Poker Flat is a small town in California. On November 23, 1850, a secret town council had decided to get rid of the people they considered immoral. John Oakhurst, who is a great poker player, the Duchess who is a saloon girl, Mother Shipton, a madam and Uncle Billy, the town drunk and thief, are all kicked out of the town. The group of four make their way out of town. They meet up with a young couple, who are on their way to Poker Flat to get married. Tom Simson and Piney, want to go with the foursome. Tom had played poker once against John, so he feels like he knows the man. They all go off together and get stranded at a cabin in a snow storm. Uncle Billy leaves in the night taking the mules and horses with him. Mother Shipton ends up dying, because she didn't eat so Piney could have more food. John and Tom realize they will have to make their way back to town to get provisions for the rest of them. They only had enough food for ten days. The two men leave for town and Piney and the Duchess stay at the cabin. The two women end up freezing to death and die in an embrace in each others arms. When members from the town find them, they can't tell which one was the innocent one and which was the sinner. They find John's body on Dec 7, 1850. He had been shot through the heart. It is never said where Tom is or what happened to him.
There are several problems the group must overcome. First is the town itself. The town feels it is losing its morality. They judge good people and kick them out of town. The second thing they have to overcome is the weather and the elements. The group has to try to survive the snow storm that is threatening them. The third, and I think the most important problem they have to overcome is each other. John and the Duchess and Mother Shipton are all good people. They have good hearts and take in the young couple. What a tragedy that falls on them. What really happened between John and Tom? Was John murdered or did he kill himself? Where did Tom go? These are all questions that the short story makes you ask yourself. The problems they have to overcome are many and the final outcome is a mystery.