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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mr. Oakhurst is a professional gambler.  As such he is intelligent, shrewd, and honest.  As a gambler, Oakhurst knows well how to assess the odds of any given situation.  When the party to which he belongs is cast out from the town, they make their way to the nearest settlement, one that is over a mountain.  Halfway to Sandy Bar, the other members of the group become exhausted and desire to camp for the night.  Oakhurst urges them to continue because they do not have sufficient provisions; however, the others, who have been drinking, ignore his reasoning.  What seems fortunate for the outcasts is the arrival of Tom Simpson with his fiancee who offers to share his provisions. 

But, unfortunately, there is a real scoundrel among them, Uncle Billy, who runs off with their mules. And, they are snowed in for a week.  At this point Oakhurst weighs the odds again, realizing that their chances for survival are extremely slim.  So, like a gambler, he knows when to fold his cards.  He provides the women with firewood, then goes out into the woods.  When his body is found with the wild card deuce "discarded" because it has brought him no luck, author Bret Harte writes that he is "the strongest and the weakest" of the group.  Interestingly, his name reveals both strength--oak--and weakness, or death--hurst (hearse).

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The Outcasts of Poker Flat

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