Sal is in labor and, without any proper medical attention, is suffering quite appalling pain. The way things are going, both she and her baby are not going to make it. In fact, some of the men in the mining camp have even opened a book on what the outcome of her labor will be. Some bet that she'll survive; others bet that the baby will survive. Some even bet on the baby's sex and complexion.
As Sal is the only woman in the mining camp, there are no midwives around to help deliver the baby. In the end, the onerous responsibility falls to Stumpy. In other, more settled climes, Stumpy had been the putative head—that is to say, the reputed head—of two families, and so it seems appropriate that he should be the one to assist Sal in giving birth.
Stumpy's encouraged by a prominent citizen called Kentuck to act as Sal's midwife. He tells him to “go in there” and see what he can do. He also reminds Stumpy by telling him that he has experience in “them things.” The assembled crowd approves the choice, and as Stumpy's wise enough to bow to the will of the majority, he agrees to take on the job.