The Outcasts of Poker Flat Summary

On the morning of November 23, 1850, a gambler named John Oakhurst walks through Poker Flat, a small mining town in the American West. The town s moral atmosphere has changed, and Oakhurst knows that the town is after somebody. He reflects calmly that he s probably the one the town is after a suspicion that soon proves correct.

Poker Flat has suffered a major blow to its reputation and sense of stability. It has recently lost an important resident, a large fortune, and two horses, catalyzing a spasm of virtuous reaction. In an effort to salvage the town s reputation and reinstate a sense of normalcy, a group of powerful Poker Flat residents form a secret committee that decides who stays and who goes, whether by hanging (a fate to which two men have already been sentenced) or by exile. Oakhurst is faced with the latter punishment. Several men on the committee have lost money to Oakhurst, and they are irate. In order to reimburse themselves, they call for Oakhurst to be hanged, but the committee members who have managed to win money from Oakhurst suggest that he merely be banished.

On the day of his exile, Oakhurst finds himself in the company of three other improper persons : two prostitutes who go by the names Mother Shipton and the Duchess , as well as a drunkard and suspected thief called Uncle Billy . Though his companions cry and curse, Oakhurst is remarkably calm and unruffled as the outcasts are marched out of the settlement and sent towards the mountains.

Although Sandy Bar is the next closest settlement, it s on the other side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, making it one long, intense travel day away. Soon, the Duchess declares that she will go no further and insists they set up camp. Oakhurst knows that camping is a bad idea they don t have food or supplies to sustain their journey. Even though he tries to make this clear, his companions don t listen and immediately take to drinking. As he doesn t drink (it clashes with his profession as a gambler, which requires him to always have clear senses and sharp decision-making skills) Oakhurst remains on the fringes, watching the group quietly.

Soon, a young man named Tom The Innocent Simson , a resident of Sandy Bar, rides down the trail. He and Oakhurst are well acquainted, as Oakhurst won a large fortune from Tom a few months ago but sympathetically returned it to the young man with a stern warning to never gamble again. Tom is thrilled to see Oakhurst and excitedly introduces his fiancee, Piney Woods , to the group. The pair are headed to Poker Flat to elope. Oakhurst tries to convince the newcomers not to linger, but Tom cheerfully offers to share his rations and mentions that they can camp at a crudely constructed log cabin that he saw down the path. The group takes Tom up on his offer and makes camp.

In the morning, Oakhurst awakens to freshly fallen snow and hurriedly prepares to wake the group so that they can beat the impending storm. However, he quickly realizes that Uncle Billy is missing, and that the group s mules have disappeared. Oakhurst lies to Piney and Tom that Uncle Billy left to find more food, and the animals accidentally stampeded, though Mother Shipton and the Duchess sense what really happened. Tom is still cheerful as ever, and over the next few days he leads the group in camp songs and storytelling.

Soon, the snowfall accumulates to 20 feet, and the group struggles to find wood to keep up their fires. Mother Shipton begins to fade rapidly, and on the 10th day, she pulls Oakhurst aside and privately tells him that she s been starving herself, saving her rations so that Piney can live a little longer. She dies quietly, and the group turns somber.

Oakhurst gives Tom a pair of homemade snowshoes, urging him to make it to Poker Flat, though his chances of saving Piney are slim. Although Oakhurst says he ll accompany Tom only as far as the canyon, he doesn t return to camp. The Duchess and Piney cling to one another for warmth, but eventually fall asleep and die of exposure. Days later, pitying fingers dust the snow off of their faces. In death, it s impossible to tell the women apart, as they both carry a look of equal peace. Even the residents of Poker Flat recognize this, so they leave the women locked in a tender embrace.

Deeper into the woods, the rescuers stumble upon Oakhurst s body. Pinned to a tree with a knife is a playing card, the deuce of clubs , upon which Oakhurst has scribbled his epitaph, claiming to have struck a streak of bad luck. Oakhurst, who shot himself in the heart, appears just as stoic in death as he did in life. He is, the narrator affirms, at once the strongest and yet the weakest of the outcasts of Poker Flat.

The story is located in Poker Flat, a small Californian community. Certain inhabitants of Poker Flat feel that the community is going down the hill. They have lost a lot of money and the morals of people are thought to be sinking. Consequently a secret committee is elected. This committee decides who will be killed and who expatriated. On November 23, 1850 four people are exiled. The party consists of Duchess, a saloon girl; Mother Shipton, a madam; Uncle Billy, a local drunk and thief; and John Oakhurst, a poker player, who won a lot of money from the people sitting on the secret committee. The four characters get together and leave Poker Flat, heading for a one day s journey to a nearby camp. After hours of traveling, Oakhurst s companions get tired, and despite his remonstrances they decide to stop and rest.

