Among the most famous scenes in Roughing It is Mark Twain’s account of riding through western Nebraska atop a makeshift bed of mail-bags. His stagecoach was overloaded with correspondence, catalogs, packages, and periodicals headed to the newly incorporated Colorado Territory and what Cameron Blevins characterizes as the second artillery line of the rapidly expanding U.S. postal service. As Blevins outlines, the “sprawling, fast-moving, and ephemeral” infrastructure of the U.S. Post formed the largest communications network in the world up to that point. This article argues that through his relationship to the “gossamer network,” a complex and rapidly changing web of public investment and private enterprise, Twain learned to regard graft and government capture as endemic to American expansionist politics, but also to pursue his own interests on the public doll.

You do not currently have access to this content.