keelboats, broadhorns. They floated and sailed from the upper rivers to New Orleans, changed cargoes there, and were te-Frescoes from the Past
diously warped and poled back by hand. A voyage down and back sometimes occupied nine months. In time this com-APPARENTLY THE RIVER WAS READY FOR BUSINESS, now. But no, merce increased until it gave employment to hordes of rough the distribution of a population along its banks was as calm and hardy men; rude, uneducated, brave, suffering terrific and deliberate and time-devouring a process as the discov-hardships with sailor-like stoicism; heavy drinkers, coarse ery and exploration had been.
frolickers in moral sties like the Natchez-under-the-hill of Seventy years elapsed, after the exploration, before the that day, heavy fighters, reckless fellows, every one, river’s borders had a white population worth considering; elephantinely jolly, foul-witted, profane; prodigal of their and nearly fifty more before the river had a commerce. Be-money, bankrupt at the end of the trip, fond of barbaric 14
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain finery, prodigious braggarts; yet, in the main, honest, trust-Hannibal when I was a boy,—an acre or so of white, sweet-worthy, faithful to promises and duty, and often picturesquely smelling boards in each raft, a crew of two dozen men or magnanimous.
more, three or four wigwams scattered about the raft’s vast By and by the steamboat intruded. Then for fifteen or level space for storm-quarters,—and I remember the rude twenty years, these men continued to run their keelboats ways and the tremendous talk of their big crews, the ex-down-stream, and the steamers did all of the upstream busi-keelboatmen and their admiringly patterning successors; for ness, the keelboatmen selling their boats in New Orleans, we used to swim out a quarter or third of a mile and get on and returning home as deck passengers in the steamers.
these rafts and have a ride.
But after a while the steamboats so increased in number By way of illustrating keelboat talk and manners, and that and in speed that they were able to absorb the entire com-now-departed and hardly-remembered raft-life, I will throw merce; and then keelboating died a permanent death. The in, in this place, a chapter from a book which I have been keelboatman became a deck hand, or a mate, or a pilot on working at, by fits and starts, during the past five or six years, the steamer; and when steamer-berths were not open to him, and may possibly finish in the course of five or six more.
he took a berth on a Pittsburgh coal-flat, or on a pine-raft The book is a story which details some passages in the life of constructed in the forests up toward the sources of the Mis-an ignorant village boy, Huck Finn, son of the town drunk-sissippi.
ard of my time out west, there. He has run away from his In the heyday of the steamboating prosperity, the river persecuting father, and from a persecuting good widow who from end to end was flaked with coal-fleets and timber rafts, wishes to make a nice, truth-telling, respectable boy of him; all managed by hand, and employing hosts of the rough char-and with him a slave of the widow’s has also escaped. They acters whom I have been trying to describe. I remember the have found a fragment of a lumber raft (it is high water and annual processions of mighty rafts that used to glide by dead summer time), and are floating down the river by night, 15
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain and hiding in the willows by day,—bound for Cairo,—
tious. But everything was all right—nobody at the sweeps.
whence the negro will seek freedom in the heart of the free So I swum down along the raft till I was most abreast the States. But in a fog, they pass Cairo without knowing it. By camp fire in the middle, then I crawled aboard and inched and by they begin to suspect the truth, and Huck Finn is along and got in amongst some bundles of shingles on the persuaded to end the dismal suspense by swimming down to weather side of the fire. There was thirteen men there—
a huge raft which they have seen in the distance ahead of they was the watch on deck of course. And a mighty rough-them, creeping aboard under cover of the darkness, and gath-looking lot, too. They had a jug, and tin cups, and they kept ering the needed information by eavesdropping:—
the jug moving. One man was singing—roaring, you may But you know a young person can’t wait very well when say; and it wasn’t a nice song—for a parlor anyway. He roared he is impatient to find a thing out. We talked it over, and by through his nose, and strung out the last word of every line and by Jim said it was such a black night, now, that it wouldn’t very long. When he was done they all fetched a kind of Injun be no risk to swim down to the big raft and crawl aboard war-whoop, and then another was sung. It begun:—
and listen—they would talk about Cairo, because they would be calculating to go ashore there for a spree, maybe, or any-
“There was a woman in our towdn,
way they would send boats ashore to buy whiskey or fresh In our towdn did dwed’l (dwell,)
meat or something. Jim had a wonderful level head, for a She loved her husband dear-i-lee,
nigger: he could most always start a good plan when you But another man twyste as wed’l.
