Mark Twain – Things you may not know

Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here.

According to my This Day In History calendar, today is the 159th anniversary of the day Mark Twain received his steamboat pilot’s license. So in honor of that event I thought I’d offer up some trivia and favorite quotes from the author and humorist.

As most everyone knows, Mark Twain’s real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, but did you know that as an infant, he wasn’t expected to live? He was born two months prematurely and was sickly and frail. It wasn’t until he was seven that his health turned around. He was the sixth of seven children.

His formal education ended when he was eleven. That was the year his father died and he left school to take a job as an apprentice printer at a local newspaper.

Before settling on Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens tried out several other pseudonyms, among them were Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, W. Epaminondas Adrastus Blab, Sergeant Fathom, and Rambler.

In addition to his other talents, Mark Twain was an inventor. He held 3 patents all total. He invented a garment fastener strap that he intended for use on vests and shirts. It never hit it off for that intended purpose, but it became the forerunner for bra straps that are still in use today. He also invented a trivia game. But his most successful invention (financially) was for a scrapbook with self-adhesive pages.

Mark Twain had a strong fondness for cats and wanted to have them around him at all times.

He based Huckleberry Finn on a real person. It was a boy he knew while growing up in Hannibal, MO. The boy was four years older than Clemens, and he described him as “ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had.”

In addition to numerous articles, essays and short stories, Mark Twain wrote a total of 28 books, four of which were published posthumously.

Clemens was born right after Halley’s Comet made its 1835 appearance. In 1909 he was quoted as saying “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet.”  Strangely, as he predicted, he passed away of a heart attack on April 21, 1910 the day after Halley’s Comet made its closest pass to Earth. He was 74 years old.



There are tons of great quotes attributed to Mark Twain. I’m going to focus here on some of the ones that have to do with books, reading and writing:

Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.

The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.

In a good bookroom you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them.

The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.

‘Classic’ – a book which people praise and don’t read.

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

Books are for people who wish they were somewhere else.

High and fine literature is wine, and mine is only water; but everybody likes water.

A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it.

Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.

When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them?then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.

Every person is a book, each year a chapter.

The only difference between reality and fiction is that fiction needs to be credible.

One should never use exclamation points in writing. It is like laughing at your own joke.

And one of my favorites:

Choosing not to read is like closing an open door to paradise.

So do you have a favorite Mark Twain book, bit of trivia or quote? Did any of the above surprise you?

State Trivia ~ Gems of Missouri

State Trivia Logo 03.25.14


Good morning & good Monday!

I’m excited to kick-off our STATE TRIVIA WEEK here at Petticoats and Pistols! The Fillies live all over the place, and, at the suggestion of one of you, our readers, we’re going to introduce you to our states. Mine?

“The Gateway to the West”

MO flag

Missouri was the 24th state in the USA, joining the union on August 10, 1821.
State Nickname – “The Show Me State”
State Motto – “Salus populi suprema lex esto ” – The welfare of the people shall be the supreme law
State Song – Missouri Waltz
State Capital – Jefferson City
Name for Residents – Missourians
Major Rivers – Mississippi River, Missouri River, Osage River
Major Lakes – Lake of the Ozarks, Table Rock Lake, Clearwater Lake, Lake Wappapello
Highest Point – Taum Sauk Mountain- 1,772 feet (540 m) above sea level
Number of Counties – 114 (plus one independent city, St. Louis)

Those are some of the “stats” of the state. But here are a few of the “gems”:

St. Charles, located on the Missouri River, was the location of the first state capitol. The site is a State Park:  Old St. Charles features many historic buildings from the early history of the state. Check out The Lewis & Clark Boathouse:

President Harry S. Truman was born in Lamar (near Joplin) on May 8, 1884 (he was the 33rd US President, serving from 1945 to 1953). He retired in Independence, in the house his wife, Bess, owned.


Samuel Clemens In TophatSamuel Langhome Clements (right), better know as Mark Twain, was born in Florida, MO, and  grew up in Hannibal. His most well-remembered character, Huckleberry Finn’s home is Hannibal. Colonel Potter’s, too, for you MASH fans

Independence was a jumping off point for many wagon trains heading west. I had so much fun exploring the museums in this delightful town.


The Gateway Arch
The nation’s tallest monument at 630 feet tall and 630 feet wide at the base, the Gateway Arch was completed in October, 1965. The vision of renowned architect Eero Saarinen, the Gateway Arch commemorates Thomas Jefferson and St. Louis’ role in the westward expansion of the United States.

