|Calaveras County Fairgrounds Gate|
Angels Camp in Calaveras County started as one of many placer gold mining towns in the foothills of California with a post office established in 1851. However, much of its current fame has less to do with gold mining and more to do with jumping frogs. You can see from the signage at the Calaveras County fairgrounds that the Jumping Frog Jubilee held there every May is BIG. The city of Angels Camp is often referred to as Frogtown.
|Frogtown Logo at Fairgrounds|
Samuel Clemens, who later adopted the pen name of Mark Twain, traveled with his friend Steve Gillis over the mountains from Virginia City, Nevada, and arrived at the cabin on Jackass Hill on December 4, 1864. They stayed with two other Gillis brothers, Jim and Bill, and also with Dick Stoker, all local pocket miners. He lived there until about February 25, 1865.
The area was surrounded by cities and towns that came into existence due to the gold strikes. Angels Camp is located north of the cabin and across the Stanislaus River. It attracted placer miners until the surface gold disappeared. A few years later, a new gold boom developed due to the discovery of gold-producing quartz. Samuel and his companions would have bought their provisions there or at Tuttletown to the south.
|Angels Hotel in Angels Camp where Sam Clemens first heard the jumping frog story.|
|Original chimney built with native stone|
It was while living on the hill and visiting a saloon at the Angels Hotel that Samuel heard the story about the jumping frog. The hotel in 1851 was a tent, but a stone structure was built in 1855 with the second story added in 1857.
In the story, the narrator retells a story he heard from a bartender, Simon Wheeler. The tale is about the gambler, Jim Smiley, who trained a frog to jump and then had the tables turned on him when he placed a bet. The published story ended up capturing the world’s attention.
Twain’s friend, Artemus Ward, asked Sam Clemens/Mark Twain to write the story for inclusion in a book. Twain wrote two versions of the story, but was unhappy with both. By the time he had rewritten it so he was satisfied with it, the book was nearing publication and the story could not be added. Instead, Artemus submitted the short story to The Saturday Press. It appeared in its November 18, 1865 edition as “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog.”
|Cover of 1867 Book|
Although he had been writing and publishing for years, it was this short story that catapulted Mark Twain to national fame. Some of the other tall tales told by his cabin mates made their way into some of Mark Twain’s stories, but none had the far-reaching appeal as the story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”
1867 portrait by Abdullah Fréres
"The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" is also the title story of an 1867 collection of short stories by Mark Twain which was his first published book. That book was a collection 27 previously published in magazines and newspapers stories.
The hill on which the cabin was built yielded very coarse gold amounting to about $10,000 taken from 100 square feet of ground. The cabin in which Samuel Clemens stayed was a stopping place for packers carrying supplies to miners. Often 200 jackasses on the hill overnight furnished a concert for their human audience, no doubt prompting the name given to the place, Jackass Hill.
|Jackass Hill cabin in early January 2015|
Between 2002-2005, a replica of the cabin was built using the original chimney and fireplace.
Although it gets cold in winter, at about 1,800 feet elevation, there is very minimal snow and perhaps only a few weeks of frost each year. These pictures of the cabin were taken in early January of 2015. It was a mild climate in which Mark Twain and his compatriots could pass two winters -- assuming they could stand five people living in the cabin within easy listening distance to braying jackasses.
By the time twenty years had passed since Mark Twain's sojourn in the western Sierra-Nevada Mountain foothills, known as the Mother Lode, most gold mining had moved to the eastern Sierra-Nevada slopes, including in Lundy where my lastest novella, Big Meadows Valentine, is set. Both Jackass Hill and Lundy are relatively close to the Sonora Pass used in the 1880s for transporting commodities over the mountains to the mining regions in the eastern part of the state.
Although Big Meadows Valentine does include a Valentine's Day scene, it begins early in the winter of the year 1884. This book is the first in a series, "Eastern Sierra Brides 1884." Each novella is written as a stand-alone book, but the series will follow many of the same characters in the mining town of Lundy and the agricultural community of Bridgeport in the eastern Sierra-Nevada region of Mono County.
Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. Her novella, Big Meadows Valentine, is now available on Amazon Kindle HERE and on B & N Nook HERE. Please visit the Zina Abbott’s Amazon Author Page by clicking HERE.