Meanwhile, Oakhurst encounters young runaway couple, Piney Woods and Tom Simons, heading to Poker Flat to get married. Tom Simons, also called The Innocent has met Oakhurst before. They played Poker together, and Oakhurst won a great deal of money from him. Afterwards, he told Tom never to play poker again, and returned him his money. As a result of this Tom feels positively towards Oakhurst. He is thrilled to see him, and the young couple decides to spent some time with the group, obviously unaware of the fact that they were exiled for being immoral. Tom leads the group to an old cabin that he had found, and they spend the night. Oakhurst wakes up in the early morning and notices it started to snow. Furthermore, he discovers that Uncle Billy has been up long before him and now is gone with all their horses and mules. The rest of the group has no other choice than to wait for ten days until they run out of provisions. As the days go by, Mother Shipton dies of starvation, as she tries to save food for the child - Piney. Oakhurst decides that Tom has to go to get some help and he fixes him some snow shoes. Then he tells the two women he will accompany Tom as far as the canyon . Duchess and Piney stay in the cabin and when their fire dies they fall asleep hugging each other. They look so peaceful and innocent, that when the law of Poker Flat finds them, they are unable to tell which one is the sinner, so they turn away and let them be. As for the last, Oakhurst commits suicide.

The Outcasts of Poker Flat

A short story set in the Sierra Mountains of northern California in the 1850s; published in 1868.

A small group of ne er-do-wells are exiled from the town of Poker Flat. Attempting to reach the next town, they take shelter together when a snowstorm catches them unprepared. The challenges of this predicament bring out the best qualities of the characters as each sacrifices himself or herself for the benefit of others in the group.

Francis Bret Harte was born in 1836 in Albany, New York. After moving to San Francisco with his family in 1854, Harte began his literary career as a printer s devil, a person who set the type for the printing presses of local newspapers. Harte wrote articles for several small newspapers, then left San Francisco to teach school in a Sierra mining town. He may have spent a short time prospecting during this period. Harte eventually returned to San Francisco, where he was encouraged by the editor of a local periodical, the Overland Monthly, to write stories about the gold rush mining camps that he had seen firsthand. In 1868 Harte s story, The Outcasts of Poker Flat, was published in the Overland Monthly and became an instant success.

Events in History at the Time the Short Story Takes Place

The California gold rush

The first major discovery of gold in California occurred in February 1848, at Sutter s Mill. John Sutter was a cattle rancher and entrepreneur who had plans for establishing a community on the Sacramento River in northern California. During the construction of a saw mill on the American River, Sutter s chief carpenter, James Marshall, discovered gold while digging into the river bottom. The news of the discovery spread quickly, but few people were interested in the finding initially. There had been rumors of gold in California since Sir Francis Drake first landed there in the late 1500s, yet by early 1848, little gold had actually been found. It was not until Samuel Brannan took interest in Marshall s discovery that belief in the gold find began to take hold.

Brannan was a San Francisco merchant and real estate speculator who was a part owner in a general store at Sutter s Mill. When his customers began to offer gold in payment for goods, Brannan realized the rumor of gold was a reality. Brannan purchased goods and equipment that would be in demand by gold hunters in the future and moved these goods to his store at Sutter s Mill. On May 12, 1848, Brannan went to San Francisco, where he displayed a bottle of gold dust and spread the news that gold was being found on the American River.

Shortly after Brannan s announcement, nearly every town in California lost a majority of its population to the Sutter s Mill region. On May 29 the San Francisco Californian complained that the whole country, from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and from the sea shore to the base of the Sierra Nevadas, resounds with the sordid cry of gold, GOLD, GOLD! while the field is left half-planted, the house half-built, and everything neglected but the manufacture of shovels and pickaxes (Bean, p. 91). The paper also announced that it was suspending publication as a result of a loss of staff, subscribers, and advertisers.