St. Genevieve
French settlement on the Mississippi River, established in the early 1700s as part of the Illinois Country of the Upper Louisiana Territory.

The second battle of the Civil War, The Battle of Wilson’s Creek, took place near what is now the city of Springfield, MO.

The Gratiot Street Prison, run by the Union, was in St. Louis during the Civil War. The site is now the Ralston Purina headquarters.


The Lake of the Ozarks has more shoreline than California has coastline.

Missouri has so many Caves we’re known as “the cave state.” There’s Bridal Cave, Meramec Cavern, Fantastic Cavern, Onondaga, Cathedral… Check out all 6400 known caves–

I’ll stop now. But there are just so many cool things about my state!

Anyone of you readers live in Missouri? What did I miss?

Leave a comment and I’ll pick a name from the hat to win reader’s choice of the anthologies Wishing For a CowboyHearts and Spurs AND a Missouri keepsake keychain.



The Author and the Frog: Mark Twain

MarryingMinda Crop to Use

Sometimes I reach for organization and plan a series of blogs, then something happens to totally knock me off course. Take my bald eagle blog of March 17. I’d fully intended to tell you about a guy with a hole in his head but couldn’t resist sharing that eagle cam. By the way, the babies are hatched and healthy if you wanna snare a quick peek

So… when I found out today is the hundred-year anniversary of Mark Twain’s death, well, duh. The American Lit teacher in me screamed out.  twain-mark-photoThe guy was born in 1835 when Halley’s Comet was making its infrequent sojourn around the universe, and the ever-witty Samuel Langhorne Clemens always said he wouldn’t leave this world until Halley’s came around again. He was right, passing away on April 21, 1910, in Hartford Connecticut.

Born in Florida, Missouri of good Virginia and Kentucky stock, the puny, determined boy survived two stronger siblings. In 1839, the family moved  to Hannibal along the Mississippi River. Today, Hannibal, where Samuel lived from age 4 to 18, is the “holy land” for Twainiacs. Some 60,000 visited Mark Twain’s Boyhood and Museum last year. As Hannibal native Pulitzer Prize-winning writer/historian Ron Powers puts it, “One of our guys made it.”

The caves, cemeteries and islands off the mighty Mississippi where he played- along with the simple clapboard homes of the Clemenses and his first sweetheart, (she inspired Tom Sawyer’s Becky Thatcher)– influenced his writings later. Mark Twain said in his autobiography, “In…Hannibal, Missouri when I was a boy, everybody was poor but didn’t  know it. And everybody was comfortable and did know it.”

When his dad died in 1847, formal schooling ended for 12-year old Samuel, and he went to work as a printer’s apprentice. Brother Orion, already a printer by trade, started up a small newspaper in the family home. Twains boyhood homeInitially a typesetter, young Sam began to write articles in his own inimitable style—usually in his brother’s absence. He often got in trouble upon Orion’s return, but his efforts helped the paper sell. Sadly, Orion never realized his brother’s potential—both of them could have been successes early on.

Although he visited New York and worked in Cincinnati in a printing-office, Sam developed the popular ambition of visiting South America. Meeting Horace Bixby,one of the greatest pilots of the time, Sam decided instead to become a pilot (captain) on one of the riverboats sailing the great Mississippi. Bixby  took on Sam as his apprentice.

The task of learning the 1,200 miles of always-changing river between St. Louis and New Orleans—even in the dark—was daunting, but within 18 months he became not only a pilot, but one of best and most careful on the river. Those who knew the writer Mark Twain later on when he was a dreamy, air-headed gent without a care for details, could hardly accept that he’d been so successful. Mississippi River near TWains home

Although Samuel joined the Confederate army as a Lieutenant, he resigned after two weeks.  His steamboat career was over due to the blockaded river, so he  journeyed to Nevada with his abolitionist brother. Orion had been appointed by President Lincoln as Secretary of the new Territory.

Clemens became a miner but not a rich one, and contributor to the Territorial Enterprise newspaper in Virginia City. In 1862, he was invited to take over as local editor, and it was at this time he came across his pen name, Mark Twain, a term from his steamboat days that means two fathoms deep. He –and fellow overland writer Bret Harte–quickly became known up and down the Pacific coast.  Both would soon acquire a world-wide fame.

