The Worlds Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906. Vols. IV: American
The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County
By Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) (18351910)
IN compliance with the request of a friend of mine, who wrote me from the East, I called on good-natured, garrulous old Simon Wheeler, and inquired after my friends friend, Leonidas W. Smiley, as requested to do, and I hereunto append the result. I have a lurking suspicion that Leonidas W. Smiley is a myth; that my friend never knew such a personage; and that he only conjectured that if I asked old Wheeler about him, it would remind him of his infamous Jim Smiley, and he would go to work and bore me to death with some exasperating reminiscence of him as long as and as tedious as it should be useless to me. If that was the design, it succeeded.
I found Simon Wheeler dozing comfortably by the barroom stove of the dilapidated tavern in the decayed mining camp of Angels, and I noticed that he was fat and bald-headed, and had an expression of winning gentleness and simplicity upon his tranquil countenance. He roused up and gave me good-day. I told him a friend of mine had commissioned me to make some inquiries about a cherished companion of his boyhood named Leonidas W. SmileyReverend Leonidas W. Smiley, a young minister of the Gospel, who he had heard was at one time a resident of Angels Camp. I added that if Mr. Wheeler could tell me anything about this Reverend Leonidas W. Smiley I would feel under many obligations to him.
Simon Wheeler backed me into a corner and blockaded me there with his chair, and then sat down and reeled off the monotonous narrative which follows this paragraph. He never smiled, he never frowned, he never changed his voice from the gentle-flowing key to which he tuned his initial sentence, he never betrayed the slightest suspicion of enthusiasm; but all through the interminable narrative there ran a vein of impressive earnestness and sincerity which showed me plainly that, so far from his imagining that there was anything ridiculous or funny about his story, he regarded it as a really important matter, and admired its two heroes as men of transcendent genius in finesse. I let him go on in his own way, and never interrupted him once.
Reverend Leonidas W. Hm, Reverend Lewell, there was a feller here once by the name of Jim Smiley, in the winter of 49or maybe it was the spring of 50I dont recollect exactly, somehow, though what makes me think it was one or the other is because I remember the big flume warnt finished when he first come to the camp; but anyway, he was the curiosest man about always betting on anything that turned up you ever see, if he could get anybody to bet on the other side; and if he couldnt hed change sides. Anyway that suited the other man would suit himanyway just sos he got a bet, he was satisfied. But still he was lucky, uncommon lucky; he most always come out winner. He was always ready and laying for a chance; there couldnt be no solitry thing mentioned but that fellerd offer to bet on it, and take ary side you please, as I was just telling you. If there was a horse-race, youd find him flush or youd find him busted at the end of it; if there was a dog-fight, hed bet on it; if there was a cat-fight, hed bet on it; if there was a chicken-fight, hed bet on it; why, if there was two birds setting on a fence, he would bet you which one would fly first; or if there was a camp-meeting he would be there reglar to bet on Parson Walker which he judged to be the best exhorter about here, and so he was, too, and a good man. If he even see a straddle-bug start to go anywhere, he would bet how long it would take him to get toto wherever he was 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. Lots of the boys here has seen that Smiley and can tell you about him. Why, it never made no difference to himhed bet on anythingthe dangdest feller. Parson Walkers wife laid very sick once, for a good while, and it seemed as if they warnt going to save her; but one morning he come in, and Smiley up and asked him how she was, and he said she was considerable betterthank the Lord for His infnite mercyand coming on so smart that with the blessing of Provdence shed get well yet; and Smiley, before he thought, says, Well, Ill resk two-and-a-half she dont anyway.
Thish-yer Smiley had a marethe boys called her the fifteen-minute nag, but that was only in fun, you know, because of course she was faster than thatand he used to win money on that horse, for all she was slow and always had the asthma, or the distemper, or the consumption, or something of that kind. They used to give her two or three hundred yards start, and then pass her under way; but always at the fag end of the race shed get excited and desperate like, and come cavorting and straddling up, and scattering her legs around limber, sometimes in the air and sometimes out to one side among the fences, and kicking up m-o-r-e dust and raising m-o-r-e racket with her coughing and sneezing and blowing her noseand always fetch up at the stand just about a neck ahead, as near as you could cipher it down.
