Perhaps John Quarles’s jocular, happy-go-lucky nature and general conduct did not altogether harmonize with John Clemens’s more taciturn business methods. Notwithstanding the fact that he was a builder of dreams, Clemens was neat and methodical, with his papers always in order. He had a hearty dislike for anything resembling frivolity and confusion, which very likely were the chief features of John Quarles’s storekeeping. At all events, they dissolved partnership at the end of two or three years, and Clemens opened business for himself across the street. He also practised law whenever there were cases, and was elected justice of the peace, acquiring the permanent title of “Judge.” He needed some one to assist in the store, and took in Orion, who was by this time twelve or thirteen years old; but, besides his youth, Orion — all his days a visionary — was a studious, pensive lad with no taste for commerce. Then a partnership was formed with a man who developed neither capital nor business ability, and proved a disaster in the end. The modest tide of success which had come with John Clemens’s establishment at Florida had begun to wane. Another boy, Henry, born in July, 1838, added one more responsibility to his burdens.
There still remained a promise of better things. There seemed at least a good prospect that the scheme for making Salt River navigable was likely to become operative. With even small boats (bateaux) running as high as the lower branch of the South Fork, Florida would become an emporium of trade, and merchants and property-owners of that village would reap a harvest. An act of the Legislature was passed incorporating the navigation company, with Judge Clemens as its president. Congress was petitioned to aid this work of internal improvement. So confident was the company of success that the hamlet was thrown into a fever of excitement by the establishment of a boatyard and, the actual construction of a bateau; but a Democratic Congress turned its back on the proposed improvement. No boat bigger than a skiff ever ascended Salt River, though there was a wild report, evidently a hoax, that a party of picnickers had seen one night a ghostly steamer, loaded and manned, puffing up the stream. An old Scotchman, Hugh Robinson, when he heard of it, said:
“I don’t doubt a word they say. In Scotland, it often happens that when people have been killed, or are troubled, they send their spirits abroad and they are seen as much like themselves as a reflection in a looking-glass. That was a ghost of some wrecked steamboat.”
But John Quarles, who was present, laughed:
“If ever anybody was in trouble, the men on that steamboat were,” he said. “They were the Democratic candidates at the last election. They killed Salt River improvements, and Salt River has killed them. Their ghosts went up the river on a ghostly steamboat.”
It is possible that this comment, which was widely repeated and traveled far, was the origin of the term “Going up Salt River,” as applied to defeated political candidates.3
3 [The dictionaries give this phrase as probably traceable to a small, difficult stream in Kentucky; but it seems more reasonable to believe that it originated in Quarles’s witty comment.]
No other attempt was ever made to establish navigation on Salt River. Rumors of railroads already running in the East put an end to any such thought. Railroads could run anywhere and were probably cheaper and easier to maintain than the difficult navigation requiring locks and dams. Salt River lost its prestige as a possible water highway and became mere scenery. Railroads have ruined greater rivers than the Little Salt, and greater villages than Florida, though neither Florida nor Salt River has been touched by a railroad to this day. Perhaps such close detail of early history may be thought unnecessary in a work of this kind, but all these things were definite influences in the career of the little lad whom the world would one day know as Mark Twain.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00