I stood up and shook my rags off and jumped into the river, and struck out for the raft’s light. By and by, when I got down nearly to her, I eased up and went slow and cau-16
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain over ribbons, and says, “You lay thar tell his sufferin’s is over.” Singing too, riloo, riloo, riloo,
Then he jumped up in the air and cracked his heels to-Ri-too, riloo, rilay - - - e,
gether again and shouted out—
She loved her husband dear-i-lee,
“Whoo-oop! I’m the old original iron-jawed, brass-But another man twyste as wed’l.
mounted, copper-bellied corpse-maker from the wilds of Arkansaw!—Look at me! I’m the man they call Sudden Death And so on—fourteen verses. It was kind of poor, and when and General Desolation! Sired by a hurricane, dam’d by an he was going to start on the next verse one of them said it earthquake, half-brother to the cholera, nearly related to the was the tune the old cow died on; and another one said, small-pox on the mother’s side! Look at me! I take nineteen
“Oh, give us a rest.” And another one told him to take a alligators and a bar’l of whiskey for breakfast when I’m in walk. They made fun of him till he got mad and jumped up robust health, and a bushel of rattlesnakes and a dead body and begun to cuss the crowd, and said he could lame any when I’m ailing! I split the everlasting rocks with my glance, thief in the lot.
and I squench the thunder when I speak! Whoo-oop! Stand They was all about to make a break for him, but the big-back and give me room according to my strength! Blood’s gest man there jumped up and says—
my natural drink, and the wails of the dying is music to my
“Set whar you are, gentlemen. Leave him to me; he’s my ear! Cast your eye on me, gentlemen!—and lay low and hold meat.”
your breath, for I’m bout to turn myself loose!” Then he jumped up in the air three times and cracked his All the time he was getting this off, he was shaking his heels together every time. He flung off a buckskin coat that head and looking fierce, and kind of swelling around in a was all hung with fringes, and says, “You lay thar tell the little circle, tucking up his wrist-bands, and now and then chawin-up’s done;” and flung his hat down, which was all straightening up and beating his breast with his fist, saying, 17
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain
“Look at me, gentlemen!” When he got through, he jumped the thunder! When I’m cold, I bile the Gulf of Mexico and up and cracked his heels together three times, and let off a bathe in it; when I’m hot I fan myself with an equinoctial roaring “Whoo-oop! I’m the bloodiest son of a wildcat that storm; when I’m thirsty I reach up and suck a cloud dry like lives!”
a sponge; when I range the earth hungry, famine follows in Then the man that had started the row tilted his old slouch my tracks! Whoo-oop! Bow your neck and spread! I put my hat down over his right eye; then he bent stooping forward, hand on the sun’s face and make it night in the earth; I bite with his back sagged and his south end sticking out far, and a piece out of the moon and hurry the seasons; I shake my-his fists a-shoving out and drawing in in front of him, and so self and crumble the mountains! Contemplate me through went around in a little circle about three times, swelling him-leather—don’t use the naked eye! I’m the man with a petri-self up and breathing hard. Then he straightened, and jumped fied heart and biler-iron bowels! The massacre of isolated up and cracked his heels together three times, before he lit communities is the pastime of my idle moments, the de-again (that made them cheer), and he begun to shout like struction of nationalities the serious business of my life! The this—
boundless vastness of the great American desert is my en-
“Whoo-oop! bow your neck and spread, for the kingdom closed property, and I bury my dead on my own premises!’
