Jim Smiley’s bull-pup, Andrew Jackson, was used by Jim in various bets. The dog is described as a good dog that does not look like much, and other dogs often seemed to get the better of him in fights. The narrator notes, however, that Andrew Jackson never seemed to be bothered by these temporary setbacks because once a bet was involved, his behavior would change. As the stakes in the bets were raised, Andrew Jackson would bite the other dog in the hind leg and stay there, hanging on, until the owner of his opponent would give in and forfeit the fight. In this way, Jim’s bull-pup would win his fights. Andrew Jackson died when Jim arranged for him to fight a dog that did not have any hind legs. The narrator implies that Andrew Jackson was a proud dog and died of embarrassment. Like the former President of the United States with whom he shares his name, Andrew Jackson is described as being determined and strong-willed.
The Fifteen-Minute Nag
The Fifteen-Minute Nag is the name given to Jim Smiley’s horse. An old and rather sickly animal, The Fifteen-Minute Nag was used by Jim in many of his bets. The horse suffered from various ailments and did not look as if she could win a horse race. Nevertheless, Jim would frequently put her in races. Although she would start out slow, in the last leg of the race, the nag always seemed to get excited and typically found the energy to win the race.
Jim Smiley is the focus of Simon Wheeler’s tale. A resident of Calaveras County’s Angel’s Camp in either 1849 or 1850, Jim is primarily known for his love for betting and will bet on almost anything—no matter how ridiculous. He has even bet on whether people will recover from an illness and on which of two birds will fly away first. It is said Jim would even make a poor bet just so that he could make a bet. Jim was considered a lucky man, however, and frequently won his bets. Jim has several pets: an old horse, a bull-pup named Andrew Jackson, cats, chickens, and a frog named Dan’l Webster, who is the “celebrated frog” mentioned in the title of this story. Jim uses these animals’ abilities as the basis for many of his bets. He is tricked by the Stranger at the tale’s end, which contrasts with the visitor Twain being tricked by the local, Simon Wheeler.
The Stranger is a con artist. He states that Dan’l Webster isn’t the prized jumper that Jim says he is and bets that any other frog could beat Dan’l in a jumping contest. While Jim searches for another frog, the stranger feeds Dan’l Webster quail shot to make him too heavy to jump and thereby swindles Jim out of his money. This situation—the Stranger duping the local (Jim Smiley)—contrasts with Simon Wheeler, the local, who dupes Twain, the visitor.
Mark Twain is the author and narrator of the story, as well as one of its characters. He is portrayed as the butt of a joke, the joke being having to listen to the fantastic tales of a garrulous old man named Simon Wheeler. Twain allegedly was asked by a friend to find out about an acquaintance of that friend. Twain thinks that this was merely a trick, however, and is subsequently frustrated by his entire experience with Wheeler. Coming across as an impatient, condescending man unwilling to listen to Wheeler, he sneaks away when he gets the chance. Twain speaks in perfect English and may be viewed as a symbol of the snobbery associated with the eastern United States during the nineteenth century.
See Dan’l Webster
Dan’l Webster is the “notorious jumping frog of Calaveras County.” He is caught by Jim Smiley and trained by him to jump high, far, and on command. When jumping, he does somersaults and is described by the narrator as “whirling in the air like a doughnut.” Despite his jumping prowess, he is described as being modest and straightforward. He is often used in Jim’s bets and is the victim of the Stranger’s prank. According to Jim, Dan’l Webster can out-jump any frog in Calaveras County. He shares his name with the famous nineteenth-century American statesman and orator.
Simon Wheeler is an elderly resident of the Western mining operation known as Angel’s Camp. A fat, balding man whom Twain finds in a bar, Simon is described condescendingly as possessing ‘”an expression of winning gentleness and simplicity.” He remembers when much of the camp was being built and provides the actual story of the infamous betting man named Jim Smiley and his “notorious jumping frog.” Though he seems comfortable with his role as storyteller, Simon seems oblivious to the fact that he is boring his listener, Mark Twain, and is seemingly unaware of the fantastic nature of his tale. For his part, Twain asserts that although Simon speaks for a very long time and with a lack of enthusiasm and emotion, he speaks sincerely and takes his stories seriously. Critics note, however, that Simon is well aware of his narrative abilities and is not as naive as he seems. Despite his supposed lack of sophistication, he immediately sizes up the cultured Easterner Twain and dupes him into hearing this fantastic tale.
Kathleen Wilson (Editor), Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 1, Mark Twain, Published by Gale, 1997.