Terrirtorial Enterprise

After forced to leave Carson City due to a duel, Twain set up in San Francisco for a bit. With pal Jim Gillis (apparently Jim’s brother was the indirect cause of Twain’s troubles) he went up into Calaveras County, deep in California’s gold country.  For three peaceful, California-Gold-Rush-Miners-2happy months Twain lingered here, laying the cornerstone for his future. For while he and Jim tried to find gold at Angels Camp, the groundbreaking tall tale The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County was born. The story appeared in in New York’s Saturday Press of November 18, 1865, becoming an uproarious success that annoyed, rather than gratified, its author. Twain had thought very little of the story and wondered why work he had regarded more highly had not found fuller recognition. But The Jumping Frog did not die. Papers printed it and reprinted it, and it was translated into foreign tongues.

Jumping Frog

The name of “Mark Twain” became known as the author of that tale, for which Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are forever grateful!  Since I could write forever, please find more in-depth information and a list of works in these fine links.

How about you all? Any favorite Twain works? Study him in high school? Get annoyed by the phonetically-spelled dialect in Huck Finn? What other  authors from your school days stand out?


Those Tiny Guns


Lily Mae backed into the corner of the saloon as the hulking villain lumbered toward her.  “Got you,” he snarled.  “Now hand over that deed to your father’s gold mine.”

            “Not on your life!”  Summoning her courage, she glared up at him.  “I’m going to see you hang for what you did!”

            He laughed, his belly shaking beneath his greasy vest.  “You and what army?   All I see between me and that gold is a purty little gal in a pink satin dress.  And by the time I finish with her she’s not gonna look so purty.  You’ve seen what I can do to a woman.  Now give me that deed, or you’ll be beggin’ me for mercy!”

            “All right.  You win.  I’ve got it right here in my stocking.”  Lily Mae raised her skirt a few inches.  “A gentleman would turn away.”

            “Well, I ain’t no gentleman, honey.  You got till the count of three.  One…two…”

            Lily Mae fumbled beneath her petticoats.  Tucked into her lace garter was a tiny derringer with a barrel no bigger than her thumb.  Drawing and cocking the pistol in one motion, she swung back to face her enemy.

            “Reach for the sky, you mangy varmint,” she snarled, “or I’ll plug you right between the eyes! 

            No, this  isn’t a scene from one of my books, although I did have fun writing it.  I just wanted a dramatic way to introduce one of the most notorious and popular weapons in the history of the west.

deringer-2-old-jpeg1 In 1852 an American gunsmith named Henry Deringer invented a pistol so small that it could be easily concealed in a pocket, vest, boot, stocking or bodice.  The original Deringer Pistol was less than six inches long.  It used a cap lock mechanism to fire a single bullet from a barrel bored in calibers from .36 to .45, with .41 being the most common.  Easy to handle and accurate at close range, the tiny gun was an instant success.  Other gun manufacturers were swift to copy and improve on it (these copies were known generically as derringers, with an extra r)  but Deringer’s original design remained popular for decades. derringer-rem

            The gun was a favorite of women, who could hide it in their handbags or their clothes.  Gamblers and card dealers often kept one up their sleeves.  Even well known gunfighters, such as Wild Bill Hickock, used them as backup weapons.  One Arizona lawman was known to have carried upward of a half dozen petite pistols on his person.

            The scaled down size of these guns cost heavily in accuracy and range.  Mark Twain, who carried a pocket model Smith & Wesson .22 on his western travels wrote, “It was grand.  It only had one fault—you couldn’t hit anything with it.”

            Sadly, the little weapon became the preferred choice of hit men, who could hide it while they stole up behind their target.  The most famous hit carried out with a Deringer Pistol was the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth.  Booth shot Lincoln in the back of the head at point blank range while the President was watching a play.  This incident branded the Deringer as a “Hitman Special.”  Sales of the Deringer and its derringer clones went through the roof.  But Henry Deringer was troubled, knowing his weapon had been used to kill an American President.  Shortly afterwards, in 1868, he stopped production of the Deringer Pistol.  Other versions, however, continued to be made and are popular among shooters and gun collectors to this day.

gun-mollThis tough-looking gun moll is me, posing for a friend’s magazine article with an unloaded pistol I have no intention of firing.  Good for a laugh, at least.

            Do you know how to handle a gun?  Would you carry one for protection, or do you want nothing to do with them?  I’m looking forward to some interesting responses.


cowboy-christmas Don’t forget to check out COWBOY CHRISTMAS, with stories by Pam Crooks, Carol Finch and myself. 


 And don’t forget to enter our new Christmas contest!

Tanya Hanson: “I measure all lakes by Tahoe…” -Mark Twain



“I thought it must surely be the fairest picture the whole earth affords,” said Mark Twain upon his first sight of the “big water” on a summer day in 1863. Although he lived in Virginia City, Nevada and wrote for the Territorial Enterprise, he’d decided to try harvesting timber from the lake’s luxuriant wooded shores for the Comstock Lode mines. mark-twain

“It was a vast oval,” he later wrote in Innocents Abroad,  “…80 or 100 miles in traveling around it.”  