of sorrow’s a-coming! Hold me down to the earth, for I feel He jumped up and cracked his heels together three times my powers a-working! whoo-oop! I’m a child of sin, don’t let before he lit (they cheered him again), and as he come down me get a start! Smoked glass, here, for all! Don’t attempt to he shouted out: ‘Whoo-oop! bow your neck and spread, for look at me with the naked eye, gentlemen! When I’m play-the pet child of calamity’s a-coming!” ful I use the meridians of longitude and parallels of latitude Then the other one went to swelling around and blowing for a seine, and drag the Atlantic Ocean for whales! I scratch again—the first one—the one they called Bob; next, the my head with the lightning, and purr myself to sleep with Child of Calamity chipped in again, bigger than ever; then 18
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain they both got at it at the same time, swelling round and they was going to do; but a little black-whiskered chap round each other and punching their fists most into each skipped up and says—
other’s faces, and whooping and jawing like Injuns; then
“Come back here, you couple of chicken-livered cowards, Bob called the Child names, and the Child called him names and I’ll thrash the two of ye!”
back again: next, Bob called him a heap rougher names and And he done it, too. He snatched them, he jerked them the Child come back at him with the very worst kind of this way and that, he booted them around, he knocked them language; next, Bob knocked the Child’s hat off, and the sprawling faster than they could get up. Why, it warn’t two Child picked it up and kicked Bob’s ribbony hat about six minutes till they begged like dogs—and how the other lot foot; Bob went and got it and said never mind, this warn’t did yell and laugh and clap their hands all the way through, going to be the last of this thing, because he was a man that and shout “Sail in, Corpse-Maker!” “Hi! at him again, Child never forgot and never forgive, and so the Child better look of Calamity!” “Bully for you, little Davy!” Well, it was a out, for there was a time a-coming, just as sure as he was a perfect pow-wow for a while. Bob and the Child had red living man, that he would have to answer to him with the noses and black eyes when they got through. Little Davy best blood in his body. The Child said no man was willinger made them own up that they were sneaks and cowards and than he was for that time to come, and he would give Bob not fit to eat with a dog or drink with a nigger; then Bob and fair warning, now, never to cross his path again, for he could the Child shook hands with each other, very solemn, and never rest till he had waded in his blood, for such was his said they had always respected each other and was willing to nature, though he was sparing him now on account of his let bygones be bygones. So then they washed their faces in family, if he had one.
the river; and just then there was a loud order to stand by for Both of them was edging away in different directions, a crossing, and some of them went forward to man the sweeps growling and shaking their heads and going on about what there, and the rest went aft to handle the after-sweeps.
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain I laid still and waited for fifteen minutes, and had a smoke Mississippi water settle, you would have about a half to three-out of a pipe that one of them left in reach; then the crossing quarters of an inch of mud in the bottom, according to the was finished, and they stumped back and had a drink around stage of the river, and then it warn’t no better than Ohio and went to talking and singing again. Next they got out an water—what you wanted to do was to keep it stirred up—
old fiddle, and one played and another patted juba, and the and when the river was low, keep mud on hand to put in rest turned themselves loose on a regular old-fashioned keel-and thicken the water up the way it ought to be.
boat break-down. They couldn’t keep that up very long with-The Child of Calamity said that was so; he said there was out getting winded, so by and by they settled around the jug nutritiousness in the mud, and a man that drunk Missis-again.
sippi water could grow corn in his stomach if he wanted to.
