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Mark Twain in Saint Paul-Minneapolis - 2 min read

Posted May 12, 2020 @ 1:17pm | by Doug

Samuel Clemens never visited Minnesota...but Mark Twain did three times.

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...Ok, it is a technicality. 

Samuel Clemens (b. 1835) began using the pen name of Mark Twain in 1861, shortly after his aspiring career as a riverboat pilot ended abruptly with the start of the Civil War and the unfortunate disruption of normal travel along the great river.

It would be 21 years later, 1882, when he first ventured upstream as far as Saint Paul and Minneapolis.  By now, he was fully immersed as the famous writer and world traveler, Mark Twain, living far from the Mississippi River, with which his name became almost synonymous.  His Hannibal boyhood, his riverboat piloting, and many assorted endeavors had long passed him by like logs floating in the river.  He was now married with children, living in Hartford, Connecticut.

Yet, until 1882, he had never journeyed the upper half of the river as far as its northernmost shipping port of St. Paul.

As Mark Twain, he would visit St. Paul and Minneapolis three times:  1882, 1886 and 1895.  This article is primarily about his first visit.

Atlantic Monthly magazine supported his long journey of some 5,000 miles, and write about it.  Ultimately, it became the book Life on the Mississippi.  It started by train in April from New York to St. Louis, then steamboat south to New Orleans then reversing direction to Saint Paul, and at last returning to New York by train. 

By the time he alas arrived in Saint Paul on May 21, he was weary.   Writing to his wife from Quincy on May 17, he admitted his homesickness and his fatigue; particularly he spoke of “this hideous trip to St. Paul.” (1)

As weather-centric Minnesotans, we can appreciate his complaint upon his St. Paul arrival on May 21 when the temperature was 37-degrees.  10 days earlier in New Orleans he wrote of blooming roses and magnolias.

His weariness was certainly reflected in his brevity about his visit to Minnesota.  In the 500+ pages of the book, only a final few were about his visit here.

However, those few pages included a prescient observation of what arrives first with an emerging populace, giving credit to, arguably, the most famous character of, at least, the northern Mississippi, Pierre “Pig’s Eye” Parrant.

 How solemn and beautiful is the thought that the earlies pioneer of civilization, the van-leader of civilization, is never the steamboat, never the railroad, never the newspaper, never the Sabbath-school, never the missionary—but always whisky!  I mean he arrives after the whisky has arrived; next comes the poor immigrant, with ax and hoe and rifle; next, the trader; next, the      miscellaneous rush; next, the gambler, the desperado, the highwayman, and all their kindred in sin of both sexes; and next, the smart chap who has bought up an old grant that covers all the land; this brings the lawyer tribe; the vigilance committee brings the undertaker.  All these interests bring the newspaper; the newspaper starts up politics and a railroad; all hands turn to and build a church and a jail—and behold! civilization is established forever in the land.  But whisky, you see, was the van-leader in this beneficent work.  It always is.  It was like a foreigner—and excusable in a foreigner—to be ignorant of this great truth and wander off into astronomy to borrow a symbol.  But if he had been conversant with the facts, he would have said:
Westward the Jug of Empire takes its way.
This great van-leader arrived upon the ground which St. Paul now occupies, in June, 1837.  Yes, at that date, Pierre Parrant, a Canadian, built the first cabin, uncorked his jug, and began to sell whisky to the Indians.  The result is before us.

And with that entry in his journal, he departed wrapped in a blanket by train back to NY.

In 1886, he visited in route to Iowa to visit his ailing mother.  In 1895, he was on a world-wide speaking tour, an arduous effort to cover debts. 

Samuel Clemons/Mark Twain died April 21, 1910 in Redding, CT.

NOTES:

http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/17/v17i04p369-384.pdf  Page 2

Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain, Pages 486-496

~~ Article author, Douglas Rosenquist, tour guide, TwinCitiesTours

 

 

 
 
 
 
 

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