How was Mr. Oakhurst the strongest and the weakest in The Outcasts of Poker Flat?
The final paragraph of the story tells readers that John Oakhurst was both the strongest and the weakest member of the outcasts. This final paragraph also tells readers that Oakhurst committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest with his Derringer pistol.
And pulseless and cold, with a Derringer by his side and a bullet in his heart.
I believe this is why the narrator of the story calls Oakhurst the weakest of the Poker Flat outcasts. He committed suicide, and by doing so, he failed to fight for his life until the bitter end. He gave up. However, the other members fought for every last breath by clinging together for the bit of extra warmth that it might offer. Oakhurst ran away from the group to end his personal suffering instead of continuing to fight for life.
As for why he is the strongest, it is because he maintains a cool and calm head once the group gets into trouble. He gives jobs to each member and pitches in as well. He is a good leader for these people that, historically, have not responded well to being led. That is why they are outcasts. By all indications, Oakhurst is smart enough and capable enough to have left the group early on and survived. He knows they should not stop for camp so early in the day.
It was, undoubtedly, the most suitable spot for a camp, had camping been advisable. But Mr. Oakhurst knew that scarcely half the journey to Sandy Bar was accomplished, and the party were not equipped or provisioned for delay.
Yet, Oakhurst does agree to stop for camp. He absolutely could have left the group and gone on his own way to ensure his survival. That is what Uncle Billy ends up doing, but Oakhurst is a strong enough person to know that the group needs his guidance. Ultimately, he proves willing to stay.
John Oakhurst, the gambler, is called “both the strongest and the weakest of the Outcasts of Poker Flat.” To understand why, one must look back to the beginning of the story, when Oakhurst left the town with the other outcasts. He was with people who were very ill equipped to deal with their circumstances: a prostitute, a drunk, and an accused “witch.” It falls to Oakhurst to lead them, to help them travel, and to watch over them. He does this with little complaint. When they insist on stopping, though he protests, he accepts that he must stay with them or they will surely die. When Tom and Piney arrive, he tries to send them on their way, but they have nowhere to go, and he takes on the responsibility for them, too.
When the party begins to realize that they will probably die, Oakhurst does what he can to keep them alive. He cuts wood, he divides up the food, and he goes along with the storytelling that helps to keep the spirits up. When it comes time to face reality, he makes snowshoes for Tom, cuts a huge amount of wood, and tells the ladies he is going to see Tom to the clearing. He never returns, and when they find him, he has committed suicide. He can face being an outcast, he can take responsibility for everyone else, but he cannot face the fate the ladies met—freezing to death. So, he is the strongest because he took care of everyone else, and he is the weakest because he could not face dying the same way they did.