Lit­er­ary his­tory, re­plated

News­pa­per where Mark Twain started out is pub­lish­ing again

Los Angeles Times - - NEWS - John.glionna@la­ Twit­ter: @jglionna

One won­ders what Mark Twain him­self would make of the news: The Gold Rush-era news­pa­per for which he once penned sto­ries and wit­ti­cisms on fron­tier life as a fledg­ling jour­nal­ist is once again in print af­ter a decades-long hia­tus.

Fol­low­ing nu­mer­ous at­tempts at sol­vency, the Ter­ri­to­rial En­ter­prise, once the re­gion’s pre­mier recorder of gos­sip, scan­dal, satire and ir­rev­er­ent tall tales — be­fore Ne­vada was even a state — is back, this time as a tra­di­tional glossy monthly mag­a­zine and on­line edi­tion, ter­ri­to­ri­a­len­ter­

Would Twain use Twit­ter to be­moan the de­plorable state of the press, as he once did by pen? (“If you don’t read the news­pa­per, you’re un­in­formed. If you do read the news­pa­per, you’re mis­in­formed.”)

Or gnash his teeth at me­dia lead­er­ship? (“I am not the edi­tor of a news­pa­per and shall al­ways try to do the right thing and be good so that God will not make me one.”)

Even the En­ter­prise’s new edi­tor, El­iz­a­beth Thomp­son, guesses that Sa­muel Cle­mens would have a field day.

“I don’t think he could re­sist with some wit­ti­cism about the many at­tempts to res­ur­rect the pa­per over the years,” she said. “He’d have some­thing to say. He’d get a kick out of it.”

With a daily cir­cu­la­tion of 15,000 at its peak in the 1860s, the En­ter­prise was Ne­vada’s first news­pa­per and the largest west of the Mis­sis­sippi as it chron­i­cled the frenzy and fi­nan­cial fall­out of the Com­stock Lode of sil­ver ore dis­cov­ered on the eastern slope of Mt. David­son.

Af­ter the min­ing boom died, the pa­per con­tin­ued to tell the story of a rough town where un­washed men set­tled scores with six-shoot­ers. The orig­i­nal En­ter­prise ceased pub­li­ca­tion in 1893, along with an econ­omy of words in its epi­taph: “For suf­fi­cient rea­sons we stop.”

Since then, the pa­per has been re­vived nu­mer­ous times, mostly no­tably by rail­road his­to­rian Lu­cius Beebe, who sold it in 1961. Be­hind the present in­car­na­tion is Scott Faughn, also pub­lisher of the Mis­souri Times, which fo­cuses on pol­i­tics and pol­icy.

In its hey­day, the En­ter­prise not only cov­ered the news — it made news.

As ed­i­tors re­cently wrote, “Re­porters Wil­liam ‘Dan De Quille’ Wright, James ‘Ly­ing James’ Townsend and Sa­muel ‘Mark Twain’ Cle­mens per­fected the art of the West­ern tall tale with ar­ti­cles that be­came leg­endary for their wit.”

Thomp­son said the pa­per aims to carry on that le­gacy.

The maiden edi­tion, pub­lished in March, in­cludes, along with sundry news and an in­ter­view with Gov. Brian San­doval, a mod­ern reprise of the so­called “sage­brush hu­mor” Twain helped make fa­mous be­fore he be­came Amer­ica’s fa­vorite man of let­ters.

The piece is a tall tale of the Com­stock Mine and ref­er­ences famed min­ing en­gi­neer Philipp Dei­desheimer. It be­gins:

“I have re­turned from an ex­pe­di­tion into the most hid­den and har­row­ing nooks and cran­nies of Mt. David­son with sore feet, bruised knees, ragged clothes, and a tale about our sto­ried past that will surely rat­tle Mr. Dei­desheimer’s old tim­bers — and yours, if you have them — to their very foun­da­tions.”

Leg­end has it that Twain’s first piece for the news­pa­per be­gan: “A thun­der­storm made Beranger a poet, a mother’s kiss made Benjamin West a painter and a salary of $15 a week makes us a jour­nal­ist.”