And he had a little small bull-pup, that to look at him youd think he warnt worth a cent but to set around and look ornery and lay for a chance to steal something. But as soon as money was up on him he was a different dog; his under-jawd begin to stick out like the focastle of a steamboat, and his teeth would uncover and shine like the furnaces. And a dog might tackle him and bully-rag him, and bite him, and throw him over his shoulder two or three times, and Andrew Jacksonwhich was the name of the pupAndrew Jackson would never let on but what he was satisfied, and hadnt expected nothing elseand the bets being doubled and doubled on the other side all the time, till the money was all up; and then all of a sudden he would grab that other dog just by the jint of his hind leg and freeze to itnot chaw, you understand, but only just grip and hang on till they throwed up the sponge, if it was a year. Smiley always come out winner on that pup, till he harnessed a dog once that didnt have no hind legs, because theyd been sawed off in a circular saw, and when the thing had gone along far enough, and the money was all up, and he come to make a snatch for his pet holt, he see in a minute how hed been imposed on, and how the other dog had him in the door, so to speak, and he peared surprised, and then he looked sorter discouraged-like, and didnt try no more to win the fight, and so he got shucked out bad. He give Smiley a look, as much as to say his heart was broke, and it was his fault for putting up a dog that hadnt no hind legs for him to take holt of, which was his main dependence in a fight, and then he limped off a piece and laid down and died. It was a good pup, was that Andrew Jackson, and would have made a name for hisself if hed lived, for the stuff was in him and he had geniusI know it, because he hadnt no opportunities to speak of, and it dont stand to reason that a dog could make such a fight as he could under them circumstances if he hadnt no talent. It always makes me feel sorry when I think of that last fight of hisn, and the way it turned out.
Well, thish-yer Smiley had rat-tarriers, and chicken cocks, and tom-cats, and all them kind of things till you couldnt rest, and you couldnt fetch nothing for him to bet on but hed match you. He ketched a frog one day, and took him home, and said he callated to educate him; and so he never done nothing for three months but set in his back yard and learn that frog to jump. And you bet you he did learn him, too. Hed give him a little punch behind, and the next minute youd see that frog whirling in the air like a doughnutsee him turn one summerset, or maybe a couple, if he got a good start, and come down flat-footed and all right, like a cat. He got him up so in the matter of ketching flies, and kep him in practice so constant, that hed nail a fly every time as fur as he could see him. Smiley said all a frog wanted was education and he could do most anythingand I believe him. Why, Ive seen him set Danl Webster down here on this floorDanl Webster was the name of the frogand sing out, Flies, Danl, flies! and quickern you could wink hed spring straight up and snake a fly offn the counter there, and flop down on the floor agin as solid as a gob of mud, and fall to scratching the side of his head with his hind foot as indifferent as if he hadnt no idea hed been doin any moren any frog might do. You never see a frog so modest and straightforard as he was, for all he was so gifted. And when it come to fair and square jumping on a dead level, he could get over more ground at one straddle than any animal of his breed you ever see. Jumping on a dead level was his strong suit, you understand; and when it come to that, Smiley would ante up money on him as long as he had a red. Smiley was monstrous proud of his frog, and well he might be, for fellers that had traveled and been everywheres all said he laid over any frog that ever they see.
Well, Smiley kep the beast in a little lattice box, and he used to fetch him down-town sometimes and lay for a bet. One day a fellera stranger in the camp, he wascome acrost him with his box, and says:
The feller took the box again, and took another long, particular look, and give it back to Smiley, and says, very deliberate, Well, he says, I dont see no pints about that frog thats any bettern any other frog.
Maybe you dont, Smiley says. Maybe you understand frogs and maybe you dont understand em; maybe youve had experience, and maybe you aint only a amature, as it were. Anyways, Ive got my opinion, and Ill resk forty dollars that he can outjump any frog in Calaveras County.
And then Smiley says, Thats all rightthats all rightif youll hold my box a minute Ill go and get you a frog. And so the feller took the box, and put up his forty dollars along with Smileys, and set down to wait.
So he set there a good while thinking and thinking to himself, and then he got the frog out and prized his mouth open and took a teaspoon and filled him full of quail shotfilled him pretty near up to his chinand set him on the floor. Smiley he went to the swamp and slopped around in the mud for a long time, and finally he ketched a frog, and fetched him in, and give him to this feller, and says:
Now, if youre ready, set him alongside of Danl, with his forepaws just even with Danls, and Ill give the word. Then he says, Onetwothreegit! and him and the feller touched up the frogs from behind, and the new frog hopped off lively, but Danl give a heave, and hysted up his shoulderssolike a Frenchman, but it warnt no usehe couldnt budge; he was planted as solid as a church, and he couldnt no more stir than if he was anchored out. Smiley was a good deal surprised, and he was disgusted, too, but he didnt have no idea what the matter was, of course.
The feller took the money and started away; and when he was going out at the door, he sorter jerked his thumb over his shouldersoat Danl, and says again, very deliberate, Well, he says, I dont see no pints about that frog thats any bettern any other frog.
Smiley he stood scratching his head and looking-down at Danl a long time, and at last he says, I do wonder what in the nation that frog throwd off forI wonder if there aint something the matter with himhe pears to look mighty baggy, somehow. And he ketched Danl by the nap of the neck, and hefted him, and says, Why, blame my cats if he dont weigh five pound! and turned him upside down and he belched out a double handful of shot. And then he see how it was, and he was the maddest manhe set the frog down and took out after that feller, but he never ketched him. And
[Here Simon Wheeler heard his name called from the front yard, and got up to see what was wanted.] And turning to me as he moved away, he said: Jest set where you are, stranger, and rest easyI aint going to be gone a second.
But, by your leave, I did not think that a continuation of the history of the enterprising vagabond Jim Smiley would be likely to afford me much information concerning the Reverend Leonidas W. Smiley, and so I started away.