They sung “jolly, jolly raftman’s the life for me,” with a He says—
musing chorus, and then they got to talking about differ-
“You look at the graveyards; that tells the tale. Trees won’t ences betwixt hogs, and their different kind of habits; and grow worth chucks in a Cincinnati graveyard, but in a Sent next about women and their different ways: and next about Louis graveyard they grow upwards of eight hundred foot the best ways to put out houses that was afire; and next about high. It’s all on account of the water the people drunk before what ought to be done with the Injuns; and next about what they laid up. A Cincinnati corpse don’t richen a soil any.” a king had to do, and how much he got; and next about how And they talked about how Ohio water didn’t like to mix to make cats fight; and next about what to do when a man with Mississippi water. Ed said if you take the Mississippi has fits; and next about differences betwixt clear-water riv-on a rise when the Ohio is low, you’ll find a wide band of ers and muddy-water ones. The man they called Ed said the clear water all the way down the east side of the Mississippi muddy Mississippi water was wholesomer to drink than the for a hundred mile or more, and the minute you get out a clear water of the Ohio; he said if you let a pint of this yaller quarter of a mile from shore and pass the line, it is all thick 20
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain and yaller the rest of the way across. Then they talked about
‘that the raft didn’t seem to hardly move, for the last hour,’
how to keep tobacco from getting moldy, and from that they says I, ‘though she’s a slipping along all right, now,’ says I.
went into ghosts and told about a lot that other folks had He give a kind of a groan, and says—
seen; but Ed says—
“‘I’ve seed a raft act so before, along here,’ he says, ‘“pears to
“Why don’t you tell something that you’ve seen yourselves?
me the current has most quit above the head of this bend Now let me have a say. Five years ago I was on a raft as big as durin’ the last two years,’ he says.
this, and right along here it was a bright moonshiny night,
“Well, he raised up two or three times, and looked away and I was on watch and boss of the stabboard oar forrard, off and around on the water. That started me at it, too. A and one of my pards was a man named Dick Allbright, and body is always doing what he sees somebody else doing, he come along to where I was sitting, forrard—gaping and though there mayn’t be no sense in it. Pretty soon I see a stretching, he was—and stooped down on the edge of the black something floating on the water away off to stabboard raft and washed his face in the river, and come and set down and quartering behind us. I see he was looking at it, too. I by me and got out his pipe, and had just got it filled, when says—
he looks up and says—
“‘What’s that?” He says, sort of pettish,—
“‘Why looky-here,’ he says, ‘ain’t that Buck Miller’s place,
“‘Tain’t nothing but an old empty bar’l.
over yander in the bend.’
“‘An empty bar’l!’ says I, ‘why,’ says I, ‘a spy-glass is a fool
“‘Yes,’ says I, ‘it is—why.’ He laid his pipe down and leant to your eyes. How can you tell it’s an empty bar’l?’ He says—
his head on his hand, and says—
“‘I don’t know; I reckon it ain’t a bar’l, but I thought it
“‘I thought we’d be furder down.’ I says—
might be,’ says he.
“‘I thought it too, when I went off watch’—we was stand-
“‘Yes,’ I says, ‘so it might be, and it might be anything ing six hours on and six off— ‘but the boys told me,’ I says, else, too; a body can’t tell nothing about it, such a distance as 21
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain that,’ I says.
got bad luck by it. The captain of the watch said he didn’t
“We hadn’t nothing else to do, so we kept on watching it.
believe in it. He said he reckoned the bar’l gained on us By and by I says—
because it was in a little better current than what we was. He
“‘Why looky-here, Dick Allbright, that thing’s a-gaining said it would leave by and by.
on us, I believe.’
“So then we went to talking about other things, and we
“He never said nothing. The thing gained and gained, and had a song, and then a breakdown; and after that the captain I judged it must be a dog that was about tired out. Well, we of the watch called for another song; but it was clouding up, swung down into the crossing, and the thing floated across now, and the bar’l stuck right thar in the same place, and the the bright streak of the moonshine, and, by George, it was song didn’t seem to have much warm-up to it, somehow, bar’l. Says I—
and so they didn’t finish it, and there warn’t any cheers, but
“‘Dick Allbright, what made you think that thing was a it sort of dropped flat, and nobody said anything for a minute.
bar’l, when it was a half a mile off,’ says I. Says he—
Then everybody tried to talk at once, and one chap got off a
“‘I don’t know.’ Says I—
joke, but it warn’t no use, they didn’t laugh, and even the
“‘You tell me, Dick Allbright.’ He says—
chap that made the joke didn’t laugh at it, which ain’t usual.
