Mark Twain in California

Mark Twain, 1867

In 1861, with his brother Orion, Samuel Clemens set out for the west. They traveled by stagecoach across the prairie and the Rocky Mountains, visited Salt Lake City and then went on to the new silver mines around Virginia City, Nevada. Here Clemens first tried his hand at prospecting but soon wound up working for the Territorial Enterprise where he first used the pen name by which he is remembered to this day, Mark Twain. In 1864 he moved to San Francisco and met such writers as Bret Harte, Artemus Ward, Dan Dequille and Ina Coolbrith. Here Harte, already a successful writer, helped Twain mold his career.

Angels Hotel, Angels Camp CA

Then, in December of 1864, Twain headed to the gold country, staying in the same cabin at Jackass Gulch as had Harte. During that long winter he spent a lot of time in the bar of the Angels Hotel in nearby Angels Camp where he first heard the story that made him famous, The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. First published in the New York weekly, The Saturday Press, the story gained Twain national attention. He had uncovered his own personal gold as a writer, lecturer and America’s humorist, and a year later he traveled to the Sandwich Islands, modern Hawaii, as a reporter for the Sacramento Union. In 1867 another paper funded a trip to the Mediterranean and Twain’s days in California were over.



  1. John Putnam’s Hangtown Creek is one heck of a book. I’m a lawyer and work is stressful so when I relax I like a good read with real people, romance and stirring adventure. Mr. Putnam’s tale delivers more; it’s not only a story of the California gold rush, that epic time which was a catalyst to much of our country’s history, but gives us a wholesome slice of America. He’s a master at capturing our country in the raw just after the exit of Mexico’s government and the incredible gold strikes; a time when dreamers, adventurers, fortune hunters and scoundrels flocked to the land.

    Mr. Putnam weaves his tale around real people, men and woman not unlike us with hearts, souls and fears. His characters, from Smiling Jack to young Tom, from Eban to Maggie, a woman whose heart you’ll never forget, are vivid, so alive and likable that if they came to your front door you’d invite them in for cookies and milk or something stronger, except for Smiling Jack; and him you might be wise to greet with a weapon with firepower.

    In this tale of romance and tragedy, in the struggle of good against true evil, we enjoy adventure and love’s battles but also witness those fine values that have given our country its strength and vigor and make us proud. Mr. Putnam’s story is as American as home baked apple pie but instead of cinnamon it’s sprinkled with California gold dust. I hope he’s writing a sequel.

  2. His account in Roughing It of his journey across the content on the Overland stage is one of the most truthful, yet hilarious, things I’ve ever read. Especially his meeting Jack Slade, already a notorious gunman and killer — at least by reputation. Twain’s ability to see the funny side of reality is a gift to everyone who reads his work.

    Great post, John!


  3. My favorite author/character. Grew up near Hannibal and so guess the Mississippi and his take on the world was picked up by osmosis and a lot of reading. Thank you for yet another great post.

  4. Mark Twain was a part of all this?

  5. He really wrote a newspaper and soon became a famous author?

    • Twain really was a writer for a Nevada newspaper before he came to California and wrote “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calavaras County.” That short story got his writing career started.

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