(San Francisco letter)
THE CHAPMAN FAMILY
The old gentleman and the old lady must be seventy-five years old, now. They used to play with Dan Marble in New Orleans, twenty five years ago; earlier, they had a theatre built in a "broad horn," and floated down the Ohio and Mississippi clear to the Belize, tying up every night and knocking Richard III endways for the delectation of any number of graybacks that chose to come, from a dozen to a thousand, and selling tickets for money when they could, and taking Salt Lake currency when they couldn't. They have played in Canada and all over California and Washoe -- played everywhere in North America, I may say, and lo! I come to tell you that they still "keep up their lick." I have been honored with a letter from the old lady, dated "Helena, Last Chance, Montana Territory, December 16." She says that they are just five miles from the Missouri river. I suppose they will build a raft in the spring and float down the river, astonishing the Indians with Othello, Richard, Jack Sheppard, etc., and the next thing we hear of them they will be in New Orleans again. The old lady further says:
"We have a theatre and company of Denverites, and are doing well. It is so cold that the quicksilver all froze, or I would tell you how many degrees below zero. Provisions high; salt, $1 per lb; butter, $2.50; flour, $30, and it would not do for you to be here, for tobacco is $6 a pound and scarce.... So cold that 50 head of cattle and 2 men who were herding them froze to death on the night of the 14th. Great deal of suffering among miners who were out prospecting. This is a lively town; adjoining camps deserted; everybody wintering here.... I play the part of Richard III tonight. Next week I appear as Mazeppa. We charge $1.50 for all seats."
The idea of the jolly, motherly old lady stripping to her shirt and riding
a fiery untamed Montana jackass up flights of stairs and kicking and cavorting
around the stage on him with the quicksilver frozen in the thermometers and
the audience taking brandy punches out of their pockets and biting them, same
as people eat peanuts in civilized lands! Why, there is no end to the old woman's
energy. She'll go through with Mazeppa with flying colors even if she has to
do it with icicles a yard long hanging to her jackass's tail.
[reprinted in Mark Twain's San Francisco, edited by Bernard Taper, (McGraw Hill, 1963), pp. 196-97 as reprinted in the Golden Era, JAN. 28, 1866]
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