Gold, Dreams and Frogs!

‘There’s gold in them there hills…’

The year is 1848, from your homestead in the east you pack your saddlebag with everything you own. You kiss your family goodbye, put on your hat, mount your horse and head west to the promised land in the hope you would strike it big!

400 million years ago the land that is now California, was under a massive sea. Underwater volcanos spewed minerals and lava onto the sea floor, over time tectonic plates shifted, forcing rocks and its precious veins of minerals upwards to form the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges and foothills. As the rocks eroded, gold became exposed and was eventually washed downstream.

In January 1848 the first traces of gold were found in the creek at Sutter’s Mill. The Californian Gold Rush began and news travelled fast! Over 300,000 people from America and the rest of the world took the arduous journey to California overland from the east and many by sea. Many prospectors never did reach their final destination.

‘The Forty-Niners’ first tried their luck at scooping placer gold.This is gold that had been loosened from the source rock into rivers and creeks throughout the Sierra foothills. Experienced miners then followed the loose gold trail to the ‘Mother Lode’ source deep in the hills, mine shafts were dug out and hydraulic mining took place.

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The Sierra foothills still has mines where you can take part in organised gold panning events on gold rush days. While in Calaveras County we visited Ironstone Vineyard Estate, where they have a gold rush era heritage museum and wine tasting room. The property is beautifully designed to resemble a gold mining site with plenty of historic touches. At the museum we viewed a large piece of Crystalline Gold Leaf weighing 44lb. Crystalline Gold is one of the most rare and precious natural gold formations consisting of pure gold that has been deposited in layers between other minerals.

California was seen as the land where new beginnings could start for all. Success and wealth would be available to those who worked hard, were resourceful and certainly had lady luck on their side!

The ‘California Dream’ spread across the land and to this day immigrants hope their American dream will come true.

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Two brothers looking for their American dream were Samuel and Orion Clemens, who went west from Missouri by stagecoach to try their hands at silver mining in Nevada. Samuel sucked at mining but he was a talented writer who became a freelance journalist for several newspapers, this led him to the path that would eventually make his name known to this day.

In 1865, while gathering gold rush tales in the Californian mining town of Angels Camp, Samuel heard a story about a jumping frog called ‘Old Daniel Webster’ from the Angels Hotel bartender Simon Wheeler.

The plot of the story tells the tale about a madcap character named Jim Smiley, a prolific gambler who would bet on anything. He turned a frog into a pet and bet a stranger that his frog, Daniel Webster, could jump higher than any other frog. While Smiley wasn’t looking, the stranger filled Ol Dan’l Webster with gunshot, the poor frog was earthbound and Smiley lost the bet. Before he could figure out what happened, the stranger had disappeared with the $40 he had won by cheating Smiley.

This tale was published as “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” it was the author’s first book and collection of other short stories.

Samuel Clemens the author became hugely successful, his pen name – Mark Twain.

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Calaveras County celebrates the Jumping Frog Jubilee every May in Frogtown located near Angels Camp. If you have a sure-fire frog jumper, you can enter the contests to win cash prizes. Current world record is held by bullfrog ‘Rosie the Ribeter’ this virile hopper jumped just over 21 feet!!

Although I’ve read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I had never heard of the Calaveras Jumping Frog story and didn’t know that Mark Twain had been a silver miner or had been a river boat pilot on the Mississippi.

Mark Twain is one of those celebrated American writers that pops up all over the place, we see Twain quotes everywhere just as much as we see places where Ernest Hemingway ‘famously drank in this bar’…

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Travel is fabulous, we learn so much!

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