Las Vegas Valley, starting today with Station 22. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Mount Charleston Gets Heavy Snow, Fog
Mount Charleston saw heavy snow today, and fog in lower elevations as a cold front swept across the Las Vegas Valley. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Krystal Whipple arrested in Arizona
Krystal Whipple, charged in the killing of a Las Vegas nail salon manager over a $35 manicure, is expected to return to Nevada to face a murder charge.
Holocaust survivor on acceptance
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, talks about the most important message for people to understand from her life and experiences.
Holocaust survivor speaks about telling her story
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, tells of opening up about her experiences during Sunday’s event at Temple Sinai.
Jesus Jara State of the Schools address
Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara delivers his State of the Schools address on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Michael Naft sworn in to Clark County Commission
Michael Naft, chosen by Gov. Steve Sisolak to be his replacement on the Clark County Commission, was sworn into office on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES Opening Party in Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace
CES conventioneers packed Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace, and let loose as they danced to DJs into the night. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas police piecing together details of fatal shooting
Six hours after the fact, Las Vegas homicide detectives worked to reconstruct the scene of a shooting early Jan. 7 that left one man dead in the southeast valley. (Rio Lacanlale/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dyer Lawrence explains college football playoff system proposal
Las Vegan Dyer Lawrence has a new idea for a college football playoff system that includes a unique scheduling component called National Call Out Day. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Death row inmate Scott Dozier found dead in his cell
Nevada death row inmate Scott Dozier is dead. Dozier’s death ends his legal odyssey, which began in 2007 when he was convicted in the 2002 murder of Jeremiah Miller, but does little to clarify what’s next for Nevada’s death penalty.
I-15 southbound near Primm closed after ‘major crash’
A rollover crash Saturday morning involving at least nine vehicles on southbound Interstate 15 near Primm caused an hourslong traffic delay. Traffic was backed up to Sloan, live traffic cameras show. (Rio Lacanlale/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Death Valley visitors deal with shutdown
Visitors staying at the Furnace Creek Campground were forced to move from the campground following health and safety concerns due to lack of resources during the partial government shutdown at Death Valley National Park in Calif., on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. Richard Brian Las Vegas Review-Journal @vegasphotograph
Half of homicides in Henderson for 2018 domestic violence related
Lt. Kirk Moore of the public information office of the city of Henderson police department speaks to the Review-Journal in Henderson, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. Henderson saw a slight increase in homicides in the past year. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Governor-elect Steve Sisolak stops by Las Vegas Boys and Girls Club
Governor-elect Steve Sisolak kicks off his tour to Carson City, which will take him from Las Vegas, through Tonopah, and up to the capital city. First stop is the Downtown Boys & Girls Club.
Certificates for renewing wedding vows in Clark County
The Marriage License Bureau in Clark County began issuing a Certificate of Vow Renewal to married couples who are renewing their wedding vows on Jan. 3, 2019. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas flu season better than last year (so far)
Dr. Fermin Leguen, chief medical officer and director of clinical services at the Southern Nevada Health District, said there were 24 flu-related deaths at this point in the flu season. No deaths have been reported so far this year. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
The Las Vegas Valley’s First Baby of 2019
The first 2019 baby in the Las Vegas Valley was Melialani Chihiro Manning, born at 12:10 a.m. at Henderson Hospital. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas NYE Fireworks - VIDEO
The full show: A spectacular view from the rooftop of the Trump International Hotel as 80,000 pyrotechnics illuminated the Las Vegas Strip at the stroke of midnight. Fireworks by Grucci choreographed launches from the Stratosphere, the Venetian, Treasure Island, Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, Aria and MGM Grand.
Snow in Henderson on New Year's Eve morning
Light snow flurries in Anthem Highlands in Henderson on Monday morning, the last day of 2018.
Sources: Henderson Constable may face more charges
Henderson Constable Earl Mitchell may face additional charges ... stemming from his spending of county funds, sources said. Mitchell was indicted earlier this month on five felony theft and fraud charges ... after a Las Vegas Review-Journal story questioned his spending. But grand jury records show even more extensive spending including ... an $800 dinner at steakhouse ... nearly 200 atm withdrawals mostly at gambling establishments ... and even Disneyland tickets. But his attorney plans to ask a judge to dismiss the charges.
Las Vegas NYE Restrictions and Enhanced Security
If you are planning to celebrate New Year's Eve on the Las Vegas Strip or Fremont Street, be aware that you are not allowed to bring backpacks, coolers, strollers or glass. There will also be an increase in security to ensure safe celebrations across town.
Catholic Charities serves up 53rd annual Christmas dinner
Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada and more than 100 volunteers served 1,000 Christmas meals to Southern Nevada's homeless and less fortunate. (K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal @kmcannonphoto)
Henderson couple adds another school to their generosity
Bob and Sandy Ellis of Henderson, who donate to several Clark County School District schools, have added Matt Kelly Elementary in Las Vegas to their list of schools where every student gets new shoes, socks and a toy. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jeffrey Martin Added To Nevada's Black Book
Martin was one of four men convicted of theft and cheating at gambling in 2016 in Clark County District Court and sentenced to prison. The Nevada Gaming Commission voted unanimously Thursday to include Martin in the black book.
Raiders Stadium Timelapse
Construction on the new Raiders stadium continues in Las Vegas.
Buffalo Wild Wings security video
Security footage from a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in southwest Las Vegas captured a driver who repeatedly crashed into a vehicle in a failed attempt to squeeze into a tight parking spot.
The Magical Forest at Opportunity Village
Opportunity Village's Magical Forest added 1 million lights and a synchronized music show visible from all over the forest this year. The holiday attraction, which began in 1991, has a train, rides, food and entertainment along with the light displays. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like