July 25, 2017

National Frog Month Heralds Calaveras Frog Jump!

Posted : April 17, 2013

Celebrated Jumping Frog of CalaverasApril is National Frog Month. Who Knew?  Calaveras County,  known for fine wine, caves, big trees, lakes, rivers and quaint Gold Rush towns, is also world renowned for our famous, jumping frogs.  We celebrate this delightful peculiarity at the Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee, which this year takes place annually on the third weekend in May.  You may ask, how did it all start?  And why do we jump frogs?

So, here’s the tale. It was the summer of 1865 and Calaveras County was a booming, roaring, gold mining camp.  Picture bad roads, slow travel, and frontier-town amusements like gambling houses,  taverns and local characters.

One such character was Jim Smiley, a miner and gambler, who liked to parade the streets with a basket under his arm, boasting about the jumping abilities of a certain frog of his called Dan’l Webster. A frequent patron of the gambling houses and taverns, Jim was somewhat famous locally.

About this time, two slickers from New York arrived in town just ahead of an arrest warrant. Making their rounds to these entertaining local establishments, they had the good fortune to meet Jim Smiley and were subject to his characteristic boasting.  The New Yorkers poked and prodded at Smiley until a contest and wager ensued.

Old Jim was easily distracted and left his prize frog, Dan’l Webster, in the care of some strangers who reputedly quietly filled Jim’s frog with buck shot.  So you can guess the rest: the city slickers’ frog out-jumped poor Dan’l, and Jim lost $40 in gold.

3 frog jump by Ken Recio

Mark Twain, an up-and-coming American humorist who, at that time, lived just across the Stanislaus River at Jackass Hill, was a frequent visitor to the Calaveras County mining camps.  Local legend has it that he heard the tall tale of Jim Smiley and his frog from Ross Coon, the proprietor of the Angels Hotel.

The tale inspired Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” which became his first nationally acclaimed story. And the legendary career of Mark Twain was born through a simple, local tale well told.

In 1928 a celebration of sorts, commemorating this famous story, began in Angels Camp and it eventually merged with the county fair in the 1930s. The winning frog in 1928 jumped a little over 3 ft.  According to native Calaveran, Whisker Bill, who was at the first jump, the frogs didn’t jump very far because they were put on a table and everyone stood around, crowding them.  Later official rules were created, a special carpet was laid for the stage and a team assembled to officiate.
Here are some interesting little facts about frogs:

  1. You can tell the gender of a frog by its ears.
  2. Frogs kept in captivity do not jump very far.
  3. It is hard to catch frogs between October and Mid April.
  4. Frogs must be 4 inches in length from nose to tail to compete in the Calaveras Jumping Frog Jubilee.
  5. Kissing the frog before it jumps does not always result in a victory.
  6. Frogging is actually something people do from boats.
  7. The California Bull Frog is the frog most widely jumped at the Calaveras Jumping Frog Jubilee.
  8. Frogs can be picked up from the back using your thumb and forefinger.
  9. The World’s Record is 21’5 3/4” set by Rosie the Ribbeter in 1986.

Most importantly if asked if we serve frog legs at the Fair, our response is always “We don’t bite the leg that feeds us”.

The Fair features 4 stages of entertainment, animal exhibits, arts, crafts, carnival, Barrel of Monkeez, fabulous food and unique shopping.  The Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee is May 16-19.  Stop by frogtown.org to find ticket information, schedules and everything frog jump.

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  1. any old pictures of past winners? my dads picture was in a gallery in the old movie theatre along with other participants from the 30’s or 40’s, per my grandmother. just wondering


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