Though their expedition took place before the gold rush of 1849, the experience of the Donner Party is a good example of the rigors faced by travelers trying to reach California by the overland routes. The Donner Party was organized for the journey west in Springfield, Illinois, in 1846 by George Donner and James Reed, two successful businessmen who were curious about life in California. The expedition began with nine wagons and approximately 30 people, but grew to include 87 pioneers by the time the wagon train reached the Sierra Mountains. The party endured more than six months of arduous travel through dry deserts and rough terrain before reaching the mountain range. On November 2, just a few miles short of the summit, the party decided to stop for the night. During the night, though, a snowstorm blocked the pass and the pioneers found themselves trapped in the mountains as winter set in. The majority of the party was snowed in until February, and many survived only by eating the flesh of the dead. Of the 87 migrants, 40 died.

News of the gold discovery, as well as actual gold specimens, finally spread to Washington, D.C., in September 1948. President Polk incorporated this news into his message to Congress on December 5, using it as further justification for his acquisition of California from Mexico. Further samples of gold arrived in Washington and were put on display at the War Department. The display drew excited crowds, and the Philadelphia Mint soon announced that the samples were of a quality equal to the standards of United States gold coins. With this announcement the gold rush truly began.

Aspiring prospectors relied on three main routes to the goldfields: by way of the Isthmus of Panama, around South America s Cape Horn, or overland. The sea routes drew the initial crowds in the winter and early spring of 1849 because they were open all year. Eventually, however, more than twice as many gold seekers would venture to California by land as by sea.

The crowds attracted by the gold rush had a massive impact on the population of California. In 1848 the state s population numbered less than 15,000 people; by 1852 the state census counted 223,856 California residents. The first year of this incredible westward rush for gold was 1849, during which more than 40,000 miners uncovered almost $30 million worth of gold. This incredible surge in population and frenzied activity created the scenarios that inspired Bret Harte in his writing.

Gamblers and the gold rush

The lure of quick wealth attracted more than just would-be prospectors to California. The abundance of ready money also brought gamblers to the state. Many of these gamblers were seeking a new base of operations, as the emergence of railroad transportation had forced Mississippi riverboat gambling into decline. Those gamblers who made the journey were not disappointed. The propensity for gambling among prospectors was so great that many of the rapidly appearing casinos featured tiny scales on the tables to weigh the gold dust and nuggets used for betting. When seventeen-year-old Bret Harte arrived in San Francisco in 1854, he entered a city that supported as many as one thousand gaming houses featuring a countless variety of games of chance.

The favorite games of the period included roulette, rouge et noir, and vingt-et-un (twentyone, which soon became known as blackjack ). Faro, however, was perhaps the single most popular game. A game in which players bet on the value of cards as the dealer exposed them one at a time, Faro had been popular in Paris since the 1600s.

Not satisfied with the laws of probability, many gamblers took to cheating to better their odds. Gamblers employed a vast array of techniques to cheat at cards, perhaps the most simple of which was to mark cards. This practice involved marking cards with symbols hidden amid the intricate patterns on their faces or by shaving one side of a card so that a gambler could detect by its feel which card he was dealing. Marking the cards was usually only half of the cheating process, though. After marking cards, the gambler had to be dexterous enough to manipulate the deck to further improve his chances of winning. Finally, a gambler had to be able to cheat under pressure. Otherwise, his marked cards and quick hands were useless. Poker Alice, a famous woman gambler, recalled one South Dakota cheater who could manipulate cards with amazing skill except when it really mattered: When he got into a game, with the sharp eyes of professional gamblers upon him, the courage necessary to that crooked skill wilted and he became only an honest, frightened, exceedingly bad player who lost his stack of chips almost as soon as they were set before him (Poker Alice in Hicks, p. 123).

Coolness under pressure was the quality relied upon by most cheaters who sought to make a living at the tables. A professional card cheat could earn $1,000 for one night s gaming. On an incredibly good night, a gambler could earn several thousand dollars. The Outcasts of Poker Flat reflects this reality, for it features the character of John Oakhurst, who wins a large sum of money from the inhabitants of Poker Flat before a grim-faced group of armed men escort him from the town.

Women in the gold rush

In many ways, the California gold rush was a male-dominated phenomenon. In the early 1850s, more than three times as many men as women immigrated to California, and in San Francisco men outnumbered women by as many as ten to one. Still, there were a number of women who played a role in the gold rush and left their mark on the period. Elizabeth Bays Wimmer, for instance, played a significant role in the initial discovery of gold.

When James Marshall made his find on the American River, he was at first unsure if it was a discovery at all. No one in the camp knew what gold looked like in its natural state. Elizabeth Wimmer, who was working as the camp cook and laundress, suggested a clever test to determine whether the substance was, in fact, gold. Wimmer recorded her thoughts at the time in her journal: I said, This is gold, and I will throw it into my lye kettle and if it is gold, it will be gold when it comes out. At the bottom of the pot was a double handful of potash, which I lifted in my two hands, and there was my gold as bright as could be (Wimmer in Levy, pp. xx-xxi).

