The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County is an 1867 collection of short stories by Mark Twain. Twain's first book, it collects 27 stories that were previously published in magazines and newspapers. The title story first appeared in print in 1865 and has also been published as "The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" and "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog." In it, the narrator retells a story he heard from a bartender, Simon Wheeler, at the Angels Hotel in Angels Camp, California, about the gambler Jim Smiley. Twain describes him: "If he even seen a straddle bug start to go anywheres, he would bet you how long it would take him to get to—to wherever he going to, and if you took him up, he would foller that straddle bug to Mexico but what he would find out where he was bound for and how long he was on the road."


Publication history

Twain first wrote the title short story at the request of his friend Artemus Ward, for inclusion in an upcoming book. Twain worked on two versions but neither was satisfactory to him—neither got around to describing the jumping frog contest. Ward pressed him again, but by the time Twain devised a version he was willing to submit, that book was already nearing publication, so Ward sent it instead to the Saturday Press, where it appeared in the November 18, 1865 edition as "Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog." Twain's colorful story was immensely popular, and was soon printed in many different magazines and newspapers. Twain developed the idea further, and Bret Harte published this version in The Californian on December 16; this time entitled "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," and the man named Smiley was changed to Greeley.

Further popularity of the tale led Twain to use the story to anchor his own first book which appeared in 1867, with a first issue run of only 1,000 copies. In the book version, Twain changed Greeley back to Smiley. Later, after 1872, a version appeared which changed the title word "celebrated" to "notorious."

Table of contents

The book contains twenty-seven short stories and sketches.

  • "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County"
  • "Aurelia's Unfortunate Young Man"
  • "A Complaint about Correspondents, Dated in San Francisco"
  • "Answers to Correspondents"
  • "Among the Fenians"
  • "The Story of the Bad Little Boy Who Didn't Come to Grief"
  • "Curing a Cold"
  • "An Inquiry about Insurances"
  • "Literature in the Dry Diggings"
  • "'After' Jenkins"
  • "Lucretia Smith's Soldier"
  • "The Killing of Julius Caesar 'Localized'"
  • "An Item which the Editor Himself could not Understand"
  • "Among the Spirits"
  • "Brief Biographical Sketch of George Washington"
  • "A Touching Story of George Washington's Boyhood"
  • "A Page from a Californian Almanac"
  • "Information for the Million"
  • "The Launch of the Steamer Capital"
  • "Origin of Illustrious Men"
  • "Advice for Good Little Girls"
  • "Concerning Chambermaids"
  • "Remarkable Instances of Presence of Mind"
  • "Honored as a Curiosity in Honolulu"
  • "The Steed 'Oahu'"
  • "A Strange Dream"
  • "Short and Singular Rations"


The narrator is sent on an errand to visit an old man, Simon Wheeler by a friend to find an old acquaintance of his. This is clearly a joke, because once the narrator gets there and asks about the acquaintance, Wheeler immediately begins to tell a long, droll story about Jim Smiley.

Jim Smiley is addicted to gambling. He bets on anything from the death of Parson Walker's wife to fights between his bulldog pup, Andrew Jackson, and other dogs. One day, a stranger to the town agrees to bet on a frog jumping higher than Jim's frog, Dan'l Webster. When Jim is not looking, the stranger pours lead bullets into the frog's mouth, weighing it down so that he wins the bet.

At this point in the story, Wheeler is called by someone on the front porch. When his attention is turned, the narrator makes his leave.


Upon discovering a French translation of this story, Twain back-translated the story into English, word for word, and retaining the French grammatical structure and syntax. He then published all three versions under the title "The Jumping Frog: in English, then in French, and then Clawed Back into a Civilized Language Once More by Patient, Unremunerated Toil".

In "Private History of the ‘Jumping Frog’ Story," he recounted some background to the tale—in particular, his surprise to find that the story bore a striking resemblance to an ancient Greek tale. He wrote:

Now, then, the interesting question is, did the frog episode happen in Angel’s Camp in the spring of ‘49, as told in my hearing that day in the fall of 1865? I am perfectly sure that it did. I am also sure that its duplicate happened in Boeotia a couple of thousand years ago. I think it must be a case of history actually repeating itself, and not a case of a good story floating down the ages and surviving because too good to be allowed to perish.

Later, however, in November 1903, Twain noted:

When I became convinced that the "Jumping Frog" was a Greek story two or three thousand years old, I was sincerely happy, for apparently here was a most striking and satisfactory justification of a favorite theory of mine—to wit, that no occurrence is sole and solitary, but is merely a repetition of a thing which has happened before, and perhaps often.... By-and-by, in England, after a few years, I learned that there hadn't been any Greek frog in the business, and no Greek story about his adventures. Professor Sidgwick [in his textbook for students learning to translate English texts into Greek, Greek Prose Composition, p. 116] had not claimed that it was a Greek tale; he had merely synopsised the Calaveras tale and transferred the incident to classic Greece; but as he did not state that it was the same old frog, the English papers reproved him for the omission. He told me this in England in 1899 or 1900, and was much troubled about that censure, for his act had been innocent, he believing that the story's origin was so well known as to render formal mention of it unnecessary.


Lukas Foss composed The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, an opera in two scenes with libretto by Jean Karsavina, based on Twain's story. The opera premiered on May 18, 1950, at Indiana University.

The story was also adapted as a scene in The Adventures of Mark Twain, in which Mark Twain retells the story in short to Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Becky Thatcher.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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