06 August 2009

The Texas Deck

“Welcome aboard the Liberty Belle, I’m your Captain, Horace Bixby. And my pilot with me here on the Texas Deck is a young cub that goes by the name of Sam Clemens.”

Those of you who frequent the Liberty Belle have probably heard these words dozens of times, and you probably know the trick to this terrific piece of script. Sam, or Samuel, Clemens is the birth name of Mark Twain, the king of Mississippi River literature. While the Liberty Belle may be one of two attractions narrated by Mark Twain, the other being The American Adventure, the pilot’s identity is not the biggest secret hiding in this quote.

The Captain, Horace Bixby, did indeed ply the waterways of the Mississippi, and spent more than one occasion on that river with Mark Twain. Born in 1926, Bixby was actually the man who taught Twain the ways of the river. In Life on the Mississippi, Mark Twain recounts his first meeting with Bixby:
“One day, on board the Aleck Scott, my chief, Mr. Bixby, was crawling carefully through a close place at Cat Island, both leads going, and everybody holding his breath. The captain, a nervous, apprehensive man, kept still as long as he could, but finally broke down and shouted from the hurricane-deck:

‘For gracious' sake, give her steam, Mr. Bixby! give her stream! She'll never raise the reef on this headway!’

For all the effect that was produced upon Mr. Bixby, one would have supposed that no remark had been made. But five minutes later, when the danger was past and the leads laid in, he burst instantly into a consuming fury, and gave the captain the most admirable cursing I ever listened to. No bloodshed ensued, but that was because the captain's cause was weak, for ordinarily he was not a man to take correction quietly.”

Old men and rivers have a fond way of remembering one another after they have spent so much of their youth and years together, and so goes the Rivers of America, the Liberty Belle, Mark Twain, and Horace Bixby.

1 comment:

Gator Chris said...

Nice article. As it turns out, I'm currently re-reading _Life on the Mississippi_ (courtesy of Project Gutenburg). I can't help but think that a young Walt Disney must have read through these same passages and been inspired by Mr. Clemens' account of that section of the American frontier.