Many of the women in California were not destined to play so dramatic a part in the rush for gold. The combination of quick wealth and the small number of women in the region made California a prime market for prostitutes. Almost as soon as miners began digging the first nuggets from the ground, prostitutes flocked to California. The miners received these new migrants with open arms. In one instance, a passenger ship from Panama arrived in San Francisco with two women, described by one observer as two daughters of Eve of the sort called liberated (Levy, p. 150). These women wanted to debark, but instead became engaged in a lengthy argument with one of the ship s crew concerning the payment for their passage. One account of the incident describes what ensued as the dispute continued: Two of the waiting crowd, tired of marking time, clambered on board the ship, throwing a bag of gold at the feet of the greedy purser, [then] came back to land with the girls to a general Hooray! from the crowd (Levy, p. 150).


Pat Hogan, who began his gambling career in California during the gold rush, hit a run of bad luck at the tables in San Francisco. Much like Harte s character John Oakhurst, Hogan could not accept his own run of bad luck. His fortunes dwindle to a point where he, like Oakhurst, commits suicide. The similarity between the two also appears in their suicide notes. Hogan left in his pocket a single card an ace of hearts on which he had written:

Also written on a card, the deuce of clubs, was the suicide letter by Oakhurst. He left a less poetic but equally metaphoric note:

Beneath this tree lies the body of John Oakhurst, who struck a streak of bad luck on the 23rd of November, 1850, and handed in his checks on the 7th December, 1850.

( The Outcasts of Poker Flats, p. 21)

Although this exuberant acceptance of prostitutes was common, in some cases prostitutes were less welcome. From Rich Bar, California, for example, Louisa Clapp wrote to her sister in 1851, Yes! these thousand men many of

whom had been for years absent from the softening amenities of female society looked only with contempt or pity upon these [prostitutes] [who] left in a few weeks, absolutely driven away by public opinion (Levy, p. 155). In The Outcasts of Poker Flat, the prostitutes known as Duchess and Mother Shipton receive much the same treatment from the townspeople.

Other women in California sized up the situation in the region and carved out profitable businesses for themselves. For example, Luzena Stanley Wilson arrived in California in 1849 and quickly recognized that a fortune could be made by providing meals and lodging for miners. She subsequently set up a cooking operation for miners in Nevada City, California. Wilson wrote of her cooking operation, from the first day it was well patronized, and I shortly after took my husband into partnership (Wilson in Levy, p. 102). Armed with the profits from her cooking enterprise, Wilson had a small house built and gradually added rooms to accommodate lodgers. As profits mounted, the Wilsons opened a store and within six months they had $10,000 invested in the hotel and the store, and owned goods worth perhaps $10,000 more.

Many women, though, took menial positions washing clothes and working in saloons. Some women who washed clothes for miners were able to earn $15 to $20 a week, a substantial sum for the period, and women who served drinks and dealt cards in saloons and gambling houses were easily able to support themselves with their earnings. In The Outcasts of Poker Flat, Piney Woods, the only woman in the story who is not a prostitute, works as a waitress in a restaurant.

The Short Story in Focus

The plot

As the story begins, the small town of Poker Flat is attempting to rid itself of its most undesirable citizens. Two of the worst are hung outside of town, and four others are simply exiled from the city. These four characters are John Oakhurst, a shady gambler whose success at fleecing the townspeople made him very unpopular; the Duchess and Mother Shipton, a pair of prostitutes; and Uncle Billy, a thief and drunkard. Connected through their exile, the four outcasts decide to travel together to Sandy Bar, a small town on the other side of the mountains. When the journey is half finished, the group encounters Tom Simson, a young man from Sandy Bar who is also known as the Innocent. Tom is accompanied by Piney Woods, a young girl with whom he has eloped. The newlyweds have decided to seek a fresh start in Poker Flat. After discovering a dilapidated log cabin nearby, the two parties decide to camp together for the night in the remains of the shack. When the group awakens in the morning, they discover that an early winter storm has dropped a substantial amount of snow on the area during the night. Even worse, Uncle Billy has stolen the horses and most of the supplies and disappeared, an act that severely reduces the chances of the group making it through the storm, which continues unabated.