“‘Well, I knowed it was a bar’l; I’ve seen it before; lots has We all just settled down glum, and watched the bar’l, and seen it; they says it’s a haunted bar’l.’
was oneasy and oncomfortable. Well, sir, it shut down black
“I called the rest of the watch, and they come and stood and still, and then the wind begin to moan around, and next there, and I told them what Dick said. It floated right along the lightning begin to play and the thunder to grumble. And abreast, now, and didn’t gain any more. It was about twenty pretty soon there was a regular storm, and in the middle of it foot off. Some was for having it aboard, but the rest didn’t a man that was running aft stumbled and fell and sprained want to. Dick Allbright said rafts that had fooled with it had his ankle so that he had to lay up. This made the boys shake 22
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain their heads. And every time the lightning come, there was nobody talked; the boys didn’t scatter around, neither; they that bar’l with the blue lights winking around it. We was sort of huddled together, forrard; and for two hours they set always on the look-out for it. But by and by, towards dawn, there, perfectly still, looking steady in the one direction, and she was gone. When the day come we couldn’t see her any-heaving a sigh once in a while. And then, here comes the where, and we warn’t sorry, neither.
bar’l again. She took up her old place. She staid there all
“But next night about half-past nine, when there was songs night; nobody turned in. The storm come on again, after and high jinks going on, here she comes again, and took her midnight. It got awful dark; the rain poured down; hail, old roost on the stabboard side. There warn’t no more high too; the thunder boomed and roared and bellowed; the wind jinks. Everybody got solemn; nobody talked; you couldn’t blowed a hurricane; and the lightning spread over every-get anybody to do anything but set around moody and look thing in big sheets of glare, and showed the whole raft as at the bar’l. It begun to cloud up again. When the watch plain as day; and the river lashed up white as milk as far as changed, the off watch stayed up, ‘stead of turning in. The you could see for miles, and there was that bar’l jiggering storm ripped and roared around all night, and in the middle along, same as ever. The captain ordered the watch to man of it another man tripped and sprained his ankle, and had to the after sweeps for a crossing, and nobody would go—no knock off. The bar’l left towards day, and nobody see it go.
more sprained ankles for them, they said. They wouldn’t
“Everybody was sober and down in the mouth all day. I even walk aft. Well then, just then the sky split wide open, don’t mean the kind of sober that comes of leaving liquor with a crash, and the lightning killed two men of the after alone—not that. They was quiet, but they all drunk more watch, and crippled two more. Crippled them how, says you?
than usual—not together—but each man sidled off and took Why, sprained their ankles
it private, by himself.
“The bar’l left in the dark betwixt lightnings, towards dawn.
“After dark the off watch didn’t turn in; nobody sung, Well, not a body eat a bite at breakfast that morning. After 23
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain that the men loafed around, in twos and threes, and talked this bar’l to be dogging us all the way to Orleans, and you low together. But none of them herded with Dick Allbright.
don’t; well, then, how’s the best way to stop it? Burn it up,—
They all give him the cold shake. If he come around where that’s the way. I’m going to fetch it aboard,’ he says. And any of the men was, they split up and sidled away. They before anybody could say a word, in he went.
wouldn’t man the sweeps with him. The captain had all the
“He swum to it, and as he come pushing it to the raft, the skiffs hauled up on the raft, alongside of his wigwam, and men spread to one side. But the old man got it aboard and wouldn’t let the dead men be took ashore to be planted; he busted in the head, and there was a baby in it! Yes, sir, a stark didn’t believe a man that got ashore would come back; and naked baby. It was Dick Allbright’s baby; he owned up and he was right.
