He joined the first expedition for Humboldt--in fact, helped to organize it. In "Roughing It" he says:
"Hurry was the word! We wasted no time. Our party consisted of four persons--a blacksmith sixty years of age, two young lawyers, and myself. We bought a wagon and two miserable old horses. We put eighteen hundred pounds of provisions and mining-tools in the wagon and drove out of Carson on a chilly December afternoon.."
The two young lawyers were W. H. Clagget, whom Clemens had known in Keokuk, and A. W. Oliver, called Oliphant in "Roughing It." The blacksmith was named Tillou (Ballou in "Roughing It"), a sturdy, honest man with a knowledge of mining and the repair of tools. There were also two dogs in the party--a curly-tailed mongrel and a young hound.
The horses were the weak feature of the expedition. It was two hundred miles to Humboldt, mostly across sand. The miners rode only a little way, then got out to lighten the load. Later they pushed. Then it began to snow, also to blow, and the air became filled with whirling clouds of snow and sand. On and on they pushed and groaned, sustained by the knowledge that they must arrive some time, when right away they would be millionaires and all their troubles would be over.
The nights were better. The wind went down and they made a camp-fire in the shelter of the wagon, cooked their bacon, crept under blankets with the dogs to warm them, and Sam Clemens spun yarns till they fell asleep.
There had been an Indian war, and occasionally they passed the charred ruin of a cabin and new graves. By and by they came to that deadly waste known as the Alkali Desert, strewn with the carcasses of dead beasts and with the heavy articles discarded by emigrants in their eagerness to reach water. All day and night they pushed through that choking, waterless plain to reach camp on the other side. When they arrived at three in the morning, they dropped down exhausted. Judge Oliver, the last survivor of the party, in a letter to the writer of these chapters, said:
"The sun was high in the heavens when we were aroused from our sleep by a yelling band of Piute warriors. We were upon our feet in an instant. The picture of burning cabins and the lonely graves we had passed was in our minds. Our scalps were still our own, and not dangling from the belts of our visitors. Sam pulled himself together, put his hand on his head, as if to make sure he had not been scalped, and, with his inimitable drawl, said 'Boys, they have left us our scalps. Let us give them all the flour and sugar they ask for.' And we did give them a good supply, for we were grateful."
The Indians left them unharmed, and the prospective millionaires moved on. Across that two hundred miles to the Humboldt country they pushed, arriving at the little camp of Unionville at the end of eleven weary days.
In "Roughing It" Mark Twain has told us of Unionville and the mining experience there. Their cabin was a three-sided affair with a cotton roof. Stones rolled down the mountainside on them; also, the author says, a mule and a cow.
The author could not gather fortune in a basket, as he had dreamed. Masses of gold and silver were not lying about. He gathered a back-load of yellow, glittering specimens, but they proved worthless. Gold in the rough did not glitter, and was not yellow. Tillou instructed the others in prospecting, and they went to work with pick and shovel--then with drill and blasting-powder. The prospect of immediately becoming millionaires vanished.
"One week of this satisfied me. I resigned," is Mark Twain's brief comment.
The Humboldt reports had been exaggerated. The Clemens-Clagget-Oliver- Tillou millionaire combination soon surrendered its claims. Clemens and Tillou set out for Carson City with a Prussian named Pfersdorff, who nearly got them drowned and got them completely lost in the snow before they arrived there. Oliver and Clagget remained in Unionville, began law practice, and were elected to office.