The prequel to Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad was Roughing It:

Roughing It illustrates many of Twain's early adventures, including a visit to Salt Lake City, gold and silver prospecting, real-estate speculation, a journey to the Kingdom of Hawaii, and his beginnings as a writer. This memoir provides examples of Twain's rough-hewn humor, which would become a staple of his writing in such later books


In Chapter XVI of Roughing It, he claims he was almost a millionaire twice, but he sold his shares before the mines hit it rich.

The news was all over town. The former excitement was great—this one was greater still. I walked the streets serene and happy. Higbie said the foreman had been offered two hundred thousand dollars for his third of the mine. I said I would like to see myself selling for any such price. My ideas were lofty. My figure was a million. Still, I honestly believe that if I had been offered it, it would have had no other effect than to make me hold off for more.

And then he went on to say;

It reads like a wild fancy sketch, but the evidence of many witnesses, and likewise that of the official records of Esmeralda District, is easily obtainable in proof that it is a true history. I can always have it to say that I was absolutely and unquestionably worth a million dollars, once, for ten days.

[Emphasis mine]

Did this really happen, or is it another case of him being an unreliable narrator?

  • twainhartevisitor.com/marktwain/… - possibly of interest
    – Valorum
    Jan 26, 2017 at 20:40
  • @Valorum Thanks for the link. Yes, he did not actually engage in mining very much, but he did take as payment "shares", or I think they called it "feet", in mines.
    – user59
    Jan 26, 2017 at 20:43
  • 1
    I suspect the problem is that your question basically boils down to "Did x happen to this person". That would be fine if this was MarkTwain:SE
    – Valorum
    Jan 26, 2017 at 23:09
  • 1
    Please don't leave just because of a few negative comments! :-) We're still in the process of deciding on site scope, and there's no guarantee your question will end up being off-topic. You can always post about it on Literature Meta.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jan 27, 2017 at 0:58
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    Wikipedia does say that he had a "promising claim...that later proved valuable" on a silver mine that they lost. It also says he wouldn't necessarily have become a millionaire, but it could have been exaggeration? Jan 27, 2017 at 2:29

2 Answers 2


He really did engage in silver mine prospecting while he lived in Nevada, though he wasn't one to really pick up a shovel and pick and do much actual work.

Almost a millionaire twice. In the first instance, he and two partners put a claim on a blind lead of silver in a public mine. You had to put some reasonable amount of work into the mine within 10 days, or your claim became forfeit and was available to the public again. In this case, neither he nor his partners did any work on the claim and they lost it. So when he says he was a millionaire for 10 days, it was with this very promising vein of silver, which he lost. This takes place at the end of ROUGHING IT, Part 4 and the beginning of Part 5.

The second time was, he owned a bunch of shares in prospective mines, and the prices were going up and up, like the dot com boom. He had several opportunities to sell but didn't, because he wanted to hold out for the best price. Then it was revealed that none of the mines were ever going to produce at the level people thought (there was some issue of mis-computing the yield coming from the mines). Since he didn't sell any shares, their value dropped to zero.


Keep in mind that Twain was often (almost always) more interested in being interesting than in sticking to the sometimes less colorful facts of the matter. He has been described as writing "autobiographical fiction" and "fictional autobiography." So you might find more "truth" about what he experienced in life in "Tom Sawyer" and "Huck Finn" than you will in his 5 "nonfiction" travel books.

Also note that there were other occasions where he "missed it by that much," such as when he stopped working at a gold mining claim in Calaveras county - near Angels Camp, I think, where he heard the "Jumping Frog" story - just before they were about to strike it rich there (others supposedly took up the claim as soon as they could and did just that).

If true, we can all be glad he didn't (strike it rich), because in that instance he may not have left us with his great literary works (had he struck it rich via mining or some other way).

He also "could have" gotten rich by investing in telephone stock, which was supposedly offered him at a very low cost by A.G. Bell - an entire "hatful" of it, which he turned down.

  • Welcome to Literature! This looks like an interesting answer, but do you have any citations to back it up?
    – Rand al'Thor
    Feb 6, 2017 at 23:07
  • He talks about his mining adventures in his autobiography. Many people have drawn the "autobiographical fiction/fictional autobiography" conclusion - or at least, one person drew that conclusion, and many others have recognized the truthfulness of it. Feb 6, 2017 at 23:09
  • Welp, I said "welcome" when I saw this in the First Posts review queue just after public beta. Should've checked your user ID - you've been here as long as I have :-)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Feb 6, 2017 at 23:36
  • No worries, it's all good, as they say. Feb 6, 2017 at 23:43

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