“After night come, you could see pretty plain that there
“‘Yes,’ he says, a-leaning over it, ‘yes, it is my own lamented was going to be trouble if that bar’l come again; there was darling, my poor lost Charles William Allbright deceased,’
such a muttering going on. A good many wanted to kill Dick says he,—for he could curl his tongue around the bulliest Allbright, because he’d seen the bar’l on other trips, and that words in the language when he was a mind to, and lay them had an ugly look. Some wanted to put him ashore. Some before you without a jint started, anywheres. Yes, he said he said, let’s all go ashore in a pile, if the bar’l comes again.
used to live up at the head of this bend, and one night he
“This kind of whispers was still going on, the men being choked his child, which was crying, not intending to kill bunched together forrard watching for the bar’l, when, lo it,—which was prob’ly a lie,—and then he was scared, and and behold you, here she comes again. Down she comes, buried it in a bar’l, before his wife got home, and off he slow and steady, and settles into her old tracks. You could a went, and struck the northern trail and went to rafting; and heard a pin drop. Then up comes the captain, and says:—
this was the third year that the bar’l had chased him. He said
“‘Boys, don’t be a pack of children and fools; I don’t want the bad luck always begun light, and lasted till four men was 24
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain killed, and then the bar’l didn’t come any more after that.
“Did it have its hair parted?” says another.
He said if the men would stand it one more night,—and was
“What was the brand on that bar’l, Eddy?” says a fellow a-going on like that,—but the men had got enough. They they called Bill.
started to get out a boat to take him ashore and lynch him,
“Have you got the papers for them statistics, Edmund?” but he grabbed the little child all of a sudden and jumped says Jimmy.
overboard with it hugged up to his breast and shedding tears,
“Say, Edwin, was you one of the men that was killed by and we never see him again in this life, poor old suffering the lightning.” says Davy.
soul, nor Charles William neither.”
“Him? O, no, he was both of ‘em,” says Bob. Then they
“Who was shedding tears?” says Bob; “was it Allbright or all haw-hawed.
“Say, Edward, don’t you reckon you’d better take a pill?
“Why, Allbright, of course; didn’t I tell you the baby was You look bad—don’t you feel pale?” says the Child of Ca-dead. Been dead three years—how could it cry?” lamity.
“Well, never mind how it could cry—how could it keep all
“O, come, now, Eddy,” says Jimmy, “show up; you must a that time?” says Davy. “You answer me that.” kept part of that bar’l to prove the thing by. Show us the
“I don’t know how it done it,” says Ed. “It done it though—
bunghole—do—and we’ll all believe you.” that’s all I know about it.”
“Say, boys,” says Bill, “less divide it up. Thar’s thirteen of
“Say—what did they do with the bar’l?” says the Child of us. I can swaller a thirteenth of the yarn, if you can worry Calamity.
down the rest.”
“Why, they hove it overboard, and it sunk like a chunk of Ed got up mad and said they could all go to some place lead.”
which he ripped out pretty savage, and then walked off aft
“Edward, did the child look like it was choked?” says one.
cussing to himself, and they yelling and jeering at him, and 25
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain roaring and laughing so you could hear them a mile.
him a sky blue all over from head to heel, and then heave
“Boys, we’ll split a watermelon on that,” says the Child of him over!”
Calamity; and he come rummaging around in the dark
“Good, that ‘s it. Go for the paint, Jimmy.” amongst the shingle bundles where I was, and put his hand When the paint come, and Bob took the brush and was on me. I was warm and soft and naked; so he says “Ouch!” just going to begin, the others laughing and rubbing their and jumped back.
hands, I begun to cry, and that sort of worked on Davy, and
“Fetch a lantern or a chunk of fire here, boys—there’s a he says—
snake here as big as a cow!”
“Vast there! He ‘s nothing but a cub. I’ll paint the man So they run there with a lantern and crowded up and looked that tetches him!”
in on me.
So I looked around on them, and some of them grumbled
“Come out of that, you beggar!” says one.
and growled, and Bob put down the paint, and the others
“Who are you?” says another.
didn’t take it up.
“What are you after here? Speak up prompt, or overboard
“Come here to the fire, and less see what you’re up to you go.
here,” says Davy. “Now set down there and give an account