Fortunately, Uncle Billy was unable to steal all of the provisions. A small store of food has been left with the party. Hoping that the storm will soon blow over, the outcasts and their two new comrades stay together in the cabin, sharing the small quantity of food left to them. Through this forced fellowship the outcasts realize for the first time in their lives what it feels like to care about others. Oakhurst works diligently at making a pair of snowshoes, which he hopes will prove to be the salvation of the group. Mother Shipton starves herself to death, sacrificing her needs for young Piney, who will have a better chance of survival with her portion of the food. The Duchess, previously a

selfish and solitary character, does all she can to comfort and console the fearful Piney.

Finally, when the food supply is almost entirely depleted, Oakhurst s snowshoes are finished and he gives them to Tom in the belief that the young man has the best chance of reaching Poker Flat and summoning aid for his young bride. Oakhurst leaves with Tom, telling the Duchess and Piney that he is going to accompany him as far as a nearby canyon. When Oakhurst does not return, the young women look outside the cabin and find that though he has not come back, he left them a pile of firewood to help them stay alive in the freezing weather. Unfortunately for Piney and the Duchess, Tom does not return quickly enough with rescuers, and the two young women freeze to death in each other s arms. In a nearby gulch, the body of John Oakhurst is found lying beneath a tree. The man is dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The use of sentiment in The Outcasts of Poker Flat.

Bret Harte is best known for his use of sentimentalism to propel his works and for the heart of gold aspect of his most famous characters. The Outcasts of Poker Flat is no exception to this rule, for it relies heavily on both of these devices to keep its action moving. As soon as the outcasts are trapped together, the story becomes a sentimental tale. The hardened facades of the Duchess and Mother Shipton crumble and they work together to keep the innocent Piney from knowing that they are prostitutes, for they worry that the knowledge of this fact might tarnish her innocence. All three of the outcasts from Poker Flat also keep Uncle Billy s thievery a secret from Tom and Piney, reasoning that the information might only frighten them more. Mother Shipton s sacrifice of her own life so that Piney might live, the peak of the sentimental side of the story, is the perfect example of the heart-of-gold element in Harte s work. Coarse in the beginning of the story, Mother Shipton becomes the kindest and most selfless of the characters.

Harte uses his characterizations to attack the judgmental society of the period. As a writer, he would become well known for his courageous stands against the injustices perpetrated against the Indians, the Chinese, and the slaves of the South. His depiction of the inner goodness of his characters was meant to show that it is unjust to judge and condemn on the basis of appearance alone. One of the final lines in The Outcasts of Poker Flat highlights this theme. When Piney and the Duchess are found lying dead together, Harte writes, you could scarcely have told from the equal peace that dwelt upon them which was she that had sinned ( The Outcasts of Poker Flat, p. 21).


According to most scholars, the writings of Bret Harte were created primarily in response to his environment. When Bret Harte arrived in northern California in 1854, he found himself in a part of the world rife with subject matter. During his ramblings though the gold mining towns, Harte was inspired by the characters he encountered. Harte was also impressed by the breathtaking scenery of northern California and is well known for his descriptions of the Sierra Mountains, in which many of his stories, including The Outcasts of Poker Flat, were set.

Another likely influence on The Outcasts of Poker Flat is the real-life story of the Donner Party. Harte s tale and the actual tale of the Donner Party are similar in several respects. The party of outcasts from Poker Flat, just like the Donner Party, are doomed because of their decision to stop overnight instead of finishing their journey; for both groups the span of one day becomes the difference between life and death. Another similarity lies in the behavior of certain members of the stranded groups. Tamsen Donner, whose husband was injured and unable to travel, refused to leave him when

a rescue party arrived at Donner Lake. As a result of her selflessness, Tamsen died with her husband, just as Mother Shipton dies due to her selfless devotion to Piney in the short story.

Events in History at the Time the Short Story Was Written

Vigilantes and lynch mobs in San Francisco

When the rush of gold-seekers headed west in 1849, San Francisco was in a state of lawlessness. Throughout the 1850s, vigilance committees were formed under the pretense of keeping order, but they often contributed to the chaos. The vigilante movement reached its greatest heights in 1856 under the leadership of William Tell Coleman. Coleman was a successful businessman who, according to historian Walton Bean, believed strongly in the benefits of prompt and summary punishment (Bean, p. 127). The cause for the resurgence of this vigilante group was the shooting by James P. Casey of James King, the editor of the Daily Evening Bulletin.

