Timecapsule: November 18, 1865

Mark Twain's improbable wild west tale about an inveterate gambler and a jumping frog becomes the talk of New York City.

Mark Twain -- or, let's use the name his mother gave him -- Samuel Clemens was not much of a miner. Up in the rainy foothills of the Sierra Nevada gold country, he preferred sitting around the camp tavern stove and listening to local characters tell tall tales.

Now, a story about a jumping frog stuffed full of lead shot already existed in American folklore, but after hearing the version narrated by one old river pilot, Clemens remarked "if I can write that story the way Ben Coon told it, that frog will jump around the world".

He was right. Here's the way San Francisco's Alta California described it:

Mark Twain's story in the Saturday Press of November 18th, 1865 called 'Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog,' has set all New York in a roar, and he may be said to have made his mark. I have been asked fifty times about (the story) and its author, and the papers are copying it far and near. It is voted the best thing of the day.

That little story, with its darn-tootin' Western voice, naturalistic vernacular style and wry humour was an absolute sensation. Soon to be renamed "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County", it became the signature piece and stepping stone to national celebrity of our most authentically American novelist.