It sits atop Jack­ass Hill north of Sonora

Escalon Times - - LIVING - By DEN­NIS WY­ATT

Sa­muel Cle­mens — aka Mark Twain — would have loved the irony.

The pop­u­lar and con­tro­ver­sial 19th cen­tury au­thor — who many credit with pen­ning the words “Whiskey is for drink­ing; wa­ter is for fight­ing over” — has been memo­ri­al­ized through the restora­tion of the cabin he stayed in from Dec. 4, 1864 to Feb. 25, 1865 just a short dis­tance from where to­day’s New Melones Reser­voir sits. The reser­voir is a key player in Cal­i­for­nia’s on­go­ing wa­ter wars that broke out months af­ter the first gold nugget was dis­cov­ered at Sut­ter’s Mill on the Amer­i­can River.

While stay­ing at the cabin heard the story of the jump­ing frog con­test in an An­gels Camp sa­loon. The short story that he wrote there­after — “The Cel­e­brated Jump­ing Frog of Calav­eras County” — would lit­er­ally trans­form his life. It was orig­i­nally pub­lished as “Jim Smi­ley and His Jump­ing Frog.” It rep­re­sented his first ma­jor suc­cess as a writer and brought him na­tional ac­claim. “The Cel­e­brated Jump­ing Frog of Calav­eras County & Other Sketches” was the ti­tle of his first booked pub­lished in 1867. It in­cluded a col­lected of 27 sto­ries that had been pub­lished pre­vi­ously from his dis­patches to news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines.

It was a long way from Jack­ass Hill Road in Tuolumne County north of Sonora where the cabin re­stored in 2002 by the Sonora

Sun­rise Club stands and the ex­pan­sive three-story Gothic-style house he built in 1874 in Hartford, Con­necti­cut, with his grow­ing earn­ings from his writ­ing. The house he lived I un­til 1891 to­day is a na­tional his­toric land­mark and houses the Mark Twain Mu­seum. It is in that house that he wrote clas­sics such as “The Ad­ven­tures of Tom Sawyer” and “Ad­ven­tures of Huck­le­berry Finn.”

The cabin on Jack­ass Hill is prim­i­tive to say the least and about the size of 1½ Chevy Subur­bans. He had trav­eled to the Gold Coun­try from Nevada’s fa­mous sil­ver Com­stock Lode where he worked as a re­porter for the Vir­ginia City Ter­ri­to­rial En­ter­prise. There he cov­ered ev­ery­thing from the Nevada leg­is­la­ture in Car­son City to re­port­ing the num­ber of hay wag­ons that rolled into town each week up Geiger Grade from the Washoe Val­ley.

He stayed with broth­ers Jim and Bill Gillis as well as Dick Stoker. The three were pocket min­ers that built the cabin. Some of the tales they spun were also in­cluded in Twain’s fu­ture works. Stoker was Dick Barker in “Rough­ing It.” One look at the cabin and “rough­ing it” comes to mind.

The cabin is on the Bret Harte Trail. The hill got its name as of­ten more than 200 jack­asses would overnight on the hill. Min­ers took some $10,000 worth of coarse gold from roughly 100 square feet of land.

The turnoff to the dead­end Jack­ass Hill Road is about a mile south of the High­way 49 bridge over New Melones Reser­voir and the Stanis­laus River head­ing north out of Sonora.

As land­marks go, it isn’t much to look at. It is pro­tected by a wrought iron fence.

But if you’re a Mark Twain junkie (guilty as charged) or a his­tory buff it is well worth the day trip com­bined with a visit to nearby Jamestown or lunch in Sonora that even has an El Jardin for the fans of the Mex­i­can restau­rants you can find in Man­teca, Tur­lock, Oak­dale, and Santa Cruz.

Given the fact I’ve taken in the old Vir­ginia City Ter­ri­to­rial Ex­press of­fice as well as went out of my way when I was in St. Louis 29 years ago to drive at night on a spur of the mo­ment through a se­vere light­ning storm to stay in Han­ni­bal, Mis­souri, the fact I’ve waited so long to see a spot where Mark Twain la­bored in the 209 is a bit per­plex­ing.

That said, it was a lot cheaper than my 1988 trip to Han­ni­bal where — just across the street from Twain’s child­hood home — I man­aged to dump what was then (and still to­day) an out­landish sum of $290 in Becky’s Book­shop buy­ing var­i­ous books by Mark Twain that were among works and his let­ters that are slightly more ob­scure to­day than his books such as “Tom Sawyer”, “Huck­le­berry Finn”, “A Tramp Abroad”, “Life on the Mis­sis­sippi”, “The Prince and the Pau­per” and “A Con­necti­cut Yan­kee in King Arthur’s Court”.


LEFT PHOTO: Den­nis Wy­att in front of Mark Twain’s cabin on Jack­ass Hill. TOP RIGHT PHOTO: Look for the Jack­ass Hill Road while trav­el­ing north out of Sonora on High­way 49. BOT­TOM RIGHT PHO­TOS: Sa­muel Cle­mens (Mark Twain) through the years.

Photo con­trib­uted

Mark Twain’s home that he built in Hartford, Con­necti­cut was a far cry from the cabin he stayed in while in Tuolumne County.

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