In a very symbolic, but also rather literal way, Mark Twain was engaging in a bit of gold prospecting himself when he penned “The Californian’s Tale.” While Twain seemed to have an unerring knack for putting his finger directly on the pulse of what Americans wanted to read, he was every bit as clueless when it came to gauging the taste of what kind of technological innovations Americans wanted. By the close of the 1880’s Twain already saw the writing on the wall: bankruptcy could only possibly be avoided by spending less of his time inventing and filing patients and more time doing what made him famous. (That was the plan anyway; actually Twain would be completely bankrupt by 1893.)
Twain even recognized the genius of Nikola Tesla about a century before the great inventor became a household name, but his friendship with the man who actually was everything Thomas Edison got credit for being could not invent a machine to instill business sense in Samuel Langhorne Clemons. And so it was that retirement had to be delayed so that Mark Twain could get back to work overtime. The early years of the last decade of the 19th century was one of Twain’s most productive; not out of a sudden attack of creative inspiration, but in order to keep the wolves at the door for as long as possible.
Twain’s extensive travels through Europe on a public speaking tour brought in some money, but in the case of this story, it actually did also spark his creative juices. Twain could not help but take note of the increasingly problematic rise of imperialism sweeping across the continent (his concern would fuel several very dark political screeds in the coming years) and he decided to address the consequences on the human factor arising from imperialist aims to change civilization as rapidly as possible through revisiting a work of fiction he had actually started on and abandoned a decade earlier
The result was “The Californian’s Tale” which was initially published in a book-length collection of stories edited by Arthur Stedman in 1893. Nearly ten years later, Twain himself would publish the story in an edition of Harper’s Magazine. A few years later it would appear in book form once again, this time as part of the collection of Twain’s own stories titled The $30,000 Bequest and Other Stories.