Samuel Langhorne Clemens – “Mark Twain”

Before he wrote American classic novels as Mark Twain, Samuel Langhorne Clemens was a miner and newpaper reporter in Mineral County, Nevada. Prior to picking up his pen, Clemens moved from his birthplace in Hannibal, Missouri and found himself in the silver state. After his time in Nevada, he left to become the most loved American author, Mark Twain.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens September 1-2, 1867, Pera, Constantinople
Samuel Langhorne Clemens September 1-2, 1867, Pera, Constantinople

It is a well known fact that Samuel Clemmons first work was as a river boat pilot on the Mississippi river. This occupation was lost to him with the start of the Civil War. In 1861, Samuel followed his brother Orion to Nevada when his brother is appointed as Secretary of the Nevada Territory. Not long after his arrival in Carson City, Clemens is “Smitten with the silver feaver.” He and his brother started purchasing shares of mining operations in the Esmeralda Mining District. The principal town in this district was Aurora.

Filled with optimism, Samuel moved to Aurora in 1862. Upon his arrival he setup a camp and began working some of the claims he and his brother purchased. Despite his optimism, his work as a miner and investor did not produce and Clemens lives off an stipend set to him by his brother to cover the $10 per week living expenses. This failure was all too common among the hopeful people who travelled west.

Higbie and I were living in a cotton-domestic lean-to at the base of a mountain [Lover’s Leap]. It was very cramped quarters, with barely room for us and the stove – wretched quarters, indeed, for every now and then, between eight in the morning and eight in the evening, the thermometer would make an excursion of fifty degrees. We had a silver-mining claim under the edge of a hill [Last Change Hill] half a mile away in partnership with Bob Howland and Horatio Phillips, and we used to go there every morning, carrying with us our luncheon, and remain all day picking and blasting in a our shaft, hoping, despairing, hoping again, and gradually but surely running out of funds

Mark Twain, Roughing It

A picture postcard showing the exterior of Mark Twain's cabin in the mining town of Aurora, Nevada. The cabin and ground are covered with snow. - 	
University of Nevada, Las Vegas University Libraries
A picture postcard showing the exterior of Mark Twain’s cabin in the mining town of Aurora, Nevada. The cabin and ground are covered with snow. – University of Nevada, Las Vegas University Libraries

Ironically, his failure in mining started his career which produced some of the most important books in American history. While in Aurora, he started sending stories about a miner’s life to the Virginia City newspaper, the Territorial Enterprise, using the penname “Josh”. These stories opened a door to greatness, and he was appointed to a job as a local reporter by Joseph Goodman.

After leaving Aurora for Virginia City, Clemens starts down his road to success and becomes a popular newspaper reported. He submits his humorous and satirical stories using the name Mark Twain. Five years later, the man from Missouri wrote the story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calavarous County” and Mark Twain became the American Story Teller.

I learned then, once and for all, that gold in its native state is but dull, the ornamental stuff, and that only low-born metals excited the admiration of the ignorant with an ostentatious glitter. However, like the rest of the world, I still go on underrating men of gold and glorifying men of mica. Commonplace human nature cannot rise above that.

Mark Twain, Roughing It

Nevada State Historic Marker #28

100 years ago, in 1864, Samuel Clemens left the territorial enterprise, moving on to California and worldwide fame.  He was a reporter here in 1863 when he first used the name, Mark Twain.  He later described his colorful adventures in Nevada in “Roughing It.”






Hevada State Historic Marker Summary

Nevada State Historic Marker28
NameMark Twain
LocationVirginia City, Storey County, Nevada
Latitude, Longititude39.3102, -119.6497


Charles Ferge “Seldom Seen Slim” – A Ballarat Prospector

Charles Ferge "Seldom Seen Slim"
Charles Ferge “Seldom Seen Slim”

Charles Ferge “Seldom Seen Slim” is the last of the known prospectors who lived in the town of Ballarat located in Death Valley National Park, California.

Seldom Seen Slim, named Charles Ferge, was born in Illinois on October 21st 1881. Slim came to Ballarat sometime between 1913 and 1917 not long after the town was abandoned by the miners seeking their fortunes elsewhere.

