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Lighting Out For The Territory by Roy Morris, Jr., a book review

Updated on September 22, 2014
scan of book to show what it looks like for the article
scan of book to show what it looks like for the article

Youthful Years

This interesting book is subtitled “How Sam Clemens Headed West and Became Mark Twain.”  Morris is the author of five books on the Civil War and post-Civil War era. The title is based on the ending of Huckleberry Finn.

This biography concentrates on Twain’s youthful years, containing details of his life from the time of the Civil War through the time he spent in the Hawaiian Islands,

He tells the story showing the historical facts of Twain’s travels and intertwines Twain’s writings and shows how the experiences are reflected in the books and stories the famous writer published. In the process he rid me of a number of misconceptions.

Twain became a riverboat pilot, which was a prestigious thing like railroad engineers later, and airplane pilots now. It had its dangers and boiler explosions were one of them.

His brother Henry was killed in a steamboat tragedy  “To his everlasting regret, Sam brought his eighteen year old brother into the life as a mud clerk...” While they worked together on the Pennsylvania Sam got in an argument with another pilot and was put off the boat. Later seventy miles below Memphis the boiler exploded and killed 120 passengers and crew. Henry Clemens died from inhaling live steam while working to rescue others.

According to Morris the “date of Henry’s death, June 21, is used in “The Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” as the day the anti hero, Hank Morgan is scheduled to die.

Bret Harte


Sam meets Brett Harte

Twain wrote a story entitled “A Campaign that Failed.” It was somewhat about his short foray as a Confederate soldier. This biography tells also about the fact that both sides wanted to draft riverboat pilots to pilot boats for them. Since it took them years to learn the rivers that they were used to it appeared to be an unreasonable demand. It was a good time to head west with his older brother Orion. We learn that Orion was a well meaning but largely incompetent at all of his enterprises starting with his newspaper in Hannibal, Missouri.

Francis Brett Harte was close to Marks age and came west from Albany, NY. They met in 1864 while Twin was working at the Call. The two men shared a love of writing.  “Personally and professionally, Twain and Hart would always have a complicated relationship.”

Angels Home

This is where Twain first heard the jumping frog story. picture is in the public domain
This is where Twain first heard the jumping frog story. picture is in the public domain

Artemus Ward

I had been under the impression that the story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” was sent by impulse to a frontier newspaper and it got published. In fact he had been working on various papers and engaging in humor, pranks and hoaxes.

I also knew Twain was acquainted with Artemus Ward who told stories somewhat in the vain of his own. What I didn’t know was that had he an influence on Twain’s life. Ward played a country bumpkin on stage with stumbles, stutters and pauses, delivering funny lines as if he never knew he said anything funny. It was a technique Mark Twain adopted to his own stage act. Much the same technique that Andy Griffith practiced years later.

Young Mark Twain

public domain from wikimedia
public domain from wikimedia

Stage Performance

Twain was considering doing a public lecture on his on Hawaii travels. Bret Harte and Charles Warren Stoddard felt that the performance would not be good for his literary reputation. On the other hand, he had encouragement from George Barnes at the Call and John McComb at the Alta California.

According to the author Twain “…worked feverishly on what would become an eighty-five page, ninety minute long lecture.” He made his Hawaiian travel letters into an “artless performance…with carefully practiced stumbles. Stutters, blank-outs, and pauses, a la Artemus Ward.”

I had thought that Mark Twain only turned to the lecture circuit after he faced financial problems and dept. As it turns out he had tried it, with success, early in his career.

Another thing that was interesting was on his voyage to the Holy Land, which resulted in “Innocents Abroad”, he met Charley Langdon who was the brother to his future wife. Olivia.

I recommend this book to anyone wanting  an understanding of how Sam Clemens became Mark Twain.

location of Virginia City

virginia city, nevada:
Virginia City, NV 89521, USA

get directions

Virginia City was one place Mark Twain spent time in the West


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    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      9 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Henry S,

      Thanks for reading it and commenting.It covers the books I gave passing interest to in the past. I'll have to read with a different perspective now.

      Note: this comment was made earlier but I copied it here so I could eliminate an unwanted comment capsule.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      10 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Rod Marsten,

      I appreciate the complement.It's been awhile since I read "Innocents Abroad" but he did go to Egypt then.Most of his travel stuff was fact based with some stretchers, as Huck would say.

    • Rod Marsden profile image

      Rod Marsden 

      10 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

      Good write up.

      Mark Twain's latter day travels have interested me. Especially his time in Egypt. What he wrote about that I am still not sure how to take. I have to ask myself if it is all fact or if he's trying to pull my leg. Probably a mixture of both.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      10 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      Thanks for commenting. If it added to you knowledge it is a good thing. This review only touches the surface. There is a lot of interesting stuff in the book. It is also a good history of a part of the frontier.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      10 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      Twain led an interesting life at an interesting time.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Peggy W,

      I appreciate the complimentary comment. I've always been told that reading and writing go together. I was told Earnest Hemingway read four hours a day, but he wanted to keep a macho image so it wasn't publicized.I think it was Ray Bradbury who said to read anything and everything. Neither man had much formal education.

      My own reading tend to go in spurts and go through periods of a lot of reading and maybe none at all for a time.

    • Henry S. profile image

      Henry S. 

      10 years ago

      Twain is a terrific author, this book sounds like a good read. Good work with the hub!

    • billyaustindillon profile image


      10 years ago

      Thank you for feeling in the many blanks about Mark Twain's evolution from Sam Clemens

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      10 years ago from Houston, Texas

      You seem to be a great book reader and you choose books of substance and also history to read. Keep sharing those with us as they are truly enjoyable.

    • Coolmon2009 profile image


      10 years ago from Texas, USA

      It is always nice to read something about Twain. Good Article.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      10 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      That's why the book impressed me enough to write about it.I'm glad this hub served that purpose.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      10 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Peggy W

      Thanks for the input. I had known that Henry died in a steamboat accident but I didn't know the circumstances.I think it was in the book "The Gilded Age" he wrote about a steamboat accident. It was probably a memory of his brother.

    • Tom Whitworth profile image

      Tom Whitworth 

      10 years ago from Moundsville, WV


      Great hub!!!

      Your presented many facts about the life of Twain/Clemens that I had never heard before.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      10 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I also learned much from reading your account. What a horrible death his brother suffered by inhaling steam from that boiler accident aboard ship! Thanks for this informative look into the life of Sam Clemens better known as Mark Twain to many. Voted up!

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      11 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for your complimentary comment.I thought this book covered a part of Mark Twain and our history that is not that well known factually.

    • creativeone59 profile image

      Benny Faye Ashton Douglass 

      11 years ago from Gold Canyon, Arizona

      Thank you for an awesome hub. I appreciateou you.Godspeed.creativeone59

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      11 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for being the first to comment. Twain seemed to have invented himself to some extent.

    • Robwrite profile image


      11 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Excellent stuff, Dahoglund. Twain is such an interesting historic character. I'm also against the trend toward censorship.


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