On January 25, 1865, Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain traveled from the cabin he shared with pocket miner Jim Gillis at Jackass Hill in Tuolumne County to nearby Angels Camp in Calaveras County and was rained in for nearly two weeks. To amuse themselves, the townspeople exchanged tall tales around the bar at the Angels Hotel. Twain wrote them down, including one about a frog named Dan’l Webster who could outjump any other frog. On November 18th that tale, “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog,” was published in the New York Saturday Press–and the famed literary career of Mark Twain was truly launched. In subsequent reprints, the story became known as “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”
Though the first County Fair was held in 1893, the first Jumping Frog Jubilee did not take place until 1928. Created by the Angels Camp Boosters to commemorate the paving of Main Street, the Frog Jump, as it is locally known, drew more than 15,000 visitors to watch a parade celebrating the area’s Gold Rush heritage and a frog jumping contest. Ten years later, the County Fair and the Jumping Frog Jubilee were combined at the nearby County Fairgrounds, of course called Frogtown, and have been held there in May every year since.
Today, the County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee remains the biggest annual event in Calaveras, and both Mark Twain and Jim Smiley’s frog are colorful and celebrated symbols of the county.
By Sal Manna