Why did the secret committee decide to "rid the town of all improper persons" in "The Outcasts of Poker Flat"?

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cneukam1379 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

First, one has to consider the environment in which this story takes place: set in the Old West around the time of the Gold Rush, towns like Poker Flat would have been places of lawlessness, with characters like prostitutes, gamblers, and thieves. The notion that this town would try to rid itself of the same types of characters that regularly reside there is laughable. Harte sets up the story with just that notion, however, but he adds:

Poker Flat was “after somebody.” It had lately suffered the loss of several thousand dollars, two valuable horses, and a prominent citizen. It was experiencing a spasm of virtuous reaction, quite as lawless and ungovernable as any of the acts that had provoked it. A secret committee had determined to rid the town of all improper persons. This was done permanently in regard of two men who were then hanging from the boughs of a sycamore in the gulch, and temporarily in the banishment of certain other objectionable characters.

Because some undesirables had done the unthinkable—robbed from the robbers—the town decided to make a symbol of them for others who might think of swindling others. The characters chosen were all types that were well-known, but perhaps too well-known, for Mr. Oakhurst had won quite a bit of money from the townspeople, so getting rid of him would get rid of his lucky streak as well.

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The Outcasts of Poker Flat

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