Ferge became the last resident of Ballarat and had a reputation as a recluse with a cantankerous side. He survived in one of the harshest landscapes living on his own in his town of Ballarat. It is said that he lived in every remaining building of the ghost town. His focus was mining and he just needed enough money to survive as a desert prospector. Slim only needed enough money to buy necessities of food, tobacco for his pipe, water, gas for his car and clothes.

When the water source in Ballarat dried up due to a dropping water table, Slim would haul water into the town using jugs from other sources miles away. The scarcity of water would only allow the man to bathe a few times per year.

While is is the sole citizen of Ballarat, the town had no running water, no electricity or any other services He became an unofficial curator for the ghost town. Slim would often tell stories to visitors and sell them souvenirs of gold ore.

Seldom Seen Slim died of cancer in 1968 in Trona, California. He is buried on “Boot Hill” in Ballarat and his greave is a popular place to stop.

Me lonely? Hell no! I’m half coyote and half wild burro.

Charles Ferge “Seldom Seen Slim”


Francis Marion Smith – “Borax Smith”

Francis Marion "Borax" Smith
Francis Marion “Borax” Smith

Francis Marion Smith, also known as “Borax” Smith was a miner and business man who made a fortune in the hostile deserts of Nevada and California. He was born in Richmond, Wisconsin in 1846. He went to the public schools and graduated from Milton College. He left Wisconsin seeking his fortune in the American West. and set off for Nevada.

In 1872, while working as a woodcutter, he discovered a rich supply of ulexite at Teel’s Marsh, near the future townsite of Marietta, Nevada. Seeing his opportunity, Smith staked a claim started a company with his brother Julius Smith. The brothers established a borax works at the edge of the marsh to concentrate the borax crystals and separate them from dirt and other impurities.

In 1877, Scientific American reported that the Smith Brothers shipped their product in a 30-ton load using two large wagons with a third wagon for food and water drawn by a 24-mule team for 160 miles (260 km) across the Great Basin Desert from Marietta to the nearest Central Pacific Railroad siding in Wadsworth, Nevada.

Building upon his success, Smith grew his operations and purchased claims at Fish Lake and Columbus March. He bought his brothers shares in the venture in 1884. As he closed down his operations in Teel’s Marsh, Smith purchased the Harmony Borax works from William Tell Coleman who was financially over extended.

Smith then consolidated all of his mining operations with his own holdings to form the Pacific Coast Borax Company in 1890. The Pacific Coast Borax Company then established and promoted the 20-Mule-Team Borax brand and trademark.

In his later years, Francis Marion “Borax” Smith expanded his interest in railroads and charitable work in his hometown of Oakland, California.


Pete Aguereberry – A Panamint Valley Miner

Pete Aguereberry was a prospector and miner who operated around Death Valley National Park, for whom Aguereberry is named. Born in the Basque Region of France on Oct. 18, 1874, Jean Pierre “Pete” Aguereberry sailed to America with his fater in 1890.

Pete Aguereberry
Pete Aguereberry

Aguereberry struggled to learn the English while working an assortment of odd jobs to make a living. He worked as a handball player, sheepherder, cattle driver, milk truck driver, ice delivery man, ranch hand, and stage driver. A a stage driver he found his was to Goldfield, Nevada around 1902.

A few years later, he and fellow miner Frank “Shorty” Harris struck gold at Harrisburg Flats, 55 miles southeast of Lone Pine on July 1, 1905. Aguereberry worked the the northern edge of a ledge, while Harris worked the southern side. Within a month, over 20 different groups were working the area which later became Harrisburg. Aguereberry transformed that claim into the Eureka Mine, which he worked until his death on Nov. 23, 1945 at Tecopa Hot Springs at age 72.

Aguereberry is perhaps best known for the road he built to Aguereberry Point so visitors could enjoy its spectacular view of Death Valley.

Though he wished to be buried at the point in Death Valley, government officials, citing the 1933 monument status of Death Valley, denied his final request. Augereberry’s remains were buried in Lone Pine. A plaque in Lone Pine, California honors the life and memory of Pete Augereberry. Pete is remembered amount friends as a modest, hardworking, honorable man and a true legend of Death Valley.