A friend of mine
in the East asked me to visit old Simon Wheeler, to ask about my
friend's friend, Leonidas W. Smiley. I did as my friend asked me
to do and this story is the result.
I found Simon Wheeler sleeping by the stove in the ruined mining
camp of Angel's.
I saw that he was fat and had no hair, and had a gentle and
simple look upon his peaceful face. He woke up, and gave me "good-day."
I told him a friend had asked me to find out about a friend
named Leonidas W. Smiley, who he heard was at one time living in
Angel's Camp. I added that if Mister Wheeler could tell me
anything about this Leonidas W. Smiley, I would feel a great
responsibility to him.
Simon Wheeler forced me into a corner with his chair and began
telling me this long story. He never smiled, he never frowned,
but all through the endless story there was a feeling of great
seriousness and honesty. This showed me plainly that he thought
the heroes of the story were men of great intelligence.
I let him go on in his own way, and never stopped him once. This
is the story Simon Wheeler told.
Leonidas W. .... h'm... Le... well, there was a man here once by
the name of Jim Smiley, in the winter of 1849 - or may be it was
the spring of 1850. Anyway, he was the strangest man. He was
always making money on anything that turned up if he could get
anybody to try to make money on the other side. And if he could
not do that, he would change sides.
And he was lucky, uncommon lucky. He most always was a winner.
If there was a dog-fight, he would try to win money on it. If
there was a cat-fight, he would take the risk. If there was a
chicken-fight, he would try to win money on it. Why, if there
was two birds setting on a fence, he would want you to decide
which one would fly first so he could win money.
Lots of the boys here have seen that Smiley and can tell you
about him. Why, it did not matter to him. He would try to make
money on anything. He was the most unusual man. Parson Walker's
wife was very sick once, for a long time, and it seemed as if
they were not going to save her.
But one morning he come in, and Smiley asked him how his wife
was, and he said she was better, thank God. And Smiley, before
he thought, says, "Well, I'll risk my money she will not get
And Smiley had a little small dog. To look at the dog, you would
think he was not worth anything but to sit around and look mean
and look for a chance to steal something. But as soon as there
was money, he was a different dog. Another dog might attack and
throw him around two or three times. Then all of a sudden
Smiley's dog would grab that other dog by his back leg and hang
on till the men said it was over.
Smiley always come out the winner on that dog, at least until he
found a dog once that did not have any back legs. The dog's legs
had been cut off in a machine. Well, the fighting continued long
enough, and the money was gone. Then when Smiley's dog come to
make a grab the other dog's back legs, he saw in a minute how
there was a problem.
The other dog was going to win and Smiley's dog looked surprised
and did not try to win the fight anymore. He gave Smiley a look
that said he was sorry for fighting a dog that did not have any
back legs for him to hold, which he needed to win a fight. Then
Smiley's dog walked away, laid down and died. He was a good dog,
and would have made a name for himself if he had lived, for he
had intelligence. It always makes me feel sorry when I think of
that last fight of his and the way it turned out.
Well, this Smiley had rats, and chickens, and cats and all of
them kind of things. You could not get anything for him to risk
money on but he would match you. He caught a frog one day, and
took him home, and said he was going to educate the frog. And so
he never done nothing for three months but sit in his back yard
and teach that frog to jump. And you bet you he did teach him,
He would give him a little hit from behind. And the next minute
you would see that frog dancing in the air and then come down
all on his feet and all right, like a cat. Smiley got him so the
frog was catching flies, and he would catch one of those insects
Smiley said all a frog wanted was education, and he could do
almost anything. And I believe him. Why, I have seen him set
Dan'l Webster down here on this floor--Dan'l Webster was the
name of the frog -- and sing out, "Flies, Dan'l, flies!" And
quicker than you could shut your eyes that frog would jump
straight up and catch a fly off the table. Then he would fall
down on the floor again like a ball of dirt and start rubbing
the side of his head with his back foot as if he had no idea he
had been doing any more than any frog might do.
You never seen a frog so honest and simple as he was, for all he
was so skilled. And when it come to jumping, he could get over
more ground in one jump than any animal of his kind that you
Smiley was very proud of his frog, and people who had traveled
and been everywhere all said he was better than any frog they
had ever seen.
Well, one day a stranger came in and says to Smiley, "What might
be that you have got in the box?"
And Smiley says, "It's only just a frog." And the man took it,
and looked at it careful, and turned it round this way and that,
and says, "H'm, so it is. Well, what is he good for?"
"Well," Smiley says, easy and careless, "he can out jump any
frog in Calaveras County."
The man took the box again, and took another long look, and gave
it back to Smiley, and says, "Well, I don't see anything about
that frog that is any better than any other frog."
"Maybe you don't," Smiley says. "Maybe you understand frogs and
maybe you don't. Anyways, I will risk forty dollars and bet you
that he can jump farther than any frog in Calaveras County."
And the man studied a minute. "Well, I'm only a stranger here,
and I do not have a frog. But if I had a frog, I would risk my
money on it.
And then Smiley says, "That's all right. If you will hold my box
a minute, I will go and get you a frog." And so the man took the
box, and put up his forty dollars and sat down to wait.
He sat there a long time thinking and thinking. Then he got the
frog out of the box. He filled its mouth full of bullets used to
kill small birds. Then he put the frog on the floor.
Now Smiley had caught another frog and gave it to the man and
said, "Now sit him next to Dan'l and I will give the word."
Then Smiley says, "One-two-three-go!" and Smiley and the other
man touched the frogs.
The new frog jumped. Dan'l just lifted up his body but could not
move at all. He was planted like a building. Smiley was very
surprised and angry too. But he did not know what the problem
The other man took the money and started away. And when he was
going out the door, he looked back and said "Well, I do not see
anything about that frog that is any better than any other frog."
Smiley stood looking down at Dan'l a long time, and at last says,
"I wonder what in the nation happened to that frog. I wonder if
there is something wrong with him."
And he picked up Dan'l and turned him upside down and out came a
whole lot of bullets. And Smiley was the angriest man. He set
the frog down and took out after that man but he never caught
Now Simon Wheeler heard his name called and got up to see what
was wanted. He told me to wait but I did not think that more
stories about Jim Smiley would give me any more information
about Leonidas W. Smiley, and so I started to walk away.
At the door I met Mister Wheeler returning, and he started
talking again. "Well, this here Smiley had a yellow cow with one
eye and no tail..."
However, lacking both time and interest, I did not wait to hear
about the cow. I just left.