Gambler John Oakhurst is the most intelligent of the "Outcasts of Poker Flat." Well-dressed, with a "handsome face," Oakhurst is a "cooly desperate" man who has been exiled from the town because of his profession--not for any specific crimes, like the other members of the group. He is chivalrous toward the lowly women who accompany him--giving up his horse for the Duchess to ride--and he is willing to suffer hardships in order to make life better for the others. He alone seems to understand the dangers of the trip to Sandy Bar if the group does not move quickly, since
... the party were not equipped or provisioned for delay.
However, the others pay little attention since they were busy plying themselves with alcohol.
Mr. Oakhurst did not drink. It interfered with a profession which required coolness, impassiveness, and presence of mind, and, in his own language, he "couldn't afford it."
When the storm moves in, he never considers "deserting his weaker and more pitiable companions," though he knows he has a better chance for survival on his own. In the end, however, recognizing that death is imminent for all, he takes the easy way out--using his Derringer to put a bullet through his heart.
The Duchess is the younger of the two prostitutes. Emotionally weak, she cries "hysterical tears," expecting to "die in the road." She is young, "frail," and relatively attractive, despite her "faded coquetry" and "maudlin" moods. She is mistaken for Oakhurst's wife by young Tom Stimson, which brings hoots of laughter from Uncle Billy. The appearance of Piney Woods transforms the Duchess, who takes an interest in the girl that brings out the most positive nature of her feminine side. The Duchess becomes more cheerful as death nears, and she dies in a protecting embrace with Piney in the snowbound cabin.