The Outcasts of Poker Flat Questions and Answers
by Bret Harte

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How does Mr. Oakhurst die in "The Outcasts of Poker Flat"?

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Readers are not actually told exactly how John Oakhurst dies in this great short story; however, readers can make a fairly accurate assumption that John Oakhurst shot himself in the chest with his Derringer pistol.

And pulseless and cold, with a Derringer by his side and a bullet in his heart, though still calm as in life, beneath the snow lay he who was at once the strongest and yet the weakest of the outcasts of Poker Flat.

John Oakhurst is found that way underneath a playing card attached to a tree. Presumably, John Oakhurst wrote his own epitaph on the playing card and shot himself in order to more quickly end his life. In his mind, the alternative was either freeze to death or starve to death. He figured there was no possible way Tom Simson would make it to town, organize a rescue party, and return in time to survive his dire circumstances. Many readers see Oakhurst as this story's heroic protagonist, but other readers just can't buy into that sentiment knowing that he likely gave up the fight and killed himself.

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Probably the best of the "undesirables" in Bret Harte's short story, "The Outcasts of Poker Flat," John Oakhurst was a kind-hearted gambler who gave one last gift to his friends before departing for the canyon. After kissing the Duchess goodbye, Oakhurst secretly added wood to fuel the fire a bit longer. He then set off with Tom, the Innocent. But Oakhurst apparently knew he had little or no chance of survival because when rescuers eventually found him, they found a deuce of clubs attached to a pine tree with a Bowie knife. Included was a message:

Beneath This Tree
Lies The Body Of
JOHN OAKHURST,
Who Struck A Streak Of Bad Luck
On The 23rd Of November, 1850,
And
Handed In His Checks
On The 7th December, 1850.

Oakhurst had chosen to take his own life,

with a Derringer by his side and a bullet in his heart, though still calm as in life, beneath the snow lay he who was at once the strongest and yet the weakest of the outcasts of Poker Flat.

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