|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
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, he never changed
his voice. 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 eighteen forty-nine--or may be it was the
spring of eighteen-fifty. 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 was his wife, and
he said she was better, thank God. And Smiley, before he thought, says,
“Well, I'll risk my money she will not get well.'"
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, too.
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 every time.
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 ever saw.
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
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 was.
The other man took the money and started away. And when he was going out
the door, he looked back and said "Well, I don’t 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 him.
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.