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Harte, Bret. "The Outcasts of Poker Flat".


The village Poker Flat excludes objectionable characters: Mr Oakhurst, gambler; Mother Shipton, called the Duchess; and Uncle Billy, drunkard. The three intent to find refuge in the neighbouring camp Sandy Bar. On their way they meet a young couple, Piney Woods and Tom Simson, called the Innocent, who join them for the night in a cottage. In the morning they find out that Uncle Billy stole their mules and that they were snowed in.

The company cannot move any further. The Duchess and Piney become affectionate friends. They improve the interior of the cabin, while the Innocent fixes the roof. They create a happy harmonic society and spend their evenings with accordion playing, story telling, and singing.

The snow does not melt, and they are running out of provisions. The Duchess starves herself to near-death and gives her portions to the "child", referring to Piney. Mr Oakhurst makes a pair of snow-shoes and offers the Innocent a chance to walk for help and save his Piney. Oakhurst accompanies the Innonce, intending to be back soon, but he does not return.

Piney and the Duchess are left alone. The fire expires. When they are found, the faces of both are peaceful that you could not tell which one was the sinful and which one was the pure. Mr Oakhurst is found with a bullet short through his heart, once the strongest and yet the weakest of the outcast of Poker Flat.



- a local colour story set in California

- uses vernacular in dialogues

- the narrator is tender and sympathetic to his outcasts

- themes: an immensely improving influence of morally pure beings on corrupted roughs

- the outcasts create a harmonic and peaceful society when in crisis and prove themselves to be able of the greatest personal sacrifice for their fellow creatures (Mother Shipton)


  • Author

    Harte, Bret. (1836 - 1902).
  • Full Title

    "The Outcasts of Poker Flat".
  • First Published

    In: Overland Monthly. San Francisco: 1869.
  • Form

    Short story.

Works Cited

Harte, Bret. "The Outcasts of Poker Flat". (1869). In: Bret Harte's Gold Rush. Berkeley: Heyday Books, 1996.


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