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Film Captures Mark Twain’s Time In The Mother Lode

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Samuel Clemens spent the winter of 1865 at Jackass Hill in Tuolumne County and became the great American writer and humorist, Mark Twain. Now, a new film captures those three months.

Joe Sparagna, Past President and current Member of the Tuolumne County Historical Society (TCHS) was Friday’s KVML “Newsmaker of the Day”.

The Tuolumne County Historical Society will host a free day of activities on Saturday, Feb. 14, at the Sonora Opera Hall in Sonora to mark the 150th anniversary of that time in Clemens’ life.

The highlight of the day will be the premiere of the documentary film, 88 Days in the Mother Lode, Mark Twain Finds His Voice.

The event will also be part of the Mother Lode Art Association’s 2nd Saturday art event.

Activities will include children’s craft and story time, an art and photography show, entertainment by a local ukulele group, a presentation by This ‘n That Films about the making of the documentary and the premiere showing at 7 p.m.

“In the fall of 1864 Samuel Clemens felt that he was a failure,” according to the films’ web site.  His recent failures were being fired from a newspaper job, bad luck as a gold miner, silver miner, lumber baron, and a soldier and now he was destitute.

Clemens was out of money and could not pay for his room and board. “Stuck in San Francisco without options, he considered suicide as his only way out,” the web site says.

A friend, Jim Gillis, suggested Clemens join him and Dick Stoker at Gillis’ small cabin in the Sierra Nevada foothills for a while. Away from town, away from his critics, and away from forever looming deadlines, it appealed to Clemens.

Clemens and Gilles took a steamboat from San Francisco to Stockton and then traveled to Gillis’ cabin at Jackass Hill in Tuolumne County.

For the next three months, Clemens, Gillis and Stoker “drank a little, smoked a little, worked a little, mined a little, read a little, and passed the time telling stories.

On a rainy day in January, 1865, the men entertained themselves at the Angels Hotel in nearby Angels Camp.  Clemens heard a “rather dull” story about a jumping frog from one of the bartenders.

He jotted a note in his journal as he had done with so many other stories he’d heard. Later in 1865, that story became “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” and Clemens’ career as humorist Mark Twain was launched.

According to the film, “Samuel Clemens underwent a transformation in those 88 days in Angels Camp and Jackass Hill and found his voice as Mark Twain—one of America’s greatest writers and humorists”.

TCHS is inviting everyone to see what was so magical about these 88 days that brought Clemens from the depths of depression to  international stardom.

The schedule for Saturday, February 14th at the Sonora Opera Hall:

2-5 p.m. —Crafts and story time for kids.  Children are encouraged to come dressed as Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn or Becky Thatcher, characters in Twain’s most famous books.

2-8 p.m.—Fine art and photo show provided by the Mother Lode Art association and Sonora Photo Club.

3-5:30 p.m.—Book signing of Sonora Yesterday and Today by author/ photographer Chuck Holland.  This is a new Tuolumne County Historical Society publication.

4-5:30 p.m.—Entertainment by Ukes ‘n’ More.

5:30-8 p.m.—Sound Extreme, audio/visual for the premiere

6-6:30 p.m.—Open seating for the premiere.  Columbia College American Literature class will be in attendance for extra credit.

6:30-7 p.m.—John C. Brown of This ‘n That Films will do a PowerPoint presentation about the making of the documentary.

7-8 p.m.—Premiere of the documentary film, 88 Days in the Mother Lode, Mark Twain Finds His Voice.


All of the events are completely free. The Tuolumne County Genealogical Society will have refreshments available for purchase.

The event will be hosted by the Tuolumne County Historical Society with sponsors that include the Sonora Area Foundation and Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau.

The “Newsmaker of the Day” is heard every weekday morning on AM 1450 KVML at 6:45, 7:45 and 8:45 AM.

  • Mark Twain Cabin