Mark Twain’s short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” was a huge success when it was published on November 18, 1865 in the New York Saturday Press. It established Twain’s reputation as a humorist with a great ear for regional American dialects.
The story is set in a mining camp during the gold rush in California, and its subject is a bet, on a frog, gone awry. The original title was “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog.” This version began with a letter in the voice of the narrator addressed to Mr. A Ward. It was also published as “The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” It was so popular that it was reprinted all over the country, and then became the title story in Twain’s first book: The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and Other Sketches. The frame structure of a story within a story adds an additional dimension to the piece, as the narrator, an educated man from the Eastern United States, surrenders his first-person account over to Simon Wheeler, a garrulous Westerner who tells his third-person tall tale in vernacular slang. This sets up a contrast within the language of the text between the two narrators, which allows Twain to poke fun at Americans from both regions of the United States. Since the story was published the year that the Civil War ended, critics have attributed its popularity to the American hunger for light-hearted entertainment that both acknowledges American differences and imagines similarities. The story achieves a balance in the end, as strangers and locals alike are duped. And the ride along the way is fun—filled with exaggeration, silly names, and animals doing preposterous things in order to serve the gambling fever of Forty-Niners out West.