What unusual characteristic/habit did Jim Smiley have?
Jim Smiley was a gamblin’ man – as Simon Wheeler tells the narrator, “he was the curiosest man about always betting on anything that turned up you ever see.” He would make a bet, and if no one took him up on it he would swap sides and bet against his original proposal. “…if there was two birds setting on a fence, he would bet you which one would fly first.” The man was crazy about betting. And what’s more, according to Wheeler he was incredibly lucky. He almost never lost a bet. He owned an old, sickly mare that he would enter into horse races, and though the mare looked like it was about to keel over and die, rather than gallop anywhere, she always ended up winning the race. He had an old worn-out dog named Andrew Jackson, who fought according to this same principle: he would let himself get just about beat up, but would come back and win when least expected. In fact, Smiley had all kinds of animals that he would enter into all kinds of bets, including the eponymous jumping frog.
This nearly inhuman good luck plays right into the plot of the story, for when a stranger comes to town and Smiley bets his frog can jump further than any frog of the stranger’s, he ends up losing this bet. The stranger cheats, and fills Smiley’s jumping frog with quail shot so that he is too heavy to move when the time comes for the contest. Apart from this tidbit, there isn’t much else to the story, as far as denouement or moral, for Wheeler gets interrupted, and upon his resumption of the story, the narrator, bored to death with his own narrative, exclaims, “’Oh, hang Smiley and his afflicted cow!’” and leaves the scene. Smiley is a gambler, and an exceptionally lucky one, and he gets cheated this one time. Simple as that – an old, winding country tale about an eccentric local legend.