Mark Twain: Gumbo with American Writers


Which gumbo for Twain? Writer Kate Douglas Riggs, Clemens and Rev. Joseph Twichell at Clemens’ 70th birthday celebration, 1905, a year before “Hunting the Deceitful Turkey” appeared in Harper’s.

Selecting a gumbo for Mark Twain, the third author in my series “Dining with 52 American Writers,” was almost too easy. His hunting adventures in the wilds of Missouri as a young boy so aptly described in his Autobiography almost – just almost – made me choose wild game gumbo for his entrée. Prairie chicken, turkey, deer and squirrel were all fair game.

But when he spun the tale of stalking a lame turkey, I knew he’d relish a big pot of revenge gumbo. I laughed first with his ironic description of a turkey call, hand-carved from a hollow leg bone of a turkey. Then the rollicking story of his boyhood adventure escalated. Armed with his trusty call and a shotgun, he set off in the woods to shoot a turkey. He spotted one – a lame one. Easy prey, he mused. He chased the great pretending turkey for nearly 10 hours. The bird, Twain vows, even stopped and posed for a shot when he raised his gun. And then the turkey was off again, leading the boy on a wild-turkey-chase through the woods of Missouri. Exhausted, at dusk he abandoned the hunt and starving, he devoured a few too many tomatoes, the best he’d even eaten.

But this naturalist teaches his readers a wild turkey lesson. Turkeys put on quite a show to wild-turkey-logolead a hunter away from the nest or their young, often feigning lameness. He relates the story in length in his Autobiography published on the 100th anniversary of his death. While writing the book, he sold a version to Harper’s in 1906. You can read it here at Margaret Langstaff’s blog.

Before I serve Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) his entrée, I’ll offer a jovial toast with a big shot of Wild Turkey bourbon and then it’s a savory bowl of turkey gumbo – without tomatoes.

About thegumbodiaries

On the search for the perfect gumbo!
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2 Responses to Mark Twain: Gumbo with American Writers

  1. solosocial says:

    I once saw a PBS film version of Twain’s short story, “The Private History of a Campaign that Failed”–and I’d thought this was my favorite of Twain’s short stories. But the film actually combined this story with another of Twain’s short stories, “The War Prayer”. And this story is why I liked the movie so much. “The War Prayer” is now my favorite of Mark Twain’s short stories–it is more an indictment of hypocrisy and self-righteousness than just an antiwar story.

    “Huckleberry Finn” is one of my favorite novels of all time. It is one of the two funniest novels I’ve ever read–the other being J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye”.

    It was so bizarre, several years ago, when someone got the ridiculous idea to republish “Huckleberry Finn” with the word, “nigger”, edited out. This idiot just didn’t seem to get two things: (1) “Huckleberry Finn” is written from the point of view of its title character
    (2) “Huckleberry Finn” is an anti-racist novel, through and through, in that it points out the amusing similarities between “Huck” and his traveling companion, the escaped slave “Jim”. The reader sees that there simply is no difference–negative or positive–between the White “Huck” and the Black “Jim”.

    One thing I have never understood about Twain, however: Though he championed the plight of African Americans, he had an intense hatred of Native Americans. It seems contradictory–in that both African Americans and Native Americans were considered subhuman savages by so many European Americans.

    Even the antagonist of Twain’s “Tom Sawyer” is a Native American called, “Injun Joe”.

    It just goes to show the duplicitous nature of Samuel Clemens–as with so many other historical figures, like Abraham Lincoln and General George Patton.

    Perhaps every one of us human beings is duplicitous in some way.


  2. Ernest Hemingway and contemporary mystery writer Julie Smith both stated Huckleberry Finn was the finest novel ever written. Thanks for reading!


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