King had used his newspaper to criticize and condemn the corrupt politicians of San Francisco s Bay Area. During King s journalistic crusade, Casey was elected to the position of county supervisor in an election believed by most to be corrupt. In response to this dishonest election, King noted in the Bulletin that Casey had served a term in the New York state penitentiary at Sing Sing prison. Infuriated by this public denunciation, Casey threatened King in the Bulletin office and shot him on the street an hour later.

As Casey sat in the county jail, William Coleman prepared his vigilantes for action. Four days after the shooting, 2,500 armed vigilantes marched on the county jail and removed Casey. They also captured Charles Cora, a notorious gambler who had shot and killed a U.S. Marshal. Both men were given a trial before a tribunal of vigilantes, who condemned Casey unanimously and Cora by a slim majority. Both men were hanged with public ceremony on May 22, 1856. Though Coleman s vigilance committee disbanded under threat from federal authorities later in 1856, vigilante punishment continued to resurface sporadically in San Francisco throughout the 1860s and after. Rather than controlling crime, though, the vigilance committees seemed to create an even greater atmosphere of lawlessness. This is perhaps a factor in Harte s description of Poker Flat and its vigilantes: It [Poker Flat] was experiencing a spasm of public reaction, quite as lawless and ungovernable as any of the acts that had provoked it ( The Outcasts of Poker Flat, p. 7).

The champion of outcasts

Throughout the two decades following the discovery of gold in California, certain segments of the population faced harsh treatment and persecution. The victims of this persecution found a defender in Bret Harte. Harte s first battle against injustice occurred when he was the junior editor of the Northern Californian in Arcata. In February 1860 a gang of locals invaded the peaceful Indian village on Gunther s Island in Humboldt Bay and brutally murdered sixty Indians, mostly women and children, with axes and hatchets. The attack was made in reaction to the actions of a completely separate tribe of Indians located a hundred miles away.

In charge of the paper while his editor was away on business, Harte bitterly denounced the incident in an article titled Indiscriminate Massacre of Indians Women and Children butchered (Bean, p. 154). The article angered the public so greatly that Harte and his editor agreed it would be best for the paper if Harte moved back to San Francisco.

Once in the Bay area, Harte fought against the racism directed at the growing population of Chinese in San Francisco. In 1867 he wrote an article for the San Francisco News Letter describing the celebration of St. Patrick s Day. He satirically recounted how the Irish had boasted of their love of liberty and freedom just after beating up a negro and chasing several Chinese out of the neighborhood. Harte biographer Richard O Connor noted that he also paraphrased one of the slogans of the celebration to read, Ireland for the Irish, America for the Naturalized, and Hell for Niggers and Chinese (O Connor, p. 96). His attitude indicates a strong respect for the individual person, regardless of outward appearance; it is this respect that underlies Harte s characters in The Outcasts of Poker Flat.

Bret Harte and the critics

After the 1868 publication of The Outcasts of Poker Flat in the Overland Monthly, Bret Harte became an international celebrity. In England a dying Charles Dickens sent for the edition of the Overland that featured Harte s stories The Luck of Roaring Camp and The Outcasts of Poker Flat. Some readers were less impressed by Harte s work. The American critic E. S. Nadal wrote in 1877, The Outcasts of Poker Flat is very nearly spoiled by the absurd manner of Oakhurst s death. Mr. Harte shows his want in judgment by admiring his characters in the wrong places (Nadal in Poupard, p. 192). Henry Seidel Canby was more complimentary of Harte s work, although he also questioned its realism. What gives these characters their lasting power? Why does that highly melodramatic tragedy in the hills above Poker Flat hold you spell-bound at the thirtieth as at the first reading? Canby continued, Bret Harte believed, apparently, that it was his realism that did it. He had put the western miner into literature as he was hence the applause. Not the realism, but the idealization, of this life was the prize Bret Harte gained (Canby in Poupard, p. 197).

For More Information

Bean, Walton. California: An Interpretive History. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978.

DeArment, Robert K. Knights of the Green Cloth: The Saga of Frontier Gamblers. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1982.

Harte, Bret. The Outcasts of Poker Flat. In The Luck of Roaring Camp Other Stories. New York: Lancer, 1968.

Hicks, Jim, ed. The Gamblers. Alexandria, Va.: Time-Life, 1978.

Levy, Jo Ann. They Saw the Elephant: Women in the California Gold Rush. Hamden, Conn.: Archon, 1990.

O Connor, Richard. Bret Harte: A Biography. Boston: Little, Brown, 1966.

Poupard, Dennis, ed. Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Vol. 25. Detroit: Gale Research, 1988.

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