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"The Outcasts of Poker Flat" (1869) is a short story written by renowned author of the American West Bret Harte. This story is a good example of regionalism and local color of California during the fist half of the nineteenth century. His combination of realism and sentimentality offers readers real and known characters, yet without the dullness that might sometimes accompany them. Charles A. Fleming had this to say about Harte's work: "As a writer, Harte was a talented humorist who could take fairly routine story formulas and give them new vigor and settings. His background as a journalist gave him a brisk style and a special skill for describing people, their mannerisms and dialogue." Harte, although he was born in Albany, New York, wrote passionately and in detail about the American West. While he was a contemporary of Mark Twain, he was often overlooked because of this. His short story, "The Outcasts of Poker Flats" was first published in January 1869 in the magazine Overland Monthly, and was one of two short stories which brought him national attention.
1 Plot summary
3 Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
5 External links
The story takes place in a Californian community known as Poker Flat, near the town of La Porte. Poker Flat, some characters think, is on a downward slope. The town has lost thousands of dollars and morals seem to be going down as well. In an effort to save what is left of the town and reestablish it as a "virtuous" place, a secret society is created to decide who to exile and who to kill. The story begins November 23, 1850 with four "immoral" characters exiled from Poker Flat. First of these "immoral" people is a professional poker player, "John Oakhurst." He is among those sent away because of his great success in winning from those on the secret committee. On his way out of town, he is joined by "The Duchess." a saloon girl, "Mother Shipton, " a madam, and "Uncle Billy," the town drunk and a suspected robber. These four set out for a camp a day's journey away, over a mountain range,. But halfway to their goal and despite Oakhurst's protests, the rest of the party decides to stop for a rest at noon. While on their rest, the group is met by a pair of runaway lovers on their way to Poker Flat to get married. She, "Piney Woods" is a fifteen-year-old girl. Her lover, "Tom Simson," known also as "The Innocent", has met Oakhurst before and great admiration for the poker player: when they met before, Oakhurst won a great deal of money from "Tom." Oakhurst returned the money and pressed upon Tom that he should never play poker again, as he really was a quite terrible player. So much for the low morality of Oakhurst. Tom is thrilled about coming upon Oakhurst on this day and decides that he and Piney will stay with the group for a while. They don't know that the group has been exiled and 'innocent' and 'pure' as they are, they think The Duchess is an actual duchess and so on. Decision is made to stay the night together and Tom leads the group to a half-butty cabin he discovered where they spend the night. In the middle of the night Oakhurst wakes up and finds a heavy snow storm raging. Looking about, he realizes that he is the only one up, but soon discovers that somebody had been up before him: Uncle Billy is missing with their mules and horses stolen. The group is now forced to wait out the storm with provisions that would only last another ten days. After a week in the cabin, Mother Shipton dies, having secretly and altruistically starved herself to save her food for young Piney. Oakhurst advises Simson that he will have to go for help and fashions some snowshoes for him.