Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
“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...
(The entire section is 635 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
In an isolated California mining camp during the gold-rush days, the whole camp is astounded and intrigued at the birth of a baby to a sinful woman named Cherokee Sal, who died at the child’s birth. Only such a novel event could involve so completely all the fugitive residents of Roaring Camp, men with questionable pasts and common gold fever. Their tenderness and solicitude for the child is extraordinary and quite out of character for them. These roughs come to pay homage to the babe and to bestow such gifts as they have on this miracle—a silver tobacco box, a navy revolver, a gold specimen, a lady’s handerchief, a diamond breastpin, a diamond ring, a Bible (contributor undetected), and money, among other gifts. As a miner named Kentuck bends over the baby, “the little cuss” by chance grasps his finger, an act that causes the man to be overwhelmed by emotion. From then on, the rugged Kentuck is especially attached to the newcomer.
Full of new responsibility, the members of the camp debate what shall be done with the baby. They do not want to part with him by sending him to Red Dog, a camp where there are decent women to care for a child. Nor do they believe it possible to import a decent woman to take charge, and “they didn’t want any more of the other kind” of woman. This last consideration is the first spasm of propriety that the camp has known. They vote en masse to adopt and rear the child themselves. Stumpy, because he has two wives...
(The entire section is 683 words.)