The discovery of “The jumping frog”
Mark Twain’s daily letters to the “Enterprise” stirred up trouble for him in San Francisco. He was free, now, to write what he chose, and he attacked the corrupt police management with such fierceness that, when copies of the “Enterprise” got back to San Francisco, they started a commotion at the city hall. Then Mark Twain let himself go more vigorously than ever. He sent letters to the “Enterprise” that made even the printers afraid. Goodman, however, was fearless, and let them go in, word for word. The libel suit which the San Francisco chief of police brought against the Enterprise advertised the paper amazingly.
But now came what at the time seemed an unfortunate circumstance. Steve Gillis, always a fearless defender of the weak, one night rushed to the assistance of two young fellows who had been set upon by three roughs. Gillis, though small of stature, was a terrific combatant, and he presently put two of the assailants to flight and had the other ready for the hospital. Next day it turned out that the roughs were henchmen of the police, and Gillis was arrested.
Clemens went his bail, and advised Steve to go down to Virginia City until the storm blew over.
But it did not blow over for Mark Twain. The police department was only too glad to have a chance at the author of the fierce “Enterprise” letters, and promptly issued a summons for him, with an execution against his personal effects. If James N. Gillis, brother of Steve, had not happened along just then and spirited Mark Twain away to his mining-camp in the Tuolumne Hills, the beautiful gold watch given to the governor of the Third House might have been sacrificed in the cause of friendship.
As it was, he found himself presently in the far and peaceful seclusion of that land which Bret Harte would one day make famous with his tales of “Roaring Camp” and “Sandy Bar.” Jim Gillis was, in fact, the Truthful James of Bret Harte, and his cabin on jackass Hill had been the retreat of Harte and many another literary wayfarer who had wandered there for rest and refreshment and peace. It was said the sick were made well, and the well made better, in Jim Gillis’s cabin. There were plenty of books and a variety of out-of-door recreation. One could mine there if he chose. Jim would furnish the visiting author with a promising claim, and teach him to follow the little fan-like drift of gold specks to the pocket of treasure somewhere up the hillside.
Gillis himself had literary ability, though he never wrote. He told his stories, and with his back to the open fire would weave the most amazing tales, invented as he went along. His stories were generally wonderful adventures that had happened to his faithful companion, Stoker; and Stoker never denied them, but would smoke and look into the fire, smiling a little sometimes, but never saying a word. A number of the tales later used by Mark Twain were first told by Jim Gillis in the cabin on Jackass Hill. “Dick Baker’s Cat” was one of these, the jay-bird and acorn story in “A Tramp Abroad” was another. Mark Twain had little to add to these stories.