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How a Winter in California’s Gold Country Started Mark Twain’s Career

U.S.How a Winter in California’s Gold Country Started Mark Twain’s Career

At first glance, you might think that Angels Camp, a small city in the verdant foothills of the Sierra Nevada, is famous for its frogs.

The sidewalks in the former Gold Rush town are emblazoned with frog plaques. The Angels Camp Museum sells frog baseball caps and cookie cutters shaped like frogs. A billboard declares “Frogtown, USA.”

But why all the love for frogs in Angels Camp, of all places? Because of Mark Twain and his breakout story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” originally published in 1865. Legend has it that Twain — real name: Samuel Clemens — first heard the tale at a tavern in Angels Camp.

In the winter of 1864, Clemens was struggling. After trying his hand as a steamboat pilot, a miner and a mill worker, Clemens had found work as a newspaper reporter in San Francisco but had lost his job and was deeply in debt.

Just after his 29th birthday, he left the city in December 1864 to stay with some miners living in a cabin in Tuolumne County, about 140 miles east of San Francisco. There, in a place known as Jackass Hill, he began to feel rejuvenated, reading literature and listening to his friends tell witty stories by the fire in the one-room cabin, the local historian James Fletcher wrote in his book “Mark Twain’s 88 Days in the Mother Lode.”

Clemens began keeping a notebook, recording anecdotes and observations that would “feed his literary art for the rest of his life,” Fletcher writes. “Sam would spend but three months on Jackass Hill before returning to San Francisco, but these months were life-changing for the young writer.”

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