"The Outcasts of Poker Flat" was first published in the January, 1869, issue of the Overland Monthly magazine, which Bret Harte edited. At the time, Harte was on the threshold of national fame The success of his short story ''The Luck of Roaring Camp" the year before had elevated the twenty-nine-year-old writer to a position of literary prominence. Critics praised ''The Outcasts of Poker Flat" as a suitable follow-up that confirmed Harte's stature as one of the most promising new authors in the United States By 1871 Harte was not only the highest paid writer in the country, but also one of the most popular. He was a regular contributor to the Atlantic Monthly, one of the most popular magazines of the day.
Although both Harte's popularity and critical admiration for his work have declined in subsequent years, "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" remains an important piece of American literature and one of the best tales of the rough-and-tumble days of the California Gold Rush In his use of the Western setting and local color, Harte proved to be a model for other authors, including Mark Twain, whose career he helped launch. Indeed, the familiarity of many of Harte's characterizations—the quick-witted gambler or the prostitute with a heart of gold— attest to the durability of his impact on popular culture. Harte first journeyed to the American West in 1854 and was advantageously positioned to observe one of the key events of the nineteenth century, the California Gold Rush. This setting in "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" is used as a forum to explore themes of tolerance and forgiveness, appearance and reality, and the ominous power of nature.