“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”, also known as “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”, may be the most widely read “tall tale” in American literature. In this classic humorous story, Twain relates the fantastic story of a notorious gambler known as Jim Smiley and his talented jumping frog.
The story begins with an unnamed first person, possibly Twain himself, and his search for the Reverend Leonidas W. Smiley. Inquiring from a local man, Simon Wheeler, as to the reverend’s whereabouts, the narrator is backed into a corner and given the fantastic tale of Jim Smiley, the gambler.
Wheeler proceeds to explain in detail the gambling habits of Smiley; namely that he bet on horse races, the weather, dog fights, cock fights, cat fights, birds, and even insects. Being a rather lucky man, Smiley would invariably win, and to supplement his good fortune had taken to training his horse to win races and his dog to win fights. After a time, Wheeler explains, Smiley had succeeded in training a particular frog to jump higher than any other frog in Calaveras County (presumably the location of this story). With this remarkable frog, which Smiley kept in a little latched box, he had won many wagers.
One day, Wheeler continues, a stranger had come to town, and spotting Smiley with his box, had inquired what was in it. When Smiley had explained, the stranger challenged him to a frog-jumping contest, but then claimed he needed a frog. When Smiley had gone to retrieve one for the stranger, Wheeler continues, the man removed Smiley’s frog, poured a handful of birdshot into it, and replaced it. When Smiley had returned with a frog for the stranger, and they coaxed their frogs to jump, the strangers’ had leaped high into the air, while Smiley’s had barely lifted off the ground. The stranger had taken his money and left, leaving Smiley to fume alone. Only when it was too late had the gambler discovered how he had been cheated.
At this point of the story, Wheeler is interrupted and leaves momentarily, giving the narrator his chance to escape and continue his search for the Reverend Leonidas Smiley.