Orion Clemens

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Orion Clemens
Orion Clemens.jpg
Secretary of Nevada Territory
In office
Nominated by Abraham Lincoln
Personal details
Born (1825-07-17)July 17, 1825
Tennessee, United States
Died December 11, 1897(1897-12-11) (aged 72)
Keokuk, Iowa, United States
Nationality American
Spouse(s) Mollie Clemens
Relatives Mark Twain (brother)
Profession Journalist

Orion Clemens (1825–1897) was the first and only Secretary of Nevada Territory. He is best known through his relationship to his younger brother Samuel Langhorne Clemens, known by the pen name Mark Twain.

Early life[edit]

Born in Tennessee, Orion Clemens was the oldest of seven children. Four of his six siblings died before reaching the age of twenty, leaving only his brother Samuel (1835–1910) and their sister Pamela (1827–1904). In 1839, the Clemens family moved to Hannibal, Missouri,[1] a port town on the Mississippi River which was to eventually inspire some of his brother Sam's stories.

As a young man, Clemens worked in his father's general store, and later as an apprentice at a local newspaper, before moving to St. Louis, Missouri. In St. Louis, Clemens began studying law under attorney Edward Bates, who later served as Attorney General for President Abraham Lincoln. After his father's death in 1847, Clemens returned to Hannibal and purchased the local newspaper, then became the owner of The Hannibal Journal where Samuel worked for him. Unable to make a successful living as a journalist in Hannibal, Clemens relocated to Muscatine, Iowa, in 1853 (where he ran the Muscatine Journal) and to Keokuk, Iowa, in 1854.[2] In Keokuk, with his new wife Mollie Stotts, Clemens began running the "Ben Franklin Book and job printing office".[3] In 1855, he hired his brother Samuel Clemens at $5 a week to move there and assist him; Samuel stayed for a year and a half before growing restless and moving on.[3]

Political career[edit]

Clemens had come to the conclusion that slavery was morally wrong and had worked for the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln.[4] Following Lincoln's election as President in 1860, Clemens was appointed Secretary to the new government of the Territory of Nevada at a salary of $1,800 a year. His younger brother Sam accompanied Clemens to Nevada Territory in the summer of 1861. Sam would later write about this journey in his semi-autobiographical book, Roughing It.[5] Sam drifted into mining and newspaper work, while his brother served as Territorial Secretary and often as acting governor when James W. Nye was outside the territory. It was while acting as temporary governor that Clemens gained political popularity by avoiding a "Sagebrush War" with California over disputed state boundary lines.[6] Clemens built a home in Carson City and brought his wife, Mollie, and young daughter, Jennie, to Nevada a year after his arrival. Jennie would die there in February, 1864. Clemens offered strong support of the newly formed government in Carson City, paying out of his own pocket for the printing of the House and Senate Journals and to furnish the two territorial legislative chambers.[7]

After the Territory became the thirty-sixth state of the US on October 31, 1864, Clemens tried to secure the nomination for Nevada Secretary of State. Clemens, "a confirmed teetotaler since his days as a printer's apprentice in St. Louis" took a strong position against the availability of whiskey which lost him much support.[8] It is also held that the death of his only child "permanently dampened the spirits of the often moody Orion" making effective campaigning difficult.[8]

The following year, he served a brief time as an elected state assemblyman. However, the meager salary of a legislator and his inability to develop a successful law practice led him to leave Nevada in August 1866, forced to sell their home for a financial loss.[8][9]

Later life[edit]

After leaving Nevada, Clemens and Mollie tried unsuccessfully to start a new life in Meadow Lake, California.[10] They then lived for some time in the eastern United States, where Clemens again attempted to pursue a career in journalism, before finally relocating once again to Keokuk, Iowa in the mid-1870s, where he lived for the remainder of his life. In Iowa, Clemens at times practiced law, farmed chickens, and worked at inventing various gadgets. In Keokuk, Clemens spent much of his time working on his autobiography, which Twain encouraged him to write as an example of the failure of the American dream.[3][9] There are reports that Twain burned portions of it that he found unsuitable. The work is lost and has never been published.[9] Unfortunately, Clemens's endeavors were largely unsuccessful, and his main source of income was Twain, who visited often after their mother moved to join Clemens and Mollie.[3][9] Clemens died December 11, 1897.

Personal life[edit]

Mary Eleanor "Mollie" Stotts married Orion Clemens in 1854.[11] Their daughter, Jennie Clemens, was born in 1855 and was beloved by her uncle Samuel (Mark Twain). When the family moved to Nevada, Jennie attended Sierra Seminary in Carson City about which Twain wrote a piece after visiting her there.[9] Jennie fell ill to spotted fever on January 29, 1864 and died of meningitis, a complication of the illness, on February 1, 1864.[8][9] Her parents and Twain had stood vigil around her bedside until she died, praying the Lord's Prayer with her asking for recovery.[3][9] The couple did not have any other children.


The Orion Clemens House, in Carson City, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


  1. ^ "Mark Twain, American Author and Humorist". Retrieved 2009-03-12. 
  2. ^ twainquotes.com, The Lost Autobiography of Orion Clemens.
  3. ^ a b c d e J. R. LeMaster, James Darrell Wilson, Christie Graves Hamric, eds. (1993). The Mark Twain Encyclopedia. New York, Ny: Garland Publishing, Inc. 
  4. ^ Louis J. Budd (2001). Mark Twain: Social Philosopher (Mark Twain & His Circle Book 1). University of Missouri. 
  5. ^ Twain, Mark, Roughing It, 1872. ISBN 0-7434-3650-4.
  6. ^ Fanning, Philip Ashley, Mark Twain and Orion Clemens: Brothers, Partners, Strangers. The University of Alabama Press, 2003. ISBN 0-8173-1310-9.
  7. ^ The National Park Service, Three Historic Nevada Cities.
  8. ^ a b c d Jerome Loving (2010). Mark Twain:The Adventures of Samuel L. Clemens. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Janet Jones (2012). Haunted Carson City. The History Press. 
  10. ^ Richard Moreno (2011). A Short History of Carson City. University of Nevada Press. 
  11. ^ Potsdam Public Museum, ed. (2004). Images of America Potsdam. Potsdam, N.Y.: Arcadia Publishing. 
Political offices
Preceded by
Secretary of Nevada Territory
Succeeded by