“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” has an “as-told-to” framework. A talkative man named Simon Wheeler relates to Mark Twain (the narrator) the story of a gambler named Jim Smiley and the amazing animals Smiley used in his schemes. Twain has gone to see Wheeler at the urging of a friend back East who is in search of information about a boyhood companion named Leonidas W. Smiley. Leonidas W. Smiley had supposedly become a minister and gone to a western mining settlement called Angel’s Camp. The narrator notes he has come to believe there is no such person as Leonidas W. Smiley, and that the inquiry was designed to provide Wheeler with an excuse to talk about Jim Smiley. The narrator finds Wheeler in a run-down tavern in Angel’s Camp and politely asks about Leonidas W. Smiley. The name means nothing to Wheeler, but he thinks almost immediately of Jim Smiley and begins filling his visitor with tales of this bizarre character.
Jim Smiley, according to Wheeler, was a man who would bet on anything. “Why, if there was two birds setting on a fence, he would bet you which one would fly first,” Wheeler says. Wheeler recalls that Smiley had a slow, sickly horse that would surprise everyone by winning races, and Smiley frequently won money with that horse. Smiley’s bulldog pup, named Andrew Jackson after the strong-willed U.S. president, also had an amazing talent. Andrew Jackson the dog was not very impressive in appearance, but remarkably tenacious when there was a bet riding on him. He would let another dog beat him savagely until the largest and final bet of the fight was on, then take one of his opponent’s hind legs in his mouth and hold on until the other dog simply gave up. He continued winning in this manner until he went up against a dog with no hind legs. Unable to use his favorite tactic, Andrew Jackson became so disheartened that he just slunk off and died, Wheeler tells Twain.
Wheeler continues with a story about how Smiley once caught a frog and trained it to jump. The frog, named after famed nineteenth-century American politician Daniel Webster, developed incredible jumping ability. Smiley won many bets with Dan’l Webster and took great pride in him, Wheeler says. One day Smiley boasted to a stranger in the camp that Dan’l Webster could outjump any frog in Calaveras County, and he offered to bet forty dollars to prove it. The stranger had no frog to pit against Smiley’s, so Smiley left Dan’l Webster with him and went to find another frog in a nearby swamp. While Smiley was gone, the stranger spooned buckshot into Dan’l Webster’s mouth until the frog was weighted down. Smiley returned with the second frog and the jumping contest began, but Dan’l Webster could not move. After the stranger took his money and his leave, Smiley noticed that something appeared to be wrong with Dan’l. He lifted the frog, realized how heavy it was, and turned it upside down until it belched out the shot. He then chased after the visitor, but never caught him, Wheeler relates.
At this point in the tale, someone outside the tavern calls Wheeler’s name, and Wheeler steps out after urging the narrator to wait for him to return. By this time, however, the narrator believes he will obtain no useful information from Wheeler, and he gets up to leave. As he reaches the door, Wheeler comes back and starts to tell him about Jim Smiley’s one-eyed, no-tailed cow. “Lacking both time and inclination” to hear this story, the narrator makes his escape.
Kathleen Wilson (Editor), Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 1, Mark Twain, Published by Gale, 1997.