HISTORIAN’S CORNER: MARK TWAIN, THE "PUNK SHOT"

I’ve shared the following quote from H. L. Betten’s Upland Game Shooting (1946) on the blog before, but not as part of the Historian’s Corner. It definitely bears repeating!

Everyone knows Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) as the renowned author of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.

One might suspect that, with Mark Twain being from the south where bobwhite quail were abundant in his days, he would most likely be a proficient quail hunter and maybe even a crack shot. Let’s just say there’s some evidence to the contrary.

To set the stage for this quote, it should be noted that Betten had an Uncle named Billy Dormer from Virginia City, Nevada, a mining town in the 1800’s. Like Betten, Billy Dormer was also a bird hunter and even planted California quail successfully in the Carson Sink area of Nevada. In this quote, Betten relates the following story of his uncle hunting with Mark Twain:

“That reminds me of the palmy days of Virginia City, Nevada. Uncle Billy Dormer imported some valley quail from California and released them on Carson Sink where they did famously.”

Some years later when Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) returned to Virginia City after becoming world famous as a literary giant, his old boss, Sam Goodman, proprietor of the Territorial Express, arranged a quail hunt for the former reporter.

“The sad fact was that Mark Twain was punk shot and simply couldn’t hit the quail.

“‘Billy,’ he declared, ‘These little blue bats outa hell, or wherever they came from, are the fastest blankety-blank things on wings. Damn it, I missed again–there goes another.’

“At that very instant an old sage cock blustered off the ground and made a beeline for shelter following the little blue California quail. The big bird overtook the small comet and passed it easily before reaching the far bank of the Carson River.

“‘Now there’s just another case of betting on the wrong nag,’ Mark drawled. ‘A good, big horse can always beat a good little horse.'”

Now that is classic! When I read this, I must admit I got a real kick out it. I hope you did too. I enjoyed it both for the little-known historical information on Mark Twain, but also for the praise to sage grouse, one of my favorite game birds.

Mark Twain. If you were a lousy shot like Twain, you just might be wearing that scowl too. I’ve sure had my days!

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