Actually, the drive around the Tahoe shoreline  is 71 miles, 42 belonging to California, 29 to Nevada. and so spectacular it should be on everybody’s Bucket List. The breathtaking clarity of the lake water exceeds depth of 75 feet! Although this is down from 100 feet in the late 1960’s, it has held stable since 2001. In fact, Mark Twain blamed the clear water for his failures at fishing, saying if he could see fish 80 feet down, they surely could see him as well and refuse to be caught.

The lake holds enough water , 39 trillion gallons, to cover entire California fourteen inches deep. The amount of water evaporating every 24 hours could supply Los Angeles with its daily demand for water!

And some people get to live here! Today Lake Tahoe is a mix of residents and tourists, but the first humans here were the Washoe. For centuries, the tribe migrated here from Nevada’s Carson Valley every summer  to seek cooler temperatures and abundant fish and game, and hold religious ceremonies at the  lake sacred to them.  They named the lake, Da-ow-a-ga, meaning “edge of the lake.” The basketry of the Washoe women is especially famed today.  

In 1844,  John C. Fremont and Kit Carson recorded the first non-native “sightings.” Mispronouncing the Washoe name, they called the lake “Tahoe.” It was officially named Tahoe in 1945 after names such as Lake Bonpland and Bigler (after California’s third governor) failed to stick. Although Kit Carson went on in 1848 to carve the nearby Carson Pass known then as the Mormon-Emigrant Trail, the Tahoe area was virtually ignored until the discovery of silver in Virginia City in 1859.

tahoe-loggingThus began the heartbreaking deforestation of this lush land from 1860-1880’s, as timber was relentlessly cut to build the mines of the Comstock and the boomtowns, trestles and snowsheds of the Central Pacific Railroad. A logging empire established on the east shore clear-cut the entire shoreline, and the natural resources are still recovering. I’m happy that Twain only spent a few half-hearted weeks working a timber claim.

In 1860, the lake had its first permanent resident. General William Phipps claimed 160 acres in today’s Sugar Pine Point and built a humble cabin.  general-phipps-cabinDuring his twelve years at the lake, he built a second cabin, a pier and a boathouse while successfully protecting his homestead from loggers. His homestead is preserved today, and does it ever have a room with a view.


On this same plot at Sugar Pine in 1903, banker Isias Hellman built a vacation cabin, ahem—a spectacular three-story mansion with Phipps’s same view. Sadly, sugar pines are scarce in the basin today, still recovering from the deforestation of more than a century ago. Florence Ehrman inherited her father’s estate in 1920, her heirs selling it to the State of California in 1965, which offers daily tours. tahoe-ehrman-mansion-2

Not far away at Emerald Bay sits Fannette Island, the lake’s only island, overlooked by Vikingsholm Castle. A castle?  Vikings?  taho-vikingsholmIndeed. In 1928, the bay so reminded Mrs. Lora J. Knight of Norwegian fjords that she instructed a Scandinavian architect to build her a vacation home without chopping down or injuring any of her land’s natural trees.  The resulting structure was built with the same methods and details of a Norse fortress circa 800 A.D. and includes sod roofs,  tahoe-grass-rooflike those in Scandinavia which fed livestock in the wintertime. For her guests, Mrs. Knight built a special “tea house” on Fannette Island.  Look to the top of the island in the photo to see it.tahoe-fannette-islane-emerald-bay

Now, I’ve seen such historic, iconic waters as Lake Champlain, Walden Pond, the Mississippi, the big Muddy, the Columbia, and others, but nothing, nowhere, does it for me the way Lake Tahoe does.  Since it’s one of my favorite places ever, and Twain is one of my favorite authors, I can’t help but quote him again because he said it best. “I have such a high admiration for it (Tahoe) and such a world of pleasant recollections of it, that it is very nearly impossible for me to speak of lakes and not mention it.”

How lucky were Ben Cartwright and the boys to live around here. Sadly, the ranch at the Incline area was closed to tourists in 2004 after a 37-year ride. ponderosa_ranch_incline_002

How about you? Have you ever visited Lake Tahoe? What other bodies of water are special to you? Do you fish? Have a mountain home? Go river rafting?

(P.s. All the travel brochures warn that it can snow any time at Lake Tahoe. Believe it. Here’s me in late May. )