“The Luck of Roaring Camp,” written in Harte’s characteristic narrative style, begins with a depiction of approximately a hundred men standing outside a shack in which “Cherokee Sal” is giving birth unattended. Because there are no other women in the mining community, Kentuck, “a prominent citizen,” sends Stumpy, a bigamist seeking refuge in the lawless Roaring Camp, in to help Sal. Stumpy has “had experience in them things.”
While Stumpy tries to help Sal, the other men of Roaring Camp wait outside, smoking pipes and wagering on the survival of Sal and the infant and on the gender of the child. Characteristic of Harte’s Gold Rush tales, the sketch of the opening scene is vivid, showing the men on the hill facing the cabin illuminated by the moon and their campfire. This scene draws readers into the suspense of the action.
The cry of the infant breaks the suspense, causing celebration among the men, but their enthusiasm is dampened by Cherokee Sal’s death within the hour. Stumpy takes up a collection for the infant as the men file through the cabin, pay their last respects to Sal, and look at the infant. Kentuck is delighted, and cusses to show it, when the baby clutches his finger. Kentuck turns to Sandy Tipton, another of the men, and says, “He rastled with my finger, . . . the damned little cuss!” It was this opening scene with Sal, a prostitute, and the cussing Kentuck that caused the conflict between Bret Harte and the proofreader of the Overland Monthly.
Fittingly, the men of...
(The entire section is 635 words.)