The Outcasts of Poker Flat Questions and Answers
by Bret Harte

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Who are the outcasts of Poker Flat?

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The title, "The Outcasts of Poker Flat," is referencing the four characters who have been thrown out of the town of Poker Flat. Apparently the town of Poker Flat is a beacon of morality, because the town kicked out John Oakhurst, Mother Shipton, Duchess, and Uncle Billy. Why would the town kick out those four people? Supposedly they are moral degenerates who bring nothing positive to the town.  

I would definitely agree with that in regards to Uncle Billy. That guy is a nasty drunk. He only thinks of himself, which is why he steals the horses and supplies and leaves everybody for dead.

The Duchess and Mother Shipton are prostitutes, which is not exactly a highly moral, glamorous occupation, but as the story progresses, it is obvious that the two women are strong and caring women. Mother Shipton starves herself so that other members of the group have a chance at living.

Last is John Oakhurst. He's a gambler. What's funny about him being kicked out of town is that there is no way that he was gambling alone, yet he is the only gambler who was kicked out of Poker Flat. To me, that sounds like John Oakhurst was kicked out for winning too much. He must be a good gambler. 

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In Bret Harte's western story, "The Outcasts of Poker Flat," the title characters are four people, two men and two women, who are exiled from a small Nevada mining town in the wake of a crime wave.

Individually, they are a stoical gambler named Oakhurst, two prostitutes, one who is young and nicknamed "Duchess," and the other older and affectionately called Mother Shipton, and a known drunk and thief named Uncle Billy. An ad hoc and  "secret committee" of upright citizens, has designated them as undesirable after horses and money and even as Harte puts it, "one prominent citizen", have gone missing.

Even though two men have been hanged for these crimes, seemingly without the benefit of due process, and none of the outcasts has been specifically accused of any of them, the town's sense of justice, which apparently includes purging itself of those elements that would pollute it, must be appeased.

In the opening paragraphs of the story then, Harte not only establishes the story's setting and central conflict, but also gives us a vivid impression of the "outcasts'" dilemma. In the process he illustrates the arbitrary and unreasonable nature of frontier justice.

Throughout the story the reader will find evidence that the outcasts are victims and the do-gooding townspeople are more interested in protecting their pockets than they are in living decent, just and compassionate lives.