Short Western Story Review – Bret Harte – The Outcasts Of Poker Flat

 Photo taken by me – my book cases.
Preston, England
January 13, 2017 1:47pm CST
1868 – Mammoth Press – Spoiler alerts. Not having read many westerns and wanting to put that right I was delighted recently to find a dirt cheap copy of Mammoth Press’s Westerns short story collection, which includes an introduction introducing the history of the genre and lists of the best 100 Western novels and short stories (given in alphabetical order rather than order of preference). The 35 story collection opens with a real gem, and rather a tragic tale. The town of Poker Flat has fallen victim to cattle rustlers, gamblers and prostitutes. A secret society of townsmen have started lynching suspects and forcing others into permanent exile. The story focuses on a small band of the people forced to take the long journey over the mountains to find a new home. They include a gambler called Mr Oakhurst, a prostitute known as The Duchess, her brothel keeper, Old Mother Shipton, and a suspected horse thief. As the snows kick in, the party is joined by a couple of young lovers who are heading the other way, hoping to marry in Poker Flat, but when the thief steals their mules and horses, the remaining group are left in a dilapidated barn in the wilderness snowed in by blizzards with only enough food for ten days. Oakhurst uses his old saddle to make snow shoes so the young man can head back to Poker Flat to raise a rescue party, and the boy reluctantly sets off alone. Mrs Shipton sacrifices herself by not eating her rations so the young girl due to wed can survive, but the girl and the Duchess freeze to death. Oakhurst commits suicide, leaving a playing card and a message declaring that his gambler’s luck finally ran out. The bodies are found by the rescue party who the young man has managed to bring back. A bleak tale with the outcasts bonded in humanity even though doomed. We learn nothing of the fate of the man who stole their horses and mules. Arthur Chappell
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6 responses
@Corbin5 (99913)
• United States
13 Jan 17
Oh, this is a sad one. I think I may have seen the movie, an oldie for sure.
3 people like this
• Preston, England
13 Jan 17
@Corbin5 there are a few film versions of the story apparently
2 people like this
@JohnRoberts (52131)
• Los Angeles, California
13 Jan 17
You are probably thinking of the 1952 version with Anne Baxter and Dale Robertson.
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@Corbin5 (99913)
• United States
13 Jan 17
@JohnRoberts Yes, that's the one. Wouldn't mind seeing that one again.
2 people like this
@JohnRoberts (52131)
• Los Angeles, California
13 Jan 17
The story has been filmed several times. The Luck of Roaring Camp is Harte's most famous collection.
2 people like this
• Preston, England
13 Jan 17
@JohnRoberts that is a very downbeat story too
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@teamfreak16 (40502)
• Colorado Springs, Colorado
13 Jan 17
I have a friend that would like this. He loves reading westerns.
2 people like this
• Preston, England
13 Jan 17
@teamfreak16 the full text is available free here
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@Kandae11 (35093)
13 Jan 17
I read a somewhat similar type story years ago, but many more people were involved. It was about a wagon train stranded during the winter.
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@bunnybon7 (35525)
• Holiday, Florida
13 Jan 17
lol an exciting tale yet times we wish they would tell the missing parts . lol
2 people like this
• Rochester, New York
14 Jan 17
I used to love reading the Louis L'Amour westerns. I love the Sackett family!
1 person likes this
• Preston, England
14 Jan 17
@LisaSteinmetz He is an author I still need to encounter though I hear of him a lot - I love Zane Grey's westerns though