Cle­mens had trav­eled west from Mis­souri with his brother, Orion Cle­mens, who be­came sec­re­tary of the Ne­vada Ter­ri­tory be­fore the area achieved state­hood in 1864. His­to­ri­ans say Sa­muel Cle­mens first used the pen name “Mark Twain” while at the En­ter­prise.

In three years, he went on to write sto­ries about ter­ri­tory politi­cians, shoot-’em-ups and the stock mar­ket — some of which were reprinted in his 1872 book “Rough­ing It.”

A story on the Pony Ex­press in­cluded this de­scrip­tion: “No mat­ter whether it was win­ter or sum­mer, rain­ing, snow­ing, hail­ing, or sleet­ing, or whether his ‘beat’ was a level straight road or a crazy trail over moun­tain crags and precipices, or whether it led through peace­ful re­gions or re­gions that swarmed with hos­tile In­di­ans, he must be al­ways ready to leap into the sad­dle and be off like the wind!”

Of an En­ter­prise busi­ness re­porter who filed a re­port drunk, he wrote:

“Ow­ing to the fact that our stock re­porter at­tended a wed­ding last evening, our re­port of trans­ac­tions in that branch of rob­bery and spec­u­la­tion is not quite as com­plete and sat­is­fac­tory as usual this morn­ing. About 11 o’clock last night the afore­said re­marker pulled him­self up stairs by the ban­is­ters, and stum­bling over the stove, de­posited the fol­low­ing notes on our ta­ble, with the re­mark, ‘S(hic)am, just ’laber­ate this, w(hic)ill, yer?’ We said we would, but we couldn’t. If any of our read­ers think they can, we shall be pleased to see the trans­la­tion.”

When Twain fab­ri­cated a mur­der, com­peti­tors re­sponded with out­rage. “The man who could pen such a story, with all its hor­rors de­picted in such in­fer­nal de­tail, and which to our knowl­edge sent a pang of ter­ror to the hearts of many per­sons, as a joke, in fun, can have but a very in­def­i­nite idea of the el­e­ments of a joke,” wrote the Vir­ginia Evening Bul­letin, a com­peti­tor.

The En­ter­prise printed a re­trac­tion: “I take it all back. Mark Twain.”

In Vir­ginia City, re­ac­tion to the re­birth of the En­ter­prise has been pos­i­tive.

“I’m ex­cited about it; it tick­les me,” said Sandi Sweet­wa­ter, who man­ages a gift shop and of­fers im­promptu tours of the news­pa­per’s orig­i­nal of­fices a floor be­low.

She pointed to Twain’s orig­i­nal desk, an in-of­fice toi­let, a spit­toon — even an orig­i­nal bot­tle of Perry Davis’ Pain Killer, from which Twain sup­pos­edly took oc­ca­sional nips.

Across the street at the Mark Twain Sa­loon, owner John Schafer said that even the pen name Mark Twain might have Ne­vada roots. While his­to­ri­ans be­lieve the name comes from Cle­mens’ Mis­sis­sippi river­boat days — a river man’s phrase for wa­ter two fath­oms deep — the bar owner says there’s an­other the­ory.

“There’s talk Cle­mens got the name Mark Twain in Vir­ginia City sa­loons,” he said. “The phrase comes from order­ing two drinks at once and ask­ing that they be served on credit.”

Thomp­son has high hopes for the pa­per, which is be­gin­ning with a cir­cu­la­tion of 2,500. She has spent re­cent months re­search­ing Twain and the pe­riod and is ready to try to match, if not pre­cisely the wit, then at least the spirit.

“I think he’d be pleased at our ef­fort to re­ju­ve­nate this pa­per yet again,” she said. “We hope he’s smil­ing upon this ven­ture from ei­ther above or be­low.”

‘If you don’t read the news­pa­per, you’re un­in­formed. If you do read the news­pa­per, you’re mis­in­formed.’

— Mark Twain

SA­MUEL CLE­MENS , bet­ter known by his pen name, wrote for the Ter­ri­to­rial En­ter­prise as a young jour­nal­ist. It has gone in and out of pub­li­ca­tion since.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.