In chapter 57 of Roughing It, Mark Twain extols his experience of the West in terms that are at once highly idealized and strangely skewed: “It was a wild, free, disorderly, grotesque society! Only swarming hosts of stalwart men—nothing juvenile, nothing feminine, visible anywhere!” This description, however memorable, is also blatantly false. The 1860 federal census records 111 women in Virginia City and Gold Hill, “83 of whom were living with their husbands . . . and caring for more than 100 children.” Clemens’s cognizance of this fact is reflected in the circumstances of his own brother Orion, who, within a year of their 1861 arrival, was joined in Carson City by his wife and daughter, as well as in his reporting for the Virginia City Enterprise. This article explores the personal and cultural underpinnings of this omission, examining it in relation to conventional nineteenth-century gender hierarchies.

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