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Learning the Great River

How I Became a Pilot on the Mississippi

by Mark Twain

On a voyage down the Mississippi to New Orleans in the 1850s, a young Sam Clemens was inspired by the boat’s pilot, Horace Bixby, to become a riverboat pilot himself. As Clemens later observed in Life on the Mississippi, a pilot’s prestige and authority was greater even than a steamboat's captain; and the job paid $250 per month. But a steamboat pilot needed to know every twist and turn and sandbar of the ever-changing river—and how it acted in different times and seasons—to navigate it safely. Clemens studied the Mississippi’s two thousand miles for more than two years before he received his steamboat pilot license in 1859. The occupation gave him his pen name, Mark Twain, from "mark twain," the cry for a measured river depth of two fathoms. In these excerpts from Life on the Mississippi, Twain’s memoir of his experiences on the great river, he recalls his adventures—and misadventures—in learning to be a pilot. 


Learning the Great River details:

ISBN: 978-1-937853-62-4

Words: 10,348

Pages: 22


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Tags:  Mississippi River - Mark Twain - piloting - steamboats - memory