Dan'l Webster- Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog

Dan'l Webster- Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog

Posted by Maggie for It's Cactus on May 13th 2024

Dan'l Webster- Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog

Ok. I say a name, and you tell me the first thing that comes to mind…

Ready… Mark Twain!

What came to mind? A frog jumping competition? No? Well after this blog, that just might be what comes to mind!

A little-known fact about Samuel Langhorne Clemens (AKA Mark Twain) is that before being considered one of the greatest American writers of all time, and before his best remembered work “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, his first big break came with the publication of a short story named “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog”. This short story gained popularity quickly launching his career nationally and internationally. Overnight, this struggling writer turned into a beloved sensation.

This story sets itself in Angels Camp, California. It’s about a man named Jim Smiley who loves to gamble. “He was the curiosest man about always betting on any thing that tuned up you ever see, if he could get any body to bet on the other side; and if he couldn’t, he’d change sides”. Jim Smiley gambles everything from horse races to dog fights and when he catches a frog, which he names Dan’l Webster, he sees another betting opportunity. He spends three months training it to jump, and when a stranger visits the camp, he bets him $40 that it could out-jump any other frog in all of Calaveras County. You’ll have to read the rest of the short story to see what happens.

Anyways, why a blog about this? Well, as it just turns out, we are nearing May 13th, which, as you may not be aware of, is National Frog Jumping Day and in Calavera’s County California, this is a big deal! On the 3rd weekend in May each year, the Calaveras County Fair and the Jumping Frog Jubilee (yes that’s real) commemorates the story that launched Sam Clemens’ career. For almost 100 years, folks have been jumping frogs competitively. Now the competition is simple(ish): the contestants (jockeys) place a frog on a pad. The jockey has to get the frog to jump or hop three times in any direction. Wherever the frog lands on that third jump is measured back to the center of the pad. The frog who jumps the furthest wins. As I said, simple! But not really. Try getting a frog to jump is not always easy! The truth, however, is undisputed: Rosie the Ribiter and her Jockey Lee Giudici have held the record sine 1986 with a whooping 21ft 5 ¾ inch jump. Although no one has beat the record since then, each year, the winner gets its plaque added to Angel’s Camp Frog Hop of Fame.

So if you want to check it out, make sure to drive out to Calavera’s County May 16-19 to check out the competition and the Frog Hop of Fame for yourself. But you can also commemorate and give your own nod to Mark Twain by adding a frog to your garden. It will be your little own Dan’l Webster if you may, your own competing jumping frog bringing smiles to you and your guests. 

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