Short, not Twain

No one would blame you for taking a glance at the photos above and wondering: “When did Mark Twain get arrested?” The answer is never. The man in the photos was not Twain, but a gentleman who went by the name “H.J. Short.” The photos were taken when Short was booked into Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in 1900 to serve a term of three years at hard labor for larceny. Only his initials identify him in his prison records, but a little research disclosed the fact that his first name was Hulette, which explains why he preferred to go by his initials.

Samuel Langhorne ClemensSeptember 1-2, 1867, Pera, Constantinople
Twain in an 1867 photograph by Turkish photographer, Abdullah Frères

Of course big mustaches were all the rage in those days, but whether or not Short cultivated his resemblance to the famous author, who was a generation older, is an intriguing but unanswerable question.

The prison records describe H.J. Short as a physician by trade with a nervous disposition. At 5’ 7” tall and 123 lbs., he was emaciated. He suffered from anemia and a chronic cough. The prison doctor decided that the cough was caused by tuberculosis. The diagnosis meant that the 30-year-old was “physically incapacitated from the performance of manual labor” in prison. There’s no way to know if he was really sick or if he starved himself to appear to be ill. Luckily for him, his poor health status got him freed from prison in the form of a pardon issued by President William McKinley. He was released on October 12, 1900.

Short’s Leavenworth records make for interesting reading and indicate there was a pattern in how he avoided serving much time in prison. On May 30, 1898, he was sentenced in the Eastern District of Texas to two years in prison for assault with intent to kill. Less than two months later he was pardoned from the Texas prison because he was “fatally ill with consumption” (aka tuberculosis). Obviously he didn’t die, because on May 31, 1900 he was received at Leavenworth. Details of both crimes are scant, but one news report indicated the federal sentence stemmed from the theft of cattle.

Dr. Short ad -
Short’s 1896 ad in The Marietta Monitor

Short may also have been involved in insurance fraud. In 1896, not long after moving to Marietta in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), his house went up in flames. He, his wife Lizzie, and son Maury, were not in residence at the time of the fire. Neighbors quickly put out the blaze. The damage to the building and furniture amounted only to $100, but the local newspaper reported that, providentially, the good doctor had $1,600 insurance on his medical library, which he claimed was destroyed in the fire.

He did not stay out of legal trouble for long after he was released from Leavenworth. A few years earlier in his native Mississippi, he’d forged the names of several prominent men to a promissory note valued at $3,500. He stopped paying interest on the note, which brought it to the attention of law enforcement, and the forgery was discovered. In February 1901 he was arrested in Marietta and returned to Mississippi to face charges.

Evidently he found a way to mollify the law (possibly tuberculosis came up again) without much, if any, jail time, because by December 1902, Short and his family moved to Pryor, I.T., from De Leon, Texas. The Pryor Creek Clipper noted his arrival, writing: “He [Short] appears like a pleasant gentleman and one who is skilled at his chosen calling and we are glad to number him among our citizens.”

I didn’t unearth any later criminal activity of Short’s, so one can only hope the newspaper’s optimism proved to be correct.

By 1910 Short had given up the practice of medicine and had returned to Marietta with his wife and son. He worked as a “stockman,” earning his living raising cattle (hopefully the animals were purchased legally), and he owned his home, free and clear. He died in 1912, 12 years to the day after he was received at Leavenworth — not bad for a man believed to be at death’s door in 1900.

Featured photo: H.J. Short, Leavenworth inmate photo, 1900. Collection of the National Archives at Kansas City, Missouri.

15 thoughts on “Short, not Twain

      1. I noticed in the U.S. Census that Hulette’s wife was Native American, and their son was classified as Native American. I wonder how common interracial marriage was at the time in the U.S. and how the family was treated.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. That’s correct, Jim—Short’s wife was Native American. I’m no expert but my guess is that it was an uncommon pairing, particularly with a white person. On a later census his son was identified as “white.” Quite a few African-Americans in that area at that time were enrolled in the Five Tribes and I believe many of them were associated with the Seminoles from Florida. One woman I did a previous blog post about, Mary Snowden, ( was Native American. She was married to an African American man.


  1. Shayne, thanks. I can imagine that any white person who intermarried was seen as suspect by the ruling white class’s racial caste system. Runaway slaves saw the Seminoles from Florida as a lifeline where they were often welcomed. So, any white person who threatened Jim Crow must have been taking a huge risk. Actually, the Indian Territory would have been a welcome place. Even U.S. Marshals feared the risks of the dangerous territory.
    If you ever have time (after your next book is published), I highly recommend Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves by Art T. Burton. Bass Reeves was incredible. There’s even speculation that he was the inspiration for The Lone Ranger!
    Thanks so much for your blogs. Jim

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Sadly, it’s possible that he married her to get access to her allotment ( but the marriage lasted.

    In reference to the Black Seminoles, it’s a very complicated history (, and I am no expert!

    I’ll look for the book–it sounds great! BTW, my great grandfather was a US Marshall in Texas for awhile. I suspect he was a “sooner” (, because he moved his family to Oklahoma, where my dad was born in 1923.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fascinating! Thanks. Do you have much history on your great-grandfather as a US Marshal? You and I are in the same Sooner club. My great-grandfather, who was settled with a growing family in Reno County, KS, got the fever and participated in the Cherokee Strip opening on September 16, 1893. (There were different parts of the territory opened at different times.) They settled in Woods County which is now Alfalfa County. Grt-Gdpa James C. Potter dismantled their home in Reno County and transported the material by wagon to OK & erected the new house.
      BTW, I have a relative, Fay Forrest Brown, who was sheriff of Reno County, KS for two terms, 1927-1930. For the past month I’ve been writing a weekly blog about him. The episodes are told from the POV of the badge. This whole thing got started when I responded to a writing prompt that challenged writers to take an inanimate object around the house and make it a character in a story.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. What a great idea to get the creative story-telling juices flowing! I’m looking forward to reading about Sheriff Brown!

        I don’t know anything about my great grandfather’s marshaling experiences and I have no proof of it, maybe it was only family lore!


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