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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]


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1 occurrence of roughing it
[Clear Hits]




WHAT to do next?

It was a momentous question. I had gone out into
the world to shift for myself, at the age of thirteen (for my
father had endorsed for friends; and although he left us a
sumptuous legacy of pride in his fine Virginian stock and its
national distinction, I presently found that I could not live on
that alone without occasional bread to wash it down with). I
had gained a livelihood in various vocations, but had not
dazzled anybody with my successes; still the list was before me,
and the amplest liberty in the matter of choosing, provided I
wanted to work—which I did not, after being so wealthy. I
had once been a grocery clerk, for one day, but had consumed
so much sugar in that time that I was relieved from further
duty by the proprietor; said he wanted me outside, so that he
could have my custom. I had studied law an entire week,
and then given it up because it was so prosy and tiresome. I
had engaged briefly in the study of blacksmithing, but wasted
so much time trying to fix the bellows so that it would blow
itself, that the master turned me adrift in disgrace, and told
me I would come to no good. I had been a bookseller's clerk
for awhile, but the customers bothered me so much I could
not read with any comfort, and so the proprietor gave me a
furlough and forgot to put a limit to it. I had clerked in a
drug store part of a summer, but my prescriptions were unlucky,
and we appeared to sell more stomach pumps than soda
water. So I had to go. I had made of myself a tolerable
printer, under the impression that I would be another Franklin


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 293. In-line image of a man at a pharmacy counter with a scale on the counter.]
some day, but somehow had missed the connection thus far.
There was no berth open in the Esmeralda Union, and besides
I had always been
such a slow compositor
that I looked
with envy upon the
achievements of apprentices
of two
years' standing; and
when I took a
“take,” foremen
were in the habit
of suggesting that
it would be wanted
“some time during
the year.” I was a
good average St.
Louis and New
Orleans pilot and by
no means ashamed of my abilities in that line; wages were
two hundred and fifty dollars a month and no board to pay,
and I did long to stand behind a wheel again and never roam
any more—but I had been making such an ass of myself lately
in gradiloquent letters home about my blind lead and my
European excursion that I did what many and many a poor
disappointed miner had done before; said “It is all over with
me now, and I will never go back home to be pitied—and
snubbed.” I had been a private secretary, a silver miner and
a silver mill operative, and amounted to less than nothing in
each, and now—

What to do next?

I yielded to Higbie's appeals and consented to try the
mining once more. We climbed far up on the mountain side
and went to work on a little rubbishy claim of ours that had a
shaft on it eight feet deep. Higbie descended into it and
worked bravely with his pick till he had loosened up a deal
of rock and dirt and then I went down with a long-handled


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 294. In-line image of a man with a shovel. Dirt is falling from above onto his head.]
shovel (the most awkward invention yet contrived by man) to
throw it out. You must brace the shovel forward with the
side of your knee till it is full, and then, with a skilful toss,
throw it backward over your left shoulder. I made the toss
and landed the mess just on the edge of the shaft and it all
came back on my head and down the back of my neck. I
never said a word, but
climbed out and walked
home. I inwardly resolved
that I would starve before I
would make a target of myself
and shoot rubbish at it
with a long-handled shovel.
I sat down, in the cabin,
and gave myself up to solid
misery—so to speak. Now
in pleasanter days I had
amused myself with writing
letters to the chief paper of
the Territory, the Virginia
Daily Territorial Enterprise,
and had always been
surprised when they appeared
in print. My good
opinion of the editors had
steadily declined; for it
seemed to me that they might have found something better to
fill up with than my literature. I had found a letter in the
post office as I came home from the hill side, and finally I
opened it. Eureka! [I never did know what Eureka meant,
but it seems to be as proper a word to heave in as any when
no other that sounds pretty offers.] It was a deliberate offer
to me of Twenty-Five Dollars a week to come up to Virginia
and be city editor of the Enterprise.

I would have challenged the publisher in the “blind lead”
days—I wanted to fall down and worship him, now. Twenty-Five
Dollars a week—it looked like bloated luxury—a fortune
—a sinful and lavish waste of money. But my transports


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 295. In-line image of a man sitting and writing at a desk next to a window.]
cooled when I thought of my inexperience and consequent
unfitness for the position—and straightway, on top of this, my
long array of failures rose up before me. Yet if I refused
this place I must presently become dependent upon somebody
for my bread, a thing necessarily distasteful to a man who had
never experienced such a humiliation since he was thirteen
years old. Not much to be proud of, since it is so common
—but then it was all I had to be proud of. So I was scared
into being a city editor. I would have declined, otherwise.
Necessity is the mother of “taking chances.” I do not doubt
that if, at that time, I had been offered a salary to translate
the Talmud from the original Hebrew, I would have accepted
—albeit with diffidence and some misgivings—and thrown as
much variety into it as I could for the money.

