Home | Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search

Territorial Enterprise, December 1865 - January 1866

Portion of letter from San Francisco - exact date not determined

A reference to this letter appeared in the San Francisco Dramatic Chronicle, January 29, 1866

Those Oysters.

"Mark Twain" in his Virginia correspondence, abuses McDonald's "scoofy oysters." "Mark" says they are "poisonous," and that "they produce diarrhea and vomiting." McDonald's explanation of this is, that "Mark," with six Washoe friends, made a descent upon his (McDonald's) saloon, the other day, and after eating fourteen dozen of the "scoofy oysters," disputed the bill. McDonald insisted on payment at the regular rates. "Mark" stated that he and his sage brush friends were members of the press. Mac refused to make an deduction, and "Mark" paid the bill, swearing that he would get even. Hence the fearful letter to the Enterprise about the "poisoned oysters."


[reprinted in Mark Twain Journal, Spring, 1988, p. 23.]


This unsigned newspaper column was published April 8, 1909. It is believed to have been written by Joe Goodman, Clemens's editor on the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise and makes mention of Mark Twain's letter on the Mexican oysters:

During nearly the whole of 1865 Twain was in San Francisco, and daily made up a local dispatch and wrote a letter for the Enterprise. Colonel Albert S. Evans -- who was lost on the steamship Missouri, which burned at sea in October, 1872, while on her passage from New York to Havana -- was at that time an active and prominent San Francisco journalist. He held a position on the Alta but also contributed a weekly letter to the Gold Hill News. Both men prided themselves on a light and spicy style, and writing, as they did, along the same line to rival newspapers -- or, at least, papers almost in the same field -- it was nearly inevitable that they should, sooner or later, come to a clash. And clash they finally did, good and hard. The war began with a shot from Mark Twain. Colonel Evans wrote a poem on the death of Lincoln, the lugubrious refrain of which struck Mark as so susceptible of ridicule that he travestied it very funnily in one of his letters to the Enterprise. Evans did not come back at him immediately, but lay revengefully in wait for him.

The importation of oysters from the Gulf of California had become quite a business in San Francisco at that time, and, notwithstanding they were huge gristly things that had to be carved and chewed like a beefsteak, they were getting to be very popular. But suddenly someone claimed to have been poisoned by them. Whether true or not, it was good material for a newspaper sensation, and Mark Twain seized upon it and worked it up so vigorously that in a short time he had killed the Mexican oyster trade as dead as a door nail. This was the kind of an opportunity Evans had been waiting for. He came to the defense of the Mexican oyster, and asserted that Mark Twain's attack upon it originated in an attempt to blackmail the importers and was persisted in through anger at his failure.

Those were the chief points in the celebrated quarrel between Mark Twain and Colonel Evans -- or 'Amigo' and 'Fitz Clarence Smith,' as he variously signed his correspondence. Of course, there were other features; but it finally, from its very nature, wore itself out and ended in a way that neither felt to be creditable or satisfactory. How deeply Mark Twain had taken it to heart I did not know until a year afterward, when he had returned from the Sandwich islands and was on his first lecturing tour. Talking with him one night about his plans for the future, he said, very seriously:

"I have but one definite purpose in view: that is, to make enough money to insure me a fair trial, and then to go and kill Colonel Evans."

Mining Financial News, "By-the-Bye," April 8, 1909. Republished in Insider Stories of the Comstock Lode and Nevada's Mining Frontier 1859 - 1909, Vol. II, pp. 882-83.


Mark Twain's parody of Albert S. Evans's poem on the death of Abraham Lincoln who was assassinated in April 1865 has not been recovered. Evans wrote:

One mournful wail is heard from shore to shore;
A Nation's heart is stricken to the core;
And Freedom, kneeling, with uncovered head,
Weeps by the altar of our Country's dead.

O God, who suffered this for purpose high!
Teach us like him to live, like him to die,
True to the last to duty and to right,
Trusting to Thee the issue of the fight.

Good night to thee, hero, good night to thee sage!
Good night to thy form, but good morn to thy fame;
Pass on with thy visor up, from age unto age:
Not a sentry to challenge thy deeds or thy name.


return to Enterprise index

Quotations | Newspaper Articles | Special Features | Links | Search