Ask The Marshall

What does Mark Twain mean by “Josh-lights” in Roughing It?

Robert Frenchu
Carson City, Nevada

Mark Twain wrote “Josh-lights,” but should have been written as “Joss lights.” Joss is a Chinese idol. A joss stick is a perfumed stick made of wood powder and paste that is burned as incense in a temple (joss house) or, as the book illustrates, to light up a home.

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian, board president of the Arizona Historical Society and vice president of the Wild West History Association. His latest book isArizona’s Outlaws and Lawmen; History Press, 2015.

If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him at

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