I went up to Virginia and entered upon my new vocation.
I was a rusty looking city editor, I am free to confess—coatless,
slouch hat, blue woolen shirt, pantaloons stuffed into
boot-tops, whiskered half
down to the waist, and the
universal navy revolver slung
to my belt. But I secured a
more Christian costume and
discarded the revolver. I had
never had occasion to kill
anybody, nor ever felt a
desire to do so, but had worn
the thing in deference to
popular sentiment, and in
order that I might not, by its
absence, be offensively conspicuous,
and a subject of
remark. But the other editors,
and all the printers,
carried revolvers. I asked
the chief editor and proprietor (Mr. Goodman, I will call him,
since it describes him as well as any name could do) for some
instructions with regard to my duties, and he told me to go all


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 296. In-line image of a farmer with a horse and a wagon full of hay. There is a man in a suit standing and talking with the farmer.]
over town and ask all sorts of people all sorts of questions,
make notes of the information gained, and write them out for
publication. And he added:

“Never say `We learn' so-and-so, or `It is reported, or `It
is rumored,' or `We understand' so-and-so, but go to head-quarters
and get the absolute facts, and then speak out and say
`It is so-and-so.' Otherwise, people will not put confidence in
your news. Unassailable certainty is the thing that gives a
newspaper the firmest and most valuable reputation.”

It was the whole thing in a nut-shell; and to this day
when I find a reporter commencing his article with “We
understand,” I gather a suspicion that he has not taken as
much pains to inform himself as he ought to have done. I
moralize well, but I did not always practise well when I was a
city editor; I let fancy get the upper hand of fact too often
when there was a dearth of news. I can never forget my first
day's experience as a reporter. I wandered about town
questioning everybody, boring everybody, and finding out that
nobody knew anything. At the end of five hours my note-book
was still barren. I spoke to Mr. Goodman. He said:

“Dan used to make a good thing out of the hay wagons in
a dry time when there were no fires or inquests. Are there
no hay wagons in from the Truckee? If there are, you might
speak of the renewed
activity and
all that sort of thing,
in the hay business,
you know. It isn't
sensational or exciting,
but it fills up
and looks business

I canvassed the
city again and found
one wretched old
hay truck dragging in from the country. But I made affluent
use of it. I multiplied it by sixteen, brought it into town


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[Description: 504EAF. Page 297. In-line image of two men talking outside of a saloon. One man is in a hat and in plaid pants.]
from sixteen different directions, made sixteen separate items
out of it, and got up such another sweat about hay as Virginia
City had never seen in the world before.

This was encouraging. Two nonpareil columns had to be
filled, and I was getting along. Presently, when things began
to look dismal again, a desperado killed a man in a saloon and
joy returned once more. I never was so glad over any mere
trifle before in my life. I said to the murderer:

“Sir, you are a stranger to me, but you have done me a
kindness this day which I can never forget. If whole years
of gratitude can be to you any slight compensation, they shall
be yours. I was in trouble and you have relieved me nobly
and at a time when all
seemed dark and drear.
Count me your friend from
this time forth, for I am
not a man to forget a favor.”

If I did not really say
that to him I at least felt a
sort of itching desire to do
it. I wrote up the murder
with a hungry attention to
details, and when it was
finished experienced but one
regret—namely, that they
had not hanged my benefactor
on the spot, so that
I could work him up too.

Next I discovered some
emigrant wagons going into
camp on the plaza and found
that they had lately come
through the hostile Indian country and had fared rather
roughly. I made the best of the item that the circumstances
permitted, and felt that if I were not confined within rigid
limits by the presence of the reporters of the other papers I
could add particulars that would make the article much more


Page 298
interesting. However, I found one wagon that was going on
to California, and made some judicious inquiries of the proprietor.
When I learned, through his short and surly answers
to my cross-questioning, that he was certainly going on and
would not be in the city next day to make trouble, I got
ahead of the other papers, for I took down his list of names
and added his party to the killed and wounded. Having
more scope here, I put this wagon through an Indian fight
that to this day has no parallel in history.

My two columns were filled. When I read them over in
the morning I felt that I had found my legitimate occupation
at last. I reasoned within myself that news, and stirring news,
too, was what a paper needed, and I felt that I was peculiarly
endowed with the ability to furnish it. Mr. Goodman said
that I was as good a reporter as Dan. I desired no higher
commendation. With encouragement like that, I felt that I
could take my pen and murder all the immigrants on the
plains if need be and the interests of the paper demanded it.