The most famous pen name in the world had it's origins on the river. When the leadsman's line sank to the two--fathom knot, meaning the boat had a safe twelve feet of water beneath it, he called out, "By the mark, twain!" The Daily Alta California published a Comstock version:

We knew Clemens in the early days and know exactly how he came to be dubbed "Mark Twain." John Piper's saloon on B street used to be the grand rendezvous for all the Virginia City Bohemians. Piper conducted a cash business and refused to keep any books. As a special favor, however, he would occasionally chalk down drinks to the boys, on the wall back of the bar. Sam Clemens, when localizing for the Enterprise, always had an account, with the balance against him, on Piper's wall. Clemens was by no means a Coal Oil Tommy--he drank for the pure and unadulterated love of the ardent. Most of his drinking was conducted in singlehanded contests, but occasionally he would invite Dan De Quille, Charley Parker, Bob Lowery, or Al Doten, never more than one of them, however, at a time, and whenever he did, his invariable parting injunction to Piper was to "Mark Twain," meaning two chalkmarks, of course.

To which Twain replied:

Dear Sir:
~Mark Twain was the nom de plume of one Captain Isaiah Sellers, who used to write river news over it for the New Orleans Picayune. He died in 1869 and as he could no longer need that signature, I laid violent hands upon it without asking permission of the proprietor's remains. That is the history of the nom de plume I bear.

Samuel Clemens

News || Guest Writers || Mark Twain || Dan DeQuille || Humor || Travel
Territorial Enterprise
Publishing Since 1858

TE Printer
© 1999 All Rights Reserved