I heard something about Mark Twain in reference to Frogtown down at Angels Camp but nobody seemed to know what it was about. We didn’t stop in at Angel’s Camp so we didn’t uncover anything further. Then I saw Mark Twain’s Cabin marked on one of our maps. Did Mark Twain come this way. Then when we were driving between Murphys & Columbia I saw a Historic Marker on the side of the highway. I knew I was plenty ahead of the skoolie so I detoured off for a mile and drove up Jackass Hill.
Jackass Hill was a stopping place for packers carrying supplies to the miners. Some nights there would be about 200 jackasses on this hill! The area was a great find for gold. Even the quartz was found to be 3/4 gold by weight!!
Sure enough, Samuel Clemens (better known as Mark Twain) wintered here, arriving atop Jackass Hill on December 4, 1864 and stayed until sometime around February 25, 1865.
Clemens had come over the mountains from Virginia City, Nevada to San Francisco with his friend Steve Gillis. Unclear as to his purpose, various biographers give different reasons as to why Clemens was here. But no matter, Clemens stayed here with two other Gillis brothers, Jim and Bill and another fellow, Dick Stoker.
Jump Start His Writing Career
That winter Samuel heard the story of the “Jumping Frog” at a saloon down at Angel’s Camp. His version of the story brought a transformation to Samuel Clemens life. He used this material for “Jumping Frog of Calaveras” which was the short story that first brought him fame. Some of the tall tales spun by the Gillis brothers and Dick Stoker found their way into later Twain writings such as “Roughing It” (e.g. Dick Stoker was Dick Baker)
Time has taken a toll on the original cabin dubbed the Mark Twain Cabin. All that’s original is the chimney and the fireplace; the rest is a replica.
What’s left is now protected as best can be behind bars. We could just peek in through the open door into an empty one-room cabin. A reminder of the simpler days (not easier, necessarily, but simpler) when people had lower expectations of what the necessities in life were. Here they were relatively warm by the fireplace. They had a safe place to rest their head at night. They had camaraderie.
This is a quick but interesting stop in gold country, making a little connection between literature and real life.
It might have been a short stay here for Samuel Clemens in the Sierra, but it had quite an impact on American literature.
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